Sailing To Michigan

People who go ice fishing … they are either the sturdy heroes of fishing or they are the dunces. I lean toward the latter designation. To walk (perhaps even drive your car or snowmobile) far out onto a basically untrustworthy surface, dig a hole through the ice that immediately tries to re-close itself, drop a bait through that hole and sit there hoping that somehow you’re somewhere near a fish … all the while either freezing your tuchus off or huddling around a heater inside a tiny tent … what’s not to love?

But here’s a tale of dunces in danger that has a happy ending. A bunch of Wisconsonians went out to fish a few days ago and suddenly the huge chunk of ice they were all standing on broke loose and started out for Michigan with them aboard.

Someone made the call and soon the local sheriff came to their rescue. All concerned ended up safe and unhurt.

Maybe the good sheriff should have stayed at home. An opportunity to raise the intelligence level in the common gene pool was forever lost … along with a whole raft of Darwin awards for sure.

Authorities told WBAY that ice rescues on the northeast side of the bay occur about once a year. In December 2018, 14 people were rescued from an ice sheet that separated in the same body of water.

Washington Post

Like I said.

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Way back in 1980 when it was obvious that my working in the UP of Michigan wasn’t going to work out the way I planned, I was looking for a place to re-settle my family and start a new practice. Just before Thanksgiving I visited a promising town called Yankton, South Dakota. The “headhunters” who were in the business of matching physicians with locations had paid for my trip and I was flying in a chartered plane. Just me and the pilot.

I had planned to spend a couple of days there learning what I could to help me make up my mind, but late in the afternoon of the first day in Yankton the pilot came to my motel room. He had learned of an unexpected storm front that was coming our way bringing snow and wind and all sorts of good things and it had unsettled the man. As he put it, no matter what we had previously arranged, there was no way he was going to spend the holiday in some place he’d never even heard of before and his plane was heading back to Michigan that very night. I could be on it or not, he was pretty neutral about the whole thing.

I made a decision to join him, and my hosts in Yankton were very understanding. Around 8:00 P.M. it was already starting to sleet-snow when we took off in the twin-engine Cessna, but in my ignorance of things aeronautic I thought that if the man flying the damn thing was okay with it, I would be too.

However, we had no sooner attained cruising altitude when the pilot handed me a flashlight, along with this instruction:

“I want you to keep an eye on the leading edge of that wing. If you see any ice forming you are to let me know immediately.”

“What does it look like, this ice forming?”

“You’ll know it if it happens.”

“What happens if … ?”

“If we ice up I may lose control of the plane. When that happens we are at risk of descending at a highly uncomfortable rate of speed. Do you catch my drift?”

Well, I did catch it. And there was never such an intense and dedicated wing-watcher as I was that night, hoping that the batteries in that flashlight were fresh and would last as long as I needed them. At one point the wing did look a bit odd, and I mentioned that to the pilot. He looked over and then told me that this was a teensy bit of icing, and that I was to let him know if it got worse.

Now this was way more responsibility than I had ever wanted while in an aircraft. I didn’t feel at all confident in my ability to tell a tolerable amount of ice on the wing from the point where (as comedian Billy Connolly once said in a famous routine) we were going to go into the ground like a f*****g dart.

But the situation never got worse, the plane got me back to Hancock MI in one frazzled piece, and the pilot spent his Thanksgiving at home just as he had wanted. Eventually I did settle in Yankton, and stayed there for a good many years without ever having to repeat this stressful experience.

But since that night I never fly without a flashlight packed. Just in case. You never know.

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A bit of South Dakota political news that wasn’t depressing, for a change. Senator Mike Rounds said this:

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) — U.S. Sen. Mike Rounds of South Dakota said Monday he stands by his statement that former President Donald Trump lost the 2020 election, after Trump called his fellow Republican a “jerk” for his comments. Rounds said he was “disappointed but not surprised” by Trump’s attack. Since his loss, Trump has made repeated false claims that the 2020 election was stolen from him, even as courts, audits and recounts have repeatedly confirmed the results as free and fair. “This isn’t new information,” Rounds said in a statement. “If we’re being honest, there was no evidence of widespread fraud that would have altered the results of the election.” Rounds had said in an interview Sunday morning on ABC News’ “This Week” that Republicans need to move forward and focus on winning elections, and added that people “can believe and they can have confidence that those elections are fair … and that is in every single state that we looked at.”

Associated Press

It’s good to know that there are still honest and clear-thinking Republicans. Not just in South Dakota, but anywhere. Unfortunately sane people have become the fringe of the party, instead of being where they should be, leading it.

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Annie Proulx is in the small pantheon of writers whose stuff appeals to me enough that I have read several of her works. So far I’ve gone through The Shipping News, Accordion Crimes, That Old Ace In The Hole, and Wyoming Stories. Her writing has calluses on its hands – tough, spare, sometimes grim. Not a word of chick-lit anywhere to be found in any one of them.

There was one character in That Old Ace In The Hole that I thought about last night. The older guy who starts up a restaurant in small-town Woolybucket, Texas. He is a bit of a chef as well, and one of his most popular specialties is something that he calls spinach pie because his customer base wouldn’t be caught dead putting a forkful of quiche in their mouths. Quiche was just too damn dandified for his clientele, something better suited to a table in (gasp!) New York, for instance.

I thought about him last night because Robin cooked a spinach quiche for supper. It was outstanding. One of those times when you wished you had several stomachs like a cow does, and could fill each one independently of the others.

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But alas, I have only one stomach, and one which occasionally gives me heartburn to boot, so I had to content myself with a single generous slice. I was so grateful for having lived long enough to claim that trophy last night at supper, and at the end I laid my tools down quietly and reverently. Before leaving the table I picked a final crumb from between the tines of my fork and let it dissolve on my tongue. Best spinach pie ever.

You shoulda been there.

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To Sir, With Love

Once the scales started to fall from my eyes, I had no trouble accepting the fact that I had been swimming in a sea of racism all of my life. It was so ubiquitous that I noticed only the outliers, the most egregious examples.

  • Of course I was revolted by the horrible physical violence of the lynchings and beatings suffered by people of color
  • Of course I believed intellectually that black people should have the same advantages that I enjoyed
  • Of course I was in support of the civil rights movement in the sixties
  • Of course I believed that I had somehow missed being infected by a belief in white superiority, that those evil and moronic cross-burners out there had nothing to do with me
  • Of course …

My extended family of origin were all nice people. About as white as they could be. They would have been hurt if anyone had suggested that they were bigoted. And yet it was routine to describe haggling over prices with tradespeople as “Jewing them down.” The brazil nuts in our Christmas bowls of mixed nuts were more commonly called “niggertoes.” They were upset when a black family purchased a house on a previously all-white street, because they believed that property values were now going to plummet. They were swimming in that same sea that I did, and it has been said that fish do not notice the water around them because it is always there and everywhere. (But what do we really know about what fish think, eh?)

But there were moments when a bit of light would creep into that world. And for me some of those moments were provided by Sidney Poitier, who died this week. Let’s ignore the fact that he was tall, dark, handsome, and a fine actor. What radiated from him in his performances, and what he personified in his public life, was decency and courage. Especially that miles-deep decency.

So as I read this piece written by Charles Blow, I did so with appreciation for what Poitier had meant to me, and I reflected back on my own story. If I am to look for positives there, it is that underneath it all I think that I can see a painfully slow evolution at least in the direction of the sort of decency he represented so fully and seemingly effortlessly. And if I can just live long enough … .

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From The New Yorker

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I haven’t worn a necktie for the longest time. The occasions where such an accessory is needed just don’t come up like they once did. There are still a handful hanging in my closet to remind me of all those years where I was never without one, at least when at work. I don’t miss them, except for the fact that they allowed a guy to toss a bit of color or whimsy onto his person without having to explain it.

Rising each morning and trying to get that knot just right was a pain in the posterior, of course. This frustration once led me down a dark path where I wore those pre-tied things with the plastic wings that hid under your shirt collar. Shame brought me back to the real thing, however, after I had been outed as the pretender that I was and I was subjected to all sorts of verbal indignities by my peers. It was obvious that wearing irregularly knotted ties was easier on my self-image in the long run.

The last bunch of ties that I recall purchasing were some created by Jerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead. They looked a lot like those over on the right.

Whimsy and color. That’s all I asked, and these provided both in abundance.

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From The New Yorker

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I didn’t get into personal computing at the dawn of the era, but jumped in happily in 1984 when the first Macintosh came out. At a local Team Electronics store, there was a single Mac sitting on a table, and customers were allowed to mess with it. So I sat down and within five minutes it was obvious that I needed one of those, and what a game-changer it was going to be, at least to the craft of writing.

And what was this epiphany composed of? Why, cut and paste is what, plus the ease with which copies could be made and the intoxicating possibility of endless corrections or changes to an original document. So I bought one and played with it like a kid with a new electric train from Santa.

But its real magic was revealed to me one winter night, perhaps a year later on. It was near midnight, and I had just returned home after spending tense hours with an ill child who still needed a diagnosis. I was tired but wired by the stressful evening’s happenings. So I turned on the machine, booted up the primitive browser of the time, and began searching for answers. Within an hour I had what I needed to ease my mind vis a vis the patient’s problems.

I sat back in my chair and thought about what had just happened. In the middle of a stormy snowy night, in a small town in South Dakota, an ordinary citizen had access to the world’s medical literature, with a gigantic searchable database at my fingertips. My mind was officially blown, and has never recovered.

If you can wade through the dross and the garbage on the present-day internet, that wonderful door to an infinitely larger world is still wide open. Those endless library shelves and digital volumes are out there on tap and all we have to do is flip a switch to get to them.

That’s why the internet was originally created – for scientists to share information across distances. And while you and I may not be working in a laboratory and need to collaborate with a group of physicists in Schenectady, we do have needs. The internet is our 24 hour sandbox to play in.

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Free Market System

As I was opening a box of bobo cereal this morning, I found myself waxing philosophical. “Bobo” is the term that Robin and I have borrowed from Amy and Neil for those products in the grocery store that are less expensive clones of a brand name. You know … Kroger Crispy Rice instead of Kellogg Rice Krispies, for instance. Often what is in the box is just as tasty as in the more expensive package, but that’s where the comparisons stop. At the package level, that is.

We have noticed that getting at the product is sometimes more awkward and difficult in the case of the clone than the brand name. The tear-strips don’t work, the re-sealing feature is impossible, the inner package tears from top to bottom spilling the contents all over the place, etc. It’s as if the manufacturer regretted putting out the cheaper stuff and so made getting at it the very essence of hell. “We’ll allow you to purchase this food, but while you may have paid less money at the checkout counter, you will now pay abundantly in coins of frustration and annoyance.”

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So I called up the head of marketing at the company manufacturing the clone in question, and this is how that went:

Hi There, this is Bob Glitterpants, how can I help you?

Hi There yourself, my name is Jon, and I have some questions for you.

Well, ask away, we are always ecstatic to get feedback from our customer base.

Okay, here’s the first one. Is “Super Flakes” the exact same thing as Kellogg’s Corn Flakes, but sold under a different name?

I’m sorry, what did you say your name was?

Jon

Jon, that information is classified. We can’t talk about company marketing practices. I am so sorry. What is your next question?

Let’s say that the two are the same, just for the sake of argument. Why is the package so damned difficult to open properly in the case of the clone?

I’m sorry, what did you say your name was?

I’ve now told you twice – it is Jon

Of course. I must tell you that we absolutely deny that our package is inappropriately difficult to open. It was created by our design department to reflect long-held company values of service to the purchaser. But, as you say, for the sake of argument, if it were more difficult, wouldn’t that be okay somehow?

What do you mean?

Wouldn’t is be immoral to give the bobo customer the exact same food and container as those who buy the premium version? Those who select the brand name should get a little something extra for their money, don’t you think?

Well, perhaps.

And where else could a company make that difference appear? After all, in this case there are only two things involved – the flakes and the box. So might a hypothetical company be perfectly reasonable in making a devilish box that required tools to get into to make those cheap b*****ds suffer just a bit? They still get the food for less money.

I don’t know …

I’m sure that if you think deeply about it, you will come to the same conclusion that this hypothetical company would. Do you have any more questions?

How do I get this particular box open, could you tell me that?

Do you have a pruning shears or an axe handy, Jon?

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From The New Yorker

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I’m going to say something about the elites here. Elite what, you ask? Well, those who are mentioned almost daily in the news, and who are scolded from every speaking platform that any populist worth their salt ever stood on. The elites are therein denounced as responsible for everything bad that ever happened going back to well before language was developed. When we still had visible tails and all.

Even thought the definition of elite is a little nebulous, we all know who they are, don’t we? Of course we do. That’s because we each make up our own definition in our heads whenever the subject comes up. So I can rail against them as the authors of everything I dislike about modern life, and you can nod your head vigorously as I vent my spleen and cover everything within ten feet of me with spittle. Afterward you and I can take up our war clubs and go off together to break something. It doesn’t matter so much what we break … if it looks nice or shiny or expensive, it probably belongs to an elite person and can be broken without guilt or remorse.

My own definition of elite goes like this: those persons who are more wealthy, attractive, humorous, better dressed, smarter, wiser, or more articulate than I am. Oh, I almost forgot the kicker. My definition also includes the deep desire on my part to eventually become part of one or all of those groups. Hypocrisy, you say? Careful … that’s just the sort of word than the elites would use.

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A Dick Guindon cartoon

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Here at the beginning of the non-bicycling season I found myself planning for the upcoming year. I went so far as to actually get up and go out to our cold and drafty garage to retrieve the batteries from our cycles and bring them in for charging. There are hardier souls than I who are still riding theirs but good on them, for me it’s all about the wind chill. Take a nice thirty-degree day and then go off pedaling at 20 mph … you’re into some shivery territory there.

I did have an experience with hypothermia that stuck in my mind. Once when living in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan I decided to attend a conference in Marquette MI, about an hour and a half drive from my home. It was beautiful fall weather, the daytime temps were in the low 60s and I decided to take my motorcycle as transportation. Off I went and ninety minutes later I got off my bike in the motel parking lot and noticed that I was even stiffer and more uncoordinated than was my usual state.

I strode up to the desk in the motel and in response to the clerk’s cheery “Hi, welcome to the Country Inn, can I help you?” I said: “Bwetouhhbafbnkjg.”

I could not speak. The muscles that were needed to form words were not working. I had to push my ID across the desk and respond to further questions with nods or pointing. Puzzled, I took the key and went to my room and that was when the shivering began. Not your garden variety “Is it drafty in here or is it just me?” sort of shivering, but a very uncomfortable core-deep shaking that could not be stopped. Any sort of movements were awkward, but I managed to get into a swimsuit and dunk myself into the warm water of the motel pool. It took the better part of the next hour before I was warmed and back to normal.

