Hot. Spice. Baby.

Well, darn if my present favorite hot sauce company hasn’t gone and been acquired, and made the news by doing so. Just as the article in CNN online relates, I began to see Cholula’s distinctive bottles in restaurants several years ago. I tried them there, liked them, then added them to the condiments on our dinner table and never looked back. So far I’ve sampled five of the flavors offered, and they have all been excellent.

But in case you are looking for something to sear your palate and fry your tongue, I suggest that you don’t go to Cholula. It’s spicy but not a blast furnace by any means. What I find attractive are more the subtleties in its flavor, rather than the heat, which is modest. You won’t be able to brag about how many Scoville units you just ingested, not if you ask for the bottle with the wooden top (although I have not tried the “sweet habanero,” so cannot vouch for that one).

(No payment was offered or accepted in return for this endorsement. However, that does not not mean that it wouldn’t have been welcome. I can be bought so easily and cheaply it would make your head swim … )

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Thanksgiving Day arrived and went away on schedule. We entertained a single guest, the gentleman across the street who is a near-shut-in due to health issues. He lives alone and we felt would be a safe person to share a space and a meal with us. We also thought that we would be safe for him. In both cases there was some very small risk, of course, but probably less than we experience when grocery shopping.

The meal was a testament to tradition. No side journeys into the wide world of gastronomy for us, not on T-day. At a time when the rest of life is upside-down, who needs more variety than that?

Our menu was this: a large roasted bird symbolic of a large symbolic Thanksgiving feast hundreds of years ago, mashed white potatoes, mashed sweet potatoes, stuffing crammed with the legal limit of butter, cranberry relish, pumpkin pie, and all the while I carried a gigantic can of Reddi-Wip at my side, holstered. I do have a permit to legally carry such a can, and want you all to know that I am a responsible Reddi-Wip owner, and would only use it for nutritional purposes.

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Fighting The Good Fight Department

The Rotting of the Republican Mind by David Brooks

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A little bit about the song “Thanks For The Dance,” from the album of the same name by Leonard Cohen. It is his last album, finished after his death through the efforts of his son.

The songs on the album comprise “sketches” left over from the sessions for Cohen’s last previous studio album You Want It Darker that were finished by Cohen’s son Adam Cohen in a “garage near his father’s old house”.  Regarding the tracks, Cohen noted: “Had we had more time and had [Leonard] been more robust, we would have gotten to them. [We had] conversations about what instrumentation and what feelings he wanted the completed work to evoke – sadly, the fact that I would be completing them without him was a given.”

Wikipedia, Thanks For The Dance

I played the song while Robin and I were preparing dinner yesterday, and Robin said that it made her feel so sweetly sad, and how could it not? The song itself is a meditation on aging and life which is all made even more poignant because Leonard never got to hear the beautiful tune he wrote. At least not in its final form. The man spun gold from the straw of life, and left all of that treasure behind, for us.

Thanks for the dance
I’m sorry you’re tired
The evening has hardly begun
Thanks for the dance
Try to look inspired
One, two, three, one, two, three, one

There’s a rose in your hair
Your shoulders are bare
You’ve been wearing this costume forever

So turn up the music
Pour out the wine
Stop at the surface
The surface is fine
We don’t need to go any deeper

Thanks for the dance
I hear that we’re married
One, two, three, one, two, three, one
Thanks for the dance
And the baby you carried
It was almost a daughter or a son

And there’s nothing to do
But to wonder if you
Are as hopeless as me
And as decent

We’re joined in the spirit
Joined at the hip
Joined in the panic
Wondering
If we’ve come to some sort of agreement

It was fine, it was fast
We were first, we were last
In line at the Temple of Pleasure
But the green was so green
And the blue was so blue
I was so I
And you were so you
The crisis was light
As a feather

Thanks for the dance
It was hell, it was swell
It was fun
Thanks for all the dances
One, two, three, one, two, three, one

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From The New Yorker

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Gratitude List

I have had a pretty lucky life, with a dash of adversity tossed in now and again to keep me on my toes. There was enough of that particular seasoning along the way to teach me that there was knowledge to be gained during those harder times that I might otherwise not have acquired.

For what I learned during those trials, I am now grateful (although I fully admit that I wasn’t when I was in the middle of them).

The last four years, seeing my idea of what America was being disassembled one piece at a time was so disheartening … but what a lot I learned about the workings of government and about my countrymen. Some of that knowledge I would rather not have, but my takeaway is I will never again take for granted that what I love about this country couldn’t be lost if we are not vigilant.

I am grateful for the several people who last October 3 took a confused and speechless older gentleman (yes, that’s me … please let’s not quibble about the gentleman part) and did all the right things so quickly that a frightening situation was turned around in something only slightly longer than a moment. In fact, if they hadn’t done exactly what they did, it’s likely that if I were typing at all today it would be gibberish. (A different sort of gibberish than what I put out there day by day. I know it’s hard to tell sometimes).

I am grateful that there may soon be an end to this long and difficult struggle with Covid-19. I recognize that it has been much more difficult for millions upon millions of others than for me personally, but being in a higher risk group does tend to make one suspicious and antisocial. Neither are pleasant states to be in.

I am grateful for family, for friendships, for music, and to whoever invented love.

Amen.

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P.S.: I am also grateful for mysteries, and this is a dandy.

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Here’s a personal gallery of things and places. I hope that you have a beautiful day, wherever and with whomever.

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Dialogue Before Dessert

We get to read the comic strip Dilbert in our local paper, but for some strange reason the editors hide the strip way back on the classified ad page, all by itself, and far away from the rest of the comics. This sort of quarantine preceded Covid, however, so we can’t blame the virus for the odd placement.

It’s as if the editors like the strip, but find it too subversive to be mixed in with the likes of The Born Loser or Alley Oop. Why they think that people who are scanning the Want Ads could be safely entrusted with its hit-the-nail-on-the-head type of satire I have no idea. But there you are.

I thought the one above fit our times perfectly. And me in particular. A couple of years back Robin told me about a practice that was going around the country where someone would hold a dinner party and deliberately invite persons who held viewpoints that were in opposition to theirs. There were some ground rules, of course, in that no weapons could be brought into the dining room, and personal attacks had to be limited to no more than 5 minutes of red-facedness and spittle-spewing.

When Robin told me about this “movement,” my first thought was how sweetly optimistic, and my second thought was who would ever waste a whole evening and risk terminal dyspepsia by engaging in such a quixotic pursuit?

That’s when I realized that one of my dearest and longest-held beliefs had been dealt a severe blow somewhere along the way without my even realizing it. A belief in the power and value of argument.

Argument: an address or composition intended to convince or persuade; persuasive discourse.

Dictionary.com

This is not a good thing to find out about oneself. What it meant is that a person has become the mirror image of the self-righteous blockhead they are trying to avoid. It could also mean that I am no longer someone who is willing to participate in a discussion and risk having my opinions changed as a result because I have made up my mind forever on the subject.

So far I have not been invited to one of these dinners. And I will be the first to admit that I would have to know that the food was going to be something special before I would accept. If I am going to do the work of actively and honestly talking to members of the opposition, I want to at least be fed well.

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About 30 miles south of us one can take a right turn, go up a dirt road for a few miles (suitable for 4WD) and then go over Black Bear Pass. No problem until you start down the other side of the pass, really. At that point it becomes a narrow, winding shelf road with a series of narrow switchbacks that look unnerving on the videos. If you make it to the bottom of this road you will find yourself in Telluride CO.

Each year thousands of Jeep enthusiasts travel this road to prove something to themselves, and I’m not sure what that is. The drivers are mostly older men with enough money to spend on a vehicle that is really only designed for outings like this and second or third best for anything else.

As for me, I am missing two things that would make this journey possible. The first is a Jeep. The second is a non-acrophobic state of mind. But I digress.

I ran across this short video that I think you will find remarkable. The camera is looking out the front window of a 4WD vehicle traversing one of those tight switchbacks, and then the machine settles into a straightaway for a short while. Keep watching to the end. Amazing.

The story is that the woman driving the red Jeep was seriously injured (no kidding), but not killed (whuh!).

