Ahhhnold Speaks

There is a particularly beautiful place not twenty miles from our home at Basecamp. To get there you drive east on Highway 50 until you reach a dot on the map named Cimarron. Today there is a small convenience store/gas station and very little else in the townlet of Cimarron. But at some time in the past someone’s larger dream died there, because just a bit further on is the husk of a large and completely abandoned service station/motel/restaurant complex. It’s obviously been closed down for years and years, but one eerie light still burns in the restaurant dining room, day and night.

Now you turn left and go two miles down a paved two-lane road that follows the Cimarron River through a cleft in the mountains until you reach the confluence of that stream with the Gunnison River. The road ends there in a parking lot. A short walk down a path puts a person on the Gunnison, where some other dreamers go to fish for trout. In summertime, it looks like this:

One of those starry-eyed people, yours truly, went there on Tuesday afternoon intending to do just that. Unfortunately when we reached the parking lot the air temperature in that canyon was 14 degrees (it had been 37 degrees in Montrose). So we exited our car, walked fifty yards, admired the lovely river, got right back in the car, and drove off. At 14 degrees your fly line ices up in a very short time, and becomes entirely unworkable. So does your typical fisherman.

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From The New Yorker

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Once I became aware of this video message, there was no question in my mind that I would link to it. It’s like someone took many of my own scrambled thoughts and put them together into a thoughtful and coherent presentation. How amazing it is to me that the person who did this is Arnold Schwarzenegger.

He and I have few similarities. He is from Austria and I am not. He was Mr. Universe and I wasn’t. He had an affair with his housekeeper and I didn’t. He is a large, muscular guy … I could go on but I think I’ve made my point.

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It seems years since Election Day, doesn’t it? So much ugliness since then, and we still have just under a week to go until Joe Biden is sworn in as President. The right-wingers who start each day with a big bowl of conspiracy flakes for breakfast are apparently threatening to bring their camo clothing, their costumery, their Confederate battle flags, and their weaponry to capitols across the U.S. to make their point. Or to continue their attempts at a coup … I don’t know which is their aim.

What interesting times we are living in. After watching videos of those idiots on January 6 on their well-armed rampage, isn’t it pretty obvious that we need to take a long hard look at that 2nd amendment? There is no excuse for carrying guns into political rallies, other than attempted intimidation. Even back in the Wild West days they collected firearms when you entered the towns and returned them to you when you left. And these firearms today are in the hands of people shouting nonsense at the top of their lungs and spritzing spittle all over those nearest them while doing so. People you wouldn’t trust to borrow your lawn mower.

My hope is that we can pool the precious and obviously finite amount of common sense still remaining here in the land of the free, and turn our faces towards justice and compassion next week. Government by mob certainly stinks.

You know, life out there is such an inchoate mess right now … I’d like to return to the good old days, when the only one screwing up my life was me.

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From The New Yorker

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A couple of weeks ago Robin and I applied online for the Covid vaccine, and Tuesday night around 8:00 PM we both received an email message telling us that we could get our shots on Thursday morning. Other things on our calendars were quickly rearranged, as we practiced rolling up our sleeves and trying not to say “Owie.” One more step toward normalcy and one step away from chaos.

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I have administered a double dose of cartoons today. I thought the times called for twice the lightening up.

I also include a soup recipe taken from the pages of the New York Times. This is not something that I do lightly, because my bona fides in the world of cooking are too easily challenged. But this one was so good that Robin and I had it for both lunch and supper yesterday.

Of course, coming from the Times, this is a liberal soup, so those of you whose politics bear more to the right might want to watch your intake and consume no more than a single bowlful in a 24 hour period.

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No Complaints. No, Really.

We’ve been in a meteorologic twilight zone for several weeks now. Not cold enough to really expect that people will sympathize with us if we should complain, and not warm enough to elevate our moods from the Basic Winter setting (and that setting is only two millimeters above mild depression). When Robin and I go for outdoor aerobic walking we are still picking our way past icy patches no matter where we go.

[n.b.: senior citizens hate icy patches. Wherever these are to be found, in a senior’s mind all such hazards bear the symbol at left imprinted upon them. They speak of pain and trips to emergency rooms and x-rays and hospitals and traction apparati and casts and funerals.]

