Back to Fracking

I wrote about fracking before, but it seems to be the time to revisit the controversy.  The oil and gas business is paying for a media blitz saying fracking is a good thing: lower energy prices.

The opposition seems to believe fracking has concentrated all the evil in the world into a bunch of holes in the ground.  What is the reality here?  Both sides have strong arguments, but they are operating from separate assumptions.

Pro fracking advocates use the arguments that lower energy prices and tax revenue benefit us all.  Anti fracking advocates point to many accidents at drilling sites and groundwater contamination, along with drilling steadily encroaching on urban ares as a dangerous activity.

What about the benefits of fracking?  It’s true fracking has lowered energy costs and the conversion of coal fired power plants to has has lowered air pollution.  True on both counts.  But, fossil fuel is still being burned and greenhouse gasses are still going into the atmosphere.  It’s very possible fracking and increased low cost gas production is impeding the process of converting to alternative energy sources.

What about fracking itself?  It is not new technology.  My Fruita paper route doubled during the 1950’s energy boom in Western Colorado and Eastern Utah.  Fracking was part of the story then.  The real change is to horizontal drilling combined with fracking.

A deep vertical hole is drilled and then the bore hole is turned ninety degrees over the distance of a quarter mile.  The long horizontal bore is is perforated, explosive charges are detonated, fracturing rock usually fairly impervious to oil and gas flow.  The openings are then injected with water and sand, cracking more rock with the cracks held open by the sand.  Oil and gas can then flow into the bore hole and to the surface, then to your furnace and gas tank.

The fracking process uses a lot of water, from one to five million gallons.  About half or less of the water returns to the surface and is most often injected into another well (cheaper than treatment).  The water use can have a significant impact in arid regions.  Return water can be treated, but is expensive.

Probably the biggest objection to fracking is groundwater contamination.  Near Parachute CO, it was possible to light tap water on fire, there was so much gas in the water.  Most often the contamination comes from leaks in the vertical bore hole.  Proper casing and concrete injection readily prevents leaks, but as the work is done deep underground, it is easy to cheat, causing leaks.

My take on the issue?  Increased production from fracking lowers oil and gas prices and decreases our reliance on imported oil.  Coal fired power plants are being converted to gas, resulting in less greenhouse gas pollution from them.  Done properly, the technology is safe, but cheating seems to be the norm in the oil and gas business.  If we want to use fossil fuel, well regulated fracking is the way to go.  i think some of the opposition is because of the word fracking.  It seems to have an obscene connotation.

The big downside stems from the fact reduced fossil fuel costs are delaying the transition to alternative energy sources.  One estimate points out that cheap natural gas makes gas fired power plant power cheaper than wind or solar power.  The transition to alternative power may be slowed by twenty years or more.  In the short run, cheap gas is good.  In the long run, cheap gas may do more harm than good.  The planet can’t sequester enough carbon and the planet gets warmer.  Of course in the long run, we’re all dead.

The debate becomes political, and the oil business has the dollars to influence the decision.  Result, more gas gets burned and the long run comes earlier.  We will probably render our species extinct.

Wildfire

Some of the golden hills of California just turned black.  This time it is north around Santa Rosa and the wine country.  Usually it is the San Gabriel mountains or other Southern California areas.  The conditions leading to destructive wildfire are the same.  There are essentially two seasons; when it rains and when there is no rain.

This year there was a lot of rain in what passes for winter in all of California.  Everything greens up and grows.  It means good feed for cattle, and lots of fuel in the fall when it dries out.  You are probably familiar with the Santa Ana winds in Southern California.  The desert Great Basin east of the mountains cools off, creating an area of high pressure.  The pressure creates west-flowing winds, blowing to the coast.  As the winds hit the mountains, they rise, cool, then flow down the west side of the mountains, warming as they flow west.  Thus the Santa Ana winds, hot dry wind flowing west and drying all that foliage that grew during the rainy season.

In Northern California, the winds are called Diablo winds, after the local Diablo mountains.  The high pressure west of the coastal region originates from high pressure following storms blowing into the basin from the stormy northwest.  The high pressure again creates west flowing wind howling down the west side of the mountains.  The fires are set or lightning started, and burn across the valleys.  That means the golden hills, vineyards, and Santa Rosa suburbs.

