Sunday Morning

I hereby promise not to complain about our piddly weather variations here on the Western Slope. Not as long as the West Coast is on fire. That is a problem, a heartache, a series of disasters. Our cold rains, too-hot days, dust blown in our eyes, early frosts … these are annoyances.

I may mention local meteorology, but I will not complain. Not that this will be a difficult thing to do, because I have a naturally sunny and forgiving disposition and a discourteous word rarely drops from these lips.

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From The New Yorker

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I know that I’ve told this story before, but no matter. If I were not to allow myself repetition this journal would grind to a halt very quickly. And we wouldn’t want that now, would we? (No answer required. A rhetorical question, that)

I first heard Recuerdos de la Alhambra at a concert when I was an undergraduate at the U. of Minnesota. I was a callow youth … actually I might have been the callowest of the freshman class, to be honest. But I had grand ideas of self-improvement, and one of those was that I would learn something about classical music.

So I coughed up the shekels necessary to attend a concert of the great classical guitarist Andres Segovia in Northrop Auditorium, which at the time was the premier performance space at the U, or in all of the Twin Cities, for that matter. I was in my seat early, because why would I take a chance on missing a single note that I had paid so dearly to hear? The concert was scheduled to begin at 8:00 P.M. There was a single plain wooden chair in the center of the stage, out in front of the gigantic maroon velvet curtain.

At precisely 8:00 Andres Segovia walked out to the chair, looked out into the audience, and saw people still streaming in through all of the doors. Without saying a word, he walked off the stage. The ushers looked puzzled, but they continued to seat attendees and the huge leather-accented doors to the hall remained open.

At 8:10 Mr. Segovia walked back onto the state and again stood by the chair. A few stragglers were still entering, and he silently walked off the stage into the wings. Again.

This time, everybody got it. The ushers slammed those big doors shut and if you weren’t already inside it was too bad for you. The seated audience realized what was happening and were ready to strangle the next trespassers with a thousand willing hands if they had to, in order to hear the music they had come for.

At 8:20 Andres Segovia walked onto the stage in an absolutely silent hall, sat down on that lone chair, and proceeded to play Recuerdos de la Alhambra. I never forgot the moment, and the piece has been a favorite ever since that night.

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The Abominable Showman

The vicious, immoral, psychopathic, lying, draft-dodging, oath-breaking, woman-abusing, racist, bigoted, rotten barrel of apples that we call a president is at his best/worst these days.

Like any tinpot dictator desperately trying to hang onto power he’s attempting to create a national fear of “them” being on the way to the suburbs where they will wreak all sorts of havoc.

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We are told that our wives, husbands, children, property are all at risk if the Democrats take over. But look there in the sky! It’s a bird, it’s a plane … no, it’s P.Cluck and he is the only one who can save us from “their” grasping hands! Look out, white people, “they” are coming for you, is his repeated and thinly coded message.

Guess who “they” are? Well, I’ll give you a clue, they’re not Norwegians, Cluck likes Norwegians. He probably even wishes he could find Norway on a map.

It’s a tactic as old as our species. Create the dragon in people’s minds that only you can slay. What a pile. What an unworthy person. Time to wall him up in Mar-El-Lago with his poisonous brood and be done with them.

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One of my favorite things is to find a new version of a song, only a cover, but one that brings out something new about the lyrics, or the music itself. I’ve got one for you this morning.

A few days back I compared two interpretations of the Paul Simon song, Graceland. The first was by Simon himself, and the second by a woman named Kina Grannis. Grannis does a lot of covers (she also writes her own songs) and has a ton of material on YouTube.

When I ran across this one it surprised even jaded old me. It’s the old Nirvana tune, Smells Like Teen Spirit. First, we’ll give you a video of Nirvana doing it, and on the second one you can see how Ms. Grannis handles the material . (BTW, if Nirvana is not your thing, just watch a bit of it to see the contrasts. Humor me, okay?)

Soft and sweet, a Nirvana trademark.

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I know the differences are subtle, but you readers are a very discerning lot and I am certain you will see them.

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Tuesday was a day of blessed relief from the heat! The temperature never got above 75 degrees and the populace of Paradise walked about staring into the heavens and wondering what had happened. The other sweet thing about Tuesday was that our sky was back to a gorgeous shade of blue because the smoke had dissipated.

Sometimes it’s the littlest things …

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You know what makes me almost want to cry? The fact the the Clucksters have probed the CDC and found some weak ones in there who could be pushed into making unsound statements to the press. Even if they later retract or amend them, the damage to public confidence has been done.

I confess that I shouldn’t be surprised at all. Among my own former colleagues there were always (uncommon) individuals who were just waiting for their fascist moment to arrive. They were all ready with the slogans, the dogmas, their repetition of far-right nonsense phrases. I even suspect that some of them had black shirts in their closets to put on when the great day came and the latest reincarnation of Il Duce showed up.

So I guess that it shouldn’t come as a shock that there are some physicians within the CDC who were looking forward to being singled out by P.Cluck for bigger things. Bah! Shame on them.

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And last for today, just when you thought there was nothing more that you could possibly find to worry about, we are presented with a new danger to our health – the toilet plume! Yes, you heard me, the plume! I would actually advise you not to read the article … it’s one of those things than once learned you can never un-learn.  Even when the coronavirus is only an unpleasant memory, the plume will be with us.

This bit of information is provided by the AARP and they should be embarrassed for having done so.  Sometimes in life, ignorance is a thing to be treasured.  This would have been one of those times.

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… hate to see that evenin’ sun go down …

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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We Are Probably Incapable Of Learning Our Lesson Department

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

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

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

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

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From the Skies

I don’t know if you missed it or not, but a couple of days ago there was a news item that stated there had been more than 12,000 lightning strikes in California in one week, which seemed to me to be an astoundingly high number. Especially since lightning strikes and wildfires go together. And there is no state that knows more about wildfires than California.

Then I thought … how do they know that there were 12,000? A couple of computer clicks and a phone call or two and I had my answer. There is a small office at the state capitol in Sacramento with lettering on the door that says Department of Revolting Environmental Developments, and yesterday I had a Zoom conference with the man who sits behind that door. His name is Arthur Schwarzenegger, who is a third cousin to the more famous Arnold, and is a holdover from that administration.

Mr. S. (we’ll call him that because Schwarzenegger takes way too long to type out each time) is a small balding man in his late fifties. His remaining wispy hair mostly sticks out from his head, forming a gray halo of sorts (and this is unnerving) and the hairs seem to almost writhe as we converse. His eyes dart constantly about the room, and he taps with a pencil on the desktop rapidly and without interruption. The muscles of his face twitch throughout the interview, independently of one another.

His shirt is badly buttoned and his cravat is tied poorly, which gives him a decidedly untidy appearance. We spoke under the condition that I not publish a word of the conversation, a promise that I fully intended to break at the time I made it, and this is the result.

Interviewer: Thank you for meeting with me, Mr. S, I know that you must be busy at this time of year. Am I correct in assuming this?

Mr. S.: Yes, yes, terrible busy. I can only give you five minutes.

