Category Archives: Stories

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.

 

The Empty Quarter

Portion of Flat Tops Wilderness

Well, its not a quarter of Colorado, but it’s big and pretty empty.  North and west of the Colorado River and south and west of the Yampa River, the only towns of any size are Rifle, Silt, Newcastle, and Glenwood Springs along the Colorado; and Meeker in the middle.  Craig and Hayden are on the  Yampa.  I don’t count Rangely on the White River west of  Meeker as a real town.  It is just a bunch of oil field junk with a few forlorn people. I recently traveled through the heart of the region.

I am a Western Slope native, so I have been over the relatively well traveled roads.  I-70 (previously highways 6&24) and SH 13 from Rifle to Craig.  As a kid, I went fishing on Rifle Creek with my parents.  The

White River

White River drains the White River Plateau and The Flattops.  Piceance Creek drains the Piceance Basin and enters the White between Meeker and Rangely.

Meeker is a pretty town in the valley of the White River.  It’s a farm and ranch town with a sad past.  The Meeker Massacre in 1879 was the end of the Utes huge reservation  lands in Western Colorado. They were shipped to Eastern Utah.  The reason was the systematic U.S. Policy of cooping the Indians up or killing them.  There are grisly details, but it was just another example of the U.S. Policy of mistreating Native Americans that continues to this day.

Maybe you have heard of Trappers Lake.  It is an enclave surrounded by the Flattops Wilderness, a huge area of timberland dotted with many small lakes.  The only access is on horseback or backpacking.  It’s wet country, catching the storms as they leave the lower country to the west.  Hunters, fishermen, and tree huggers are the only travelers.

I never backpacked there, but two friends humped there way in years ago.  They talked about the beauty,  but mostly about the rain.  One of them had one of those convoluted open foam pads with no cover.  When the water came into the tent, he was lying on a sponge in a soaked down sleeping bag.  They left early.

West of SH 13, along the Grand Hogback,

Grand Hogback Between the Colorado Plateau and the Rocky Mountains

you are on the Colorado Plateau.  Go east, and you are in the Rocky Mountains, but not the Rockies you are used to.  The hogback is a remnant of the uplift that formed the Rockies.  The equivalent on the east side are those red rock hogbacks called the Flatirons, Red Rocks, and the Garden of the Gods.

No big mountains here, just a region of high plateaus.  The reason? Volcanism in the form of lava flows.  The White River Plateau was uplifted along with the rest of the Rockies, but instead of being eroded into those jagged peaks we are used to seeing, the basalt from the lava flows formed a resistant, flat caprock.  It’s not rugged mountains, but it has a beauty all it’s own.

Flat Tops Trail

The is a scenic byway between Meeker and Yampa I took for the first time,  At first, it is in the White River valley, then climbs up on the plateau and heads on east to Yampa.  The view to the south is where the Flattops drop down to the river.  It’s not a gentle slope.  The basalt caprock is underlain by the soft White River Formation.  The steep slope is subject to landslides, leaving large open, green slopes surrounded by timber.  It’s great summer range country for sheep and cattle.  It is also some of the prettiest country in our state.  I think I met two pickups on the road east of Buford, where the road turns off to Trappers Lake.  It’s gravel much of the way, but good gravel.

West of SH 13, on the edge of the Colorado Plateau, is the huge Piceance Basin.  It is a Structural basin next door to the Uinta Basin, mostly in Utah.  The basins are separated by the Douglas Arch, crossed by Douglas Pass, country where I spent a lot of time in my youth.  The arch is a western extension of the Laramide Orogeny, the mountain building period that formed the Rocky Mountains.  The edges of mountain ranges usually have foreland basins, areas of subsidence.   I am sitting over the Denver Basin.  The Piceance is the equivalent west of the mountains.  As the mountains rose, the fringes sank, creating huge synclines filled with the erosion products of the mountains.    The basins formed huge inland lakes which filled with sediment that became the Green River Formation, famous for its fossils and oil shale.