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Sign O’ The Times

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Hallelujah! The General Services Administration has signed off on Joe Biden and his bunch. Until this past month I didn’t even know that they had anything important to say on the matter. This doesn’t mean that P.Cluck isn’t doing what he can to poison as many of America’s wells before he is shown the door. Isn’t he a caution? Who knew that a buffoon could be so nasty?

Actually, we all did. In horror films, what has ever been scarier than the clown face on a stuffed toy over there in the corner of the child’s bedroom? The supernatural malice of the clown’s perpetual grin comes through to us even before the creature makes its first move.

The thing about it is that soon we won’t have to look at this particular clown any longer, unless we want to. For instance, it’s been years since I wasted time on any of the characters over there in the far-right-wing crazy museum. The Limbaughs and the Ingrahams of the world will now be joined by the Clucks, in a space where they can fulminate all they want but don’t have their fingers on any of the major buttons.

I am supremely down with that.

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Honor and Betrayal

A headline this past week was quite moving, I thought. It trumpeted that the Boy Scouts of America now has more than 90,ooo pending claims against it for child sexual abuse. The story went on to detail the enormous financial drain on an already declining organization. No one knows how this will all shake out, but the central theme has by now become too obvious, hasn’t it?

Scout troop in Adams, Nebraska, 1913

If we take the Boy Scouts, the Catholic Church, and a whole lot of smaller organizations into account, what comes out of it all is that we must make a painful admission. We haven’t taken proper care of our children. Not by a very long shot.

So why do these ugly reports always seem to come as a surprise to us? Wasn’t this particular can of worms opened long ago? In the late sixties one of my teachers was Dr. Robert ten Bensel, who was a pediatrician on the staff at Hennepin County General Hospital. At the time he was probing disturbing reports of child sexual abuse and receiving little collegial support for his work. He was even thought of by some as being a little weird, because surely this involved a very small number of children and some awfully disturbed adults. So what was Dr. Bob* doing poking around in this nasty business as his career direction?

Within the next decade we came to know as a fact that abusing children was commonplace. And it was usually perpetrated not by a lurking stranger but by someone close to the child who had been entrusted with their welfare. It involved parents, relatives, teachers, clergy, doctors, nannies … and scoutmasters.

So the Boy Scouts failed big-time in their one of their major responsibilities – that of protecting the children in their care. If the organization goes down under the weight of these claims and lawsuits, it goes down. Nothing lasts forever. Let it happen and get on with life. But we must provide more safeguards wherever children are to be found.

(*Dr. ten Bensel went on to become an acknowledged expert in the field of child abuse, teaching and publishing for the remainder of his career until his passing in 2002.)

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We may or may not have a mouse in the house. Here’s how that happens.

Our senior cat, Poco, is done with all that. If a mouse ran across the room in front of him he would follow it with his eyes, maybe run over to where the creature had hidden itself and cock his head, but that would be it. He is quite content with the twice a day food service and a bedtime snack that Robin and I provide.

Not so Willow, who has two operating modes, sleeping and hunting. There has been quite a parade of rodents brought across our threshold over the years, most of them among the dead rather than the quick, but’s that latter group … .

Willow will bat them around a bit, then casually look away for a second or two. The mouse sees its chance and takes off, Willow in pursuit. Usually she catches them before they make it to a safe place, but not always. And a house like ours affords any number of such refuges. In the baseboard heaters, for instance, or under the wooden braces for the dining room table, or (nononono) in the workings of the hide-a-bed in the living room.

When that happens and she can’t get at them any longer, she will seek us out to help her. We’ve come to recognize a particular set of mewlings as saying something that goes like this: “Awfully sorry to be a bother, but I’ve a problem you might be interested in. You see, I’ve lost a mouse in the hide-a-bed and can’t seem to get at it. I know that you can help, though, because we’ve been down this same road before. So could you please come out to the living room, open up that contraption, and I’ll handle the rest.”

This time the rodent headed for our bedroom (Robin is the witness) and disappeared. That was three days ago, and we’ve seen nothing of it since. It could be gone, having wandered back across the living room and dining room and gone out through the pet door. Or it could have tried the same maneuver, been recaptured by Willow, and disposed of without her mentioning it to us. (When she dines on mouse, there are no leftovers to tell the story).

Or it could still be in the house, perhaps in the kitchen or pantry or somewhere where there is at least the possibility of finding food and water, items that our bedroom does not afford.

We may never know for certain where that critter went.

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Like some very large slug, His Malignant Orangeitude is leaving a nasty, rancid slick of a trail wherever he goes. But what we are finding is that America, although wounded, is coming through this long period of ugliness with most of what we hold dear intact.

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Our election process worked, in spite of many forces trying desperately to make it fail. Our populace voted in higher numbers than ever before, even if a dismaying number of citizens still marked an “X” in the box for Cluck.

Much is written about our division, that we are not a people of one mind, as if that were a completely new thing. They must not read much history. America was born in division.

Remember that not every colonist wanted to separate from England by a long shot, and there were years of violence between those factions as a result. Royalists versus Patriots, with not a red coat in sight. And the Civil War? Hundreds of thousands killed? Scars left that are still on display? How’s that for division?

Personally, even if it were possible, I would be very much afraid of a United States that was of one mind on everything. What grand possibilities for mischief there would be then.

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From The New Yorker

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Good Morning, Starshine

Help! I’m being buried in a tsunami of wistfulness and I am not a strong swimmer! And it all started with an obituary in the Times of New York about an actress and singer named Lynn Kellogg.

Kellogg came into prominence as a performer in the musical Hair, which was definitely a “thing” when it appeared in 1968 on Broadway. Although Hair was an ensemble work, her songs were among the most memorable, at least for me. Listening to them this morning … all I can say is that it would have been better to take that trip in small doses rather than one big gulp.

By the time the music from Hair had drifted from Broadway all the way out to the Minnesota prairie it was 1969, which was kind of a big year for yours truly. It was the year that I participated in my last anti-war march in Minneapolis that year, accompanied by a pregnant wife, pushing a baby in a stroller, and trying to keep two pre-schoolers from wandering off and into trouble.

My son Jonnie was born on the last day of my pediatric residency, June 30. In mid-July I was inducted into the US Air Force, and later moved my family to Bellevue NE, which would be our home for the next two years. And although I never saw the stage musical, the music from Hair was playing in the background for these events and pretty much all others during that year.

So over on the right are some of Kellogg’s songs, and in the video here is the cast singing “Let the Sunshine In.” Lynn is the blonde woman who begins the number.

Unfortunately Lynn Kellogg died of Covid-19 this past week, at the age of 77 years. Who knows if hers, and how many of the other 247,000 Covid deaths have been unnecessary, and for which we have P.Cluck and his minions to thank?

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Of course, reminiscing is tempting for a lot of people, not just we dotards. Here is an article from CBS Sunday Morning on the 50th anniversary of Hair, along with another video clip which was taken from the Tony Awards show in 1969.

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Our lovely fall weather continues here in Paradise. Geese are beginning to gather on the local ponds, but so far I’ve seen none of those majestic vees passing overhead while pointed south. Their watchword must be why should we leave when we have it so good where we are, I guess?

Thanksgiving is now just 9 days away, but we are not panicked. We’re having it at our home this year, and are making plans for a crowd of two. It makes it so easy to pick just the right sized turkey, so today I am going to the deli and getting “one pound of that torn-apart and then glued-back-together sliced turkey, if you please.” It doesn’t require roasting at all, and if one wants to serve it warm, why, a few seconds in the microwave and you’re good to go. We do love our mashed potatoes, so I will purchase a single Yukon Gold, which should suffice. For stuffing, how about Stove Top mix, where you can measure out exactly what you want?

We will, however, not skimp on pie. We may make two of them, because why not? And we’ll have at least two full cans of Reddi-Wip ready to blast away, maybe more.

(All of the above is facetious, except for the observations on pie. While we will scale back a bit from previous years, there is no reason to let coronavirus spoil all of the fun, is there?)

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“The Problem We All Live With”

[An article Saturday on CNN online was prompted by the 60th anniversary of a little girl’s walk to school. It is both a description of some horrible behavior and a testament to personal courage. I reprint it here.]

