… hate to see that evenin’ sun go down …

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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We Are Probably Incapable Of Learning Our Lesson Department

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

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

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

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

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Adversities Happen

Just back in last night from our last camping trip for a while. Met up with Allyson and Kyle near Leadville, the highest altitude city in the U.S. We stayed at Father Dyer campground, a lovely small place in a pine forest on a crystalline lake. It was a family campground, rather than a place for parties, so quiet reigned supreme. A really beautiful setting.

Not too warm in the daytime, not too cold at night. Perfect.

Well, not perfect, not really.

You remember that I was recently stung a couple of times by a wasp. On Sunday morning my hand was twice its size, to the point that I couldn’t get my watch on and had to wear it on my right hand. But we packed up and drove from Montrose to the campground, and when we began to put up the rig, we discovered that the two replacement sectional aluminum poles we had purchased from the Sylvansport company after the originals were damaged in a Memorial Day gale were wrong. Just wrong. Both were too long, and one was clearly for another purpose entirely. We were able to put up the tent is a slapdash fashion, but it looked droopy and would probably not keep the rain out.

However, life is what it is, and we spent the afternoon with our friends, looking forward to some white lightning chicken chili I had prepared at home, and promised everyone for supper. Around six 0’clock I began to heat it up and decided that I had chosen the wrong size pot for the job. I set out a larger one and was transferring the chili when … I still don’t know how … the entire potful flew off the table, did a 180, and upside down in the soft dust it went. Complete loss.

So I cleaned up my mess, and instead took everyone out to supper in Leadville, which was only six miles away. We ended up at a little dive named Tacos del Mina, and ordered what turned out to be excellent bar food to fill up on.

On the way back from town, a sudden cold thought occurred to me. I turned to Robin and asked: “Did you remember the sleeping bags?” She stiffened and after a dread pause anwered: “No.”

There was a five minute silence as we separately thought about our options. We ended up with Robin sleeping in the car, where she had the option of turning on the engine for heat if needed, and I slept in the droopy tent with the Mr. Buddy heater at my side and a small car blanket over me. Fortunately the temperature never fell below 49 degrees that night, but restful sleep was hard to come by.

Monday we woke to a glorious day, had fun with Ally & Kyle, and then returned home a day earlier than planned. Home, where we had plenty of sleeping bags and a full night’s sleep was not only possible, but likely.

It may not have been the camping trip from Hell, but it was certainly the one from Heck.

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Once home last night, we had only time to watch Michelle Obama give an excellent and moving speech at the Democratic convention. I will say this for P.Cluck – he has made the distinction between himself and Biden crystal clear. An imperfect but clearly decent and capable man versus someone who is very nearly perfectly bad.

We (and the rest of the world) will get to see what kind of a people Americans really are when Election Day comes around, won’t we? As for myself, I believe in us.

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One of the regrets of my life is that I was a willing accomplice in the attempted murder of jazz. When rock came along, I left that more thoughtful music for something that appealed to my endocrine system instead of my brain. But jazz did not die, it continued to press along under the radar, and only in recent years have I begun to appreciate it once again.

KOKOROKO is a group of Londoners pursuing something called Afrobeat, and I really like their music. I’ve included a quieter example in the sidebar jukebox.

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Finding

I woke Friday morning with the powerful scent of Mephitis mephitis in my nostrils. Somewhere out there during the night there had been an encounter, and this perfume on the air was left behind for us all to savor.

The aroma is an enduring one, and prompted two thoughts for me. The first is that I have read that skunk scent has been part of the recipe for exotic perfumes, at least in the past, because it lasted so long. This has been discovered by many errant husbands who returned home from a “night at the office” with a distinctly non-office bouquet about them. Any wife with a nose and half a grain of sense recognized this the instant the man walked in the door, and then wrote the rest of the story by herself.

The other was my own encounter with the skunk, in my living room, six years ago.

I’ve told the tale before, but have more perspective now, I think. Briefly, I was reading in my chair at four in the morning when a skunk wandered in through the pet door looking for the cat kibbles it could obviously smell. The creature came through the dining room and went around the corner into the guest bedroom where it began to loudly munch on what was in the cat dishes.

Ten minutes later, once it had eaten its fill, it retraced its steps and left the house, never to return.

All of this I watched from my chair, paralyzed by the thought that if I moved it might startle the animal, and I would be dealing with one of the more powerful fragrances in the world sprayed on the walls and furnishings of my own home sweet home. And what, I wondered to myself, does one do about that?

The skunk itself looked as big as a Great Dane when this happened, but I have since come to accept that this was probably not the case. Experience tells me that a Mephitis in one’s living room looks easily four times as large as an outdoor member of the species.

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We are presently watching a series called “A French Village,” which is about a village in France. Oh, you got that? Sorry.

It takes place during the Nazi occupation, in 1941. We are enjoying it, perhaps because it has a bit more subtlety than many such productions with WWII settings, which are more like jousts between monsters and angels.

Not that Nazism itself was anything but monstrous, but it’s likely that there were some German soldiers who were schlemiels like you and I but who were drafted and found themselves in the middle of a nightmare. There are a couple of those guys in this series. There are also French heroes in unlikely places, and collaborators who were venal as well as some who thought they were serving their countrymen the best way they could.

Like I said, more subtlety. It’s also not a stomach-churning torture-fest, for which we are grateful.

You will find the series on Hulu, if you’re interested. Subtitled.

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Okay, have I got an app for you. Avenza Maps. It’s like having a real GPS in your phone. You download maps to it, and from then on you don’t need an internet connection. It knows where you are.

Scads of the maps are free, as is the basic version of the app itself. If you can’t find a free one for the area you are going to, you can buy commercial versions, including those great National Geographic Trails Illustrated maps, to download.

Then you look on the map for a blue dot. When you move, the dot moves, and it keeps continuous track of where you are. Ot, at least where your phone is.

It’s a hoot! Friday Robin and I went hiking in new territory, and used a NatGeo map to find the trailhead and then to track our journey. Periodically I would check the map, especially at unmarked crossings, and we wandered valleys and hills and forests in terra incognita on the Uncompahgre Plateau for three hours and ended up exactly where we were supposed to be.

At the end our screen looked like the pic above, with the orange line showing our path.

If you are interested, read more at http://www.avenzamaps.com. It’s available for Android and iOS.

[I received no commission for this blurb. I tried, but had no success.]

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I am indebted to brother Bill for the link to this song. It is said to be John Prine’s last recording. Poet with guitar. Beautiful.

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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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