The Buzz

You may have noticed that I haven’t complained about being stung by the yellowjackets that have terrorized us in our yard each summer that we’ve lived here in Paradise. The reason is that I think I’ve found the way, finally, to live an outdoor life at home without being annoyed by these aggressive bugs. I go for the queens.

In past years I’ve waited until the swarms arise in the warmth of the day and fly in malignant squadrons back and forth looking for innocent flesh into which to plunge their barbs. I never caught up, and was always two steps and a swollen forehead or finger behind the beasts.

But this year I put out the traps I have always used, but I put them out in March … before the little darlings even showed up for their summers’ target practice. These traps attract the insects and do them in, and I believe that in 2020 I got the devices out early enough to catch the queens wandering by with their retinues. Much more efficient to catch one queen than a thousand soldiers, I always say, or at least I will from now on.

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Here are three more cuts from Bob Dylan’s latest album:
I’ve Made Up My Mind To Give Myself To You
Black Rider
Goodbye Jimmy Reed

For those of you of tender years out there … try to imagine your life without Dylan songs playing all through it … putting words to thoughts and emotions you were carrying around but were having trouble expressing … imagine it, if you can.

I can’t.

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Hey, friends, did you ever think that OUR ENTIRE COUNTRY would be regarded as so pestilential that we couldn’t go visit foreign countries any time we wanted to? That’s where we are today. Even Canada doesn’t want us bringing our stuff up there. And really, who can blame them? We’re a soggy, highly infectious mess that can’t follow common sense rules.

There was even an incident where an American airline traveler refused to wear a mask.

On a plane.

In that crabbed and crowded passenger cabin which is a microorganisms paradise.

[I heard that the problem was solved by relocating the gentleman to a new seat in Aisle 13z, which was on the wing, while the plane was over Wyoming. With the low population density that that state enjoys it was thought unlikely that he would hit anyone on his way down. I must emphasize that this is only a rumor, and hasn’t been independently verified.]

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These are the elements of my new office-on-the-deck this summer of the plague. Robin has begun to mock me gently by saying that the only one who spends more time in the backyard than me is our senior cat, Poco. But he does it quietly, sleeping over behind the tomato planters in the shade, while I create more of a disturbance.

I don’t have much to say in my defense. I can be quite a bother, sometimes. If I wasn’t so damned charming I’m pretty certain she would have shown me the door long ago.

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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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Miss It?

Even though I’ve been retired quite a while now, there are still times when meeting new people that I am asked what I used to do when I was a productive member of society. I tell them I was a children’s doctor. Their followup question is frequently “Do you miss it?”

I usually give the short answer “Parts of it.” And that seems to satisfy the stranger.

The long answer is that there are parts that I miss terribly, and some that I wouldn’t revisit for anything you could offer me. There are also parts, quite a lot of them, actually, that bored me to death.

I do not miss being the bearer of bad tidings to parents. Not in the slightest.

I do not miss the routines, where a well-tuned android could do the same thing that I did, perhaps better because they are sooo reliable and never forget.

I do miss the thrill of waiting in an emergency room for the ambulance to arrive, with a team beside me. Not knowing exactly what was coming, and worried/scared each time that I would not be up to the challenge. Then to be completely lost for a time in the struggle to sometimes reclaim a life and hand it back to the person. That, I miss. (Adrenaline junkie variant?)

For similar reasons, I miss the excruciating nervousness during a high-risk delivery, when the baby-yet-to-be-born’s vital signs had turned to merde. Waiting with the knowledge that there was no one else in the room with the skillset that I had, and wanting so achingly for the obstetrician to please get that baby out and give it to me so I could do what I knew to do.

That, I miss.

I miss the puzzles posed in differential diagnosis, where a patient or parent tells you a few things, an examination tells you a few things more, and perhaps the lab or x-ray departments make a contribution as well. And then it is you, using that mainframe in your head going over and over the data, back and forth, testing and rejecting hypotheses before you finally come up with an answer. Sometimes you have weeks to make up your mind, sometimes a tiny fraction of that time.

That’s a longer answer to the question.

The one that if I tried to give it each time I was asked, I would probably end up talking to the back of the stranger’s head as they walked away. We don’t always really want the answers to the polite questions we ask.

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I, Too

by Langston Hughes

I, too, sing America.

I am the darker brother.
They send me to eat in the kitchen
When company comes,
But I laugh,
And eat well,
And grow strong.

Tomorrow,
I’ll be at the table
When company comes.
Nobody’ll dare
Say to me,
“Eat in the kitchen,”
Then.

Besides, 
They’ll see how beautiful I am
And be ashamed—

I, too, am America.

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Signs of the Times

The people in our neighborhood are not given to posting signs in their yards, with two exceptions. The Trump/Pence Codger three doors down, and us. BTW, the Codger is an unpleasant man whose response when invited to the annual HOA picnic was: “I don’t eat with liberals.” We did not repeat the invitation the next year. Wouldn’t want to harass the old bugger and spoil his appetite.

Yesterday the BIDEN sign Robin had ordered arrived, and is already proudly displayed out on the berm. Unfortunately, we don’t know who his running mate will be, so we’ll need a new placard some months down the road.

In this basically “red” county, anything “blue” comes like a poke in the eye to the Republicans which we are glad to provide.

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Pandemic Puzzlement

As time goes by, it’s harder to understand the empty shelf spaces in grocery stores. Surely most of the hoarders are done by now (God knows they will never have to buy another roll of TP in their miserable lives, and will be able to pass them on to their heirs – “And to my son George, I leave my garageful of Charmin Special with Lotion …”).

But why shortages of canned goods? Frozen vegetables? These items are just sitting somewhere in warehouses … how are all of these supply chains being disrupted?

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From The New Yorker

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It occurred to me that the header photo would be a good visual metaphor for the ferment sweeping through the country right now. A high wind is blowing and sweeping many things before it.

Anyone who sees how much damage racism has done to this land is hopeful that this will be the time … that from this moment on no more knees will be placed on black necks by psychopaths with badges.

The call is out there for those of us who are not black to march, to write, to raise our voices in concert with those of people of color. Our silence has made us the passive accomplices of those brutes who continue to murder black men and women with impunity.

I use the rhetorical “us” in the above paragraph and that may be too general a pronoun. What I have written certainly applies to me, and that is all I truly know.

Black Lives Matter

I get it.

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Our gym (Gold’s) has re-opened, and we attended a couple of days ago for the first time. Their response to the emergency is to provide more materials (and encourage their employment) to disinfect each machine immediately after use. These were previously available but their usage was irregular to say the least.

The other major change, at least in the case of the treadmills, ellipticals, etc. was to retire every other station, creating a proper social distancing. Mask-wearing is left up to the client’s discretion.

At first I was disappointed in not being required to mask up, but then I thought more about it and realized that there were special considerations for some of us.

For instance, were I to wear a mask while exercising, there would always be the chance that I might inhale the entire contraption during some of the gasping that occurs. And I’m pretty sure that would not be a good thing for me.

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… Not The Motorcycle

Among all the stories and articles dealing with Covid-19 there are sprinkled individual reports of a disease in young children who’ve developed inflammation of blood vessels in locations all around the body. Some of these kids have died of heart-related problems, and many of them are Covid-19 positive.

There is mention of the disease Kawasaki syndrome in some of these articles, because of many similarities between the two conditions. The pic below is of a child with Kawasaki syndrome, and he is obviously displeased with his diagnosis.

This disease was first described in 1967 in Japan, later spread across the globe, and as of today we still don’t know its cause. Which is what is so intriguing about the newer syndrome and its relationship to a specific virus.

I have a Kawasaki story. Well, two of them, really.

The first one is very short. My first motorcycle was a 400cc Kawasaki street bike. I loved it and would have kept it forever but one day I saw a Honda Gold Wing on the dealership sales floor and she twisted my mind and I followed her and left that marvelous KZ400 behind. I wonder whatever became of her.

.

The second story follows.

I was living and working in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan when I first read about Kawasaki syndrome. That was in 1974, and the article was in the journal Pediatrics. Part of the disease’s presentation was a fairly dramatic rash, and the idea that babies with this condition were dying of “heart attacks” was alarming. I looked at the color plates accompanying the reports, and mentally filed them away.

Initially all of the cases were in Japan, but then there were reports from the Philippines, later Hawaii, and finally in 1976 there were kids on the west coast with the disease. It had traveled and been tracked making its way across the Pacific Ocean, and behaved much as an infection would.

And then there came a day in 1977 when I walked into an exam room in my office in remote Hancock MI and saw a child who had presented with a florid skin rash and a fever. My first reaction was “What the hell is this? I’ve not seen anything like … wait … yes, I have seen that rash somewhere before.” So I dug out the articles and yep, this child turned out to be the first case of Kawasaki syndrome diagnosed in the Upper Peninsula, sitting right there in a small room in the middle of the continent.*

By then several things were known about the syndrome. First, that unless you had heart involvement you were going to be miserable for a week or two but would most likely make a complete recovery. And second, if the vessels in the patient’s heart were inflamed, treatment with intravenous gamma globulin was very effective in reversing these lesions.

Since the UP was a pediatric cardiologic desert, I immediately sent the boy downstate to Ann Arbor, where they found that his heart was involved and the child was soon treated with IVGG, with a happy outcome.

So I will watch the present situation with both old and new interest.