60 years ago today, 6-year-old Ruby Bridges walked to school and showed how even first graders can be trailblazers

By Leah Asmelash, CNN

 Ruby Nell Bridges, 6, was the first African American child to attend William Franz Elementary School in New Orleans after federal courts ordered the desegregation of public schools.

Ruby Nell Bridges, 6, was the first African American child to attend William Franz Elementary School in New Orleans after federal courts ordered the desegregation of public schools.

(CNN)Sixty years ago, Ruby Bridges walked to school escorted by four federal marshals as a White mob hurled insults at her.Bridges, just 6 years old on November 14, 1960, was set to begin first grade at William Frantz Elementary School in New Orleans. As the first Black student to attend the school, Bridges carried integration on her small shoulders.Her first day at William Frantz came four years after Black parents in New Orleans filed a lawsuitagainst the Orleans Parish School Board for not desegregating the school system in the wake of the Brown v. Board of Education decision, which determined in 1954 that state laws establishing segregation in public schools were unconstitutional. The year Bridges walked into the school, Judge. J. Skelly Wright had ordered the desegregation of New Orleans public schools. The Orleans Parish School Board, however, had convinced the judge to require Black students to apply for transfer to all-White schools, thus limiting desegregation, according to the Equal Justice Initiative

US deputy marshals escort 6-year-old Ruby Bridges from William Frantz Elementary School in New Orleans.

US deputy marshals escort 6-year-old Ruby Bridges from William Frantz Elementary School in New Orleans. 

That year, only five of the 137 Black first graders who applied to transfer were accepted, and only four agreed to attend, according to EJI. Bridges was among them. “For me, being 6 years old, I really wasn’t aware of what was going on,” Bridges, now 66, told NPR in 2010. “I mean the only thing that I was ever told by my parents that I was going to attend a new school and that I should behave.”

Once Bridges entered the school and arrived at her classroom, all the other students had withdrawn. The rest of the school year, it was just her and the teacher, she said. And crowds continued to show up, at one point bringing a small baby’s coffin with a Black doll inside.”I used to have nightmares about the box,” Bridges said. “Those are the days that I distinctly remember being really, really frightened.”But Bridges stayed at the school despite retaliation against her family. Grocery stores refused to sell to her mother, Lucille. And her father, Abon, lost his job, according to the National Park Service. The toll was so hard on their marriage that by the time Bridges graduated from sixth grade, they had separated, she told NPR.Eventually, though, Bridges made it to second grade. And when she did, the school’s incoming first grade class had eight Black students, the EJI said. 

Ruby Bridges speaks onstage at Glamour's 2017 Women of The Year Awards at Kings Theatre in November 2017 in New York.

Ruby Bridges speaks onstage at Glamour’s 2017 Women of The Year Awards at Kings Theatre in November 2017 in New York. CNN reached out to Bridges for comment but did not receive a response.

Bridges continues to be an inspiration for many. In 2011, she was invited to the Oval Office, where the painting commemorating her walk by Norman Rockwell — criticized when it first appeared on a magazine cover in 1964 — was on display.”I think it’s fair to say that if it wasn’t for you guys, I wouldn’t be here today,” then President Barack Obama told Bridges during her visit, according to the White House archives. Lucille, who Ruby says pushed her to attend the school, died this week at age 86. In an Instagram post, Ruby called her mother a “champion for change,” adding that her actions altered the course of many lives.

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This is the Look magazine cover referred to in the article. It is of Ruby Bridges and her journey to school, and was painted by Norman Rockwell. Its title is “The Problem We All Live With.”

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Poco came to us as an outdoor kitten that we coaxed into our home. Later on, when we would attempt to retrain him and deny him access to the outdoors, he was so unhappy that it was a difficult time for all concerned, and we eventually stopped trying.

Case in point. In this pic, the outdoor temperature is a chilly 38 degrees, the wind is a blustery 20-25 mph, and here he is, sleeping out along the backyard fence. Even though the pet door is wide open to him, and only 25 feet away. Inside that pet door is warmth and loads of comfortable furniture to lie about on. But you see where he chooses to be.

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Can I Have A Hallelujah, Brothers & Sisters!

Our national Disgrace-in-Chief is being shown the door, at long last. This time he lost the electoral college as well as the popular vote. Of course he’ll still be in the White House for another couple of months, but in January he will walk that last long stretch to the podium and be forced to turn the keys over to rational and compassionate beings. And our nation can get on with all of the important work that was put on hold for the past four years while Nero fiddled.

We are rejoicing here in Paradise, or at least a minority of us are doing so. Montrose County went for Cluck more than 2:1 over Mr. Biden. How sweet is is to see those wilted campaign signs out there, those pickups still festooned with gigantic but impotent flags promoting the loser-guy. Out of consideration for those of our benighted neighbors who are Cluckians, we have now taken our own signs off the lawn. But I have a confession to make. What I really want to do is find the biggest freaking Biden/Harris banner available and put it up like a Buddhist prayer flag, where it stays for years as the sun and weather slowly break it down.

However, that would be shabby behavior, wouldn’t it? Gloating. And I am totally a class act.

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But, Dr. Frankenstein, what if you are successful? What if this … thing … does come to life? What will happen then?

Following the principle that everything in life has two sides, two faces, we now have some hints that the crazy interesting laboratory tool called Crispr-cas9 might not be an exception. After one paper after another over the past several years about the positive potential for an instrument that can go into a genome and replace defective genetic material with a previously unheard-of surgical precision, we get a paper that has an un-smiley-face sticker on it.

When researchers began applying Crispr-cas9 techniques to embryos those embryos did not appear to take it kindly, tossing out large chunks of the chromosomal material in soberingly large numbers. A commentary on this paper was in the Times of New York on Saturday morning. It adds to an ongoing discussion of the ethical implications of working with embryos versus completed human beings.

For example, If I am born and I have a genetic disease, replacing the bad part of my genes affects only me. But if you tinker with those genes much earlier in development and I grow up to beget children, my children are potentially affected, and their posterity as well.

Interesting paper.

In general, the body public has a say in what research will or will not be done through our elected representatives. Funding can be advanced or withdrawn. Regulations can be drawn up or not. Sometimes just because you can doesn’t mean that you should is a useful watchword in scientific communities. But whether we do have a stake in this research, and articles like this one help us stay informed.

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Friday evening we welcomed a whole lot of very nice people to our home for a celebration of Robin’s birthday via the Zoom app. For a short two hours friends and relatives entered and left the group and I thought it all went very smoothly. Grandson Ethan brought along a bunch of custom backgrounds for his image that went from the pastoral to the macabre and back again.

By the time the group was assembled, we had participants in all four time zones across the U.S. You know, it was definitely not the same as all of us being in the room together, physically. But when you consider that in-person was impossible, it is hard to call a video conference second-best. What it turned out to be was a creation all its own, made possible by technology, which resulted in a very enjoyable evening. I’m liking it.

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I am indebted to Sister Caroline for sending me this video link. It’s a rousing Sunday morning piece of music cleverly updated. Have a great day, my friends.

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Halloween De-briefing

Last Halloween we had … I don’t know, perhaps 40 trick-or-treaters at our door. This year we had one. One hardy soul who received way more candy than she had ever hoped for and staggered away under her sugar load. Unless her parents step in and limit her intake, she could end up in the ER with severe sucrose poisoning. Not our problem. We did our part to sabotage her proper nutritional habits.

After we decided that one visitor was all we were going to get this year, we settled in to watch our annual blast from the past, and we’d selected the movie Poltergeist, from 1982. It held up pretty well. One of the problems with re-watching a film from 38 years ago is that you are 38 years older and may have developed more of an awareness of holes in the plot that you would have back then. This family was waaaay not worried enough about things moving about the house in the first place, and waaaaay too slow to get the hell out of there when things turned nasty.

But it provided the spooky movie ambiance that we were looking for that night, and that’s all a persons can ask, really. I learned an interesting sidelight when I looked for info on the film this week, and that was this. The movie basically dealt with the problems of the Freeling family, which consisted of Mom, Dad, and two girls. The actress who played the older daughter was strangled by her boyfriend the same year the film was released, and the one who played the younger daughter died six years later (at age 12) of a bowel obstruction.

