Tag Archives: Stories

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.

Sherlock

Sherlock and Watson

Two years ago I wrote about The Buckner Banner.  I rode the USNS Simone Bolivar Buckner to Germany and home two years later.  For some reason known only to the military gods, I was chosen to edit the ship’s newspaper, The Buckner Banner, although I was a lowly private.  It was great fun, and our nine issues were a big hit because we serialized a Sherlock Holmes novel.

There were civilians aboard, military dependents, and lots of troops in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean for nine days with little to do.  The Banner was printed on a worn-out mimeograph machine, and the result was lots of gaps and unreadable copy in the paper.  Passengers got involved in the story and had great fun trading issues back and forth to be able to read each installment.

I got lots of compliments, and had the run of the ship as newspaper editor.   Strangely I have never read Arthur Conan Doyle’s works until now.  Sherlock is one of the best-known fictional characters in English.  He is probably better known today than in the Victorian era because of movies and television.  Basil Rathbone starred in seventeen Sherlock movies.  Robert Downey Jr. starred in a movie, and there are two current TV shows, Elementary, set in New York and starring Jonny Lee Miller and Lucy Liu (Dr. Watson a woman!); enjoying a five year run, and Sherlock, starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman, also with a long run with just a few episodes each year.  At least 99 actors have played Sherlock.

We are steeped in Sherlock Holmes.  Barnes and Noble has a two volume edition of Doyle’s Sherlock stories, and I am well into Volume One.  The story I just finished is set in London and Brigham Young’s Utah.  The Mormons had a lot of bad press in Doyle’s era, what with polygamy and Brigham’s Theocracy.  The story reflects that bias, featuring three murders.

Doyle gives the Saints a bad rap, but a lot of their infamous deeds were a response to the persecution the saints endured in Missouri and Illinois, which led to their trek west.  2017 is not the only time people in America have faced religious discrimination; hate directed against Jews, Catholics, and Mormons for starters.

This was part of Doyle’s appeal.  He made the events of the Victorian era come alive for his readers then. They come alive for us now, here in a land of Anglophiles.  I am going to have a lot of fun with Sherlock, Watson, and company.

Jude Stoner

For a high school with less than 300 students in the late 1950’s, Fruita High School had some unique personalities. 

A year or two ahead of me was Jude Stoner (not his real name, but close ).  He was one of those people with exactly the right name.  He wasn’t tall, but was well built, dark, and exuded self confidence.  He didn’t participate in school activities, but wasn’t what we would have called a hood.  He also was not a stoner. 

I don’t know how it happened, but Jude ended up as a hairdresser in Aspen.  The Aspen ladies must have swooned over him, a rough-cut, good looking guy doing their hair.  In those days there wasn’t much going on in Aspen in the summer, so Jude did other things. 

Ruedi Dam and Reservoir

Ruedi Dam and Reservoir

At the time, the Ruedi Dam was being built 15 miles up the Frying Pan River from Basalt.  That is not far at all in Isolated Aspen terms.  Jude got a construction job on the dam.  Good money, keep in shape, have a break from the hair salon.  The ideal gig for Jude, as he was an experienced construction hand.   

The two most beautiful mountain valleys. In my opinion, are the Frying Pan Valley from Basalt to  Hagerman Pass over the Continental Divide.  The other valley is the Crystal River Valley from Carbondale to Marble.  Jude had a fine place to do a summer’s worth of construction. 

Construction workers are a rough cut bunch, not known for tact or social niceties.  Construction sites, especially in Western Colorado in the 1960’s, were strongholds of homophobia.  Gay men anywhere in the rural West almost always migrated to the cities.  Denver, for example, has had a significant gay community for a long time, drawing men from all the neighboring states.   

Downtown Aspen 1960's

Downtown Aspen 1960’s

Well, here was an Aspen hairdresser doing construction work.  The word got out Jude was a hairdresser.  Now Jude was kind of a formidable guy, so my guess there was a lot of talk about him behind his back.  He had to have been aware of the talk. 

One day it happened, one of the real men? on the crew called Jude a “Queer Hairdresser”.

Jude broke his jaw with one punch.  No more talk.

