The Buzz

I’ve got a little project going in the back yard that had been going swimmingly until last evening. We have a large and aging wooden deck back there that needs to go away. Time and our pitiless sun have had their way with it, and we now have other plans for the space it occupies.

While waiting for the construction crew to come and build something new and more useful, I decided to take the old one apart. Nothing much to it but removing a few thousand deck screws and stacking the boards to be hauled away later, says I, and I went at it with all the fervor I could muster in our 90+ degree weather. My approach was to take one board off at a time, then take a time-out while sitting in the shade with a glass of cold water. It was all quite pleasant, actually. Like doing actual work, but in slow-motion.

One potential problem was that a population of yellowjackets also claimed ownership of the decking, and had been using its underside to build their nests on for years. So as I began to disassemble the thing, they would come up in squadrons and look around to see who was making all the fuss. For some reason, I wasn’t being picked up on their radar, and was able to keep working for several days without needing to pay them much attention as they buzzed around me.

This is a yellowjacket. While it looks intense, this is not the end of the insect that is most bothersome.

Until last night, that is, when I disturbed a particularly cranky bunch of them, and before you could say ouch damn ouch damn ouch damn ouch damn, I was stung four times. At that point the Buddhist in me took a seat, and a vengeful Northman came out with a battle-axe in one hand and a can of Raid in the other and I am ashamed to report that those yellowjackets are now in insect paradise. My karma definitely took a hit right there.

So now I will work on the project only in the cool of the day, when these little devils are less active and less aggressive. Of course I knew better from the beginning, but when has that ever stopped me?

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Looking back on the past 18 months, I have a little trouble coming up with a long gratitude list, but toward the top of it is a computer app – Zoom. This bunch of ones and zeroes came into our lives from out of nowhere, it seemed, and suddenly we were “Zooming” as if our lives depended on it, which to some extent was true.

I found it an improvement over FaceTime, principally in its ease of use, and millions of us must have felt the same way because the number of users took off like a rocket. Soon, Zooming had become a verb, and since I was too cheap to pay for even the first level upgrade, I found that it wasn’t too tough limiting my conversations to the 45 minutes or so that I got for free.

Zoom, a 10-year-old company based in San Jose, California, has been one of the pandemic’s biggest success stories.   Just two years ago, the company was valued at almost $16 billion. Its market cap has since swelled to reach about $106.7 billion.

CNN Business July 19, 2021

Robin was a lot more creative than I was, and early on she was attending book clubs, church “coffee hours,” grandchild play sessions, and more, and all of these on Zoom. Some of these habits will likely persist into the post-pandemic era, whenever that arrives. It’s just that easy to do.

I am presently reading a history of the influenza pandemic of 1918, and what a scary time that was. The severity of the disease, the rapidity with which it spread, and the obscene mortality rates make our present situation look rather tame by comparison. And those poor folks didn’t have Zoom with which to keep in touch. (Although when the carts are rumbling through the city streets while the drivers call out “Bring out your dead” you probably wouldn’t be conferencing much, anyway.)

A town about an hour’s drive from Montrose, Gunnison CO, had no cases of influenza because they took the disease seriously from the beginning. This is in contrast to our present situation, where a local population of ignoramuses have stood in the way of making proper progress against Covid-19. Look at these numbers and imagine what your town or locality could have done this past year … if it had the collective cojones to do the right thing.

  • Type of Site: Mountain town and county.
  • Population: 1,329 in town; 5,590 in Gunnison County.
  • Pop. Density: 414 pp./sq mi in town; 1.8 ppl./sq. mi in county.
  • Geographical Considerations: Gunnison was a small mountain town, far removed from Colorado’s major population centers, but on a major rail line.
  • Influenza Cases: 0 in town; 2 in county.
  • Influenza Deaths: 0 in town; 1 in county.
  • First Reported Case: Uncertain, but late October/early November.
  • NPI Implemented: protective sequestration with barricades of roads; rail travel restricted; quarantine of arrivals to county; isolation of suspected cases; closure of schools; prohibition on public gatherings (as per state law).

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Taken individually these infernally hot days we’ve been living with since the end of May are beautiful. There has been more than enough sunshine for any outdoor activity to be a success. That is, if it weren’t for the fact that half of the attendees often require medical attention for heat prostration.

For whatever reason thinking about this string of outwardly lovely scorchers a couple of nights ago brought to the surface of the clutter that is my mind the poem title “La Belle Dame Sans Merci.” (Translation = the beautiful lady without mercy). It’s a poem about a knight who is seduced by a pale faery and is left to perish of medieval languor, which is by all accounts the worst sort of languor to have. Fortunately, as centuries have gone by there are fewer and fewer cases of this condition, because it is incurable. And boring as well. Really, if a pallid and droopy knight were hanging around and every time he opened his mouth he went on interminably about his encounter with this wonderful faery … well … wouldn’t you lose interest pretty quickly? And pretty soon start faking phone calls from a dying relative who needed you right then? I know I would.

(Of course, I lose interest awfully fast whenever the topic of conversation veers away from talking about me and my fascinating life, no matter who is doing the veering. So there is that.)

I reproduce the poem here for your edification and entertainment. But be careful in your reading … if you notice any signs of mournfulness or lassitude creeping into your soul while going through the stanzas … stop reading immediately, lest you become the latest victim of this ancient femme fatale.

La Belle Dame Sans Merci

by John Keats

O what can ail thee, knight-at-arms,
Alone and palely loitering?
The sedge has withered from the lake,
And no birds sing!

O what can ail thee, knight-at-arms,
So haggard and so woe-begone?
The squirrel’s granary is full,
And the harvest’s done.

I see a lily on thy brow,
With anguish moist and fever-dew,
And on thy cheeks a fading rose
Fast withereth too.

I met a lady in the meads,
Full beautiful, a fairy’s child;
Her hair was long, her foot was light,
And her eyes were wild.

I made a garland for her head,
And bracelets too, and fragrant zone;
She looked at me as she did love,
And made sweet moan.

I set her on my pacing steed,
And nothing else saw all day long,
For sidelong would she bend, and sing
A faery’s song.

She found me roots of relish sweet,
And honey wild, and manna-dew,
And sure in language strange she said—
‘I love thee true’.

She took me to her Elfin grot,
And there she wept and sighed full sore,
And there I shut her wild, wild eyes
With kisses four.

And there she lullèd me asleep,
And there I dreamed—Ah! woe betide!—
The latest dream I ever dreamt
On the cold hill side.

I saw pale kings and princes too,
Pale warriors, death-pale were they all;
They cried—’La Belle Dame sans Merci
Hath thee in thrall!’

I saw their starved lips in the gloam,
With horrid warning gapèd wide,
And I awoke and found me here,
On the cold hill’s side.

And this is why I sojourn here,
Alone and palely loitering,
Though the sedge is withered from the lake,
And no birds sing.

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Ground Control

Wednesday Robin had to drive all the way to Grand Junction by herself, even though I was available as traveling companion. It’s an hour’s drive to get there, and her goal is to shop, but she’s given up on taking me along when we are not looking for a particular something and have a focus.

She says that I get a look on my face, in spite of myself, when shopping itself is the intent. I had her describe what I look like to a police portrait artist, and at left is what he came up with. It’s a look usually associated with traumatic wartime experiences, and is called the thousand yard stare.

