Same Dude Different Day

I’m starting to be concerned. Here we are two days into 2021 and I still feel like the same guy I was last year.

Is it because I didn’t make any New Year’s resolutions? Because I didn’t. Not one. If you could paint resolutions blue somehow, a view from a small drone would show a trail behind me of little sapphire-tinted piles of broken promises to myself stretching all the way back to the horizon. I think that I can safely say that no New Year’s resolution of mine ever made it to February in one piece.

******

The largest share of the exercise walks that Robin and I take are down along the Uncompahgre River, which passes through Montrose on its way to a rendezvous with the Gunnison River about 20 miles from here. Most of the scenery along those walks is very pretty, with trees and shrubs planted according to Mother Nature’s grand and seemingly random plan. There are areas, as there are along so many rivers I’ve seen that are close to towns, where the carelessness of past generations has piled up, with unattractive industry still making a mess of the shoreline. But there is so much of it here that it spoils a good walk.

This past week the birding has been exceptionally good as we stroll along trying our best to get those heart rates up. There are the usual scads of robins and legions of sparrows (that I haven’t bothered to learn to tell apart from one another), but we’ve also seen a great blue heron, a small flock of mountain bluebirds (seen two days in succession), and a group of Bohemian waxwings all fluffed up against the chill.

[None of these photographs are my own. But they have been purloined in a good cause.]

******

The New Landscape Department

Things Will Get Better, Seriously by Paul Krugman
We Just Saw How Minds Aren’t Changed by David Brooks

******

Colorado made the news this week for the wrong reason. Somehow the first case of the more contagious variant of the Covid virus showed up near Denver, in a guy who never went anywhere. To the medical sleuths, this strongly suggested that perhaps there was somebody else in our fair state who has it that we don’t know about as yet. That’s going out on a limb, I know, but these epidemiologists are a wild and crazy bunch.

So now I have a new level of paranoia, what with the new variant stacked on the non-masked multitudes, and all this atop the basic worrisome virus that you can’t see, smell, or taste and which at its whim can either kiss you lightly on your forehead or make you completely dead. Ach, himmel, what’s a guy to do? We already have our groceries delivered by workers in Hazmat suits, irradiate our incoming mail before ever touching it, and take regular Lysol baths. I even tried brushing my teeth with hydrogen peroxide but had to give that up when I nearly foamed myself into oblivion.

******

I saw something truly stunning yesterday, and unfortunately I didn’t have my camera handy to record it. A shame, really.

We had decided to take a scenic drive just to get out of the house for a couple of hours and ended up passing through Redvale CO, a very small town with a very large number of Cluck flags still flying. That wasn’t the stunner. It was the old pickup with a camper on the box. A homemade cloth sign whose dimensions were about 4×6 feet was affixed to the side facing the street, and it declaimed in large letters: Burn Your Mask!

Just think for a moment of the depths of stupid and hostile that such a banner signifies.

Burn Your Mask! Good lord.

******

Storms – What’s Not To Love?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

******

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

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

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

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

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

******

A Dick Guindon Cartoon

******

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

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

Storm on Lake Superior

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

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

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

******

The Nocebo Effect

Just about everyone knows about the placebo effect, where people given a pill report improvement even when the pill contains only inert material. But you may not have heard as much about its opposite, the nocebo effect, where patients describe negative side effects when they are taking those “sugar pills.”

I bring this up because I was asked about such things by the neurologist at my last appointment. One by one he inquired about my experiences with the several medications I am now taking:

So let’s go through them one at a time. First, the cholesterol medication.

Well, I don’t know for sure, but I think it causes me heartburn, halitosis, and borborygmi.

How about the blood thinner?

I’ve noticed that the cowlick on the back of my head is bigger, my back aches all the time, and I have flatulence that you wouldn’t believe … can’t keep papers on my desk in such a gastrointestinal breeze.

Interesting. What of the blood pressure medication?

Lord, Lord, don’t get me started there. My feet itch, my nose won’t stop running, and every day I have ten new wrinkles on my face.