Time

Time

Time

Time is relative.  It is all a matter of perspective.  It is said that realized beings like Jesus or the Buddha lived entirely in the moment, which connects them with the timelessness of being.  For mortals such as I, it is sometimes difficult to have a perspective greater than the next few hours.  Carol and I do a weekly plan, setting our schedule for that span of time.  For people in the corporate world, time usually means the bottom line for the quarter.  Children see summer vacation as lasting a long time; for us old people, it’s over in a flash. 

I seem to have several time perspectives.  In my spiritual life, I attempt to be in the moment and in the eternal.  In meditation, however, I find myself planning the next day or reviewing childhood events, not in some exalted state.  My everyday life tends to be day by day, checking the weekly plan if I remember to.  Often I can’t remember which evening I am supposed to cook. 

I have developed something of a longer perspective on life as I age.  I am shocked to realize that a lot of people were born in this century, which for me is a relatively short time.  Y2K wasn’t that long ago. I can remember Senator Joe McCarthy and the Army-McCarthy hearings when the country was experiencing  a right wing resurgence a lot like now.  That time ended, as will this one, probably in November.  I was in the Army when Kennedy was shot.  Obama is in year eight of his presidency; we have watched his daughters grow up.  As teenagers, I wonder if they think their dad is hopelessly clueless, even if he is The Man. 

Newspaper Rock, Utah

Newspaper Rock, Utah

My history professors talked about developing a historical perspective, to take a long view about human events.  To some degree I succeeded.  I can connect the pagan deities of Mesopotamia with elements of Islam, Judaism, and Christianity.  Four thousand year old Greek myths influence our current thinking.  Because of the American Civil War, I dislike grits, sweet ice tea, deep fried fish,  y’all, and that strange flag.  Most southerners are wonderful people, but I am not one of them.  But, I feel a connection with the people who illustrated their world on the sandstone canyon walls of Western Colorado and Utah. Parents with children born in 2009

2009So, where are we?  From “Do I have to go to the bathroom?”, to what’s to cook tonight, to the doctor’s appointment Thursday.  From there, it’s my lifetime and all that has gone on, even to those kids born in 2009, when my pickup was built (with a faulty airbag).from there it is the span of human history as recorded by symbols such as writing, the digital cloud, or rock paintings.  Then I  go to archeology and the origins of humankind. 

Next is yours and my favorite subject, geology and the universe.  Time changes, from hours to days to weeks, years, lifetimes, and all of human history, all mere blinks in the span of geologic time.  Four billion years ago our planet was a ball of very hot rock.  2.7 billion years ago what is now Denver was part of an island arc similar to Indonesia headed for a collision with Wyoming.  Lots of things crash in Wyoming. 

65 million years ago this place was a sea bottom, with shale accumulating that runs from South Dakota to central Utah.  Denver has gone from a hunk of hot rock to an island, a sea floor, a place being buried in the stuff washing out of the Rockies as the glaciers melted, to a place with a lot of people and their accumulated toxic waste and a lot of used plastic.   

The planet and the universe will go on, with humankind gone, mostly as a result of their own folly.  What does it all mean?  Maybe what is important is the time I took this morning to watch a big hawk fly over the DU campus looking for a little critter to eat.

 

Road Trips, New York

It seems to be travel time.  I did a round trip to Boise to see relatives.  For an old guy, a two day drive.  I saw new country and got a road trip in; I like road trips, preferably alone.  The next trip was the big one.  Fly to New York and drive a car back to Denver.

My stepdaughter has a high zoot job and a high zoot apartment in Manhattan.  She is now a confirmed New Yorker and decided to go without a car.  New York is one of the few places in the country where or makes sense to be carless.

2006 BMW 356i

2006 BMW 356i

So, we cashed a bunch of points for a first class ticket to LaGuardia.  I took a cab  to her place, we had aa pizza across the street from her building, slept, and got on the road by 9:00 AM.  She gave us a great deal on her 2006 BMW with 60000 miles on it.  What a machine.  I drive a base model Toyota pickup that is so base it doesn’t have a passenger side door lock.  The BMW has most every option they put on them that year.  I can now operate about twenty percent of the features.