*[This story is not told to point out how wonderful a clinician I was, although that is certainly true and I will be the first to admit it, but that the information necessary to make such a diagnosis was available to physicians even in remote and unlikely locations.]

*

When I was a pediatric resident, on Saturday mornings we attended Dr. Good’s Rounds. Dr. Robert A. Good was one of the few true geniuses that I’ve met, and each week we would present him a case as an unknown and try to stump him. We never did.

On one occasion, after the resident had laid out the clinical aspects of a case, Dr. Good began: “Well, the most interesting part of this child’s problems is the presence of those vascular lesions …” and he stopped to look around at our group. He began again: “By the way, you do know that eventually all diseases will be found to be infectious in origin, don’t you?” We nodded dutifully, even though of course we’d never heard such a statement before.

Kawasaki syndrome reeks of being infectious in origin, and the recent Covid experience only adds to that odor. So why haven’t we found the cause of Kawasaki syndrome after all this time? Because we need a new flashlight, obviously.

Let’s say that at some time in your life you went camping. Exactly an hour after everyone has settled down and is sleeping, you wake to find that you require the sort of comfort that a privy can provide. You reluctantly leave your warm sleeping bag and turn on that little easy-to-carry flashlight with the anemic amount of light that it provides and make your way to the outhouse, tripping over every root and rock in the path because you can’t see them clearly.

But you learned something from that negative experience.

So when you return to civilization, you make a trip to a hardware store and buy the biggest, brightest flashlight you can afford, and the next time you make that chilly trip to the toilet you see everything. The roots, the rocks, the raccoons, something ominous that slithered away into the underbrush – it’s all out there. Technological progress has improved your life.

*

It’s the same in medicine.

As a junior medical student I was required to attend a series of lectures on physical diagnosis. We were learning the art of eliciting information through touching patients’ bodies, listening to their hearts and lungs, and asking them to perform certain tasks. All terribly important stuff. Skills and knowledge that had been basically unchanged for a hundred years.

One day, after an hour of talking to us about stethoscopes and the alteration of the sounds you hear caused by diseases of the lungs, and of the art of percussion of the chest (the tapping while listening), the lecturing pulmonologist paused.

“Now,” he said, “I must tell you that everything I have talked about so far this morning is not worth the diagnostic value of a single chest x-ray.” And he closed his notebook and left the room.

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The discovery of x-rays was a revolutionary thing. It was the newest and best flashlight of 1913. But what amazing ones were to follow – the CT scan, brain scan, PET scan, MRI, etc. And that was just in the radiology department.

Each time there is a technical advance, we learn new stuff. Not just about what we might have been studying at the time, but other things as well. We’re unfortunately accustomed to the term collateral damage, as when a weapon kills innocents along with the intended target.

Well, there is such a thing as collateral learning as well. This occurs when a tool is developed and all of a sudden uses are found for it far from the original plans.** As an example, all of the diagnostic testing now being done for Covid-19 uses technology that didn’t exist when I started out in medicine.

Each time we get one of those new flashlights, people begin immediately shining them everywhere and oh, what things we learn. But so far, no new beam to shine on Kawasaki syndrome, not yet.

**[Steve Jobs was particularly conscious of this phenomenon. When he first presented the iPhone, he knew that it was a remarkable technical achievement, but that neither he nor anyone else could know how it would eventually be used. That was where we came in. And who could have imagined how useful it has become?]

*

BTW, as long as we’re on the subject, you do know what the world’s most powerful diagnostic instrument is, don’t you? And it’s been around for a thousand years?

It’s the retrospectoscope. With it you can look backward in time, and declare “I knew it all along!” to everyone who is within earshot and you believe may be susceptible to your unmerited self-praise.

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Of Earth

Our weather this Spring has been marked by sunshine and a dry wind that comes up mid-morning. It’s been a striking change for us, after six years here in Paradise where we largely were able to forget about those breezy prairie days back in South Dakota. It’s been this way for at least a month.

The wind blows hard enough that we’ve shifted some of our outdoor exercising from midday to earlier in the morning to avoid it. We love bicycling, but both of us find a 20+ mph headwind distracting. Plus, in this arid country any stiff breeze always carries a bit of the topography with it, and rubbing bits of Colorado out of one’s eyes quickly becomes tiresome.

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Out tiny garden is doing well so far. Blossoms on tomatoes and all that. Of course, if we didn’t follow the admonition “Just add water” nothing would survive at all. What the heavens don’t provide, we do.

Here are the plantings we’ve done this year, and I know these tender seedlings would appreciate your thoughts and prayers. When they see me come to tend them they must shudder inside, knowing the risks they are being exposed to.

  • leaf lettuce
  • tomatoes
  • spinach
  • basil (already died off of a chill)
  • kale

As you can see, we’ve focused heavily on plants containing lots of anti-oxidants. I think Robin and I need all of those we can get, since there are days when I think I am oxidizing way too rapidly for my own good.

It’s all for fun, since we basically eat the output as fast as it comes to maturity. Gardening the way we do it is much like fishing is for me. You don’t want to calculate the price of those fish per pound or you’d never get in the boat.

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The best gardener that I’ve personally known was Ida Jacobson, my maternal grandmother. Her husband Nels took care of the rest of the farm, but the garden was Ida’s baby. And it was not a hobby, not for Grandma J.

She used the garden to feed her family, and her small home on their farm had a “root cellar” below it for storage. (Like the one in Wizard of Oz where the family took shelter from the tornado.)

Rough board shelves lined the smallish space, and they were filled with cans and bottles containing pickles of various sorts, corn, squashes, peas, string beans, etc. Since there were several apple trees on the farmstead, many many jars of the most excellent applesauce were up there as well.

The floor of the cellar was earthen, as were the walls. When you went down into the dim cellar you shared the room with the creepy crawly things that called it home, and selected the jar or can you wanted paying close attention that you didn’t grab something that grabbed you back.

Grandma Jacobson’s gardens did not fail. They weren’t allowed to. They were luxuriant examples of how it could be, for me to remember and in my small way try to emulate today. Of course, she had access to all of the premier fertilizer one could ever want, gathered from barns and chicken coops, and she put those homely substances to doing serious work for those she loved and cared for.

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I spoke of fishing a few moments ago. Although I’ve purchased a 2020 Colorado license, the winds have kept me from doing much in this regard. I’m still a newbie to fly fishing, but have already learned that you catch no fish unless the fly hits the water, and when the air goes by at turnpike speeds that doesn’t happen.

Also, the fly will only go in the direction of the breeze, and that may not even be where the water is located. So until wind velocities come down a bit, I will not bother cluttering up the car with rods and reels. Patience is one hallmark of the true angler and I am well supplied with that. (Of course, skill is another hallmark, but you can’t have everything, can you?)

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This was Wednesday’s Google doodle. Lovely bit. From all accounts, a lovely man.

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Our governor said in his radio message Wednesday that he believes 50% of Coloradans are walking around carrying the novel coronavirus. Most of them (us?) are not ill.

He’s not a man given to rash statements, so his health advisers must have data that suggest this number is close to a true one. Let’s say that he is correct. Now the question is – how long does it persist on that healthy human being to the point that he or she could infect another person? How long before it fades away?

It’s like living in one of those old movie serials I attended as a kid, where the hero falls off a cliff in Episode 2 (he’s dead for sure now!), and then at the beginning of Episode 3 is shown clinging to a shrub until rescuers arrive (it’s a miracle!). It’s best that we don’t get too elated or depressed by news reports as each day passes. It will be some time before we know the whole story.

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Boundaries

Even that premier outpost of serenity and beauty and timelessness is caught up in the plague. It’s been closed up until now, and the details of just how it will open are being worked out as we speak. I’m talking about the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, of course. The “BW.”

What it looks like is that all of the forest service campgrounds on its periphery will remain closed for the time being, but the wilderness campsites will be opened up. So if you can get your canoe into the water, you’ll be okay.

Out there fits pretty well with the rules of social distancing, since most sites are a rather long swim apart from one another.

It’s just another reason to be glad that we took our trip there with Aiden last year rather than this one. Adding such confusion to all of the other considerations would have been most irritating and/or anxiety-provoking.

Let’s toss in a BWCA gallery here, shall we? It covers nearly 50 years of visits to this evocative place.

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For Robin, there is a paradox in our present pestilence-based predicament. The days fly by, but the months seem to pass glacially slowly. She thought the past April would never end. For her, it was the longest one ever.

I get it.

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Living in coronaland … it’s all about boundaries, isn’t it? Since the enemy is invisible, we depend upon the measuring tape to keep us safe. Six feet apart is enough to reduce (but not eliminate) contagion, so that’s what we keep. My personal space now has a number, whereas it used to only exist in my mind. That number is the area of a circle with a six foot radius, or about 113 square feet.

I’m pretty sure that last week at City Market somebody trod in my space several times. Each of these intrusions happened behind me so I can’t be sure, but you sense these things, don’t you?

Yesterday I went to the market, and as I was filling my cart I suddenly realized that I had forgotten to put my mask on before entering the store, that it was still in the car and hanging uselessly from the rearview mirror. It was like finding that I was naked in public. An archetypal nightmare come to life. My face hanging out there for all to see.

I quickly paid for the groceries and fled the store. I didn’t meet anyone that I knew, but for certain the whole shameful episode is recorded on the store’s CCTV, and what if that got out?