My, my, Dr. Flom, many of these effects have never been seen with these drugs before. How can you be certain which medication is causing which symptom?

A person just knows these things.

How about the small orange tablet that you chew?

That’s the worst of the lot. It gives me hallucinations. Just yesterday I thought I read that the President was going to pardon all of his children, even though they haven’t been charged with or convicted of anything. Sort of a Get Out of Jail Free Card that’s good anywhere. That couldn’t be happening. It must be the orange pill.

The orange pill is just a baby aspirin.

So you say. But how do you really know what they put in those little bottles? If the government really wanted to mess me up they might put nasty stuff in my pills, wouldn’t they? Stuff that would make me forget what I know about aliens and Area 51. Oh yes they’d love that, wouldn’t they? But, heh heh heh, I still remember everything and one day … what was that noise? I know that I heard a voice coming from behind the bookcase …

Nurse, could you be a dear and give psychiatry a ring for me?

******

******

My old home state of Minnesota is now the worst in the nation re: Covid statistics. I knew it would happen, and I know why. When I was growing up there, I don’t remember ever bumping into a Republican. There were only Democrats, everywhere, and the local version of the party was called the DFL … the Democratic-Farmer-Labor party. What a nice, comfy, and inclusive ring that name had.

But then they fluoridated the water, and over time more and more Republicans began to appear until they actually became a major political force in the good ol’ Land of 10,000 Lakes. Residents of the state were faced with a choice – they could have better politics or better teeth, and to my chagrin they chose teeth. That was about the time that I was drafted into the USAF and sent away to another state, and it’s only gotten worse since then.

So when the coronavirus came along, and only one political party started wearing masks and practicing their social distance pas-de-deux, well, it was just a matter of time.

******

Here on the Western Slope the Covid numbers are rapidly getting just as unpleasant as they are anywhere else. Our geographic isolation no longer keeps us out of trouble in this department. The combination of tourists passing through town, increased travel out and back by our own citizens, and poorer mask-wearing performance is bringing our numbers up, and up isn’t the direction anyone with a functioning cerebrum wants them to go.

******

Friday Robin and I added a chunk to our usual hiking route. It was a steep stretch, maybe only a hundred yards or so in length, but at an angle where your boots slipped backward a little with every step. Without the trekking poles we use I’m not sure I could have made it to the top. At two very brief points the path wandered to the edge of a modest cliff that I could not look down, but just knowing it was there tickled my acrophobia a bit.

I was interested to try it and now I don’t have to do it again. ‘Twas not worth the fright.

******

Gotta love this guy. Telling it straight.

What the … ?

I lost control the other day of a very small part of my life, but these days who wants to lose anything more at all? It happened when the climate control knob on our Forester underwent a psychotic break and began selecting programs all on its own, spontaneously switching from one to the other. Back and forth it would go, and when I became exasperated it took two pushes on the OFF button to stop it.

And then it would turn itself on again to begin the maddening cycling once again.

Now call me a fussbutt, but any device that can turn itself on and by so doing damage my serenity evokes memories of all those movies involving robots that won’t accept orders any longer, or blobs of artificial intelligence taking charge once and for all. In the clip below from 2001: A Space Odyssey, if you substitute me for Keir Dullea and my climate control for Hal you might get a hint of why the situation was freaking me out.

It all seems to have been resolved after a trip to the Subaru service department, but it will take time for the wounds to heal. I may need therapy, actually. I guess that I should be grateful that the control could not talk to me. Think of the nightmares if it suddenly said in that chilling monotone:

I’m sorry, Jon, I’m afraid I can’t do that.

******

From The New Yorker. (This one made me actually think for a moment)

******

Thursday night we watched for an hour or so while Dr. Anthony Fauci, Dr. Francis Collins, and others gave a presentation from the stage of the cathedral in Washington DC. It was a real joy to be presented with the facts as we know them as of that evening about Covid-19, the vaccines on the verge of being deployed, and other more personal matters, like how to deal with the upcoming holidays.

