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.

******

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.

******

******

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?

******

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.)

******

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.)

******

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.

******

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.

******

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)

******

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.

******

From The New Yorker

******

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.

******

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

******

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.]

******

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

******

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.”

******

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.

******

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.

******

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.

******

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?”

******

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.

******

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.

******

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%.

******

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.

******

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 … .

******

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.

******

******

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.

******

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.

******

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.

******

From The New Yorker

******

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!”

******

From The New Yorker

******

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.

******

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.

******

From The New Yorker

******

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.

******

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.

.

******

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.

******

From The New Yorker

******

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.

******

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.

******

From The New Yorker

******

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?)

******

From The New Yorker

******

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.”

******

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.

******

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!

******

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.)

******

From The New Yorker

******

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)

******

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 …

******

From The New Yorker

******

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.

******

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.

******

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.

******

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.

******

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.

******

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.

******

From The New Yorker

******

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.

******

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.

******

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.

******

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.

******

From The New Yorker

******

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?

******

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?

******

******

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?

******

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.

******

Amazing Grace

Apple Music has a feature where they put together various themed collections that change weekly, an hour or two of tunes with a similar “feel.” One of those is named “Isolation,” and I swear … no matter what mood you were in when you started, if you listened to more than five of these songs in a row you would find yourself looking for a razor blade and a warm tub. Here’s a sampling of what Apple was offering to me this morning during my toilette.

  • Lost Cause (Beck)
  • Where is My Mind? (The Pixies)
  • Alive and Dying (Angel Olsen)
  • Sidewalk Bop After Suicide (Cass McCombs)
  • No Distance Left to Run (Blur)
  • Get Me Away From Here, I’m Dying (Belle and Sebastian)
  • Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now (The Smiths)
  • How It Ends (DeVochKa)
  • et al

Fortunately for me on this occasion, Robin recognized that I had been sucked into a musical vortex and rushed the bathroom, knocked the speaker onto the floor, and then dragged me out into the hallway, covering my ears as she did. A few slaps in the face, a dash of cold water, and I was blinking myself awake, crying “Wha hoppen!”

It was a close one this time. Obviously it’s not a place I should ever go alone.

******

Love these soft warm mornings a little before dawn. Just enough air movement to get the wind chimes gently moving and the prayer flags fluttering. Our small city is quiet at these times. All in all, just like a town should be the moment before it starts to come to consciousness.

******

******

A followup on Poco the cat. Two weeks ago he developed swelling in his right eye. The vet said “Dunno” and prescribed eyedrops. Two days later it was obvious that there was an abscess above the eye, and that was cleaned up, opened up, and an antibiotic injection given.

Two days after that the eye looked dreadful, and there was a puddle of blood between the cornea and the iris. A second vet told us that there might be infection inside the globe itself, and a different antibiotic needed to be given, along with a change in eyedrops. He also said that if the problem was inside the eye, Poco could lose that organ entirely.

So for a week now we’ve dutifully given him pills twice a day that he definitely doesn’t want and eyedrops that he detests. There has been improvement, but I’m not sure that is is the meds or simply the passage of time that has effected this change. It’s not particularly rare for doctors to be given credit for recovery that happened all on its own. Why, it even happens with some pediatricians.

So the old fellow has had an uncomfortable pair of weeks and his human companions have worried about him for the same length of time. Doing uncomfortable things to a creature you love, whether it is a pet or a child, is potentially a part of the bargain you make when you take them on. But it’s always one that you hoped you could skip.

******

My Oh My Department

Daughter Maja’s seven favorite non-relatives on the planet have a new album. This is a screen grab from the music video for “Butter,” which YouTube would be happy to run for you.

What’s not to like? They are young, talented, and beautiful. Maybe if North Korea could put together a group like this we might get along better with them, and be able to forget about all those nasty warheads and such. So far they haven’t shown any rhythmic tendencies at all that I am aware of.

******

Twenty-nine years ago today two perfectly useful people with relatively low mileage who had each been rejected by their previous spouses decided to give it another go and were married. To one another. The lady’s counselor was not happy about the idea, and cautioned her that this was only a “transitional relationship.”

In planning for the wedding with the pianist, the couple chose Amazing Grace as one of their songs. At first the musician frowned and said “We play that so often at funerals … “ and then you could see her lips move as she went through the lyrics in her head. A smile came on her face and she nodded “Yes, that’ll do just fine.” During the service the entire assemblage sang it together, and yes, it did just fine. Beautifully, actually.

At the reception, and at the groom’s request, the first tune that was played to begin the dancing was this timeless and haunting melody.

I think that it’s pretty clear to all that this “transitional relationship” has lasted this long only because of the lady’s forbearance, tolerance, and excellent sense of humor.

******

Justice Found

What we all saw happen yesterday in Minneapolis was an example of how our justice system is supposed to work. A man broke the law, was brought to trial, and was convicted of his crime. A verdict came down that we can all understand. When I heard the news I felt no elation, as some seemed to feel. After all, one man was dead and another was going to prison. But there was a sense of something going right, being done the way it should be done. This was a day when one good step forward was made, and what I felt was relief.

Van Jones says it very well here … we were afraid to hope.

******

Indecent Exposure

As I gasp and wheeze around the trails in the mountains, I am often informed by three books written by these folks, Anne and Mike Poe. They are the best trail guides I’ve found so far, and together they cover the territory around Paradise very well.

These books appeal to me because they contain tons of photos, comprehensive details on the walks and how to get to them, and all of the hikes discussed are above treeline.