That’s sort of macabre all by itself.

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Tomorrow is Election Day. With the pre-election hype predicting everything from minor disturbances to outright civil insurrection as the results become known, one can hope that this is all overheated rhetoric. As happened in the year 2000, when we were told to fear that all of our computers were going to crash along with Western Civilization, as a result. Remember Y2K?

While there seems to be a significant concentration of crazies on the P.Cluck side of the ledger, not all of those who vote for him are completely nuts. Deluded for sure, suckers to the max, but not people who are violent in nature. We can hope that they will be the leavening if Biden/Harris are declared the eventual victors.

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All Hallows Eve

Today is Halloween and I’m not ready for it. Not in any way. Some cherubs will show up this afternoon with their bags open looking for us to drop safe treats into. In our part of town all of the costumed kiddos are quite young, so their raids occur in the afternoon and once the sun goes down everything is quiet.

When they do show up I will take my masked self to the door and hand them something with either a gloved hand or a thoroughly sanitized one. It’s like the trick-or-treating is happening on an infectious disease ward, where we are the patient in isolation and the staff parade through our sickroom looking for sterile handouts.

One of the enjoyable aspects of Halloween could be setting something up frightening outside the door. A disembodied voice moaning and chains rattling from a hidden speaker, perhaps. Or a scarecrow that comes to life and reaches out a bony finger to tap the child on the shoulder. But, it’s daylight! Nothing is scary in daylight! And even if I could pull it off, these are really young kids and who wants to send them screaming into their parents’ arms and then have to face those same parents’ anger at their darling ones being scarred for life by my insensitivity?

So it’s bite the bullet and pass out the packages of Skittles for me. Later, when we are safe from further visits, Robin and I will watch our carefully selected Frightening Film of the Year. We haven’t chosen one yet, but there are so many classics to pick from, aren’t there? Let’s see … Halloween … The Exorcist … Poltergeist … The Shining … Haunting of Hill House … Dracula … etc. etc. It’s one of the great things about the streaming movie era we are presently living in. Most of these will be available somewhere, even if there’s a small fee to pay. And we can watch them whenever we want, pause them whenever nature makes demands on bladders, and replay passages where we find the dialog hard to understand.

Life is techno-good.

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BTW, I should mention that I am a sort of Halloween version of Scrooge. Dressing up and masking has always seemed a silly business to me. By careful planning and artful refusals throughout my life I have avoided all but one of the costume parties that I was invited to attend. And that one only confirmed me in my apostasy.

It could be because on the other 364 days of the year I am already continuously playing roles, and don’t feel further need to play-act at a new one just because demons are up and about. What roles, you ask? Well, how about conscientious citizen, son, father, student, physician, etc. Perhaps is is enough to say that however I may appear to others (and to myself?), I suspect that there is a full-fledged Dr. Hyde running around in my internal community and looking for a way out. I have no wish to encourage him, not in the slightest.

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Here is a sampling of how movies and television have seen Mr. Hyde throughout the years.

For most people, when their Mr. Hyde comes out, he looks a good deal more ordinary than this. In fact, it’s often hard to tell by appearances when he’s in the room.

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Yesterday P.Cluck took on the medical professions as eager to profit from the suffering brought on by Covid-19. It was only a matter of time before he got to them/us. Now, not every doctor in the U.S. has had to sacrifice because of this disease. My ophthalmologist, for instance, does everything he can to avoid being exposed to the infected. As does my neurologist. Even my family doctor makes me wait in the hallway until I answer a few questions and then have my temperature taken. Only then can I enter the waiting room. If I don’t pass her quiz, it’s go home and we’ll call you.

But if I were one of those, like ER physicians, who cannot avoid working with the afflicted, I would be so pissed off reading today’s headlines. Because they are taken from a speech delivered by a man who cannot understand people who would take such risks because it that is what they do. Because that is what they signed up for. And the unworthy things that he is saying are not only undeserved but will make their job harder.

Whatta guy. His spot in Hell is prepped and ready.

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Now here is something that for me is as Halloween-y as it gets. Gave me nightmares when I was a child … doesn’t get any better than that.

Potpourri

Robin and I have a guest here at BaseCamp, daughter Maja has rejoined us for a few days. We are employing the package,* as always. Yesterday the weather permitted us to spend the late morning and all of the afternoon outdoors chatting away like blackbirds settling in for the night.

We even completed a project. Coming back from a walk in the park, we stopped at a roadside stand and purchased three pumpkins which were later decorated by carving or painting. The day flew by, and before you know it we were saying goodnight, as Maja returned to her motel to rest up.

BTW, that warty pumpkin that Robin is working with was something new to us all. Its flesh was so hard that she gave up trying to carve it and did a beautiful job of painting it instead. Nice recovery, that.

*The Package = masks, social distancing, hand washing, disinfection

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The rapper Megan Jovon Ruth Pete wrote an op/ed piece about her defense of black women that I thought was awfully good. So what is the opinion of an aged white male worth in such a case? Very little, I admit, but this is my blog and I get to say stuff. The lady’s professional name is Megan Thee Stallion, and what a title that is.

Here is a photo of the lady in performance. She is not a shrinking violet, it would appear. Nor doth she shrink in her writing.

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Lindsey Graham is having a real fight in his bid for reelection, and for many reasons I earnestly hope that he loses. He has publicly moved from one sycophancy to another, a decision forced upon him by John McCain, who was ill-mannered enough to die on him and expose him as a character without character. So when Graham stopped being the anti-Cluck and took his place at the feet of the Grand Posturer, it was no real surprise.

The man is the very definition of an empty suit.

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I am indebted to friend Caroline (and to Scotland) for this addition to our vocabulary. It’s yet another example of the fact that what we think is all new today has not only happened before, but there is already a word for it. Such a word is cockwomble.

It goes right up there with kakistocracy, or government by the “least suitable or competent citizens of a state.”

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Our ballots arrived in the mail yesterday afternoon. We saved them for later today, when I will open mine with as much eager anticipation as if it were Christmas. I am going to savor every single X that I put in every single box that will help retire the gang of thieves presently in office, up to and including P.Cluck himself.

If ever there was a bunch of politicians that deserved to be put out to pasture it is these people. They forgot long ago what they had been elected to do – the nation’s business.

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Sunday Morning

We’re heading home after a trip to Denver for a child’s violin recital. The event came off beautifully, attended by only ten people beyond Leina’s parents and sister. It was held outdoors, on the patio of the instructor’s parent’s home, which is a large house located on a hill overlooking the city.

Leina played the entire program without an intermission, I think there were nearly twenty short pieces. Each piece was followed by a deep bow, and when she came up there was this lovely little smile on her face. Like she might be thinking I nailed that!, didn’t I?

Under ordinary circumstances, we might not have traveled this distance in Covid times for an hour’s entertainment, no matter how precious, but this was not an ordinary time. Leina and her parents are moving later this month to California, which will quadruple the distance between our families. And no matter what spin one places on this (i.e. It’s only a two-day drive, or We can use our airline miles) it will make in-person visits more complicated than just getting in the car for a few hours.

That’s enough of a change to provoke some grieving, because it is in an unwanted direction. Seven summers ago we moved to Colorado to be closer to Robin’s grandkids, and for the most part, it worked out. That move was also a change. Closer to one side of our blended family, further from the other.

Buddhism talks all the time about change, stressing its constancy and inevitability. It encourages acceptance of that fact, and with that acceptance we are promised some serenity, some peace that can only be achieved by letting go of what it is impossible to hold onto. These blessings do not come without doing a bit of work, however. Often quite a bit.

Well-meaning friends will come up with cheerless statements (in trying to cheer us up) like “Change can be good” and they are both right and wrong at the same time. There is always a flip side. Each step of “progress” means something is left behind. Today I am eighty years old, and maybe, just maybe, I am a little wiser than when I was seventy-nine. I wouldn’t place a very big bet on that, but let’s pretend that I am for a moment. However, I also just dodged a fair-sized bullet a week ago, and now I am wearing a heart monitor and taking two drugs meant to encourage my platelets not to congregate with one another in unacceptable places. And in my own mind, a nice-sized chip was taken off of what remained of that sense of invulnerability that I started out with when I was born. This was change that I didn’t care for at all, no matter how much I accept it as a fait accompli.