I drove north up the Roosevelt Parkway, went across the George Washington Bridge to I-80, and rolled west.  The portion of New Jersey I crossed is truly the Garden State.  There were lots of trees displaying their fall colors, a nice rural area.  Soon, I was in

Pretty Pennsylvania

Pretty Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania.  I like that state.  Hilly, wooded, nice farms, and striking fall colors.  Green, gold, red, gold, brown, and a lovely Crimson.  Pennsylvania has lots of wildlife, and the traffic takes its toll. There are solutions for the road kill problem, but they are expensive, so change is slow.

Next is Ohio, and I-80 swarming with cops.  I saw many more patrol cars in Ohio than the rest of the route.  The state is flat, with the American monoculture: corn.  The truck traffic on I-80 is dense and fast moving.  Everyone scoots along at 5mph over the limit until a truck decides to pass another and it is time to slow down.

I stayed in a hotel outside Sandusky, one of the cities on Lake Erie.  Next day, the rest of Ohio, then Indiana.  I liked Indiana, farms, hills, and colorful woods.  Then, the flat tire alarm came on.  The Beemer has run flat tires and no spare.  I tried airing the tire with no luck, so I turned off to Lake Station, a town just east of Hammond.

Lake Station, Indiana

Lake Station, Indiana

What a place.  I stopped at the first repair shop and they confirmed the tire was so worn it would not hold air.  They didn’t have a replacement; the BMW has rare low profile sporty tires.  They sent me into town where there were several tire shops.  Wow, what a place.  The town is not at the top of the economic ladder; in fact it is on the bottom rung.  The newest buildings on the Main Street were the dollar store and the big, new county library.

I went to four tire shops , none of them sold new tires.  In one shop I had to yell into the back to get someone to come out.  The guy was a meth head, with sores all over his face and an empty look in his eyes.  Another didn’t have the size I needed.  I finally went to a busy shop with a Hispanic staff and the tire I needed.  Nice guys working there and the right tire.  They got me going again for less than sixty bucks.

I then entered Chicagoland.  There seems to be a trend to do construction work on highways in any metropolitan area.  Miles of cones closing a lane with nothing going on, then a short distance where the work is happening.  I got through the mess OK, and stayed at a hotel just west of the Quad Cities.

Mississippi River Bridge

Mississippi River Bridge

I got to cross the Mississippi.  It is big there, even above the Ohio and the Missouri.  The Missouri was narrow and looked deep.  The Platte was a real contrast, wide and shallow with lots of islands and sand bars.

I like Iowa, probably because I am from farm country.  I stayed in a nice hotel and had a real dinner instead of drive-up junk.  There was a big AA-AlAnon conference going on, so not many drunks.  Iowa has less trucking, and the road kill animals are smaller than in Pennsylvania.

That BMW is a great road car.  When my back started hurting, I would sit up straight until my butt started hurting.  No amount of padding helps either condition. My lower spine is a mess, and my butt is skinny-can’t keep my pants up.  The cruise control is easy to use and was a big help.  Cruise in the rural areas, alert and careful in the cities.

It was a long day across Iowa and Nebraska.  In my younger days I would have gone on to Denver, but the old guy stayed in North Platte.  We have two Cabelas here so there was no temptation to go to Sidney.  I-76 goes right to Denver.  Home just after noon.

Now, Carol and I are learning how to use all the features on the car.  Our next task is deciding what to do with three cars.  What to keep, what to sell?  The BMW is high maintenance, the Matrix is getting old, and my 4×4 Tacoma is so cheap it doesn’t have an outside lock on the passenger side,  the seat is hard, and the only amenities are air conditioning and a decent sound system.

We have more road trips coming up, and the BMW is great, but rear wheel drive. The Matrix is still decent, and the Taco sucks for long distances.  What to do?

 

 

Rattlesnake Canyon

Dramatic

Dramatic

Rattlesnake Canyon is near Fruita, Colorado, where I grew up.  My friends and I  ran all over the hills north and west of the Colorado National Monument, but I had never been to

Rattlesnake Canyon.  It is a bit too far for kids on foot.  We got into the canyons just east of the canyon, now part of the Black Ridge Wilderness, but I did not know about the arches in Rattlesnake Canyon.

Close to town, the canyon is a bit tough to get to.  The Pollock Canyon trailhead near the river means an overnight backpack to do justice to the country.  The other route follows Black Ridge west from the Glade Park Store, and is for 4×4 vehicles or Subarus you are willing to bash around.  From the trailhead it is about four miles on the trail if you take the shortcut.