Of course I recognized what had happened to me, but what was instructive was that I was never sensed it while riding, even though I had reached a point where I shouldn’t have been operating that vehicle at all. If anything urgent had come up on the highway I would not have been able to react quickly enough to avoid an accident.

Now, none of this has anything to do with riding a bicycle two miles to the store and back on a sunny December day. It’s just part of my excuse to take the car. Don’t want to get the shivering started again, you know. Nasty business, that.

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Each winter gives me the opportunity to reflect upon the choices that I have in garments. It will come as no surprise to anyone that I have a fondness for the traditional in colder weather gear, a fact that I may have mentioned before somewhere. For most of my life wools and flannels were the way to deal with the cold, and despite their deficiencies they worked pretty well. My body welcomed their weight because I knew that it was part of the deal. Heavy meant warm.

The exception to this was down clothing, which was lightweight and we all acknowledged its superiority, while accepting the unfortunate tendency of those tiny feathers to turn into a useless lump the size of your thumb if they ever got wet. When the synthetic fleece barrage began it seemed that we were finally into an era of perfection. Warm even when wet, nearly indestructible, capable of being laundered at home … what was not to like?

But I still have several chamois shirts, a couple of Pendletons, and a loden wool parka that weighs about forty pounds and would probably crush a lesser man. On the first really unpleasant day of each year I put it on just like a medieval knight would don his heavy armor.

Out the door I go, confident that those lovely itchy scratchy fibers will protect me at least as well as they did the sheep they came from.

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About the header photograph. I took this on an idyllic vacation with Robin. At the time, the ranch was no longer a working one, but the original buildings and bunkhouses were where you threw your gear if you wanted to stay and do some amazing Nordic skiing. While we were there we were daily visited by the most beautiful gentle and heavy snowfalls you can imagine, and at night we read books in our tiny cabin still smelling of leather worn and used by cowboys long gone.

Don’t go looking for it now, however. A few years ago some developers gentrified it beyond belief, bulldozing away every structure visible in the photograph and all others present on the ranch as well. It is now just one more shiny, soulless playground for people who already have enough of them.

I suspect that when it snows, however, the magic might still be there if you can get far enough away from the gigantic lodge (in the pic above) that you can’t see the damned thing. Nature goes about her business not caring what crimes we humans commit here on earth.

(And yes, this is a rant certified by the Complete Waste of Time Ranting Services of America)

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Slouching Toward Bethlehem

Former US Senator and senate majority leader Harry Reid passed away last week, and so far the best obituary I’ve read came as part of a longer piece by Garrison Keillor.

My friend Harry Reid who grew up dirt-poor and fought his father to protect his mother and hitchhiked forty miles to go to high school and who wound up marshaling the Affordable Care Act through the U.S. Senate had a luminous faith in this country. I talked to him a couple months before he died last week and he was full of life and quoting Mark Twain — the line about the man who lives fully does not fear death and also, “I’ve lived through some terrible things in my life, some of which actually happened.” Harry was the only politician I knew who kept a picture of a humorist on his office wall. May he rest in peace and rise in glory.

Writing, Garrison Keillor

I didn’t realize that Reid and I had that in common. An appreciation for a humorist dead now these nearly 112 years.

Of course, lots of people love Mark Twain, whose life’s work was to find the sometimes elusive truth in things and show it to us. So perhaps it’s not so unusual to find another kindred soul, really.

Googling “Mark Twain quotes” brings up site after site jammed with sayings that could easily and profitably be stitched into samplers and hung on the walls of almost anywhere you can imagine. And by so doing improve that wall immensely.

A man who carries a cat by the tail learns something he can learn in no other way.

Mark Twain

There is no distinctly American criminal class – except Congress.

Mark Twain

No particular reason that I chose these two, except to illustrate that they will be true as long as there are cats and Congress. Not appreciating this is to court being badly scratched, at a minimum.

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From The New Yorker

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I would like to take a moment to bemoan the unfortunate trend of wearing puffy coats. I will admit that I own one, having been giving it as a gift by my favorite roommate of all time. And I further admit that it is one of the warmest and lightest garments I have ever owned. But, my friends, being warm and traveling light aren’t everything. We have made large strides toward becoming a nation of people who all look like Pillsbury Doughboys. The only variations are in color.

Before this nasty plumping of America came along, things were different. I will only speak for my own gender, and let women decide for themselves (as they would whether or not I let them do so).

In past eras we wore things like the pea coat, the Loden coat, and the flight jacket, just to name a few.

The Loden parka

The pea jacket

The flight jacket

Now, compare the manly and rugged looks above with examples of the men wearing puffers below. I guess if you’d like to look like you are wearing your sleeping bag, such coats might be just thing for you.

I can see where this is all going very clearly. It’s one more sinister attack on the patriarchy, where the object is to make the men appear so peculiar that no one in their right mind will listen to them.

And this, my friends, is where it’s all headed. I present to you 52 year-old Archibald Mountbatten, whose wife purchased a puffy coverall for him for Christmas.

The poor soul can scarcely walk, can’t use his arms at all … can’t even get himself into or out of the garment without assistance.

To top it off, the missus bought him the infamous Anaconda Scarf, which when wrapped securely into place severely inhibits any sort of verbal communication but for unintelligible grunts.

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From The New Yorker

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It’s already the winter of our discontent here at BaseCamp. The icy patches on sidewalks and streets pose fresh hazards for someone who has had knee surgery. The temperature has already dipped below zero, which is unusual for this area. At least we’ve passed that shortest day of the year thing, and there’s a little more daylight today than there was yesterday.

I’ve made the switch from Gold’s Gym to the local recreation center. For the past couple of months I’ve slacked off on my exercising, and that means that I am pretty much back to square one, with a muscle tone and appearance slightly more impressive than that your average ameba. At my present stage of life, conditioning that took six months to acquire is lost if I take the weekend off. It goes away so fast you can hear it doing so if all is quiet. A low-level rumble and whoosh sort of sound. Kind of like listening to the corn grow in Iowa but in reverse.

But it’s pretty obvious that the other attendees at the rec center are more like me. Gold’s is the place where you find the serious muscle-builders here in Paradise. Where the average client has trapezius muscles that start at the shoulders and slope up sharply toward the head.

That is so not me. I can confidently say that there is nothing about any part of my corpus that anyone in their right mind and with normal vision would consider ripped.

The recreation center, in contrast, is full of ordinary folks with ordinary bodies that are not intimidating at all to a slouchmonkey like myself. In fact, if you can attain a vertical posture you are already ahead of many attendees.

I think that these may be my people.

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King of the Cowboys

I used to watch you when I was little
The games I played I learned from you
I kept dreaming, you kept playing
When I awoke you were 62

Say goodbye to the king of the Cowboys
First and last of a dying breed
Say goodbye to the king of the Cowboys
Chained to a life he doesn’t lead

You told the truth, you were always ready
Whether with your gun or with your hand
It was lies but I never knew it
You taught me how to act like a man

Say goodbye to the king of the Cowboys
First and last of a dying breed
Say goodbye to the king of the Cowboys
Chained to a life he doesn’t lead

You lost your health,we lost our courage
In the things we say, the things we do
Early this morning, I woke up crying
Crying for me, praying for you

‘Cause now I know I want to be like you were
Just as long as I’ve got the strength to stand
Don’t stop trying, don’t stop fighting
You taught me how to act like a man

Say goodbye to the king of the Cowboys
First and last of a dying breed
Say goodbye to the king of the Cowboys
Chained to a life he doesn’t lead

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Sleighbells Ring, Are You Listening?

News from the hinterlands. Kari and Jon, who live in the northernmost outpost of the Empire, were housebound on Sunday due to something I only dimly remember – a blizzard. We don’t get those here in Paradise. Our valley seems to be protected in some way from that particular bit of dramatic meteorology.

internet-acquired (stolen) photo of blizzard in Duluth MN

The old-timers here in Montrose will tell you, if you are unfortunate enough to be trapped in a room with one of them, about the times where it snowed so fast and hard that they had to string ropes between the bars so that tipplers could hang on to them and thus move about safely and not become lost in the storm.

But those days seem to be behind us. Of course, if you are telling weather stories here in Colorado you must state the altitude before you even begin. What’s true here in the Grand Valley at 5900 feet is very definitely not applicable to Silverton, at 9000 feet, and has nothing whatever to do with the scene at Vail Pass, which is at 10,600 feet.

Robin and I are coming up on our eighth winter here in Colorado, and have rarely been inconvenienced by snow. Really, the only time it figures in at all is when we are contemplating travel, when of a sudden it can be a big deal. It’s those mountain passes that pose the hazards. To go east we need to check out what’s happening at Vail Pass, the Eisenhower Tunnel, and Monarch Pass to see if traveling is even a possibility. To go from here south to Durango would mean crossing three passes if we attempted to take the Million Dollar Highway (of course this is only theoretical, since there is no bleeping way that I would travel that road in the wintertime no matter what the weather conditions were).

But we do miss one thing about blizzards. When you are stranded in your own home, and driving anywhere is not an option, there is a unique sort of fun knowing that no matter what, no one expects you anywhere, and you couldn’t go there if you wanted to. So you sit down where it’s warm and look out the window at the chaos, perhaps wrapped up in a blanket while you exult in being safe and alive and warm and in a place where there is no snow drifting down the back of your neck.

And if the storm comes up while you are having people over for dinner and they can’t get home … it’s the best thing ever … a blizzard party! The evening vibe changes completely when we all realize that we are staying over night at someone else’s home and we didn’t bring pajamas, a toothbrush, or a change of clothes.

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Yesterday I dug out the holiday playlist on my computer, which contains somewhere over 300 tunes culled from the world’s holiday musical literature, and started out on my annual listen. I only bring this music out after Thanksgiving, I listen to them for no more than an hour a day, and quit when December 25 rolls around. Discipline is my middle name.

They are a mixture of old and new, some I have there only because my parents used to play them when I was a child. Mom and Dad didn’t own a lot of music, but one set of 78s was of Perry Como doing Christmas his way. I have that same album, I think, but in digital form. There is Johnny Mathis (from my adolescence) singing in his unique voice. Joni James, Ella Fitzgerald, Harry Belafonte, Willie Nelson, Enya … on and on. It’s all the musical equivalent of comfort food, for me.

I ran into one definite sign of seniority this morning. I was checking at the iTunes store to see if there were any modern holiday songs. I opened up one collection and there was not a single artist that I recognized. Not one. It would appear that keeping the playlist from becoming hopelessly dated is no longer a reasonable thing to attempt.

Ah well, three hundred isn’t a bad number to rummage through, and who knows? Maybe next year Lil’ Nas X will come out with a terrific holiday album. At least I know him.

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The trial of Ghislaine Maxwell slogs on with its sordid tales. I have to admit that I am only scanning headlines and not reading the articles any more, having decided that the justice system doesn’t need my input in this case. There’s really nothing new here, history is full of stories of predators and victims when it comes to sex. The difference here is the wealth of the perps and the scale of the transgressions. The sellers and packages of the “news” long ago learned that the crimes of the rich are way more interesting to their customers than those of we poor schlubs toward the other end of the economic scale.

So if any of us were involved in a Jeffrey Epstein-type operation in Schenectady NY it might make headlines for perhaps a day or two, and then the story would be relegated to the back pages, even of the papers in Schenectady. In places further off, it would quickly disappear altogether.

But isn’t endlessly re-reading the details of the sexual exploitation of these young girls further exploitation? Beyond a certain point, a point we passed long ago in this story, you could think of it as a form of soft-core porn.

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I may have mentioned these guys before, but it’s the Christmas season and they fit in quite nicely. The Smallbone brothers, Luke and Joel, make up a Christian pop group called For King and Country. One of their concert numbers presents the venerable carol “The Little Drummer Boy”in a very dramatic form. Bombastic, even. But stirring, as in musical theater. See what you think.

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Meleagris gallopavo Rides Again

Robin and I are in complete agreement … this has been a perfect autumn. Low and slow and drawn-out. As the leaves turned they remained on the trees for the longest time, giving us multiple opportunities to drive around in the rural and check them out. The temperatures have uncommonly dropped below 50 in the daytime, so far. And the sun shines nearly always.

What has been completely missing are freezing drizzle, early blizzards, ice storms, typhoons, hazardous sidewalks, plagues of frogs, power outages, and the endless leaden skies that drag one’s spirit down. So the winter solstice is only a month away and we haven’t even had to break out the SADD light yet.

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From The New Yorker

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Thanksgiving looms. We’re not going anywhere and no one is coming here. Being in fresh post-op mode for us means staying in and not even trying to be entertaining. Yesterday Robin walked to the mailbox and back, but these exercise periods are always followed by an increase in discomforts, although they are important for recovery.

Pain and swelling are still big issues a week out from surgery. At this point a person could be understandably wondering if this is the new normal, but then you realize that if it were, no one would ever have the operation. Robin is the poster girl for postoperative bravery, but even that stiffest of upper lips might quiver for an occasional second here and there if you look very closely.

For myself, I have taken on the position of UPN (unlicensed practical nurse) with my customary flair. My skillset expands daily. I don’t know if there has ever been a better bearer of ice bags than I am, or a finer fluffer of pillows. The dietary department here at BaseCamp has responded to the slightly changeable appetite of the recovering patient with flexibility and aplomb. When yesterday morning Robin said that good old hamburger soup seemed the right thing for supper, within a short while enough of the stuff for twelve persons was ready to eat. Overshot that one a bit.

We are doing a traditional menu for the day, even if each part is scaled back considerably. Our guiding principle is that there is no Thanksgiving dinner leftover that is not tasty and delicious. So a turkey breast, some mashed potatoes, a bit of stuffing … all are in the works for Thursday. There may even be a yam with a melted marshmallow on top … who knows?

One difference this year is that the pumpkin pie will have come out of the grocer’s freezer. I have no skills when it comes to baking. Cakes fall or fail to rise, piecrusts are suitable only for use as coasters, cookies become hapless scorched discs. I am willing to attempt almost anything else, but please don’t ask me to bake. It makes me nervous to think about it.

When I was playing around and learning more about cooking after my divorce, I tried a few desserts. There were three failures in a row of pineapple upside-down cake before one came out that was inelegant but edible. Then there was that cherry pie which never set up on the inside, so that the filling simply ran out like water when you cut it. And lastly more than one chocolate cake that had the general slope of a ski hill from one end of the pan to the other.

You can see what fun I had before I gave up on the whole enterprise!

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Our gratitude list is something that we pay attention to pretty much throughout the year, although especially in November. This year I am grateful that since I was unable to avoid becoming an older gentleman, that there are repairs available that were absent 50 years ago.