So we wish our friends good luck on their move to the West Coast, and we will be happy with the successes they find out there, but the fact remains that they will be there, and not here. So we can be forgiven a few tears, a few chokings-up when telling the story, the moments of sadness in upcoming days and weeks. Letting go is a process.

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Harvest Moon

Welcome to October, where we start out cool and end up frosty, and here in Paradise right now it is peak time for Fall color. To make today even more special, tonight there will be a harvest moon – natural light to give the farmers additional hours in which to gather their crops. Of course, the headlights on modern harvesting machines and tractors have made this heavenly illumination less crucial, but it’s the thought that counts.

Some of my best personal memories of time spent on my grandfather’s farm have to do with grain harvesting. It was quite a different process when I was a child, a very labor-intensive one. But there were beauties and drama that the modern machines do not provide.

The first step was to pull something called a binder through the field, a machine which cut the grain and tied it into bundles. When I was very young, the power to pull the binder was provided by a team of horses, who were later replaced by a tractor. Next step was for the farmer to gather eight or so of these bundles and form them into a “shock.” The sight of a field of these shocks on a golden fall evening was nothing short of beautiful.

On threshing day, the farmer would drive a wagon through the field and manually collect these bundles, which he would then transport to the the threshing machine and toss into the maw of that mechanical beast. Therein was the drama. As a kid, I fancied the machine was a steel dragon which “ate” the bundles, separating the grain from the chaff and blowing the straw out into a pile.

Here’s a short video, for those who are interested. Notice the man standing on the heaving, bucking threshing machine. Notice all the bare belts and pulleys. Notice the lack of any safety devices anywhere on it. Now picture a ten-year old boy up there. That would have been me.

The hazards of farming were (and still are) very real. But this was a time when children were taught how to stay alive on the beast, rather than kept far away from it. Feel free to judge which was the better way. Thinking back, I wonder that I am still here to type this thing.

Grain was collected into a hopper on the threshing machine, and periodically discharged into a pickup truck or wagon to be hauled away for storage. The very last year that my relatives used the threshing machine, before they purchased a combine which changed the whole process greatly, I was given the honor of filling up a wagon with bundles and pitching them into the thresher. I have never in my life felt more pride than I did on that day. Doing what I thought was truly an adult’s work, among men who I admired.

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Robin and I didn’t watch the first presidential debate because we thought that it should never have happened. We didn’t believe that P.Cluck would observe any rules, act with anything approaching decorum, or tell the truth except in rare moments. Turns out we were right, apparently, in all respects.

There shouldn’t be a second one. Why should there? It will only be a repeat of the first, which was a rehash of the last five years. Let’s stop having these debates right now and give the money that would have been spent to coronavirus research, or prison reform, or any of the other thousand worthy causes that could be helped. Another two such fiascoes will serve no purpose other than Cluck’s own.

This television series deserves to be cancelled. It’s a flop. It could never have been anything else.

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Speaking of television – we’re enjoying the series “Away” which stars Hillary Swank, one of our favorite actors. Great supporting cast as well. For me it could be just a tish less soap-y but the overall story is a gripping one. It’s about the first humans to go to Mars.

I’ve never really thought through what such a mission would be like, and what sacrifices would need to be made. Sailing off to another planet on a flight that would take years. Never mind the hazards, even if everything went as well as it could possibly go, being away from friends, family … completely out of all of those loops … for years. What would that be like? Which of the people that you loved would not be still among the living when you returned? Which of your relationships might not survive such a separation? When you have done something so extraordinary, how do you cope with the mundane? Which people around you could begin to understand what you went through?

I talked a couple of posts ago about the emigrant experience, stepping off the dock onto a ship that would take you to a new land from which you would likely not soon return. Going to Mars would be like that. But the stepping off would be even more dramatic and irreversible.

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I don’t know whether to admire those individuals around the world that are making plans to go to Mars and to live there, or to consider them as not quite right in the head, as my grandmother Ida Jacobson might have said. There is more than a little hubris in the thinking of those very creative individuals, like Elon Musk, who are working on this.

To think that somehow a group of humans could be selected and transplanted to another world and make it work, when very similar creatures haven’t been able to do that on the world we now occupy … do enlightened people exist in numbers adequate to the job?

As for myself, a person who I regard as extremely enlightened (move over, Buddha), I have no plans to join such an expedition, even if I was asked, nay, begged to join the group. I don’t want to live anyplace where I can’t pee in the woods without wearing a special suit.

As I understand it, Mars does not offer such opportunities.

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The Times of New York reviewed “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” in Tuesday’s edition. I think it’s one of the best reviews that I have ever read. Can’t wait to see it (Netflix). So interesting to get Denzel Washington’s and Viola Davis’ takes on how the film came to be. Washington’s statement that he plans to spend whatever career he has left to bring more of playwright August Wilson’s works to life was very moving.

He is one of those actors whose face reflects intelligence while his body says that if you don’t get it the first time, he is fully capable of cracking your head during your continuing instruction.

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Helpful Hardware Man, Yessir!

There’s but one day left of September, which has been a warm and undemanding month. A little hotter than we wanted on some days, but they’re all behind us now. Robin and I have finished our first week of self-quarantine, although we’ve had to break our own rules on occasion.

For instance, on Sunday I noticed that the water in the commode in Robin’s bathroom never stopped running. I removed the tank lid and started to fiddle with the floating ball that is supposed to stop the water flow, when the entire rod and ball broke off in my hand. Age and corrosion had done their work over time, and there was nothing for it but to take a trip to Ace Hardware for a new float valve apparatus.

Stuff like that happens. Otherwise we go out to pick up our groceries using the City Market system where we pick out what we want online, order it, and then stop by the store to have the worker put the food into the back of the car for us. We exercise outdoors instead of at the gym (which is a healthier option anyway), and basically avoid mankind.

BTW, we are sooo fortunate to have this hardware store in our town. It’s not a big one, but there is always someone waiting for me when I walk in the door who asks if they can help. Usually is it some older guy, and when I try (haltingly and incompletely) to explain why I am there, he takes me by the hand to just where I needed to be, hands me what I need to buy, and then leads me back to the front of the store. A real store with real stuff in it, and knowledgeable people to assist us. What a concept!

On Sunday my helper was a stooped elderly gentleman who led me to the plumbing section of the store and pointed at a slender box. There were at least five varieties of toilet tank water valves to choose from, but when he said: “This one is the easiest to install, and one of the most economical as well,” he had me at “easiest.” I fell to the floor on my knees in gratitude, but I think that embarrassed him, because he recoiled and said: “Get up, please, and never do that again.”

It’s also the sort of establishment that has a popcorn popper by the door, and you can help yourself to a bagful anytime you want, for free. All in all, it’s enough to give retail a good name.

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Tonight will offer the first of the “great debates.” Robin and I are pretty sure we won’t watch them, and both have the same reason for doing so. We can’t stand the sight and sound of P. Cluck. We wish Mr. Biden well, hope he’s been practicing, and know that the fact checkers will have their hands full. Cluck simply cannot open his mouth without making s**t up.

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Now that the name “Karen” has become synonymous with a certain type of clueless, white, woman of privilege, I found myself wondering how people who actually bore that name were faring. But in all of Paradise I could find no one who would admit to being named Karen. There were a few who I wasn’t able to talk to because they saw me coming and ducked down alleys and into waiting SUVs that whisked them safely away from my prying eyes and questions. So I suspect there are some out there, although I can’t prove it.

It reminds me of the problems that some Norwegians had with bearing the name “Quisling” during WWII. Now Vidkun Quisling was a Norwegian bureaucrat who got along famously well with those pesky Nazis who were occupying his country. So well, in fact, that the word “traitor” became synonymous with his last name. It’s still the case today.