The fire triangle: fuel, heat, and oxygen.  The fuel grew, much heat comes with the wind, which also supplies plenty of oxygen.  Add an ignition point, and it burns.  The wind and fire blows down canyons, and people like to live in the canyons.  When all the space in the canyons is full, people move into the hills.  It is called the urban-wildland interface.  The entire American West is growing in population, and the new people moving in want to experience some open space.  The open space is open because it periodically burns, thus no forest, just chaparral and grassland.  And houses.  Destruction.

Is climate change partly responsible?  You decide.  California has always had destructive fire blowing in from the west, but is climate change exacerbating the natural phenomena?

Here in Colorado, we also have destructive wildland fires fanned by downslope winds.  Here the winds are from the west, hit the mountains, rise, cool, and roar down the eastern side of the mountains, fanning fires.  People are moving into the areas where the fires have always burned, and their houses burn.  The Plains east of Denver see huge grassland fires, especially after a wet spring.

Storm King Fire, Glenwood Springs CO

Western Colorado also has wind accelerated fires.  Westerly winds encounter the west side of the Rockies, rise, cool, and descend into the area around Glenwood Springs.  The country is the Colorado equivalent of California Chaparral.  The brush burns got, killing firefighters and threatening towns.  It is only a matter of time before things get hot in Glenwood, Newcastle, and Carbondale.

The West is a wonderful place, with open space, mountains, deserts, and a harsh climate.  People moving there beware, the conditions are more violent than in the well-watered East.  Oh, and don’t forger the landslides and avalanches where it is steep, along with fire.  There is lots of steep country.   There is steep country just west of all the people living along the Front Range.  The fires just might burn into town, just like Santa Rosa.

Waldo Canyon Fire, Colorado Springs

Colorado Springs has seen fire, along with Boulder.  Some day a fire may want to go downtown in a Front Range city. It is also likely a mountain town like Evergreen or Estes Park will burn.  The Mountain Pine Beetle has left a lot of standing dead trees ready to burn.

Why do I seem to be writing about fire, earthquakes, hurricanes, and other means of destruction? Maybe because I am confronting my own mortality.  I just turned 75.  I know it is surprising because I look so young.

John McPhee

John McPhee is my favorite writer.  He writes nonfiction for the New Yorker and has done so for fifty years.  He writes about whatever he wants to.  Alaska, the Pine Barrens, oranges, geology, transportation, and people.  Always, a topic is people.  He decides on a subject and searches out people engaged in his topic and weaves them into the narrative.

I read his stuff because of his subject matter (he has written extensively about geology).  He also has a warm and engaging style, his readers all fall in love with him.  The subject matter is always interesting, often because the people he seeks out are so colorful.

In Rising From the Plains, about Wyoming geology, McPhee found David Love, a USGS geologist from Laramie.  Gone now, Dr. Love was a renowned field geologist, focusing on Wyoming.  His  family is an integral part of Wyoming history.  His father started and ran a sheep outfit on Muskrat Creek in the Gas Hills, one of the most remote places in the lower forty eight.

The way McPhee portrays the man, his career, and Wyoming history makes one of the best books I have ever reread.  And reread, and give away.  If you have even the slightest interest in geology, read the book.  Rising From the Plains is a standalone book, and is part of Annals of the Former World, a collection of long pieces about geology mostly along I-80, skipping over the midwestern mud.  North America has fascinating geology and Annals gives a good overview.

Another book I like is The Control of Nature.  If you want to modify what nature produces, you get politicians to adopt the policy, then hire engineers to figure out what to do, then design the solution.  Sometimes they are asked to do the impossible, like keeping the eroding San Gabriel mountains from filling the Los Angeles Basin or control the lower Mississippi River.  Ask an engineer if something can be done and their answer is always “Yes.”  They make their money building stuff.  They may need lots of money, all the better.  Many of their projects fail at some time.  Don’t move to Morgan City, Louisiana.

McPhee has a wide range of interests.  He takes his storytelling skills to The Swiss army, to Loch Ness, to the Illinois River, California earthquake country, Alaska, and my least favorite book about a fish called shad. I read the book, but I still don’t care about the clammy, bony, tasteless things.  Not biased, though.