The Greater Piceance Basin

Because of all that rising and sinking, pockets form, trapping reservoirs of gas and oil.  The Piceance is one of the most productive natural gas fields in the country.  Rangely’s oil is also from the Piceance.  I drove the road running along Piceance Creek, which drains the basin to the west.  The area is all about natural gas, with some ranching along the creek.  There is a gas plant every few miles, and lots of truck traffic.  The basin used to be the home of a huge migratory deer herd, the deer summering in the Flattops and wintering in the basin.  The herd is still there, but all the drilling has greatly reduced the numbers.  Lots of elk there as well, their numbers increasing somewhat, probably due to less competition from deer.

The area is known as the Roan Plateau, which drops off to the Book Cliffs, an escarpment runnng from Palisade, CO to well past Greenriver UT.  It feels like home country to me, with memories of deer hunting in the Douglas pass area.  The scenery isn’t as dramatic as the red rock country to the south, but has its own beauty.  Plus, it isn’t as cluttered up with people.

Piceance, Uinta, Roan Plateau, Book Cliffs, all names for roughly the same country.  My list now includes going up into the basin proper, known mostly by Ute Indians, ranchers, oil field people, geologists, and aging wanderers.

Dukkha

Dukkha is the Pali word originally translated as suffering.  Pali is the ancient Indian language, along with Sanskrit, used to write down the discourses of the Buddha.  Usage of Pali tended to move south to Sri Lanka and South Asia, while Sanskrit was incorporated in the Mahayana tradition of Buddhism.

The Buddhist group I attend is  part of the Theravada tradition, most of those bringing it to the west studied in Sri Lanka or Thailand.  There are differences, but to me the differences can be compared to Lutherans and Baptists.  The essential message is the same.

Dukkha is central to Buddhism.  It can’t be precisely translated.  Discontent, craving, anxiety, dissatisfaction, suffering, and hopelessness are typical translations.  I’m sure you get the idea, we all experience dukkha.  The goal of Buddhism is the end of dukkha.  Without dukkha, a person is totally in the moment, seeing life as it is, not how our egos want it to be.   All our lives, we are attempting to shape our world into what we have decided it should be.  Ain’t gonna happen, folks.

Therefore we live lives of striving or despair because things aren’t what we think they should be.  Well, things are what they are.  That’s all.  I want comfort, security, love, time for adventure, and no Japanese Beetles.  I have love, but the other things seem to be lacking somewhere.  Perhaps the best illustration is the difference between pain and suffering.  My knee hurts, my fingers are getting stiff, and I itch.  I’m human, that stuff is inevitable.  I don’t want it to be true.  I get upset when I itch, and the damn Japanese Beetles won’t go away.  I feel discontent.

Insight Meditation is the practice of sitting and following the breath.  Just the breath.  Not thinking about ice cream, the breath.  When thoughts about ice cream or anything else arise, simply return to the breath.  Later, when thoughts arise, observe them without engaging them and watch them pass away.  That itch in the left ear canal, observe it and note it goes away.  Or not.

The key is not getting involved with the itch.  It is an itch over which I have no control.  I want to stick a Q-tip in there, but it won’t help.  The itch does what it will.  Let it be.  Chill, dude.  Am I good at this?  Not so much.  That’s why it is called a practice.  I have noticed some progress, but it is slow.  I don’t get as irritated in traffic.  I am a bit better at putting up with Carol’s Hallmark Channel movies (not really), and I am a complete failure at accepting the beetles.

I have a touch of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.  There is an ongoing, futile attempt to control one’s environment, so strong it becomes ritualized.  For me, the coffee maker has to be in it’s exact place WITHOUT ANYTHING IN FRONT OF IT.  When a cup is sitting there, my neck and shoulder muscles tense, and I utter a quiet oath.  So what’s the big deal anyway?  Nada.  That’s dukkha.  My day will go just fine if the cup stays there.  Surprisingly, it will probably get moved, and there was no need to get all uptight.