Interviewer: Well, let’s get to it, then. I read that your state recently had 12,ooo lightning strikes in the space of a week. Is that number accurate?

Mr. S.: Yes, it is.

Interviewer: How do you know that?

Mr. S.: I count them.

Interviewer: You mean your office counts them?

Mr. S.: No, I do. Me. I count all of them.

Interviewer: Do you not have office staff to help out? Some sort of technology to assist you in this endeavor?

Mr. S.: No … it’s just me and a clicker.

Interviewer: But how … ?

Mr. S.: I sit out in thunderstorms at the place in our state that has the most strikes and click each time one comes.

Interviewer: And this is accurate?

Mr. S.: Very. I am warned of each upcoming blast by the fact that my hair sticks straight out from my head. So I never miss a one.

Interviewer: But, sir, you can only certify the lightning you can see around you, and California is a very large state. How can you …

Mr. S.: I extrapolate. Whatever number of bolts I see, I multiply by a factor to get the total for the entire state.

Interviewer: Is this factor a scientifically derived value?

Mr. S.: No. I made it up. Whole cloth and all that.

Interviewer: So this is a very soft number indeed.

Mr. S.: The softest.

Interviewer: Aren’t you worried about this? Your job, for instance, is that secure with you making things up as you go along?

Mr. S.: Look, I work out of this crummy office, by myself, with an ancient computer running Windows 95. When I am in the field, and I mean literally in the field, I wear rubber clothing, rubber shoes, rubber underwear, run wires from my hat to the ground as a precaution, and still I have been knocked down by lightning 37 times as of yesterday. What are they going to do to me?

At that, there was a crashing noise in the hallway outside his door, and Mr.S. dove under his desk with surprising alacrity for a man of middle years. He would not come out from under, and so we terminated the interview.

Even though my confidence had been shaken quite a bit, I was still impressed … 12,000 … that’s a lot of lightning, soft count or not.

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Paul Simon is one of those artists whose music has been part of my personal soundtrack, always playing there somewhere in the background, and coming up louder whenever needed. This has been so since the day Sound of Silence flowed out of my car radio, and when Bridge Over Troubled Water was released … Hoo Boy … he and I were off and we never looked back.

Then the Graceland album – totally excellent, nest-ce pas? – yes it was and the title tune was so upbeat and all that it was perhaps a year before I really listened to the lyrics. And then, I thought Paul – you really suckered me there, didn’t you? That’s a darned sad song with words to make you think about your own … but, hey … so I waited for someone to slow the tune down and let us in on the feelings held in those naked words.

And I found someone who did just that, and did it beautifully as well. Her name is Kina Grannis and I put her version up there with Paul’s.

Might as well add the lyrics, here … you can’t tell the players without a program

The Mississippi Delta
was shining like a national guitar
I am following the river
Down the highway
Through the cradle of the Civil War

I’m going to Graceland, Graceland
Memphis, Tennessee
I’m going to Graceland
Poor boys and pilgrims with families
And we are going to Graceland

My traveling companion is nine years old
He is the child of my first marriage
But I’ve reason to believe
We both will be received
In Graceland

She comes back to tell me she’s gone
As if I didn’t know that
As if I didn’t know my own bed
As if I’d never noticed
The way she brushed her hair from her forehead
And she said, “losing love
Is like a window in your heart
Everybody sees you’re blown apart
Everybody sees the wind blow”

I’m going to Graceland
Memphis, Tennessee
I’m going to Graceland
Poor boys and pilgrims with families
And we are going to Graceland

And my traveling companions
Are ghosts and empty sockets
I’m looking at ghosts and empties
But I’ve reason to believe
We all will be received
In Graceland

There is a girl in New York City
Who calls herself the human trampoline
And sometimes when I’m falling, flying
Or tumbling in turmoil I say
“Whoa, so this is what she means”
She means we’re bouncing into Graceland
And I see losing love
Is like a window in your heart
Well, everybody sees you’re blown apart
Everybody sees the wind blow

Ooh, ooh, ooh
In Graceland, in Graceland
I’m going to Graceland
For reasons I cannot explain
There’s some part of me wants to see
Graceland
And I may be obliged to defend
Every love, every ending
Or maybe there’s no obligations now
Maybe I’ve a reason to believe
We all will be received
In Graceland

Whoa, oh, oh
In Graceland, in Graceland, in Graceland
I’m going to Graceland

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That Gypsy!

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

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

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

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

Jerry Garcia

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

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

Willie Nelson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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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An Aha Moment!

Our local excellent public ratio station, which has something for everybody … except those who love boring corporate music playlists (which don’t exist on this station). If you’re driving through our area some day, tune to KVNF (90.9 or 89.1). You may not hear your absolute favorite tune before you get out of range, but you may discover something new and terrific.

For instance, today I was catching up on some alt-country sort of stuff as I was cruising to Home Depot and suddenly this amusing (and thoughtful) composition popped up, by an artist previously unknown to me.

Here’s a video starring the artist, Susan Werner, and it may answer many of the questions you have always had.

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Out back in my al fresco office it is 89 degrees, and the humidity is 9%. Scores of midwesterners have told me over the decades that it’s not the heat, but the humidity. And darned if they weren’t right! How did they know? Some of them had never been more than forty miles from home in their entire life.

For those of you who have lived in the mountains forever, here is what it is like along the Mississippi or Missouri Rivers in August.

Sit on a chair in a ninety-five degree room. Have someone pull a large plastic bag over your entire body, into which a hole has been cut and a hose inserted. Have that same helper now pump steam from a heated vaporizer into the bag. Keep up the infusion until the bag clouds over and sweat rains into your eyes, down the center of your back, and all of your clothing becomes a sodden mess. By now your hair will have plastered itself onto your head and your breathing become slightly labored.

Now rip all the paraphernalia off and dart into a shower, where you will find that it is impossible to towel yourself off properly afterward, since even the towel on the rack is moisture-laden and you never become completely dry. Then exit the bathroom and put the plastic bag back on. Repeat until sundown.

There, got it? Any questions, high desert dwellers?

Some day, for the midwestern contingent, we’ll go into what it means to live in a dry mountain climate, where one must continuously slather oneself with creams and lotions to avoid becoming so many pounds of animated jerky, but that’s a topic for another day.

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Sunday Morning

I love Sunday mornings, even though, being retired, every day could really be regarded as the same as the one before and the one after. But what fun is that? Sunday is the day for cool, for resting up, for getting repairs done on the body that you’ve been beating up for the previous 144 hours.

So that’s what I am doing. Doing Sunday. Sitting here in the early morning hours with my coffee on my left and Poco snoozing on my right. (Poco is here to see that I keep the faith, baby). My plan for today includes quite a bit of sloth.

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CNN had a story this morning that started sour and ended sweet. About a mom and daughter whose sidewalk writings were being disappeared each night … but I’ll let CNN tell you the tale.

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Want something positive to think about? How about getting our present emergency under control in six weeks? The Times of New York has published a thinkpiece on just that topic, with facts to back it up.