I have rambled around the Colorado Plateau off and on all my life.  From the Grand Canyon to Dinosaur and from the Grand Hogback to the Wasatch, the plateau offers some

Rattlesnake Canyon

Rattlesnake Canyon

of the most magnificent country anywhere.  Rattlesnake Canyon is up there with the best.  Arches has more arches, and there are bigger canyons (not that many), but Rattlesnake has it all.  The real bonuses are that it is close and not cluttered up with people.  With the exception of Grand Canyon, most anywhere else offered some solitude at one ime.  No longer.  Thirty miles from Grand Junction, with a competent high clearance vehicle you can be in wilderness in view of Fruita.

Ah, the sense of space.  I live in the city and it is impossible to have a sense of space, even with Mt. Evans looking down at you.  From those canyon rims the expanse opens my mind.  Grand Mesa, the Bookcliffs, and the Roan Cliffs rim the Grand Valley, quite a scene by itself.

The canyon walls are Wingate sandstone capped by harder Kayenta sandstone.  That cap rock forms a bench with the Entrada sandstone (slickrock) set back from the rim.  Rim Rock Drive in the Monument is mostly on that bench, and the trail to Rattlesnake drops down on the bench and curves around the canyon rim to the arches.  The arches are in the slickrock, ancient sand dunes turned to stone.  It is easy to see the rounded dunes in the rock.  Erosion works its way into the cliffs following the curve of the dunes, forming alcoves.  As the alcoves erode farther, sometimes the back of the alcove drops out, leaving an arch.  I saw six of them. Arches in Colorado, the second largest concentration in the country, maybe the world.

About that trail.  I got away from Denver at 6:00 AM, not my best time of day.  I filled my water bottle and left it on the kitchen counter.  I didn’t realize it until I was at the trailhead at about 1:30 PM.  I am also out of shape, my exercise restricted by a couple of broken ribs for five weeks.  Have I mentioned that I am 72 years old and impulsive?  I looked at the sign, 3 1/2 miles.  It was only 90 degrees or so, a piece of cake.

First Arch. Where I climbed up the rock through the arch.

First Arch. Where I climbed up the rock through the arch.

I covered about half of the trail when I realized I was getting a bit dry.  “Keep going, I can drink later”.  The arches were a progression along the bench and close to the trail.  With that row of arches on one side and that magnificent canyon with 400 foot sheer walls branching into side canyons on the other side, I was literally staggered by the beauty.   Well maybe the stagger was because I was tired and thirsty.  I caught up to a party of six people at the last arch, known as First Arch.  At First Arch was the sign saying End of Trail.  I didn’t know that, and by that time I was stopping to rest fairly often, so while resting I watched the party climb up the slickrock through the arch.  I knew the trailhead was only about 1/2 mile from the arch.  So, it was climb up the rock through that impressive arch or backtrack 3 1/2 miles.  I climbed.

I have done a lot of sandstone climbing, and used to be pretty good at it.  That was when I wasn’t 72, tired, getting sore, and thirsty.  I climbed anyway.  I would do about 20 feet, catch my breath, figure out my next moves, and climb again.  The proper way to climb that stuff is on your feet even if it is steep.  Feet have more traction than denim, and the work is easier than trying to slither up.  I slithered.  I was too weak to trust myself trying to walk up those steep slopes.

The rock has curves, little depressions, some tiny ridges, notches, and hollows to give one a way up.  I tried to pick the easiest route, but it was still pretty steep.  My knees paid the price, getting some good scrapes.  Up on the rim, that last half mile was tough.  It was uphill, but not too bad.  I stopped twice and flopped down in the shade for a few minutes while walking slowly back to the truck.

There was about 1/4 of a cup of coffee in the truck that sure tasted good.  I was lightheaded and pretty wobbly during the drive out.  I stopped at the Visitor Center in the Park and drank water for a while.  I got a motel room in Fruita about 6:00 PM, didn’t eat dinner, and drank water until lights out about 9:30.

Sunday morning I had breakfast, drank water, and took the scenic route back to Denver.  I drank water and went up Plateau Creek to Collbran, went over Grand Mesa to Paonia where I had lunch and drank water, then over McClure Pass to Glenwood and home on I-70.  I was fully rehydrated by Monday.