He is well into his eighties, and now writes mostly about writing.  His method is a complex blend of research, note taking, and building a structure to hold the piece together.  He is a real structure freak.  I have an idea, think about it a bit, and rip something out, editing as I go.  Of course he is producing around 50,000 words.  I do 500 to a thousand.  I have a structure as well, as I also learned how make outlines.  I tend to adapt the Army way: tell them what you are going to tell them, tell them, and then tell them what you told them.  I like to introduce the subject, amplify it, then add my personal take.

Unlike McPhee, I tend to drift off topic into a rant or something mostly unrelated, but I like it.  “Oh look, a squirrel!”  Have I mentioned I have ADD?  I sometimes tend to bullshit; McPhee does not.  He has his extensive research and those wonderful New Yorker fact checkers.  I have my broken brain and Google.

Other McPhee assets are his sense of humor and his feel for dialect.  He is easy to read.

Activism

U. S. Customs House. Very welcoming.

I try to avoid writing about politics here, but recent events have driven me to be more active.  Usually the extent of my political action is giving money to causes I support.  I have to do more.  I think of my days at Colorado State when we would decide whether to go to the daily demonstration or do something else, like study.  The country was in turmoil over Vietnam and Watergate.  I did my small part.

Now I must again do my small part.  No more just watching Rachel Maddow and deploring the latest attempt at destroying at destroying anything remotely progressive.  I must act, take to the streets.  This won’t be the first time, I went to a rally supporting our Muslim neighbors and had fun wearing my Bad Hombre t-shirt.

Today it is the lunch time protest at Senator Cory Gardner’s office in downtown Denver.  I’m not sure these demonstrations and marches have a great impact, but they are a way to use my First Amendment rights, which seem to be under attack these days.  The current upheaval is in the NFL, and is a classic free speech issue.  The unfortunate result of the turmoil is increasing the polarization going on in our nation since the Reagan era.

I went downtown to a Federal office building where Senator Gardner has hidden his office.  As with most Federal buildings, you must go through security.  I always have to get wanded because my right knee is titanium.  I was alone in his office suite, no going beyond the closed door.  I talked to a nice young man acting as receptionist.  I stated my position and he took notes.  No drama.

The issues this week are about health care and race.  The Affordable Care Act needs work.  The impass in Congress is preventing any rational attempt at fixing the ACA.  Repeal attempts keep failing.  The reason for the attempts to repeal the ACA is, simply, race.  It is a black President’s program so it must go away.  Oh, and it is expensive.

When a new social welfare program goes into place there is always opposition, but. People begin to realize things are better for lots of people.  They just don’t get repealed, they get cleaned up.  Traditionally the Democrats come up with the programs and the Republicans do the housekeeping.  With race behind the Republican’s opposition they have blocked themselves from assuming their traditional role.  Nothing gets done and the status quo lurches along.

There is, of course, money involved as well.  Rich Republicans don’t want to pay for making poor people’s lives better.  Three reasons: greed, race, and Social Darwinism.  Republicans are always opposed to higher taxes.  They want to keep the money for themselves, even though they have plenty.  Poor blacks and hispanics don’t deserve a damn thing, they deserve to suffer.  The reason poor people are poor is because they are inferior to rich people.  Mitt Romney so much as said it.  It don’t work that way, folks.  Poor people are poor for lots of reasons, but not genetics.  The argument they are inferior is half a step from Naziism.

It’s not surprising the radical rightists are on the ascendancy.  We have always had them, but usually events shut them up.  They have to believe they are superior to others, usually because of a deep reservoir of shame.  They deserve our compassion.

There is the real problem.  Social welfare programs are a reflection of compassion.  Governments should be in the business of helping the people.  Good health care reflects compassion.  It is sad so many of our government’s resources are devoted to warfare, not compassion.  We are all in this together, so let’s give everyone a break, use loving kindness.   Hate and insensitivity are not the answer.

There’s Hurricanes in Florida and Texas Had Rain

Colorado Desert

I am a child of the desert, and the guy sitting next to me in the coffee shop is from Saudi Arabia.  Those of us from dry country usually don’t understand why people would choose to live in wet, low country with hurricanes.  Yes, there is the ocean, but we can always go to Lake Powell or Lake McCounaughy.  We do have a few tornados and hailstorms, and one of the canyons floods every 15 years or so.