This is without a vaccine, or monoclonal antibody therapy, or any tools other than the ones we have right now. It’s good news, folks, so should we push for it or resign ourselves to months and months of the bass-ackwardness we’ve been living with since February?

I think push is the way forward for yours truly.

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In an earlier post, I included links to a video by the Grateful Dead performing the song Ripple. Good performance from forty years ago, fun to watch. I mentioned that I thought that the words fit our present time so very well.

So here are the lyrics. Take a look and see if they hit you the same way they did me. We are in this together, people say, but we each follow our own path through life, don’t we? Which makes us sort of all alone, together.

If my words did glow with the gold of sunshine
And my tunes were played on the harp unstrung
Would you hear my voice come through the music
Would you hold it near as it were your own?

It’s a hand-me-down, the thoughts are broken
Perhaps they’re better left unsung
I don’t know, don’t really care
Let there be songs to fill the air

Ripple in still water
When there is no pebble tossed
Nor wind to blow

Reach out your hand if your cup be empty
If your cup is full may it be again
Let it be known there is a fountain
That was not made by the hands of men

There is a road, no simple highway
Between the dawn and the dark of night
And if you go no one may follow
That path is for your steps alone

Ripple in still water
When there is no pebble tossed
Nor wind to blow

You who choose to lead must follow
But if you fall you fall alone
If you should stand then who’s to guide you?
If I knew the way I would take you home

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I, Racist

Usually I try to read as much junk literature as I can, but somehow I’ve started a serious book, one that deals with racism. It is entitled White Fragility. The book is on my Kindle, so I know that I am 15% of the way through, and I can already tell that it’s not a book that’s going to be easy to recommend to others. So far it’s one hard fact to learn after another, but it’s one of those books that shines a needed light into some of those neglected and shady corners of a person’s mind.

It’s been a very long time since the day that I admitted to myself that there was a racist in that mix of personalities that I call Me . What puzzled me at the time was this – how did he get in there? This book begins to answer that question. It’s quite simple, according to the author, who makes the case that the formative influences are subtle, invisible, and universal. I am racist because there is almost no way I could have been anything different.

Good book so far, at least the first 15%.

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Not to worry, folks, there will be a motorcycle rally at Sturgis SD this year after all. Something like 240,000 bikers and gawkers will descend on the town to drink, race their bikes, drink, listen to music, drink, brawl, drink, and have sex. At least what sex all of that drinking will permit.

Here is what Main Street Sturgis looked like in 2015, just to set the scene.

They will not wear masks because it makes drinking awkward, nor will they pay much attention to social distancing because it does the same thing for sex. The governor of the state of South Dakota, one of the dimmer bulbs in that state’s chandelier, is happy as a clam that the bikers are coming, and she hopes that they will bring lots of money to spend. She has difficulty believing in germs … they are so small, you know.

Once bike week is over the participants will return to their home states, some carrying newly acquired coronavirus with them, and many of them will not live to see Christmas. This is the bad news. The good news is that in about two months there will be a lot of well-cared-for used motorcycles on the market, probably at very good prices.

(As long as we’re talking motorcycles and mortal illnesses, I came across this article yesterday. Odd doesn’t do it justice.)

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Robin informed me that someone in Texas is suing the governor because he has mandated mask-wearing. Lord help us. One of the most unhappy things that this pandemic has done is reveal just how many fools there are among us.

And who is us? Why, the straight-shootin’, right-minded, honorable, brave, and intelligent Americans, that’s who. You and me, for starters.

Right?

Right on.

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Wandering this morning I came across this video from 1980. As I listened today, it seems a song so well-suited to our so very confusing and disorienting time.

Ripple in still water … when there is no pebble tossed … nor wind to blow

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Old and New

Okay, you know that I am fond of cartoons. At least the stranger ones. It’s why I had scanned and dropped into this blog some of the old work of Dick Guindon over the last several months. And why I went looking for more oddness in the archives of The New Yorker when it was still a simple thing to do and they hadn’t yet discovered how to foil the outright theft of their property by miscreants like myself.

So it was with joy this morning that I discovered that one of my old faves is back from retirement. Gary Larson, the creator of The Far Side cartoons, has recently established a website where one can get their fix of old strangeness and some new stuff as well. It’s his first new work since 1995, and he doesn’t appear to have lost his edge. The website is called, oddly enough, The Far Side. I’ve decided not to steal his stuff … for now … and let you explore to your hearts’ content on your own.

Oh, heck, just two … first, an old one:

And now, a new one:

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What in the world is wrong with me? Both Taylor Swift and Kanye West dropped new albums upon the world this past week, and I care not one whit. Must be my age … my outdated musical tastes … my subconscious racism (wait … no … that’s not it … what could be whiter than Taylor Swift?).

For whatever reason, the musical output of these two performers is as exciting to me as a freshly opened can of okra. And that’s all I’m going to say about that.

Just in case you need an example of my bona fides as a musical critic, here is one of my all-time favorites from the archives, for you to savor and enjoy. It’s Mule Skinner Blues, by The Fendermen. Ahhhhh, they don’t write them like this any more.

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Friend Caroline clued me in on a video I’d missed, and one that is worth seeing. You and I may have become numb to the dismal statistics and the almost unbelievable incompetence of the Cluck administration. But as you watch these young people from around the world being told the US story and they hear the numbers that Americans are living (and dying) with, the disbelief on their faces tells volumes.

Mass graves in the United States? Would you ever have thought that possible? Our national four-year flirtation with fascism has led to one abysmal failure after another. Failure in every aspect of our nation’s life. It turns out that populism has not improved over the generations. It still eventually comes down to government by thugs.

There have been many moments in the past when the arrogance and smugness of liberals like myself has annoyed the hell out of me. But I now look back at those times as the good old days.

This November, let’s work our butts off and bring back smug.

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Sunday Morning

On some Sunday mornings I become wistful, always a dangerous thing for a senior citizen because it can be the gateway drug leading to maudlin sentimentality. I will admit that when I want to, I can out-maudlin anyone in the room, but that’s not where I’m going this particular morning.

The following are all weekend songs. If you lean back with your coffee and let yourself go for a moment, maybe they’ll remind you of a time when you were starved for experience, and wanted more from a Saturday and a Sunday than any two days could provide. Way before you learned how to be sensible and the boundary between love and lust was still a bit fuzzy. When any evening was filled with possibilities you couldn’t even describe because you didn’t have the vocabulary yet.

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Tom Waits is so good at this. You’ve got a girl, you’ve got a car, and the road is open to somewhere you can’t quite imagine … a great something may be waiting for you out there tonight.

Well you gassed her up, behind the wheel, with your arm around your sweet one in your Oldsmobile. Barrelin’ down the boulevard you’re looking for the heart of Saturday night

Tom Waits: Looking for the Heart of Saturday Night

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Back in the day when I was a working-class kid, and known to tip a bottle or two or three on a Saturday night, Fats Domino could have been singing about any one of my work-weeks.