It seems that watching me spoils the day for her in these instances. “It’s not personal,” she says, “we’re just different.” I do try, and I put on my best smiley face and attitude when I know she’s looking, but as soon as I relax I apparently revert to what you see in the drawing. I guess I’ll have to accept that there is one more thing in this world of which I am incapable.

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E-bike Report:

We’ve now got 150 miles on our machines, not any epic amount, but these are mostly short trips around town. These beasts work really well, and no spot in town is safe from us any longer. I do most of my grocery shopping using the bike with either a rear pannier or the Burley Nomad trailer we’ve had for a dozen years or more. It’s a seven mile trip to City Market and back, without ever having to hit serious automobile traffic.

Did I mention that they are not only practical but fun? When you press that button for pedaling assistance, it’s hard not to smile every time.

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From The New Yorker

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Colorado has a brand new law, making us the second state after Washington to allow composting of human remains. My first reaction was “Whaaaat?” But after reading a bit further I found that it is just another way of breaking down the body, to be added to the already common practices of cremation and chemical dissolution.

Actually, it mimics the process that would occur if we simply buried bodies in the ground without elaborate vaults and hermetically sealed coffins.

Composting a human body means placing the body in a closed container along with natural materials such as wood chips, alfalfa, and straw grass. The body is slowly rotated to induce microbial breakdown of the body’s tissues

Montrose Daily Press, May 19, 2021.

Since there is no corner of American life that can avoid rampant commercialization, I can see the brochures now for this new/old choice that families will have:

“Your loved one’s body will be placed upon a bed of roses, surrounded by sandalwood chips that were harvested in a sustainable manner in the highlands of Nepal. You then have your choice of Dakota buffalograss or Carolina switchgrass as the last component of the composting nest. When this gentle and natural process is finished, the resultant soil will be sent to you by UPS in a tasteful container, with a complimentary packet of flower seeds.”

I am totally down with the idea, and would carry it even further by having additives put into the soil produced that would allow special usage. Potting soils, peony mixes … the mind boggles at the possibilities.

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The Old Testament has come to Paradise in the form of a plague of flies. Small houseflies that can apparently pass through walls unimpeded, like ghosts. They showed up Wednesday evening, when they drove Robin and I back indoors from our al fresco dining on the backyard deck. Unfortunately, by the time we gave up and went back inside, there were scores of them to greet us in the dining room. They don’t bite you, but they walk all over your food with their dirty shoes.

They are smallish creatures, stupid and clumsy to boot. So swatting them is no problem, except that I have the definite feeling that for every one I swat, three more have squeezed in somewhere. I made an emergency run to Ace Hardware after supper, and now we have sticky traps in all of the windows. Clear plastic panels with some sort of tanglefoot on them. These devices are working, but they are soooo passive, and at this point I am in favor of something quicker and more murderous.

Patience, patience. All in due time, one of my better angels is whispering.

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While we are talking about such creatures, I offer you a recurring mini-grossout. You are eating outdoors when a small piece of organic stuff floats down from the tree above you onto your food. Just as you are about to pick out the offensive material and flick it away, it wriggles off under its own power. You know that if you hadn’t seen it arrive, it would have been on your next forkful.

Bon appetit.

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A Little Less Fresh Air, If You Please.

This post is for one of my kids, whose name I will withhold to protect her anonymity. But hey, I only have the three children, so that precaution doesn’t mean a lot.

Very early in life, she decided that the outdoor world might be a lovely place, but it held way more minuses than pluses. And one of the biggest minuses was … insects. They were everywhere creeping, crawling, stinging, and going so far as to suck the very blood from one’s body. Imagine, your blood being withdrawn against your will … it was all just too macabre.

As one of life’s little jokes, this person was born into a family whose paterfamilias loved to camp, and she was made to accompany the rest of the family on outings like this one, where she announced that she was not leaving the tent, thank you very much, and we could all just go on our little hike without her.

When she was an adult, she learned, as did we all, about those Africanized honeybees who are very aggressive toward humans, and have been nicknamed “killer bees” as a result. This only confirmed her belief that people should largely remain in their houses, because Nature was not to be trusted with one’s welfare.

So yesterday when I read about the 70 year old gentleman from Breckinridge TX who was innocently mowing his lawn when he was set upon by a cloud of these winged messengers of death, I thought instantly of my daughter’s old concerns. Sad to say, the gentleman succumbed to his injuries, and this is a lesson to us all. To my daughter, bless her heart, it probably confirms her long-held mistrust of bugs in general.

To me it meant that lawn-mowing was an inherently dangerous occupation, and I resolved to do as little of it as possible in the future. Mowing not only exposes a person to insect depredations, but other hazards as well. These include heat stroke, objects thrown at you by the mower blade, and losing one’s toes in the machinery. If that weren’t enough, it can also make you tired, cranky, and smelly.

But back to the bees. The place they were first reported in the U.S. was in a border community named Hidalgo TX. Instead of trying to play down the story, this town declared itself the killer bee capital of the United States, and this large statue was created as part of that promotion. Clever folks, these Hidalgoans.

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From The New Yorker

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Reading an article on modern obstetrics recently, and the ongoing controversies that simmer along in that discipline reminded me of something I will call Flom’s First Axiom: Everyone who is born vaginally has brain damage. Now before you jump all over me and ask for facts, I fully admit that I haven’t any. But what I do have is thousands of observations of babies at birth, and there is no way that your skull can be deformed like that and you not suffer repercussions. No way.

You take an organ that is starts out basically the shape of a bicycle helmet and quickly form it into something that resembles a Campbell Soup can with eyes. How in the world can that be a good thing? Since it happens to all of us, though, we don’t notice, except in extreme cases.

You take an organ that is starts out basically the shape of a bicycle helmet and quickly form it into something that resembles a Campbell Soup can with eyes. How in the world can that not be damaging? But since it happens to all of us we don’t notice, except in extreme cases.

For instance, here is a baby whose head was more than normally bent out of shape, and as you might expect he grew up to join the Tea Party. It is a truism that the newborn photos of Tea Party members all look like this.

Personally I think it’s a very good idea that several years must pass after we are born before we are asked to do complicated things, like writing checks. If we still had our soup-can brains we might give away the farm for certain.

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Report From The Front Lines 2

There are many differences between the adults and young of most species, including humans. Some of those differences allow archeologists to dig up a bone or two and tell us that it was that of the forearm of a twelve year-old girl who was helping make succotash when she temporarily lost her focus and became dinner for a passing predator. However, even if you are not an archeologist, or a scientist of any kind, when you have living examples of both groups in front of you, it is much easier.

For instance, children are often found at the top of things, where they dance and play and take great delight in the simple pleasures of climbing up there.

Adults, on the other hand, are often found at the bottom of things, looking up at those same children. They are quite content with having a more restricted view of the world as the tradeoff for not needing to gasp for breath, nurse a twisted ankle, or otherwise discommode themselves.

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As we began one of our hikes in Goblin Valley , someone mentioned rattlesnakes and I told them not to worry as long as they had me with them on the walk. I had never ever seen a rattlesnake in the wild, I told them, so they could relax because the odds against such an encounter on our present hike were astronomical.

Until Tuesday, that is.

Right in the middle of the path where I positively could not miss it was a small rattlesnake, estimated to be around 15 inches in length, and on a sunny 50 degree day. Why it was not still in its burrow sleeping like a sensible snake should be at this time of year I don’t know, but there it was, shaking its few rattles and looking as menacing as anything can look when it is only a little over a foot long.