Not that Colorado doesn’t have lovely forests to wander in, but I’ve done woods-walking all my life. What this state offers is a richness of opportunities to get that feeling of freedom that being above it all provides. (I know, I know, this from a guy who gets the willies climbing a stool to get something on the top shelf in the kitchen.)

If this weren’t enough to inspire me, Anne has alpha-1-antitrypsin deficiency, an inherited illness which resulted in her developing COPD. So what I tell myself whenever my spirits are flagging and my butt is dragging and I really really want to turn back is this – Hey, Bozo, Anne C. did this as an older woman, with emphysema!

Most of the books on walking in the mountains that I’ve personally scanned include a word that I watch for very carefully. That word is exposure. The photo at right shows people hiking a part of a trail that has quite a bit of exposure, which, loosely translated, means places that I will never intentionally be.

All of the books on walking in the mountains that I’ve personally scanned include a word that I watch for very carefully. That word is exposure. The photo at right shows people hiking a part of a trail that has quite a bit of exposure, which, loosely translated, means places that I will never intentionally be.

If a portion of a trail is mentioned as being exposed, I immediately cross it off the list and stop reading about it. This is because I know myself well enough that if I did somehow go up this particular path all the way to the top, I would not be able to force my body to go back down. I would simply set up camp on top and live there for as long as I could on the Clif bars in my pack, then make my peace with the Universe and quietly expire.

Using the Poes’ books allows me to make sure that this last scenario never happens.

.

******

******

One unfortunate side effect of Covid-19 is that it has driven more and more couch potatoes out into the fresh air since so many indoor activities and gathering spots have been closed. There they compete with more deserving types, like me, for available camping site reservations. Before this deuced virus came along, you might have found that it was hard to get a good spot if you called on the 3rd of July, but at any other times there were way more spaces to choose from than there were choosers.

Not any longer. We’re expecting guests at the end of June, guests who we are taking camping, and have basically found that most of the spots we wanted were already taken. We did finally reserve the time we needed, and at a very good location, but it was literally the last one available through mid-July in the area where we wanted to go. Last available reserve-able space, that is. There are always the first come-first served sort of campsites, but if you’ve ever driven several hours to a distant campground and found there was no room at that particular inn and were now scrambling for somewhere to lay your head, you know that this arrangement is definitely second-best.

So we will take our friends to the West Dolores River Campground and we will have a fine time. They may never know how close we were to using the WalMart parking lot in Cortez.

******

Mental Lint

Somehow I seem to have sprained my wrist. It occurred when we were shoving furniture around the other day, waiting for the flooring guy to come and do his flooring thing. This exemplifies one of the more annoying things about being this age and that is that one bruises quicker and heals slower. Being aware of this tends to make one cautious, often more than is necessary. There are days when I must exert some little effort to avoid regarding myself as a fragile flower suited to only the quietest and safest of activities.

Not that I was ever really the daredevil type. I would look at friends who had skied very fast down places where there were signs that said Danger and wonder if I should feel sorry for them, sitting there in the wheelchair with their long-leg casts. Usually I would decide that I would feel sorry that it itched inside the cast, but the broken femur was their problem. For that part they would have to make do with self-pity since I was offering so little of it.

But, you say, you drove motorcycles for all those years. Wasn’t that a risky business? My answer is that it was, but that I wasn’t worried because I never assumed that I would survive a highway crash on those things. When you are piloting a motorcycle, the world is filled with automobile drivers who seem dead set on wiping you from the face of the planet. Either they don’t see you at all, or they do and resent that you are having so much more fun than they are.

Anyway, my wrist hurts today, and probably will for a while. Goes with the territory.

******

From The New Yorker

******

I have read everything there is to read about Covid-19 that has been published up until last evening, and have come to these conclusions as the result of my extensive research.

  • I should either go out more or stay at home.
  • I should wear a mask when I am at home or indoors elsewhere, but not when I am outdoors at the park, unless that makes me feel uneasy in which case I should never take my mask off.
  • My immunizations will protect me against infection, but not completely, so I shouldn’t count on them. Or I should, but not too much.
  • Schools should be opened up but students should not be allowed to attend.
  • Tucker Carlson is an idiot and should banished to Elba, where he must wear an ankle bracelet and be barred from using electricity.
  • Instead of reading all this stuff, I would have been better off spending the time binge-watching all of the episodes of Petticoat Junction and Green Acres. This would produce a gelatinous mental state comparable to having had five big-time concussions in rapid succession and I wouldn’t care one solitary fig about Covid at all. Or much else, for that matter.

******

From the Web

******

There was an article in Saturday’s NYTimes about hanging your clothing to dry rather than jamming them into the dryer, that cube-shaped energy hog that we have in our laundry room. Once again, Robin is ahead of the curve. She hang-dries most of our clothing, and has been doing so for decades.

Most of the time it was on one of those steel folding racks, and the racks were placed indoors wherever they were least inconvenient, to cut down on painful toe-stubbings and awkward bumps in the night. In pleasant weather they would migrate to the outside of our home, and our wardrobe would be out there in the sunshine for airing and public comment. A recurring problem was that it didn’t take much of a breeze to blow these racks over, they being tall and slim and all.

So finally, after years and years of dragging my feet and nodding “Yes, yes, I’ll get to it any day now” I finally put up a hard-copy clothesline. One that couldn’t be folded up and stored behind a bedroom door. It looks like this, and has been working out quite well, mostly because Robin believes in it.