Breathe in, breathe out, watch the reaction, watch it pass away.  The world is as it is.

Where Not To Live

Living in Colorado, I may be arrogant about all the inferior places in the country, but the ones on this list are unsafe.  They are also popular.  It seems people like to live on the edge.

San Andreas Fault

At the top of my list is anywhere near the San Andreas Fault.  When two tectonic plates are bumping along one another, things get shaky.  Just look at those aerial photos of the gouges the  sliding plates created.  Lots of energy goes into motion of that magnitude, and there is plenty left over to bring buildings down.  The  Los Angeles and  San Francisco areas have a lot to offer.  Climate, scenery, the Pacific, and all those geologic features created by the colliding plates.

The place of greatest folly is the Portola Valley.

Fault in Portola Valley After 1906 Earthquake

Just west of Stanford University, the valley is not a stream valley, it’s a fault valley.  The valley is full of big houses located not near the fault, but on it.  Well, not right on the fault, you must build fifty feet away from the fault.  Portola Valley is one of the richest zip codes in the country which is a good thing; the people will have the money to rebuild somewhere else.  There is a strict building code, but the fault is just too damn close.

A relative used to live in Menlo Park, one of the charming and wealthy communities in Silicon Valley.  Her house was midway between the San Andreas and Hayward faults in a flood plain. What are those people thinking?  Pretty country, though.  She had redwood trees in her front yard.  One of my favorite ironies is that the west coast office of The United States Geological Survey is in Menlo Park.  What were they thinking?

Shaking in Parkfield, Oakland, San Francisco, Northfield, Palmdale, and soon.  The entire Los Angeles area is at risk.  There hasn’t been a big quake in some years.that means increasing amounts of energy is being stored along the fault.  It’s not if, but when.

Mt. Rainier

Those tectonic plates are at it it the Pacific Northwest as well.  There are earthquakes there, but the real danger is those pesky volcanos.  All those striking photographs of Seattle nestled beneath Mt Rainier?   It is an active volcano, folks.  It has been a while, but every day is one day closer to the next one.  Mt. Hood is due as well.  Are you old enough to remember Mt. St. Helens?  1980.  Not many lives were lost, it is in a remote area, but the blast flattened the forest for miles.

The real danger from those big volcanos is pyroclastic flows and lahars.  The eruption releases massive amounts of ash and larger chunks (clasts).  In addition, parts of the mountain blow apart, and the whole mess heads downhill.  It is hot, coming out of the volcano, and wet from the ice and snow on the mountain. There are huge landslides contributing to the mass, which can travel as fast as 300 mph.  Everything in the flow’s path is buried or carried with the flow.  What is scary is that Seattle, Tacoma, Eugene, and other towns are in the path of the flows.

Track of the Lahar after Mt. St. Helens eruption.

In an earthquake, buildings collapse and maybe burn.  A pyroclastic flow kills everything in its path.  If the heat doesn’t do it, the ash in the air is so dense it fills the nostrils of any animal.  It also buries land with upwards of several feet of ash.  Lahars travel down valleys and is a mass of ash, rock, water, and any other thing in its path.  It flows down the valley and when it stops, it is the consistency of concrete. No living thing survives.  Stay away.  The Puyallup Valley is most vulnerable from a Rainier eruption.

Don’t live right on the coast either.  Earthquakes can generate tsunamis that will sweep away anything in their paths, sometimes far inland.  In addition, sea level rise will drown lots of development.

Salt Lake and the Wasatch Mountains. Fault at base of mountains

Moving east, the Salt Lake mountain front is overdue for a big earthquake.  The city developed at the base of the Wasatch Mountains, with a huge fault at their base that moves fairly regularly.  Watch out, people, Zion is going to shake.

