First Flake

We’ve had our first snow, a few flakes mixed into the light rain that was falling on a 34 degree morning. They hit the ground and melted instantly. But the San Juans got a more extensive covering at the higher altitudes. We can follow the progress from here in Paradise as the white creeps down from the peaks to the shoulders over the next several weeks. Just put your car on Townsend Avenue facing south and it’s all there in front of you even though they are 50 miles away.

Whether they come rapidly or slowly, changes are on their way that involve long sleeves, long underwear, and the occasional short temper. I am often heard to say that I prefer living in a part of the country that has four seasons. However, I almost never say this in February, when my conversations on the subject usually consist of a series of sighs and grunts.

But the fellow in the purloined cartoon above is happy as a clam with his wagon and his wood, as is evident from the big smile on his beak. Possibly that’s because there is no wind to whip those flakes up his feathers and against his tender skin. Snow falling straight down can be a beautiful thing … walking about on a moonlit night at such times can be almost a spiritual experience. Snow falling sideways, on the other hand, is quite another matter, and it is best viewed through a window when one is safely indoors.

******

This whole business of sending billionaires into space for a few minutes is drawing a bit of comment from the media. It is an obvious distraction from the awkward aspects of life here on planet Earth, and … let’s just say it is a bit of showing off by people who simply are so wealthy that they don’t know what to to with their fortunes. My only real complaint about these self-congratulatory performances is that the spacecraft eventually returns.

******

******

On Monday morning I found something on CNN that made me smile. This is unique, since CNN usually makes me frown, occasionally nauseous. Spencer Tunick is at it again. He’s the guy who has been doing mass nude photo shoots in famous places for more than a quarter-century now. He always has an artistic explanation to offer for what he is doing but for me it is the amazing playfulness of the entire enterprise.

For instance, this time he took around 200 Israelis to the Dead Sea, which is disappearing (who knew?). He painted them white and then posed them variously. You might, upon hearing about the project, think that eroticism is part of his plan, but take a look at this photo and tell me, does it stir you in that way? Or does it make you wonder instead how they all avoided colossal sunburns?

Look again for a moment – over on the right there’s even a stooped-over guy who is using a hiking staff to get around in that desert, just so he can participate. Giving it his all, for art. While just looking at the picture is giving me a rash.

******

Ran across an interesting article in the Times of New York about aging drivers. New research showing that they are safer in their driving habits than people much younger than themselves is slightly reassuring.  

Although there are now more older drivers than ever before on American roads, it seems there’s never been a safer time for those in the upper decades of life to drive a car. A recent study by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety found that drivers aged 70 and older were less likely to be involved in a fatal car accident than those 35 to 54.

Jane Brody: Keeping Older Drivers Protected On The Road, NYT October 19, 2021

I say “slightly reassuring” because we superannuated operators of automobiles still have to share the roads with those multitasking, distracted, overreacting, and overconfident younger drivers. They, as we already really knew, are the dangerous ones. We, on the other hand, are merely annoying as we chug along at legal speed limits and wait interminably at roundabouts for our turn to come.

Yesterday I was behind a Buick at a roundabout and I swear that the driver had time to knit a small sweater before the stars and planets were enough in alignment to for them to move forward. Everyone knows that there are certain vehicles that are notorious for being piloted by older folks, and Buicks are right at the top of the list. I will go blocks out of my way to avoid being behind one of those cars whenever I have a choice of doing so.

.

But, I digress.

We never really had to “take the keys away” from my own parents, who had become so infirm in their later years that the question really didn’t come up. Illness sidelined them before we even had to think about it. And I am living so far away from my own children that they have no idea what my driving habits are and are insulated from the decision.

Robin is the one that I have to worry about, and I have hidden a set of keys away just in case she gets any ideas in that direction. Of course, the chance that I will remember where I have hidden those keys should I ever need them is completely another matter.

******

Header Photo

Grandmothering in Custer State Park in the Black Hills of South Dakota in 2005

******

Snap.

I have been an admirer of photography since the Civil War, which occurred during my formative years. I remember as a child listening to men newly furloughed from the front sitting on the porch on a summer’s evening and singing “Tenting Tonight on the Old Campground.” Very moving.

But I digress already.

Matthew Brady’s photographs brought to life that dusty and bloody time in a way that reams of written words could not. They were all stills, of course, and the pix could be divided into basically two sets. The living were in one group of photographs, and the dead in another. There were lots of dead, as it turned out, to serve as subjects. Somewhere between 620,000 to 750,000 of them.

The dead at Antietam

But I’m not talking about that war, as important as it was, I’m talking about taking pictures. Now I am going to divide (we anal-compulsives do so love to organize) the photographic universe into two groups for this purpose. One huge group is People With Cameras, the other much smaller contingent is True Photographers. True Photographers are folks like Jim Brandenburg, a personal favorite of mine. These men and women are artists who fully understand their instrument and what the interplay of light and darkness and color can do. They know in advance what they want in a particular photograph, and then arrange the world (or wait for the world to arrange itself) to take the pic.

Brandenburg had been so successful in his work that a few years ago he set himself a challenge. For ninety days he would allow himself to take only one picture per day. At the end of that time he would collect those photos and publish them in a book. The book was Chased By The Light.