I am indebted to Neil Hurley for this photograph of the snake. I took one myself, but since mine was snapped only after I stopped running and was more than 200 yards away, there was some unfortunate loss of detail .

So I was very grateful that Neil kindly allowed me to use his pic here on the blog.

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We treated the creature with the respect that it deserved, warned a group of Asian tourists behind us not to step on it, and went on our way. I can no longer say “never” when it comes to rattlesnakes in the wild. I am not a Crotalovirginal hiker any more.

(Addendum: we identified this as a Hopi Rattlesnake. Are we correct?)

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From The New Yorker

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Rep. Lauren Boebert came to town and addressed a group at a local bar. Apparently when your supporters invite you to come talk to them it pretty much goes well, so the evening was a modest success. Of course she was packing a firearm, that is her raison d’être. If it were not for the imaginary issue of people trying to take all guns away from ordinary citizens she would still be slathering mayonnaise onto BLT sandwiches in her Rifle CO restaurant. (Which to my mind is a perfectly honorable job. I love BLTs.)

Rep. Boebert is an excellent example of why it was wrong to give women the vote and allow them to run for public office. She is a boob, and I am being generous here. I apologize to boobs in general if they feel slighted by my adding her name to their ranks. But, really, she is one of you.

Before anyone gets all fired up and writes me a letter or starts warming up a cauldron of tar, I believe that it was wrong to give men the vote as well. Everything has pretty much gone downhill since the Magna Carta, in my opinion. Back in the day a country might very well find itself with a stupid king, but everybody knew that and kept their counsel (and their heads) by being quiet about it and waiting for the next king down the line for things to get better. Sometimes it might take more than one change of sovereigns for improvement to come about, but being a serf was such a time-consuming and back-breaking sort of life that one barely noticed.

However, embarrassing as Boebert is, we are stuck with her at least until the 2022 elections, and perhaps beyond. After all, we are living in the same part of the world that went for Cluck 2:1 in the last election. And such a sad number, my friends, requires that a gigantic amount of poor judgment be present in a population.

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Finally, a few more photos of people playing in a red desert. It is a spectacular place. It is a wilderness composed entirely of non-fluffy. There is an abundant shortage of soft places. There are few stumps of trees to sit on, but mostly rock to cradle one’s posterior. To a person like myself who grew up in Minnesota, a water-rich and green state if there ever was one, this is another planet. This is Mars. As Peter O’Toole’s character said in Lawrence of Arabia when asked what he liked about the desert: “It’s clean.”

The author Terry Tempest Williams has written beautifully about the Utah desert. She lives a couple of stone’s throws away from where we were.

In 1995, when the United States Congress was debating issues related to the Utah wilderness, Williams and writer Stephen Trimble edited the collection, Testimony: Writers Speak On Behalf of Utah Wilderness, an effort by twenty American writers to sway public policy. A copy of the book was given to every member of Congress. On 18 September 1996, President Bill Clinton at the dedication of the new Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, held up this book and said, “This made a difference.

Wikipedia: Terry Tempest Williams

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Report From The Front Lines

We’re on our first official “outing” of the year, spending a couple of days with Amy, Neil and family in southeastern Utah. Believe me when I tell you that there is ample room for humans to social distance in this part of the world. When we arrived on Sunday afternoon our families rendezvoused in Goblin Valley State Park, a surreal landscape if there ever was one. A world of red sandstone carved into fantastic shapes by wind and time. By the end of the day our (Robin’s and mine) feet were sore, our arms and legs were sore, our knees were well-scraped, and our hands and fingers were tired from grasping at the abrasive rock.

But our spirits were in good shape, so there was definitely that.

On Monday we took on exploring two of the many famous slot canyons of the San Rafael Swell nearby. These are new experiences for me, best described as a claustrophobic’s idea of a bassackwards way of spending a vacation. You walk into a maze where the visibility is mostly up and the walls keep crowding in on you until in places you can barely pass through. More red sandstone, more (very) close encounters with the earth. By the end of the day our (Robin’s and mine) feet were sore, our arms and legs were sore, our knees were well-scraped, and our hands and fingers were tired from grasping at the abrasive rock.

Wait … did I just repeat myself?

When we finally exited this bit of amazingness we had been scraping and clambering and trudging over some of the planet’s more interesting and bizarre landscape for about 9 miles. Every movement in any direction was now uncomfortable. Getting into the car required planning. Sitting in one position for more than 5 minutes produced a body that could not be restarted without earnest prodding. But those spirits … somehow, they never flagged.

Our basecamp for these modest expeditions was the hamlet of Hanksville, Utah. Population 219, elevation 4295 feet. It was a half hour’s drive south from Goblin Valley and the other activities described above. If you continued on in a southerly direction further down Highway 24 you would end up in less than an hour in the Lake Powell recreation area.

Hanksville has a couple of places to stay, including our residence which was named the Whispering Sands Motel. It is a basic sort of place, short on frills, definitely not an all-inclusive resort. But the rooms are clean, the beds were comfortable, everything that we needed worked, and the managers were the kind of people you are glad are in charge of your lodging. That is, there are strict and enforced rules about how a guest should behave. For instance, quiet hours start at 9:30, and if you make a nuisance of yourself you will be asked to leave and you will not get your money back, says the little sign on the door. Since Robin and I have mutually agreed to leave behind our days of trashing hotel rooms, we appreciated this concern for our present-day welfare.

The Whispering Sands

Down the road from the Whispering Sands is Duke’s Slickrock Grill, which has some decent food to offer. The cafe is also a shrine to the actor John Wayne, with nearly everything on the menu either carrying the title of one of his movies, or something related. There are a few books for sale in the lobby, all related to Mr. Wayne as well.

A life-sized cutout of the man stands behind the bar.

It was the sort of place where you didn’t feel like mentioning that in general the official ‘Trinity’ was not Father, the “Duke,” and Holy Ghost.

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Here are a handful of representative photos of the footsore survivors. There are many more of these pictures, and I feel that I must warn you that even the slightest evidence on your part of any interest in them may bring on the dreaded: “Here is every single picture that I took on my vacation, including double exposures, out-of-focus pics, stunningly boring repeats of the same scene with only the slightest of differences, et al.”

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Playing In The Freezer

When Robin and I planned to take a couple of days and go skiing on the Grand Mesa with Ally and Kyle, I did not see that as a challenge to the gods of winter at all. And when I wrote this on a blog post recently, I felt the same way.

The nice thing about Nordic skiing is that you are rarely cold. You generate enough heat that the problem is what to do with all those clothing layers you started out with.

Apparently the gods saw things otherwise.

When Ally and Kyle arrived on the Mesa last Friday it was 35 degrees and blue skies, and they had a fine afternoon XC skiing and exploring. Later in the evening they bunked down in the cabin we had rented together at the Grand Mesa Lodge, Cabin #15 to be exact. Then some sort of bottom fell out of the weather during the night, and when Robin and I showed up at the cabin the next morning (Saturday) the temperature was 8 degrees and a bitter wind was blowing in your face no matter which way you turned.

But we were there to have fun, even if it meant the possible loss of body parts to frostbite in the process. Our first stop was at some sled dog races that were being held just a few miles from the lodge. Cold people, cold canines, red cheeks, white noses, and only one trailer selling hot beverages. We spent an hour or two watching the dogs, all the while stamping our feet in a brave but fruitless attempt to restore circulation. From there we moved to the cross-country ski trail area and set off through the woods.