One of those walks of ours takes us past a pasture where about thirty horses are kept, and have been all winter. Yesterday the temperature rose to the point where it thawed two months worth of their droppings all at once. The resulting perfume was a heady one indeed. At first it pleasantly reminded me of boyhood days on my grandfather’s farm, but then it intensified to the point that survival became an issue, and we nearly ran until we were clear of the invisible but highly aromatic cloud.

Just past the toxic zone Robin spied a bald eagle high in a nearby tree. Its white head shone brilliantly in the winter sunshine. While seeing an eagle near the river is not a rarity, they never fail to impress. I don’t really care that some of their eating behaviors might not always be noble and inspiring – a bald eagle is still a grand symbol for a proud nation. Now if we could just get back on the path to fully becoming that nation, that would even be more grand.

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Pressure is being applied to Mike Pence to use the 25th amendment to remove p.cluck from office. Having not been asked to make any decisions at all for four years, he is having trouble imagining getting anything done in the few days he has left in office. He can’t do it by himself, of course, he needs seven cabinet members to go along with him. Think about that for a moment. Getting seven members of the most dysfunctional cabinet in modern times to do something that while it might be good for their country, is potentially bad for them.

I don’t believe I’ll hold my breath.

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Went down to the river on Sunday, not to pray but to fish. I still don’t know what I’m doing wrong because I caught another one. It could be that by some mischance I chose the right fly for the time and place. The part of the Uncompahgre River that I was wading around in was lovely, and the waterway was all mine, at least as far as humans were concerned. My only companions were small birds.

The only imperfection, really, was the footing. Walking on cobblestones in the water is awkward, especially when the stones are the size of grapefruit. And while the river posed no threat to life, running at the low flow levels typical of a mid-winter day, the prospect of falling down and filling my waders with near-freezing water was one that I have resolved to avoid at all costs.

I could only stay out for a couple of hours because as the afternoon began to cool there was ice forming along my fly line, and by then my fingers had lost the ability to tie a knot in anything smaller than a hawser.

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Just to get out in front of the critics, I am going to admit that not everything is perfect here in Paradise. For instance, in this past election Coloradans chose to send Lauren Boebert to the U.S. House of Representatives. Her opponent in that contest had been an intelligent, experienced, and thoughtful woman who would have brought some serious skills to Congress.

Instead, we elected Boebert, and I must now cringe whenever her name comes up on a television screen, wondering what inanity she might be involved in now. But why should I natter further? Here she is. Our very own entry into the one-trick-pony sweepstakes.

(Rep. Boebert is the one in the middle, pointing her weapon at the floor of her restaurant in Rifle, CO. Perhaps to shoot at a cockroach, who knows?)

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Mea Culpa, Already

It is a fact that I pilfer regularly from the archives of cartoonists, principally those who draw for the New Yorker magazine. In my defense, I nearly always attribute them properly, and in a way my larceny is a form of respect. You don’t ordinarily steal what you don’t value.

I wouldn’t have to do this if I were able to draw. But my attempts at even the crudest sketching would have been rejected by the original people in charge of the Lascaux caves as being unworthy. Any child’s sidewalk scribble outshines me. I have a clear memory of art classes in first and second grades where for years I would draw the exact same thing and turn it in. I don’t recall my teachers as ever calling me on it, and I was very happy when by the third grade we no longer had to do this activity.

This was the piece that I drew over and over. Part of a house, part of a tree, and the sun. Occasionally I would add a few blades of grass, but that was it.

No people or animals. The sun, the tree, the house. This was my best work. I look back at it fondly.

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So whenever I have need for something graphic to add life to my blog pages, I must resort to piracy. I am quite sure that you readers would quickly tire of the dismal artistic triad shown in the drawing above, and be less forgiving than my early childhood teachers were. In uncharitable moments you might easily refer to it as pathetic.

But here we go again …

From The New Yorker

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On Thursday I once again sallied forth to do a little stream fishing. In brand new boots. What I failed to mention in a post a few days ago is that I had outgrown my old boots to the point where walking about in them was uncomfortable and gave me insight into the ancient Chinese practice of binding feet. There are so many jokes that Mother Nature has in her repertoire, and one of them that I hadn’t heard of until I experienced it was that while aging shortens so many things, including one’s height and memory, it lengthens one’s feet. Yes, they keep growing. I imagine that if I lived long enough, eventually my baseball cap would rest upon a huge pair of shoes, and inside that cap would basically be me.

At any rate the new footgear performed flawlessly.

