From The Mountains, To The Prairies …

The drive from Montrose to North Platte NE was remarkable only for the unending pall that hung over us. At no time did we see blue sky or an unfiltered sun. Smoke from those awful fires on the West Coast mixed with those of Colorado as we moved further east. Everything we looked at from the windows of our Forester had a look that was drained of color, and the horizon disappeared into the haze. It was all as if the cinematographer in charge of the movie we were in had chosen to provide us a palette common to horror films. One that was chilling and foreboding.

Our lunch stop was in Buena Vista CO, at the House Rock Cafe, a favorite of ours. How many places have you eaten in your life that were consistently good, never failed to satisfy? This is one of those. (Most of our visits to grandchildren in Denver involve passing through Buena Vista.) A warning – if that $13 charge for a burger seems on the high side, wait until you see the plateful of stuff that gets you, including a perfect green salad, some guacamole, fries that hold up through the whole meal, enough excellent sliced (and unusual) veggies to build a truly awesome sandwich … excuse me for a moment, I just drooled all over my keyboard.

We quickly found that the news of Covid 19 has apparently not reached western Nebraska as yet, as evidenced by the near-absence of facial masking. Fortunately our contact with this information-deprived populace was minimal, primarily involving asking for the location of the restroom. A notable exception was a late supper at the Runza restaurant in North Platte. The only masked people present were Robin, myself, and the blonde young woman behind the counter who greeted us. Immediately there was a problem in communication, due to the fact that the woman was masked, behind a plexiglas protector, and spoke at a speed I had thought impossible for human beings. It led to this exchange.

Wertoiaewroigafugfdoihr?
Huh?
Wertoiaewroigafugfdoihr?
Huh?
What.would.you.like. to.order? (Words delivered painstakingly slowly, as you might to a person you have judged to be an absolute dunce)
Oh, we’d like two Runzas, please.
Dwetoiraiogjignaergl?
What’s that?
Dwetoiraiogjignaergl?
Excuse me, what did you say?
Do.you.want.just.the.sandwich.or.a.meal?
The meal, please.
Tgtaghroiho;ihl;ihn.
What?
Tgtaghroiho;ihl;ihn.
Please?
That.will.be.$14.97.
(Pays for food)
Tatreiohohhohoiho;ita. Hasdlgsfbjblnby!
Could you repeat that?
Thank.you.for.choosing.Runza.Have.a.wonderful.day.

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A lot of the fun that I have in keeping this journal, and subsequently inflicting it upon you, is due to the years I spent reading the essays of S.J. Perelman. He was what used to be called a humorist, a category that has never had enough members to suit me. I remember reading his stuff during long boring shifts as the night orderly on an inpatient psychiatry station at University of Minnesota Hospitals. I used to own a couple of volumes of those pieces, but I think they have gone on to their eternal rewards by now.

So how does this make today’s writing fun? Because, in a very halting way I think I borrow from his style in some of what I put down on the screen. And this piracy, purloining, and pilfering – this clumsy hommage is somehow enjoyable to me. Here are some Perelman quotes for you to look over.

I guess I’m just an old mad scientist at bottom. Give me an underground laboratory, half a dozen atom-smashers, and a beautiful girl in a diaphanous veil waiting to be turned into a chimpanzee, and I care not who writes the nation’s laws.

Tomatoes and squash never fail to reach maturity. You can spray them with acid, beat them with sticks and burn them; they love it.

The dubious privilege of a freelance writer is he’s given the freedom to starve anywhere.

I have no truck with lettuce, cabbage, and similar chlorophyll. Any dietitian will tell you that a running foot of apple strudel contains four times the vitamins of a bushel of beans.

See what I mean? He’s in my head and I couldn’t get rid of him if I wanted to. BTW, if you should ever look up Mr. Perelman and peruse his material, you would find that there’s a bit more acid there than in what I do. He was, at heart, not a happy man, although a very bright one.