It contains ninety photographs of such beauty and artistry that if I had taken any one of them I would be showing it off to every person I met from that day forward. I would have it blown up as big as it could reasonably get and plant it over the fireplace. I would use it as my Christmas card picture. There would be T-shirts.

Jim Brandenburg

I would do all these things because I am in that larger bunch, that of People With Cameras. Every once in a great while I take a photo that is special, at least to me. But between these rarities there are a whole lot of not-so-special ones. My talent, if you can call it that, is to at least recognize those moments when quite by accident I am standing in a place where if I can just get my camera out there is a worthwhile picture to be taken right there in front of me. It’s the stumble across school of photography rather than a planned and/or truly creative one.

The digital camera has been a boon to people in my category. We can snap away like the bozos that we are and later sort through the resultant mess for one that has value, at least in our own eyes. It’s like panning for gold, where you can go many days without finding a single small nugget. The cost of all this “wasteful” snapping is minimal, since we are freed by technology from the need to pay for photographic film and its processing.

(We can also check each bunch of pics instantly if we so choose, and go on to take another hundred if we don’t find one we like. It ain’t an elegant or uplifting approach, and that’s a fact, Jack.)

One of those nuggets was today’s header photograph. Robin and I had traveled to Lima, Peru to visit daughter Maja, and we were staying with her at her apartment, along with granddaughter Elsa. One evening toward sunset Elsa and Robin were standing at the apartment window and looking out at the Pacific Ocean while they talked quietly together. Where they were standing was in front of a bamboo curtain, with part of the window completely open to view and part obscured. It was those silhouettes that caught my eye. Later when I studied the pic I liked it because while I knew both of the people in the photo, it could also have been of any two persons on the planet, as there were no faces seen. So what appealed to me was that the photo was both specific and universal at the same time.

A greatest boon to People With Cameras has been the smartphone. Since millions upon millions of us have decided that we are so important that we must be in constant contact with the rest of the world and carry a communications device with us wherever we go, and since the manufacturers of these tools have developed surprisingly good “cameras” to add to these phones as apps, the sound of snapping pics is now the background white noise of our times.

Selfie, anyone?

******

From The New Yorker

******

I’ve been thinking deep thoughts lately, and have come to sort of a plan. I have embraced Buddhism, as I may have mentioned, but there is that nagging little thing going on in my head … what if any of those other guys were right? Guys like Jesus and Muhammad and Yahweh? What if instead of being one of the wisest people ever, Buddha was really just a guy who came out of the forest after a long fast and was so tired that he sat down under a bodhi tree to rest. A largish branch broke off that tree and as it fell to earth struck him a glancing blow. Not enough to do him in, mind you, but just enough to do some serious work on his thought processes.

So he wakes up and cries “I think I was struck by lightning!” And the other guys in the neighborhood thought he said “I’ve been enlightened!” and decided to go along with him rather than risk a confrontation.

But just in case I picked the wrong horse (wouldn’t be the first time) I have come up with this plan.

  • I will immediately stop doing anything that Christianity considers a sin. No drinking, no smoking, no telling fibs, no watching anything but PBS … nothing but behavior from now on that is so refined that it would give St. Augustine a chill.
  • I will also stop doing anything that Islam considers wrongful, because it appears to me that they have all the same sins that Christianity has and a whole raft of others of their own.
  • When it comes to Judaism, I’m not so sure of what to do. They have a different concept of sin, but I plan to consult both a rabbi and a yenta. Between the two of them we should be able to come up with something.

I think that in being proactive I will have my cosmologic bases covered and be squared away with a good shot at a comfortable eternity. I welcome suggestions for betterment of my plan.

******

From The New Yorker

******

On Friday we hit 100 degrees here in Paradise. Late that afternoon it was like smacking into a physical barrier each time I ventured out of an air-conditioned space, and I began to wilt immediately on each occasion that I did.

I know that others have worse weather than we do.

I don’t care.

I am ready for a whopping dose of moderation. Can we vote on this, or what?

******

What would Sunday be without a sermonette? And here is a dandy, written by William Saroyan as the preface to his play “The Time of Your Life.”

In the time of your life, live – so that in that good time there shall be no ugliness or death for yourself or for any life your life touches. Seek goodness everywhere, and when it is found, bring it out of its hiding place and let it be free and unashamed.

Place in matter and in flesh the least of the values, for these are the things that hold death and must pass away. Discover in all things that which shines and is beyond corruption. Encourage virtue in whatever heart it may have been driven into secrecy and sorrow by the shame and terror of the world. Ignore the obvious, for it is unworthy of the clear eye and the kindly heart.

Be the inferior of no man, nor of any men be superior. Remember that every man is a variation of yourself. No man’s guilt is not yours, nor is any man’s innocence a thing apart. Despise evil and ungodliness, but not men of ungodliness or evil. These, understand. Have no shame in being kindly and gentle, but if the time comes in the time of your life to kill, kill and have no regret.

In the time of your life, live – so that in that wondrous time you shall not add to the misery and sorrow of the world, but shall smile to the infinite delight and mystery of it.

William Saroyan: The Time of Your Life

******

Note: the music today is all from the Civil War era. John Doe’s voice on “Tenting Tonight” sounds little changed from the time when he fronted the punk band “X.”

******