Sunday mornin’ my head is bad, but it’s worth it for the fun that I’ve had, but I’ve got to get my rest, ’cause Monday is a mess

Fats Domino: Blue Monday

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Etta James … so great. Here’s a wistful lament for you. Looking past the shininess of all the Saturday nights at something more …

I want a Sunday kind of love, a love to last past Saturday night …

Etta James: A Sunday Kind of Love

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I am the worst kind of fan for a certain kind of musician to have, I think. I want their blood, every time. I want to be stirred. A new singer or group emerges and their music is filled with a passion that you can believe in. Then they become successful and the passion is gradually replaced by professionalism. They still make listenable sound, but the hunger is gone and you can hear where it used to be. I stopped being interested in U2 after their remarkable album The Joshua Tree. But before that they were beautiful banner-carriers and up there on the barricades every time.

I can’t believe the news today, oh I can’t close my eyes and make it go away …

U2: Sunday Bloody Sunday

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To me, this is perhaps the best Sunday morning song of them all, from a master teller of stories. I can see the guy stepping out the door of his apartment and onto the sidewalk, blinking in the sunlight and looking scruffy as hell. Hey, he looks a bit like yours truly … nah … but for just a moment there …

On the Sunday morning sidewalks, wishin’ Lord that I was stoned, ’cause there’s something in a Sunday, makes a body feel alone

Kris Kristofferson: Sunday Morning Comin’ Down

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Peace, Friend.

Dad(s) Rock

It was not too long ago that I first ran across the term “dad rock,” but I recognized it as the unflattering term it was meant to be immediately.

And resented it deeply (sniff). Because they were talking ’bout me and my confréres in a low and dismissive way.

According to the users of the term, people like myself were locked into the rock music of 20 years ago or more. To make things worse, our dratted tunes keep being played over and over on the radio, in commercials, in movie soundtracks, etc.

Apparently this drives some music critics nuts, so they have retaliated by coming up with the term dad rock. I will admit that there is a trickle of truth in what they are saying. Studies have shown that we bond with the music we played in our adolescence and young adulthood in a way that never occurs again in life. The music we’re talking about today was rock and roll being born, in the most messy and uncontrolled way. Out of that mess came a mountain of forgettable (and forgotten) sound, but also one marvelous and memorable song after another.

So I feel for those men and women who can’t stand dad rock, because they are probably stuck with it as long as our generation still has a pulse.

And as far as most of the music I link to in this blog … well … pretty much unadulterated you know what, I guess. But there are two good things about it for you readers. Firstly, you don’t have to listen because it doesn’t start automatically, requiring action on the reader’s part.

Secondly, it’s free.

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Fighting the Good Fight Department

Biden Should Not Debate Trump Unless … by Thomas Friedman

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Dear Ragnar: Ragnar? Ragnar? RAGNAR?

Ragnar: Don’t bother me, boy, can’t you see I’m busy? I have to sign for something here.

Dear Ragnar: What’s in the boxes?

Ragnar: Mead.

Dear Ragnar: Mead?

Ragnar: And do I need it!

Dear Ragnar: Explain.

Ragnar: Why are you here?

Dear Ragnar: To ask you about our politics.

Ragnar: That’s why I have the need for mead.

Dear Ragnar: But you’re a spirit, right? Why should earthly matters trouble you?

Ragnar: Because I keep forgetting that I’m a spirit, so I pick up a newspaper, and by the time I remember I’m already nauseous from what I’ve read.

Dear Ragnar: I think I can relate to that.

Ragnar: You bet! Spirits have feelings, too. We’re only flesh and blood … wait … that’s not right …

Dear Ragnar: So can I ask you something?

Ragnar: Hit it, honey.

Dear Ragnar: If you were a registered voter come November, who would you vote for?

Ragnar: I’d go for Biden, myself.

Dear Ragnar: His age doesn’t put you off?

Ragnar: You’re asking a guy who is 400 years old?

Dear Ragnar: Sorry.

Ragnar: But let’s say age matters. So he’s got to get a younger person to run with him.

Dear Ragnar: Yes?

Ragnar: And he’s already said it will be a shield maiden.

Dear Ragnar: And?

Ragnar: Probably a good thing to have one of color.

Dear Ragnar: Okay, that’s been said

Ragnar: But … do you know any female candidates of color who are also Norsk?

Dear Ragnar: I don’t.

Ragnar: Me neither. Guess we’ll have to skip that category.

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We are back from our sojourn in the Silesca Guard Station, up on the Uncompahgre Plateau. Overall we had a great time, and found that the old cabin was only mildly full of allergens for Robin and I.

There was an oddness when we arrived. A very pleasant lady came out the front door and said that she had made an error, and thought she was also booked in through the night of the 8th of July, the day we arrived. She had just that morning recognized the mistake she’d made, and was in the process of feverishly working with her daughter to pack everything up. There was one slight additional hiccup. Her husband and son had left to go fishing at Ridgway (an hour away) early that morning, before anyone realized the problem, and now there was no way to contact them. This was at 11:00 AM, and we were finally able to take occupancy at 6:00 PM, when the fishermen finally returned.

Lizard track in sand

We didn’t waste all that time, however. During the waiting period, we decided to take a loop hike on something called the Buck Trail. It turned out to be a nine-mile loop, and by the end I was making tracks in the dust much like a lizard’s, feet on the side and tail dragging in the middle. But once the other family cleared out, it was all smooth sailing from then on.

The cabin was rustic, and is on the Register of Historic Places. The beds were comfortable – our sleeping bags atop their clean mattresses. The kitchen was well supplied and all appliances worked. There were two bathrooms, each with its own shower. Bathrooms and kitchen were in the basement, sleeping spaces and living room on the ground level.

Our view out the front windows was 0f a delightful meadow. Each visitor to the Silesca Cabin was expected to do the clean-up after themselves. There would be no one coming out from Montrose to help with that. As a result, it was all reasonably clean, although Robin did notice the need for a deep clean sometime in the near future.

Overall it was an interesting couple of days, and we developed more of an appreciation for the 2290 square miles of the Uncompahgre Plateau. A huge area for us to explore on future trips. Endless places to practice dispersed camping.

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Some photos from the Uncompahgre Plateau and the cabin.

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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No Title

Well, whaddya know? Less than 7000 of America’s finest showed up for the Cluckaganza in Oklahoma. The organizers were expecting … six times that number.

Turns out it was all the fault of outside protestors who were nasty radicals armed with unfriendly placards. And then there was the problem of the media that had told people to turn their cars around and stay home, and by golly, tens of thousands of them must have done just that.

All in all it sounds like a disappointing party. Couldn’t happen to a nicer guy.

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Robin said: Whatever you want to do, we will do. So on Sunday off we went to explore new terrain. First you drive to Norwood, which is 66 miles south of Montrose. Then you turn left and go south-southwest for about 15 miles until you get to a reservoir named Miramonte.

It’s set in the beautiful broad valley that you see in the photo below. We had a picnic, explored the area, people-watched for an hour or two, and then returned home.

For most of this trip we were out of phone contact, which is par for the course in this part of the world. Since the entire drive there and back was through beautiful country, and the destination itself also very cool (in its own spartan way), we counted the day as a complete success.