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This month’s issue of Consumer Reports has a puzzling headline – How To Eat Less Plastic. Puzzling because my own outlook on the subject is to eat none at all.

Apparently that choice has been taken from me by the packaging industry. Unless I grow all my own food and throw away all our Tupperware and SaranWrap, I will be nibbling on polystyrene et al for the time being.

Then for no reason at all this morning I decided to read up on sous vide cooking, which is the new/old method that obsessive/compulsives are employing these days when they take to food preparation. One cooks meats at a precise and quite low temperature, in a water bath, and according to the gushing literature you ain’t tasted nothing until you have bitten into one of these things.

There are putative advantages to this method, including that each steak you ever cook will allegedly taste just like the previous one because you leave nothing to chance. I have not given it a try, but to me one of the interesting things in life is variability. When I go to cooking on the grill I really have no no clear idea whether I will be serving perfection or a sort of charcoal jerky.

Oh, I fuss about it and all, but it’s the gamble that’s all part of the fun of it for me.

And you probably caught that the meat is cooked in a constant temperature water bath – so how do you keep it from becoming a gray and tasteless blob? Why, you seal it in plastic, of course. Which brings us round to Consumer Reports, where we started out.

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Update on plague haircuts.

In these days of insecurity and more questions than answers, one of the interesting things is that getting a haircut at a salon is considered slightly dangerous. Here in Montrose, you go to the salon by appointment only, wait in your car to be called in, fill out a medical questionnaire, and cleanse your hands with Purell. You then to back to a sink where you wash your hands in the Happy Birthday manner.

Only then is it into the chair and on with the snipping.

But this only began again this week. Prior to this week, this has been the Spring where you either cut your own hair or went unshorn. As you know, I chose the former path, and am happy enough with the results than I may continue the practice out of a combination of sloth, a shortage of vanity, and cheapskatedness.

Even when getting a haircut becomes once again just that, and is not on the level of playing Russian roulette.

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Out & About in Coronaland

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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From The New Yorker

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Piping Away

When I first went off to college, at the half-ripe age of sixteen years, I was baby-faced and completely un-collegiate in my appearance. I decided that I should do something about that, and so I took up pipe-smoking. In my mind, this made me appear more like this gentleman, a rugged-looking individual who might have interesting tales to tell.

Unfortunately, this didn’t happen. Any photos of me during those early years with the pipe in my mouth were so un-cool that I tore them up and burned the negatives, pledging whoever had taken the pictures to secrecy. Here is one that somehow survived.

As you can see, I did not achieve the result that I was going for.

But I kept at it, and eventually graduated with what would equate to a master’s degree in the black art of pipery. Along the way I burned holes in hundreds of shirts caused by sparks blowing back on windy days. I actually enjoyed the smoking part very much, but eventually I developed a cough that simply would not go away, and I began to experience the rumblings of a conscience about all those folks who traveled through the cloud of secondary smoke that trailed behind me.

It was with some small grieving that I gave up the habit and all of its attendant rituals. Rituals that included studying catalogs of beautiful briar creations, sniffing of hundreds (thousands?) of lovely aromas, cleaning the bowls of the pipes with special tools from London, and purchasing exotic varieties of tobacco with which to mix my custom blends.

Oh, yes, I was a snob when it came to tobacco. Just short of insufferable, I was.

Looking back, quitting was worth it, I know. My respiratory symptoms vanished and my shirts certainly look better. But … there are blue-skied autumn days when the air is crisp and the setting cries out for the pungent aroma of shreds of latakia smoldering in a briar bowl … .

(‘Scuse me while I cough into my elbow at just the thought.)

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I wonder what would happen if Cluck & Pence, our national pandemic comedy team, were rewarded for refusing to wear any sort of mask by catching the coronavirus. I’m not sure that even that would elicit anything like empathy from this ice-blooded pair, but there is the remote possibility.

They are the perfect examples of the let them eat cake approach of our plutocracy. Protected by wealth and position from any of the bad things that are happening out there among the hoi polloi, they pose and preen and posture and declare that they are put upon by life in a way that mere mortals can only guess at.

I think a proper bout of Covid-19 might be good for them. Oh, I don’t mean the awful variety where intensive care and ventilators are necessary. I just mean enough to scare them to death for a few days. To share the pain of tens of thousands of Americans in a decidedly non-metaphoric way for once.

I suppose it’s unworthy of me to think about such things. But there you are.

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From The New Yorker

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David Brooks has gone through a long period of navel-gazing recently, looking for the answers to the BIG QUESTIONS of U.S. society. So whenever he comes back to earth for a day or two I appreciate his insights. In the Times of New York recently, he posted this editorial: We Need National Service – Now.

Thoughtful and well-written, it goes over some familiar territory, and reiterates the fact that most Americans think that voluntary national service would be a good, perhaps a great, thing for our society. So the question always becomes – why hasn’t it happened?

I will own up to my personal prejudices here, in that I never thought that the military draft should have been stopped. In spite of the fact that the system was riddled with abuses, I thought that its benefits – those feelings of a shared experience that the majority of American men had – were worth it. And I also thought that having short-time soldiers like myself in the mix had a restraining effect on those in power. Not as easy to start a war when you know that you will receive some serious blowback from all those soldiers’ mothers out there, as happened in the Viet Nam war experience.

Instead of dropping it in 1973, I would have broadened it to include women, and done what was possible to reduce those abuses (most of which were due to people of various kinds of influence evading their responsibilities) and truly democratize the armed services.

But that’s neither here nor there, to coin a phrase. Wait … somebody already said that?

This new kind of national service could bring back some of that feeling of sacrifice and brotherhood/sisterhood that has been lost. Real, down-to-earth, tangible. Soooo valuable.

I’m for it. And if there was a branch of these new programs that made better use of the legion of wasted geezers out there as well … put me in, coach – I’m ready to play. Just make that obstacle course a little milder, and I’m your man.

[The sharp-eyed among you will notice those shoulder boards. Not American GIs, are they? Nope, they are Russian recruits on the obstacle course … but I loved the mud. And when you cover a man with mud, we all look about the same.]

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From The New Yorker

Pictorial Supplement

Scenes from a world gone slightly off its rocker. Protesting that somebody suggested that you wear a small bit of cloth to protect your neighbor’s health. Or maybe the fact that you are crazy, an idiot, a miserable S.O.B, or some combination of all three.

Is this the face of anyone you know?

Look closely here. Do you see anything resembling sanity?

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I do believe I’ve got the biggest gun at this here rally.

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We don’t really care about the coronavirus, we’re just your basic religious nutcases who saw the cameras and dug our sign out of the back of the R.V..

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Hey, you’re wearing the same cartridge belt as me. Damn.

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Logical stretch, anyone? Don’t all speak at once. Raise your hand and I’ll call on you.

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Check out the guy in the middle. “Goll-ee, are they taking our picture? Dang if I didn’t just shoot myself in the foot.”

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At first I thought she might be a wax figure, standing there with her three signs. Then I looked for hints of something warm and human behind those eyes.

I couldn’t find any. Can you?

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I know, I know, these are cheap shots. And I’m ashamed of myself for making fun of such thoughtful patriots. I am sooo bad.

But I do have photographs of some people that I admire. Very much. This group of ICU nurses who stood silently in front of a mob in Arizona. Women who had actually seen first-hand what the virus can do, and were testifying in their own quiet way.

You want a hero to follow? Here’s one. Standing in the street takes courage. But the real test kicks in when she turns around and goes to work inside that hospital. That takes even more guts.

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Read All About It!

As if there weren’t enough things … . Our small-town six-days-a-week morning paper announced yesterday that they will henceforth be a five-days-a-week afternoon paper. How much must we bear, is all I have to say?

I’m not even sure what I will do with an afternoon paper. Will the “news” come to me half a day earlier or half a day later?

Most importantly, I don’t drink coffee in the afternoons. But coffee and newspaper-reading are linked so firmly in my habits … can I face each day’s tidings without caffeine at the ready? Do other people do that? But if I try a cuppa joe at 3:00 p.m., I might as well plan for being up until the succeeding 2:00 a.m., and start some quiet project that won’t disturb the sleeper in the next room.

Maybe I’ll find another small-town daily that still puts out its stuff in the morning and subscribe to that one. Most of what I read in the Montrose Daily News is not of the Holy Cow! variety, anyway. Let me get incensed about what they are doing about the potholes in the roadways of a village in Scotland or Wales. It might be instructive.

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The Times of New York published a piece Tuesday entitled “The Leader We Wish We All Had.” It was all about Dr. Amy Acton’s approach to the coronavirus emergency. (She is the director of the Department of Health for the state of Ohio.) It sounds like she’s doing a remarkable job, and deserves much credit.

But what was most interesting to me was the analytic approach that the article took, parsing out Dr. Acton’s usage of pronouns and what that might have meant to Ohioans listening to her briefings. It’s worth a read.

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On our last walk up at the Black Canyon we saw a weasel. Only for a moment, before he dove between the metal tubes in a cattle grate and disappeared.

Why even mention this? Okay, when was the last time you saw a weasel? See! It’s not an everyday thing, and every viewing is special.

Weasels are not at all like cows, who will stand there stolidly in front of you for hours while you study them in detail. These small creatures are a flash of color and then they are gone. It’s one of the ways you can tell them from cows. If you see something brown, you look away, and when you look back it’s still standing there chewing, it’s not very likely to be a weasel.