There was something odd, however, that happened on this particular Thursday. I hooked two trout. This was completely unexpected, and both times it caught me so off guard that I allowed them to escape. In all of my lifetime of hours spent angling upon the waters of this great land of ours, I am rarely interrupted by fish.

This has been especially true of fly fishing, something that I had barely tried before I moved to Paradise. But the attraction of these beautiful mountain streams was too strong, and so I purchased the basic equipment and now I try to go to places where it is unlikely that I will be observed in my flailing.

Initially I took a few lessons, one of which involved turning over rocks in the streams to see what grotesque creatures were clinging to them, the idea being that this would give me an idea what the local fish had available for eating. I could then choose what flies to tie on, thus greatly improving my chances of catching something. Since those early days I confess that I have not turned over a single stone. I will admit that I am beginning to think that my poor performance in streamside entomology might have something to do with my regularly empty creels.

But hey, this way I don’t have to worry about the size, number, or variety of the fish I don’t catch. If I wish to embellish a story or two, there is no evidence to the contrary. I always practice catch and release wherever I go, even when it is not required, sez I to questioners.

[So here is a photo that I did not take of a fish that I did not catch. No matter.] Landing this behemoth was such a struggle, you wouldn’t believe it . There I was, all alone in the wilderness, when the vicious thing lunged at me even as I stood on the shoreline. The gnashing of its razor-sharp teeth was a horrible thing to hear … its murderous eye enough to strike fear into the heart of the bravest man … .

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From The New Yorker

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I have a plan. After P.Cluck is impeached for the second time, he should then be tried in the civil courts for his numerous offenses against man and God. Once this process is over, his sentence would include lifetime housing for him and his noxious clan in this luxurious but drafty thirty bed bungalow. There would, of course, be no internet access or electricity, and I would give him the new title of Permanent Goatherd and Latrine Orderly.

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There’s A Man Goin’ Round Takin’ Names

Let’s do this. Let’s get rid of the electoral college once and for all. Let’s shrink the time between the election and the swearing-in of the new President. Let’s make sure we write down the names of everyone who has supported this Frankenstein of a POTUS. We don’t want to forget even one of them. Let’s remember the names of that handful of Republicans who have spoken up along the way and been driven out or into silence by the jeers and threats of today’s modern equivalent of Italy’s good ol’ Black Shirts. They were the good ol’ thugs of their time, waving flags while running around and clubbing people who disagreed with them.

Italian blackshirts, circa 1920

Let’s get a copy of the Constitution and read it, along with its amendments, to embed into our hearts those words that help us all to remain safe. That should keep us busy for at least a couple of days, and it’s something constructive to do during the Great National Confinement , otherwise known as the coronavirus pandemic.

[It might help to remember that the Constitution was not created as the rules for a club consisting entirely of thoughtful gentlepersons. It was designed to help keep a bunch of unruly and often unsavory bastards from killing one another. Ir provided the set of generally agreed-upon rules which enable us to live together as Americans and that is no small thing.]

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I have reached that point in the year when I have the conversation with myself that goes something like this: I am now officially tired of winter and would like it to go away, please. A month of it is really long enough to learn all that one needs to learn about self-discipline, tolerance for meteorologic adversity, and fortifying one’s soul by inserting enforced self-denial into spaces that used to contain pleasures.

Yep, a month of it would really be enough. After all, that would be 8.33333333% of the year. Do we really need more?

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From The New Yorker

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Yesterday the temperature soared to 43 degrees here in Paradise, so of course I went fishing. I rounded up the necessaries and trucked myself down the hill to the Uncompahgre River. I was dressed in more layers than I needed, expecting to feel chilled walking around in that icy water. But I didn’t, not at all. It was an altogether excellent couple of hours that I passed, flailing the bejabbers out of the poor fly I’d selected.

With my Tenkara equipment I found out two things right away. When you are a beginner, and the rod is twelve feet long, it is very easy to hit things overhead, like trees and bushes. It is also quite easy to hit one’s target in the stream, as long as the target is at least six feet in diameter.

The sun was shining and the water was clear and fast. A group of four mallard ducks was dabbling away just twenty yards from me, apparently not too concerned about the clumsy beast upstream with the stick in his hand.

I was far from alone out there, I counted three other men who were similarly engaged on that stretch of the river. I also counted the number of fish that the four of us hauled in, cumulatively. None. But the number of contented faces was the true measure of the day. And there were four of those.