Not only does it save enormous amounts of energy, but when I occasionally help her hang our things out on a glorious spring day, she will share memories of her own mother doing this year after year and season after season. The process isn’t perfect, of course, because even though you would never ever hang your clothes out in a rain shower, occasionally they do come along before the garments are dry and there you are frantically snatching them off the line and going back to the folder-uppers.

I have my own memories of my mom’s love-hate relationship with clotheslines. Not having a dryer as backup, as we do today, mom would put the clothes out on cold winter days, only to harvest them as frozen oddities a few hours later. And there were times when a harsh wind would rip the lines from their moorings, and down would go everything onto the lawn … everything most often requiring repeat washing.

Of course, Mom was a pre-boomer. Energy supplies were seemingly inexhaustible, Al Gore and global warming hadn’t been born yet, and most importantly of all, she couldn’t afford the alternatives. So fixed clotheslines were it for my family of origin.

It’s not been a bad tradition to revive, actually. Our carbon toe-print is slightly smaller as a result and it allows me to feel sooo self-righteous and superior … you wouldn’t believe how much hubris you can get for so little in this way.

******

True Grit

Our trip this past weekend to Great Sand Dunes National Park did not get off to a great start. Somewhere between Gunnison and Poncha Springs the back “door” of our camping trailer opened up and allowed two boxes of gear to fall out and be lost forever. We are still not sure exactly what was lost in those big boxes, but for certain our stove, tent heater, knives, kitchen implements, and several pots and pans were in them.

This necessitated a quick trip to Wal-Mart to replace a few of the lost items, like the stove and heater, which were most obvious and most needed. Over time we will replace the rest, as we notice their absence. If we can ignore that initial mini-disaster, the rest of the trip went swimmingly.

Our weather was exactly as promised. Daytime temps in the 50s, and at night it got down into the 20s. The brand new tent heater performed flawlessly, and the new Coleman stove … what can I say … it is clean, which is almost never true of an old stove.

******

From The New Yorker

******

The dunes were sandy. The campsite was sandy. The hiking trails were sandy. Several times a day one had to take off one’s shoes and dump the sand out, to make room for acquiring more sand. And yes, there was the occasional grain or two in your food. But what a remarkable place! Even though the season was early, the campground was full, and the parking lots were full as well. Once you hit the dunes themselves, however, there was no crowding. The hikers spread out across the face of these sand mountains, and had no problem avoiding one another. Walking up steepish hills in sand is not for the faint of fitness, and not well-suited to compromised knees, so Robin and I went about 1/3 of the way up to the crest before turning back, while the Hurley family went all the way.

There is a creek that starts in the mountains and trickles across the floor of the park, eventually simply stopping. It doesn’t go underground or anything like that, it simply runs out of the will to continue as it reaches a point where the soaking in and the evaporation are equal to the amount of water reaching that point and the creek ceases to exist.

******

From The New Yorker

******

There was a small campground drama that ended well, at least for us. Friday night the campsite across the road from us, which was occupied by a large gaggle of twenty-somethings, was an intensely irritating hubbub of too-loud talking, too-colorful language, and general pain-in-the-butt behavior which went on to at least three in the morning. Perhaps we should have confronted them but I have made it a habit never to have an argument with large groups of stoned or intoxicated strangers at night when I’m far away from being able to make a 911 call.

So Saturday we looked up the camp host to tattle on the miscreants, and the host promised that if there were a repeat performance that we should come knock on the door of her trailer, and she would notify park authorities. What we really wanted, of course, was for park authorities to round up the offenders, tar and feather them and ship them home, but we settled for her plan. We never had to knock on that door.

At around ten PM a park police cruiser visited the offending campsite and reminded that group that it was now quiet hours. They were given the option of behaving themselves and being better neighbors, or the park police would escort them to the border of the park and wave au revoir to them as they sought other places to stay. They were quiet as mice the rest of the night. Quieter, actually.

So a pre-emptive strike worked out quite well, and next day when park police stopped by to ask us if things had gone okay the rest of the night we said “Yes” and thanked them profusely. We would have hugged and kissed the officers, but of course this is still Covid-19 season so we demurred.

******

******

All in all it was a grand trip, with just enough small hardships (lost items, nearly constant wind, coldish nights) to make it possible to endlessly bore our listeners for weeks, perhaps months, to come. There are times, of course, when those listeners might start to head for the doors, but it is then when the true raconteur stands with his back firmly against those doors to prevent them from leaving, and drones on. It’s what we do.

******

Things That Are Better Now

I have a tendency, as curmudgeons often do, to complain about aspects of modern life, comparing them to life in the golden years of the past (which I’ve often polished up a bit in my mind). So I thought I’d try to balance things out by listing a few things that are definitely better than in the “good old days.” A change of pace, if you will, and then I can get back to complaining, which is a much more natural posture for me.

******

Milk. Milk is better. I don’t know exactly when homogenization of milk became the everyday reality that it is now, but it hadn’t hit my family of origin until I was of middle-school age. Before that, milk was not one thing, but two. Each bottle had a two-inch layer of cream on top that had separated from the skim milk below. You would shake the bottle to try to mix them together, which was more or less an effort that was doomed to failure, because they never really combined completely. (Like oil and water) In addition, the cream layer was a little gloppy, and those lumps of glop were now distributed throughout the milk after shaking. I hated those glops with a passion. Still do.

******

Refrigeration. When I was a very small child, the cold food preservation system in our house was fairly primitive. It was called an icebox. Think of it as a picnic cooler that was too big to lug around. In one area you would put a large chunk of ice, and food was stacked in the other part.