Other ways to tell them from cattle are the size differences, wherein a cow might weigh 1300 pounds while the average weasel tips the scales at 2-3 ounces.

And then there is the bit about the mooing.

[One note about the photo above. There is little doubt that the short-tailed weasel is darned cute. But not so cute if you could read his thoughts. He is wondering while looking at you: “Could I drag that thing home if I did bite it?”]

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Walking the Walk

The snow has melted from one of our mainstay hiking paths so it is finally open for business, and we took it yesterday. It’s up at the Black Canyon, and the only snow/mud we encountered was back in a niche in the canyon wall that never sees the sun. If you like to walk, this is a good one. Starting at the abandoned Visitor Center you make your way down a steepish path that drops you around 300 feet down into the canyon. Further on you have to climb back up that 300 feet, and that’s where the fun comes in, as you try to find enough oxygen molecules to sustain life.

[BTW – if you like your adventures with a little hair on them, at one point in this same hike you can choose to take a right fork and go all the way to the bottom of the canyon, which is 1800 feet down. About a third of the way to the bottom, it’s so steep you descend hand over hand down an 80 foot chain. I have not done this “trail, nor will I. I might be able to get down, but there is little chance I could climb back out, and how then would I get groceries?]

All in all our hike is just under four miles in length, and there are only a half-dozen ( mercifully brief) narrow stretches to make the hearts of acrophobes like myself speed up slightly.

Without an indoor exercise venue to attend, such places have become more important to us. When I was twenty, the phrase “use it or lose it” didn’t have much meaning to me, as my body was pretty much always ready for whatever. But at this stage of life, I should have that phrase stenciled in big letters on all of my pajamas in reverse so that whenever I pass a mirror I am reminded to get out of those sleep-duds and do something.

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Ay ay ay, as if there wasn’t enough to worry about. The latest addition to things that are nasty and coming to America from Asia is a species of hornet that attacks and destroys honeybee colonies wherever it can find them. It’s sting can also cancel a human’s lease on life under some circumstances.

Fortunately it has been given a pleasant name so as to not unduly frighten the timid among us. They call it the “murder hornet.” Read all about it in the Times of New York.

There is some good that can some from this news. For as long as the situation permits, no matter what mayhem is going on about you, you can always say to your friend or neighbor: “Well at least we don’t have murder hornets to contend with.”

Until you do, that is.

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At out home we have a couple of strings of Buddhist prayer flags going from the ash tree to the board fence. They are feather-light squares of cloth that flutter in the slightest of air movements.

Which makes them a valuable weather guide. Not as predictors, but as weather-tellers. You know what those are. You get out of bed in the darkness, stumble to the kitchen to make coffee, crank open an eye to peer out the window to see what sort of day it is, and the weather-tellers are there to help.

If it’s white out there, it snowed or is snowing. If it’s wet, it rained or is raining. If the prayer flags are standing straight out from the line, there is a stiff breeze blowing, and you can forget about spraying for weeds, unless you want the wrath of your neighbors coming down on your head as the herbicide drifts across their orchid patch.

Predictors can occasionally be wrong, but tellers never lie.

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Here’s an example of a weather-teller that you used to be able to buy in gift shops, taverns, gas stations, or anywhere unsophisticated people gathered. (Which category included pretty much everyone I knew)

I owned one of these when I was ten years old. Thought it was the funniest thing in the universe for about a month, showed it to every visitor to our home, then forgot about it till now. Its present location is unknown, but I strongly suspect a landfill figures in.

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Dave Eggers has done a great job of pulling together all the information we think we know about coronavirus and Covid-19. He’s put it together in a faux interview which will make you smarter and/or drive you bonkers, depending on your tolerance for contradictions.

It’s called Flattening the Truth on Coronavirus.

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From The New Yorker

Semi-Summer

We are basking, here in Paradise, in 80-plus temperatures. Everything out there is dry as toast and waiting for a substantial rain to make things right. When you walk on our lawn the crunching sound is loud enough to wake babies. Fortunately our nearest neighbors haven’t any of those little creatures around, so they are not complaining.

It’s been interesting reading about how Sweden is coping with Covid-19. They basically tried to shelter all of the aged while letting the virus otherwise rip through the country. The hope was that the younger population would handle it fairly well and eventually the virus would find new victims unavailable and eventually disappear.

Unfortunately, they didn’t protect those older citizens as well as they might have and as a result there are many fewer old Swedes today than there were two months ago.

There’s an important defect in this plan, I think, and that is posed by the tactics of Norway and Finland (and most other Western countries), who are doing the shelter-in-place thing. The virus won’t be as quick to leave those territories, so even if the Swedes get their wish at home, they can’t go anywhere.

It’s still all theoretical, of course, we don’t really know what this pest is going to do or how our personal and herd immunities are going to develop, or even if they will. We are in that uncomfortable place where the science is developing at its steady pace while our expectations and hopes are racing far ahead.

Patience is easier to come by for those less troubled.

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Leonard Pitts Jr. comes through once again in his latest column. His admonition is “Control what you can in this time of madness, and don’t forget … breathe.”

Unless your equanimity is already perfect, you might benefit from a read here. The man is a powerhouse of common sense and thoughtfulness.

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Joy Harjo has been given a second term as poet laureate of the United States. Here is one of her works. I wish I could say it is reprinted with her permission, but it is not. On the other hand, she didn’t forbid me to do it, either, so there is that.

Our poet laureate is blissfully unaware of my existence. It’s all part of the plan.

Once The World Was Perfect

Once the world was perfect, and we were happy in that world.
Then we took it for granted.
Discontent began a small rumble in the earthly mind.
Then Doubt pushed through with its spiked head.
And once Doubt ruptured the web,
All manner of demon thoughts
Jumped through—
We destroyed the world we had been given
For inspiration, for life—
Each stone of jealousy, each stone
Of fear, greed, envy, and hatred, put out the light.
No one was without a stone in his or her hand.
There we were,
Right back where we had started.
We were bumping into each other
In the dark.
And now we had no place to live, since we didn’t know
How to live with each other.
Then one of the stumbling ones took pity on another
And shared a blanket.
A spark of kindness made a light.
The light made an opening in the darkness.
Everyone worked together to make a ladder.
A Wind Clan person climbed out first into the next world,
And then the other clans, the children of those clans, their children,
And their children, all the way through time—
To now, into this morning light to you.

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This morning I was watching Poco drinking at the outdoor waterer. I noticed his fur was sort of scruffy, his posture a little hunched. I also know he can’t jump nearly as high as he once could, and believe him to be arthritic. There are moments when he seems forgetful, maybe confused about where he is and what he’s doing there. Followed by times when he seems as clear as ever.

I was feeling a little wistful on his account, when I had this thought. Does he look at me and think the same things?

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Olio

One of the outstanding features of living in Yankton SD was this time of the year, when the Missouri River town came alive in blossoming trees. More than anywhere I’d lived before. Questioning the old-timers as to how this might have happened frequently elicited “Gurney’s” as the reason.

The once-famous Gurney’s Seed & Nursery was located in Yankton, and was the source of one of the better gardening catalogs I would go through each year looking for plants that could survive the tactical nuclear blasts I was destined to send their way. Such were the criteria that one uses when one gardens with the polar opposite of a green thumb, the dreadful Thumb O’Death.

Shopping at Gurney’s was a fine experience. It was a big dusty barn-like store that smelled like earth, and featured ancient creaking wooden floors throughout. Wandering through the rooms you would find all of those plants, seeds, and devices that seemed almost magical when you read about them in the catalog.

Items like the 3-tined cultivator which was described as something that would make plowing up the garden be so much fun and go so quickly that you’d better have someone making your iced tea for your work-break before you even started out.

Of course, when you actually put it to use you found that it was a ***** to push and exhausting to walk behind.

But setbacks like this never put anybody off entirely, and each Spring I would return to the store and to the catalog, looking for the thing that would change my gardening life.

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America’s Four-year-olds Warn Against Following Trump’s Medical Advice by Andy Borowitz

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On yesterday’s river-walk we ended up at Riverbottom Park, where we bumped into two couples we knew who were already talking together. For the next half hour we joined them. What an odd thing it was – six people talking to one another each at least six feet from everybody else.

What transpired was that there were three conversations being conducted at any given time, with shifting personnel. To try to bring all six of us together would have been awkward. We would have had to create a large circle with a half-dozen people shouting from the circumference.

Of course at least half of what was being said dealt with the present emergency. How can you not, even though we are all becoming repetitious? When reasonably intelligent adults find themselves discussing when will the cutters of hair will be able to open their doors once again? And how well-supplied the paper products aisle at City Market was this week? Lord help us all.

I look at the pictures in the news of crowds flooding the beaches in Florida and California and think: Is our species worth saving? I force myself to remember that the people in the photos are a minority, even though they are capable of such dangerously moronic behavior and pose a risk to the rest of us.

Perhaps we should let those schnooks have one giant picnic in the middle of the country (we could let them have Kansas) where they could pass around the pulled pork sandwiches, beer, beans, and coronavirus and be done with it.

It goes without saying that we would put a fence around them for two weeks while this drama played out, so those of us who wisely didn’t attend the party could stay safe.