Straight information, no hemming or hawing or tortuous language. No lies, good science. So refreshing that the hour passed very quickly. Maybe life will never be exactly the same even after Covid dies down, but that evening was like the “good old days.”

Here’s Chicago mayor Lori Lightfoot waking up from a nightmare.

******

I am admiring Mr. Biden’s calm and decidedly un-flashy approach to P.Cluck’s demented rantings since Election Day. Rather than respond to the latest from the tweetmeister, Biden just ignores them and quietly goes about the business of doing what must be done during the transition on his side of the fence. It makes the absence of any such activity on the other side even more glaring.

I like un-flashy soooo much better. It’s easier on the heart.

******

It’s been more than a month now since my aborted stroke, and I thought I’d toss in an update. I am fine, and seem to have no sequelae at all, thanks to Robin’s quick actions and the medical team’s dramatic therapies. I am taking two medications to keep my platelets a healthy distance from one another and so far experiencing no unpleasant side effects.

For a month I wore a monitor to keep track of my heart rhythms, but that month is now behind me and the equipment that I wore constantly has been shipped back to the company. Some time in the next couple of weeks they will send a report to my neurologist. The purpose for the monitoring was to see if there are any occult episodes of something called atrial fibrillation, which can predispose a person to recurrent strokes. (At this point I have no way of knowing what that little monitor said about me, there is no information provided to the patient. For all I know, it could have been hacked and somewhere in the world there is an untidy little man who knows everything I said and did for a month).

I think that I am being a good patient. I’m not entirely passive, of course, I put in my two (and sometimes three) cents whenever I feel the need, but I am perfectly aware that my present good health is because I dodged a fairly large caliber bullet on October 3. I will listen to what the doctors have to say, and unless they get too crazy, I will do what they suggest.

******

One of our favorite hikes for years has been a walk up Big Dominguez Canyon, which is about an hour’s drive north of us. It’s a desert walk, and can be brutally hot in July, but on Friday it was perfect. We started out at 9:00 AM in 29 degree weather but it quickly warmed to about 55 degrees by noon. Bright sunshine all the way up and back.

This time we chose to seek the path going to Little Dominguez Canyon, which had eluded us in the past. After crossing a small creek and going around a couple of big deadfalls, we finally located it. Most of the time over the next five hours we were walking on an old road which was sometimes two tracks, sometimes one, and sometimes we had to hunt in the sagebrush and rabbitbrush to stay on it at all. In the map above, the blue line shows our walk, while the yellow line is the track up Big Dominguez Canyon, where we usually had gone in the past.

And a beautiful hike it was, with something really interesting in the middle. That was when we came across an old cabin. The windows were boarded up, but peering between the boards you could see that there were two rooms, an iron cookstove, and what looked like handmade furniture. The cabin itself nestled up against a gigantic boulder that would have protected it from winds out of the west.

Scattered around the property were all of the implements that a small farmer would need. A two-bottom plow, a cultivator, and a harrow. There was a sickle bar and a dump rake for haying, as well as the wheels for what would have been small wagons. All of these would have been horse-drawn. It was interesting that when they decided to abandon the dwelling, they left all of these tools behind. Apparently it wasn’t worth the trouble to haul them back to civilization, which was several miles back down that dirt road.

You could see remnants of a trench where they would have run water from the Little Dominguez Creek for their crops. As we were leaving we ran into a man coming up the trail, who proved to know quite a bit about the occupants of the cabin. It had been homesteaded in the late 1800s by a family named Rambo, who lived there until 1984, when they donated the building and land to the BLM.

It would have been a life going against the grain, trying to make the desert bloom through sheer force of will. But the location was one where every morning you would get up, walk out the cabin door, and have nothing but starkly beautiful to look at.

Here are some pix from our outing.

******

The Best Laid Schemes O’ Mice And Men Ganging Aft A-gley

And here’s how the story went. Robin and I had a day completely open and I had heard that the fall colors were at their best right now on the Grand Mesa. So off we went on Saturday morning. We had some apprehensions about what we would find in terms of visibility because the smoke from western fires was heavy down in the valley. But as we drove up that few thousand feet it cleared beautifully, giving us blue skies and long distance viewing.