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By Friday evening we had landed in Yankton, unpacked our small collection of our stuff we’d brought along, and found ourselves ordering a sackful of Tastee-Treat loose-meat sandwiches, a home-town tradition if ever there was one. We took our treasures to Riverside Park and did some reminiscing there while we ate an al fresco supper. To finish off the evening we walked across the old lift bridge, all the way to Nebraska and back.

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On this Saturday morning, the auspices are good for an outdoor wedding. So many things have to come together for these exercises in blind meteorologic faith to come off with anything approaching grace. A day that’s too warm can wilt the proceedings and bring about an epidemic of the vapors, with the noise of people collapsing near you being a significant distraction from one’s appreciation of the ceremony. Any breeze over 20 mph begins to fray at the edges of the decorations until finally veils are flying and words of betrothal are lost in the roar of the gale.

And rain. What about that blessed water from heaven that can affect the rites more than anything else, and send the assemblage scattering like an nestful of rabbits, holding their wedding programs over their heads? All that effort spent on the bride’s hairdo comes to naught in a soggy instant, and those spiffy rented tuxedos are so far from looking their best in a downpour.

And all this because when the wind does not blow, the sun does not wilt, and the rain does not fall, it can be quite lovely and memorable. You rolls your dice and you takes your chances.

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Eastward Ho

This is the week (beginning on Thursday) where we will travel back to South Dakota, to attend the wedding of Robin’s niece. We will be driving, both because of Covid and because that is our preferred manner of travel. Flying is much quicker, for certain, but there is that sense of dissociation when you climb into a tube in one world and step out of that same tube into another. When we drive, we touch all of the places between origin and destination.

For instance. If it were not for driving I would know almost nothing about the entire state of Nebraska. And that would have been a shame, because I like Nebraska. At least I like it when you can get off of Interstate 80 and away from its bumper-to-bumper semi traffic. I especially enjoy traveling in the Sandhills region in the northwestern part of the state. And the butte country west of Chadron contains so much interesting history, including a plaque at the spot in Fort Robinson State Park where the Native American leader, Crazy Horse, was betrayed and killed.

It was in this part of the world that novelist Mari Sandoz grew up, and it is the place that served as the backdrop for her most famous book, Old Jules. If you ever thought your own father was a difficult person to live with when you were a child, you haven’t met Old Jules. To say he was a hard man is to seriously understate the case.

The wedding will be held outside of Yankton SD, which is of some concern, because South Dakota is one of those states with a mentally deficient governor who does not believe in anything she can’t see with her unaided eye. These pesky viruses are nothing but Democratic lies and fake germs to Governor Noem. Science – just more liberal booshwa! As a result, the state is one of the less safe places to be in America. But the wedding is scheduled outdoors, where we should be able to put some distance between us and the other attendees. At least that is the plan.

Ordinarily we would take some time to renew old and treasured friendships, but I would personally rather come back when the clouds have lifted and I can actually shake the hands of those friends, sit in their comfortable chairs, and lean back to safely inhale my share of that sweet prairie air.

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There are quite a few older citizens living in our small development here in Paradise, some even older than myself, if you can believe that. Across the street from us is a gentleman named Bruff, who moved here from North Carolina a few years ago and who lives alone. Bruff has diabetes and some neuropathic complications of that disease, so when no one had seen him for several days, and there was no response to serial knocks at his door, it prompted obvious concern. Add to this that the week before this one an ambulance had stopped at his house, for what reason no one knew.

So Robin and I appointed ourselves the investigators-in-chief, to find out if he was still among the living, and where he might be. Our local newspaper prints out very brief summaries of every police department call, and this is where we started our search. We found that on the 8th of the month the PD had indeed made a call to Bruff’s residence. There was just the notation of “Citizen assist,” whatever that might represent. So on Sunday we drove to the police department, and were fortunate enough to find a patrolman outside of the building, which was locked up.