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Our governor has been giving regular radio messages to the citizens of Colorado since the beginning of the present emergency. They are marked by civility, common sense, attention to what the scientific community has to say, and by respect for his audience.

Each talk is about us, the problems we are facing, and the uncertain path to resolution. They are never about him. I wish the rest of the USA were as fortunate in their governance as we are.

His name is Jared Polis. If, God forbid, he ever leaves Colorado and moves to your state, I strongly advise that you vote for him. Even if he isn’t running for office.

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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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Ducks In A Row

I will go out on a limb here and say that Dr. Phil and Dr. Oz are awfully poor examples of their professions. This disreputable pair sold their souls to the Devil and Oprah Winfrey long ago, but all they got in the deal was a tawdry sort of celebrity in the world of the suggestible.

(Robert Johnson allegedly made the same trade-off but became a terrific guitar player and bluesman as a result of his own arrangement with Old Nick.)

Phil/Oz have popped up recently on FoxNews weighing in with blatherous pronouncements and opinions about Covid-19. We knew that it was only a matter of time before those lips for hire began their dreadful flapping. It’s a perfect marriage of shoddy network and shoddy professionals.

Lord help us (and thank you again, Oprah, for your hand in getting them started).

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Ran across these on The New Yorker. See ’em, love ’em, share ’em, is my motto.

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When I read of the new Youth Poet Laureate, at first I felt badly because I didn’t know the former one. But then I learned that there wasn’t a former one. Amanda Gorman is the first.

Watching the following video made me somehow proud. Proud to be a tiny part of a country that gives people like Ms. Gorman a chance to have their voices heard.

Here she is on CBS’ Sunday Morning show, reading one of her works. The production is a little schmaltzy, but y’know, I can use a little more schmaltz these days.

Her words are inspirational, and what do you think about her performance? – to me she sounds like Maya Angelou, rapping.

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Almost everybody we know here in Paradise is Zoom-ing these days. All that was needed was a platform that was a little easier to use than its predecessors, and off went America into video-conferencing. Yesterday morning we connected with daughter Maja in Lima, and we were going to catch up later in the day with our grandchildren in Denver but that was postponed, because they were all Zoomed out for the day, having just finished an hour online with some other folks.

Robin meets with her church committees and book clubs in this way, and we both attend virtual AA meetings, all of these using the free version of the app. Pret-ty cool, I’d say, to be able to so easily fill in some of the gaps that geography and Covid-19 create.

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If you look closely, you will see that there is a duck, a mallard to be precise, in our front yard. He showed up Monday morning. This has never happened before, and personally I took it as an omen.

My only problem is that I don’t know what it predicts, or augurs. I have consulted all of my learned books, which are sadly silent on the subject of ducks. But it really bothered me, as who wants to begin any serious enterprise if it’s all for naught because the celestial plug has already been pulled … you just don’t know it yet?

So I turned to the only person I knew who might shed light on the subject – Ragnar the Imperturbable.

Dear Ragnar: Do you know anything about ducks in the yard? Is there any cosmic significance?

Ragnar: Ducks? You wake me up for ducks? By Freja’s golden hair I’ll …

Dear Ragnar: Really, I do apologize, it’s just that we’re all dithering out here, not wanting to do anything to mess with the gods’ plans. But again, anything at all?

Ragnar: Of course we have duck stuff. The only problem is sorting through it, there’s so much. I need to ask a couple questions of my own, first.

Dear Ragnar: Of course. Go right ahead.

Ragnar: Was it just the one … duck, that is?

Dear Ragnar: No, there was a hen, but she isn’t in the picture.

Ragnar: And what sort of bird was it? Could it have been a Mandarin duck? Or a Baikal teal?

Dear Ragnar: I’m sorry, we believe it to have been a common mallard.

Ragnar: And was it wearing anything … like an item of clothing … or spectacles, perhaps?

Dear Ragnar: No, nothing at all. It was very plain.

Ragnar: Was it up to quite a bit of quacking? More than a duck might usually be expected to do?

Dear Ragnar: It was a singularly quiet waterfowl.

Ragnar: Might it have been mute? That would narrow things down considerably.

Dear Ragnar: We really couldn’t say. We heard nothing.

Ragnar: Alright, here we go then. If a person finds a duck (or ducks) in their yard, nude, mute, and not wearing glasses, there is a very good chance that it might rain before twilight of that same day.

Dear Ragnar: That’s it? It might rain?

Ragnar: Well, what do you want? I don’t make this stuff up on my own, you know. It’s all there in the Book of Aqvavit, one of our most important sources to consult on weighty matters.

Dear Ragnar: Who in the world would bother about such an omen?

Ragnar: Well, let’s say you were planning on hanging out some laundry in preparation for pillaging England …

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P.S.A.

It’s the nineteenth of April, and I will now perform a public service by summarizing what we know to date about the novel coronavirus and Covid-19, the disease it causes. As an former medical professional, I believe that I am uniquely suited to this important task.

  • It may have come to the U.S. earlier than we first thought, or maybe it didn’t
  • It might be possible to re-catch it, but probably not
  • There might be a drug that is effective, but maybe it isn’t
  • A vaccine might be coming this year, or maybe not
  • It might be soon time to re-open things … but probably it’s too early
  • Masks might not be helpful for most of us, but we should wear them anyway
  • Unlike STDs, you might be able to catch it from doorknobs and toilet seats … or perhaps this isn’t true, and we should relax and go to a movie

There now, don’t you feel better?

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One of my favorite Buddhist stories came up recently at a recent online AA meeting, one where we were discussing pre-existing attitudes and how they colored what we saw and experienced.

The story goes like this.

A man was walking along a dusty road and saw a village off in the distance. At the side of the road a blind man was sitting peacefully with his begging bowl and bothering no one.

The traveler asked the blind man:

Are you from that village?

Yes, I am

What kind of people live in that village?

What kind of people live in the town you are from?

Oh, they were terrible. Grasping and greedy, gossiping and lazy.

Well, I think you’ll find the people in my village are much like that.

The first traveler grimaced and continued on his journey. A second pilgrim then came down the road. When he saw the blind man, he asked the same question.

What sort of people live in that village?

The people in the village you are from – how would you describe them?

Oh, they are lovely. Kind and generous of spirit. There are no lengths they wouldn’t go to in order to help a sufferer, even a stranger.

Well, I think you’ll find the people in my village are much like that.

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I will close today with these observations by Andy Borowitz, a man cursed with an unclouded vision.

Dr. Oz Fears That Coronavirus Comments Could Hurt His Credibility as Expert on MagicBeans

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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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Out, Out, Damned Cartel

This was our nighttime sky on Tuesday evening, supermoon and all.

[The photo was stolen outright from the Montrose Daily News electronic edition]

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John Prine passed away on Tuesday, of complications from coronavirus infection. He’d beaten cancer a couple of times, but this little twisted bit of ribonucleic acid did him in. He’s written many excellent songs, but my favorite is Angel From Montgomery, which you can listen to here.

Vale, Mr. Prine.

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We finished the third season of Ozark last night. It’s basically your everyday Shakespearean tragedy grinding along toward disaster, and last evening’s episode took some long steps toward that conclusion.

Jason Bateman has done a great job playing an unflappable man who might be better off flapping once in a while. His wife, played by the excellent Laura Linney, does her Lady Macbeth thing, being able to switch from an expression of deepest horror to a reassuring smile and honeyed voice in less than a single out-breath.

The rest of the cast is very good, but I do have a small suggestion for the guy who plays the head of a Mexican cartel – take the melodrama down from 10 to about seven. I think it will work better for the character. If you want to see what I mean, watch a few episodes of Narcos – Mexico on Netflix. Menace is more interesting than rage.

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Beans and rice tonight for supper. When I saw this whole Covid-19 drama unfolding back in January, I didn’t really start to hoard (being a classy person, I am incapable of doing tawdry stuff like that) but did buy enough dried food, including pinto beans and rice, to last a week or two. At the time all the grocer’s shelves were full, hugging had not become the don’t even think about it! thing that it would, and toilet paper never came into a conversation.

Most of those dried provisions are still on the shelf in the garage, and I figured we’d better get going on reducing the pile. Ergo today’s (and many tomorrows’) menu.

I think I shared this recipe for pinto beans back a few months ago, when our Instant Pot was still new and we were wondering what to do with it. It’s still a winner.

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There are a few fruit trees blossoming here in Paradise. Many of them are apricots, a popular planting hereabouts. We’ve thought about putting one in our front yard, but there is one thing holding me back. Such a tree, if successful, will always produce more apricots than a person could ever eat, and somebody has to pick up the hundreds that fall to the ground.

You can walk barefoot on the apple seeds from last year, but not apricot pits. Far too sharp and pointy, they are.

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Well, just when I thought things in the Executive Branch couldn’t get any dumber, they did. I know the words “perfect storm” have been greatly overused since that movie of a few years ago, but there is now a perfect storm of quasi-medical horseapples rolling down the streets of Washington D.C., which if we don’t watch out could engulf us. Or at the very least get all over our shoes.

The reason … President Cluck and Doctor Oz are presently on the same collaborative page, advising people to go out and treat the Covid-19 (that they may or may not have) with drugs never tested against the disease.

You all remember Dr. Oz, don’t you? He’s the former surgeon who long ago left medicine, his integrity, and what wisps of common sense he was born with behind and became a full-time shill for diet crazes and a hundred varieties of snake oil.