The snow was perfect. Four inches of powder on six feet of base. Originally I had plotted out a four mile loop, but our quartet voted very quickly to cut that distance in half, “then we’ll see if we want to do any more after that.” We didn’t. At that point it was back to the cabin to warm up, sip a little coffee, and look out the window at the abundance of snow that the Mesa had to offer. Later in the afternoon Ally and Kyle headed back to Steamboat Springs, and at suppertime Robin and I went up to the lodge where the menu in the restaurant was basically pizza. It was an excellent home-made pie, however, and we finished it up and then licked the plate afterward.

Not wanting to brave the weather any more that day, we turned in early. When we awoke Sunday morning, the temp was eight degrees below zero. Now I know that some of you in the Midwest have learned to love those sorts of temperatures, but Robin and I were not emotionally prepared for them, nor had I brought along nearly enough warm clothing to go playing in a freezer. So we scratched our original itinerary and returned home a few hours early.

If it hadn’t been so frigid, though, what a landscape was up there to be explored! More beautiful snow than anyone could ever want. Too brilliantly white to look at in the sunlight without eye protection. Aspens, evergreens, iced-over lakes, and a serious shortage of the scars of civilization. It is true that there were areas where snowmobilers were blasting about with their malodorous machines, but it wan’t too hard to get away from their noise. And left to itself, a snowy landscape is one of the quietest there is.

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Cabin # 15 Review

The cabin had originally been built in the late 1890s, but for some reason the original structure was taken down and a “new” one built with the same logs, in 1939. Its outstanding feature in 2021 was its slanting floor. The footing sloped in several directions making walking about the room interesting. On a shelf in the cabin was one of those notebooks where guests are invited to write a few words about their visit. The last entry was just a week before we arrived, where a gentleman offered these words of caution:

You are advised not to drink alcohol during your stay, because it is hard enough to walk here while sober.

Guest Notebook

There was a metal-framed futon in the main room, whose mattress did not do nearly enough to protect one’s posterior from the metal slats of the frame. The sitting surface was only inches from the floor, which meant that each time you were moved to sit down, there was no contact where you expected it to be, and a moment of panic until you finally crashed onto the thinly covered slats.

We found four chairs at the small table in the kitchen area, of the wobbly and untrustworthy plastic variety often found in tall stacks at Home Depot. However, if one moved slowly and didn’t wiggle excessively, the chairs did not collapse.

Kitchen facilities were more than adequate, with a good refrigerator, nice gas stove, and newer countertop and sink. Heat for the building was a large propane space heater on the front wall of the room. With the miserable outdoor temperatures we found ourselves dealing with, that heater never had a moment’s rest.

To get upstairs to the dormitory area, you climbed a very old-fashioned stairway of the kind that was common in Thomas Jefferson’s day. The angle of the staircase was 60 degrees from horizontal, making it more like a ladder, actually. It wasn’t so hard going up, but coming down you needed to pick your way very carefully to avoid the unpleasantness that could come from a too-rapid descent. The wood of those steps had originally been rough-cut lumber, but 81 years of people going up and down had worn them to a shiny and slightly hazardous slipperiness.

The mattresses on the beds were comfortable, but all guests had been told to bring their own sleeping bags. In Covid times, it was felt safer all around to use one’s own bedding materials, apparently, and so we complied.

I liked the place, of course, in its quaint basic-ness. There was not a trace of elegance to be found. The wind found its way in through scores of cracks and gaps, and many of the furnishings were just barely adequate to their tasks. In this it resembled some fly-in fishing camps where I have stayed in the past. But the views out the windows were serene. All in all, I was glad that Cabin #15 was there for our use, even if I had a few quibbles. We were there only for a few hours, but the cabin had been there in one form or another for more than 100 years.

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We took far fewer photos than we would have if it hadn’t been so cold. Here are the few we have.

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Legislation has been introduced to ban the use of Native American mascot-ery in Colorado. If the bill goes through, our local Montrose Indians will have to find a new name for themselves or face stiff fines. It’s way past time for this, nest-ce pas? Way past. What is one to think of the mental processes of our European forefathers, who first did their best to kill off the Natives and their culture, and then later co-opted their images and names as examples of courage and resourcefulness. A truly amazing and cruel affront.

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Television viewing suggestion: The limited series Pretend It’s A City is a hoot. Fran Lebowitz’ brain runs way faster by far than the average human’s does, and she is a superbly sharp-tongued curmudgeon. The lady is aided in this documentary program by her obvious fan and friend, Martin Scorsese. Each segment is less than half an hour, so take a look. It couldn’t hurt.

Here’s a sampling of the kind of stuff you might see if you tuned in.

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Winter Stuff

One of the most common birds that we see on our exercise walks along the Uncompahgre River is none other than the American Robin. There is a large contingent of them that do not travel south for the winter but enjoy the pickings right here in Paradise. So we can’t use them as harbingers of Spring, can we? I like the bird … they seem to have a good attitude about things in general, perkiness being a strong quality of theirs.

Unfortunately for the females of the species, physical beauty is not handed out in equal portions.

The male robin is brighter in color than the female. His eye ring, bright beak color, and black head all show this bird is a male. The female’s feathers look washed out and faded compared to the darker, richer colors of the male. The female robin must be well camouflaged in order be safe from predators as she incubates her eggs. This is why females of many bird species are not as bright in color as the males.

Journey North.org

It is quite different for humans, where the female is so often the more colorful one. Perhaps this is because human females don’t have to sit on nests for weeks at a time. I suspect that if our species did have nesting as part of our reproductive scheme, that we males would be pressed into service in equal measure, in keeping with modern societal trends.

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A Dick Guindon cartoon

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Earlier this week an avalanche swept across a group of backcountry skiers near Silverton, burying four of them. One was rescued, but three others were only found several days later. This raises the season’s death tally here in Colorado to eight, all of them skiers.

I find it hard to feel sorry for these folks. They put themselves out there, rolled the dice once again on that particular day, and this time they lost. Backcountry skiing is a risky business, and they knew it when they put on their skis. Who I do feel sorry for is their families and for the rescue workers who went out to try to find and save them, putting their own lives at hazard.

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BTW, do you know about “auto-chains?” I hadn’t heard of them until this morning. Some of the truckers here in the mountains have devices mounted on their vehicles that … well, here’s a video to show you what they do. Pretty interesting, even to a non-trucker.

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On Friday Robin and I traveled to Grand Junction for a day’s getaway. We decided to have lunch at Café Rio, an Ameri-Mexican place that we’ve enjoyed in the past. But this was in the time of Covid, and things were different.

At Café Rio you move in a line and indicate to the workers what your choices as you shuffle along. But now the staff was behind a layer of Plexiglas so thick that without shouting in a clear soprano voice (which neither of us had) you could not be easily heard through our face masks. Both of us finally gave up trying, and just nodded our heads whenever the worker would point at a pot. In this way both of us obtained tasty food, but neither of us got what we had planned.

Some days you just roll with the punches.

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Flyover State

We’ve been treated to the sounds and sights of a great deal of traffic here in Paradise since the first of November. Aerial traffic, that is. Every day flights of Canada geese pass by. Not huge flocks, but many, many smaller ones. And periodically high up above the geese there will be a string of sandhill cranes passing overhead, with their very distinctive croaking calls.