He was very helpful, and although there were limits to what he could share with us, he did find out that the ambulance call was to pick up some things that Bruff needed, and that he was had been a patient at St. Mary’s Hospital in Grand Junction at that time. Of course, when a stranger calls a hospital they are not fountains of information in modern times, what with HIPAA regulations and all. Not like the “old days” when they would tell a stranger on the telephone everything they ever wanted to know about a patient.

But hospital personnel did admit that Bruff was there, and transferred me to the nursing station in the Critical Care Unit. A very pleasant woman said that she would be happy to connect me with the older gentleman by phone, but I should know that he was a “little bit delirious” and she wasn’t sure how well he’d do in holding up his side of the conversation.

Before I could process what “a little bit delirious” meant, and could tell the lady let’s not bother him, I was talking with Bruff on the phone. We spoke briefly, and I passed along our concerns and those of other neighbors here in the cul-de-sac. I wasn’t sure how much he would remember, but at least we know something of where, if not why. It’s enough for now.

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There’s a remarkable op/ed article in the Times of New York dealing with the coronavirus. The text is clear, the extensive graphics and animations are highly instructional, and it puts into perspective what is happening in the U.S. and the rest of the world with regard to viral spread .

The thrust of the article is that setting up a wall is an essential part of controlling the virus. It also states clearly that what Robin and I are about to do, travel to a high-risk state and return home, could put us in the position of being being unwitting vectors for the virus. Unless we put up our own wall, that is. Which means self-quarantine for two weeks. I hadn’t given that part of our plans as much thought as I might, but by doing so we can significantly reduce the chance that we will bring back more than our memories to share with friends here.

So why go at all? Because Robin has only the one niece, and that young woman has only recently finished a course of chemotherapy for breast cancer. All this makes it a rather special set of circumstances, we think, even if it means we must run in place for a while when we return home.

Good article, though.

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We’ve given away tomatoes to anyone whose lapel was near enough to grab, and there were still a bunch that needed to be dealt with before we left on our trip to SD. So yesterday was cut ’em up and boil ’em up and make enough red Italian-seasoned sauce to last the winter. This year there are NO home canning supplies available in our area. No jars, no lids, no rings … so we saw cooking the fruit and freezing the result as our only choice. Tomorrow I’ll probably do another batch and then that’s it for 2020. End of gardening for the year.

The tomato plants look tired. It’s been a tough summer for them. Lots and lots of stress, even though we kept them well-fed and well-watered. About 1/3 of the tomatoes developed something called “sun scald,” which is an injury produced by … well, you know … too much sun.

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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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Mr. Cool

I have not been one of Barack Obama’s biggest fans, more of a medium-strength enthusiast, I’d say. Of course, comparing him to the present occupant of the office of POTUS, he looks like a positive god sent to live among us mortals. But IMHO Mr. Obama liked the trappings of office a little too much to take the risks that might have moved America further along, and that was disappointing.

But he had heart and honesty, with style and charisma enough for two men. If only he had … but those are stories to tell and discussions to have around political campfires late into the night. This week he delivered a eulogy for John Lewis and it was a strong one, delivered in his best Baptist-preacher voice, one that the deceased might well have wished he’d stuck around another day or two just to hear.

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We have guests arriving tonight by airship from Minnesota – daughter Sarah, husband D.J., and granddaughter Cheyenne. We’re putting them up at a local hostelry, and we will spend the days trying to find things to do here in Paradise when the temperature promises nothing less than well above ninety degrees Fahrenheit each day.

But I think we’ll manage nicely, thank you very much, even though entertaining in the Covid era takes a bit more planning than it did in the good old days … way way back there … before February. Most of our time together will be outdoors, and even though the temps are going to be on the high side, our lower humidity makes them more tolerable, and we always have the option of doing some of the sight-seeing up at 10,000 feet, where it’s often a good deal cooler.

It will be so good to see them, making their first trip out to visit us. We have a great resource to use as hosts, in that Colorado is often a visually stunning state, and we live smack-dab in the middle of quite a lot of that.

