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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Boundaries

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

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

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

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

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

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

I get it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Update on plague haircuts.

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

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

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

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

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Out & About in Coronaland

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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From The New Yorker

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Walking the Walk

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Until you do, that is.

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

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

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

Predictors can occasionally be wrong, but tellers never lie.

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

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

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

It’s called Flattening the Truth on Coronavirus.

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From The New Yorker

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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Naw … really?

Something unusual yesterday. Robin and I had barely started out bicycling on the path along the river. Up ahead was a group of bare trees, several of them containing each a single large empty nest way up high. Maybe thirty feet in the air.

In one of those nests sat a pair of Canada geese.

All along the rest of the ride I wondered … were they trying an abandoned nest on for size or were they just taking a break from flapping? I thought about the goslings that would hatch in such an aerie, and how would they make the transition from nest to the water, since they were not supposed to be that high off the ground?

I had worked myself into quite a lather on those babies’ behalf by the time we passed the trees a second time on our way back to where we’d parked the car. It was with much relief that I saw that the pair was no longer there. Empty nest. The world was back to the way it should be.

But later on, since I do have a bit of free time here in my Covid-19 hermitage, I Googled geese nesting in trees and found that there were many case reports of the same phenomenon, with a load of photographs to prove it (including the one up above, which I did not take).

So much to learn … so little time.

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While wearing a mask when one goes out in public is considered de rigueur these days, there are limits to even this thoughtful act.

Here are a couple of masks that are justifiably considered not acceptable here in Paradise.

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As society goes along on its merry way, there’s a trend that I’ve found I really dislike. It’s where we are being divided into yet another set of groups in order to pit us against each other. Twenty years ago, calling people “boomers,” or “millennials,” or Generation X” seemed harmless enough, even though the divisions were artificial and arbitrary.

But that was before blatherers and bloviators et al started to write about how the boomers were stealing the future from the millennials, etc. Angry young writers complained that older citizens were basically taking up too much of the oxygen. They never went so far as to suggest that those older people be put to sleep, but left that open to our imaginations.

Now in the days of Covid-19, this attitude comes up once again. Those loud-voiced folks who want us all to come out and go to work and play because their personal risks are way lower than that of their aging neighbors. So what if a few extra senior citizens are wiped out … there are already so many of the darn things.

There is a certain nasty logic to what they say, but only if you don’t step back and take a longer look. Such a view of the world works for those individuals as long as they can find a way to avoid aging. Because when and if they do, they will eventually have someone coming up behind them saying the same cold things.

These attitudes are antithetical to the idea of shared risks and blessings that I learned growing up. The belief that we really are all in this together. Not just in the Covid times, but always. Not seeing this is a sad and mean-spirited kind of blindness.

I am old enough to have moss on the north side of my trunk, but I still care as fervently as I ever did about the problems facing children. Doing what I can to help them along is to me akin to the old man in the Greek proverb:

A society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in.

Notice it’s not the oldster that is great, but rather the society around him that is enriched by each small act of selflessness.

If we don’t keep ideas like this in mind, we can find ourselves saying and doing all sorts of ugly things. We were all babies once, and with luck most will become graybeards. If we look after one another, that is.

Cuckoos lay their eggs in other birds’ nests, and the hatchlings toss the other eggs out of the nest to have more of everything for themselves. I have to believe that we’re better than cuckoos.

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Yesterday when Robin and I returned from our outdoor exercise we were greeted by an excited Willow, who rubbed against our legs, purred loudly when we petted her, and followed us about the room. Usually this quick greeting is all there is, but on this occasion she would not calm down but kept on meowing and running up to us repeatedly, until Robin thought it through and wondered … .

Robin walked over to the hide-a-bed sofa in the living room, and pulled it open partway, whereupon Willow dove into its workings and quickly came up with a disappointed but very much alive mouse that had escaped from her and hidden in the furniture. (This is not our first rodeo when it comes to Willow and mice hiding in the sofa.)

When we think of animals who use tools, like chimpanzees and a handful of others, no one ever says anything about cats. But here was Willow, at first thwarted, but finally succeeding by using the simple tools she had at hand.

Us.

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Olio

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Solitaire

Got our taxes done and off in the e-mail. Our preparer is a down-to-earth woman who lives on a very small farm near Delta CO. She’s probably somewhere in her 60s, plain-spoken, always professional. Year before last she had gotten involved in raising sheep, but quit after a single year when “the coyotes got all the lambs.” The way she tells it, that episode broke her heart.

She’s the sort of person I have no problem visualizing on the seat of a Conestoga wagon heading West in the 1800s, reins in her hand and moving steadily toward an uncertain future and away from a grudging past. Her name is Darla Haptonstall and she’s a gem.

This year she doesn’t get to chat with her clients, which is one of her main reasons for getting up and going to work. Because of the emergency we all bring in our contaminated papers and leave them at the door, and she turns them into refunds, which are signed electronically. The work gets done, but is devoid of en face human contact.

I spoke with her briefly on the phone yesterday, and I’m not quite sure what I said but it had to do with toilet paper and it broke her up entirely. The poor lady must be starved for amusement.