The number of cranes migrating through our area is small compared with the huge flocks that pass through Nebraska and the Platte River area. They are fascinating birds who have been around much longer than we humans.

Sandhill cranes have one of the longest fossil histories of any extant bird.  A 10-million-year-old crane fossil from Nebraska is said to be of this species, but this may be from a prehistoric relative or the direct ancestor of sandhill cranes. The oldest unequivocal sandhill crane fossil is 2.5 million years old, older by half than the earliest remains of most living species of birds, primarily found from after the Pliocene/Pleistocene boundary some 1.8 million years ago. As these ancient sandhill cranes varied as much in size as present-day birds, those Pliocene fossils are sometimes described as new species. Grus haydeni may have been a prehistoric relative, or it may comprise material of a sandhill crane and its ancestor

Wikipedia

If you spend a few moments watching them you have no problem with thinking about sandhill cranes as descendants of dinosaurs. Everything about them says ancient, from their appearance to their voice.

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Sandhill cranes are not on an endangered species list, and therefore hunting them is legal in Colorado. It’s one of those times when I must scratch my head and wonder why? What is it about those people who upon seeing birds like these makes them want to grab a gun and kill them? For sport. For fun. I don’t get it.

I am reminded of an old joke, one of those that are slightly cringeworthy because of the truth within them.

A man is arrested and brought to trial for killing a protected bird. He pleads with the judge, “Your honor, I was lost in the wilderness for three days without food, and the eagle attacked me. I fought back in self-defense, and I ate it because I was starving.” The judge listens to the tale and rules that the man is not guilty. But he turns to the man and asks, “Well, now that we’re done with all that, I admit that I am curious to know, what does bald eagle taste like?” “Well, your honor, it’s like a cross between a snowy owl and a whooping crane.”

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Only two days until Christmas Eve. My letter to Santa went out weeks ago, trying to account for any sluggishness in the mails. Picking and choosing what to ask for used to be difficult, because although there were thousands of things that I wanted, there was very little that I needed .

And there was that phrase from the Bible that had nagged at me for years, found in Luke 3:11, which goes like this: He answered them, “He who has two coats, let him give to him who has none. He who has food, let him do likewise.”

(A confession is in order here, because I still have more than two coats as of this writing.)

And so some years back I asked my family to direct their gift-giving impulses from me and toward those whose needs are greater by far than my own. One of the needy groups that I know a little about and have admired for a long time is Medecins Sans Frontiéres (or Doctors Without Borders).

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If there are any physicians who are more courageous and less guided by self-interest than those who work for this organization I don’t know who they are. These men and woman take their skills to work in areas where I would tremble to even drive through. My hat is off to all of them and to the indigenous helpers who make their work possible.

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Here are a few pix from our walk up at the Black Canyon National Park on Sunday afternoon. Weather = perfect. Snow = clean and pristine.

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More Stuff About Trees And Chicanery

Friday Morning

Daughter Maja will fly back to the Twin Cities later today, after having given us the chance to show her a bit of how Fall arrives here in Paradise. We spent much of our time together chatting on the small deck out back, under an ash tree that somehow managed to contain all of the leaf colors possible in a tree in October, and then Wednesday a wind came up that tore half those leaves loose and distributed them around us as we sat out there lost in conversation. A lovely moment.

Robin and I took our ballots down to the drop box Thursday afternoon, and that little container was a busy place to be at 4:00 P.M. Apparently the flow of completed ballots this year has been much faster than usual. We’re going to assume that this is a good thing. If Republicans hate it when lots of citizens vote, then what we saw must be making some of them uncomfortable. Members of that party deserve a good whaling for their four years of ignoring anything that didn’t make them richer or attempt to cement their power. They should be ashamed of themselves, but of course we have all seen how incapable of shame they are, many times over.

Does this mean that there are no miscreants who are Democrats? That they are incapable of doing embarrassingly self-serving things?

Nope.

In their case, however, it’s usually individuals who are the perps, rather than the entire party giving itself over to their worst impulses, as has happened lately. I look forward to a day when we will see reasonable and fair people once again leading the conservative opposition, people whose advice we could take and combine with progressives’ best ideas to use in the necessary work of America at home and around our planet.

Is that really possible? It’s a question that I ask myself occasionally, one to which I admit I don’t know the answer. It all reminds me of a line from the song by Mary Chapin Carpenter: “It’s too much to expect, but not too much to ask.”

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It seemed like a good time of year to play Van Morrison’s Astral Weeks album. So I took myself out back and listened to it for perhaps the hundredth time. Here’s the blurb from Apple Music about the album:

There’s never been anything like Astral Weeks—not before or since. Parting with the straightforward, R&B-based rock of his past, a young Van Morrison embraced his love of jazz, blues, folk, and poetry all at once. The thrillingly transcendent journey finds him mixing bittersweet childhood memories and in-the-moment reveries like a folk-rock James Joyce. His soulful voice soars over a constantly shifting, almost impressionistic landscape of fluid, jazzy lines, gentle strumming, and shimmering orchestrations. The magic Morrison created here is as otherworldly as the title suggests.

If you’ve not listened to it for a while, it holds up beautifully. A love letter from 1968.

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After basically spending the summer lounging around our back yard, our old friend Poco has taken up wandering in the neighborhood as he used to do, especially along the irrigation canal that runs behind our property.

To find him all I usually have to do is walk up about 100 yards and call out his name while standing in front of a particular thicket. There will be an answering meow or two, and then out he comes. Above is a pic from September 2007, when he’d just arrived at our home, demanding admission and attention. He easily achieved both.

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I mentioned our first youth poet laureate several months ago, when she first appeared on the national stage. Her name is Amanda Gorman, and her work provides abundant proofs of the revolutionary power of poetry. In the video below she recites her work Fury and Faith.

Now this woman is way too young to be this wise, but there you are. Among these stirring lines there was one that stood out to me, and it was “The point of protest isn’t winning, it’s holding fast to the promise of freedom …”. This so reminded me of words from the last speech that Martin Luther King Jr. gave the day before he was assassinated.

Well, I don’t know what will happen now. We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it really doesn’t matter with me now, because I’ve been to the mountaintop. And I don’t mind. Like anybody, I would like to live – a long life; longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the Promised Land. So I’m happy, tonight. I’m not worried about anything. I’m not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.

I think we haven’t heard the last from Ms. Gorman.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Looking For Mom And Pop

We’re off to South Dakota later this morning. Plans are to bed down in North Platte NE for the night, then drive on to Yankton SD the next day. The total trip distance (to Yankton) is 866 miles, give or take a foot. North Platte seems a decent little town, with the usual cluster of motels, restaurants, and gas stations along the interstate. We’ve chosen the Husker Inn, which came up #1 on Trip Advisor. It looks to be a typical mom-and-pop establishment … one level, each room opening directly onto the parking lot. Seems just right for traveling in the Covid era, with fewer opportunities to actually come in contact with other living and breathing human beings.

Even before the pandemic came along, these little places were my favorites when traveling. Not when the hotel is a destination, mind you, but when all you want is a clean bed in a clean room for the night. Forgot something in the car? Why, it’s no problem at all. Your vehicle is just outside your door.

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The weather here in Paradise promises nothing but sunshine for the next week, with very moderate temperatures. It’s the golden time of year, when all the windows can be open and neither the A/C nor the furnace are needed. Most of the flying things that bite you are long gone, and you can actually walk to the end of the block without needing a full canteen.