You might say, hey, if someone’s dumb enough to take the advice of this pair of bozos, they deserve what’s coming to them. And you’d have a point. Perhaps we should look at it as a tool of evolution, where a handful of these easily-led citizens remove themselves from the gene pool by following the advice of such popinjays.

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The header photo is of Robin paddling up Pagami Creek, in the Boundary Waters wilderness area of Minnesota. Two months later what you are looking at in this picture was engulfed in fire, one of the biggest the BW has ever experienced.

This all happened nine years ago, so time and the inexorable forces of life have done much to repair the damage that a lightning strike caused. Pagami Creek is green again, although the new trees are smaller, and are mixed in with the blackened reminders of 2011.

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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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Big Dominguez

A warmer Wednesday morning … 45 degrees way before the sun comes up. We took a longer hike today, revisiting Big Dominguez Canyon. It’s about an hour and a half away, and was completely free of snow, as we had hoped. So many of our favorite hiking areas are above 8000 feet, where snow is still an issue.

If you walk the whole length of the canyon it’s a trip of about 24 miles out and back, but we’ve never gone that far. Ordinarily we go up about 5 miles, have a nibble, then return. It’s not a hard walk, but can be brutal in midsummer, since the landscape is pure desert – hot and dry.

But Wednesday was a perfect day for this walk. And at least a hundred other very pleasant people thought the same.

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Some of you have seen these videos, which are both timely and hilarious. Both are take-offs on pop music tunes, one by Adele and the other by The Knack.

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Since we can’t go to the gym because of the pestilence, we’ve resorted to walking and bicycling on actual dirt and sidewalks. It’s really amazing what you can do without an electrified treadmill or elliptical. Why didn’t somebody tell us? Sheeesh.

For resistance training, we’re using a box of SKLZ latex cables that we’ve had around for years, but never got serious about until it was necessary. They don’t cover all of the territory that a universal gym does, but are simple and unglamorous helpers.

When you have a sculpted physique like mine, you can’t let a day pass without pushing or pulling on something or it will go all soft on you. If that something has to be a set of rubber bands, so be it.

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Dear Ragnar: So, Ragnar, how do you think America is doing in dealing with this latest version of the plague? I know you’ve seen quite a few of these come and go in your time.

Ragnar: Well, it’s kind of a mixed bag, isn’t it? You average Joe is doing okay … following the rules and taking care of business. On the other hand your average Yahoo is running around claiming it’s a sunny day and why are all the bars closed?

Dear Ragnar: So you think that “staying in place” programs are the right way to go?

Ragnar: Well, of course. We had our own guidelines back in the day, we called them “get back in your damned hovel or else!”

Dear Ragnar: Really?

Ragnar: You bet. We had two guys, Einar and Lothar, who did nothing but walk around the village and smite rule-breakers right and left.

Dear Ragnar: So strong leadership was important?

Ragnar: Well, duh! And that’s something I haven’t yet been able to figure out. We’d pick the bravest, strongest, and smartest person in the village to be our leader. But you guys … what’s the deal here?

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Obligate

A little bit about viruses. They are very extraordinary things, these tiny particles, which usually cannot exist outside of the host (in the case of this new coronavirus, the host is us) for more than a few hours or days. And their only true place of residence is inside of our cells. The technical name for them is obligate intracellular parasites, which is a mouthful.

Someone coughs in my direction and a viral particle sails toward me, eventually coming to rest in my respiratory passages as I breathe in. Once there it grabs onto a cell and burrows into it. Now the virus commandeers the machinery of that cell, pushing aside all normal operators, and turns the cell’s activity to … guess what? … making more virus.

Our present Staying in Place restrictions have a good chance of breaking up this pandemic, or at least limiting the harm. Theoretically, since we are the virus’ only “food,” dividing us up into small groups should work well. If by mischance I somehow contract the viral agent and bring it home with me, basically there is only Robin to give it to, as long as I am following the guidelines with regard to human contact. So poor Robin becomes ill, we both recover (Oh Happy Day!), and that’s it for our particular branch of the tree. We are now immune. We don’t pass it along. We have become a dead end.

So for the present – no restaurants, movie theaters, church services, major league baseball … basically no amusements that involve large groups of people. I can live with that.

A couple of days ago I read of an evangelical pastor who was, by God, not going to let coronavirus keep him from spreading the Word on Sunday mornings, so services were being carried out as usual.

Not a terrific idea, to say the least. The odds are pretty good that his congregation will be a younger and smaller one when this is all over. But it will also be a smarter one. Because the brighter lights among the faithful will have stayed home as they knew they should.

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Robin came across a site claiming to have links to forty of the greatest essays of all time (No hubris at all, is there?). The very first one was by David Sedaris, who is a favorite of both Robin and I.

It’s title is Laugh, Kookaburra, and I’ll bet even money you will smile repeatedly as you read it. You may also chuckle, but probably not guffaw.

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I am an absolute sucker for articles written about wolves. Especially those with an encouraging outcome. Each time I visit Ely MN for a canoe trip into the Boundary Waters, I spend some time in the International Wolf Center there, being totally caught up in what I am learning about these creatures.

Wildness is what they bring to the conversation. A sense of what was and should be if our own species was not so voracious.

So when I found this piece this morning in the Times of New York, I fell upon it like … wolves. It’s about the re-introduction of wolves into Yellowstone National Park.

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Battlefield Dispatch

On Wednesday morning I showed up at the City Market at 0700, to take advantage of the advertised “senior shopping hours.” There were already 60-70 people in a shapeless and meandering line reaching back into the parking lot. I examined each face in the line closely to see if there were any younger shoppers sneaking in on our senior dime. If I had found one, I had plans to publicly shame them right back to the time period where they belonged, the hours from 0800 onward.

I am using military time here, because in many ways what I found in the store resembled a military operation. Once through the doors, most of the shoppers pointed their carts toward the paper products aisle, like LSTs heading into Omaha Beach on D-Day. I can only imagine what violations of the Geneva Convention were perpetrated there by those fearful-faced older citizens grabbing at the four-paks of Charmin. There are lengths that I will go for a roll of TP, but battering my way through forty members of the shuffleboard set is not one of them. So I went there last.

Some of the workers in the produce department were wearing Kevlar vests. and I asked why this was the case. Apparently on one drizzly morning earlier in the week, there were some incidents involving angry shoppers stabbing at employees with their umbrellas, inflicting small round bruises on their chests. One man had had to defend himself with a vegetable sprayer when a gaggle cornered him between the turnips and the artichokes.

Another worker was wearing a therapeutic boot on his right foot. On the previous day, an irate customer driven mad when he learned that the store was entirely out of cilantro deliberately piloted his electric scooter over the employee’s foot. He did this not once, but went back and forth repeatedly until a passerby switched off the machine, saving the worker’s metatarsals, if not his life.

But I floated like a butterfly and stung like a bee, to quote the great Muhammad Ali. My shopping technique is more akin to lightning commando raids rather than frontal assaults. I will slip around a large knot of carts wedged together and dart down an aisle, grab what I came for, and off I go in one fluid maneuver. It’s basically drive-by shopping. By the time the knot realizes what I’ve done, and goes en masse to the spot I just left, I am somewhere entirely else.

So at the end of an hour I had 95% of what I’d come for, which is an excellent result. As I checked out, I could still hear small-arms fire near the canned fish department, and I counted among my many blessings that I was done for the day.

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I am indebted to Andy Borowitz for this thoughtful report. The title of his piece is New Evidence Indicates Intelligence Not Contagious, and it couldn’t be more timely.

I will admit that I had noticed this ongoing public experiment myself, but could not find the words to describe it properly.

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There was a time when I used to teach medical students. I no longer remember exactly what it was that I was teaching them, but no matter. For the most part they were juniors on their pediatric rotations, which is in general a fine group to work with.

On days when I was feeling positive about physicians as a class, I would relate this quote to them, taken from a longer poem by Rumi.

A dragon was pulling a bear into hits terrible mouth. A courageous man went and rescued the bear. There are such helpers in the world, who rush to save anyone who cries out.

Like Mercy itself, they run toward the screaming.

Rumi: Cry Out In Your Weakness

I would relate the quotation, then say to the students: “That is what you have signed up for, to be one of those who run toward the screaming, rather than away. You may all take a bow.”

Of course, not all of them would grow up to be as courageous as the man in the story. Physicians are made from the same clay as everybody else. Some sinners sprinkled in among the saints. A few who run, but to hide, not to help.

But right now, there is an army of medical personnel of all classifications who deserve our admiration and praise and help. They are those on the front lines of this pandemic, way too often going to work without the tools they need to protect themselves properly, walking into rooms that most of us would avoid, in some cases isolating themselves from their own families in order not to chance bringing this new plague home to loved ones.

I salute these men and women working in hospitals and offices and clinics around the country. Doctors, nurses, laboratory and radiology techs, physician’s assistants, orderlies, receptionists, security officers … the list goes on. Their courage and personal sacrifice are the antidote to the cynicism about our species that I sometimes feel.

When you compare their quiet everyday heroism with the behavior of our President, for instance, you can see so clearly what billions of dollars cannot buy.