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For those of you who fish, the Davy knot may be a new one for you, as it was for me. I can attest that it holds very well, and is as easy to tie as any of them. I like the lack of bulk in the finished knot, which should be helpful in other types of fishing as well when deception is especially important.

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This gallery may be of no interest to any but my kids, but here are a few scenes from a trip to Cape Hatteras, on the Outer Banks of North Carolina, which took place in 1972.

Storms – What’s Not To Love?

It’s been more than a year now that I’ve been making food for our cats. I had come across a slurry of articles extolling the virtues of doing so, mostly to avoid some of the nightmare situations that pop up in the news from time to time where a pet that is fed only this or that commercial food develops some damaging or fatal nutritional deficiency.

The recipes for preparing the food are primarily based on chicken, which is ground and then mixed with a vitamin/amino acid/mineral supplemental mixture. Sounded good. Poco liked it. Willow totally ignored it. But I continued to provide the concoction to both animals and over time Willow came around. Still being mistrustful of the safety of feeding only a single food (and one that I made, to boot), I continued to offer commercial varieties alongside the homemade stuff.

Then something interesting and unexpected happened. Poco is about 14 years old, and has developed some of the infirmities of age, including arthritis. Slowly over the years he had slowed down more and more, to the point where he was rarely running or climbing. Within a few months of starting the homemade food, both Robin and I noticed considerable improvement in his mobility, which was not something we were anticipating at all. Improvement that persists. Not that he is scampering about like a new kitten, but he is so obviously more comfortable than he was that there is now no question of our stopping these feedings – even if we should tire of the minor mess of preparing them.

All this time I had been using an attachment that came with our Kitchen-Aid mixer to grind the chicken, which was putting a strain on the machine. It was never intended for regular strenuous usage like this. So this month I made myself a gift of a sleek and powerful tool that is pretty much dedicated to grinding food for our pets.

May I present the Weston #12 grinder >>>>>>>>

I’m not suggesting that anyone out there follow this path. When you are conducting an experiment of the n=1 variety, it’s basically nothing more than an anecdote. And there are concerns about feeding a raw diet to any pet. But in this house, our old friend is enjoying life more these days, enough so that we’re not about to go back to our old practices.

[And in the bargain I have something new to play with. The instructions that came with the Weston suggest strongly that I not allow my long hair to dangle anywhere near the device, nor should I wear a tie while working with it. No problem on either account. I don’t even know where my ties are, and my tresses have completely lost the ability to dangle. ]

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Many of the places where Robin and I like to go on our exercise walks are down along the Uncompahgre River, which is about two miles from our home. Yesterday as we trucked along in 34 degree gray-sky weather, we came across a guy standing out in the river fly-fishing. I had to admire his grit in doing so in such chilly weather, and he was suitably attired in waders and boots and quite a lot of clothing to keep his core warm.

But I found myself wondering about one thing. Tying knots. Whenever I have fished in colder weather, this has been a stumbling block for me. You can’t tie a knot with gloves on, and you if you take your gloves off and plunge those digits into freezing water you only have a short time before they don’t work and need to be warmed up all over again.

Even in the best of weather my sausage-like fingers are not the greatest knot-tying tools to bring along on a fishing trip. There has been more than one occasion in the past where I wished that I could have secured the services of a knot-tyer who did nothing but sit in the boat with me until I needed him.

And it’s not that I don’t practice tying those darned things. In the YouTube age there are scores of videos to show you just how to construct a proper Palomar knot or Perfection Loop or Uni-knot, even to the point of offering animated lessons which couldn’t be clearer. But in none of them is the person doing the deed using the ten bratwursts I must work with. Additionally, it would seem that I have only rudimentarily apposable thumbs.

So looking at this man standing in an ice bath and fishing with tiny flies that will likely need to be changed during the course of the day, I was filled with both admiration for him and a personal wish to get back to our warm vehicle as quickly as possible. While my cold-weather manual dexterity leaves something to be desired, I am a master at making good use of heated spaces.

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A Dick Guindon Cartoon

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Living in the Uncompahgre Valley has a lot going for it, as long as you are comfortable with the semi-desert environment. There are no hurricanes, earthquakes, tornados or other severe natural disturbances to worry about (not that they haven’t happened, but soooo rarely). Winter and summer temperatures avoid the extremes found elsewhere in the country. In our six years here I would say that the word that best exemplifies local weather is moderation.