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I don’t mind paying my taxes, because I know that our elected officials will use them prudently. If Pres. Cluck can take my few dollars and funnel them into some needy plutocrat’s pocket, why, isn’t that what he’s there for?

If I were to keep those pesos for my own use, I might squander them on fripperies like food and shelter and music and have nothing to show for them at the end of the day but a smile on my face.

No, it’s better by far that I send my shekels off to Washington D.C., where there are skilled people who know exactly what to do with large quantities of other people’s money.

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Here’s a touching John Prine story. If you’ve ever in your sweet short life known a 10 year-old girl, I guarantee you’ll like it.

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I am rereading Desert Solitaire, by Edward Abbey. This will be the third time I’ve gone through the book, and this time promises to be the best of all.

I was a twenty-something living in Minnesota when I first read it, and had to try to imagine through Abbey’s descriptions what it was like living in Arches National Monument for those seasons. I read it the second time as a middle-aged South Dakotan when I visited Moab UT for a couple of days on a swing through the southern part of the state. I understood his book on a different level then, having actually seen some of the places he had written about.

But this time I know so much better all of those locales, especially Arches (which is now a national park) and the Moab area. I’ve spent an accumulation of weeks wandering about the red slickrock of southeastern Utah and southwestern Colorado and have a deeper appreciation for that desert landscape and what it does for my spirit to be there.

To be there and to take the time to do nothing at all. To walk without any agenda that the land itself does not provide.

[Wikipedia has a particularly good review of the book that I can recommend to you.]

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Kalsarikännit

On Sunday we tried Zoom videoconferencing with daughters Sarah and Kari and their spouses ( who also have perfectly good names and they are DJ and Jon). I think I made all the rookie mistakes in hosting the get-together, but after a few minutes had everyone settled in fairly well.

It went well enough that we’ll certainly try it again, with a couple of changes. Sarah and DJ attempted to enter the meeting from their car which was located in the parking lot at a McDonald’s restaurant, but Mickey D didn’t have the network bandwidth to make it run smoothly for them. It did come through, but was jerky-jerky at times.

So it was a learning experience for us, and we’ll all be pros the next time. The star of the show was Kari and Jon’s new puppy, who was on screen for only a few seconds but that was way long enough to win our hearts and minds. He’s a baby malamute with fur twelve inches deep and feet like snowshoes. He apparently also pees, somewhere, every 40 minutes.

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Ahhhhh, there’s good news today! The Finns have done it again. They’ve come up with a word to describe an activity wherein the isolation of these coronavirus days could be an advantage (at least for part of the populace), and that’s kalsarikännit.

The translation is “getting drunk at home, alone, in your underwear.”

No less a publication than the Times of New York has reported on this practice. (I will add that it is not restricted to those of Finnish ancestry.)

Being inspired by this story, I began experiments with being at home in my underwear but not drunk, for reasons that I need not go into. Obviously, I am also not alone, since pushing Robin out the door for hours at this time of the emergency when there is nowhere for her to go would be cruel. It would also be impossible, since she is much stronger than you would suspect of a 62 inch-high person.

The interesting thing is that Robin hasn’t even noticed that I am experimenting, since over the years I have apparently achieved a level of everyday slovenliness that has numbed her to my physical appearance.

When I pushed the envelope even further and went without clothing at all one day … nothing. Nothing, that is, for several hours until when I was going to fry up some bacon for lunch and she silently held out an apron for me to wear. Something she has never done before.

It warmed my heart.

She had noticed.

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Fighting the Good Fight Department

Trump’s Narcissism Could Cost Us Our Lives by Jennifer Senior
Has Anyone Found Trump’s Soul? Anyone? by Frank Bruni

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Yesterday we went to do our taxes, at the HR Block office in Delta CO. Don’t ask why we drive 20 miles to do what could be done easily 2 miles away from home, but we got started with a woman we like and we’re sticking with her.

We had a 3:00 appointment, but when we arrived, we found they had adopted a “drop-off only” policy, where I simply stepped inside the door and handed them our papers. The receptionist received them into her latex-gloved hands, all the while looking like I’d just handed her a cow-pie, and told me that the file would be kept in quarantine for a day before our tax preparer even started on it.

No problem-o, said I, and off Robin and I went to Confluence Park, located on the outskirts of Delta. It’s a lovely little 265 acre chunk of naturalness that is located where the Uncompahgre and Gunnison Rivers come together.

We wandered the trails in the park for more than a hour, and even though there were other people around, social distancing was easily accomplished. We were rarely closer than 25 yards from the next human being.

Spring is soooo underway out there. Even though this is truly the season of our discontent, the rest of the natural world cares not a fig for the coronavirus. We are the only species that is dithering about it – for everything else it’s just another spring.

Of course, the rest of the natural world has its problems here and there, too. Ask an American Elm how it’s doing if you can find one, or check out some of the forests here in Colorado where the pines are reddish-brown instead of green because of bark beetle infestation, or consider the wasting disease that is reducing deer populations all over the country even now.