Just like in a picnic cooler, there were colder and warmer areas of the box, you had to buy more ice almost on a daily basis in summer, and what happens when the ice melts? That water had to be hauled away.

ANY modern refrigerator is better than that.

******

Car Tires. The modern automobile tire is a marvel. Its durability and reliability are in a completely different league when compared to those I had on my first car, which was a 1950 Ford two-door coupe. I recall shopping for Allstate Tires in Sears catalog and finding that I had three choices, and the best available was guaranteed for 15,ooo miles. My Subaru’s tires now routinely get 65,000 miles or more.

And in those 15,000 miles you could expect to have a flat at anytime. Because the weak link was the tube inside. Punctures, slow leaks, fast leaks, blowouts – all were part of a driver’s experience, as was having a patching kit along to fix a flat on the highway. If you ask me today where my car’s jack is, I couldn’t exactly tell you, but I would point vaguely toward the back of the car. In 1956 you knew exactly where that jack was, because you used it just last week.

******

From The New Yorker

******

Cars. While we’re on the subject of cars, their overall reliability today is wayyy superior to what I experienced with that revered 1950 Ford. In that era, if anyone claimed that their automobile had crossed the hallowed 100,000 mile mileage mark, we would all gather round the speaker worshipfully, to hear what pearls of wisdom he had to share. How often did he change the oil, what kind of oil, what kind of gas, was the car mostly driven in town or mostly on the highway, and what were his traveling speeds, etc. That kind of mileage was the Holy Grail at one time, now it’s barely worth a sniff.

******

Socks. Socks used to get holes in them. Your choices then were to have them darned (sew the hole closed) or throw them away. That never happens today. What does occur is that all of the soft stuff that is in a sock wears off the bottom, leaving a nylon grid behind that is uncomfortable and eventually blister-producing. So it’s sort of a wash, I guess. The real improvement comes in the elastic material that holds a sock up. They used to fall down after a few washings, as the elastic material rapidly deteriorated. This meant that you would be tugging at them all day long to keep up appearances. Today they never, ever fall, but they cost fifty times as much as they did.

Worth every penny.

******

Shoes. In families of modest means, or sub-modest means like the one I grew up in, buying a pair of shoes was just the first step in that shoe’s life. When the sole or heel wore down, your father would take them to the basement and do a repair. There were tools available with which to do this. Hammers and nails and cast-iron forms.

Because an ordinary family would never own a sewing machine capable of stitching that new leather sole onto the shoe, my dad would use a bunch of small nails to fasten it. At first these nails would not touch your foot, but as the new sole wore down the nails did not wear correspondingly, and eventually flesh and iron met in painful and bloody congress. But not to worry, you gave the shoes to your dad and he’d start the whole process over once again. You tossed out a pair of shoes only when your feet had grown to the point where they couldn’t be shoved into them any longer, or when the leather of the upper itself became too thin to hold things together.

******

Hot sauces. In my family of origin, there was nothing hotter imaginable than Tabasco sauce. Not that anyone in my family actually owned a bottle, but they would sit around the table after supper and talk about people who they had heard about, people who had ingested the stuff and what horrible things had happened to them as a result … a stomach that never worked well again, bowels that became completely unreliable, et al.

Imagine my surprise when I started buying my own groceries and I first tried Tabasco sauce. It was certainly flavorful, but hot … what a disappointment. The era of jalapeños, serranos, habaneros, ghost peppers, etc. was still ahead for me. Also, for the longest time there was little availability of the interesting traditional pepper sauces from other countries around the world. Today I think you would never have to buy the same condiment twice if you didn’t want to, there are that many to choose from. And those international specimens have flavors that can be simultaneously flame-throwing and exotic.

(Keep in mind that this is being written by a Norwegian-American, which is a race born without the ability to metabolize or appreciate pepper in any of its many forms. I am obviously a hybrid of some sort, perhaps as a result of hanky-panky on the boat coming over to America, or to some serious “bundling” on a frosty January night back in the mid- 1800s in one of those lonely pioneer cabins).

******

Indoor Plumbing. My family of origin never actually lived in a house without it, but as a child one of my favorite places on the planet was my grandfather’s farm, which had neither electricity nor bathrooms on the inside until I was about eight or nine years old. Now an outhouse is tolerable in good weather, but in the dead of winter … my, oh my … you gave a lot of thought to the phrase – is this trip really necessary?

The water in Grandpa Jacobson’s house was accessed with a small hand pump at the sink in the kitchen. That was it. If you wanted to take that Saturday night bath, you pumped as much water as you needed and warmed it on the wood stove. You then climbed into the big circular galvanized tub brought out for that purpose and you scrubbed away. It was pretty much Little House on the Prairie kind of stuff.

I am not nostalgic for those baths or those trips to the privy. Means to an end, my friends, means to an end.

******

With the trial of the officer involved in the killing of George Floyd now underway, articles are appearing everywhere on what the scene of the crime looks like today. It has become a sacred space on the corner of 38th Street and Chicago Avenue … that intersection where I used to walk by on my way to Saturday morning movie matinees.

I moved away from that city in 1969, when the Air Force decided that my assistance was urgently required in Omaha NE if our country was to survive, and I never went back after that but for brief visits. One by one my personal ties to the town have gone away, but I still can be moved by its stories, even dreadful stories such as this one. After all, it was home for thirty years.