I didn't see a rattlesnake in Rattlesnake Canyon

I didn’t see a rattlesnake in Rattlesnake Canyon

After a few minor incidents in the backcountry over the years, I have developed several rules to follow when Out There.  Take water.  Take enough water for the other persons you come across who didn’t bring enough water.  Be in shape.  Research where you are going so you know what to expect.  Have a map. Carry the ten essentials in case you get into trouble.  Tell people where you are going.  You really should not go alone.  I broke every rule.

What the fuck is wrong with me?  I know.  I am an impulsive ADD.  When I got to the trailhead and saw I had no water I should have driven out.  But, I wouldn’t have this story to tell.  What I did do right was pace myself, not panic, and take my time getting out.  It is just that my brain didn’t kick in until three hours too late.

 

Backpacking

Backpackers

Backpackers

Back in the 1970’s and 1980’s I did a fair amount of backpacking.  I have stumbled around in mountains, up 14000 foot mountains, in the heat of desert summer, and in winter.  I suffered, limped, ate bad food, and drank bad water.  There was joy, serenity, fear, and awe. I can’t backpack now, old and with knee and back problems.  The memories of those trips will be with me always.  There is more satisfaction in accomplishing something that took a lot of work.  The most work was carrying a loaded pack up Mount Princeton and slogging through two feet of fresh spring snow in Loch Vale, Rocky Mountain National Park. Those winter backpacks have additional challenges.  It is dark for a long time and it is cold out there.  The bladder just does not respect any difficulties in getting it drained.  How long can you lay there before struggling out of that warm sleeping bag, covering the feet, donning a coat, and stumbling outside.

Loch Vale

Loch Vale

In Loch Vale it snowed a lot of heavy wet snow.  We knocked snow off the tent and listened to the snow slides run.  We had made camp in the dark and didn’t know if we were in a slide area or not.  I guess we weren’t.  It was still snowing without much visibility when we headed for the car.  We made a wrong turn and went down a steep gulch.  Have you ever tried to sidehill in two feet of fresh snow, hardpack underneath, with snowshoes?  At one point I just flopped down in the snow and laid there for a while.

Fiery Furnace

Fiery Furnace

The best winter trip was in the Fiery Furnace, Arches National Park, in February.  Clear weather, no snow, and no one else there.  If you haven’t been to the fiery furnace, go.  There are hoops to jump through with the Park Service these days but it is worth it.  Don’t go in summer.  Another good trip on snowshoes was a spring trip on Grand Mesa.  Longer days, no one around, but the snowmobiles had made a packed trail for us.

North Park is a big, mostly empty place where the North Platte starts its journey north.  The east side has the Rawah Wilderness, while the south rim has the Mt. Zirkle Wilderness.  The Zirkle trip was a lot of fun with good people, but the Rawah trip was something of an adventure. We went with another couple for a several day trip, starting from the Laramie River road north of Cameron Pass.  My wife at the time and I had gained some backpacking experience and were fairly confident in the boonies.

Rawahs

Rawahs

One of the other couple had gone to the National Outdoor Leadership School in Lander.  She was not just a convert to the NOLS way, she was an evangelist. NOLS is a highly respected organization, but Paul Petzolt, the founder had strong opinions about wilderness behavior and equipment.  Most of his ideas have become mainstream, such as Leave No Trace.  His ideas about equipment, however, were a bit old-fashioned (He was in the 10th Mountain Division in WWII.). The equipment was good, but heavier than what people were using thirty years later.

We met several times with them to plan the trip and make up meals.  Most of the food was light weight, but from the grocery store, not the freeze dried stuff.  It meant a lot of measuring, mixing, and packaging.  One of the lunch items was what was a precursor of Power Bars.  Peanut butter, fruit and nuts, oatmeal, and other stuff I don’t remember.  We rolled them into cylinders that looked exactly like turds.  They didn’t taste like that, but I have never had them since.  I think they were a NOLS idea. The other part of those meetings was listening to NOLS stories, and how the school made the graduates wilderness experts.  We heard a lot of stories.  I shudder every time I am near Lander.