But yesterday afternoon everything was as beautiful as it could be. The sky … impossible that it could be more blue than it was.

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Big Dominguez

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dear Ragnar: Really?

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

Dear Ragnar: So strong leadership was important?

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

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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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Rockin’ In The Free World

It’s drizzling here in Paradise on this Sunday morning. The temperature is 37 degrees, and all is well with yours truly, since we had no plans for outdoor activity. Yesterday we attended a local home and garden show at our event center. There was very little about gardening, but a lot of vendors hawking solar panels. Perhaps it was a mistake, but we signed up for a visit by one of the companies to see what going that route might mean for us.

There was an enthusiastic and very elderly gentleman in full Boy Scout regalia manning a booth on scouting. I found myself hoping that no one would give him a bad time because of this past week’s tawdry headlines of child sexual abuse in the BSA. He didn’t look like a perp to me.

There was a lady representing a company that made patio furniture out of the same plastic material that you build synthetic decks from. The stuff looked like it would last two lifetimes, but each chair weighed sixty pounds, and the table would require a gantry to put it into position on one’s deck.

And for this hernia-producing set of four chairs and a table you would need to shell out $2000 (and rethink the deductible on your health insurance).

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The pic above was borrowed (yes, borrowed, as I have every intention of returning it at some future and unspecified date) from a webpage containing an open letter to President Cluck.

The author of the letter? Why, it’s Neil Young, one of my favorite people on the planet. Just in case his name is unknown to you, he also writes music and plays guitar. In fact, to thank him for writing this letter and adding his voice to the chorus of clear-headed folks who can’t wait to see the door to the White House hit Cluck in the ass on his way out I am filling the JukeBox with an all-Neil program of music to kick off the day.

Maybe you’re not ready to hear rock n’roll before breakfast. But, friend, did you ever think that maybe you should be?

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I am waaaay to eager for Spring. At least too eager for this point in the month of February. I am certainly old enough to know better, and I have lived my entire life in places where Winter exists. I have no excuses for indulging in this unhealthy line of thinking.

But, come on, I can’t wait this year. Maybe it’s that now-blooming crocus that Robin received as a gift a couple of weeks ago; maybe it was tripping over the bikes in our garage last week and thinking I should put some air in those tires; maybe it was that taking of a nippy walk along the Uncompahgre River and thinking … this would look really nice … in green.

Either way I’m afraid that I’m lost this year. Can’t get my stoic attitude back now, too late to regain control. So for me it will be alternating moments of joy and despair until that unmistakable sign of Spring arrives. The scent of thawing dog poop. An eagerly anticipated and completely welcome bit of effluvium.

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In the book club at which I’ve been a guest recently, we were discussing the short stories of Flannery O’Connor, one at a time.

There was one story where an older gentleman would take himself down to the river, set up his chair, and cast out his line … without putting any bait on his hook.

I understood him completely. Of all the elements that are present in fishing from the bank of a river on a summer day, actually catching a fish may be the least important. It may even be disruptive to one’s carefully cultivated and mellow frame of mind.

Because now you have to find someplace to put that fish so that the heat doesn’t spoil it.

You have to clean it.

Cook it.

Eat it, watching carefully for bones that could spell the end of you.

It’s exhausting, really, and so easily avoided. Just don’t bait your hook.

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Maybe some of you cook with ghee, as Robin and I do. It’s basically clarified butter heated for a little longer. It’s nice stuff to cook with because it doesn’t brown or burn, but still adds some of that buttery flavor. It’s also stable at room temperatures for months on the countertop, and for years in the fridge.

When I have made ghee on the stove, I found that I had to stay right there with it until it was done, which does consume a chunk of time. I recently ran across this video where the lady cooks the butter in a low temperature oven for 1 1/2 hours, and it so easy and so much less demanding that it has become my method of choice.

I am now in a position to make gallons of the stuff, should the need arise. For instance: picture yourself, on a hot summer day, greasing down a Slip N’ Slide with a gallon of ghee.

Just imagine how fast and how far you could go … like a rocket, I would think.

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Vagaries

Valentine’s Day = an excuse to give a gift to someone you love, without having to explain “Why?”

Ergo Robin now has a brand-new bottle of a beloved perfume that’s hard to find, and I now own a re-imagining of the hoodie that somehow manages to creation the illusion that I am a stylish person.

We took the 35 mile drive to Ouray for a Valentine’s Day lunch at a Thai restaurant that is a favorite of ours, and found the town nice and sleepy. Ouray has no ski hills, so winters are quiet enough that when you visit during that time of year you have only about a fifth of the usual dining places to choose from, and there is no competition for parking spaces.

But it was a lovely outing, in fifty-degree sunshine. We stopped at Pa-Co-Chu-Puk state park on the way home, to check out the Uncompahgre River and watch a fly fisherman in full graceful mode. Some fishing ponds at the park were still frozen over, and a mental note was made to check back in a couple of weeks.