Robin and I are both wondering what the officer’s lawyers can possibly come up with as his defense. When you are photographed kneeling on the neck of a man for nine minutes … I’m sure that they will be as creative and imaginative as possible. When the evidence is so clearly damning, heavy legal smoke is definitely called for.

I also wonder is what is ahead for my old hometown, when the trial is over. No matter what the verdict turns out to be, it will create waves that wash through the entire country. Minneapolis has unfortunately become almost a metaphor for urban police violence.

******

Plague Notes

The oddest Christmas is nearly here, and I admit that I don’t quite know how to process it. On the one hand, we are hours away from the closest grandchild (which is how distances are measured) and that hasn’t changed for a long time. So there was never the possibility of seeing all of our family in any given season, even before Covid. But today, even when we can make the effort …

Later today we are delivering presents to the kids in Durango. We’ll drive down there, eat lunch together with the Hurleys outdoors somewhere, and then return home. No physical contact to be extended, no less than six feet away from one another. It’s like having a Zoom conference but everybody is physically in the room. We can’t trust ourselves not to infect those folks, nor trust that they won’t do us harm. Bizarre days, verging on the surreal.

So here’s a few tunes to take your mind off viruses, if you need a break. Tried and true people singing songs that were recorded before the plague set in, eons ago.

******

K.I.S.S.

This morning as I was traversing the mental minefield that reading the online newspapers has become, I began to feel a light panic at not being able to remember which was the most important of the 100 ways I had just read about being a better human being (one worth feeding and caring for).

So I slapped myself hard across the figurative face and said to myself – Self! Stop it right now! You are letting other people set your agenda. You will never get anywhere trying to be au courant because you are not in the au courant loop. So gather what wits you have and make your own list.

  • Be kind
  • Be compassionate
  • Listen more

There. Only three things to remember. Much easier and more straightforward. Anyone can remember three things, right?

******

Here are some photos of friends being friends on a fine, hot, August day

Ahhhhhhh, Juicy Fruit!

Summer afternoon, the music of a slack-key guitarist named Ledward Ka’apana coming from the red box under the umbrella that protects me from those rays I ignored for most of my life. There are a few yellowjackets buzzing about, but even they seem as driftless as I am, not even bothering to try to fake me out with any of their diving feints. A small breeze barely moves the leaves of the ash trees, and the woody scent from the warming deck boards rises all around us.

Ay ay ay, hell yesterday, heaven today.

The tomatoes are over there against the board fence, gathering their forces. There are only four plants, but hundreds and hundreds of green and reddening fruits. Enough to choke our kitchen when their ripening outpaces our ability to eat them, as it surely will. Today we had a caprese salad, tonight it’s BLTs, tomorrow something Indian out of the instant pot and starring, guess what?

Of course we will share them with others, whether they like tomatoes or not. We may even perform the classic maneuver of bringing basketfuls to their doorsteps under cover of night and leaving them there. It’s the thought that counts, isn’t it?

******

Fighting the Good Fight Department
The Future of Nonconformity by David Brooks. Mr. Brooks thinks being exposed to different opinions makes Jack less of a dull boy and more of a thoughtful citizen to boot. He also thinks that right now that isn’t happening nearly as often as it should.

Along the way, Brooks mentions a platform called Substack, which was new to me. A place of commerce where writers can go to publish their thoughts and be as independent as they want to be. They make their appeal for the funds they need to feed and clothe themselves directly to their readers. No intermediaries involved.

******

Today’s title is drawn from one of the more memorable scenes in the movie One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. But then, you knew that, didn’t you?

******

I found myself laughing silently at myself this morning as I cooked up a bunch of scrambled eggs. This recipe called for a handful of onions, tomatoes, and some feta cheese and as I watched it all come together in the pan I thought: “What this needs is a pinch of cumin and a pinch of chili pepper.”

That’s where the chuckling came in. Because I have those same thoughts repeatedly. As a result, much of my cooking tends toward sameness. No matter what it started out to be, it ends up tasting of cumin and chilis. This approach works pretty well with Mexican foods, but not so well with, let’s say, lutefisk.

*******

Saturday morning after a light rain, for which we are grateful. Even though we wish for something heavy in that department we thank the pluvial powers-that-be for our few drops.

At present Robin and I are injury-free. There have been small mishaps this summer that produced minor injuries that have healed. BTW, a minor injury is defined as something excruciatingly painful that happens to someone else, and from which they will eventually recover completely. (If it happens to you, of course, it is a major injury.)

Both of us have fallen from our bikes, twisted joints, bumped heads, bruised feet. The list goes on. I’ve heard the illnesses encountered by first-rank athletes as a result of their rigorous training described as “diseases of excellence.” In other words, things that happen to gifted people because they are working toward very high goals.

Maybe our efforts don’t quite reach that level, but they were caused by the same thing. The wish to do more than a proper sedentary life would afford. We count ourselves fortunate to be able to be active in some of these things, but in so doing, we sustain these occasional injuries. It’s a package deal, n’est-ce pas?

However, we’ve had to include Band-Aids as a category of its own in the household budget.

******

Eternally Speaking …

For the longest time I have wakened with a sense of puzzlement and unreality each morning. As is my wont I have been trying to mentally construct a coherent whole of my world and life, but without success. I am without a gestalt.

The world I live in is in disarray, plagues lap at my door, gangs of idiots roam the streets in Confederate flag-festooned pickup trucks, the media shouts unbelievable things at me from first light to dusk, the days are so hot I cringe indoors lest I stroke out or mummify myself, my tomatoes are being deformed even as they ripen, and my image in the mirror is daily stranger and stranger to me.