As a result the area is a draw for older folks who resent being blown across the street and into buildings by violent winds, or falling into gigantic cracks in the earth that weren’t there a moment ago. These were not the reasons we moved to Paradise, but life is a tad easier when you don’t have to remember which basement wall to huddle against as a tornado moves through your homestead. This is a good thing, especially since so many homes out here have no basement, including our own.

Storm on Lake Superior

But this morning I was thinking about the exhilaration that storms have given me for as long as I can remember. And how long it has been now since I felt in peril from them. When I lived in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, it was a fifteen-minute drive to the Lake Superior shoreline when thunderstorms moved in from the west. I would drive out to watch them, to get the spray in my face as the turbulent air took water from the tops of the huge gray-green breakers coming in and threw it at me. Of course I was safely on land, and might have felt differently if I had been out on a boat at those times. But the sense of the awesomeness of the world was never keener than in moments when I was not quite safe. To fully experience the realization that natural forces could crush me like a berry under a boot at any time, no matter how special I thought I was.

When tornados approached and the sirens went off, I was often the last guy into the basement. Not because I’m putting on some sort of macho display, but because I wanted to see it. I wanted to feel that odd stillness of the air around me while the skies went berserk. I understand those idiots who we see out on the shore on television news programs, romping in the face of hurricanes. I know why they are there, and it has nothing at all to do with common sense. For those nincompoops and for me, it is definitely an adrenaline rush. A feeling that I can’t describe, that is completely other.

That sense of danger is missing from Paradise. Oh, I can easily frighten the bejabbers out of myself if I want to by hiking on trails that teeter along ledges in these mountains that surround me, but that’s different. I can go or not go … I have a choice. The awesome thing about the turbulent moments that I have been describing is that they happen whether I want them or not. They are out of control.

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Holding The Baby

This Sunday evening Colorado’s version of shelter-at-home expires, and some official loosening-up is expected. We’re not entirely sure which establishments will be allowed to open and which will remain shuttered, but we’ll be taking a small step toward … what? Normal?

I’m not sure that “normal” will be allowed us for a good long time to come. All of what’s happened the past several months has been too big a hit to just say “Well, that’s that. I’m going out for a haircut, dinner, and a movie. Maybe we’ll play Twister afterward. See y’all later.”

There are the restrictions that our governments have wisely put in place, and there are those that we added on for ourselves. What we’ve been so forcefully reminded of recently is something that was always true, we just chose to play it down, to ignore it.

We live in a world of hazards. Some of them are big, like automobiles and crazed moose. Some of them are so small as to be invisible. A car and a novel coronavirus can both hurt us, but you can at least see a car coming (sometimes) and try to get out of its way. If we were to take all of the possible threats that exist into consideration every day I don’t know who would have the courage to step outside their front door.

But how do we go from wondering whether we need to wash our cans of tuna or not, to happily sitting elbow to elbow in the bleachers at a baseball game holding our plastic cup of soda that’s been well-handled by many people? In one big step or thirty small ones?

How long will it take before a new mom can easily say to a friend or relative: “Would you like to hold the baby?”

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From The New Yorker

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Robin is going to be teaching a class on the Montrose campus of Colorado Mesa U this fall, and is already doing what thoughtful teachers do – the grunt work of prepping for the class. In her search for materials she bought a copy of Greta Thunberg’s small book, and has already nearly finished it.

Thunberg is such an interesting person. Even more interesting is the outsize effect one small individual has had on how we talk about climate change, at least those of us who think that Sir Isaac Newton really put his finger on something there with the falling apples and everything. Those of us who still kinda like science.

We can ignore climate science. We really can. Millions of Americans are doing it as I write this. What we can’t do is ignore it without causing harm. The teeth of the beast don’t become less sharp when we turn our back on it. All that happens is that the bite comes from behind.

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I read yesterday that two cats have been diagnosed recently with coronavirus infection. The cats had the sniffles. Don’t ask why the vets tested them, I don’t know. Don’t ask if it’s the same strain we humans are having so much trouble with, I don’t know.

The cats were in different states out East, and are allegedly making a good recovery. There are no worries about transmission to or from people, the article stipulated.

While I was reading the piece, there was a sudden sneeze and cough behind me and I whirled around, startled, to see Poco sitting there on the couch at my shoulder with a mischievous grin on his face. He then raised his eyebrows as if to say “What?,” before he jumped to the floor and walked away. He has not coughed since.

I think I’ve been punked. I had no idea he could read.

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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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