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At “PaCo” there are two types of fishing. The river is a prized body of water, where only artificial lures are allowed, and only catch-and-release is allowed. A few yards away from the river are two large ponds where anything but dynamiting is allowed, and you can keep almost as many trout as you could possibly want.

Purist vs. put-something-on-the-table fisherman. On any given day, I might be both within the span of a couple of hours.

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I am indebted to daughter Maja for this link. They are actual one-star ratings of national parks. A graphic artist has created a delightful poster for each one. Below is one example, there are many others to see. Just click.

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We are contemplating building a shed in the back yard, to store items that the extremes of hot and cold weather will not harm. At present we have a two-car garage which of course is really a one-car garage due to encroachment by the racks and stacks of treasures no sane person would ever part with.

We also have rented another storage space located two miles from our home, which is just as convenient as it sounds. In theory, a shed in the yard would replace that off-campus enclosure and allow us to visit our hoard more often.

Did I say we were building a shed? Let me correct that. I would have it built, rather than constructing it myself. I don’t even want to think about what a building that I put up on my own would look like. Something out of Alice In Wonderland, I’ll wager.

No, Mother Nature did not gift me with the skillset of a carpenter, as she did my father and grandfather before me. Instead I was given impatience and a poor eye for detail.

Perhaps a vignette from high school will be enlightening. In wood shop we were expected to complete a few simple projects during the course of a year. I chose to build a small jewelry box out of some beautiful walnut. Seemed easy enough. Only six sides, two hinges and a hasp.

My downfall was the six sides. No matter what I did, they never meshed together. And each correction that I made, which meant cutting a bit off here and there, meant that the box grew smaller.

Finally, in despair, I had to throw away those pretty pieces of wood and abandon the entire enterprise. At that point, even if by some miracle everything suddenly came together, there would be room for very little jewelry … perhaps one earring and a bangle and that would be that.

But at least the little box would cause no serious harm if it fell on a passer-by. Not like a shed at all in that regard.

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80 Verses, 300 Covers

Yesterday it snowed off and on nearly all day. Those big flakes that are mesmerizing to watch, tumbling in the wind and blowing up along our street. But because it was around 40 degrees out there, each flake melted nearly as soon as it touched down, so the ultimate effect was that of a light rain falling.

And you don’t have to shovel rain. Can I have a Hallelujah, brothers and sisters?

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Speaking of Hallelujah, has that song been done too many times, for you? As for me, I haven’t tired as yet. Doubt I ever will. The Wikipedia entry for the song says that Leonard Cohen originally wrote 80+ verses for it, and it has been covered by more than 300 artists.

Three hundred covers! That’s amazing. That’s as if every single person in Pukwana, SD recorded their own version. And then some.

I’ve not heard them all, but there are a few that stand out. One is this live performance at Cohen’s induction into the Canadian Songwriter’s Hall of Fame in 2006, as sung by k.d. lang with that gift of a voice she has.

(If you do watch it, carry through to the end, there’s a sweet moment there.)

Aaaaaahhhh, take me now, Lord.

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There’s a piece in this month’s issue of Consumer Reports that deals with leafy green vegetables and the problems of bacterial contamination. The perennial bad guys are E.coli, Salmonella, Listeria, and Campylobacter. The usual suspects, eh?

There’s some good news and some bad news. Which would you rather read first?

Okay, the bad news. If you want to eat greens raw, no matter what you do, there is a risk to eating them. While proper cooking will kill the pathogens, a nice plateful of iceberg lettuce/mush doesn’t hold much appeal for most people, although I wouldn’t presume to speak for thee.

All the washing in the world can get the dirt and sand off of the vegetables, but not all of the bacteria.

Our food distribution system needs some tuning up, but I don’t believe that any supplier of salad greens wants to see their name in the paper as having provided the food that caused illness and/or deaths. However, if a bird flying over your romaine field and pooping pathogens onto it can sink a batch, what’s a grower to do?

The takeaway from the CR tale seems to be, these foods are so nutritious that let’s all take our chances and have a salad for lunch, shall we? Think of it as high adventure, for the gourmandic adrenaline-junkies that we are.

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When I was a sophomore med student Patrick Bouvier Kennedy was born. He was a premature infant of 34 weeks gestation and he weighed 4 pounds, 10 ounces. Patrick immediately developed respiratory problems, and died 39 hours later of what was then called by several names, hyaline membrane disease, or idiopathic respiratory distress syndrome (RDS) being among them. In that year of his birth, 1963, all that could be done for premature babies, even the son of the President of the United States, was to keep them warm in an incubator, pipe in some supplemental oxygen, and drip IV fluids into small veins.

By 1968, when I was a second year resident in pediatrics, there was only a single neonatologist in all of Minneapolis and Saint Paul. She practiced at St. Paul Children’s Hospital, where they had primitive intravenous fluid infusion pumps and ventilators that could be used for premature infants, though they were machines built for adults, not babies. But even with their clunkiness these tools made possible a few hard-won survivals in small infants.

Without going into the physiology, something is missing from the lungs of preemies who develop RDS, and it wasn’t until 1990 that the first commercial product became available which could replace that missing substance (surfactant), at which point you would have seen a graph of the survival rate for infants with this disease rising nearly straight up.