Another place to avoid is Florida.  A beautiful place with amazing wildlife, the peninsula is just a slow moving disaster punctuated by somewhat lesser disasters.  The biggest problem, it is all limestone.  Not just limestone but limestone honeycombed with water filled voids.  The voids are growing as the abundant rainfall soaks in and dissolves even more limestone.  Sinkholes are the result.  There are more all the time.  In addition, Florida is low and flat.  Low enough for much of it to go under as seal level rises.  It’s happening.  Every flood tide, water flows out of manholes in subdivisions north of Miami.  The rise will continue, and Mr. Trump isn’t helping.

Charlotte Harbor

Oh, and there are the hurricanes.  They sure do make a lot of messes.  Climate change is predicted to increase the number and intensity of the storms.  My late in-laws lived for a time in one of those retirement trailer parks on Charlotte Harbor, on the Gulf coast.  The trailer  park is gone, thanks to Hurricane Charley in 2004.  My in-laws had moved to Mt. Dora before the hurricane.  Mt. Dora is in the middle of the state on high ground (around 300 feet).  They have had 77 hurricanes since 1930.  One of the storms knocked out power for two weeks.

The only time I have had real reason for fear while in an airplane was when we flew into Orlando during a thunderstorm.  We were on approach when I saw the storm hit us.  The visibility went to zero and turbulence rocked the plane.  The pilot shoved the throttles forward and went around.  By the time we circled around, the storm had moved on.

The entire East Coast is also hurricane country.  The ocean also seems to want to move inland.  Don’t be in the way.  The ocean is rising.  The coast is moving west.

New Orleans After Katrina

The Gulf Coast is also a danger zone.  Subject to hurricanes, low lying areas can also be flooded by rising rivers.  The Mississippi Delta is also no place to live.  It is sinking.  The Mississippi River mud is going over the continental shelf, thanks to the Corps of Engineers channeling the river straight to the gulf rather than allowing it to build the delta.  The river is going to win.  It will not allow itself to be contained for long.  Louisiana, beware.

Go up the river to New Madrid, Missouri south of Memphis.  Earthquake country.  The last time it shook, bells rang in Boston.  That was in 1812, when the population in the quake region was small.  It is small no more.  St. Louis is vulnerable.

Tornado

Now that we are in the Midwest, let’s discuss tornadoes.  The entire region is at risk, with devastating storms anywhere.  Tornado Alley, from Texas through Oklahoma and to Kansas, Missouri, South Dakota, and Iowa has the most danger, but anywhere east of the Rockies has some risk.

The general idea here is that nowhere is completely safe, nature being what it is, but there are some areas that I would not live in.  I think I will stay in Colorado away from those canyons that like to flood.  Oh, wait, if Yellowstone lets loose, we’re toast.

Terror

Plains Indian horse raid

We live in an age of terrorism.  Maybe humanity has always fostered terrorism.  One Plains Indian tribe stealing horses from another tribe is an act of terror.  The Indians needed horses to hunt bison.  No horses, no eat.

Today, a single act of terror, such as running people down on the London Bridge, can have worldwide impact.  The reason?  Worldwide communication.  Media outlets compete for readers and viewers to sell advertising time.  People are fascinated by violence, probably wired in from tribalism days.  Survival depended on awareness of the bad guys in order to be able to respond to them.

The response of people in Peoria to mayhem in London is fear.  There is no rational reason for a Peoria sales clerk to be afraid because of some violence on another continent. But the violence elicits a fear response.  We are wired for it.  We tend to respond in two ways when afraid.  Flight or fight.

The fight response is to go after ISIS in Syria.  The warfare escalates, people are killed or they flee to Europe, sowing the seeds for more terror and increasing the alienation of the Islamic world.  The flight response is to pull out of the Middle East.  Let them have the place and maybe they will leave us alone.   Wait, what about Israel?  What about the oil?  Can we let them get away with it?