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Good news and bad news from the garden. Out tomatoes are doing wonderfully, with fruit-laden plants approaching the size of the carnivorous one in Little Shop of Horrors. I never get to close to them for this reason, and water from a respectful social distance. I have also warned the cats repeatedly not to get near the tomato cages.

Which is where the bad news comes in. Tomatoes are awfully thirsty plants to grow. Ours are set in containers, which only increases their demands for water. They require around two inches every few days, and more when the weather is hot. Since we have been blessed with little more than a soupçon of rainfall this summer, nearly all of that moisture must come from the tap.

But those of you who have been forced to read my past rants on the subject of commercially grown tomatoes (which I will mercifully not repeat today) know that my duty is clear. Pay the water bill gratefully and enjoy the fruit when it appears … and don’t go picking them without another person nearby holding a rope that is securely tied around your waist, to pull you out of danger should those plants get frisky.

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Bob Dylan has a new album out, of all original songs. The first such album in ten years. For a change, I’m not going to tell you what to think about them. It’s Dylan, and listening to his music usually asks something of us that is very personal.

I will mention something about the title I Contain Multitudes. The phrase seemed familiar but I couldn’t place it. I had to look it up, and found that it’s from Walt Whitman.

Do I contradict myself?
Very well then I contradict myself;
(I am large, I contain multitudes.)

Walt Whitman: Song of Myself

Here are the first three bands on the album. They are: I Contain Multitudes, False Prophet, and My Own Version of You. I’ll dribble the rest along later on.

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There are times when I am in danger of being swamped by the examples of the horrors committed by members of our species, as in the litany of murders of black people that we’ve heard read off repeatedly during the past weeks. At such times, I need to step back, take a deep breath, and remind myself that brutality is not the all that’s out there.

There is also beauty. Much of it created by other members of our same rough species. Beauty enough to wring the poison out of one’s heart and leave it open again to love and understanding.

For me it is poetry, music, and the natural world that I often turn to at those toxic moments. Or to the memories of everyday acts of heroism that I have personally witnessed. Or when I look deeply at those dearest to me and am warmed and humbled by the love and goodness that I find there.

It serves little purpose for me to turn away from the daily uglinesses – how can I begin to help in the repairs if I don’t see clearly what is broken? But I can’t look at them without using these resources to keep me from drifting into despair and cynicism.

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Paradise Found

(Right where John Milton left it. You can’t tell that guy anything!)

It is four o’clock on a cloudless afternoon with an air temperature of 88 degrees which is tempered by the excellent low humidity that one enjoys when one lives in a near-desert.

I am leaning back in a deck chair with my feet propped on the table, an iced tea at my left hand and an iPod at my right. The iPod is doing its Bluetoothing thing with a small red speaker sitting on the table, and the songs are set to “Shuffle.”

Sweet, sweet summer afternoon. Excuse me, but the song Born To Run just came up and it’s being done by the master himself and I have to pay attention. Talk to you later.

Not every moment during a pandemic is horrible.

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At some point in life I realized that the formula for happiness for a Minnesota boy growing up was very simple. There were only three elements:

  • It wasn’t snowing
  • The mosquitoes weren’t biting
  • You had your tunes handy

What more, I ask of thee?

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Charles Blow is a black man filled with anger which is tempered by hope. It must be hard to maintain both when you are a man with the broad knowledge of American history that he has. The anger is so easy to come by. It is thrust upon you, actually, by daily events.

But the hope … where does he get that from? How does he maintain it? As he outlines in this piece from the Times of New York, it’s not just the awful shootings that are the problem. It’s the everyday stuff of racism.

E.v.e.r.y d.a.y.

We can’t give African-Americans their freedom. On paper they already have that. But whites can help them, at long last, to be able to exercise those freedoms by ceasing to oppose them in the tens of thousands of ways that we do.

So Mr. Blow’s hope must come from pride at seeing what young people are doing in the protest movement today, at watching the power of it as it grows and the almost panicky responses of government and industry as they stumble over themselves trying to redress the most glaring wrongs.

He must have not only faith in the activist young people of color, but also those young white folks who are marching with them. It will take the best efforts of both groups to make it stick.

I most earnestly hope that he is right on all counts.

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Here I have to include an excellent op-ed by Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, entitled “How Do We Change America.” Robin sent me the link to the piece which was originally published in The New Yorker magazine.

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I don’t usually comment on the music selections over there on the right, because they change independently of the posts.

But I will today. Dance the Night Away is perfect Van Halen. It features guitar artistry (Eddie Van Halen), a great rock vocal (David Lee Roth-their excellent posturing popinjay of a lead singer), and a lyrically lovely break.

My advice is to crank it or don’t play it at all.

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It’s mid-June up on the mountains, which means that the alpine flowers are starting up their annual show. On our walk today at the Black Canyon (8500 feet elevation) we were surrounded at times by lovely gardens created entirely by nature. Many of the cacti were flowering, which is always special and way too brief a moment.

By July and August the open spaces above treeline will be amazing. If you’ve never … you really should.

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Something new this week …

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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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Ah, Wilderness!

Some of you may not yet have had the chance to become Nanci Griffith aficionados, and I take the blame for that. I am a card-carrying fan, and this somewhat smudgy video may show you why.

Griffith is from Texas, but I don’t hold that against her. There are a couple of other good things in Texas, my friend Sid is one and my favorite western writer is another. His name is Larry McMurtry, and he has written beaucoup novels, but the one that first caught my attention and imagination was Lonesome Dove. I have read it … dunno … maybe five times. Could be six. It was a book that said to a midwestern boy (who had no way of knowing for certain) – this is probably how the old west really was.

Then along came the completely great television series made from the book. So good that I watch the series Lonesome Dove about every other year all the way through. A fine story well told. Memorable characters, with Robert Duvall playing his favorite role.

And how did I discover McMurtry in the first place? Why, right here, on the back cover of the Nanci Griffith album “Last of the True Believers.” I figured a woman who could write and sing like she could – well, I’ll take her literary recommendation any day.

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Finished the Edward Abbey book Desert Solitaire. What a guy! I love a person who can get off a good rant with flair and passion. Abbey is one of those folks.

He doesn’t like cars much out in the wilderness, for a variety of reasons, one of which is that they bring roads. He doesn’t care for tourists, either, which is a problem for someone with a summer job in a national monument whose duties include tending to tourist needs.

Toward the end of the book he gets off this flame which I have retyped carefully. The oddities of formatting are his.

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Andy Borowitz of the NYTimes has perfected the art of using the headline to say nearly everything in his short humorous pieces. Here are three examples.

PENCE STARTS WEARING MASK AFTER FAUCI SAYS IT WILL PROTECT HIM FROM WOMEN

CNN TO SHOW PHONE NUMBER OF POISON-CONTROL HOTLINE WHENEVER TRUMP SPEAKS

TRUMP BLAMES PLUMMETING POLL NUMBERS ON PEOPLE PAYING ATTENTION WHEN HE TALKS

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Black Canyon National Park is not open, but it is, sort of. You can drive past the unmanned entry station and go the couple of miles to the shuttered visitor center. There you must leave your car and either walk or bicycle past the closed gates on the single two-lane road that runs the length of the park.