Robin and I both can see beautifully because someone figured out how to address the problem of cataracts (otherwise we’d be going around bumping into things all the livelong day). Medications can relieve blockages in arteries for stroke victims if they get to the emergency room quickly enough, or I probably wouldn’t be putting together this mess of poppycock each week. Crippling arthritis can be relieved for some people, even though the getting to that relief can be an ordeal.

And that is on top of all the rest of our blessings, which are countless.

To top it off, some of my wishes came true with regard to former president cluck. He was ushered out of office, just as I’d hoped. But he didn’t get that incurable rash with the Old Testament grade of itching that I was sort of counting on. I guess you can’t have everything.

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While typing the above I was playing the Brokeback Mountain soundtrack in the background. As usual, when the tune “The Wings” came up, at a certain point tears formed, even though I was not consciously thinking about the movie. Such is the skill of the composer.

I can just see Gustavo Santaolalla sitting at his desk there back in 2005, writing the film score, pointing to a group of notes and saying to himself – now right there is where everybody cries.

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From The New Yorker

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The other day I purchased a small jar of jam. It was called “Willamette Raspberry Preserves.” I thought well, cool, maybe it’s from somewhere near where grandson Dakota is out there in Oregon. And then today I read the rest of the label, where it says “Product of Belgium.”

Robin’s observation when I indignantly reported this misleading labelling to her was “Maybe that’s why it tastes so good. Because it’s Belgian.” I thought about that for a minute, and realized that I didn’t personally know a single person who was Belgian, and I knew only three Belgians by name.

The first one was King Leopold II, who I learned was guilty of instigating policies that led to countless atrocities against the natives of the Congo. So this is not a “good” Belgian reference at all, and is perhaps one of the reasons that raspberry growers in that country have not brought out a King Leopold Brand of jam.

The second one is Hercule Poirot, an exasperatingly fussy detective who solves crimes that stump lesser minds. But here’s the thing – Poirot is not real but a character of fiction so can hardly be used as an example of typical Belgian-ness. I’ve seen at least three movies in which he was portrayed and I don’t recall raspberries being mentioned in any of them. If there were, I suspect he’d complain about the seeds.

The third one is a horse. They are very strong, have awfully large hooves, and that is all I know about them. They have nothing to do with raspberries at all.

Therefore one could say that my ignorance of things Belgian is nearly encyclopedic. But, you know … their jam is darned tasty.

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To All of Thee: Happy Meleagris gallopavo Day!

I Know How You Feel and Other Fables

The journey that Robin is on involves giant dollops of pain in the early days after surgery. We should have known that by the insistence of her therapists that we have the Big Gun pain meds in our hands before she left the hospital, and that we don’t even think about skipping a dose in the first few days. All of the bad press that the opiates have received in the past several years certainly does make a person wary. But this sort of adventure is among those for which they were created. In using them a person has to remember to grab the knife by the hilt and not by the blade.

So yesterday was not a day we will probably choose to remember. Robin is extraordinarily game, and forced herself to do what she was supposed to do, take short walks etc., but it wore her out. Presently there is apparently no such thing as a comfortable position.

I’m pretty sure that this is the reason that late yesterday afternoon I found her on the phone checking my references as a caregiver. I didn’t think that I’d done that badly, but then … the patient would be the expert, wouldn’t they?

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From The New Yorker

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I have very little personal experience with pain, relatively speaking. Oh, there’ve been drawn-out episodes of emotional distress that each seemed overwhelming at its time, but physical pain … not much. There has been the odd broken rib here and there, the fractured thumb when I was trying to render my brother unconscious during a fistfight that popped up in a basketball contest, the time when my “back went out” when I was trying to field a ground ball in a baseball game and for two weeks I couldn’t stand up straight, but that’s about it. Nothing like what I see in front of me these days. So I don’t even try to say anything like “I know how you feel” because truth is, I don’t know and Robin is aware of that.

Actually, I think we could safely retire the phrase “I know how you feel.” It’s probably never true, and how would we know if it was or wasn’t? I know that when I have heard people address me with those words, the only thing it did was make me wish they would gather up their blather and take it somewhere else.

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The Neverending Conflict

When we have overnight guests, we cede the use of one of our two bathrooms to them, so that after these very welcome folks have gone home I take it back over as my primary facility. (The other bath is off the master bedroom, which doesn’t work out well with visitors coming through at all hours of the night.)

This morning I re-entered that hallowed place and found to my horror that the toilet paper roll was improperly hung, with the tag end on the outside. This never happens when under my supervision. It never happens because the practice of putting the tag on the inside was firmly established millennia ago. I long suspected that the Deity himself had given clear instruction to Adam and Eve on the subject and have found confirmation in the Bible Of The Church Of What’s Happenin’ Now.

In that translation God says to the lovely couple: “Now there’s two things you should not be doing. One of those things is eating the apples of that tree over there and the other is hanging the TP roll the wrong way. If you eat the apples you get banished from Eden, which I should tell you is the best gig on earth. And if you keep puttin’ that loose end of the toilet paper on the outside for the rest of your natural lives you will be pulling off too much paper and have to be rolling it back up and the whole thing will appear forever a mess.”

So it’s not only a practical necessity, but an ethical one as well. Else why would we get the orders from on high? It has been suggested that we adopt a TP holder such as the one in the photograph here where we can’t see the orientation of the roll. But while this might stop the arguments, I find the proposition morally murky.

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We are playing around with our air fryer, a tool that we bought a few months back. My research into the subject prior to purchasing this item had led me to an inescapable conclusion and that was that nobody needs one. Nearly every review on the subject went like this: “If you have an oven you don’t need an air fryer! But if you are determined to waste your money on fripperies and humbuggeries, here are those we think are the best of the bunch.” And our usage confirms those opinions.

However … if you want something that will take frozen Arby’s Curly Fries to heights you have never known before, even in Arby’s restaurants, an air fryer is the ticket. You can fine-tune the crispiness by fractions of a degree. Of course they are still nutritional nightmares, but that’s another question entirely. ‘Nuff said.

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Next Monday morning Robin is scheduled for surgery, a total knee replacement. This will be performed at our local hospital. The program here has a very good reputation, and we’ve been impressed with all of the prep work that the staff does for the patient and the patient’s support person. Robin has had a bad bunch of months this year because of a combination of a torn meniscus and osteoarthritis. Both knees are giving her trouble but the surgeon prefers to do one at a time.

At the present time hiking and bicycling are not tolerated well at all. Walking on level surfaces for shorter distances is less of a struggle, but there is still considerable pain involved in the course of life’s normal activities. Other treatment modalities have not been helpful, so the need for surgical relief seems quite clear to us.

We are both looking forward to the time that she can resume her usual practice of blowing me away on hikes … shouting back over her shoulder as she streaks by that she will be waiting for me somewhere up ahead on the trail.

You know, aging is aging. I am not attracted to books or programs that try to tart it up with phrases like “The Golden Years.” Every stage of life has its challenges, it just turns out that at our stage the challenges are primarily physical ones. Fortunately some of them can be repaired or at least ameliorated. If it weren’t for cataract surgery both Robin and I would be walking around the house bumping into things all the time, and someone would be driving us to and from the bingo parlor.** This now commonplace surgery made all the difference in our ability to care for ourselves.

When I had that stroke a year ago, if it hadn’t been for the scientific advances of clot-dissolving IV infusions and quick actions on the part of a handful of people I might not be communicating very well with you at all. God forbid … this blog might have been abandoned! (Please, no cheering. It’s unseemly)

So we are grateful that help is available to folks with the problems we’ve had so far. But I will admit that there are days when it seems like one pain in the posterior after another needs attention.

** Poetic license taken here: I have never been to a bingo parlor and have no plans to visit one. Should you ever see me going in the door of such an establishment, just shoot me.

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Braindust

Each day I turn to my laptop to tell me the temp outside, the projected weather for the day, what time it is, and what day of the week it might be. On the morning of October 23, when I was told by my machine that it was Saturday, I felt that sense of relief that used to come when a workweek actually meant something. Monday through Friday were days for sweating and straining, but Saturday was the beginning of 48 hours of … whatever I wanted. A whole different set of emotions and possibilities were now open.

So when I recently learned that it was a Saturday morning, I felt a little pop of joy, which is not logical at all. It’s a vestigial element left over from my days in the mines. A meaningless fragment of a former existence. But hey, a guy can always use a pop of joy, n’est-ce pas? There is no such thing as too many of those.

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Observations on this Covid vaccine insanity that we are going through. The resisters, the non-vaccinators, have been behaving abominably, and fully deserve whatever guilt they might feel. That is, those among them who are capable of feeling guilty. Because tens (perhaps hundreds) of thousands of American citizens have died as a result of their non-benign form of stupidity. Their deliberate ignorance and laziness of thought have been infuriating to observe.

However, if they would tomorrow line up and do the right thing, to finally get their immunizations, I would probably eventually stop thinking about the harm that they have done, and life would go on. But I couldn’t forgive them because it’s not up to me to do that. It’s up to the tens of thousands of survivors of those who have died unnecessarily to do that. The empty chairs that will be at Thanksgiving tables all over this land speak volumes about what logic and citizenship and common sense have asked of us, things which those people have so far disregarded.

Any one of that very large contingent could, if they wished, stop their part of this madness tomorrow. They could step up and be counted and loosen one more of the hooks that Covid has in all of us. And they could do it by rolling up their sleeves and helping themselves in the bargain.

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In the past year I have had two interesting (at least to me) events which were brain things. First there was that stroke a year ago which was fixed by some marvelous people within an hour after it started, and then earlier this fall I saw double for a day, which fixed itself. Later this week I am returning to see my favorite neurologist to talk about these things. I imagine the conversation might go something like this:

So, what can I do for you, Jon? You are still walking and talking, and for someone your age, that’s pretty good. What more could you ask for? What questions might you have?

I am interested in comparing the results of the two MRIs that I’ve had this past year. Do you see anything there that is alarming?

Not really, pretty much everyday stuff. Blockages there, atrophy here … nope, nothing remarkable.

Atrophy?

Why, yes, with age the brain gets smaller and fluid takes up the space left behind.

Holy shrinkage, Dr. Belk. Could you clarify that a bit?

Well let me put it this way. Forty years age you had mostly brain up top, with maybe a juice-glassful of fluid. Now at eighty-two you’ve got a brain the size of an avocado and enough liquid to fill a Camelback.

That’s certainly not welcome news. Is there anything I can do about it?

My advice would be to always wear something with your address printed on it. Or better yet, have it tattooed someplace … somewhere there’s a nice broad uncluttered area … on your behind, perhaps.

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Drosophila melanogaster – the fruit fly

I must be getting jaded. This morning I read an article in the Times Science section about one of my favorite creatures (I bet it’s one of yours as well) – Drosophila melanogaster. On top of that, the article introduced me to a branch of science that I had never even heard about. Does the word connectomics mean anything to you? It didn’t to me.

But I read the entire piece, put the laptop down, and went to the kitchen to make a second cup of coffee. I noticed that there was no increased spring in my step and that the world seemed much the same as it had when I got out of bed. In other words, I had not been moved by what I had just learned. I had mentally filed the information away for possible future reference (or for possibly completely forgetting I had ever read it) and that was that.

It’s unlikely that I will find the opportunity to talk about connectomics with any of my acquaintances in the days to come, we just don’t go there as often as we did in former days. Now when I encounter one of those people on the street, and after we have exchanged opinions about the weather, we’re pretty much done with our conversation. Everything but Drosophila stories seems to have become controversial, and should I inadvertently stumble into a hot topic that to me hadn’t even seemed lukewarm, I may find the front of my shirt covered in angry bits of spittle as the person in front of me delivers their diatribe.

I never seem to get it. To sense the location of those minefields before I step into them. It might not change my behavior if I did, but at least I wouldn’t be so surprised when they come up, and that could be a helpful thing. For instance, I could take a step back to protect my clothing. Or I could deliver what I knew was going to be an inflammatory statement with something approaching panache instead of just plopping it out there. I like that idea a lot.

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[Joe Dator is now my favorite cartoonist. He is not quite right in the head, as my grandmother
used to say, and I am totally in synch with where his head has gone.]

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Tuesday was moist from start to finish. It started lightly but steadily raining before dawn and this pattern continued all day. After lunch we decided to take a drive in the countryside and headed out for Silver Jack reservoir. This lake is a gem situated in a mountain valley and well worth the 90 minutes of driving that it takes to get there. We never did … get there, that is.

The reason is that about three miles short of our goal it was snowing hard and the road was becoming slipperier and slipperier and I flat chickened out. The tracks ahead of us showed that only a single car had traveled that way since the snow began falling. I could see getting myself sideways in that stuff, and who would bail us out? Both of my passengers were nursing injuries and asking them to push was out of the question. And when you are down to the point where the only person who is certified to push the car out of a ditch is in his 80s you are in trouble, friends.

Therefore instead of Silver Jack we accepted where we were as our destination, and that was at Big Cimmaron, a small campground situated right on the Cimarron River. It was beautiful there, with the clear dark rushing water, the total absence of any human activity but us, and the snow falling. Robin and I made a note to return and camp there some day when the weather allowed, but it would never be prettier than it was on this Tuesday.

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Images

Today is my birthday. I mention that only to in relationship to two pix which I thought I’d share. I had no hand in my actual birth, it was one of those times when being a passive recipient of attention seemed the better choice.

The first image is a radar weather scan taken at 0600 today. The black teardrop symbol is the location of Montrose, so you can see what Mother Nature has in store for my day.

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The second is a scan of my birthday card from Robin. Love it!

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Taking To The Roads

I had no idea (except for the machine’s own advertising) how far my electric bike would go on a single charge. Robin and I have hazily-formed plans to repeat our 2009 cycle trip on the Mickelson Bike Trail in South Dakota next year, and the way we do it one of the legs of that 114-mile journey is around 50 miles long. So yesterday I took the bike out for a longer spin, traveling from our home all the way to the end of the park road at Black Canyon National Park, a round-trip of 38 miles with lots of uphills and downhills.

There was still some juice left in the battery when I returned home, enough to make me think that 50 miles is a real possibility. What I neglected to take into account was although the battery and the bike were tip-top at the end of the ride, my body wasn’t accustomed to 3.5 hours of steady riding on sometimes bumpy roads. Somewhere around 25 miles my nether regions began to complain loudly, at thirty miles I was certain that with that much pain I must surely be sitting on a blister the size of a watermelon, and by 35 miles I was standing on the pedals rather than sitting down whenever that was a practical thing to do.

But time heals all things, including bruised anatomies, and as Scarlett O’Hara always said: “Tomorrow is another day!” Girl after my own heart, that Scarlett was. Wonder whatever became of her?