Yom Kippur War 1973

Regarding Israel, there is no good answer.  As long as the State of Israel is there, violence will ensue, probably for many generations.   The oil?  Alternate energy sources are already having an impact that will only increase, leaving the Paris Accords notwithstanding.  Due to fracking technology, First World dependence on Middle East oil is  decreasing daily.  Oil and the Holy Land are the main reasons the First World is interested in the place.

We can continue to fortify Israel, keeping their enemies at bay,  and the oil issue is taking care of itself, so let’s leave.  As a result, terrorism wins.  It’s an exaggeration, but the alternative seems to be nuke and pave.

There it is, the rationale for terrorism.  The Middle East Muslim world lacks the resources to drive the imperialists out by conventional means, but terror is effective.  In addition, all those virgins in heaven get to have some martyrs to attend to.

As for the issue of the Russians involved in the Middle East, why not let them have it?  History has repeatedly proven that the people there may fight between themselves, but they will always resist invaders until they leave.  Imperialism always fails when there are enough indigenous people to resist.

In North America, there was resistance, but the Indians were hopelessly outnumbered.  In Latin America, the Spanish and Portuguese had to leave.  The English lost their empire.  Japan got whipped by picking on the wrong country.  Germany made the same mistake.

Empires can expand, but history shows they almost inevitably shrink.  The lesson seems to be to not try to build an empire.  “Why can’t we all just get along?”

Medical Miracle

Transplant

A man woke up in a hospital room.  He didn’t know how he got there, but one leg was in a cast and he had some bandages.  He felt weak and disoriented. A nurse came in.  “Oh, Mr. Thomas, you’re awake.  You have been in a coma for three weeks.  You were in a terrible traffic accident.  How are you feeling?”

“I hurt all over and feel weak, but otherwise I’m OK.”   “I will have the doctor come in to see you.”

Later, the doctor came in and examined him.  “Well, you had quite an ordeal, but you are on the mend.  We had to keep you in a coma for your head injury to heal, and you are doing fine.  There is one thing, though.  Your penis was severed in the car crash and the crew onsite was unable to find it.”

The man looked down, nothing but a bandage with a tube coming out and his testicles.  “Oh, No!  Is this permanent?”

“Well, yes but there is a new transplant procedure that is very successful.  Insurance won’t pay, and the charge for the transplant is five thousand dollars per inch.”

“I have fifty thousand in savings.  When can we do this?”   “You need to talk it over with your wife.  This is a major step and both of you need to sign off on it.”  “She will be in later.  We can let you know tomorrow.”

Next day the doctor came in.  “What have you decided?”

“We are going to remodel the kitchen.”

Reading

Rainy

As I sit here in the coffee shop it is raining hard outside.  Almost everyone has their hood up.  We are truly in Colorado, however as no one has an umbrella.  My wife has umbrellas, but much of her childhood was in the Puget Sound area.

I am going to give you a little series about writing.  Writing is my most important retirement activity.  If I don’t get to write in any given week, I feel a little hole forming in my being.  So, here I am in the coffee shop with my trusty iPad.

To write, one must read.  I am a lifelong reader.  It wasn’t Dick and Jane, it was Scrooge McDuck with his three cubic acres of cash and his nephews, Huey, Dewey, and Louie.  In the living room there was a big round oak coffee table cut down from a dining table with stacks of magazines.  I read them all, including my dad’s Cosmopolitan and Redbook he subscribed to for the romance short stories in every issue.

Time, Life, The Saturday Evening Post, Outdoor Life, Lady’s Home Journal, Argosy, Popular Science, Sports Illustrated, and my Boy’s Life.  My comic books dwelt there as well.  My mother belonged to a local book club and the Book of the Month Club.  I read them all.

Other books were there as well.  My father’s railroad books and Utah and Colorado photography   books, all well thumbed to the point of loose bindings sat in the bookcase.  I had a bookcase in my room with lots of stuff to read.  My favorite books were Richard Halliburton’s Complete Book of Marvels, and Parade of the Animal Kingdom by Jane and Robert Hegner.  I still have them.

In school, I read everything we were assigned.  I even used the library.