On the gulf or Florida coast they get a hurricane at roughly the same intervals, but the damage is widespread and many more people are affected.  For some reason, most of the people in the world live close to a seacoast.  Yes, trade is easier and things tend to grow there (not like our Great American Desert).

Too low, too many people, too wet.  And yes, the oceans are headed inland.  It will be even wetter.   It is somewhat harder to make a living here in mid-continent and the seasons can be more harsh, but grand catastrophes are rarer.  I must confess a warm ocean is good for visits, but I did not like the mid-Atlantic, but maybe it was because I was on a troopship.

Another problem with seacoasts is many of them have a tendency to shake.  The tectonic plates collide on the coasts, thus mountains and earthquakes.  I prefer the ground under me to hold still.  When we visited Carol’s daughter in Menlo Park CA, I was a bit nervous being halfway between the San Andreas and Hayward faults in a flood plain.  The real irony is that the U.S. Geological Survey regional office is there.

Japan Earthquake and Tsunami

Here in Denver, there were big earthquakes once when the Rockies were rising, but it has been a while.  We had a flurry of small ones when they were pumping hazardous waste down a drill hole at the Rocky Mountain Arsenal.  When they stopped pumping, the earthquakes stopped.  That lesson was ignored in the Oklahoma oil fields where they pump fracking water back down drill holes instead of treating it.  Most of the state is shaking.

“Do it cheaply, don’t bother with doing what is right.”  It seems to be standard procedure in the extractive industries such as oil and gas and mining.  The solution is regulation, but the oil business owns the government in Oklahoma and Texas.  They are close to owning the U. S. Government.

I seem to have drifted into a rant.  Weren’t we discussing living on the coast?  The coasts stand to reason from a short term economic standpoint.  The rivers are there, shipping is cheap, it is fairly flat, and the climate tends to be moderated by the ocean.  Except when it is not.  Hurricanes, nor’easters, increasingly wetter monsoons, and sea level rise is scary.

Tidal Flood in Florida

How would you like having sea water pouring out of the storm drains in your street at high tide?  What about having your crops inundated by incessant rain?  Do you want the roof ripped off your house and be without power for many days?  Then there are tsunamis.  Take a look at the Japan tsunami on YouTube.  If none of this stuff bothers you, live on the coast.

Veterans

I am a veteran.  I served in the U.S. Army from 1962 to 1965.  I am from a hick town in Western Colorado.  I hadn’t done well in my first attempt at college and needed to get out of Dodge.  Other than oil and gas and the uranium mines, there weren’t many job opportunities.  I worked for the Park Service for a while, but the job was seasonal, 180 days per year.  It takes years to get a full time job.

So, it was time to bug out.  The two courses most guys took were going to Los Angeles or the military.  My friends who went to L.A. All starved out and had to get money from parents to come home.  My choice was the military.  My preference was the Navy, but the enlistment was for four years.  The Army was three years.  I enlisted for a European tour.  I did pretty well on all the aptitude tests so the guy offered electronics.

I didn’t think I was interested in electronics, so what else did they have?  How about missiles?  Fort Bliss in El Paso is a big missile post so I said OK.  I was put in missile electronics.  It turned out to be good.  After basic training at Fort Leonard Wood in Missouri I went to electronics schools at Fort Monmouth, New Jersey and Redstone Arsenal, Alabama.

I was trained as a radar repairman on an obsolete missile system.  I was sent to duty in another missile system outfit.  We played a lot of volleyball.  When that unit deactivated I was sent to a  Hawk surface to air missile outfit.  A radar is a radar, so I went right to work.  It turned out to be two fairly good years in a decent outfit.  The other guys were a lot like me; college hadn’t worked out, so the Army.  I liked Germany, the Army not so much.  I did some traveling, drank some beer, and came home.

A good thing about military service is the benefits.  I went back to college and the GI Bill paid for a lot of it.  Now I have the VA if I need it.  I have hearing aids from the VA for the hearing loss from shooting a fifty caliber machine gun.  I also get a small pension.  Overall, not so bad.

I also get to give Marine veterans a hard time for being marines.  They seem to think they are hot shit.  Well, I’m glad they are on our side, (mostly).  Navy and Air Force vets are OK.  As for Army vets, you need us, we are all trained killers.  Huh, not so much.