Our cats love this weather. They tolerated (because they had to, as did we all) the slow roasting that this past summer provided, but now they can sleep or stretch out whenever and wherever. It is what cats do best. Total inactivity interspersed with bursts of intense mouse-chasing. Last evening Willow caught three mice in four hours, bringing each one indoors and being instantly shooed back out. Robin and I are just not into providing living space for small rodents.

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I was sitting here with my second cup of coffee as companion, thinking back on the good parts of our camping season this year, which did have its negative aspects, I admit. But in between calamities there were moments of great beauty and serenity. There was also the feeling that I get at those times of being, I don’t know, sort of capable. We pick a spot, we erect a shelter, we cook our food under relatively primitive conditions. We eat a pine needle or two in our chili and call it seasoning. If a fleck of forest duff blows into my coffee cup in the morning I fish it out and keep on drinking.

We clean up after ourselves while paying attention to what needs to be done to keep bears honest (and alive). In short, for a few days we take care of ourselves with few barriers between us and the natural world. It’s sweaty and dirty and showers are hard to come by but we do profit.

You don’t need to go to the woods or the mountains to meditate, to get some perspective, but it is just so much easier to do it out there. At least it is for me.

When I leave home for these few days each year, the absence of distractions helps me to be mindful. I am ancient enough that I had my brand of ADD for thirty years before everybody knew there was such a thing. Robin can tell you that taking me out to lunch in a sports-bar sort of establishment is a bad idea. All those television screens going at once makes me crazy, and I don’t get back to full self-control until we’ve paid the bill and walked out. I may not even remember what I ate, and my shirtfront is occasionally covered with mustard.

But put me in the woods, and you can have my full attention. I see, hear, smell, taste, and feel everything. I am entirely present. The real trick? To be able to do that when I return home. When the student asked the venerable Zen Buddhist monk how to achieve enlightenment, his answer was: “Chop wood, carry water.” Meaning you can achieve peace in your life by doing everyday tasks and living everyday life, but doing it all mindfully.

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From The New Yorker

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On Wednesday I went to see my grandson, the ophthalmologist. No, he’s not really. My grandson, that is. He’s just that young. I had cataract surgery on the left eye a couple of years ago, but the right eye wasn’t bad enough to please the folks at Medicare. They have their criteria as to when they are willing to pay for surgical correction. Time passes and the cataract worsens and finally you qualify. For about six months now I haven’t enjoyed three-dimensional vision because the right lens is mostly clouded over. So today I gave all the right answers on the questionnaire and got on the schedule for surgery at the end of October.

The surgery should be pretty much a breeze … for me, that is. I don’t know how it is for the surgeon, because I see him only for a nanosecond and then somebody gives me something very nice to tumble me off to sleep. When I wake up this time I will see well out of both eyes, thank the nurses, and Robin will take me home. Piece of cake. A miracle of sorts, made possible entirely through technology.

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I moved my writing station to the front of our home this past week. It’s less private, but I do get to watch a different set of people moving around, some of them in their automobiles. You remember autos? Before electric vehicles came around, people actually depended on those smelly and noisy internal combustion engines which did so much harm to the environment.

To make things worse, they had no guidance systems, but were piloted solely through the skillset of the driver. Which varied so much that there were tens of thousands of citizens who were mowed down by their neighbors each year in horrific collisions of flesh and bone versus metal and plastic. Of course we still have the odd collision nowadays, when an onboard computer develops a glitch. Like last year when that semi-trailer plowed through a St. Patrick’s Day Parade, and when the police approached the truck they found no one in the cab. Somehow its program had gone off and started the engine without any human input, and that was all she wrote.

At any rate, there are still a few of those things around here in Paradise, and since most of them are operated by senior citizens, be aware of that fact if you come to visit us and set your EV’s hazard control systems to “High Alert.”

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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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Open Carry

We returned to the Uncompahgre Plateau on Sunday afternoon and found all of our gear intact and undisturbed. Packing up took less than half an hour and the camper is now safely stowed at home, our stuff cleaned and put away. End of story, right? Not quite.

Robin has stated that she’s done with camping for the year, maybe for good. Who can blame her? This year alone she has been buffeted by gales that wrecked tents and forced us to huddle behind trees. She has been chilled in a car with no blankets or sleeping bag to protect her. Her husband has plopped her evening meal into the dirt, and now a drunken mob made sleep impossible and created serious concerns about safety.

Perhaps as time passes these fresh scars will heal and she will see the positive side of this sort of activity once again, perhaps not. Either way, she’s a game girl for going along with me all of these years without plunging a dagger into my sleeping form and being done with the whole enterprise.

As for myself, I have been dealing with some odd thoughts that popped into my head. For the briefest of moments while packing up on Sunday, I wished that I had been armed on that Saturday night. This was the internal dialogue:

What sort of insanity is this? You think to bring yet another handgun into a world that already brims with them?

But if I’d had one, perhaps we would have felt more safe, more comfortable.

And what would you have done differently? Stood in the road leading into the campground in your fleece pajamas like a version of Walter White daring a bunch of drunken hoodlums to pass?

What if they’d taken up your challenge? What then?

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I don’t know, I just …

You would have been a fool, that’s what. There could have been only a very few outcomes. That this sodden sorry group of miscreants would have run right over you in a fit of intoxicated bravado is the more likely. Another is that you might right now be sitting in some hoosegow staring out at a world forever changed for you because you did have a firearm and you used it.

Way less likely is that the mob would have been instantly chastened and would have sent a delegation to beg your forgiveness, then packed up their pickups and driven off into the darkness to spend the rest of the evening sobering up and pondering their misdeeds, pledging never to do such loutish things ever again.

And so it goes.

Most of my life I’ve not been a physically imposing person, and since I possess the martial arts skills of an amoeba my planned strategies for dangerous confrontations included first trying to talk myself out of the situation, and if that failed, I planned to run. I realized that this would work better against knives than bullets, but there you are.

Then the years started to pile up and eventually I had to come to grips with the fact that running wasn’t going to cut it any longer. The knees, you know.

So then what? By age eighty I had never come up against a life-threatening confrontation, not really, so what was I worried about? Well, all those articles that are published describing how certain unscrupulous persons prey on seniors preferentially, that’s what. That’s when the handgun fantasies first started creeping into my daydreams.

Like so many other unwanted mental safaris that my mind goes on, I put this recurring one aside each time with a rueful smile. As I will with this last episode. But I fully understand the pull that fear can produce, and why others might choose differently.

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A good story here. Seeds that were 2000 years old have borne fruit. And delicious fruit at that.

Happy news.

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Saturday the skies were the most beautiful shade of intense blue. Sunday they were hazy and the blue much less vibrant. Monday that hue was completely obscured by smoke, and our sunrise was a red one. This time they tell us that the smoke has traveled all the way from California. All day long the San Juan Mountains south of us were invisible, and on our drive up to the Black Canyon for a hike, the viewing was transformed.

In the photo Robin is walking on the Upland Trail and you can see the reddish/chocolate color of the sky. What smoke does do well is to reveal layers of hills in the distance, setting off each one from the one behind it in a striking fashion. A lovely effect, that.

Poor California. Each year the blazes seem worse. Even though we are not without our problems with wildfires here in Colorado, it is not on California’s scale.

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Are We There Yet?