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I am having a few problems with my bloghost,Wordpress, at the present moment. It appears that the theme of this site is being retired by that company, and this means the likelihood of glitches arising is to be expected. My site’s theme is now in the “legacy” category, and a word you never want to hear in computer land is “legacy.” It can be roughly translated as: you’re on your own, buddy and if something goes wrong don’t call us.

So I am simplifying the blog (and my life) by reducing the things over in the sidebar for now that aren’t working well. Gone are the multiple weather reports (which have always been inaccurate anyway), the music player (who wants to hear what music I like when they can pick out their own?), and the list of web addresses of various columnists, etc. If this doesn’t do it for the theme, I may have to choose another and maybe that’ll be a good thing.

I must say over and over today as my mantra – the only thing guaranteed in life is change.

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From The New Yorker

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Robin, Dakota, and I did some serious messing with pumpkins Wednesday afternoon. The weather was pleasant enough that we were able to take our artistic skills to the back yard and work on a table there. As you can see, our approaches were quite different, Robin used paints to make something special. Dakota carved this tiny face on his … somehow it was more frightening than mine. My carving was awfully traditional, but I don’t care. My clumsy carving skills allowed me to make something that was at least recognizable as a Jack-o-lantern and that’s the best I could hope for.

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An excerpt from a piece of Garrison Keillor’s writing, to whet your appetite for reading the whole thing.

November ushers us into a season of colorlessness and Thanksgiving, an awkward day when people who don’t like each other anymore sit down and practice politeness, a day that reminds us why “turkey” is a synonym for Flop. Anything you do to turkey is an improvement: stuff it with jellybeans, pour brandy on it and light it on fire — better yet, put some cherry bombs in it and blow it up.

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I happen to like Thanksgiving, as opposed to Mr. Keillor. For one thing, there isn’t as yet a tradition of buying things that has sprung up associated with it. There are no Turkey Day gifts to frantically purchase and no obligatory ornamentation required for the house. Preparation for the holiday is blissfully simple.

All you have to do is just get together with some friends or family and eat food. It is the national eating extravaganza. Keillor isn’t tickled to death by turkey, and I will admit that I have swallowed quite a few bites of overdone birds that needed to be washed down with copious gouts of water lest they remain permanently mounted in my mid-esophagus. But when that massive golden thing comes out of the oven all of the past failures are forgotten, and I know in my heart that this is the time at long last that I will tear into so much juiciness that I can’t stand it, and where there is so much meat that I can eat myself into perhaps the only coma from which full recovery is expected.

This won’t happen, of course. The bird is just too big for that to happen, and there is always that white meat/dark meat thing where cooking one is wrong for the other and so on. We try our damnedest, though, to overcome the drawbacks, and it’s kind of touching, really. We roast them slowly and sometimes put the creatures into large plastic bags to do it. We dip them into cauldrons of hot oil and swear that this is the only way that makes sense. We smoke them over applewood, or hickory, or mesquite, and in so doing turn them into 25 pound snacks. I love it. I love all the fussing and the equipment and the technology and the inevitable but soon forgotten disappointments. There’s always next year could be the permanent motto of Thanksgiving.

*

The best movie version of the rite of carving the turkey is still the one in “Christmas Vacation,” I think. Wrong holiday, but right idea.

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People love stories about sharks. At least I do, and the odds are that you do too. The Times of New York has a doozy of an article this week, a long-ish piece about one of the densest populations of great white sharks in the world – the one just off Cape Cod. Reading it is a little like reading the script for “Jaws.”There are still the folks who want to let Nature be, and accept that there will be more seals and more sharks. And then there are those who live or vacation on the Cape and would really like to swim safely and would prefer to have the populations of these animals reduced, perhaps by hunting them.

Swimmers and shark off Cape Cod

For myself the calculation is an easy one. I assume that there are sharks or their equivalent in every large body of water, whether freshwater or saltwater, and avoid swimming in any of them as much as possible. Have you ever seen those huge northern pike that are as big as sheep? Or snapping turtles so large that a person could use the back of their shells as a paddleboard?

Alligator snapping turtle direct from Hell

Oh, sure, the reports aren’t coming in in anything like serious numbers on the attacks of these critters, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t happening. For instance, a giant snapping turtle would just tow you down to the bottom of the lake and dine on you without anyone being the wiser. And while a great white shark is a beautiful animal to be eaten by, a snapper is the very picture of a nightmare. I really can’t handle the idea of becoming lunch for such a beast.

So I will continue to paddle about in the shallows, or in a kiddie pool when one is available, and by so doing avoid this class of catastrophes altogether. You may scoff as is your right. But that doesn’t mean that I am wrong. After all, they laughed at the Wright Brothers, too.

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Got Them Ol’ Pre-Halloween Blues 2

As I was struggling with my cowlick this morning, a gift from hell which is located at the back of my head and which is resistant to any strategies but the thick application of library paste with subsequent pressure on the area until the paste sets up. Since I had no such material on this particular day, I tried the various greases and waxes that I could find around the house with no more than partial success.

This started me wondering where the term came from in the first place. Do farmers have problems with cows licking their heads? I resolved to find out and turned to my most reliable but mute friend, Wikipedia.

The term “cowlick” originates from the domestic bovine’s habit of licking its young, which results in a swirling pattern in the hair. The most common site of a human cowlick is in the crown, but they can show up anywhere.

Wikipedia: Cowlick

I don’t like that last phrase much. For 81 years I have had one on my crown, and no others that I know about. But could new ones spring up with further aging? Wikipedia leaves that question open. And could they be located anywhere? Certainly the last two decades have been marked by many odd happenings in the hair department, and I really don’t look forward to dealing with new management problems, especially with cowlicks anywhere they want to be.

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This week I bought pumpkins for carving. I do this every year at this time, even though in my entire carving lifetime not a single one has ever turned out the way that I wanted it to look. I see those masterpieces on porches and in doorways around town and I weep.

Last year I purchased one of those cheap sets of pumpkin carving tools, which turned out to be six bucks tossed away. What was I thinking? They were exactly what I had the right to expect at that price … useless. The knives included were a little stiffer than aluminum foil, but not much. But I will go forward later today with my kitchen cutlery in hand and the highest of hopes that somehow, with no reason at all to believe that it could happen, and against all odds, my 2021 Jack-o-lantern will look like one of these:

Instead of this (which would actually be an improvement over last year’s edition):

Perhaps I am too hasty when I carve. Or lack the imagination to see what cuts will be necessary to achieve interesting-ness. Or is it that I have the manual dexterity of a wombat? Any or all of these are possibilities. No matter. The day promises to be cold and bright and I will take filet knife in hand and once again cause the ruination of a large vegetable that never did me harm. It’s Halloween, after all.

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The smoke from those fires in California and Arizona has largely vanished from our skies. We can see both the San Juan mountains and the Uncompahgre Plateau clearly now, see the colors changing on the Plateau and the new snow on the mountaintops. Awfully pretty. It means that the sunsets are not quite as spectacular as they were, but they are still way good enough for me.

Our cats are not meeting the colder weather with anything like equanimity. They perch grumpily on the sofa and chairs, ask to be fed on an hourly basis because they are bored, and in general are not presently sunbeams in the lives of Robin and myself. I am doing much the same, when I think of it. We’ll all acclimate with time, we do it every year. Stages of grief and all that, you know.

  • Denial: hard freeze this week? Naw, it’s way too early
  • Anger: we had the smoke, we had the blazing hot mid-days, we had the yellowjackets … dammit,we deserve a dad-blamed warm Fall!
  • Bargaining: I know it doesn’t work that way, but if I improve my behavior, think spiritual thoughts more often, and …
  • Depression: how long did you say it will be until Spring? That many days? Jeez. I’m sleeping in till noon.
  • Acceptance: hey, it’s not so bad. We can ski and we can go for walks and we can ski and we can go for walks and we can ski …

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Grandson Dakota was talking about clothing fashions for us regular folks, as opposed what suits the couture gods in New York and Paris. As an example he talked about how cargo shorts and pants have gone the way of the corset, and no self-respecting man will wear either of them any longer. I didn’t respond, because my casual wardrobe contains no shorts other than the cargo variety. I wish we hadn’t had that conversation because now I imagine that the people in the grocery store are all looking at me and thinking: “Did they dig that guy out of a Siberian glacier and thaw him out or something? Did you see those shorts he’s wearing?”

Yesterday I was holding my cap in front of me at City Market and an elderly woman dropped a dollar in it, saying: “There, my good man, now go and get yourself something decent to wear.” I thanked her politely and when she was out of sight I was so shaken that I used that dollar to buy a bag of M&Ms and wolfed it down. A guy can only take so much.

My brushes with fashions have always been painful. Wearing something that is clearly out of date is one thing, but there have been far worse times. Occasionally there comes a day when I realize that I dress hopelessly behind the times, and out I go to buy something trendy. But you know how there are always garments on the periphery of a trend that are not chic but ridiculous? Those are the ones that I am drawn to every time. I may wear them once or twice until a day arrives when a nearby toddler clutches at their mother’s skirts and cries: “Don’t let the clown get me!”

After each encounter like this I may not leave the house for days, only venturing out to obtain food.

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Special Edition

[Some thoughts that popped into my head too late to be included in Wednesday morning’s edition of the blog]

At the present time, it would seem that we have two countries. One that recognizes the threat that Covid-19 poses, and has followed the scientifically sound preventative and therapeutic strategies proposed by recognized authorities. The second country is made up of citizens who … let’s just say they follow the beat of other drummers.

The problem is that the two countries intermingle, and this poses a persistent chance of injury to those who are at least trying to do the right thing. Since the two countries share a common language and all wear the same sorts of clothes, it is impossible to tell who is in which group.

I have a modest proposal. We ask the members of the unvaccinated herd to wear a simple button that identifies them. No risks, no body invasions, no infringement on their freedoms. I have even picked out what I think is the perfect button, borrowing it from a magazine that is out of print.

The button should be at least this large, so that it can be seen from more than six feet away, thus giving us time to get out of their way and avoid contaminating ourselves.

We could even come up with a prize to the button-wearer who comes up with the most cockamamie sign or slogan, in order to make the program more palatable.

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Examples might be: “Viruses are hoaxes – have you ever seen one?” Or perhaps we could sell t-shirts that read: “My parents went to the ER and all I got was COVID-19.”

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Do The Right Thing

When you take on the care of a pet, there are responsibilities that come with the fun. You must feed them well, house them safely, and occasionally … just occasionally … do something to them that they dislike intensely. Such is the case whenever we apply the anti-flea treatment to the nape of our cats’ necks. Both of them detest this interference with their bodies, and they take varying amounts of time to forgive us after we have finished. Poco takes an hour or so. Willow still hasn’t let me off the hook for yesterday’s application, and it’s been 24 hours now. She really takes it personally.

I do try to explain the necessity to them, since they are cats that are allowed access to the outdoors, but their ears and their minds are closed on the subject. To Poco and Willow, is it a violation of our contract with them, and not a benefit at all.

It’s a little like when I would take my kids in for immunizations. Unlike some of my fellow (scientifically-challenged) citizens I fully acknowledge the overwhelming benefits of getting those shots, and so I would show up in the pediatrician’s office with fearful children in tow time after time. Even though I was not injecting them myself, they were smart enough to know that I was a part of this painful process and what the hell was measles, anyway? They didn’t know any kid who’d had them, so why the needle?

At some point along the way you could talk to the victims and try to explain why this dread day had come. But truthfully, I don’t think these conversations were any more productive than having discussions about insecticides with cats. As a parent or pet owner, you simply do what you think is the right thing and accept the fallout.

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Our government is a bit more of a mess than usual. Really, whatever possessed us as a country to elect such people? Good old truth-teller Joe Biden is turning out to be yet another spinner of self-aggrandizing yarns, half of the Democrats burn the other half in effigy nightly, and the Republicans … god … what a den of vipers they have become! At the present moment, we are “led” almost entirely by people who reveal the truths in all of those hoary adages about power and money and corruption.

For myself, I have decided to vote for Oliver Cromwell in the next election, writing his name in on all the blanks. I think he’s the man to take on our own version of the “royalty”in Washington DC, and we could always hope for a better end to his story this time.

Despite being buried whole in Westminster Abbey, London in the 1600s, Oliver Cromwell’s head ended up buried in Cambridge … In 1661, the year after Charles II restored the monarchy, Cromwell was dug up, put on trial and hung from the famous gallows at Tyburn, then had his head chopped off!

Wikipedia: Oliver Cromwell

This is a photo of the man’s mummified head, which had been placed on a pike for emphasis and installed outside Parliament by the royalists. My oh my, but the English are really good at holding a grudge, aren’t they? Probably too much to hope that they’ll ever forgive us for the American Revolution?

So if I voted for Cromwell would I be wasting my vote? Who knows? In a world where corpses can be tried for treason, anything can happen.

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There have been a few pieces written over the past weeks about the widening educational gap between men and women in the U.S., and what this might mean for the not too distant future. Kathleen Parker nicely summarizes the topic and offers her viewpoint in Why men aren’t going to college anymore.

While correcting the cultural deficits and opportunities for girls was a grand mission that wouldn’t have gained traction without the relentless activism of feminist-minded women — and men — we sometimes veered into zero-sum territory. If girls were to succeed, boys would sometimes lose and, well, too bad. Hadn’t they had the upper hand long enough? This was no one’s stated aim, I’m pretty sure, but it became difficult to ignore trends aimed at diminishing the value of men and, collaterally, boys.

Kathleen Parker, Washington Post, October 1, 2021

I am not the most acute observer of the national/social scene, but at least thirty years ago I put three and two together to get four and I saw these same developing trends. Tactically, women were (and remain) behind in almost any way you cared to count them economically and educationally. Fewer CEOs, fewer leadership positions, less pay for the same work, etc. etc. But strategically, they were positioning (or being positioned) themselves for a major advance, and once they won that one, it would be adios amigos, and bienvenidos amigas.

There are still fewer female leaders and CEOs, but who are the people in power now? Old white guys who will soon be moving on to long term care, and who will take their places? … why, all those nice folks who went to college. And who are they? Right now it’s 3:2 in favor of women and that trend shows no signs of leveling off. It might still be a generation before this admirable work is done, but women are positioned to repair all those inequities. If they will, that is. Women are not one big bunch with a single mind, and we are seeing that truth at work now in Congress, where some of the brightest lights and dimmest bulbs are working in the same chamber, and the only thing they have in common is each of those members has two X chromosomes.

One of Parker’s observations is that with the use of sperm banks women really don’t need to keep a man at home for reproductive purposes. However, apparently those women prefer that the sperm comes from college-educated men with good physical characteristics. So what happens when that college-educated pool shrinks to little more than a puddle on the sidewalk? Very few women are going to go into one of those banks and ask for genetic material from a knuckle-dragging nincompoop.

A woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle

Irina Dunn, australian social activist, 1970.