From 1942 to 1945 he served as Prime Minister of Norway, heading the Norwegian state administration jointly with the German civilian administrator Josef Terboven. His pro-Nazi puppet government known as the Quisling regime, was dominated by ministers from Nasjonal Samling. The collaborationist government participated in Germany’s genocidal Final Solution.
Quisling was put on trial during the legal purge in Norway after World War II. He was found guilty of charges including embezzlement, murder, and high treason against the Norwegian state, and was sentenced to death. He was executed by firing squad at Akershus Fortress, Oslo, on 24 October 1945. The word “Quisling” became a byword for “collaborator” or “traitor” in several languages, reflecting the contempt with which Quisling’s conduct has been regarded, both at the time and since his death.

Wikipedia: vidkun quisling

One hopes that the Karens of the world will one day be able to re-emerge from their closets and bring out their monogrammed items to wear with pride once again. Remember, folks – Karens are people, too.

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From The New Yorker

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People are covering outdoor plantings at night these days. Our temperatures have been flirting with that magical 32 degrees here in the valley. Each Fall we call on a local company called Rainmaker to service the in-ground sprinkler system that we inherited when we bought the house. And no matter when we call them, each Fall they schedule us after the first freeze happens, so that we have a few nights where we need to provide the above-ground components some protection. Last night was one of those nights.

However, this inconvenience has its bright side. No matter how lovely and summer-ish the days might be, we know with great confidence that it will freeze a day or two before our scheduled service. That’s helpful to know.

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Passages

A week. We’ve been gone a week and are more than ready to rejoin the rest of our clothes and to eat a meal we’ve prepared ourselves using something other than a microwave. Since we’ve not heard from our cat-sitter we ordinarily assume that the furry pair have been doing well. Yesterday we saw the first few patches of blue sky we’ve seen in all of that time, as the smoke blanket began to develop holes big enough to matter. We actually saw a few stars last night as well.

On our way home we passed through Denver and stopped for a few hours to connect with the Johnson family. It’s almost a certainty that they will take off on the first phase of their move to California by the end of October. Grandma ain’t happy about that. Philosophical, resigned, but not happy. Those grandchildren are among the loves of her life, and no matter what sort of narrative we construct, they will be farther away when this process is done. There are only two saving graces here, airlines and FaceTime.

Every once in a great while, something happens that prompts me to imagine what it must have been like in the late 1800s for my great-grandparents. Stepping onto boats in Norwegian harbors and bound for an America they could only wonder about. What painful goodbyes those must have been. Even if you could try to fool yourself into believing that you’d see those friends and relatives again, you would know in your heart that the chances were slim. That this was probably well and truly it.

Oh, there would be letters occasionally. Letters that took months to reach you. Until finally even the letters stopped coming, and your only connection was through others like you who had made this same journey, and who could sit around with you and talk about “the old country.” But stepping onto those boats, and looking back into those beloved faces on the docks. That would have been a hard doing.

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Today I will receive at least five emails telling me that unless I send in another $10.00 to (fill in the blank) ‘s campaign that Western civilization as I know it will be lost forever. That P.Cluck and his army of trolls and orcs will come to my home, tear up my lawn, break my windows, and shoot my cats with their Second Amendment AR-15s. That without my ten bucks there is absolutely no hope of the sun ever shining again, and no chance that the leaves will turn color this Fall.

These emails are coming at me from all directions, from folks like Nancy Pelosi, James Carville, Barack Obama … there’s quite a list of names of very important people who now correspond with me. I wonder that they can get anything else done, what with all the writing they are doing.

I have become resentful of the whole process. I know that campaigns need cash, but this electronic fear-mongering has gone from being amusing to annoying to distasteful. If one party collects more donations than the other in September, is that really all there is to it? Is money the only thing? Are we that easily manipulated? I’d rather not believe that, thank you very much.

So to Nancy and Jim and Barack – put a fork in it. Stop the hand-wringing over those dollars and spend your time reminding us what is really at stake here. Cluck may not be a Hitler, he may not even be up to being a Mussolini. But he’s a bad guy in the tyrant mold, and we need him out of there. America has work to do in this world and he and his cronies are standing in the way.

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An old friend declared the other day she that this political season has caused her to have occasional violent, even murderous, thoughts, which she found shocking.  I reassured her that she was not the only one to do so.  As a matter of fact, H.L. Mencken voiced those feelings very well back in the 1930s when he said:

Every normal man must be tempted, at times, to spit on his hands, hoist the black flag, and begin slitting throats.

Around this discussion table there were both men and women and no one under 65 years of age.  We also decided that if there was to be a revolutionary group taking up arms against those oppressors, it made a great deal of sense to use citizens much like the group we represented.

First of all, in the matter of assassin-ship, who better than a bunch of gray haired grandmothers to get past security and close to a target?  And if any of us were to be caught, well, how many years do we really have left? Might as well spend them in a righteous cause. The only problems that I could see were that our aim is probably not what it used to be. Also, because we’d all lost some hearing acuity we couldn’t depend on auditory commands and instructions, and when you start standing up and waving flags to get your co-conspirators’ attention, it’s quite possible that the Secret Service and the FBI might notice.

(Note to Homeland Security.  Before you load a couple of vans and come for us with those same thugs you sent to Portland, look up the word “satire.”  You might save some time.)

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Another woman that I loved has passed away. I first encountered Juliette Greco when I was seventeen and an undergraduate at the U. of Minnesota. My minor was French and one of my professors was Monsieur Renaud, a small but fiery man who turned me into an avid (and lifelong) Francophile. I practiced my accent for hours on end, I shopped in bookstores for French language titles, and I looked around in music stores for examples of what a real French person might listen to.

And it was there that I discovered Juliette. She was beautiful, she sang with passion, she hung around with Albert Camus and Jean-Paul Sartre, and she had been in the French resistance during WWII. What perfection!

Of course, she was nearly twice as old as I was at the time, but that was never an obstacle to infatuation, which is a toxic and febrile state that sniffs at realities like those.

So now she’s left us. But I still have some of her music, saved from the time of that long ago and very one-sided love affair. Today I will indulge myself and listen to some of it. And share a piece or two with you as well.

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I Now Pronounce You …

Although the wind blew and the smoke hid the sun, Amanda and Lee were married on the grounds of a South Dakota hunting outfitter in a very well planned ceremony. Bride and groom were cool as the proverbial cucumbers, while the bride’s parents were somewhere on the other side of the vegetable spectrum. Being a parent can occasionally be tough, and a wedding is one of those instances where you are called upon to exercise skills you were not given at birth, learned in school, or picked up at the coffee shop. In short, you are flying somewhere near blind.

Unless you can afford to hire a wedding planner, and even then there are hundreds of questions to answer and so very many checks to write

But it all went down so well. It was a lovely time, and Robin and I are very happy for the couple and wish them long and happy years together. They have already been through more trials than most newly marrieds and deserve a break. A good, long one.

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To bring things back to the ground a bit. We left the grounds shortly after the ceremony, skipping the reception and wedding dinner, which were to be held indoors. This had been our plan from the beginning and we stuck to it. There were only three attendees who were masked, and we were two of them. Our plan also includes self-quarantine when we get back to Paradise.

I don’t know about you, but we really don’t love this era of the coronavirus. It’s like a big paintball battle, but one where the opponents are invisible and the paint is poisonous. Sheeesh.

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… hate to see that evenin’ sun go down …

First of all, I didn’t take this photograph. I could have, if I hadn’t been cowering indoors away from the heat. What it shows is a magical sunset, a Star Wars sunset, that happened last week as the sun shone through the gray smoke which filled our sky for several days. The fire was a hundred miles away, but its effects reached a long way down the valley.

Here in Paradise we coughed more often, our air quality suffered in any way you cared to measure it, and experts told us (and rightly so) how unhealthy it all was. But, child, we did have some sunsets, didn’t we?

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Just a hundred yards from our home a couple of evenings ago Robin and I saw something special. Six buck mule deer in a group crossing Sunnyside Street. We see does frequently, but not the males. Not in groups like this. They were beautiful to behold. A bunch of graceful bachelors hanging out on a Saturday night.