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Light snow this Saturday morning. We took our constitutionals yesterday walking in the bluffs along the Uncompahgre, and whenever our heads peeked up over the crest of the hills we were met with a 30 mph wind, which was refreshing to say the least.

it was not hazardous hiking, although there were a few spots where if you would stumble and fall down the hill, you wouldn’t come to rest for quite a way, and at that point you would begin a long hour of picking cactus spines out of your epidermis.

I was reminded of a time past when I was (really, I was) considering hiking up Long’s Peak, which is a fourteener that tens of thousands of people who don’t share my phobias have climbed. In doing my research, I bought a book describing how all of the people who had died on that climb had perished.

Most of them had been struck by lightning, which I learned could largely be avoided by not being on top when the afternoon storms rolled in. Then there was the guy who went all the way up only to do what he came for, which was to jump off and end it all.

And then there was the guy whose story cancelled my plans. He was traversing a stretch where one walks along a rather narrow ledge. A gust of wind came by and blew him off the ledge. Blew him off the ledge was all I had to read. There was no amount of psychological training for my acrophobia or knowing that I needed to be getting down from the peak before the storms that could neutralize such a threat.

Long’s Peak is still there, and I am still here. We’ve never met.

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Inoffensive Care Unit

Well, it had to happen. The number of cases of Covid-19 quadrupled over the last two days in Montrose County. From 1 to 4.

All of the patients were taken to a remote line camp on a ranch in an undisclosed location up on the Uncompahgre Plateau, along with 20 pounds of dried rice and beans, a good Coleman stove and lantern, four excellent (zero degrees-rated) down sleeping bags, and enough back issues of True West magazine to last them at least a month.

Some of the boys who rode up with them chopped enough wood to last the unfortunates for a solid week, and set the pile up right against the cabin where they could get at it easy. We don’t pamper our patients here in Paradise like they do in some other places. We sympathize, but by God, iffen you can’t take care of yourself in this world of trials and troubles, we don’t think you’re much of a cowboy.

We’ll check on them every couple of days …

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You could see it coming. This morning (Thursday) at 0600, by decree of Governor Polis, we are officially under a Stay At Home policy. From what I’ve been able to garner so far, it will not be much different for Robin and I, except it will be even harder to get a haircut than it was, and it was already impossible.

Details as to how it will be enforced aren’t clear at all. Probably not as vigorously as in daughter Maja’s situation in Lima, where she would be stopped and asked to show her papers on her way to a bodega. And where she saw people being hustled into military vehicles and carted away.

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David Brooks is not given to emotional outbursts. He is the very soul of responsible and thoughtful conservatism, and wouldn’t be caught dead with an epithet in his eminently sober mouth. No way. Too cool for that.

So when I saw the title of his latest piece in the Times of New York, I just had to read it, and I offer it to you here. Click on: Screw This Virus!

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And while we’re citing op/eds, this essay by Leonard Pitts was so beautifully written … a small but humbling story. Click on: Coronavirus crisis reveals the depth of our grace — and our greed 

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Robin has discovered a new (to us) communications software called Zoom. (As if senior citizens needed more than FaceTime and Skype.)

But this one seems a little easier to use, and is very straightforward in its rules and regulations. It is cross-platform and allows conference calls of up to 100 participants, which in the era of social distancing is not to be sniffed at. Robin used it a couple of days ago for a meeting of her book club, and those who participated thought it fun and very workable.

The amazing thing for all three of these programs is how much utility they provide the occasional user like ourselves, for free. Yes, friends, for the low low introductory price of only zero dollars, that’s zero down and zero per month, you too can start your own communications empire.

If this interests you at all, you can start your journey at zoom.us.

[Disclosure: we received no funds from Zoom.us for this endorsement. We tried like hell to get some, but failed miserably.]

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The music today is definitely not cool. I started to pick out a couple of tunes to go along with the first item in today’s post, but as I listened to them it became more than that.

They are from the pre-rock and roll part of my existence. From the Saturday movie matinees where Roy Rogers and Gene Autry and all of their buddies did improbably brave things while wearing fancy outfits that never got dirty. Whose silver-plated guns glistened enough to blind adversaries, but which never ever killed anyone. And these songs, corny as they might seem now, were played straight in all of those films.

They were the background music for a time when I believed in everything. The world was fair, courage and honor always won the day, and tragedy – why, what was that? If a guy knew he was about to pass into that great pasture in the sky, there was nothing for it but to smile bravely as you saddled up ol’ Buckskin, or ol’ Paint, or ol’ Trigger or Champion and rode out into the sunset.

I’ve had to temper some of those ideas since that uncomplicated time, but listening this morning I could remember exactly how it was when I first heard these songs by the Sons of the Pioneers. Like uncorking a wine bottled in 1948.

Still tastes good, actually.

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This week Colorado abolished the death penalty, becoming the 21st state to do so. In the graphic below, which is now obsolete, our state’s color has gone from blue to green.

There were three men on our death row, whose sentences were commuted to life without parole. Looking at the graphic, in general it would seem that the closer a state is to Canada the more likely it is to be enlightened on this issue.

No matter what a person’s feelings are about the morality of the death penalty, there are two facts that stand out. One is that it is basically a penalty reserved for the poor. If you can afford Alan Dershowitz’ services (and others of his high-billing breed), you are not going to be hung, gassed, shot, guillotined, drawn, quartered, or given a lethal injection. Period. Never, ever happen.

The second is that it is not a rare thing for a person to be wrongfully convicted and executed. Anyone who labors under the delusion that our justice system is completely trustworthy and that everybody on death row deserves to be there … lord have mercy, I just don’t know what to say!

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Unfair! Unfair!

Dr. Atul Gawande is so smart and thoughtful and charming he makes me feel altogether puny. How could the universe give so much to one person and so little to another? Where’s the justice here?

In the New Yorker this week, he stands back and looks at our journey so far through corona-opolis, and begins to put some things right that have been askew. Straightens the pictures on the wall, so to speak. He puts to rest the feeling that this is all completely new territory and we don’t have any idea how to deal with it.

While that mindset might have had a tinge of truth in it a couple of months ago, it simply isn’t reality today. We are learning rapidly due to reports from around the world, and through shared experiences. Gawande summarizes what we are finding, and it is moderately reassuring. Not complacency-promoting, but reassuring.

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Our village has started senior hours at the grocery stores. Apparently this is happening out there in the rest of the world as well. On M-W-F older citizens can shop from 0700-0800 without having to deal with those pesky youngsters and their runny noses. Theoretically this will reduce the older folks’ chance of exposure to coronavirus and thus prolong some of their lives.

But this system is not without its drawbacks. If you take the store up on their offer, what it would mean is greatly intensified exposure to one of the supreme aggravators of our time – the elderly female grocery shopper.

They clutter the aisles, moving at so slow a pace that one has to paint lines on the floor to be sure they are moving at all. They park their carts on one side of the aisle and their bodies on the other, completely obstructing traffic. And they pay you no attention when you holler at them to get out of the way or you will come through at ramming speed.

But the worst, the absolute worst things happen at the checkout counter. These women have on average about 1500 coupons dating back to 1944, all of which have to be gone through one at a time to see which are valid and which are not. And they do not toss out the rejected ones, but replace them in their purses to be brought out again at the next visit.

The idea that you have to actually purchase a bag of coffee to get the $1.00 credit seems to be a foreign concept to many of these ladies, and there is quite a bit of harrumphing at the inflexibility of the store.

But now comes the coup de grace. The groceries are all rung up, the cashier is waiting for the customer to select method of payment, and after scratching around in a bottomless purse for several minutes out comes the checkbook. They never, n-e-v-e-r, have their checkbook out and are ready with pen in hand when the total is rung up. It apparently comes as a surprise to them every time.

So those senior hours look a lot less attractive when you really think about them. Am I being too harsh? Too sexist? Aren’t old men just as deficient in these areas?

Of course they are. But no one in their right mind would send an old dude to get the groceries. Might as well throw your shopping list into the street, for all the good it would do you. They are so distractible and memory-challenged that they come to the checkouts with nothing in their carts at all and must be sent back into the store to take a second run at it.

So for all these reasons I think I’ll shop with the millennials. Besides, they are so easy and fun to annoy.

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So … yesterday I looked at myself in the mirror and saw shagginess. The kind that a haircut can fix. After a few phone calls, I found out that you can’t do that in Montrose these days, because all of the barbers, etc. have shut their doors. Apparently good grooming is yet another casualty of the present plague.

Later in the day I came under fire from our children for even considering going to a salon and risking that exposure, and I accept that criticism as caring and well-intended. Even sensible. Looking in the same mirror, suddenly I didn’t look all that untidy, after all.

And I have come up with a plan of sorts, should the emergency continue for weeks into the future. I will either let my hair grow without interventions or clip it back to the skull by my own hand. Walking around with a botched self-cut somewhere in between has no appeal. My personal appearance standards are low, I admit, but I do have them.

So, unless there is a change in our present situation, a few months from now I will likely have one of these two possible “looks.”

or

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God Bless The Equinox!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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A Guindon cartoon

Have A Nice Day

We haven’t had a single case of a positive coronavirus test in Montrose County.

But.

The public buildings are closed, the restaurants are closing, Gold’s Gym is closed, schools are closing, and the movie theaters are both closed. About the only things that are fully open are the grocery stores (which are nearly empty of some staples) and the tattoo parlors.