At any rate, my professional lifetime included all of these stages, and it was a fascinating story along the way. So it occurred to me that it might be worth writing it up for the general public to read, since for that the last sixty years there has never been shortage of interest in anything that happens to a Kennedy, big or small.

I began to do the research, and after spending a few weeks collecting information I ran into something horrible. In 2015 a neonatal respiratory therapist had written exactly that story and published it as a small book. And worst of all, it’s well done.

So if any of you are interested, the author is Michael S. Ryan, and the title of the book is: Patrick Bouvier Kennedy, A Brief Life That Changed the History of Newborn Care.

I can recommend the damned thing wholeheartedly.

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This piece from Wednesday’s NYTimes brought back memories and tears to my ears. It is about the Indian government’s attempts to cut down on honking. Yes, of all the problems that the country might have, there is presently a focus on the bedlam produced by thousands of cars honking together.

Two years ago Robin and I spent a lovely few days visiting daughter Maja in Lima, Peru. Maja doesn’t drive her own car, much preferring using Uber, and letting somebody else get the nervous tics that piloting automobiles in that nation’s capital produces.

What Robin and I noticed is that every car in downtown Lima seemed to be honking at the same time. Including our driver.

Think about this for a moment. If there are warning sounds going off constantly in a 360 degree pattern around you, do you pay attention to them? Or do you tune them all out?

As a passenger, I found myself tuning them out, which meant they were nothing but useless noise. Like a bad song on the radio that you can’t turn off.

So I found the attempts to cut down on the use of horns as outlined in this article to be pretty funny. At some intersections in India, until the cars stop honking while everyone is waiting at a red light, the light stays red. Sensors do the job. It’s ingenious, but I wonder … if it happened everywhere in India (or any country, for that matter), how long would it take for the psychopaths out there behind the wheel (and honey, you just know that they’re there) to start ignoring those signal lights?

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The Doctor Will See You Now

My hypochondria knows no bounds. I am the avatar for the phrase a little knowledge is a dangerous thing.

When I was a medical student, it was not at all rare for me to find that I had each new disease that I was studying, and in its most intriguing and unusual form. Reading about inflammation of the gall bladder? – why, there it was, that slight tenderness just under the ribs on my right side, exactly where the textbook said it would be.

Fortunately for me the student health service was just across the street from the University of Minnesota Hospital, and my feet wore a path that led straight to it. The front desk had been alerted to my visits, and would not rush me to the front of the line no matter how incendiary my complaints might be. It was always – have a seat, Jon, we’ll get to you in a moment – even as one organ after another failed while I languished on that hard plastic chair behind the potted plant.

So a month or two ago when I noticed that I had a “bruise” under my toenail, I didn’t give it much thought. Must have stubbed that toe somehow, was my assessment. But when it did not properly disappear by the time that I thought it should, my diagnosis went in a single leap from harmless hematoma to end-stage cancer and I presented myself at the reception desk in a local dermatologist’s office.

I have an extremely malignant toe, can I see the doctor, please?

Sir, if you will just fill out this paperwork and return it to me, I will help you get that appointment you desire.

But I may not have that long … how about putting me in an examination room while I work on the papers, and having a nurse stand by taking my vital signs every few minutes?

Sir, take the forms, sit over there behind the potted plant, and fill them out. Then come back when you are done.

All of which I did faithfully, even as I could feel my toe entering advanced stages of pre-mortem nastiness.

There, now can I see the doctor?

Certainly, Sir, how would next Tuesday work for you?

I could barely contain my panic.

But there is an excellent chance that I will not make it until next Tuesday …

I’m sorry, Sir, it’s the best I can do on such short notice.

I take the appointment. Against all odds, I am still alive on Tuesday, and manage to walk under my own power into an exam room, where I am handed a gown appropriately sized for someone weighing eighteen pounds and who is 24 inches tall.

The young doctor enters with a broad smile on his face (obviously he had not been alerted to the terminality of my condition) and he bounds over to the table where I sit shivering in the napkin they have given me to wear.

Well, let’s take a look at that toe, shall we?

He is almost unbearably cheerful.

Hmmmm … looks like you’ve bruised that nail for certain. Do you recall the injury?

No, I don’t. But Doctor, look more closely, please. Do you see those linear striations, that unhealthy purplish color …

Yes, yes, of course I do. Exactly what a bit of blood under the toenail should look like. I tell you what. Let’s give you a return appointment in, say, six months and we’ll reassess the whole thing. How does that sound?

Like my death knell, I think. But what I say is –

That would be fine, Doctor, whatever you feel is best.

I put my clothes back on and leave the clinic. They will be sorry when they read my obituary a month from now, I know they will. They will be inconsolable, and if I find that it is at all possible, I plan to return to haunt them.

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How can you not love Brandi Carlisle? She gives country/folk music such a good name. Here she is doing a beautiful Crosby, Stills, & Nash tune. No artifice. No gimmicks. No posturing.