Friday morning we are off to the Uncompahgre Plateau for a Labor Day campout. There is a single small campground on the south end of the Plateau, with only 8 sites, and we hope to be able to snag one of those. Otherwise it’s dispersed camping for us, and for the Hurley family who will be joining us on Saturday.

We have prepared for dispersed camping with the following necessary items in addition to what we normally carry with us on such forays:
1. lots of water, since there is none available where we will be
2. a portable toilet which is very stylish, compact, and discreet
3. a small privacy tent within which to use the stylish, compact, and discreet toilet
4. the usual prayers to the weather gods that we not freeze our tuchuses off

(We decided that pooping in the woods using a small trowel and a tree for privacy was okay when we were daypacking and nature caught us out, but on a three-day outing like this … something else was required. Ergo the portable commode. We’re getting soft.)

For the Hurleys there will be many opportunities for mountain biking, something that 3/4 of their family enjoys. For the Floms, there are endless places to hike, sit, or recline. Robin and I gave up on mountain biking after we discovered how unyielding the ground was this Spring when we each took a fall from our cycles. And that was in the heart of civilization! The idea of careening down a root- and rock-infested trail, wrenching our bikes into one turn after another in locations far from orthopedic care has less appeal than it once did.

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We are back, early, from our latest camping outing. Friday and Saturday were beautiful days. We found a roomy campsite in Iron Springs Campground, our friends Amy, Neil, Aiden, and Claire had joined us, and everything was going swimmingly. Until the sun went down on Saturday night.

Hours after we had retired, we were brought to unwanted consciousness by the roar of engines, banshee laughter, and shots being fired. All this coming from a group that had chosen a dispersed spot across the road from our campground for their party. Judging by their behavior, chemicals had been applied liberally to their central nervous systems during the preceding hours. The manic engines we heard were those of dirt bikes, ATVs’, and pickup trucks with cut-out mufflers.

In short, a large group of yahoos from Montrose County were having their fun, they had picked our part of the world to do it in, and one of the things they seemed to enjoy was driving around the loop of our campground in order to wake up and sow confusion among the ordinary citizens resting there.

Now we were 26 miles from civilization, and out of telephone contact with the rest of the world, including that of law enforcement. We therefore puzzled briefly over what to do? Robin was understandably not going to get back to sleep in this environment, and I was at the point where I was hoping that the shots we heard were at the very least reducing their number slightly. What we did do was withdraw from the situation. We got in our car and drove home in our pajamas, leaving our camper and gear behind. Later this morning we will return to the scene of the crime and recover our stuff. Hopefully it will be undisturbed. But that’s out of our hands. We are all safe.

Perhaps they would have continued with their stupid, drunken, and aggressive behavior for a short while and then left us all alone. Or perhaps they would have invented new things to do with us to brighten their early morning revels. We will never know. But it will be a long time before we spend another Saturday night out on the Uncompahgre Plateau, of that I am fairly certain.

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We do have a few photos, taken from happier moments on Friday and Saturday in what is a beautiful semi-wilderness area, that we will share with you.

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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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Ladies and Gentlemen of the Jury …

I received a jury summons this week, scheduled for September 9. After never, ever, receiving such a summons for the first 74 years of my existence, I have now been sent three of them since moving to Paradise. The first two came to nothing, with the proceedings being called off the day before I was scheduled to appear. So I was not holding my breath on this one. I am impressed with the power that these people have to compel us ordinary citizens. Should I suggest to the court that they bugger off and leave me alone, I’m pretty sure that they would have a proper bouquet of unpleasant remedies to deal with my behavior.

So imagine my delight when I re-read the fine print on the summons and discovered that if I fell into a high-risk Covid category as defined by the CDC, I could be excused from appearing. It further suggested that I call a telephone number, which I did so quickly that the summons hadn’t hit the desk before I was connected to one of the sweetest telephone voices I had ever heard. She told me that I was indeed in a high-risk group and that I now had two choices. I could opt out for six months, or for forever.

My dear, I responded, we will still be masking up six months from now, so why waste time with Option #1? Just give me the lifetime exclusion and we can be done with this delightful little conversation. And so I am now out of the pool, until and unless the powers that constitute the court system decide to change their minds.

It’s their game, of course. They get to make up the rules as they go along.

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On Friday morning I read that eight University of Nebraska football players are suing the Big Ten because the fall season has been called off. I can understand the frustration of young athletes who see their chances at professional careers in the game being adversely affected by such a decision. This has to hurt.

While reading the piece, I recalled that when I lived in South Dakota, just across the river from the fine state of Nebraska, there was a standing joke that went around. It went like this:

Question: What does the “N” on the U. of Nebraska flag stand for?
Answer: Nowledge.

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From The New Yorker

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One of our appliances gets very little use in this viral age, and that’s our Weber gas grill. We might have lit it up once in early Spring, but that was all. It’s a medium-sized grill, too wasteful to use it for only two people. And so it sits there lonesomely under cover, probably wondering what it did wrong last year to deserve such shabby treatment.

For us, grilling outdoors is a social occasion more than anything else. People gather around the device and kibitz to their hearts’ content. Why are you doing it that way? Do you use it much? I wouldn’t put so much sauce on, but that’s just me. It’s comments like these that can cement relationships or sour them.

Once upon a time daughter Kari asked me: What it is about men and cooking on a grill? I blinked at her for a second or two and then responded with just the slightest tremble in my voice: Meat and Fire … Meat and Fire.

It doesn’t get more primal than that.

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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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Sunday Morning

Yesterday I was reaching into the interior of one of our tomato plants for a very red fruit way back there that needed picking. Suddenly there was a sharp pain between my thumb and forefinger. Without thinking I brushed at the area and was rewarded by a second sharpness a centimeter from the first one. Looking down I saw the yellowjacket who had delivered its message of “Stay away!” in such a pointed style.

Unfortunately for the creature it did not survive the encounter, and it perished as it delivered my first and second stings of this summer. There was no moment when I calmly decided that the insect was just protecting its turf and that I should respect its boundaries and move on. That would have been what a good Buddhist would do. Nope, I just wiped it out of existence. Bye-bye bad bug.

Our local yellowjackets are notorious for being irritable and aggressive, and this is not always a good thing for them. Especially when they meet up with a larger creature who is also irritable and aggressive … like myself, for instance. And I can also be vengeful.

Being stung often results in a widespread search for as many insect nests as I can find, even though members of any given colony may be completely innocent of wrongdoing on that particular day. This is where I bring into play the tools at my disposal, which include a powerful aerosol can of insecticide that can spray a deadly stream for a dozen feet.

This morning the stung area is only slightly swollen, and only itches a bit. I will look carefully when I go to pick more fruit in a couple of days, but if these little beasts have decided to hang out in there, my enjoyment of the eating may be made more piquant by the risks of gathering.

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We’re off later this morning for some more camping. This time we’re not carrying our gear on our backs, but instead are towing it behind us on the trailer. We will be meeting Ally and Kyle at Turquoise lake, near Leadville CO, for some conversation, chili-eating, and proper social distancing. It froze at night on our outing at Hunt Lake, and we expect much the same weather in the Leadville area. But this time we have our Mr. Buddy heater to comfort us when the temperature dips too low.

Return from Hunt Lake

Robin and I are back, ladies and gentlemen, from our adventure in backpacking. The walk up and down the mountain was challenging, to say the least. But the body recovers.