Ah, but this sort of idle talk is only a distraction. To have such a situation arise would take much longer than a generation, and falls more into the area of sci-fi than sociology. Maybe women when they are in ascendance will do a better overall job of managing the world and be more thoughtful and merciful than men have been. I certainly hope so, because my gender has mucked up some pretty important things pretty thoroughly.

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And finally, a Doonesbury cartoon strip that makes me want to laugh and cry at the same time. What is wrong with Texas, anyhow?

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Learning In Spite of Myself

I Want To Tear Out My Remaining Hair Department

Two nights ago, while I slept, the OS of my laptop updated itself. It’s my fault, of course, in a weak moment years ago I gave the computer the okay to do that whenever an update came along. But yesterday morning I found that the new OS doesn’t play nice with WordPress, the service that allows me to pass this blog along to you.

It doesn’t screw up everything, but just enough to make me crazy. Now there are days when making me crazy doesn’t take a whole lot, I admit, since I am hovering on the brink of one mental disorder or another most of the time. But this time … I cry out to the universe … Why Me?

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Here is a list of some of the disorders that I am on the brink of nearly every darn day:

  • Golden Years Depression – this is what happens when the reality of not being 25 years old any longer filters through my defenses
  • Socks don’t match and I don’t care-o-philia – Even when it is such a horrid mixing of colors that they offend my feet
  • Metamucil intoxication syndrome – the fear of becoming suddenly “regular” that comes from accidentally doubling the evening dose of psyllium husks. The uncertainties involved here keep me at home for days until the crisis has past.
  • Covid rage – a variant of road rage, this involves a serious rising of my personal gorge whenever I read another article about our brothers and sisters who still aren’t vaccinated and who think not wearing a face mask is courageous in some strange way
  • Insignificant Bipolar Syndrome – where I have these abrupt mood swings, but they are so tiny that only I notice them
  • Incomplete Narcissist Syndrome – just when I think I’ve got narcissism down pat, I break out in empathy somewhere, which I find very disorienting

And this is by no means a complete list, nosirree. Just enough to let you know what I am dealing with. I may seem serene and placid on the outside, but internally I am quite a jumble. So when Apple and WordPress don’t agree with one another … it’s all I can do not to toss my laptop into the dishwasher and be done with it once and for all.

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Bob Woodward has brought out yet another book about former pres. cluck. I saw the author on a news program the other night, talking about the book’s contents. But I don’t think it was really Woodward. I think that he has been replaced by an animatronic version of himself which is trotted out for public appearances. There was just something about the episode that didn’t ring true. I went back and calculated that if he had been 35 when he and Carl Bernstein published their stuff about the Watergate scandal, he would be 237 years old today.

So watch carefully next time you see “Bob Woodward” on television. He has only two facial expressions. This is one of them. The other is a scary sort of grin.

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Thursday night Dakota and I (Robin was still out of the country, in California) drove up to Black Canyon National Park to check out the sunset at (where else) Sunset Point. There were clouds, but they only added interest to the skies for the small group of souls and the three-legged dog who had gathered there.

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The evening was perhaps not quite as warm as Dakota’s t-shirt-only costume might suggest, but it was very nice indeed. Everyone was quiet and subdued in their conversations, being respectful of the daily setting of the star we depend upon utterly.

I do remember distinctly when I was first confronted by the truth that everything changes and nothing goes on forever. I was less than ten years old and my grandfather had taken me to a movie at the Time Theater in Kenyon MN. There was a short film about astronomy that came on before the featured attraction, where the narrator’s voice told us how long it was estimated that the sun would last before it vanished. Even at that tender age I could put two and two together and I realized that if I lived long enough everything I knew would either go away or freeze up forever.

It was sobering, and I don’t think that I ever completely got over it. Sure, it was going to be one heck of a long time before that happened, but the frightening thought was that it would happen. Not might, but would.

See how dangerous knowledge can be? Who would ever think that a simple astronomic fact could be so alarming to a child? But even back then I knew exactly what to do about it, and I have resolutely avoided learning anything that I didn’t absolutely have to from that moment until the present one. Call me backward and a fool if you will, but I know what I’m doing.

[BTW: I know that I’ve told this story before, or one very similar. Not knowing which is the true one doesn’t bother me at all.]

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In what passes for a humor section, the New Yorker on Friday posted this bit of nastiness, entitled “Behold I Have Returned From A Hike. It is making fun of people (perhaps people like myself) who do some simple thing like take a walk in the open air and then rush to tell others about it. And maybe to share their pictures of the trek as well.

Does every adventure have to be heroic in nature or epic in scope before it is worthy of being reported? Must we all be Stanleys out there looking for our Dr. Livingstons before what we say is worthy of the pixels employed? I say Bosh! to this attitude. Yes, I have saved one of my strongest words for this occasion. I repeat it once again for emphasis. BOSH!

If a person (again, perhaps someone like myself) wants to write down every piddly thing they do, take a photograph of it, and then splash it all over a tiny corner of the publishing universe I say Bravo! Let’s have more of this twaddle! If nothing else, it may allow the reader to say “Why, my life is way more interesting than his. I feel much better now than I did before I read it.”

There are so many ways to serve humanity. This is only one of them.

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Dear Robin, Please Come Back

Robin and I slept in Grand Junction on Thursday night as she had to catch a 6:00 AM flight to California on Friday morning. She will be spending a week watching Kaia and Leina while Justin must be away for work-related duties. Robin is absolutely dreading having to spend time with these two lovely children, I may have to push her through airport security to make certain that she gets onto the plane. I keep telling her that when you make a promise to do something, you must follow through, no matter how distasteful the project might seem.

Actually, the preceding paragraph was a big fib. My real concern is whether I will be able to get her to come back to Colorado once the week is up. I will do whatever I have to to accomplish this, up to and including a Zoom conference where I weep and tear my hair and prostrate myself in the most abject manner that I can muster. When it comes to meeting my own needs, I have no shame.

I need lots of tending.

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The Met Gala has come and gone and for the numptieth time in a row, I wasn’t invited. Of course, I would have had to attend as some sort of charity invitee, because allegedly the ticket price was $35,000 this year. But I think that the real reason that I remain a Met virgin is my opinion that in a world where climate is an existential worry, and in a country whose citizens can’t wait to acquire more guns with which to mow one another down, that there are might be important things than fashion. Poverty, the widespread abuse of children, the lack of proper food for millions, medical care so unfairly distributed that the system positively reeks ( I could go on and on) … these need to be front and center. In fact, fashion is so far down the list that you have to turn the page twice to find it.

If there was ever an event that says “Let them eat cake” to the rest of America, this gala might be the most egregious. I can just imagine a modern-day Robespierre somewhere sharpening the blade of their guillotine while humming a 2021 version of La Marsellaise. They would be looking at these photos and taking names.

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Robin and I have three Osprey packs apiece. A small one that we wear on exercise walks or when bicycling to carry water and a rain shell, a larger one that is a daypack and can carry the stuff you need to be safe in the mountains when out there for the entire day. The largest of our three packs is good for overnight backpacking for 2-3 days. We love them all, but this year my ( and only mine) daypack’s straps are literally disintegrating. The straps on all the other five are fine.

Fortunately the Osprey company has such a great warranty that they will either repair the rotten straps or replace the entire pack. No matter how long I have owned the pack. I have only to wait until they let me know which will be the happy outcome in my case. Now … how many products does a person own that are backed up this well?

Any others?

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Grandson Dakota and I had a lengthy discussion on Friday afternoon about coffee. It was the kind of conversation that can only take place when you have the luxury of time. Our dialog basically was based on the question: Is it just as good to use larger amounts of inexpensive coffee (per cup) as it is smaller amounts of the premium stuff?

We both agreed that weak coffee is an abomination, and those who make it should be subject to the severest civic penalties, up to and including being placed in the stocks in a public square. But answering our question will be difficult for several reasons. Firstly, we cannot do it as a blinded study. There are just the two of us, and only two packages of coffee in the cupboard. After all, we are ordinary folk and do not have a fat and generous research budget. And although I have never claimed to be one of the coffee cognoscenti, even my nose can tell the difference between the two blends that we are considering here at Basecamp.

I doubt this will stop our discussions, however, because sometimes facts only get in the way of a truly satisfying conversation. I believe that this is one of those moments.

(Readers are welcome to chime in with their opinions on this topic. Just to be clear, let me re-frame the question: Does using two spoonfuls per cup of poor grade coffee make just as good a beverage as one spoonful per cup of the higher-priced stuff? I am fully aware that coffee lovers are passionate people, and I ask that any contributors use only polite language on these pages.)

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Loonacy

Spent a very pleasant hour talking with friend Bill H. in Yankton on Friday morning. As we spoke he was fishing below the dam, from shore, and was pretty free to talk since the walleyes weren’t interfering with his bait in the slightest. We spent some of the time reminiscing (it’s what senior citizens excel in) about past fishing trips to Canada, especially to a certain lake in Ontario. This lake has hands down the best name for a northern body of water – Loonhaunt!

For me that name conjures up images of cold deep water, rocky shorelines, and the exotic calls of that splendid bird. I can never hear those calls without being instantly transported to places that are special in my memory – Canada, the Boundary Waters, etc. And if some of those places were haunted, it was the loon’s voice that provided the perfect soundtrack. (You can refresh your memory over there in the Jukebox.)

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During our several trips to Loonhaunt, we were billeted by the outfitters in different cabins, of varying vintages and states of repair. There are distinctive memories associated with the outhouses that came with the cabins. Some were places one did not linger, being dens of spiders, and if you were ever going to worry about spider bites, these unprotected moments were the perfect times for your paranoia to flower.

One privy stands out, being packaged with the most modern cabin of the lot. It had a large window, so that one could look out at the lake and beyond. There was one hitch in that there was no covering on the window, so that passersby could easily look inside to check on your well-being. It was generally conceded that the views looking out at the lake were the only ones worth talking about.

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John Cleese and the rest of the Monty Python crew have a special place in my iconography that goes back quite a long while. But Cleese isn’t done with us, and shows up on talk shows with some regularity. Here is one of my favorites, which to me is a perfect example of his brand of off-the-wall humor.

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Our daily temperatures … (hold on, am I jinxing myself?) … may be relenting just a bit. Looking ahead for the next week, there is nothing predicted in the 90s. That ten degrees is the difference between being comfortable and something that needs to be dealt with. Evenings, however, remain cool and wonderful.

Last night Dakota cooked supper for us. Some of the best chicken tacos ever. He’s a careful chef, mindful of so many niceties that I didn’t even know existed when I was his age. But then, I was never the brightest light on the tree as a young man. Signs of the paragon of wisdom that you see today were nowhere to be found in 1969. Earnest – yes. Thoughtful – at times. Wise – fageddaboudit.

But we need not dwell on such matters. What counts is that last evening’s supper was delicious. So flavorful that I didn’t even want to brush my teeth afterward. (I eventually did, don’t worry, I am a stickler for oral hygiene)

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I find that I am eager for the observations of the 20th anniversary of 9/11 to be over. That tragedy and the two sorry decades of warfare and mayhem that followed … there were so many ugly things that wash up into memory. I remember that it was a time when our government seriously debated whether to embark on a campaign of widespread torture of other human beings. The horror that those discussions provoked in me is something that I have never gotten over.

Torture. America. Unbelievable.

And only now, twenty years later, have we finally pulled our armies from that sorely troubled area of the world. We are getting to watch religious fanaticism at work, and that is never pretty. Way too often I find myself equating all of Islam with what the extremists are doing, which is completely unfair, I know. Because fanatics are to be found within all of the present-day religions. It is one of the very good reasons our colonial forefathers chose not to set up a theocracy for us to live in.

Could Taliban-like figures arise in Christianity? My friends, they already have, and one of their better-known programs was called the Grand Inquisition. How about gentle Buddhism, you ask? We have only to look as far as Myanmar to see nominal Buddhists assisting vigorously in the slaughter of others. What all of these show us is that allowing any large group of humans to amass too much power can invite very bad behavior.

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From The New Yorker

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Fruits of Someone Else’s Labor

We have been inundated with peaches here at Basecamp. First there was the large box of them that Robin purchased when Dakota first arrived to stay with us. That went into cobblers, pies, and desserts I can’t even name. And just when we finished them off, yesterday a friend of Robin’s brought by a gigantic box of fruit gathered from her own orchard. Already a second round of cobbler has been made. My cup, and my waistline, runneth over.

Don’t get me wrong. I love peaches. And this has been a particularly flavorful year for them. But when you look in the mirror and you could swear your color is a subtle shade of yellow, and when the announcement of dessert time doesn’t elicit a YUM! but a “yum,” it’s possible that you are approaching “over-peached.” Something that I had never believed possible.

And yet I know that when this delicious season has passed I will soon wish it had lasted longer. How fickle is man, at least this one.

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Each September I amuse myself and bore you all by mentioning that this is my favorite month. It’s a month that is automatically filled with wistfulness because … if nothing else … summer is over. And then there is the changing of the color of the leaves to emphasize that point. This phase is such a brief and beautiful one that many of us occupy ourselves for a while with running about and finding as many of the gorgeous spots we can visit before those leaves are gone. And when they are, it seems like such a loooong time until they are replaced, and we have months of bare branches ahead of us.

The music of September tends to follow this same slightly melancholy course, with the obvious “September Song” right up there leading the parade. The song is a metaphor for life, of course, and I reprint the words here as the beauties that they are.

September Song

When I was a young man courting the girls
I played me a waiting game
If a maid refused me with tossing curls
I’d let the old Earth take a couple of whirls
While I plied her with tears in lieu of pearls
And as time came around she came my way
As time came around, she came

When you meet with the young girls early in the spring
You court them in song and rhyme
They answer with words and a clover ring
But if you could examine the goods they bring
They have little to offer but the songs they sing
And a plentiful waste of time of day
A plentiful waste of time

Oh, it’s a long, long while from May to December
But the days grow short
When you reach September
When the Autumn weather turns the leaves to flame
One hasn’t got time for the waiting game

Oh, the days dwindle down to a precious few
September, November
And these few precious days
I’ll spend with you
These precious days
I’ll spend with you

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Periodically I try to remember to give a little space to the non-human residents here at Basecamp. Today is such a day. Take it away, Poco and Willow.

POCO: Well, thanks for nothing, big guy, it’s been years since I’ve had a chance to speak my mind here.

WILLOW: Me, too.

POCO: Wait your turn, mouse-breath

WILLOW: You’re not the boss of me

POCO: Hey you’re not the one getting old, and who knows how may turns of the day I have left?

WILLOW: I am too getting older, it just doesn’t show

POCO: Still, how about a little deference here

WILLOW: You know you love me

POCO: Get away

WILLOW: You know you love me …

POCO: Okay come over here and we’ll groom each other for a couple of minutes

WILLOW: Love this part

POCO: But when we’re done, would you please go somewhere and leave me alone?