In years past Robin and I have cycled on this highway several times. The views are magnificent and the road is only six miles long until it terminates in a parking lot allowing access to a picnic area and the beginning of a one-mile hike to some killer views of the canyons.

There are only two things that keep this biking journey from being perfect. One is that the road consists entirely of loooooong grades that are steep enough to give a geezer’s heart and lungs a workout. The longest uphill is 2.5 miles, and it’s pitch is enough to get you coasting at 28 mph when you turn around and head back down.

But the real pain is auto traffic. The route is curvy, narrow, and largely shoulderless. Cars are not hurtling past you at 80 mph, but even so, drivers do often behave badly, acting as if you were placed on earth specifically to annoy them, and going by you with inches to spare.

But yesterday … ahhhhhh … no cars at all. Every inch of asphalt was ours. Not even another cyclist or hiker. We owned the park. Every viewpoint, every small flower, every whiff of junipers warming in the sun was ours alone to enjoy. It was like scenes from a disaster movie, where all other humans on earth had been wiped out by fiendish aliens with a death ray that left everything else intact (blessedly including the TP in one of the few privies along the way).

We did the 12 mile round trip, and while those hills had my legs wobbling at the end, I was a happy gasper. A remarkable day on our private highway in our private geologic wonderland.

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Notes From A Fanboy

I don’t actually remember when I got hooked on Lucinda Williams’ music, but it was a healthy number of years back. Thirty, perhaps more. What caught me then was the recognition that, warts and all, what I was hearing was unfiltered honesty.

This was a woman who for sure smoked too much, maybe drank too much, and perhaps loved too much. What she didn’t do was skip out on life. Like they say, she suited up and showed up.

The first album of hers that I actually purchased was Sweet Old World, in 1993. I hadn’t even begun to really listen to it when I lost my son to suicide. At that point the song Sweet Old World took on a whole new set of meanings for me.

I’ve picked out a few tunes that are representative of her music. But there’s a world of them out there, and if you were to select your own set, it would likely be quite different. Ms. Williams gives us glimpses of life and we take from that generous offering what we see or need at that moment in time.

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There are times when I wonder whether I’d have made it this far without music. I used to jokingly say that the thing that was seriously missing from “real life” was a soundtrack. Actually, I would still be saying it except that everyone I know has heard it at least twice.

But think about it. If there was one, you could tell when something sinister was approaching, as in that repetitive phrase in Jaws. Maybe you didn’t know what or from what direction, but you’d have a few precious seconds to prepare for fight or flight. Or those strings would rise up to a heart-melting crescendo, and you’d know that something positively momentous had just happened and maybe you should pay attention to it. Or you’d round a corner and find laid out in front of you a scene so beautiful you choked up trying to come up with the words to describe it … and then sweeping and glorious music made words completely unnecessary.

But there were times when with a little planning you got the musical score you needed, because you provided it.

For instance, let’s say you’re an inhibited, insecure, and slightly backward teenaged boy. Now, there may have been places in America in 1956 where you could have gotten by with saying “Hi, my name is Jon and I’m an inhibited, insecure, and slightly backward boy and I’m pleased to meet you,” but West St. Paul MN wasn’t one of them.

So if you happened to have been born completely without a persona of your very own what you did is make one up. Sometimes on the spot. Often highly flavored by the last song you heard on your car radio before you were called upon to introduce yourself.

  • Cool and nonchalant: Topsy, Part Two by Cozy Cole
  • Rakish and desirable: Don’t Be Cruel by Elvis Presley
  • Mysterious and slightly dangerous: Rumble by Link Wray
  • Etc.

[Some of you might wonder why a person would make themselves dependent on a DJs playlist like this, and I’ll tell you. The ability to play recorded music in one’s automobile didn’t come along until the mid-60s, with the coming of 8-track and cassette tapes. I know it will be painful and disorienting, but try to imagine an adolescence without having the ability to bring your tunes along. ]

So you would step from your vehicle with the last chords of Rumble still reverberating in your ear canals and strike a pose that said to one and all: “I know that I’m way short, I don’t shave yet, and I seem socially awkward, but I am really a mob enforcer in disguise and that suspicious bulge in my shirt in the small of my back is just what you thought it was.”

Then you followed up with this highly original but pithy phrase: “Got any beer?”

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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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Gotta Love Amendment #1

Above is a photograph of a group from an Ohio chapter of FoxNews watchers exercising their first amendment right to display their ignorance. They are protesting that the state government is doing a bad thing by trying to help save their lives and the lives of their neighbors. I halfway concur. I think the governor should focus on helping those neighbors and let these folks go their own way.

The governor could go even further by offering these stalwarts the use of an empty football stadium (lots of them available these days) where they could march around and shout at a television camera to their hearts’ content. Of course, this might mean that they all come down with Covid-19, but since the rest of us are sooo overreacting, where’s the harm?

I find it interesting that their mouths are all gaping at the same time. Like Christmas carolers caught in the midst of a rousing “deck the halls...” .

[I do have some views on the intelligence and/or mental stability of men who wear Trump hats, but this is a family blog]

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Fighting the Good Fight Department
The Age of Coddling is Over by David Brooks
Words for the Class of 2020 by Mark Shields

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There’s the slightest of drizzles once again this morning. Almost unnoticeable unless you really pay attention. This week has been chilly, but that’s okay because in April we keep our expectations low, remember?

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For years, Robin has wondered out loud whether she would ever have a clothesline of her very own outdoors. She already uses a pair of those folding metal racks, but they are cheaply made, tip over easily, and do not last forever. Robin prefers natural drying to that infernal machine available in our laundry room.

What she was longing for was a grandma-style set of lines straight out of the olden times when a nice dinner of passenger pigeon was still a possibility. Something that involved clothespins and breezes blowing and patterned house-dresses. Well … maybe not the house-dresses.

Now, after all these decades of suffering in near-silence, she has such a clothesline. A sturdy one made of wood and metal and with its foot firmly implanted in concrete. A line which can turn with the slightest of breezes, like a weathervane. And how did this happen? I’ll tell you how. I set it up while being assailed by a fear I’ve dealt with all my life, the fear of construction.

I was born without any of the carpentry talents of my father and grandfather before him, the sorts of skills that allow homemade things to appear on one’s property. Things like homes, garages, bookcases, birdhouses, cabinets, etc, etc.

At one point I consulted a famous neurologist, Dr. Myron Synapse, who did a PET scan and found that while most people have a small group of neurons in the hippocampus that are responsible for handiness, I completely lacked that group. There was, instead, a fluid-filled vacancy.

If you could retrace my steps through this vale of tears you would easily find the evidence of my deficiencies. There was the simple little walnut box in 9th grade shop class that never got finished. Not in an entire school year.

There was the carburetor that I rebuilt as a teenager, because my Ford coupe was running roughly and family experts told me that this was the problem. After my rebuild, the engine would not function at all. Eventually a real mechanic had to throw away the piece that I had rendered useless (he said that there is never a need for a five-pound sledgehammer in doing carburetor work – fancy that!) and install a brand-new one.