The Vietnam war heated up after I got back in college.  I am a social sciences major, learning history and war literature.  That war made no sense at all, so I was fairly active in my opposition.  The difference being I was a Veteran, with the sense of commonality with those poor saps in Vietnam.  I spoke out in support of those serving.  I respected servicemen then and to this day.

Go to a VA hospital sometime.  Most of those vets really need the help.  The VA tries, but overload and bureaucracy makes it a scary place.  The providers themselves are, in my experience, great if you can get in to see them.  The military is smaller these days, but the damage inflicted on those deployed in Iraq or Afghanistan is awful.  That is a lesson we didn’t learn in Vietnam.  A war without clear goals takes a toll on those who fight in it.

I am against war.  I am a pacifist.  I oppose the U.S entering into foreign adventures where people shoot at one another.  I am a veteran and proud of having served.

Back to Real Life

Colonoscopy, a Peak Experience

As you have read, I went through a real downer after falling down the stairs.  I’m mostly over the episode, the body is mostly healed, and my psyche is on the mend.  Along with the trip down the stairs I got my three year endoscopy/colonoscopy and had a trip to the cardiologist.  I have an appointment with the gastroenterologist coming up for another butt chewing.  Who better than a butt doctor?

The cardiologist wants me to have an echocardiogram to see the extent of scarring on the wall of my heart.  I apparently had a heart attack sometime, and there is some damage.  I don’t remember anything, and my heart function is fine, but they want to check if there could be a problem in the future.

I go to many of Carol’s doctor appointments as well as mine.  I am tired of all the medical offices.  The people there are almost always great, but, the waiting sitting around reading six month old People Magazines.  I guess this gives old retired people something to do rather than sitting in the recliner watching old Law and Order reruns.

All this medical stuff is scary.  A good friend recently had a mild heart attack, but after 40 years of cigarettes, it is seriously scary.  He keeps telling me I need more exercise, but it is mostly projection.  At some level, however, he is right.  He is so scared he devotes much of his time to exercise, mostly pickleball and swimming.  When we have coffee he is usually limping from overdoing it at pickleball.  One of these days his leg is going to fold over backwards at the knee.  Well, maybe not, both of his knees are titanium and don’t fold backwards as readily.

I’m working on diet changes, getting Physical Therapy, and doing more Mindfulness Meditation.  Maybe someday I will start being more mindful when not actually meditating.  That should reduce the falling and tripping.

Other benefits of the meditation are the three refuges:  the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha.  The Buddha is not some kind of God.  He was a man, albeit a fully realized man who devoted his life to helping others become realized.  The dharma is the body of his teachings along with the wisdom of his followers over the last 2500 years.  The sanghas are the groups of followers meeting to meditate, learn the dharma, and pay homage to the Buddha.

Sangas aren’t unique to Buddhism.  Christians call it fellowship, the body of Christ.  Human bonding is important for living a spiritual life.  Sunday evenings, the Insight Meditation Community of Denver meets in an Episcopal church near downtown Denver.  As always, it took some time for connections to form, but I now feel close to everyone there, even if they may be from California.  In addition, meditating in a group is always special.

Someday science will figure out what the spiritual energy is that forms within and between people following a spiritual path.  The energy is common to every spiritual path.  Sometimes it is called mystical, but there are many who would say they aren’t mystics.  The only thing blocking the bond is hate.  People can feel a bond of hatred, but it is in no way spiritual.

My hate example is the Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka.  One of their tenets is that God hates.  Do you believe it?  A friend is the Unitarian Universalist minister in Topeka.  Their tenets are love and helping others.  The Westboro congregation is actually at cross purposes with their beliefs.  Their protests have brought people together all over the country to stand in opposition to hate.  Love grows.  Hate destroys.

Aftermath

 

The Infamous Stairs

Falling down the stairs two weeks ago has turned out to be a life changing event.  I knew I was getting old, after all the URL you used to get here is DOFBILL, for Doddering Old Fart.  I have been using it for several years.  But, friends, this last excursion down the stairs hurt.  It still hurts.  I started physical therapy again for balance work.  I haven’t been able to get motivated for doing anything.  Getting here to the coffee shop to write took until noon today.  I am usually here by 9:00 AM.  All I want to do is lay in bed and watch U Tube videos.