We hiked up the Crag Crest Trail for several miles and were rewarded with some of the scenes below. After we had come back to our car, we decided to take the long way home, going all the way across the Mesa and down into the valley leading to Grand Junction. There was even more glorious viewing there on the north side of the Grand Mesa. So inspiring.

At one point as we continued towards home and were on our way through the suburb of Clifton, Robin asked me a question and I found that I could not form words. I also had developed a sort of brain fog that left me unable to help her with her question even I had been able to speak. There was no discomfort, no thing sudden or dramatic. I found myself feeling very odd, so dissociated from everything around me and puzzled but about my being unable to talk. At no time did I ever think “stroke.” I didn’t think causation all, I was just disturbed at my loss of abilities.

Robin pulled the car into a gas station/C-store and talked to the attendant, telling him that there was something happening to her husband (that would be me) and could he help? The man had a nursing background and came right out to where I was sitting on the parking lot curb. After asking a very few questions, none of which I could answer, he called for the EMTs who arrived within minutes. They wasted no time in bundling me into the ambulance, starting an IV, and whistling down the road to St. Mary’s Hospital in Grand Junction. All the while I watched while still in my fog, without any emotion or fear or curiosity. The feeling I had was that of an observer, rather than the person things were happening to.

When we reached St. Mary’s I found that when a suspected stroke victim comes through the ER doors, they go right to the head of the line. Before you could say “middle cerebral artery” I had a CT scan – BAM. Then a CT scan with contrast – BAM. Then into a room where a very fine nurse described what was happening to me. Robin had by then arrived and I was trying to communicate with her, but since speech was impossible I attempted to write things out. Some times the word I wanted appeared on the paper, sometimes I could scratch out only a few letters. The nurse who stayed with us (a man named Jay), put a med into my IV and less than a minute later and while I was trying to say something to Robin, suddenly my garbled vocal growlings became real honest to God words again. In the snap of a finger.

From then on – no problems, mate! Well, not quite. Turns out that a side effect of that miraculous medication was that you could literally bleed yourself right off the planet if you ever got started. So off to the ICU I went, bed-rest and all. The bleeding worries were over in about eight hours, but they wouldn’t let me off that bed for 18 hours.

So tomorrow I go home, at least that is tonight’s plan. My everlasting thanks go out to Robin who immediately recognized a new sort of gibberish from the sort I usually speak, the C-store guy, those EMTs. the ER crew at St Mary’s Hospital, and the excellent nurses who have put up with me for these two days. First class people all the way. (FYI: St. Mary’s Hospital is a Level I Stroke Center. Keep that in mind if you’re traveling through and don’t feel quite yourself.)

I do have one tip for you all, though. If you ever find yourself here in similar circumstances, do not – I repeat – DO NOT order the scrambled eggs for breakfast. ‘Nuff said.

******

Taking off my smartass hat here for a moment. I do realize how lucky I was. Any delays along the way and at best I could have been looking at years of rehabilitation. Sunday night as I was making my way toward sleep I had a few moments where some of the fear I might have had earlier came in on me all mixed up with such a sharp sense of gratitude that I was sort of a weepy mess for a few minutes.

******

And finally, my hat is off to Robin. She can drive me anywhere, any time. While we were sitting on that C-store curb, I was trying to tell her to take us home where we’d figure out what was going on. Somehow she knew what I was attempting to say and turned me down flat. She is so disobedient sometimes …

******

One last thing. At left is a sign above the commode in my ICU room. I have two questions.

  1. Who puts their hand in a toilet?
  2. Who would ever sit on such a stool? “Sharp device that can cause injury?”no thank you very much! No part of my body is going anywhere near this thing!

******

… 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?

******

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.

******

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.

******

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.

******

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.

******

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.

******

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.

******

******

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.

******

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.

******

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.

******

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.]

******

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.

******

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.

******

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.

******

From The New Yorker

******

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.

******

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.

.

******

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.

*******