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Sunday afternoon the weather was unsettled, but Robin and I decided to take our exercise hike anyway. It wasn’t long before we plucked our rain shells out of the daypacks and put them on as drizzle protection. It never rained hard, but just enough to provoke the gumbo gods and a thick coating of mud built up on the bottoms of our boots. But we persevered and were glad we did. Some of the joys of walking in the rain are experiencing the aromas of the plant communities, like the sage and rabbitbrush. Aromas that may be there on drier days, but our limited sense of smell doesn’t pick them up.

We took off our mud-encrusted boots before we got back in the car and placed them carefully in the cargo bay of the Forester, driving home in our stocking feet. Once back at la casa del Floms, I hosed the boots down and put them in the garage to dry. That gumbo becomes semi-concrete if you give it half a chance.

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This summer I have really come to love the sound of the Hawaiian slack-key guitar. I was formerly ignorant of the entire genre, but now prefer it to any of the more familiar sounds from those islands. The music has an interesting history, starting with a bunch of 19th century Mexican cowboys … but I’ll stop there, you might want to read more on your own. Wikipedia is a good place to start.

It is all in the tuning, apparently, and I have to trust those who know about such things, because the only musical instrument I ever learned to play was the stereo. The effect is to mellow me out so thoroughly that I am in danger of slipping right out of my chair and cracking my head on the way down.

But this sweet music fits perfectly into the languor of these hot summer afternoons and evenings.

Here’s a couple by Ledward Ka’apana: Pua Hana and Slack Key Lullaby.

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We Are Probably Incapable Of Learning Our Lesson Department

Against all odds and common sense we are planning a campout for the Labor Day weekend, most likely with Amy, Neil, and family. Since everything is pretty much buttoned up down here, we’re thinking about going up onto the Uncompahgre Plateau, a largely uninhabited and wild place where only the weakest minds venture to go and only the hardiest survive (definite hyperbole, there).

This time we’re planning on bringing sleeping bags, just for variety, and the sorts of food that if any of it drops on the ground you can pick it up and blow the dirt off and it’s good as new. Our camper has also been repaired and all of the poles work as they should.

There’s a small campground up on the plateau containing 8 sites of the first-come/first-served kind. It has a vault toilet, but no water. The daily camping fee is zero dollars, because they don’t patrol or pick up trash or much of anything, actually. But we’ve seen it, and it’s surprisingly tidy. It is also located close to some hiking/biking trails that are appealing.

But spill one’s chicken chili out there and it’s a long way back to Montrose for provisions.

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That Gypsy!

Way back in 1999, Sean Penn showed up in a Woody Allen movie called Sweet and Lowdown, which was about a fictional jazz guitarist in the 30s named Emmet Ray who believed he was the greatest player in the world … except for … that gypsy! And the gypsy in question was Django Reinhardt. Now, Django was a real person, and is still regarded as one of the best guitarists … well … ever.

Django Reinhardt lost use of two fingers in an accident, but developed a unique style around his disability.

At that time, Reinhardt would have been playing with the group that he and a friend had formed up in Paris. One that had what has to be an all-time greatest name for a jazz ensemble: the Quintette du Hot Club de France. Is that great or what?

His technique is awesome! Even today, nobody has really come to the state that he was playing at. As good as players are, they haven’t gotten to where he is. There’s a lot of guys that play fast and a lot of guys that play clean, and the guitar has come a long way as far as speed and clarity go, but nobody plays with the whole fullness of expression that Django has. I mean, the combination of incredible speed – all the speed you could possibly want – but also the thing of every note having a specific personality. You don’t hear it. I really haven’t heard it anywhere but with Django.

Jerry Garcia

Wikipedia has a long biography of this guy, which makes interesting reading, but what does all this have to do with anything? I’ll you what – Django is who I’m listening to today out on the backyard deck, where the sun’s rays cannot get to me and the yellowjackets seem to have lost interest as well.

This was a man who changed my musical life by giving me a whole new perspective on the guitar and, on an even more profound level, on my relationship with sound…During my formative years, as I listened to Django’s records, especially songs like ‘Nuages’ that I would play for the rest of my life, I studied his technique. Even more, I studied his gentleness. I love the human sound he gave his acoustic guitar.

Willie Nelson

So how could I not share a couple of cuts with you today? Tiger Rag shows how fast he can play, Nuages how soulfully.

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Daughter Maja spent some time with us last evening, and it was so good catching up with her. She may have to return to Peru in the near future, although just how that will happen is uncertain. That country is right now experiencing very hard times re: coronavirus, in spite of a rigorous military-style lockdown from the get-go.

Maja explained the seeming contradiction there, and it directly relates to poverty. Forty per cent of Lima’s population are without refrigeration, and must go to market nearly every day. Plus the poor live in crowded homes, making isolation or quarantine difficult or impossible. Many of these homes are without running water as well.

Peru’s borders are still closed, but the bad guy is already in the house.

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Michelle Goldberg wrote an op-ed piece on some of the dilemmas faced by working parents in this time of the plague. Her perspective is that of a working parent worrying about what sort of school situation her own child will be in come this Fall.

How can you not feel for these folks with so many questions about the disease still unanswered, so many different approaches being suggested for try-out, and so little guidance coming on the national level? It is one tough time to be a parent, especially of younger children.

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I received a present from the Times of New York today, and it wasn’t even my birthday. A short piece about a favorite of mine since … dunno … before Time began. That person is Odetta Felious. What a voice. What a talent.

I’ve been collecting her music since I was a teen and I actually heard her sing in person at St. Olaf College in Northfield MN, in a small intimate auditorium. That would have been in the mid-sixties. So why the article today in the Times? I can’t think of any other reason than to please me. I really didn’t know they cared.

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Saddle Up!

Saturday morning we took our first bicycle ride since Robin’s fall a couple of months ago. Down to the Farmer’s Market we rolled to round up some of the finest peaches and sweet corn on the planet. Rode back home extra-carefully so as to bruise neither the fruit nor Robin.

All went well, and that’s a good thing because we’d both love to add those regular rides back to our exercise/fun schedule. Especially with the promise of cooler days in September. This summer of consistent high temperatures has definitely required some coping strategies. A lot more time indoors than we’re accustomed to.

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The Democrats have put away the party hats they never got to use, and are going about the everyday business of working toward getting their people elected. The Cluckian Party, which replaced the Republicans somewhere along the way, is gearing up for something of their own next week.

Because the stuttering young man who had been befriended by Joe Biden made such a favorable impression this past week, the Clucksters are trying hard to find someone (outside his immediate family) whose life has been bettered by contact with his Serene Orange-itude, but they are not having any success at all.

Word has it that they are willing to settle for hiring a few shills if they can find some that are convincing enough. So look next week for a line of suspicious-looking people throwing down their crutches and declaring I Can Walk! I Can Walk! after coming into the presence of P.Cluck hisself.

As for myself, I am allowed to watch only one political convention per year by order of my personal physician, Dr. Imperviosa Sanguinaria. Between us we selected the Democrats’ get-together as this year’s winner. It’s a matter of my blood pressure, she says. So whatever the Cluckians do, I’ll have to wait for the summaries a day later to find out. Or perhaps a week. Or two.

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From The New Yorker

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Several years ago I scanned some ancient photographs that Robin’s mother, Dorothy, had been keeping around in various shoeboxes. You know, the way everybody did before digital cameras came on the scene. Now I have them in our library, even though I know very few of the people in the pix, and that goes for Robin as well. I don’t quite understand it, but I enjoy studying antique photos, even when they are of people I don’t know.

Believing that everybody deserves their one day of fame and exposure, I will share a few of these vintage photographs with you.

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And lastly, this Sunday morning, something fierce. One woman’s poem chosen by another poet, and all purloined by me from the Times of New York.