WILLOW: I promise (has rear paws secretly crossed)

[This sort of interchange goes on day after day with these guys. A definite love/not love relationship on Poco’s end of things. But then for her part Willow will groom him and then give him a nasty swat at the end that starts a spat every time.]

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Watched a terrific movie on Netflix the other night. Title = Worth, starring Michael Keaton, Amy Ryan, and Stanley Tucci. We were truly moved.

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Could American politics be any more dismal than right now? I hope it is a low point, but who knows, with that basket of snakes running the Red Party? I keep hoping that one day the real Republicans out there who are not bats**t crazy will wake up, look in the mirror and say to themselves “Holy Pancakes! This is our country that we are totally trashing! Let’s stop this nonsense and begin to help out wherever and whenever we can!”

Almost makes you want to get on that next Elon Musk rocket and take it all the way to Mars. “Yes please, a one-way ticket, and when we get there a simple tiny home will do us very well. We don’t need a yard, in fact we’d rather not have one at all. Don’t want to get hooked on that old bluegrass-lawn thing again. We do have two pets, but they will be of great help in case there are any Martian rodent populations to deal with. What skillset would I bring to the new city? Well, I’ve been writing a blog for years … what’s that? Go to the end of the line? Dang.”

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Saturday morning we took off for Dakota’s first look at what is variously called the Million Dollar Highway, or the Red Mountain Road, or the Road of Certain Death (which is my personal name for it). He was impressed, but unafraid. We lunched in Ouray and then continued on to something called the Red Mountain Overlook. From there a beautiful look at these special mountains.

It’s hard to imagine ever tiring of looking at them, even as jaded as I’ve become.

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Changes

Memento Mori

Michael K. Williams passed at the tender age of 54 years. Robin and I first encountered him in Boardwalk Empire, where he played a memorable character named Chalky White. Whenever he was in the frame, he was the one you watched. He was actually more famous for a role in The Wire, one of those “perfect” crime series.

The man was the very definition of charismatic. I was so looking forward to seeing more of his work in the years to come. Vale, Michael K. Williams. Too soon gone.

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Labor Day we went driving with Dakota and ended up on the Grand Mesa. It was a gloriously cool and sunny day, and we found more people up there than we’d ever seen before. It was such fun watching families fishing, kids playing lawn games, oldsters growing into the webbing of their folding chairs. The lodge at Mesa Lakes was super busy, which was very unusual.

Cobbett Lake, Grand Mesa

Everyone enjoying the celebration of the rights and contributions of the American worker, rights which are seriously in need of support today.

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We’re in the process of switching to a new physician. This recent illness of mine shook our confidence in our present one. When one’s MD is not in and her office tells you that the on-call doc covering for her is Dr. Z, and you call Dr. Z and she knows nothing about the arrangement it’s like you fell off a cliff, there is no Plan B for this, except for emergency departments, and that’s not okay. One of the hard-ass tenets I carry with me from a life in medicine is that you never leave your patients uncovered. Never. To do so is abandonment.

So as we begin our search for a replacement, one of the first questions we will ask is “Who covers for you when you’re away, and how do we reach them?”

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Our days are still in the 80s, but the temperature drops off earlier and further, down into the low 50s every night. So … not stressful at all. We’ve let the little garden go except for the basil plant, which show no intention of shutting down. It’s a pleasing thing to me to follow the flow of the seasons … to not wish for a longer or shorter summer … to be accepting of whatever Autumn brings. I can’t say that this remarkable equanimity will last all winter, but it’s where I am this morning and that’s good enough for me.

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This is an awful thing to admit, I suppose, but as I daily watch the confederation of fools parading against vaccines and common sense, I think to myself … each day there are fewer of them as the Delta variant works its awful mathematics, and I take a small comfort in that knowledge.

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Potpourri

A low-level infection somewhere internal had been dragging along for three weeks. Off and on achies and a very low-grade fever if any fever at all. Then the game captain upped the ante. I got out of bed Monday and looked out on a different world.

I was seeing double.

Now it turns out that seeing two of the same thing side by side isn’t the fun thing that it’s supposed to be. It’s disorienting as hell and super-annoying. So I called my physician, Dr. Strangelove, and told her of my plight. Her response was “Don’t come see me, go to the ER.” Not quite the come-to-Mama-hand-holding response that I was looking for, but oh well.

The ER doc was careful, though, and he did that one magical thing that a medical professional can do to instantly win me over … he listened. If you are worried about your head possibly exploding it is good to feel that you have an ally. His proposal was to order an MRI.

I mentioned my claustrophobia, and requested some help in that regard. I also mentioned my needs to at least two nurses who came by periodically to check on me, because getting an MRI on that day meant waiting in the ER for four hours. And then the radiology tech came to get me. She was not happy to hear that I was such a wimp that sticking my head into a hole in a giant magnet would bother me. In my defense I said that I had told other staff, and sure enough, there it was on the chart. But that was not enough for this queen of the night. I heard at least three “humphs” and a couple of “tsk tsks.”

Finally, meds were ordered and injected and it was at that point that I fell off the world. I had never been given this drug before (Ativan), and if anybody tries to use it on me again, I will defend myself by any means that are at hand, including stabbing them unmercifully with those tiny plastic hospital forks, if I have to. Because I went down a rathole of a drug reaction where I sat for three days, of no use to anyone including myself.

But on Thursday morning, my vision was much improved, and I continue to get better and better. In fact I would say that I am at 98%.

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Our grandson, Dakota, has been staying with us the past few days. He was injured on the job in Oregon, and while he needs to do his PT and take it easy for several weeks, would rather do some of that time in Colorado. We are the lucky beneficiaries of his misfortune.

My health issues have kept me from interacting much with him so far, but now that the cloud has passed I plan to interrogate him unmercifully about everything.

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Right now is a good time to visit Colorado, that is, if you love peaches. They are widely available and the prices are less daunting. Robin sorta overbought and is now looking for things to make with them, like crisps and pies, and the rest we will eat with our own little hands.

What is more sublime than to approach a beautiful piece of fruit, knowing that the first bite must be taken with care, or a river of juice will run right down your shirt? So you take the peach, lean way forward over the sink, and bite down. Your teeth meet almost no resistance. Slowly and appreciatively you chew what you have in your mouth. And then once again … .

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I cannot bring myself to write but little about the great sorrow and disappointment that has been our country’s role in Afghanistan. I am especially disheartened by the way that the withdrawal has been handled by our President.

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On Saturday Dakota and I explored just a bit of the Uncompahgre Plateau by car. Specifically we checked out the Silesca Guard Station and a tiny campground, Iron Springs. The guard station is a large cabin that has been there since the 1930s, and is now available for rental. Robin and I stayed there one weekend in 2019. I thought it was lovely. She thought it needed a deep cleaning.

The campground is really nothing special except that it is what every campground should aspire to. A place to re-create. No noise, the trees above, the sky beyond. Nature with you a part of it.

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Let’s Get Two Things Straight

This is the 300th post on the blog since I began using WordPress several years ago (Worpress keeps track of such things). For years before that, I used another software that one day went kaput, along with the company that created it.

Can you believe it – 300 posts and I have yet to make a decent point, evolve a consistent style, or say anything you could put on a t-shirt that anyone would care to read. So … the question is … why do it? My answer is perversity. Someone once suggested that I drop the whole mournful project and apply myself to something more useful, such as making birdhouses. My response was the one that I have been using since earliest childhood, and it goes like this:

DON’T TELL ME WHAT TO DO!

YOU’RE NOT THE BOSS OF ME!

And so it goes.

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Sunday morning we donned our boots and went for the second real hike of the summer. We’ve been careful about Robin’s right knee, which did a lot of complaining in the Spring. Complaining to the point of getting MRIs and making tentative plans for surgeries. On the first real hike of the year, which we did with Elsa and Marc, we just about did the poor joint in for good.

But Sunday, walking slowly and choosing the footing carefully, things went very well for her. In fact, it was me lumbering along that was the drag. There had not been enough of these outings to maintain what passes for conditioning in my own case, so there were many stops to catch breaths, much grunting, and the usual outcome at the end of it all, which for yours truly is nausea.

Yes, friends, getting out there in the fresh air and hitting these mountain trails in joyful explorations stands a good chance of making me feel like hurling. This all happens at about the same moment that I can actually hear my heartbeat in all of its sprightly and slightly irregular glory.

On the Rimrock Trail, Black Canyon National Park

So why continue? Because it has been this way for 50 years and the negative feelings always pass leaving the positive ones as what is remembered.

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From The New Yorker

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I Think, Therefore I Am … I Think

Robin and I have begun to watch “The Chair,” a new Netflix series about a professor of English who becomes the first woman of color to chair the department at a formerly prestigious small university. She comes in at a time when enrollment is declining drastically, academic styles and mores are in flux, and her little pissant of a daughter is being revealed to us as an adopted demon-child. (I know, I know, elementary school-aged children can’t be little pissants … or can they? Remember cute little Damien of “The Omen?”) Sandra Oh is the title character, and for me she makes the whole thing work.

Or at least seems to work. What comes across to the viewer is that the job of “chair”is impossible, thankless, and an endless minefield to traverse every single day you get out of bed.

Now I have the advantage of watching the series with my very own Professor of English on the next sofa cushion. She’s not my very own, of course, but a full-growed woman who is highly independent in her thinking. But she is someone I can turn to with the query “Is it like that?” as many times as I need to. And she will patiently answer all of my questions, even the most painfully naive and childish ones.

My own ideas of how the world of academe should be are personified by the crusted and aging members of the hypothetical department in the series. There is still waaay too much old school and ivy creeping around in my personal conception of the university and I know it, but hey, they’re my fantasies and I am fond of them. In this way the student body comes across as a larger group of demon-children, being composed of narcissistic and half-formed adults . And who knows what that ultimate form will be if their only examples to follow are themselves?

Oh well, the show is definitely entertaining, even if I find myself jumping up on the couch several times per episode and exclaiming “AAUUUUGGGGHHHHH! I HATE THAT!”

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From The New Yorker

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So you might be asking yourself, “What is it really like being married to a Professor of English? Surely it must be a comfort to know that your every utterance will be at least examined for grammatical correctness and you will be spared the embarrassments of being revealed as the poorly educated lout that you are?”

That might be true in another’s case, but it doesn’t fit Robin’s management style. In our house I am given the opportunity to make as many mistakes as I want, and she will only comment in one of two situations. One is when I realize on my own that I am in way too deep and call out to her to cast me a life preserver, and the other is when it is just too painful for her to listen to a particular line of my gibberish without comment. As when I am writing or speaking in full fingernails scraping on the blackboard mode.

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Okay, what it is really like being married to a Professor of English? It means that my education never stops. That Robin’s immense store of knowledge is available to me 24/7. That my appreciation of and for literature has increased so gradually and painlessly over our nearly 30 years together that I almost don’t recognize myself in the rear-view mirror. I am still quite the literary dolt, but I am an improved version of the dolt that I was three decades ago, thanks to her gentle and patient guidance.

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From The New Yorker

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The Boundary Waters are closed, and have been for a week now. The wilderness has been emptied of all of the canoeists and campers that could be located and ordered out for their safety. The culprit is fire. No date has been set for re-opening of the area, but there are some seriously disappointed people whose permits have been cancelled and money refunded.

Of course they understand the reasons for caution, and I doubt there are many of them who don’t appreciate how capricious and explosive a forest fire is, and what a miserable experience that leaving the planet as a puff of smoke would be.

No matter that fire has always been a part of the life of a forest, and that clearing away the old and making room for the new is often ultimately a very good thing for the creatures that live there. Somewhere in the unrealistic pudding that is my thinking organ resides the idea that I would prefer every tree and every bush to be the same as it was when I first discovered the “BW.” There are places that I don’t want change to mess with, no matter what. Right there is where my crazy begins.

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All I Have To Do Is Dream

I used to wonder how Robin’s mother, Dorothy Clark, felt as she neared 100 years of age, when so many of her contemporaries had already passed away. Including the entertainers whose work she had enjoyed as a younger woman. I thought it might be a depressing state of affairs, but couldn’t really put myself in her shoes.

Now, of course, those shoes fit really well. My entertainment heroes are not exactly dropping like flies, but every week somebody famous and once important to me shuffles off this mortal coil. This past weekend it was Don Everly, the last remaining member of the Everly Brothers. A duo that was so big in the 50s and 60s that they influenced a whole generation of rock and country musical stars.

I picked out three of their songs … I could have closed my eyes with their discography in front of me and stabbed a pencil at any other three and done just as well.

These guys were that good.

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Robin’s sister Jill took flight from Paradise on Tuesday afternoon and returned to South Dakota. The week she spent with us absolutely sped by. What did she do? She visited the Grand Mesa, the funky ice cream shop in Ridgway, our Black Canyon National Park, a kids’ theater performance in Durango, the Peach Festival in Palisade, and did some serious tourist-shopping in Silverton.

She came a virgin to the daunting Million Dollar Highway and left a smiling and seasoned veteran of that sometimes sphincter-tightening experience.

Hmmm … not a bad week.

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From The New Yorker

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There is a tall tree a few blocks away that is in full view from our back yard and that has completely gone over into Fall color. No matter that it’s the only one in town that has done so. It’s a trend-setter. A breakaway from the herd. Marching to the beat of a different drummer, and all that. I have to admit that the sight is unwelcome. I was still hoping that some of what is great about Summer could be salvaged before we make our way into another season.

Because this past summer has been a killer. You can see plantings around town that have given up from the stress of the relentless heat of 2021, and there will no doubt be more fatalities along these lines. Our tiny garden suffered, producing tomatoes with odd discolorations and leathery interiors. Here in Paradise we had adopted a survival strategy that involved staying indoors most of the day and then venturing out in the early morning and late evening hours. In the mid-day heat the parks and streets were nearly empty. On the city golf course down the street the players scooted from shade tree to shade tree, got off their machines just long enough to have a desultory smack at the ball, then climbed aboard for another dreary few yards advance toward the clubhouse and the end of their ordeal.

It has been a kind of cosmic joke that the days when we suffered least from the sun were those where the smoke from western fires provided us some protection against its rays. So Autumn is in the odd position of coming too soon on the one hand, and none too soon on the other.

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Anyone For Hubris?

The electric bicycles that Robin and I acquired have disc brakes, something not new in the world, but new to us. About a month ago I noticed a faint whispering sound occasionally, which over time became less faint and more constantly present. I diagnosed that one of the discs was rubbing on a caliper on the rear wheel. It turned out that I was right. (Diagnosis has always been my forté, implementation my weaker area.)