Oh, and the privacy fence I built in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan that required a series of holes to be dug in the earth, each one a given distance from the previous one. If memory serves, I dug forty such holes, and hit water in twenty-two of them.

The cartoonist Al Capp created a character that used to grace his strips who was named Joe Btfsplk, the “world’s worst jinx.” Wherever he went ladders collapsed, tires blew out, and cars ran straight into one another.

Whenever I would start a project, Joe would stop by out of curiosity and we’d chat. I never drew the line that connected those brief visits with the inevitable failures that awaited me in a day or two.

.

But this clothesline stands straight and true, and rotates just like it is supposed to do. I find myself staring at it in wonder, waiting for the hammer to fall. But so far, nothing.

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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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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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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.

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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.]

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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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A Fine Kettle of Fish

Okay, I admit that Willie Nelson can basically do no wrong. Drink too much? … he used to do that. Smoke pot by the hundredweight? … continuously until he couldn’t breathe well. Famously forget to pay his income taxes? … you bet. And yet somehow he transformed himself from a man who was (and is) simply a very good songwriter with a couple of bad habits to a national cultural institution and treasure.

I would really like to know how he did that so I can get started on my own monster legacy. I do have a hurdle or two to get past, if I am thinking of following in his footsteps. I can’t play guitar, I can’t read or write music, I can’t sing, and I’m a lifelong sufferer from charisma deficiency syndrome.

But today we’ll look at a new generation of Nelsons as they perform duets with the old man. Here’s a pair of videos, one involving son Lukas and the other daughter Paula.

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The sound that you hear is that of multiple apples falling not far from the tree.

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Friday night we’re going back to St. Mary’s Church for the Fish-Fry once again. I called to see if by chance they were calling it off for viral reasons, and the secretary seemed puzzled that I would even ask such a question. Apparently NOTHING interferes with the fish-fry, other than perhaps an inferno-style grease fire in the kitchen itself.

We’re attending with another couple, and I’ll have to admit that getting together in a public space these days where there will be scores of other people gives one a bit of a frisson. I may wear my Indiana Jones fedora for the occasion. Would packing a bullwhip be too much … ?

Actually, being at a Catholic Church dinner where a killer virus may be lurking doesn’t give me as much pause as attending services at a local Lutheran church would, the one where there is an old dude who openly carries a sidearm on Sunday mornings. The danger is random in both cases, but I don’t think that being 3 feet away from a gun-toting and paranoid septuagenarian provides nearly enough of a safe distance.

[Follow-up note: St. Mary’s is cancelling the rest of the Fish-Frys for this season due to concerns centered on COVID-19. An instance where the virus may actually have saved lives.]

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On Thursday afternoon, it being a lovely sixty-degree day and my having run out of excuses not to do it, we took our bikes out for the first time. The city has recently added 2.5 miles to the riverside bicycle/hiking trail and it is really beautiful now. Slight uphill going upstream, the opposite when you turn around.

It’s a nice workout, and the only problem I have each year on the first few rides is some lower-body discomfort located not where the rubber meets the road, but where the denim meets the saddle. Since we covered about 12 miles Thursday, I am still walking slightly askew today.

However, I am no longer visibly wincing.

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A concession to the times we are living in. I truly enjoy shopping for groceries. Part of the fun is getting bargains and part is exploring new foods, some of which I may never have heard of before.

But we’re going to experiment with something called ClickList, at our local City Market. Here you shop for your food online, and then at a designated time, drive to the store and a stockperson delivers your order to your car. The only human contact is with that man or woman, and you avoid the herd inside the store. There is a charge for this service (at least partially offset by the lack of opportunity for impulse buying).

Now, I would much prefer to be in that herd, but will accept that this route may be the one to take until the crisis passes. After all, as Robin gently reminds me, I am in a different risk group these days.

Odd to imagine oneself as situationally fragile, but there you are.

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My Yang Is Acting Up Today, So Where’s My Yin When I Really Need It?

A person with COVID-19 has popped up in Gunnison, which is 50 miles away. Actually, I suspect that there are cases right here in Paradise, we just haven’t identified them as such, and maybe never will because the victims are not all that ill.

What’s the good news in this evolving story? Well, one positive item is that kids don’t seem to get very sick if they catch it. That’s a good thing. Wait, it’s also a bad thing – because if they aren’t very sick they’ll be taken along to grandpa’s house for dinner and run into his arms for that warm and loving hug and … adios, viejo.

It’s the old Yin-Yang thing once again, it seems. Everything contains within itself its opposite. As in this passage from the Tao Te Ching.

When people see things as beautiful,
ugliness is created.
When people see things as good,
evil is created.

Being and non-being produce each other.
Difficult and easy complement each other.
Long and short define each other.
High and low oppose each other.
Fore and aft follow each other.

I thought this symbol was cool long before I was taught anything about its meaning. Once that little bit of instruction came along, I thought it was even cooler.

Especially the part that teaches that is is difficult if not impossible to be all “bad,” or all “good.” There is always that obverse presence, that little white or black dot. And even then, the size of those dots can grow or recede over time as well.

I was thinking about this at an AA meeting recently as another member was droning on and on in his fingernail-on-the-blackboard voice. What he was saying was just as irritating as his delivery, since he had badly misinterpreted several points of what AA is supposed to be about.

So I mentally pictured him as a six-foot column of yang, and then tried to imagine what that little white dot of yin would be in his case. I eventually settled on this: his mother probably loved him.

(Which might have been completely untrue, and one of the very reasons that he became an addict in the first place.)

Excuse me, but I’ve made myself quite dizzy with this heavy thinking, and will return when I’ve had a chance to compose myself. Don’t wait up.

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Your stomach doesn’t know the difference. It’s what I tell myself when my cooking goes astray and what I have put on our plates borders on appalling.

Like last night at supper, when I had cooked up some hamburger patties that looked just fine on the outside, but were soon found to be quite rare internally. So I dropped them into the microwave, seriously overestimated the time necessary to touch them up, and turned those slightly deficient patties into a beef-flavored material that could profitably be used to plug holes in leaking dikes.

But as we gnawed our way through them, I said under my breath: Your stomach doesn’t know the difference.

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Apparently President Cluck gave another stinker of a speech Wednesday night, the one dealing with the coronavirus. I didn’t watch it, following the orders of my personal physician, Dr. Hippolytus Goodacre. He allots me five seconds of exposure to His Leadership per day, which is the amount of time it takes me to change the channel while moving at my swiftest.

I am not surprised at all that he bombed, since he is up against inconvenient truths that refuse to go away and which call him out as a fool and a liar on a daily basis. I think we should all give thanks to the Republicans for providing us with this serialized amusement.

Thank you, Republican Party members of congress, for bringing us President Cluck, and for forsaking the oaths you took to defend our country by keeping him in office. May you be rewarded with excruciating itching everywhere, hiccups that can’t be stopped, and an awakening of your hemorrhoids to a biblical degree of severity.

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There are some songs that are just perfect for those times when romance goes a bit off on you. When you are making a decision to stop being a soggy mess and give life and love a go once again, knowing full well that there are no guaranteed outcomes.