A song like this … I don’t know how it affects others … but for a few minutes it arranges my too-often chaotic thoughts into something unified and mellow and compassionate. Too bad the effect doesn’t last all day, but it’s still a good start for a morning.

Here she is with the Hanseroth twins, her longtime backup band, showing us all how harmony works.

(Seriously, if you want to spend some time exploring an artist’s work, you could do worse than taking up with Carlile for a fortnight or two. She’s real.)

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Vegetables Never Served In My Family Of Origin But That Aren’t Horrible Department

I don’t believe that anyone named Flom had ever eaten a brussels sprout until the 1990s. Before that they were regarded with suspicion as tiny cabbages that were stunted from birth, either through witchcraft or the mischief of the god Loki, and therefore likely to be poisonous.

But now Robin and I have them as a side dish at least monthly. Mostly we roast or sautée them to a fare-thee-well, and then take them from the stove just before they become charcoal. At this point they are crispy and delicious.

Speaking only for ourselves, we are not that concerned about the Norse gods, and we have suffered no ill effects from consuming this vegetable.

Except for the gas, and I blame that squarely on Loki.

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This is the time of year, right around the first of February, that I allow myself to begin thinking past Winter. From Thanksgiving till this moment I resolutely do not let my mind drift into a warmer future filled with sunshine and short-sleeved garments.

Let’s face it, it is so much easier to leave one’s home without having to first round up long underwear, scarves, heavy or puffy coats/jackets, snow boots, gloves, knit caps, parkas, neck gaiters, and a good attitude.

Now, the two of us dogo XC skiing and snowshoeing, Robin is pondering taking up ice skating once again, and we go on bundled-up walks when the snow isn’t too deep. In short, we do get out. But it requires some planning to avoid frostbite, chilblains, snow-blindness, hypothermia, boredom, and death. [Reference: photograph of man who started to ruminate on Spring too early and ignored the basics of cold-weather strategizing.]

Tomorrow is the first of the month, and I will allow myself, let’s say, five minutes of Spring-think. More than that, well, it could be dangerous.

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I’m not letting the coronavirus get to me, not at all. Even though the daily numbers on incidence and mortality are expanding geometrically, I say “Piffle.” Yesterday I read that there are now 8 cases in Boston, but why should I let that trouble me? Boston is 2200 miles from Paradise. That’s a long trip, especially if you are feeling funky.

Yesterday I was completing the purchase of a few groceries, and coughed ever so slightly for whatever reason. The eyebrows of the checkout person went skyward as she asked me “Have you been to China?” I couldn’t resist answering “How did you know? I only returned from Wuhan yesterday and last night I had this fever and chills. Is there something going around?”

But even though I bravely resist panicking, I am nothing if not a prudent man. So I left the store with several hundred dollars worth of dried beans, cases of canned vegetables, and other foods that store easily. In fact, my garage is now completely filled with what you might call survival food. I call it sensible planning. I figure I could last six months before I had to return to City Market if worst came to worst.

I’ve begun to wonder if I should acquire a firearm to be able to defend my stash of beans against wandering bands of improvident and hungry Coloradans. Something large and impressive enough that I might not even have to purchase ammunition for it – just looking at the thing would impress upon any intruder the wisdom of going elsewhere.

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Sunday Morning

Sunday morning and we’re in Denver, catching up with Kaia and Leina and their parents. They are busy, what with school and athletics and music lessons and playdates and lord knows what else.

Denver is an okay city, with a lot of the good stuff that only a large population can support. But I wouldn’t live there. Traffic is bad, the air quality is poor, and living costs are high. There are just too many tradeoffs you have to make for that occasional visit to a museum or concert or trendy part of town.

Of course a Denverite would look at our lives here in Paradise and say the same thing in reverse. What a backward village Montrose is, they’d say. A population with way too many yahoos in it, gun-toting would-be heroes packing their iron into the churches on mornings like this one.

Sure, the air is fresh, but why bother to breathe at all if there is nothing to do but look at rabbitbrush all day?

Ah me, to each their own.

But one thing Denver does have is an REI store, a dream factory if there ever was one. More great tools than you could use in several lifetimes, and all designed to take you outdoors into whatever adventure you feel has your name on it. I know … we came for the kids, but would it hurt to go shopping for a minute or two?

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This morning Willow is curled up in my lap, a thing that she does only early in the morning, and only when she wants to. Try to pick her up and plonk her there is way more likely to get you a growl than a lap-companion, and you might even come away with a scratch or two.

She is very much her own creature, and does not suffer fools well.

I admire that quality in her, showing me how close she is to the wild, and how thin the layer of civilization really is in her case. If she could state her feelings, I fancy this would be what she’d say:

I like the trappings that come with living with humans – warm rooms, shelter from the wind, safe places to sleep, food when I am feeling too lazy to catch my own. I am even fond of the particular humans who share this space with me, as long as they behave themselves. But I am not their ornament or plaything. I have my own life to live, as do they. Things work out best when we all remember this.

(Anthropomorphizing is one of my deepest and most persistent traits.)