I did manage to work with the painters the other day.  Our new stretch of fence looks good.  However, I dropped the tote tray full of painting tools and they all spilled.  They are still on the floor.  I talked to to Carol about all this, and she wisely figured out what is going on with me.

I am in mourning.  I guess I should have figured it out by myself, but I was too numb.  I retired in 2011, I sold the motorcycle.  I knew I was more and more limited physically, but this fall brought it all home.  At 74 years, I am old.

This was reinforced yesterday when I went for my three year endoscopy/colostomy.  I got chewed out by the doctor for not following the rules.  No caffein, no chocolate (!), no booze (I had already quit a year and a half ago), no spicy food, on and on.  I told Carol if I can’t have spicy Mexican food, life isn’t worth living.  What a stupid remark, as she not-so-gently pointed out.

I have limitations, have had them for years.  I just had never gotten to the acceptance phase.  Bouncing down the stairs feet first brought it all home.  In John Mellencamp’s Jack and Diane, he sings “Oh,yeah, life goes on, long after the thrill of living is gone”.  That line has had residency in my head for two weeks.

Well, the thrill is not gone.  Some of the thrills, however, are gone.  No mountain climbing.  No motorcycling.  No more solo four wheeling trips where I could stay stuck for a week before anyone came along.  I have to let go of risky stuff.  The odds have changed.  I am an old man.

After mourning comes acceptance.  I am in that process now.  The sages say the task of elders is looking inward.  I am doing Insight Meditation for that reason.  My meditations do take me inward, but much of the time I am thinking about outer stuff.  In fact the best inner work I do is at the keyboard.  A good writing session sets the stage for good meditations.

Not all the outer world things have to go.  I can still get into nature.  The sunrise is still there.  The Japanese Beetle season is about over.  I still have a life.  So, what’s the big deal already?  There is my sense of humor, and it is intact.  Part of me knows it is all right.  If I can still make bad puns and turn phrases upside down I still love life.  Carol would probably be happier if I had a more conventional sense of humor.

I haven’t mentioned the most important thing in my life.  The people.  Starting with Carol, my soul mate and the everlasting love of my life.  All we do, all we are, and those morning cuddles.    Her children, who have become my children as well.  All our friends.  The poignancy of losing friends.  The memories.  Yes I can let go and still live fully.

Down the Stairs

One of the things I do with this website is chronicle my aging process.  Last week was a big one.  It rained Thursday followed with a brief hailstorm.  The hail was mostly pea sized, but it came pretty hard for a few minutes.

I went outside to look at the damage (not bad), and came back in.  I headed downstairs with some urgency to get to the toilet.  My shoes were wet and I stepped on the front edge of the top step, the part without a nonskid strip.  My feet went out and somehow I ended up bouncing down the stairs face down and feet first.  It seemed to take a long time to go down one flight of stairs, cussing all the way.

I broke a rib on the left side of my chest, scraped both shins, bruised my right lower leg, and really whacked my left hip.  My hip grew a good-sized lump and my rib hurt like hell.  The rib may not be broken after all.  A few days later it feels a lot better.  My last excursion on the stairs resulted in two broken ribs on the left side of my back.  They hurt a lot longer than this one.

I spent a couple of days mostly in bed.  It was hard to walk with my hip and that rib hurt every time I coughed or laughed, not that I was doing much laughing.  Tylenol did nothing.  Tramadol helped quite a bit, but I don’t like taking very many.  My hip really objected going up the stairs.    Right foot on the stair, left foot up to the stair, rinse and repeat.  Now, I am pretty mobile.

I guess the incident could be described as shock and awe.  After several falls in 2015 I got several weeks of physical therapy which helped tremendously.  The therapist was good and fun to,work with, and I got a lot of balance back.  It seems as one ages, the tendency is to rely much more on visual cues for balance, not using the proprioceptor nerves in the feet or the inner ear.  The PT brought most of it back.  my additional task to be mindful at all times.

It turned out I may have some damage to the vestibular nerve v in my right ear.  I use hearing aids due to hearing damage when I was in the army.  Armies tend to make loud noises, and back then no attention was paid to hearing protection. The vestibular nerve carries auditory and balance signals to the brain.