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From The New Yorker

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Our guests arrived, all three with that odd sort of dull tiredness that one gets from sitting in an airplane. We forced them to stay up and talk to us but had to finally send them off to their motel when their heads started smacking one by one into the iron table on the deck. Fearing brain damage or worse we released them from their social obligations and off they went.

Today we’ll probably visit the Black Canyon, since it’s only 20 minutes from our home, and is always a good way to begin the Colorado conversation. In this state you’re either looking up at something very tall, or looking down into something that is scary deep. A trip to the Canyon affords opportunities for both.

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Now here’s something you don’t read every day. Scientists have found microbes in a deep part of the sea floor that may have lived there dormant for, let’s say, 100 million years! When they fed them a little bit of carbon and talked nicely to them, they woke up and began to reproduce.

This is all pretty fascinating, and we don’t know the end of the story yet, but here’s something to think about.

How many times have you seen a low-budget sci-fi movie where humans disturbed something at the bottom of the sea, and it woke to rampage through New York or Tokyo? Usually it’s a huge reptile or slug or something. But what if it’s really something very tiny, let’s say, like a microbe?

What is it isn’t Godzilla we should have been worrying about all this time? What if it’s really Bactilla that is going to knock down all those buildings and send the inhabitants scurrying in terror? So tomorrow those scientists will open the door to their labs and there will be these empty broken test tubes all over the floor …

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Last night, Robin and I had just settled into bed and begun our night-time reading when suddenly the most powerful aroma of skunk assailed us. So strong it was almost as if the animal were in the house spraying everything in sight. I cautiously went back out and did an interior inspection, then took a flashlight to the back yard and … nothing. Nothing but enough skunk scent to make you wonder where and what.

None of this would probably have bothered someone who hadn’t already briefly entertained one of these creatures in his living room, but there you are.

Once threatened, twice shy.

Monumental

The Colorado National Monument is a piece of work. You get to it by leaving Grand Junction CO and skipping down the road to Fruita CO, then turning left. A few miles further on and you begin to climb on the switchback-y road for a gain in altitude of a couple of thousand feet and you are there. And where is “there?”

Well, here.

If the pix make it look slightly spectacular, that’s because it is. Even the driving on the single road through the park is awesome for me, in this meaning of the word: fear-inspiring. You all know that I have acrophobia, and that I deplore the Colorado habit of creating two-lane roads with a mountain on one side and a terrible cliff on the other … and then providing nothing like a guard rail or anything to keep you from driving off the skinny road into eternity should your hand slip just a bit on the steering wheel, or your foot twitch on the accelerator pedal. And this road through the monument is full of those opportunities for fright for those who share my affliction.

The trouble is, in Colorado such places are two things at once: unavoidable and scenically amazing. As they are here at the CNM. So I gather what shreds of courage that I still possess and turn the driving over to Robin while I sweatily grip the handles on the car door and think of the tens of thousands of people who must have made this same journey without any plummeting involved at all.

At any rate, Saturday we rendezvoused with the Hurley family at the Monument, where they were camping for a couple of nights. We broke bread with them, hiked a couple of short hikes with them, and jabbered together about everything and nothing in particular, the way friends do.

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For me, Dr. Fauci is still someone to look to for honest and valid advice in this time of rampant obfuscation. Why do I say “still?” Well, here he is throwing out the first ball of the major league baseball season.

Just goes to show that there are few of us who are good at everything. By all reports he is planning to keep his day job.

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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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No Title

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Walt Whitman: Song of Myself

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

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

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

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

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

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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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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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No Influence At All

Aha! At last, an article that clears up the puzzle of a lifetime of questionable choices, from television shows to candidates for POTUS. I am an anti-influencer! Who knew? Somehow this label provides me with a ragged sort of legitimacy.

A definition of what that means absolutely nails my situation:

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Some people have a knack for buying products that flop, supporting political candidates who lose and moving to neighborhoods that fail to thrive.