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Love it when I find a story like this, the tale of Bill Fay. Where the musician records a couple of albums as young man, they don’t sell, he then makes his way at unglamorous jobs, but never stops writing new songs. Then thirty years later someone “discovers” him and brings in the world’s attention.

But the guy is so grounded … he has long ago realized that it is only the music that is real, and fame is ephemeral. Read the story, from the NYTimes.

If you’re interested, here’s a couple of examples of what he’s written. The second song, Filled With Wonder … , is from his latest album, which releases later this week.

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A word from Mr. Guy Fawkes
I don’t know what you may have already read about me, but I imagine it is composed of equal parts falsehoods, innuendos, and claptrap.

To set the record straight, I was arrested while guarding a number of barrels full of gunpowder located in a room directly beneath the House of Lords. The authorities took this all very badly and they quickly scheduled a day and time for my soul to be released from my body in a public and uncomfortable manner. But that’s another story.

Since then I have languished, without any application for my fervent spirit, so I am happy to be promised occasional opportunities to express myself in this column.

For today just let me say that I sense that there is a revolutionary mood alive in the land. But I realize that my old methods may not be applicable to the times, and where would one find big barrels of gunpowder anyway in 2020?

Perhaps there are other, less explosive ways to achieve the same goals, eh? So I’ve taken over the “Fighting the Good Fight Department” section while renaming it. And this makes it easy to skip if you’re tired of these topics. You’ve gotta know that if it were up to me, this whole blog would be about these articles or op-ed pieces.

But then, I’m a detonative sorta guy. It’s in my nature.

GUY FAWKES DEPARTMENT
Why Does America Hate Its Children? by Paul Krugman. (The problem is that children don’t run for office to represent themselves. And the adults that are supposed to do that never adequately stand up for them)
Trump’s Evil Is Contagious by Timothy Egan. (The lesson here is that if you stand too close to a manure pile you will still stink if you step away)
Senate Republicans Are Bathed In Shame by Frank Bruni. (These people are exploring new depths of dishonor and degradation- lower than you ever thought possible on such a large scale)

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The story of Evelyn Yang makes me nauseous in so many ways. It is a tale of betrayal in every way possible as she sought justice for herself and other women. It involves:

  • The physician who abused her and dozens of other women who is no more than a serial predator deserving of much harsher punishment.
  • The Columbia University staff who worked hard at hushing the matter up rather than at helping the victims.
  • The state attorney general who decided that taking a plea deal was the best way to go and then was surprised that the victims felt betrayed is a clueless individual indeed.

Personally, the most visceral response for me comes from reading about the doctor who violated his oath and the law. There are many things that physicians owe to our patients, but providing for their safety while in our care is the minimum they have the right to expect from our profession.

The absolute minimum.

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Pithiness

For Christmas, Robin gave me a copy of Barnes & Noble’s “Book of the Year.” It’s title is The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse. It’s a slender volume, each page an illustration with a few words on it, or sometimes no words at all. It takes no time at all to read the entire book if you go at it as you would a novel. But I doubt that’s how the author intended it be used.

Taking in the pages slowly as you would a book of aphorisms would be a better way of approaching it, I think. To me it was all very reminiscent of the Winnie the Pooh books, where a cast of small characters say small things that can have large meanings.

I loved the illustrations, which were done by the author, as much as I did the text … perhaps more. They have a soul of their own, a tender and wistful one.

I’ve scanned in a couple of pages for you, just to illustrate what I mean. All in all it’s a lovely little book that I like very much, even though it strongly leans toward the Hallmark-y side of literature, which is not my usual territory.

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Here’s a cartoon by an old fave of mine, Dick Guindon. He was a student at the U of Minnesota when I was an undergrad, and drew for the student newspaper, the Minnesota Daily .

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I was thinking about the fascinating pictographs all over this fine country of ours that have been left by early Native Americans. There are some very well-known ones in the Boundary Waters of northern Minnesota, which are treasured by that state’s citizens, as they well should be.

Hegeman Lake, Boundary Waters, Minnesota

In numbers, though, they are dwarfed by the sheer abundance of the paintings and petroglyphs in this part of the country. One of our favorite local hikes, in Dominguez Canyon, contains hundreds of such drawings, inscribed on a handful of boulders. Perhaps it’s as simple as that there were so many flat rocks to write upon, and that shale and sandstone make better “paper” than granite.

Dominguez Canyon, Colorado

No matter. What has intrigued me is that we know so little about why they are there and what they say. Into this pool of thoughtful ignorance I will drop this small suggestion: perhaps some of them are the equivalent of blogs.

A man or woman feels the urge to record something. They find a large flat stone surface, have the tools at hand, and they write/paint their observations on life’s happenings. Or their imaginative take on them. Then they come back on other afternoons and add to the record, one piece at a time.

Grand Gallery, Horseshoe Canyon, Utah

Until someone comes up with the key to unlocking the true origins and meanings of these art forms, I am going with my own interpretation. (Just like I do with nearly everything else.) And if the truth does come out and conflicts with what I think, well, then I have some choices to make, don’t I?