I rounded up a couple of those this morning, one sung by a lady and the other a gentleman. I give you the Bruce and his anthem – Tougher Than The Rest, and Lady Emmylou with a song from a semi-obscure album – Woman Walk The Line.

You’re welcome.

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Morning Has Broken

Morning has broken like the first morning
Blackbird has spoken like the first bird
Praise for the singing
Praise for the morning
Praise for them springing fresh from the world

Sweet the rain’s new fall, sunlit from heaven
Like the first dew fall on the first grass
Praise for the sweetness of the wet garden
Sprung in completeness where his feet pass

Mine is the sunlight
Mine is the morning
Born of the one light Eden saw play
Praise with elation, praise every morning
God’s recreation of the new day

Morning has broken like the first morning
Blackbird has spoken like the first bird
Praise for the singing
Praise for the morning
Praise for them springing fresh from the world

Sunrise in the Northwoods

This lovely hymn has crossed over into popular music and has been covered by many, many artists.

Sunrise on the prairie

For me there have been countless mornings when I’ve risen early and stepped out barefoot onto wet grass and had that exact feeling … like the first morning.

Sunrise in the mountains

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Well, here I am stamping my feet like an impatient child on December 23, waiting for Christmas FINALLY to arrive. And it’s all the fault of Karl Marlantes and Hilary Mantel.

Mr. Marlantes wrote what was to me one of the best books about the VietNam War, Matterhorn. It told the story of a young Marine Lieutenant during a relatively brief interval in that conflict. To me it smacked the most of reality, but of course how would I know, a man who never left our comfortable shores during my time in the armed forces?

But still, we read books every day that touch us, even though they are written about times and places that we did not experience in person, don’t we? And picking out the ones that seem the most real is part of our obligation. Our unsigned contract with ourselves.

So now he has a new novel that I am anticipating reading, Deep River.

Marlantes’s novel Deep River (2019) was published in July 2019. It follows a Finnish family which flees Finland and settles in the Pacific Northwest in a logging community. The story looks into the logging industry and labor movements of the early 1900s, and rebuilding a family in America while balancing family tradition.

Wikipedia

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But it is Mantel who now disturbs my days the most. Because she has already written two wholly excellent novels about the era of Oliver Cromwell and Henry VIII, Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies. And now her promised trilogy is complete, with the publication of The Mirror and the Light.

The first two were the kind of book that made you hate it when you reached the last page and there were no more pages to look forward to. The sort of unhappiness that would make one fling the dog-eared paperback against the wall in frustration.

So I have certainly set myself up to either have a grand time reading this book, or a major disappointment. Either way will probably involve some flinging.

Stay tuned.

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Walken Rules!

Ahem. My friends, I have the privilege and pleasure of presenting to you perhaps the best commercial ever for a product of this genre. It’s worth watching for the philosophy expressed regarding friendship, even if you have no need for the last thirty seconds or so.

Plus, it stars Christopher Walken, who has somehow come to possess a brand of cool that other mere mortals can only dream of acquiring.

Now, hey, did I steer you wrong?

(P.S.: that lovely bicycle, called the YT Jeffsy, can be purchased online for the puny sum of only $4000. My modest cycling skills do not warrant my owning such an excellent machine, )

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Robin and I attended a fish-fry at a local Catholic church Friday evening at the invitation of another couple. The food was a really good example of its genre, and all of us went back for seconds. We are not the sort of people who quail before a little bit of lipid.

It is, after all, called a fish-fry, not a fish-poach.

The other guy, let’s call him Ron since that’s his name, is a licensed pilot who rarely flies these days. Although I have never been licensed to fly them, I have had an interest in aircraft since a time when they were called aeroplanes. During WWII there were little cutout paper airplanes tucked into cereal boxes and I recall assembling many of those before I was five years old.

So off we went on tangents involving aircraft. Each of us could hardly wait for the other to finish telling their tale so that we could get into telling ours. But we were polite enough not to interrupt one another, and the evening passed quite pleasantly.

I told a story of the first time I was in the US Air Force, at age 19, and since any story about me is by definition endlessly fascinating, I will repeat it here.

I had arrived at Lackland Air Force Base (San Antonio TX) in the middle of July. Along with a group of young men I was escorted to the base barber shop where our hair was amputated. Then we were taken to a large barn-like building where we were issued our clothing, which we stuffed into a big green duffle bag.

Our group then marched in an irregular fashion across the base where we were instructed to place those duffles in a pile while we trekked off to somewhere else to do some other important thing the nature of which I have long ago forgotten.

At any rate, one of our number was assigned to guard that pile of duffles, and he stood there at parade rest under a blazing July sun while the rest of went off whistling the Colonel Bogey March. I should add that we had been issued pith helmets to wear as protection from the sun.

(At left is a photograph of a British officer in 1918 wearing a pith helmet. He looks quite a bit more dashing than I or any of my compatriots did on the day in question. In fact, the most complimentary thing you could have said about us is that we were a motley-appearing crew).

Perhaps an hour later we returned to find our clothing still being guarded by our lonely fellow-at-arms, but when the sergeant in charge addressed the young man, he did not respond. Peering under his pith helmet, it was determined that although he was still standing he was quite unconscious and well on his way to a heat stroke.

The youth was quickly carted off to the base hospital, and did not rejoin our group of recruits for several days. I recall filing away what I had learned that morning as follows: while sergeants can order you to do most anything they want to, not all of those orders are in your best interest, and you will do well to keep this in mind.

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Although there are times that we citizens of Paradise seem isolated from our fellows in more populous cities, the slow but inexorable spread of this new virus has shown how we truly are all connected, and share vulnerability to this threat.

Our local police department is taking things very seriously, and their emergency preparedness unit is ready for whatever comes, they believe. Yesterday they were photographed practicing what to do if someone shows up at a City Market grocery store with a bad cough and suspicious behavior.

It was all very impressive, and I have nothing but the greatest respect for these folks, who are our first line of defense against criminals, people in favor of gun control, and errant microbes.

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Robin and I have made it a habit to visit the town of Telluride at least once each winter season, just to see what the one-percenters are doing. On our ride up the mountain on the gondola we could not avoid listening to one lady’s story about how she had just won a half-million dollar condo in some sort of restricted lottery that none of the rest of us in the conveyance would even qualify to enter.

I tried to muster a “congratulations” but failed in the attempt, due to an extremely heavy fog of entitlement that had popped up within the car and which was distracting me.

Later on we treated ourselves to a pizza at the Brown Dog, which has become a part of nearly every visit to Telluride. It is officially my favorite pizza of all time. They call it Detroit-style, and what that means is it is a rectangular pie with a pillowy crust that has perfectly crisped edges. Whoever adds the sauce and the toppings is not riding in their first rodeo, either, as they are balanced exactly the way you yourself would have done if you had been in the kitchen.

Please excuse me for a moment, I seem to have drooled all over my computer keyboard.

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We started out this post by watching Mr. Walken do a commercial … let’s waste a little more of our time watching him do that great music video for a tune by Fatboy Slim. It is a classic.

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