When I turn right, especially in the dark, I get wobbly.  Lately the problem is a lot worse.  I have to brace every step on the way to the bathroom at night.  I’m going back to physical therapy.  The head therapist where I go says she can help with the vestibular nerve problem as well.  I wish physical therapy worked for tinnitus.

I am also headed out to the Disabled American Veterans office to look into having my service connected disability reassessed.  I have a 10% disability for tinnitus, and hearing loss as service connected with 0% disability.  It took five years of appeal to get the 0%.  It may work for me now.

About the Department of Veterans Affairs, I have always had good providers, but the bureaucracy is worse than the U.S. Army.  The waits are long as well.  I pretty much stopped using the VA because it was such a pain getting my Ritalin prescription for ADD refilled.  I guess I’m going back.  Ain’t aging fun?

The Upper Peninsula

Recently we visited Michigan.

Grand Marais and Lake Superior

Michigan is two realms, downstate and the U.P. as the locals call it, where we visited.  They call themselves yuppers, for U.P., the Upper Peninsula.  It’s the North Country, well north of Toronto, heavily wooded and bordered by Lake Michigan and Lake Superior.  My wife has an old friend who is from Grand Marais, a tiny town on the south shore of Lake Superior. It is 40 miles to the nearest supermarket or hospital.

Patty grew up there, and like most natives, had to leave to make a living.  After a career, she went back home.  I can understand why.  The U.P. is a magical place, and Grand Marais, with its 400 people, is one source of the magic.  The land, the lake, the history, and the yuppers combine to make a spot unlike any other.

Historically a fishing and logging town, it is now a retirement and tourist community.  The campground, with its tents and RV’s, has as many people in summer as the rest of town.  There is a K-12 school with 28 students, a few stores, restaurants, and motels; small houses with no fences, some new houses seeming out of place, and that’s about it.

The people talk funny.  Lots of Finns and Swedes settled there, and that Nordic accent prevails.  No one says yes, it’s yah.  The word the becomes da, and the vowels are round.  They are friendly, open, welcoming people with no pretensions.  I fell in love with them.

The land is second growth timber, still supporting a logging industry.  The trees are a mix of hardwoods and conifers.  The larger trees are about 24-30 inches in diameter.  Walk into the woods, and there are old stumps around four feet across.

The Old Coast Guard Station, now the National Lakeshore Ranger Station

 

 

 

We did some wandering at the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, just west of town.  The Park Headquarters is in the old Coast Guard Station in town.  The lakeshore has a waterfall, views of the lake and its lighthouses, the sandstone bluffs giving the park its name, and the log slide.  It is the first National Lakeshore.

 

Lake Superior Log Slide

The log slide was used to slide logs into the lake from sand dunes about 175 feet above the lake.  There is a trail with wooden steps leading down to the waterfall and the lakeshore.  We watched the young people frolicking in the water and running/sliding down the log slide.  The beach is rounded cobbles up to about softball size.  Just away from the beach is sand with people looking for agates that formed from water trickling through ancient basalt lava flows.

Another day we went blueberry picking in a logging clear cut.  Lots of blueberry plants were hiding in  west the bracken.  We kept an eye out for bears attracted to the blueberries. The berries went into pancakes and muffins.  Driving off the pavement is a bit dodgy due to the sand.  We had to back down one hill.

Another notable thing was the silence.  I live in the city, with a constant background of noise.  Grand Marais was quiet.  I am sure the town is even quieter in winter with three or four feet of snow on the ground on the rare day with no wind.

Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore

 

The logging and fishing history is important, but the shipwrecks are a thing of legend.  The south shore of Lake Superior is a lee shore.  A lee shore is when the shore is leeward (downwind) of a sailing vessel.  In the days of sail, Lake Superior schooners were often blown onto the south shore by the fierce north and westerly winds.  It is difficult to sail upwind in a big blow, and the lake is famous for its storms.

Lake Superior Schooner

You probably know Gordon Lightfoot’s “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald”.  Ships under power weren’t immune to the storms.  Standing on the shore of that immense lake, I could feel the draw of that big lake, and began to appreciate both the beauty and the danger.  Today, the shipping is well offshore.

I never felt I could fall in love with flat country, but I do love the U.P.

 

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