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Robin is leading a book discussion group at her church dealing with the short stories of Flannery O’Connor. For myself, until just recently I really knew nothing about the woman or her writing but for the story “A Good Man Is Hard To Find,” a twisted little tale that ends with a psychopath shooting an old woman completely dead because she was annoying.

I have been invited to attend the first discussion Thursday evening and I am planning on going, although I have advised her to keep her expectations low when it comes to my participation. After all, I am an old Minnesota boy of Norwegian/American heritage and we do not have a reputation for literary commentary. We are much more noted for shyness and being too modest to plop our opinions down in public.

One item that attracted me to this group (besides the fact that I have a thing for the teacher) was learning that at the age of 5, O’Connor had her first 15 minutes of national fame due to owning/training a chicken who walked backwards. Here is Flannery and the bird.

Now there’s someone I can learn from.

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Once every couple of years or so, I need to remind myself how great the music coming out of the Sahara can be, especially the guitar music.

So here is the band Tinariwen.

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On The 12th Day Of …

Melissa Clark is a food writer for the NYTimes, and a favorite of mine because of her lack of pretentiousness and her excellent sense of humor. But for her first New Year piece she took a slightly different tack, based on a statistic that alarmed her.

The results were crystal clear and deeply depressing. Meat and dairy production alone account for 14.5 percent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions — as much each year as from all cars, trucks, airplanes and ships combined. It’s a staggering statistic.

NYTimes January 2020

She described how logically this should push her into total vegetarianism, but … there were too many foods in these categories that she loved to give them up altogether. So she plans on giving “flexitarianism” a go in 2020.

That’s basically where Robin and I are as of today. Our teensy meat intake, especially of beef, is enough to make a cattle rancher weep bitter tears. But we do have some dairy every day in our glass of kefir (which has those magical probiotic properties, you know), and cheeses seem to me a gift from heaven.

Lastly, I’m afraid that unwillingness to give up bacon has been largely responsible for my remaining a carnivore. What can I say? I embarrass myself sometimes.

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On Friday morning the NYTimes printed an article about the death of a New Jersey couple that tapped into some conversations I’ve been a part of in the past few years.

The story isn’t unique in any of its particulars, really. Young man and young woman fall in love, get married, raise children, and grow older. Then the wife develops dementia and rapidly goes down the path to where the person she was is replaced by someone who is basically helpless and fearful, living in a world where she recognizes no one and no place.

Then the story takes a turn and goes its own sad way. The loving husband takes his wife’s life and then his own. Murder-suicide is how it is recorded. Such grim words. Such a grim situation.

It’s actually a well-written piece. Robin and I have direct experience, as do millions of others, with a loved one who develops dementia, and the long slow slide the rest of her life became. We’ve declared to each other that this drawn-out process will not be repeated in our own cases, without having a clear idea of exactly what we would do if it happened to one of us. Or both of us.

America in 2020 has a very few states in which a terminally ill person can choose to end their own life. There are many hoops to run through in these states, but in the end there is a packet of pills to take and no one goes to prison.

But none of those states allows someone who has dementia to get that packet of pills for themselves. So if someone decides they would rather take matters into their own hands they are left with only awkward alternatives. They can drive their cars into trees, employ firearms, lie about their health and try to stockpile the drugs they are given, attempt to starve themselves … it’s not a pretty landscape, that.

Of course, there is an additional aspect to the story in the Times. It is that the husband makes the choice for his wife, who had lost the power to make decisions of any kind. At that point he entered a zone where there were no self-help books, no support groups, no family ties or religion to fall back on. A space where he was utterly and completely alone.

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Just in case anyone is alarmed by the post above, neither Robin nor myself has dementia. We’ll let you know if that ever changes.

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The story of the bullying cat next door continues. Twice this past week he drove Willow screeching into our house and would have come in after her but for my presence. On another occasion he stood between her and the cat entrance until I chased him away.

I’ve spoken with the cat’s owners on two occasions, but I may not have expressed our unhappiness clearly enough. So when they were away for the holidays and an issue arose, I sent them a letter. Nothing nasty, just a written document expressing our frustration and our concern for the safety of the pets we love.

They love their cat as well, a fact which has come across in our conversations, but I think that they haven’t fully accepted how poorly he plays with others. At this point, none of their choices are happy ones. They would have to confine him to an indoor existence or farm him out to another family, perhaps one living in a rural setting. Or do nothing and live next door to an increasingly cranky man with poor impulse control.

I wish them well in their deliberations.

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Sunday morning’s NYTimes carried an interview with the actor John Malkovich, which ranged over several different topics. Near the end of the piece was this exchange:

Has playing the pope and also a Harvey Weinstein-type figure in David Mamet’s recent play “Bitter Wheat” led you to any new insights about men in power?

A few years ago, I was touring in an opera-hybrid theater thingy in Europe, “Just Call Me God.” I played a Saddam Hussein-like figure, but a line I wrote in that was “the one thing I know about power is the good never seek it.” And that’s not wholly inaccurate.

Amen, brother.

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