So I looked it up in Bicycle Maintenance and Repair and found several rather unclear illustrations dealing with how to make adjustments which might do the trick. I finally gave up and took it to the dealer when I found that finishing the repair properly would require using a small torsion wrench, something that I do not own.

The dealer fixed it in minutes, charged me $10.00, and away I went. Well, I thought, I’m going to get one of those special wrenches and the next time this happens, I can skip the inconvenience of hauling the bike to the shop, etc. So I looked it up to find that little tool would cost just under $110.00. And even with the proper equipment, there is no guarantee that I would do the repair correctly. In fact, I have quite a long and proud history of fixing things that never ran quite the same again.

Soooo, no new wrench for me. I might be tempted to use it. And at only ten bucks a pop having the dealer doing the work, it would be a looooong time paying for itself.

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From The New Yorker

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Today’s headlines are full of news of Afghanistan. The name-calling and blaming have begun in earnest. We did it wrong, they say, too fast … too poorly planned … should have turned left at that corner instead of right, etc. As if anyone knew the right way. The U.S. is just one more foreign occupier who has been forced to leave that country without achieving anything lasting. The country has successfully resisted being governed for long by anyone, including the Afghans themselves.

Remember how it all began, after 9/11? We went in and blew up those terrorist training camps to avenge that infamous attack? When we were done with that, we made our first serious mistake. We decided to stay there and try to make a nation out of the country so that those camps wouldn’t just spring up once again. From then on the outcome was never really in doubt. Eventually we would give up and get out and there would be humiliation enough for everybody to have a big plateful. Of course we made it even worse by choosing at that moment to add fixing that pesky Iraq to our to-do list, which was entitled “Things We Can Do To Really Make Our Lives Hell.”

Remember that old saw about those who do not learn from the past being doomed to repeat it? We didn’t have to make these mistakes ourselves … we could have studied the most recent example before us which was provided by Russia, who invaded and then stayed nine years before doing pretty much what we are doing now.

Leaving was always going to be ugly. Perhaps that’s why Presidents Bush, Obama, and cluck didn’t do it. The mistake was staying in the first place and thinking we were smart enough and powerful enough to succeed where no one ever had. Today’s vocabulary word, students, is one that means “excessive pride or self-confidence; arrogance.” That word is:

Hubris, hubris, hubris, hubris, hubris, hubris, hubris, hubris, hubris, hubris, hubris, hubris, hubris, hubris, hubris, hubris, hubris, hubris, hubris, hubris, hubris, hubris, hubris, hubris, hubris, hubris, hubris, hubris, hubris, hubris, hubris, hubris, hubris, hubris, hubris, hubris, hubris.

(I had a point in there somewhere. Did I make it, you think?)

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From The New Yorker

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My introduction to the world of imported beers was in a jazz club along Hennepin Avenue in Minneapolis when I was 21. A place where I could listen to the music while sitting at a tiny round table and nursing a Heineken, all the while smoking my pipe. I might have looked ridiculous, with my baby-face and self-conscious posturing and all, but I didn’t know it. I just felt like the coolest guy on the planet.

I have never felt that hip again. Self-awareness came along and ruined that particular delusion for me.

Later on a persistent and unpleasant cough forced me to abandon the pleasures of tobacco. To make matters worse, my Heineken punch-card came to be all used up, and that was that. All that was left was the jazz. Which, actually, is still pretty cool. If I wanted I could still go to a jazz club (if I could find one) but there would need to be only this small adjustment to my order once I was seated at the table:

“Waiter, could you be a dear and bring me something in a tall frosty bottle that won’t make me behave like an ass once I’ve finished it? Thanks ever so much.”

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One of the great pleasures of advanced age is that you have the time to acquire so much new information, to learn, to (hopefully) become wiser. As long as one keeps their mind open, it is possible that this will occur. Not at all guaranteed, but possible.

One of the great ironies of that same age is that no one wants to hear about it, especially those much younger than oneself. “What in the world can that old poop have to tell me that I might find valuable” is the mantra. And they may be right. We’ve all heard the adage: “When the student is ready, the teacher will appear. But it is also true that when the student is not ready, teaching can be difficult if not impossible.

So I now know more about living than I ever did, and unless something unheard of and unexpected happens, that knowledge will perish when I do. Just about fits the definition of a cosmic joke. But one of those things time has shown me is that giving unsolicited advice is as close to a complete waste of time and breath as you can get.

However, and since you didn’t ask, I will offer perhaps the most valuable thing I have learned in my time upon this beautiful planet, and it is this:

I believe strongly that I am right. But … I could be wrong.

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Fat & Salt & Sugar, Oh My!

When we moved to Paradise, we bought a house with a sea of rocks covering half of the back yard. It was some person’s idea of xeriscaping, and it worked for that purpose, saving water and all, but it didn’t work as a visual. It was boring, colorless, and impossible to walk on if one was barefoot.

So we hired a landscaper/builder to make us a large wooden deck. Very large. He built it, and for at least a month, it looked great. But then the boards began to warp in our intense Colorado sunshine and low humidity. When I called to discuss this problem with the landscaper I found that his office was closed and he was nowhere to be found. In fact, the business had ceased to exist.

Six years later Robin and I gave up on continually replacing warped boards several at a time and never liking how the whole dreadful and dispiriting mess looked. We even found ourselves thinking back fondly on that sea of rocks. At a tipping point this summer I began to demolish it, pulling up one deck screw at a time (hundreds and hundreds of them), piling up those wretched boards alongside the driveway, and finally getting back to the naked stones we started with. Along the way I had many encounters with a community of yellowjackets that lived beneath that deck. Most of the time they just swarmed me and drove me indoors, but on one bad day four of them stung me when I wasn’t paying attention to their protests.

Our next plan is to create a proper patio using paver stones to replace the now disappeared wooden deck. Much smaller, quite a bit less pretentious, and the stones are guaranteed not to warp … ever. Even better, the person doing the work for us is a contractor who lives next door, which makes him much easier to find should events ever go south on the project. Even thinking about it makes me smile, which is something that our mega-deck never did (except for that first month).

BTW, we found an excellent place to recycle all that wood. There is a woman who operates a wildlife rescue service out of Olathe. It is a labor of love on her part, and her operation depends a great deal on contributions from the public. She takes in wounded or lost creatures, and helps nurse them back to wholeness when this is possible. It turns out that a large pile of used lumber fills a real need, and yesterday we loaded the last of our contribution onto her pickup. Took her two trips to get it all

She is turning them into pens and animal housing. I think this is a much better second life for the wood. Its first one was a bummer all around. But we have already reaped one benefit … the yellowjackets are gone … hallelujah!

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Thursday Robin and I went exploring on the Uncompahgre Plateau. We decided to take the second of the two major roads up there, one that we’d never traveled. The first one, the Divide Road, has a good and very civilized gravel surface and the only problem is dustiness when it’s been a while since the last rain. The second is called Transfer Road, which started out beautifully but about fifteen miles in it turned into something quite different. Strictly speaking, it was not a “jeep road,” primarily because as long as you drove about 5 mph you were okay, as none of the protruding rocks were higher than 4 inches.

But the rocks were the road. For about four miles. Every thirty seconds as the car heaved up and down and back and forth I would think “It must be almost over … it can’t be this lousy for much longer … should I turn back? … and finally it was better. The scenery during this highly uncomfortable stretch, however, was outstanding.

After such a stress-out, we decided to reward ourselves with a trip into the past and had supper at an A&W on the north side of Montrose. They have all sorts of forbidden foods to eat there, doubly so since it is combined with a Long John Silver’s franchise. All the fat and salt and sugar a person could ever want or tolerate without completely foundering is available at reasonable prices.

When we finished our meal, we drove immediately home so that we could be seated safely before the toxic nutritional tsunami caught up with us and made ambulation temporarily impossible. This one trip to the A&W may have taken a month off my life, but lordy, it was worth it.

(A day later I still have little fat droplets in my field of vision. My oh my.)

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From The New Yorker

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I borrowed this photo from CNN because I thought it was such a great one. That, my friends, is an athlete. Everything is in the picture – “I am strong, I am disciplined, and by God I just won my race!”

AUGUST 06: Allyson Felix of Team USA reacts after winning the bronze medal in the Women’s 400m Final on day fourteen
of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games. (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)

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Three hours from Montrose is the small town of Creede, Colorado. We’ve spent a couple of days there at different times, and each time promised ourselves to come back and stay longer. It definitely has the kind of dusty charm that I love about Western towns, but have more and more trouble finding. For former South Dakotans, it is like Deadwood was before it was corrupted by the gamblers and the money they brought with them.

The NYTimes of August 6 did a story on Creede and on its community theater, which has been going now for more than fifty years. Creede’s origins were in mining that produced silver, gold, copper, lead, and zinc.

My advice to would-be visitors is that if you like the ambience that the article describes, come soon.

There is evidence that the sort of change may be coming that turned Deadwood into a soulless zombie-town. You can see it in the luxury home developments in the valley leading into Creede when you approach from the north. The sort of folks that build and buy those estates often prefer sleek and shiny over dry and dusty.

I hope I’m wrong, but that happens so rarely …

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From The New Yorker

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Losing My Mind Gracefully

There are some positive things about addictions. In the early days of exposure to whatever substance eventually turns out to want to kill you and everything you love, either it’s fun or it raises your spirits in some way or who would do it? But day by day the hook grows until maybe you find your sorry self at an AA or NA meeting, your life much the worse for wear and you hoping that there is something or someone in that room that will save you.

Well, there is such a person, you learn, and it turns out to be you. The other members of the club can support, they can exhort, they can point you toward some helpful truths. But you have learn how to find your own path and then to walk it.

One of those helpful truths is that you do have a very real enemy. Something powerful enough that if you don’t learn to deal with it you are very likely to make your way right back into the swamp you just left . And that is resentment.

Now who doesn’t have a few of those? I know that I did, and some of them were doozies. I liked them, I thought I had earned them, and sitting around with a glass in my hand and nursing the very heck out of them was not an altogether unpleasant thing to do. Plotting perfect revenges, how to make the offender pay one day … my, my, what a seductive hobby that was. While at some point that I sensed that alcohol was doing a number on me I never saw what resentments were doing and how they fit into the picture.

“Resentment is like taking poison and then waiting for the other person to die.”

Malachy McCourt

Learning to let go of resentments offered the chance to free myself from a potentially endless cycle of hate and anger and corrosion of my spirit. I could then use those energies for something better, much better. Like staying sober, for instance. Like being happier. Like becoming a full-on human being either again or for the first time.

These days, I no longer need that drawer I used to keep my resentments in. As soon as I discover one growing in a corner of my mind, I do what I need to pluck it out. I no longer have time to play with them … zero tolerance. BTW – none of this is for the resent-ee’s benefit, because they don’t even know what I am thinking and feeling. It’s all about me.

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Here’s one of the unsolvable problems of life. For every musical artist that I come to love and appreciate, I know that there are tens of thousands (maybe hundreds of thousands) of equally talented people that I never get to hear. Once in a great while the name of one of those artists will surface, which is what happened today. The NY Times ran a piece about a slide guitarist/vocalist named Ellen Mcilwaine that was so intriguing I had to go listen to some of her stuff.

Exciting playing, powerful voice. Unfortunately, the piece in the Times was an obituary, so I’ve missed my chance to support her endeavors, but not the chance to admire her talent and take pleasure from what she’s recorded.

With all that she had going for her, the obit mentions that she augmented her income in the last several years of her life by driving a school bus. Not every good deed is rewarded in this life of ours.

I would love to have seen her in concert. Those songs over there are some kick-ass tunes for certain.

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My son Jonnie never cared for the blues. To him it was the boring and endless repetition of the same chords, tune, and lyrics ad nauseam. I would answer that I felt the same way about the mindless and unimaginative punk-twaddle that he was listening to. As you can see we had some deep and respectful discussions regarding music. My “office” and the location of my computer was in the basement just outside his bedroom door, and after a couple of hours of hearing the Replacements and Husker Du, I often had to go upstairs to unclench my fingers and try to restore a normal personal heart rate. I have no blood pressure recordings taken at those times, but I’m pretty sure that they were incompatible with life.

It is the way of all things, no? I would have been sorta disappointed if Jonnie had slavishly adopted my likes and dislikes, but he chose to go to a different place entirely. A foreign country, musically … almost a different planet. Funny thing … some of those pieces that grated on me back then … I have come to a sort of deténte with them today. I’ve put one of those up for you in the Jukebox. It’s sung by one of the whiniest vocalists I’ve ever heard. But Blister In The Sun connects me with a young man I used to know, and that’s okay with me.

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Every once in a great while I run across a gif that grabs me. One that I can watch over and over, and almost be hypnotized by it. Here is one from the New Yorker that seems perfect for summertime (and someone who counts cats among his friends). I think it’s just plain lovely.

Now I’m not sure if there is a single building in Paradise with a fire escape like this that you can climb out onto with your book in order to get away from the stifling heat indoors. Doesn’t matter. Some places are a part of nearly everyone’s collective experience, archetypal.

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I marched in the 4th of July parade here in Paradise, which is a very low-key affair. Basically, if you have a motorized vehicle and a bit of bunting … you’re in! My flapping feet accompanied the Montrose County Democrats “float.” There were some predictable sour happenings along the route. A couple of guys who booed, the family of four who turned their backs to the float as it passed by, etc. But all in all it was a good thing and people were polite to one another.

All of this reminds me that I live in a conservative area, and that right now the conservatives are the magnet for the crazies. These are folks who live in the woodwork and come out in numbers only when encouraged.

Today such encouragement comes mostly from only one of our two major political parties. I will not name names except to say that it is not the Democrats.

Democrats are the epitome of honesty, propriety, purpose, conscience, and justice. If it were not for us the republic would not stand. God is on our side for sure.

Problem is, that is pretty much what the loonies believe as well.

There have been times when our Blue party attracted more than its share of disaffected nitwits. What I have to remember is that most people occupy a quiet middle ground, and want the same things that I do. Allowing myself to be distracted by the noisy contingent is a mistake. For every “Confederate” flag and “Don’t Tread On Me” banner, there are a thousand regular old American flags flown by regular old men and women who care a great deal about the mess we seem to be in. These are folks that I can work with and learn from.

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Rain … Old Testament Style

Our friends Elsa and Marc are back in Washington D.C. and busy with pulling up the last of their stakes before departing for Sweden. But there was one last adventure that occurred while they were staying with us that I have to append to what I wrote a few days ago.

It all started with deciding what to do on their last day in Montrose. Elsa had reinjured an ankle and Robin’s knees were plaguing her so that anything too vigorous was out of the question. But hey – how about hiking up one of the beautiful Dominguez Canyons? We’d done that many times before and they are easy walks, a gradual uphill going in and a gradual downhill coming back. A weather check promised basically sunny weather. Perfect!