Now I subscribe to High Country News, Scientific American, The New Yorker, the Disabled American Veterans Journal, and the Environmental Defense Fund journal.  Carol is regularly after me to get rid of some books.  She doesn’t seem to understand that books are sacred objects.  I must admit, however, some of them remain unread.

My favorite subjects are history, geology, spirituality, mythology, and nature books about the Colorado Plateau.  I have some fiction and do read fiction, but most of my stuff is non-fiction.

The Dalai Lama’s Cat

Carol and I have a bedtime ritual.  I read to her.  Mostly it is mystery novels written by women, but we sometimes range afield.  Lately it was The Dalai Lama’s Cat and The Art of Purring. By David Michie.   They are fun books told in the first person by Little Snow Lion, Rinpoche,  HHC (His Holiness’ Cat), and Meow Tse Tongue, all names acquired by that singular small feline.  They also contain good stuff about Tibetan Buddhism.  We got lots of good laughs.  Carol picks the books, so we seldom get bad writing.

One of the things the books bother me about is the popular market genre books suffer from poor editing and proofreading.  It looks to me publishers increasingly rely on authors to do their own editing.   Unfortunately, authors’ mistakes are often a function of ignorance about a subject.  For example, we recently read a couple of mysteries where the crimes occurred on rural gravel roads.  When those roads are built, the road itself is crowned so water will run off to the side rather than making ruts down the center.  The dirt for that crown comes from the side of the road, forming a borrow ditch.  The dirt is borrowed from the side.  I have seen barrow and burrow, but never borrow.  Those woman mystery writers just don’t know road construction.  Why don’t they ask me?  Why doesn’t their editor call me?

Let it Be

Let it Be.  “When in times of trouble, Mother Mary comes to me, speaking words of wisdom, let it  be.”  Lennon-McCartney.   

I recently experienced a minor time of trouble.  Call it depression, a post-retreat counterattack, call it what you will, I was not in a good place for a while.  All my old bad habits and thoughts came roaring back.  Usually I keep that stuff at bay with prayer and meditation.  In the past I used alcohol and marijuana, but they only postpone things. 

During the bad period my meditations were all about the unhealthy stuff and I did not pray.  A spiral into depression ensued.  I have enough things to do in my daily life to keep myself from slipping into a major depression.  I just don’t have the time.  In a major depression all I want to do is lie in bed or the bathtub. 

This go-round I watched a lot of car, motorcycle, and airplane crashes on You Tube.  I also watched a lot of the violence scenes from Sons of Anarchy and boxing knockouts.   Fun, huh? 

The weekend went pretty well, we went to a good modern dance concert after dinner Friday evening, did some gardening Saturday, and the Sunday Insight Meditation dharma talk was a good one.  

Monday morning I woke up to a new world.  I felt good, the weather was fine, and I found myself praying and my meditations went where they should.  Why the change?  I have no idea. Maybe my meditation and prayer practice is working.  I am again able to let it be. 

I tend to have some obsessive thoughts about sex or violence. They arise, and if I pray a short prayer, they pass away.  Over time, they have diminished a great deal.  However, during my down periods, they come roaring back.  If I entertain them at all, they stick around.  A sort of feedback loop is generated.  The thought arises, I entertain it, it gets stronger, and I slip into unwise actions.  

What to do when the thought arises?  Let it be.  It, like all phenomena, will pass away.  Prayer helps.  I know people who hold on to unhealthy thinking most of the time.  They suffer.  The more they suffer, the more the unhealthy thinking stays with them.   

To live like this is a decision.  Unhealthy thoughts may arise from the labyrinth of the brain, but holding on to them is a choice.  The choice is self-reinforcing, so breaking the habit is tough.  We can, however, choose to break the pattern.  Not all days are bad days, even for someone in the depths of depression.  We have opportunities to break out. Almost everyone has opportunities to end their suffering.  Still, at times, the choice is to suffer. 

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