But today I finally figured it out.

I am in Hell.

Apparently I popped off on the night of November 8,2016, although I have no recollection of how it might have happened. Presumably my body could not physiologically handle the horror of the election results. Then later when all my sins and peccadilloes were totted up, the celestial triage team bundled me up and sent me down the bizarre pathway I am presently on.

As you can imagine, for a baby-Buddhist like myself to find that I’m in Perdition is quite a surprise, since I don’t believe in it. But this morning there seems to be no other way of making sense of the last several years. So I will swallow my wounded pride at my error and make the best of things. If this is Hell, I think I had better keep my expectations low, don’t you?

But hey, hmmm, you guys are here, too. So what did you do to deserve your punishment? Of course, I could be hallucinating and simply going nuts, crackers, barmy, bonkers. More than a little likelihood of that.

It’s a lot to digest, and perhaps I should be taking smaller bites, shallower breaths. Yes, that’s what I’ll do, I’ll go to the grocery store and take my mind off what I’ve learned for a short while. Let’s see, where did I put my mask … but do I really need to wear one … if I am deceased and all?

What to do. What to do.

******

From The New Yorker

******

Perhaps I would not have moved all the way to western Colorado just to listen to station KVNF, but now that I’m here … what a treasure it is! Much of it is musical programming, of the kind that was last available more than 50 years ago. Where each DJ made up their own playlist, following their own hearts and minds and musical tastes.

So we have programs like Free Range Radio, Undercurrents, Saturday Night Soundtrack, et al. There is jazz, blues, classical, big band – each program put together by a volunteer DJ who plays what they love, without corporate interference.

In the spaces between the tunes, it is an NPR station. Gotta love it.

******

I finally finished the Studs Lonigan trilogy, and oh my, what a depressing third volume that was. Only bad things happened to the “hero” and each of them was long presaged before it actually arrived. It is that close to being a perfect “downer.” I had to ask myself why it moved me so when I was a twenty-something? I must have been more of a depressive than I remember. Sheesh.

I gotta do somethin’ to get that big blob of literary hopelessness out of my head, but what … let’s try this. It’s always worked before.

******

Holes In One’s Personal Ozone

I was making conversation with a gentleman the other day whose opinions on many subjects I have found puzzling. For an “educated man,” that is. The first time that I met him his question to me was “So do you think this global warming thing is real?” When I had picked my jaw up from the floor and reassembled my face I answered that climate change was a fact, and only the portion of that change attributable to human activity was up for scientific debate. He mumbled something and then went to the bathroom.

The latest exchange between this man and myself was on whether Joe Biden was a good candidate or not. I asked whether he was seriously thinking about casting his vote for Attila the Grabber, and he responded “No, no, of course not, but I wonder about this Biden guy.”

I don’t know if what I said next was helpful or not, but I told him that even if Biden had just been convicted of embezzlement, had horrible personal hygiene, and was being investigated as a suspect in the pushing of his own grandmother off a subway platform I would still vote for him. Twice, if I had to. Such is the low regard that I have for his opponent.

He mumbled something and then went to the bathroom.

******

******

A story from the Times of New York about a white bear grabbed my attention. It’s not a polar bear, and it’s not an albino variant. It is a beautiful animal who is teaching humans important things about genetic diversity and the habitat needs of some of the other creatures that share this limited space called Earth with us.

Title of the piece: Genetic Maps Find Risks to Spirit Bears’ Habitat.

******

My friends. It’s true that I live in Paradise, but I will admit that when I say this I refer to the topography and the climate, rather than the human population. When it comes to our local aggregation of homo erectus, we are just as ridiculous, marvelous, and bats**t crazy as anywhere I’ve lived.

For instance, here is an unretouched photograph of the Republican candidate for U.S. representative for the 3rd congressional district. Her name is Lauren Boebert and her qualification for office is that she runs a restaurant in Rifle CO where the wait-staff are encouraged to wear guns. Just because they can.

Here she is shown speaking at an event, wearing a fetching firearm tied low on the leg in the fast-draw position. As if she were in a 1956 western TV series.

It’s called wearing a gun for show.

.

In the recent primary election, 2/3 of Republican voters in our county chose her over the incumbent, a rather boring man with gunless thighs and unripped jeans. Her Democratic opponent in November is a highly capable, experienced, thoughtful, and qualified woman with sound ideas for governance.

But if any of you are thinking of betting on the election, I would put my money on the woman in the photograph. This is a Republican county and that particular party is very fond of running cartoon characters for office, as we have all learned to our detriment.

******

OK, Boomer!

I am not a “boomer,” so I respectfully suggest that people stop referring to me in that way. I am older than a boomer, actually, because that group didn’t start until WWII was over, and I was born before it all began. I also respectfully ask that people not blame me for that war, it was not my fault. I was a baby and I didn’t know any better.

Now that we’ve got that out of the way, let’s get on with more important things.

If you are streaming the television that you watch, there is an amazing richness of opportunity in places like Netflix (perhaps especially Netflix) to engage with material about and by people of color. Go to the company site and search under “black stories,” or “black lives matter,” and see what a treasury comes up.

Now not all of you may know this, because I am a modest and shy boy of Minnesota origins, but I am a white person. In fact, one day in the past my old friend Rich Kaplan said to me: “Jon, you are the whitest person I know.” Out of not quite knowing what he meant, I never asked Rich to clarify that statement.