I had talked our intrepid quartet into going up Little Dominguez Canyon this time, as Elsa had already hiked Big Dominguez Canyon. To do it you have to cross the shallow creeks, which is where the fun came in later on. Sunscreen was lathered on, daypacks were adjusted, boots were laced. We took beaucoup water with us, this being a desert walk and all, and off we went. Our endpoint for this journey was an abandoned settler’s cabin about three miles in. The plan included eating a trail lunch there before turning around and coming out.

But a clear sky quickly clouded up, and an occasional raindrop fell on us as we approached the cabin. Then came the thunder. My first thought was: “How cool if we were rained on, here in the desert. How rare is that?” The few raindrops became a steady patter and we moved under the eaves, which afforded some shelter.

Over the next ten minutes the rain intensified, and the thunder became a steady roaring. Finally we had a full-on cloudburst going, with a cold west wind blowing the rain horizontally and right through us. We moved to the eastern side of the building where we could move the Index of Miserability needle back to four from the chilly eight that it had become. I found a window that was loose and planned that if anyone began to show even the slightest sign of hypothermia we would break into the cabin (illegal, even in Colorado) to sit the storm out. But after forty minutes of this outstanding performance by Mother Nature, the rain stopped and the sun came back out. We then struck out for the return trip.

But what a changed landscape we faced! Across the valley we saw dozens of waterfalls on the cliff faces that hadn’t been there before. New creeks had appeared in the dry washes we passed hiking in, creeks that were deep enough and currents that were strong enough to pose obstacles. And then we came back to the Little Dominguez Creek. It had gone from a sleepy small stream that you could easily hop across to an impassable torrent that was now thirty feet wide. The ground underfoot was now a sandy mud in the places between the rocks.

On the return trip we moved more slowly as our boots were waterlogged and twice as heavy as when we walked in. We needed someplace safe to cross the creek, and walked up and down the shore of the stream looking for such a spot. The group was almost resigned to sitting on the banks and waiting out the hours it might take for the stream to subside when I decided to attempt a crossing at an area that looked halfway promising. I used my hiking poles and picked my sorry self across, the water up to my knees. But while it had looked intimidating, it all turned out to be completely do-able. When I was safely on the far side, Robin made her own crossing, and when she also was successful, we tossed our poles back across the creek to Elsa and Marc for them to use. In no time at all the four of us were heading away from the creek with no more water crossings to worry about.

The last part of the hike was tedious but otherwise unremarkable. A stop at the Dairy Queen in Delta on the drive home seemed the right thing to do, and we staggered in the door. Other customers present looked at our dirty and bedraggled selves and pulled their children closer in for safety. Finally, at long last we were home, rinsing the mud from both the outside and the inside of our boots, showering, and finding dry clothing to cover sore muscles and aching joints. The consensus was that we had spent the day having Type II fun.

Type I Fun – true fun, enjoyable while it’s happening and fun in the recollection.

Type II Fun – fun only in retrospect, hateful while it’s happening. But all those good stories to tell over future fires …

Type III Fun – not fun at all, not even in retrospect. As in, what the hell was I thinking!

Truth is, you never really know what sort of “fun” you’re getting yourself into when you start out. Our start was a sunny day with no bad weather predicted. It finished up with a downpour and flooding everywhere on the valley floor. There was one part of the adventure that was Type I fun all the way, at least for me. The sound of the thunder. Those cracks and explosions reverberating across the canyon were the kind of music that goes straight to the spirit. An awesome and fearsome symphony … we were so lucky to have experienced it.

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From The New Yorker

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Robin and I were sitting out on the back deck wasting time with each other, this being one of the most valuable things we do. We had some music going in the background and when “Boulder to Birmingham” began to play I went into full recollection mode. I first heard the song in 1975 when I was introduced to the beautiful voice of Emmylou Harris. That line – “I would walk all the way … “ has such loneliness in it, such a sense of loss. Listening is like walking in a shadowed corridor and hearing the whispered voice of someone you will not see again.

“Boulder to Birmingham” is a song written by Emmylou Harris and Bill Danoff which first appeared on Harris’s 1975 album Pieces of the Sky. It has served as something of a signature tune for the artist and recounts her feelings of grief in the years following the death of country rock star and mentor Gram Parsons. Early in her career, Harris toured with Gram Parsons and sang on his two solo albums GP and the posthumously released Grievous Angel. The song is known for its chorus “I would rock my soul in the bosom of Abraham/I would hold my life in his saving grace/I would walk all the way from Boulder to Birmingham/If I thought I could see, I could see your face.” Harris did not write again about Parsons’ death in such a direct way until “The Road”, a track from her 2011 album Hard Bargain, although “Michaelangelo” from Red Dirt Girl certainly appears to be about Parsons too.

Wikipedia: Boulder to Birmingham

I think those three songs (and the decades between them) are one of the best testaments to the durability of love that I’ve ever encountered. It is a poorly kept secret that I admire Ms. Harris’ music greatly. Her catalog contains songs to match any moment, sentiment, or experience I’ve ever had. As I keep repeating, she is a class act.

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It was so pleasant looking across the table at my granddaughter these past days and thinking back on the times the circles of our lives have overlapped as in some fluid Venn diagram. I don’t recall exactly at what point in my life I realized that when I was looking at my children I was seeing them as they were at that moment and somehow as they had been all of their lives, at once. It turns out to be true for grandchildren as well.

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Life = Good

Well, I’ve been away. Robin, Elsa, Marc, and I have been camping at West Dolores Campground for the past several days. And while we had access to electricity, the internet is but a dream in the valley of the West Dolores River. Here’s how it went down.

On Sunday we rose early and took off down the road, stopping at Telluride for a couple hours to show Marc the town. Just a mile outside of Telluride we encountered a herd of about 100 elk, looking just as elk-y as anyone could want. The males had begun to show the 2021 version of their antlers. Telluride was a busy village indeed, with Covid masks being required almost nowhere and seen rarely. The famous free gondola was up and running once again, and of course we took the ride up and back. Who wouldn’t?

We then continued on to the campground and set things up. This place is about 2 1/2 hours from Montrose. That first afternoon, once camp chores were completed, we hiked to a small geyser up in the surrounding hills. It’s a modest thing that does not spurt into the sky a la Old Faithful, but only goes from a placid surface to a rough boil. Small, but interesting. And one can never get enough of the odor of hydrogen sulfide, can one?

We settled into sleep fairly early, Robin and I in the Sylvansport camper, while our guests were forced to sleep on the ground in our small backpacking tent. They had good sleeping mats and sleeping bags, however, so when the temp dipped to 51 degrees they were snug in there. Why give them the tent while we luxuriated in the camper? Let’s see … youth, suppleness, level of overall fitness … take your pick.

Next day we took a nine-mile round trip hike up to Navajo Lake, which was at an altitude of 11,300 feet. The walk to the lake was through a portion of the Lizard Head Wilderness, and gained 2000 feet of elevation in 4.5 miles, which is a very sturdy amount of gain. My personal quads had begun to burn by the time we reached the water’s edge and were perfectly aflame after the trip back down. Scenery was amazing as the path wound in and out of the forest and through one meadow after another. Wild flowers all over the place. I think we saw at least twenty species that were new to us, and for which we do not yet have names.

Tuesday turned out to be a rainy day, so we bundled up and drove to Mesa Verde National Park, which Marc had never seen. We were not alone there, with so many other visitors scooting around and using up more than their share of the available oxygen. (Tourists, sheesh! Honestly, why don’t these people stay home?) It was raining hard when we reached the town of Cortez on our way back to camp, so we took supper there. Call me a wimp, but I have never liked too much rainwater in my food. Maybe I’ll get over that one day, but I doubt it. Especially the bread … such a soggy proposition.

Wednesday it was returning to Montrose, and a few hours spent in the town of Ouray.

Even though there was some rain, and we had to often sit in wet camp chairs with their seats covered with plastic garbage bags, the campfire conversations in the evenings and mornings were excellent. Four friends, old and new, learning about one another while surrounded by some of Mother Nature’s best. There was never a sense of having to tread carefully in talking to Marc. Somehow it was as if we’d known him for years. He is smart, unpretentious, and witty. And it was a joy seeing Elsa once again … nearly two years since the last time. She is awfully well-traveled and has so many good stories to tell.

One more story. We had returned to camp on the day of our long hike, eaten supper, and were sitting around the fire ring where we had yet to build our campfire. The following conversation ensued:

Marc: Jon, can I ask you a question … for informational purposes?

Jon: Yes, of course

Marc: If I were to have to throw up, where would be a good place to do it?

Jon: Why, into the fire ring would be good, I suppose

At that point Marc stood up, stepped forward, and relieved himself into exactly that space of what looked like his entire dinner, after which he felt better. Our collective diagnosis was mild altitude sickness.

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Anti-Camping

Just returned from spending a couple of days with Ally and Kyle. As much as we like our time with them, we know that this is their busiest time of the year, and they literally work all day at their farm/garden during Steamboat Springs’s short growing season. So we keep our visits short and sweet.

But what beautiful produce they turn out! Here is a photograph of a man wearing one of their spectacular bok choi plants as a hat.

Later on that hat was washed up, placed on the grill, and served to Robin and I as part of our evening meal. Edible attire, what a concept!

The 240 mile drive to Steamboat is through some pretty country, and the 90 mile lonely stretch from Rifle CO to Craig CO is my favorite. Rolling green hills and mountains, never out of sight of a river, good wildlife viewing … what’s not to love?

Our trip was on short notice, and we couldn’t find a local motel that would have us, so we camped at the only reservable space we could find, and that was at a KOA located between the town of Steamboat and the farm. It was good that we spent very little time there, because as camping goes, it was the opposite of what we usually look for. We found each tent or RV jammed up against its neighbor, constant cacophonous comings and goings of travelers like ourselves, and bathrooms where one enters a 4-digit code to get in (woe to those who forget their number in a moment of stress). Our “site” was little more than a patch of dirt alongside the road that wound through the campground. In the map below we are at site 11 (center and bottom).

The “pond” was a very small puddle of water covered with an oil slick and signs clearly warning us to neither fish nor swim there. I suspect that the oil was part of a scheme to prevent it from becoming the mosquito farm that it would otherwise have been.

The interesting thing was how democratic the commercial campground was. Site 10 was occupied by a young man on a bicycle, while site 14 contained a behemoth of an RV trailer from Nebraska that required 3 axles to support its obscene bulk. (Who are these people that need to tow such monstrosities when they leave home?)

The proprietors were very pleasant and chatty, however, and it turned out to be a quiet place to sleep, in spite of the daytime busy-ness. I doubt we’ll be returning, though, unless once again we are stuck for a place to stay.

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From The New Yorker

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The area around Craig CO contains several coal mines, all of which are destined to close one day. Coal has been a mainstay occupation for the people living there, along with ranching. It is pretty solidly red in its politics, with its share of the lunatic fringe. We ate our lunch in a city park there on Sunday, and across the street was a home surrounded by a chain-link fence. There were two signs on the fence.

The first was a professional one celebrating the existence of congresswoman and renowned public intellectual Lauren Boebert and the other was a homemade placard declaring cryptically that This Too Shall Pass. What the resident was hoping would pass … one can only guess.

Lots of fear evident in Craig’s signs and bumperstickers. And some reason to be afraid, not knowing what their future holds. This Too Shall Pass, but what comes after, when the mines have closed and the Socialists have taken all their guns?

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Misguidance

Back in high school there were two attempts that Henry Sibley High School made to point us in the right direction as far as our future occupations were concerned. One was the appointing of a guidance counselor. He comported himself exactly like the character Major Major, in Catch 22 . If he was in his office his secretary would tell you that he was out. If he wasn’t in, the secretary would usher you into an empty room telling you that he’d be just a moment. After a long while had passed you realized that he was never coming and wandered off.

So I never saw him.

The other effort was to administer something called the Strong Interest Test. This turned out to be an extremely unhelpful way to spend a couple of hours, for at the end of the testing session I was informed that I would be happiest as either an accountant or a forest ranger. (I still fail to see any connection between these jobs.) I chose to go to a school of veterinary medicine instead.

After a year of doing spectacularly poorly while surrounded by a hundred other freshmen and freshwomen in blue corduroy jackets who already knew seemingly everything there was to know about large animals, I dropped out of school for a while. From there it was on to pre-med and that’s all she wrote.

I’ve never mused about what life as an accountant would have been, but there have been many times when forest ranger seems like it would have been just the right thing for me. The woods, the rivers, the fresh air … and then there were those great uniforms.

I think I would have been the very definition of dapper in one of these, especially the one on the far left. Is it time to bring jodhpurs back into fashion, do you think?

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We spent the observance of our anniversary wandering the countryside in our car. It was a windy 50 degree day, which discouraged slow walks in the park, laying out in the backyard catching rays, and picnics. When you have to hold onto your paper plate with both hands to keep your beans and hot dog safe while your potato chips go flying across county lines, it’s not that much fun, to tell the truth.

So we headed for Telluride, to see what they’d done with the town in the year since we’d last been there. Turned out that this shiny tourist town wasn’t quite open for business as yet, with several restaurants closed but featuring signs in their windows promising “Opening Soon!” All of the T-shirt shops were running, though, so no problems there for those wanting garments with logos screaming “TELLURIDE.” The famous free gondola wasn’t running, which was a first for us – that thing had not stopped since we moved to Paradise. With the relaxing of Covid restrictions it might soon be in use again, but there is no getting six feet away from other passengers once you are inside that capsule.

We then drove to a small county park along the San Miguel River near Placerville and took a stroll. It’s a pretty spot and we passed two kayakers practicing lazy paddling on the tiny lake in the park. Next we took off down the road toward Owl Creek Pass, a local landmark of sorts, but were turned back after 8 miles by a road barrier. We couldn’t see far enough ahead to assess whether it was snow or road damage might be the problem, but there was no arguing with that heavy steel gate.

Finally it was back to Montrose for supper at a local Italian restaurant. When we returned home we were late for the cats’ feedings, and they sat there tapping their paws and looking very cross until we served them up their evening meal. One thing that cats do very well is impatience. They’ve had millennia to practice. Look at this Egyptian statue … is that haughty and cranky or what?

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What a horror in China, where 21 out of 172 participants in an ultramarathon perished when when a storm caught them out on the 100 mile mountain race course. Light running gear was no protection against freezing rains. Sounds like some very poor planning for inclement weather was involved, but the stories are still sketchy.

Wouldn’t happen here, I think. There are high altitude races out here each summer, but also lots of water stations, volunteers with Ham radios, and the like. In any endurance contest there can be the occasional heart giving out or things like dehydration causing illness or even death. But 21 runners lost … that is the definition of not okay.

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