NYTImes, March 7

I plan on submitting my name to the people doing this research, and if they have any sense at all they will leap at the chance to enlist my services. Why, just my selections in presidential races should make me a shoo-in for the job. There was John Anderson, George McGovern, Hilary Clinton, Hubert Humphrey, Walter Mondale, Al Gore … the list goes on.

Yes, friends, I am an anti-influencer and proud of it. The kiss of death that I bring to the table is something that you can count on. And not many people can (or want to, I admit) make that statement.

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Special Report
From The Emperor

As of this morning, there have been no cases of Covid 19 in the Empire. This is due to several factors, we believe:

  • An excellent program of screening in place at all border entry points.
  • Travel to the Empire from other countries is presently at zero (and has been so for nearly a year now)
  • The high level of general good health enjoyed by Imperial subjects
  • The fact that we are trained to cough into our sleeves from infancy on
  • Our national habit of eating a large bowlful of clabber at breakfast

Clabber is a type of soured milk. It is produced by allowing unpasteurized milk to turn sour at a specific humidity and temperature. Over time, the milk thickens or curdles into a yogurt-like substance with a strong, sour flavor.  In rural areas of the southern United States, it was commonly eaten for breakfast with brown sugar, nutmeg, cinnamon, or molasses added. Some people also eat it with fruit or black pepper and cream. Due to its stability, clabbered milk has been popular in areas without access to steady refrigeration.

Wikipedia

There’s nothing like black-peppered, lumpy soured milk to perk up one’s morning and make a person feel truly alive. Apparently it has the opposite effect on the coronavirus.

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It would seem that the universe is punishing cruise ships at last. They’ve been deserving some sort of cosmic response for a long time now, carrying their huge loads of diner/drinkers from dock to dock at various locations around the world so the ship’s occupants can claim countries on their resumés and buy their branded t-shirts without ever really having to offer up the sweat and time formerly required of a traveler. All this while the cruise lines themselves are repeatedly guilty of environmental offenses.

First Traveler: You say you’ve been to Martinique? When was that?Second Traveler: On April 14th, from two to four p.m.
First Traveler: Really? I was there on the 14th too, but from seven to nine … isn’t that amazing … we just missed each other.
Second Traveler: I have to admit something – I didn’t really go ashore. I had only just staggered from lunch when our time for shopping arrived, and chose to stare at Martinique from the rail instead. Much more comfortable that way, and so much easier to refresh my drink.
First Traveler: Honestly, that’s even more amazing – I didn’t go ashore, either.

At any rate, they are paying their dues now. The stories are filtering back one at a time. The one that caught my eye last week was a family who wanted to get their 96 year-old father off an infected cruise ship that was being quarantined offshore. They feared for his life, which is understandable.

But the disease was already gaining momentum around the world when they put dear old Dad on the boat in the first place, and perhaps that was the time to be cautious. As far as the authorities were concerned, the family had already rolled those dice, and now there was nothing for it but to wait it out and hope for the best.

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Here’s something new-ish. A comic book about coronavirus designed for kids and put out by NPR. Doesn’t take long to read, and contains some real nuggets of information.

The article goes even further by linking to a video on how to create and fold a zine, and thereby empowering you forever. Did you get that? Forever.

You can now create your own zines on any topic that you know eight pages worth of information about. What’s that? You don’t know eight pages worth of information about anything? Where did you go to school?

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When Robin and I went to the gym yesterday, we talked about having a strategy to reduce our chances of contracting the coronavirus. Lots of hand washing, lots of wiping down machines, etc. For the first time, I really paid attention to what the person ahead of me on the apparatus did once he/she was finished. At least half the time they did nothing.

Of course it makes a difference which machine we’re talking about. A treadmill poses less threat than a barbell, because it’s the hands, baby, the hands.

This morning I ran across a paper studying germiness in gyms that was not reassuring.