At any rate, I have no excuse for there still being a gap between what I should know and what I do know with regard to race, racism, injustice, et al. The information is out there. All I have to do is take a deep breath and dig in. I know two things, that I will be the better for it and that I will find it hard to watch or read.

It’s not that I am completely clueless (although my children might argue with me on that). At age fifteen my cultural education really began with reading “Century of Dishonor,” a book about the horrific treatment of Native Americans by Europeans. In the early seventies I worked at a ghetto clinic in Buffalo NY, where nearly all of my patients were black. In the eighties I worked at a clinic on a Lakota reservation in Nebraska.

But looking back I realize that I didn’t take full advantage of what were wonderful opportunities for learning. My thought processes tended toward the clinical, as if I were an anthropologist and observing on a very superficial level. Instead of taking the clumsy instrument that my mind was and letting it probe deeper into what the experiences and lives of the patients … the people … that I met might be like or what they meant. Or at least trying to do so.

Not only do I not claim to know what it means to be a black person or a Native American or Hispanic or Asian, I even have trouble knowing what it means to be a white guy sometimes. But I can look at a specific situation and ask myself: What if that happened to me? How would I feel?

I strongly suspect that I would be angry … no, furious … all of the time.

******

Fighting the Good Fight Department

Tell the Truth and Shame the Devil! by Charles Blow

******

Monday morning I found myself humming songs from Carole King’s excellent album of 1971, Tapestry. Robin and I talked about how really perfect the group of songs were, and the tune You’ve Got A Friend is the best song about true friendship that I’ve ever heard.

Apparently our opinion is shared by a few other people because it’s one of the largest-selling albums of all time.

.

******

Wednesday through Friday we’re headed for the old Silesca Ranger Station for a getaway. The building dates back to 1937, and was in use by the forest service until 1954 . At any rate, civilians can now rent them and spend time alone in the forests of the Uncompahgre Plateau. We are looking forward to sharing the space with the ghosts of another era.

I will bring back photos of my own, but here’s one of the cabin, taken from the web.

The cabins have a shower, flush toilets, and an electric stove. Really, not “roughing it” at all. During the day we will likely be occasionally annoyed by ATVs buzzing around, but the evenings should be great. It’s fifteen miles from civilization and Covid-free. Nothing to do but read, sit quietly, watch the forest animals parade by, and if one is uncommonly motivated – take a hike.

Ahhhhhh, Wilderness. The word reminds me of a saying by a Native American that I read decades ago, and have long since forgotten the source.

What the white man calls wilderness, we call home.

******

Southern Fried

This Sunday July 5 promises to be a warm one, which means it doesn’t stand out much from what we’ve been served for the last month or two. Our Spring was foreshortened with the rapid transition from late Winter to mid-Summer we experienced this year.

Our 4th of July was quiet. There were no fireworks here in Paradise, but for the tame ones in a few backyards. I have to admit that in creating an illegal and unwelcome noise Yankton SD beats Montrose CO all to hell.

Where Robin and I lived in South Dakota was out in the rural and some of our neighbors made such a racket on this holiday that it took a week for our cats to get their frazzled nerves back in order. Fireworks sales in SD were a big deal, and while a man with deep enough pockets couldn’t really rival the municipal displays, he could certainly keep you awake well past your bedtime.

Governor Noem of SD made her own kind of noise when she welcomed P.Cluck and the gang to Mount Rushmore. She lost no time in telling us all in advance that there would be no common sense used at this event at all. No masks required, no spacing done.

.

Wonderful. Let us give a shout-out to all the voters who let this happen back in 2016 when they knowingly voted for a tangerine-tinted liar, serial abuser of women, draft-dodger, oath-breaker and all around abominable person. We are all reaping what they sowed.

******

Here are three more bands from Dylan’s latest album. Only one to go after these. Saving it for last.

Mother of Muses
Key West
Crossing the Rubicon

******

We now have a gazillion green tomatoes on our vines. None of them seem to be in any hurry to ripen, however, but are resolute in their bright greenness. Unless the situation changes, we may have to turn to the Whistle Stop Cafe recipe book for inspiration.

A few seconds of research informed me that there is an operating Whistle Stop Cafe in the hamlet of Juliette GA, where the movie was made. In the film an unemployed general store provided the setting for the restaurant, and after the movie people left town, some residents thought they might have a good thing there.

Following the release of the film, the town opened up a real Whistle Stop Café set up just like the movie set. Local resident Robert Williams had inherited the building and partnered with his friend Jerie Lynn Williams to open up Original Whistle Stop Cafe. 

https://www.wideopencountry.com/

I don’t know quite what to do with this new intelligence, but it is a certainty that if I am ever in the vicinity of Juliette GA (you never know …) I will stop in for a plateful of those fried green tomatoes. To pay homage to that delightful movie, if for no other reason.

******

Triple Plagues

My computer inbox is crowded each morning with reports on the three maladies du jour – Covid 19, racism, and Cluckism. Taken individually they are overwhelming. Taken together … what is three times overwhelming? Or is it overwhelming to the third power? My in-brain abacus must be missing a ring or two, since I can’t seem to come up with a sum.

These three plagues are interrelated in that the last one actively interferes with progress on the first two. Doesn’t prevent progress altogether, but presents a big speed bump for certain. I am long ago grown tired of wondering if today will be the day that P.Cluck puts on a mask. Who cares any longer? His chance to lead anyone but the clutch of cult members who follow him around is something he tossed away years ago.