Our final destination was a small lake called Hunt Lake, and the setting was gorgeous. We found several dispersed camping sites along the waters’ edge, and selected three of them close to one another. Justin and Kaia in one, the Hurley family in another, and the two of us in the third. The altitude at the lake was 11,480 feet.

Our campsites were in a sort of bowl, with Banana Mountain along one side. The part of that mountain facing us was basically a gigantic pile of scree which we did not attempt to walk about in. The chunks of rock making up the pile were too big, too sharp-edged, and the spaces between them looked full of hazards to one’s legs. But they were filled with pikas, those small alpine creatures who scurried about as if they weighed nothing and had suction cups for feet.

These guys were just as adorable as the one in the photo above, and a full-grown animal is the length of my outstretched hand. Pikas are in the family of lagomorphs, which includes rabbits and hares. So … a tiny mountain bunny-cousin.

Here are some pix from the trip.

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Imagine our surprise when we returned to Montrose and found that President Cluck was once again telling tales. New birther horse-doodle for his doodle-hungry followers. It was truly a journey from the sublime to the ridiculous. Such an unworthy man.

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Well, All Right!

Time has come today, sang the Chambers Brothers a few decades ago. And when I heard that Mr. Biden had finally made his choice for VP candidate, it felt that very right to me. Time has indeed come today. I can’t wait to put on a Biden/Harris button the size of a manhole cover and walk the politically red streets of Paradise.

Over the years I have at times been so frustrated with the Democratic Party … at one point I left them completely for many years and became an “Independent,” whatever the hell that is. And they are still a mess and all over the place, partly because we Americans are such a mess and all over the place. But compared to the set of sycophantic whoresons that is the GOP these days the Democrats are the absolute soul of what America means to me.

And now they have put up an Old White Man as presidential candidate, just like in most national elections. He is a decent and stable and honorable man to get behind. But Ms. Harris brings added excitement. She is smart, strong, successful, and she is seasoned. She is a woman of color who “does not know her place,” and I couldn’t be happier about that if I tried.

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From The New Yorker

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Thursday morning, just to break up the narrow routine that the Covid era has become, we are rendezvousing near CO with the Hurleys, Justin, and Kaia to go backpacking. Because of other commitments, Robin and I can join them only for one night. I don’t know who chose the route, but it is a 3 1/2 mile hike to a mountain lake. Doesn’t sound too bad, does it? But in that 3 1/2 miles we will gain 2000 feet of altitude, ending up at 11,476 feet. There is some puffing and panting in those numbers.

I am not too fussy, but I know what I like, and one of those things is oxygen. I have learned that above 11,000 feet there is only one oxygen molecule per acre-foot of air, and there will be eight of us fighting for that one. I may be the oldest member of the group, and you would think that would make me vulnerable to the competition posed by youth and vigor. But I possess two other attributes in abundance – craftiness and ruthlessness.

So don’t worry about yours truly, I will be just fine. Worry about the others.

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A River Runs Through It

Relentless. The sun is just that. It really requires that we don’t miss a beat, that we inject some discipline into those lazy, hazy, crazy days of sum-mer, those days of peanuts, and pretzels, and beer.

If I don’t water my patch of garden every 24 hours, it will begin to die. If we don’t wear sunscreen, we will sauté. If we don’t carry water whenever we go for a walk, even a short one, we will wither until we either find water or pass on to our great reward. There’s no laying about the porch and sucking on a grass stem this year. This is serious sunshine.

Our cars are air-conditioned and Covid-free pods (we hope) that we use to move about the landscape to avoid stir-craziness. Yesterday we moved our bubble to Ouray, where we found other humans getting out of their bubbles to buy necessary things. Like beef jerky, T-shirts, and portobello wraps with fries.

Everybody in our own bubble is masked, even though we all like each other. We can’t trust each other, however. Not completely.

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Monday afternoon we rented inflatable kayaks and ran down the Uncompahgre River from Lake Chipeta and through the rapids in the city water park. Robin and I were in one tandem boat, with DJ and Cheyenne in the other. It’s basically a Class II river run. The only problem was that I have Class I river skills. And so I managed to crash into the branches of an evil Russian Olive tree that sought my life, wedge our boat so firmly against a stump in the current that it took a small army to free us, and run at least half the river either backwards or sideways.

Somehow we ended up unharmed at the take-out place near the Main Street Bridge. The equipment was all in one piece as well so I guess it was a success, but I’m glad there isn’t any video anywhere of my performance.

Granddaughter Cheyenne loved it! So score one for Colorado!

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Here are Cheyenne and DJ coming through the Water Park section that runs through a park here in Montrose.

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Tuesday morning our guests are leaving to return to Minnesota. It has been an excellent visit, and we wish them a complete bon voyage apiece. Traveling these days has some similarities to that popular parlor game, Russian Roulette. Your odds are undoubtedly better than one in six, but the problem is you don’t know exactly how much better.

What about that woman in the window seat? Is she okay? She looks peaked. I think I can sense she has a fever from way over here on the aisle. Good God, is she going to cough? I’m heading for the bathroom if she does, until that droplet cloud settles. Poor b****rd next to her. He’s a goner, I’m thinking. That’s it, I’m outta here as soon as the wheels hit the ground.

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It’s August – Do You Know Where Your Children Are?

Just finished re-reading (for the fifth time?) Canoeing With the Cree, a classic of wilderness canoe travel. It’s a very popular book in stores in Ely MN, a gateway to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. This, even though the route described by the book passes nowhere near the “BW,” but quite a bit west of there.

No matter, it’s a great story, first published in 1935. Young Eric Sevareid and his friend Walter Port wanted an adventure in the summer following high school graduation. In spite of their youth and inexperience, they persuaded their parents to let them paddle a canoe from Minneapolis to Hudson’s Bay, a journey of 2250 miles, at least 500 miles of it poorly mapped.

That’s the craziest part of all. I ask you, readers … would you let one of your kids do this? On their own in the wilderness for four months, barely enough time to finish the trip before winter would set in, which would probably have been fatal?

Honestly, if any of my own children had threatened to do this I would have locked them in a tower cell and worn the key around my neck, hoping that a few months of solitude would clear their mind.

(This strategy would probably have been moot, because if anyone tried to do this today, I think Child Protective Services would take the children away before they ever pushed off from that first landing.)

They did make it, of course, and Eric wrote the book. Both men went on to long lives. Eric became a journalist and a famous television news commentator of the fifties and sixties. But it is the story of these two eighteen year old kids that is still amazing, 90 years on. It’s a quick read, see if your library has it.

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I was alerted to this video by friend Caroline, and I am indebted to her. It provides some much needed humor, of the gallows variety.

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Yesterday Poco did several remarkable things, for which I have no reasonable explanation. In one corner of the back yard, our other cat, Willow, had caught a mouse. Poco did what he often does, out of curiosity. He padded over to watch the drama.

Suddenly the mouse made a run for freedom under the wooden fence. In an instant Willow was up and over the 5-foot fence and down the other side. Right behind her went Poco, our 14 year-old arthritic friend – up and over. Two minutes later both cats paraded back into the yard, but this time the mouse belonged to … Poco, who proceeded to devour it. Even though he has very few teeth left.

I had believed him physically incapable of all of these behaviors because of his age and infirmities. (Poco and I are about the same age, according to the data I have available.)

That dratted cat is making me look bad, and I deeply resent it.

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From The New Yorker

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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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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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