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Some Girls

By Alison Luterman and Naomi Shihab Nye

This poem had already been selected when Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez expressed on the House floor her unforgettably powerful response to misogynistic insult. Now I read it with pride for brave people who speak out publicly for respect and justice, for passionate poets like Alison Luterman, for the people who live through “every kind of exile” … for all the awkwardness of trying on “new wings.” And for a country that has prided itself on being so forward-thinking without ever electing one of those girls to be even vice president, much less president. This poem feels like an anthem for “ferocious mercy” to come. Selected by Naomi Shihab Nye

Some Girls

By Alison Luterman

Some girls can’t help it; they are lit sparklers,
hot-blooded, half naked in the depths of winter,
tagging moving trains with the bright insignia of their
fury.
I’ve seen their inked torsos: falcons, swans, meteor
showers.
And shadowed their secret rendezvous,
walking and flying all night over paths traced like veins
through the deep body of the forest
where they are trying on their new wings,
rising to power with a ferocious mercy
not seen before in the cities of men.
Having survived slander, abuse, and every kind of exile,
they’re swooping down even now
from treetops where they were roosting,
wearing robes woven of spider webs and pigeon
feathers.
They have pulled the living child out of the flames
and are prepared to take charge through the coming
apocalypse.
I have learned that some girls are boys; some are birds,
some are oases ringed with stalking lions. See,
I cannot even name them,
although one of them is looking out through my eyes
right now,
one of them
is writing all this down with light-struck fingers.

A River Runs Through It

Relentless. The sun is just that. It really requires that we don’t miss a beat, that we inject some discipline into those lazy, hazy, crazy days of sum-mer, those days of peanuts, and pretzels, and beer.

If I don’t water my patch of garden every 24 hours, it will begin to die. If we don’t wear sunscreen, we will sauté. If we don’t carry water whenever we go for a walk, even a short one, we will wither until we either find water or pass on to our great reward. There’s no laying about the porch and sucking on a grass stem this year. This is serious sunshine.

Our cars are air-conditioned and Covid-free pods (we hope) that we use to move about the landscape to avoid stir-craziness. Yesterday we moved our bubble to Ouray, where we found other humans getting out of their bubbles to buy necessary things. Like beef jerky, T-shirts, and portobello wraps with fries.

Everybody in our own bubble is masked, even though we all like each other. We can’t trust each other, however. Not completely.

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Monday afternoon we rented inflatable kayaks and ran down the Uncompahgre River from Lake Chipeta and through the rapids in the city water park. Robin and I were in one tandem boat, with DJ and Cheyenne in the other. It’s basically a Class II river run. The only problem was that I have Class I river skills. And so I managed to crash into the branches of an evil Russian Olive tree that sought my life, wedge our boat so firmly against a stump in the current that it took a small army to free us, and run at least half the river either backwards or sideways.

Somehow we ended up unharmed at the take-out place near the Main Street Bridge. The equipment was all in one piece as well so I guess it was a success, but I’m glad there isn’t any video anywhere of my performance.

Granddaughter Cheyenne loved it! So score one for Colorado!

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Here are Cheyenne and DJ coming through the Water Park section that runs through a park here in Montrose.

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Tuesday morning our guests are leaving to return to Minnesota. It has been an excellent visit, and we wish them a complete bon voyage apiece. Traveling these days has some similarities to that popular parlor game, Russian Roulette. Your odds are undoubtedly better than one in six, but the problem is you don’t know exactly how much better.

What about that woman in the window seat? Is she okay? She looks peaked. I think I can sense she has a fever from way over here on the aisle. Good God, is she going to cough? I’m heading for the bathroom if she does, until that droplet cloud settles. Poor b****rd next to her. He’s a goner, I’m thinking. That’s it, I’m outta here as soon as the wheels hit the ground.

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Mr. Cool

I have not been one of Barack Obama’s biggest fans, more of a medium-strength enthusiast, I’d say. Of course, comparing him to the present occupant of the office of POTUS, he looks like a positive god sent to live among us mortals. But IMHO Mr. Obama liked the trappings of office a little too much to take the risks that might have moved America further along, and that was disappointing.

But he had heart and honesty, with style and charisma enough for two men. If only he had … but those are stories to tell and discussions to have around political campfires late into the night. This week he delivered a eulogy for John Lewis and it was a strong one, delivered in his best Baptist-preacher voice, one that the deceased might well have wished he’d stuck around another day or two just to hear.

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We have guests arriving tonight by airship from Minnesota – daughter Sarah, husband D.J., and granddaughter Cheyenne. We’re putting them up at a local hostelry, and we will spend the days trying to find things to do here in Paradise when the temperature promises nothing less than well above ninety degrees Fahrenheit each day.

But I think we’ll manage nicely, thank you very much, even though entertaining in the Covid era takes a bit more planning than it did in the good old days … way way back there … before February. Most of our time together will be outdoors, and even though the temps are going to be on the high side, our lower humidity makes them more tolerable, and we always have the option of doing some of the sight-seeing up at 10,000 feet, where it’s often a good deal cooler.

It will be so good to see them, making their first trip out to visit us. We have a great resource to use as hosts, in that Colorado is often a visually stunning state, and we live smack-dab in the middle of quite a lot of that.

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From The New Yorker

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Our guests arrived, all three with that odd sort of dull tiredness that one gets from sitting in an airplane. We forced them to stay up and talk to us but had to finally send them off to their motel when their heads started smacking one by one into the iron table on the deck. Fearing brain damage or worse we released them from their social obligations and off they went.

Today we’ll probably visit the Black Canyon, since it’s only 20 minutes from our home, and is always a good way to begin the Colorado conversation. In this state you’re either looking up at something very tall, or looking down into something that is scary deep. A trip to the Canyon affords opportunities for both.

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Now here’s something you don’t read every day. Scientists have found microbes in a deep part of the sea floor that may have lived there dormant for, let’s say, 100 million years! When they fed them a little bit of carbon and talked nicely to them, they woke up and began to reproduce.

This is all pretty fascinating, and we don’t know the end of the story yet, but here’s something to think about.

How many times have you seen a low-budget sci-fi movie where humans disturbed something at the bottom of the sea, and it woke to rampage through New York or Tokyo? Usually it’s a huge reptile or slug or something. But what if it’s really something very tiny, let’s say, like a microbe?

What is it isn’t Godzilla we should have been worrying about all this time? What if it’s really Bactilla that is going to knock down all those buildings and send the inhabitants scurrying in terror? So tomorrow those scientists will open the door to their labs and there will be these empty broken test tubes all over the floor …

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Last night, Robin and I had just settled into bed and begun our night-time reading when suddenly the most powerful aroma of skunk assailed us. So strong it was almost as if the animal were in the house spraying everything in sight. I cautiously went back out and did an interior inspection, then took a flashlight to the back yard and … nothing. Nothing but enough skunk scent to make you wonder where and what.

None of this would probably have bothered someone who hadn’t already briefly entertained one of these creatures in his living room, but there you are.

Once threatened, twice shy.

Monumental

The Colorado National Monument is a piece of work. You get to it by leaving Grand Junction CO and skipping down the road to Fruita CO, then turning left. A few miles further on and you begin to climb on the switchback-y road for a gain in altitude of a couple of thousand feet and you are there. And where is “there?”

Well, here.

If the pix make it look slightly spectacular, that’s because it is. Even the driving on the single road through the park is awesome for me, in this meaning of the word: fear-inspiring. You all know that I have acrophobia, and that I deplore the Colorado habit of creating two-lane roads with a mountain on one side and a terrible cliff on the other … and then providing nothing like a guard rail or anything to keep you from driving off the skinny road into eternity should your hand slip just a bit on the steering wheel, or your foot twitch on the accelerator pedal. And this road through the monument is full of those opportunities for fright for those who share my affliction.

The trouble is, in Colorado such places are two things at once: unavoidable and scenically amazing. As they are here at the CNM. So I gather what shreds of courage that I still possess and turn the driving over to Robin while I sweatily grip the handles on the car door and think of the tens of thousands of people who must have made this same journey without any plummeting involved at all.

At any rate, Saturday we rendezvoused with the Hurley family at the Monument, where they were camping for a couple of nights. We broke bread with them, hiked a couple of short hikes with them, and jabbered together about everything and nothing in particular, the way friends do.

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For me, Dr. Fauci is still someone to look to for honest and valid advice in this time of rampant obfuscation. Why do I say “still?” Well, here he is throwing out the first ball of the major league baseball season.

Just goes to show that there are few of us who are good at everything. By all reports he is planning to keep his day job.

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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