Almost all backpacks in Colorado start with a climb.  We started at roughly 8000 feet elevation and made camp just below timberline, which is usually around 11000 feet high.  A good hard climb with a pack on your back.  We made camp, and our NOLS wilderness expert went right to bed with altitude sickness.  She was fine the next morning, and we heard no more about NOLS.  Sometimes altitude sickness can be a blessing.

Here it Comes

Here it Comes

The Rawahs are a long ridge with several peaks in the 12000 feet range.  One day we climbed to the top of the ridge.  A fine view, with North Park below, and the mountains of the Continental Divide to the south, and with the Zirkle across the park. We didn’t stay long.  A huge thunderstorm was headed our way across North Park.  We left in a hurry.  We didn’t make it to timberline before the storm hit.  If you want to experience terror, be in a lightning storm with no place to hide.  Lightning was striking all around us and the noise, with nothing but rock to reflect the sound from the crashes.  The wisdom is to crouch down in a bit of a low spot.  We ran.  I guess we made it. Another time I will write about desert trips.  My favorite part of the world is the Colorado Plateau, probably because I was born there. The two most memorable experiences of all were snow in Loch Vale and lightning in the Rawahs.

The Garden

Raspberries planterI am married to an artist.  She paints, she writes (lately, haiku), is doing lots of cooking with our new kitchen, and she gardens.  It’s spring, so a lot of our effort is going into the garden. I willingly garden, but it is mostly the labor part. I dig, I built a cold frame and re-glazed it, I water and help plant.  I do not, however decide what to plant or where.  I am getting better at pruning with my left-handed Felco Pruner.  I mow, compost, rake, clean up, water, and haul.

We are landscaping in back, so lots of things are changing.  We have a nice new patio with a pergola.  The iris are already in along the fence and in the alley just outside.

The project this week is raspberries.  We had a 15 foot long cedar planter built just in front of the big blank slab of a garage wall that is YELLOW.  I prepared the planter soil with compost made from last falls leaves and a lot of coffee grounds from the coffee shops.  The raspberries will get fairly high and will break up that expanse of garage.  We were planning to have the raspberries planted by the pros but Carol got a call from a woman she met at a class offering free raspberries.

Raspberries

Raspberries

We jumped in my pickup and went over to their garden in what used to be a run-down neighborhood between I-25 and Highlands.  It is being transformed with new construction, but still retains some of the flavor of what it used to be.  We dug up about fifteen plants, brought them home and planted them. They were bare root, so some of them are looking pretty droopy, but I think they will make it.  My job is to set some eight foot cedar posts and run wires between them to support the raspberry canes.  The bushes can get about six to eight feet tall.  I can’t wait to have fresh raspberries in my muffins.

Our perennials are doing fine.  We were a bit worried after that early hard freeze we had last fall.  Even Carol’s attempt to clone the Pacific Northwest with a salal plant and some azaleas survived.  There is a deciduous bush next to the front door that is supposed to be evergreen that lost all its leaves.    It has lots of little buds and a few leaves, so I think it will be all right.

One of the things we are getting done in front is putting big rocks and some perennials on the slope from the lawn down to the sidewalk.  I am not getting any stronger, and that slope is hard to mow.  It also gets dry in summer, as it faces west.

Our Little Free Library is up and running. It is one of the features on the slope.  It is so much fun going out to check the books.  We get quite a bit of business, but no problem, because people keep bringing us books.  It’s painful, but I am culling some of my books.  It seems like some of my soul goes with them.  I hope they will enrich the soul of their next owner. It is good, life as a householder.

Spring and the Spirit

Spring!

Spring!

Spring is the time of renewal.  Life returns to the land, the daffodils and the tulips emerge.  The people celebrate.  In the Middle East long ago, as it is now, Passover was one of the celebrations.  That holiday brought a teacher to Jerusalem, and the Western world changed.  The teacher was a threat to the local leaders, who were anxious to not stir the Roman occupiers up.  The Romans wanted stability to release the Legions to continue conquest, and stability for the tax collectors.

They crucified the teacher.  That did not end the movement Jesus started.  The believers grew in numbers, and began to realize that the crucified one was more than a teacher.  His ministry continued, and we celebrate Easter.  At Pentecost, the cycle became complete.