The overall prevalence of S. aureus on environmental surfaces in the fitness facilities was 38.2% (110/288). The most commonly colonized surfaces were the weight ball (62.5%), cable driven curl bar, and CrossFit box (62.5%), as well as the weight plates (56.3%) and treadmill handle (50%). Interestingly, the bathroom levers and door handles were the least contaminated surfaces in both male and female restroom facilities (18.8%). Community gyms (40.0%) had the highest contamination prevalence among sampled surfaces with CrossFit (38.9%), traditional gyms (38.9%), and hospital associated (33.3%) contaminated less frequently … Our pilot study indicates that all facility types were contaminated by S. aureus and MRSA

And this was years before COVID 19 became an issue. But … I think I might have found the solution to our problem. Bring enough heat to the equipment and those germs just fade away.

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Tripping

Composing entries for this blog when traveling can be awkward for the reason that some entries are made from a laptop and some, like this one, from a phone.

Typing on a phone with sausage-shaped fingers is troublesome as I can easily hit three characters at a time with one finger pad . This could make for awkward reading, since the reader would be faced with what looks like Enigma code. Inevitably there is an exceptional amount of backspacing and correcting that goes on. Enough to turn unintelligible gibberish into … another type of gibberish.

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Last week, just after dawn, I looked out my kitchen window toward the walking path between us and the row of houses beyond and spied the largest and most beautiful red fox I’d ever seen trotting along the concrete toward the fields on the west side of town.

(Not my photo)

It’s size made me glad that I could see our cats snoozing in chairs behind me. I’m not as worried about Willow who is probably at her physical peak, but Poco is more like me, where out-thinking a foe is much the better way to go when compared to running away or climbing a tree.

And you really can’t out-think a threat as immediate as a fox standing in front of you with lunch on its mind.

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On the drive to Denver from Montrose along Interstate 70, it has become commonplace for us to be delayed, sometimes for more than an hour. Once it was an accident that forced us to take a long detour through Leadville. Another time it was during a heavy snow, where there was an unscheduled avalanche abatement miles ahead of us somewhere out of sight. That one went on long enough to bring scores of us out of our cars to empty straining bladders in full view of fellow travelers in that long stalled line of automobiles.

On this trip we were alerted by one of those overhead electric signs which reach across the traffic lanes that I-70 was closed up ahead at milepost 116. Backtracking would have added hours to our journey, so we exited at milepost 114, which was in West Glenwood Springs, and found a Culver’s restaurant. There we learned that an accident up ahead was causing the delay, so we settled in and had our lunch.

We have an app on our phones dealing with Colorado road conditions, and there the accident was at 116, clearly marked by a red indicator on the map. So we finished eating and stayed in our booth until that red spot went away, then continued on without further trouble.

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George Will is one of those uncommon birds these days. A conservative of the venerable stripe, dating from B.F.N. (Before Fox News). In previous decades his sense of prissy entitlement sometimes annoyed the very hell out of me, but he hasn’t lost his clarity, and that’s something special in these garbled times.

I have found that for this often intemperate liberal (moi) there are few things healthier than to read well-considered pieces by conservative writers. My firmly held (but often thinly-derived) opinions are thus tested, and it is not unheard of for actual change to occur as a result.

People like Will, David Brooks, and Andrew Sullivan come to mind as examples of folks I have found worth reading. Mr. Fawkes has collected examples of all three for your enlightenment.

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Monday Robin and I went to the Denver Zoo, along with the Johnsons. It was a sunny, warmish day and about one hundred thousand other people had the same idea. Which made finding a parking spot a test of my equanimity. Just as I had reached the sputtering stage, a tiny space appeared that I was able to shoe-horn our car into, while still being able to open the doors wide enough to exit the vehicle.

Every time I visit a zoo I am torn. Certainly there are those successes where species are literally rescued from extinction and saved to eventually be returned to the wild. A good thing.

But even with ever-increasing amounts of space allotted to their “cages,” the universe for most of these intelligent animals is so tiny relative to what Nature formerly provided. We humans have so much to answer for … and so few excuses.

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