Maybe this would be the time to get some ink … perhaps all this hoo-rah is part of a cosmic plan to push me into the Fancy Rooster for some spirited personal decorating. Like the one below, something only a fisherman could love.

My problems with this plan are threefold. First – I dislike pain of any sort or degree. Second – I am just fickle enough that I can’t imagine putting any design on myself that I wouldn’t tire of in less than six months. Third – I dislike pain of any sort or degree.

So perhaps I’ll quietly wait it out along with the rest of the citizenry. For comic relief I can watch the news and see the people living in Cluckland denying that there is a serious problem at all. That group seems to be continuously searching for new ways to reveal their cerebral density.

Truth is, if we are successful beyond our wildest expectations, and no cases show up in Montrose County, and when these nincompoops begin their mantras of “See, told ya, over-reacting” it would only mean to me that the town leaders did their job and did it well.

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This piece from the Times of New York is simply one of the best I’ve ever read on the subject of presenting bad news. The author is a seasoned pediatrician who has had to be the carrier of such unwanted intelligence many times, but now finds herself the recipient of same.

.

I love her matter-of-factness, lack of self-pity, and quiet courage. How she notices the details in her doctor’s office even as he tells her that a cancer is back, which is very bad news indeed. Here is a sample:

This week I wonder if I will ever leave the country again. I had hoped to have more adventures. I am confident that my daughters, just on the crest of their adulthood, will travel widely. At the cash register are extra-large chocolate bars. I buy two.

Of course a person should buy two. No doubt in my mind.

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Here’s an absolute treat from 1990. If there had been more music videos like this, the original MTV would still be around and doing its thing.

The word languorous comes to mind. Those pouty lips, those half-lidded eyes, that sweaty and sand-sprinkled body … and that’s just Chris Isaak. There’s a girl* in there, too.

*The girl is Helena Christensen, who went on to become a supermodel

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A Dick Guindon cartoon. A Minnesotan chatting up a tree.

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Remember the classification of different types of fun?

  • Type 1: fun while it is happening, and fun to talk about later
  • Type 2: not enjoyable while you are doing it, but leaves you a good story to tell afterward
  • Type 3: no fun during, and no fun later

Grocery shopping has oh-so-quickly become Type 2, and perhaps might even move down to Type 3 before we are done. These classifications can be fluid over time.

Take yesterday at WalMart, for instance. I had gone there in search of the chicken thighs with which I concoct our homemade cat food. There were none at City Market, but Wally World still held out hope.

And I found some, just a couple of packages, which I snatched away just as an elderly gentleman in a scooter was reaching for them. I did not apologize, for grocery stores have become battlefields, and one does not tell the vanquished that one is sorry. He’ll have to be satisfied with the Spicy Wings that the store had in abundance. My cats won’t eat them.

Then I looked down the aisle that used to contain paper products, and it was completely empty but for a well-dressed woman on her knees in front of the vacant Charmin shelf, sobbing “Why me?” to an uncaring universe.

I looked away, for she deserved her privacy at such a moment. We’ve all been there this week. I quietly moved on to the condiments section where, blissfully, there were no shortages at all.

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So It’s Come To This, Has It? Department

Yesterday we took our exercise outdoors, and went for a ramble up in the hills along the Uncompahgre River. We started from the parking lot in Riverbottom Park, and an hour later returned to the same place with spirits soaring and bladders brimming.

As we approached the bathrooms, a very polite young man holding a skateboard called out:

“The bathrooms are closed.”
“Why is that?” we asked.
“Because they were stealing all the toilet paper.”
Seeing our dismay, he added without a trace of irony:
“Have a nice day.”

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Which Wolf To Feed?

You know things have gotten serious when they close Aspen, Vail, and the other ski resorts where the one-percenters go to play, and that’s just what happened this past weekend here in Colorado. It apparently dawned on our government that these are very efficient distribution centers for a communicable disease.

People fly in, do their turns on the slopes, and then get back in their airplanes to sail off to somewhere else taking their wrinkled ski costumes memories and newly-acquired microbes with them. All over the world.

Folks in Denver, which is the largest village in our beautiful state, are wondering what they are supposed to do with these children of theirs who can’t be sent off to school any longer. Not only have they lost their 9:00 A.M. to 3:30 P.M. babysitter, but there’s no easy backup place to send them, what with all the closures of public spaces.

They are facing having to deal with their progeny 24/7, and that can be daunting indeed. A citywide overwhelming of mental health professionals is anticipated.

*

Somewhere along the way I began to see that each painful experience in my life was not without some eventual benefit to me. Much was of the “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” variety. I have been known to bore others with the remark that “I learned so much because of what happened, but it was tuition that I would not have paid.”

What we are being given today is an invaluable opportunity to learn deeply about so many things. Things like interdependence, cooperation, human fragility, the value of science and factual knowledge in general. To bring our innate courage and understanding to the recognition that being a human on this planet is always, every day, a hazardous enterprise. That everything works better when we have something or someone to lean on if and when we are just plain worn out.

The only thing different about the coronavirus threat as opposed to that posed by the pathogens that we are surrounded by every single day is its scope. It is new, it is dramatic (and in many respects America is a nation of drama queens), but when Covid-19 has passed into history most of us will still be here, straightening up the mess it left behind and applying the lessons we are being offered

[To keep perspective, let’s not forget the hazards which are not infectious diseases. The average number of people who will die in the USA today in car accidents is 3,287. Using last year’s numbers, 42 Americans will die today of gun violence and accidents.]

Was Franklin D. Roosevelt correct when he said that “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself?” I think he was, and that he inserted a great truth into a memorable oversimplification. He was encouraging the American public not to fall into a panic which would make their daily lives a hell of useless worry and produce a paralysis that would prevent them from doing the next right thing, the necessary thing.

I love the following story, and you’ve probably all heard one variation or another on this theme.

An old Cherokee is teaching his grandson about life:

“A fight is going on inside me,” he said to the boy.

“It is a terrible fight and it is between two wolves. One is evil–he is anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego.”

He continued, “The other is good – he is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith. The same fight is going on inside you–and inside every other person, too.”

The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather: “Which wolf will win?”

The old Cherokee simply replied, “The one you feed.”

Folk Tale

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From The New Yorker

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Robin and I are well into the second season of Manhattan, the series that deals with the lives of the residents of Los Alamos during those intense times in 1943-45 when the first atomic weapon was being developed.

We very occasionally have watched more than one episode at a time of any series we’ve tuned in to, but we routinely sit in for a double feature with this one.

The series’ designers have done a terrific job with the sets, the clothing, cars, and the dust … the dust of New Mexico is everywhere. You can smell it.

[Spoiler alert: Even though this is an excellent and thoughtful series, the wretched public in 2014 didn’t watch it in the numbers that they should have, so it only ran two seasons. Still way worth it.]

*

I found some interesting statistics in Wikipedia dealing with the present-day town of Los Alamos.

The median household income in Los Alamos is $98,458, and per capita income is $54,067. Income is significantly higher than the rest of New Mexico. 

Los Alamos has the highest millionaire concentration of any US city, with 12.4 percent of households having at least $1 million in assets. This is a result of chemists, engineers, and physicists working at LANL since the Manhattan Project. 

Only 6.6% of people are below the poverty line; half the rate of the United States, and one-third the rate of New Mexico. As of January 2015, there were zero homeless individuals.

Wikipedia: Los Alamos

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This is a small but great story. Small in the numbers of people affected … great in pointing out a creative way to help out in this unusual time.

A handful of distilleries are using some of their alcohol to make hand sanitizer and are giving it away. Yes, friends, for free!

The companies explicitly and strongly recommend that their free product not be used for making cocktails. They have a line of other bottles for that.

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Reachin’ Out

Our little HOA took some baby steps Friday, when the new board got together for the first time at our house. Before I go any further, let me quickly state that to become a board member only requires that you are able to breathe on your own and that you weren’t paying attention at the annual meeting when someone put up your name for election.

Now, what steps did we take? We have around 45 households in the HOA, and at our meeting we discussed those who are living alone and/or might need support for any of a number of reasons. Support being anything from a periodic phone call to help with grocery shopping, errand-running, etc.

Turns out that between the five of us we knew something about every other resident, and could quickly sort out the very few who we felt might be missing a social connection. Those people were each assigned to one of us to make contact and ask whether they needed or wanted any assistance.

We don’t want to be intrusive, just to put a hand out there*, knowing full well how quickly the tables can turn in this uncertain life we share, and that tomorrow it could be one of us that would benefit from that call.

Like a said, a baby step, but one toward community rather than away.

*[BTW, of course that hand would have been scrubbed vigorously for 20 seconds to the tune of “Another One Bites The Dust”]

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After watching this video, it struck me that coordinating Freddie Mercury’s wardrobe might have been a fairly easy job on any given day. Less is more, and all that.

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Harry Belafonte had his 93rd birthday parties recently. They made a big to-do about him in New York City, and there aren’t that many people more deserving.

I think it might be a bit hard for younger souls to imagine how big this guy was back in the 50s and 60s. It was not a time when black musicians had an easy time reaching broader audiences, but he did it in style. I went to a concert of his held outdoors in the early 60s at the original Metropolitan Stadium in Bloomington MN, and it was packed.

When the turmoil of the civil rights era was upon us, there was Harry all over the place, speaking and marching … putting it on the line.

A fine singer, a grand entertainer, a good man.

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