Torah

Torah

Many centuries before, the Hebrews encountered the One God.  This changed their world view, as they were surrounded by people who had gods for every occasion.  The One God gave the Hebrews the Law.  They had Torah, the written record of God choosing his people and instructing them on how to comport themselves.

The intervening centuries brought much conflict and turmoil, as human affairs do.  The people mostly persevered with their God.  There are written records of that journey with God, and they still instruct us.  They fell away, they returned, they went into captivity, and they returned. Their prophets had the spirit, and many others probably did also, we just do not have the record.

Then, the most miraculous thing happened.  God became man and walked among his people, calling everyone to be His people.  He was killed for it, but his message rose with Him and became stronger.  Then, at Pentecost, came the Holy Spirit.  God no longer walked among us or sent His prophets, but we received a great gift.  The Holy Spirit can dwell within us.

Holy Spirit

Holy Spirit

I am not one to live by faith alone.  I have to have evidence.  Science works for me, because it is evidence based.  My faith works because the Holy Spirit came, and it was the most profound experience of my life.  Now, the spirit blows where it will, and it does not often blow toward me.  That is all right, because I always have the spirit when I need it.  The spirit comes when I need it, not when I want it.  At first I had trouble with that, because I wanted to be plugged in all the time.

There is a problem with being in the Spirit all the time.  There is no time for anything else, and the need to keep the body going intrudes.  I thought about being a monk, but I find that I belong in the world.  So, I have my spiritual times, and long periods when all I do is pray every day.  I feel myself being moved into a spiritual time.  I don’t know where it will lead me, but I am ready.

Remember those words, “Seek, and you will find.”

Barbarians

 

Barbarians

Barbarians

For all my life I have wanted to know why.  I want the answer, to understand the big picture.  That led me to history.  I am not sure, but maybe understanding the past can give us a glimpse of the future.  At the least, history has helped me understand what is going on now.

As to history, there are a lot of mysteries.  History is told by the victors, and we know much less about the losers, but their lives were every bit as important as the winners.  Here is an example.

I have been interested in Central Eurasia for decades.  What we call western civilization has interacted with the people of the steppes for many thousands of years.  The standard view is that the barbarians of the steppes raised horses, sheep, and cattle and fought among themselves until a great leader, Chingiss Khan for example, unified them and they then invaded civilized cities on the periphery.   Scythians, Vandals, Visigoths, Goths, Mongols, Huns, Ughyurs or Turks, they all had only conquest, loot, rape and slaughter as goals.  Those invasions affected China, Persia, Mesopotamia, Anatolia, and Europe.

Well, yes, some of that did happen.  Much of the conflict, however, came from the peripheral societies invaded the steppes.  All the standard reasons for invasions: conquest, riches, land, slaves, and something for the army to do. Alexander, for example, invaded everywhere he could, including the steppe.  The Great Wall was built to protect territory taken from the nomads and was used to keep people in as much as protection from invasion from the nomads.

The people of the steppe had cities, vast grasslands, cattle, sheep, horses, furs, and trade goods from west and east of the steppe.  They needed trade with the periphery, and the periphery needed their livestock and trade goods.

The Silk Road was a lifeline for the nomads.  The nomadic cultures were warrior cultures, yes, but they were foremost herders and traders. Just about every culture of any size is a warrior culture.  The United States is a warrior culture.  Just ask Native Americans, Cubans, Filipinos, and Mexicans.

The difference with regard to the Eurasian steppe cultures is that the people of the west call them barbarians.  What is a barbarian?  They have different clothes, religions, languages, and values.  They are Others, so they are barbaric.  Who were the barbarians, the Moslem tribes in the Philippines trying to defend their homeland from invaders or the U. S. Army doing the invading?  Maybe Custer was the barbarian. The Lakota surely thought so.

Romans, Greeks, Celts, Persians, and Hittites saw the invading horsemen as barbaric, but they surely did their own invading.  It is prejudice, viewing others as barbaric.  One of our most enduring prejudices is calling people barbarians because they fight and kill, for whatever reason.  All cultures fight and kill, and commit atrocities.  It is only when the other guy is doing it that it is barbaric.

So, let’s not get too self righteous when various factions act out their age-old animosities in the Middle East.  Don’t call their acts barbaric unless we have never done the same.  You can check with the Modocs or the Seminoles to make sure.

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