Let’s have a moratorium on publishing his every tweet and/or fatuous self-promotion. Maybe every Saturday CNN could summarize these items in a single article for those of us who cling to sanity with broken fingernails and weakening grip. We could then clip out this section (metaphorically speaking) and place it in the bottom of a parakeet cage where it belongs. (The parakeet is also metaphoric. Would that make it a metaphorakeet?)

******

Dr. Fauci isn’t sure that a Covid 19 vaccine will be as useful as it might. The number of people in a recent poll who said they wouldn’t get the vaccination when it is finally produced was about 30%. If the numbers are accurate, this would mean that the sought-after herd immunity wouldn’t have a chance to kick in.

It would be yet another instance where this anti-vaccine cohort would be depending on the rest of us to protect them as we do with measles and mumps and polio et al. No matter. If we have to save some of their ignorant lives to get the result we need, we’ll do it. Again. My own preference would be to isolate all of them in one or two states, perhaps Mississippi and Alabama, and let them live together in pox-filled peace and tranquility.

While I’m on the subject of the coronavirus, I am happy for two things. First, that our cats don’t have it. Second, that if they did, they aren’t like this guy. I’m not sure my protective mask would be up to the task.

******

On Saturday my neighbor Ed and I are going to build a pergola-like sunshade that will provide some protection for people sitting in chairs in front of our home. At midday the sun out there is reminiscent of scenes from Lawrence of Arabia.

Ed is a knowledgeable and experienced construction person, which should balance out nicely with my cluelessness.

.

My plan is for him to do the sawing, nailing, fitting, and planning. My role will be to hand him whatever tool he requires, much as an operating room technician assists the surgeon. I will also be in charge of the large box of Band-Aids necessary whenever I undertake any sort of carpentry chores. On the average I will lose 240 milliliters of blood per day any time that I take a saw in hand. My DNA is all over the place by the time that project completion rolls around.

If we do finish the thing, I will provide photographic proof of same.

******

******

I’m going to close with a quote from my favorite cynic. It explains the speech of P.Cluck at Mount Rushmore quite well, I think.

The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary.

H.L. Mencken

Tumult

It’s forty degrees this Tuesday morning, June the ninth. A light, cold rain is falling in the yard and on the streets outside my door. But I am on the safe, warm, dry side of the window that is providing me this weather report.

Yesterday when Robin and I took our exercise walk high up on a ridge overlooking Montrose we were battling yet more wind. There were places where the hiking path runs close to the edge of the escarpment, and I chose my steps carefully to avoid being puffed off into space.

After living in basically quiet air for the first five years here in Paradise, this breezy spring has been a revelation. Something to contend with, actually.

******

Our new yard sign hasn’t reached us as yet, but we’ve already resolved to send it back. The story here is that Robin originally told me that she wanted to place a “Black Lives Matter” sign on the berm out front. To show solidarity with the Minneapolis protesters, even though we live a long way from my old home town.

In my wisdom, I suggested that perhaps one of those “All Lives Matter” signs might suit our community better since we have so few black citizens in Montrose County. So the order for the sign went in this way.

Shortly after that I became aware that not only was this a poor idea, it was a very very bad idea, and we were about to promote the opposite of what we meant. ALM has come to be the catchphrase of racists, white supremacists, and some of the other ugly varieties of homo sapiens, even though on the surface it seems admirable enough. And once you get into discussions that turn on cultural interpretations of a word or phrase, it can only end in confusion and rancor. One of the drawbacks of living in small town America is that it is easier to miss or be oblivious to those discussions of context.

So mea culpa. BLM it is from here on in. It’s what Robin was going to say until she made the mistake of listening to me. It’s not the first time she’s made that error. I keep trying to tell her … you’d think she’d learn by now.

******

From The New Yorker

******

P. Cluck recently made headlines just by walking across the street to church, as shown in this photo taken on the church steps along with some of his hangers-on.

Of course, the news was how he got across that street, which was by gassing and knocking down all of the troublesome people who were in his path.

“Cracking liberal heads is not doing them any harm,” said Cluck. “In fact, a fracture or two might let some sense in.” His staff was noted to nod continuously in agreement, reminiscent of a line of bobble-head dolls. In fact, they began to nod even before Cluck had begun speaking, and continued for an hour after he had stopped.

******

******

Camping Report from Vega State Park for the Weekend of June 5-7

It stank. Wind and intermittent rain on Friday afternoon and all day Saturday. Enough wind to completely wreck Justin’s tent and tear off a chunk from ours.

Enough wind to make fishing impossible. Enough wind to shrink down the window for safe kayaking/canoeing to about an hour. Enough wind to make hiking and biking nasty as sand particles whistled past (and into) your face at 50+ miles an hour. Enough wind to complicate cooking because your Coleman stove blew over unless you watched it carefully.

Steady winds of at least 30 mph with frequent gusts up to … don’t know for sure … but probably near 60-70 mph? However, on the positive side, we had no problems with insects. They were unable, poor creatures, to fly in such a gale.

******

As this week we have been watching yet another act in the ongoing tragedy called Being Black and White in America, it helps me to look back to another era of great ferment. James Baldwin was a force in the sixties in our political and cultural life. His books, his essays, and his public speeches all taken together were basically a correspondence course on racism for a young and impressionable young American (like myself, for instance).

He was recorded at Cambridge Union in England where he debated William F. Buckley on whether there was a place in the American Dream for negroes. Mr. Baldwin’s oration was a milestone of a sort. The clarity of his vision and the strength of his intellect shine a light from that day all the way to the events of this past week.

Here is that speech for anyone who has 24 minutes to spare.

******