Quotidian Update Lost Count

Sleepless night until 5:30 and then at 6:00 some neighbor’s car alarm went off — for a long long time. Went back to sleep but? Life is just so weird, and, right now for some of the people I care about it’s tough going. I can’t help any of them, though I would. As for me? After what was a pretty rough year, things seem to have, may have, calmed down a bit. Time will tell. Remnants of Covid hang on, but steadily lessening. That’s just the slog it is, I guess.

So… got up at 8 and wandered to the kitchen while the dogs weren’t looking. It was pretty funny because when they realized I was awake, and came running inside to greet me, Teddy ran right past me. “Wait, you’re not supposed to be THERE!” He looked a little scared when he turned around and saw me where, in his little Aussie mind, I wasn’t supposed to be. Then he was happy. Then began the citrus ritual (pouring OJ into the blender jar for the smoothie) and morning is happening more or less as usual but damn, I’m tired…

Yesterday I was kind of disputing with Fromm, but this morning, no. Aristotle described humanity as a chain of dancers and, thinking about the structure of a chain, that analogy works with Fromm’s ideas. I just get bristly when people write/talk about the Middle Ages as if it were some dark dark time during which semi-humans wandered Europe pining for the great enlightened minds of the Roman republic. Now I think I see better (from his point of view) where he’s going. It appears the problem is fear; fear of individual freedom might have its foundation in loneliness and alienation. But I’m too tired to go anywhere with that, now.

Facebook has reminded me that 8 years ago I made an offer on this house and it was accepted. It’s amazing to think I did that within 3 days of arriving in Colorado. There weren’t many choices, which helped (in a way) and there were/are features in this house that said, “Home” to me. It’s similar in age and design with two places I’ve lived where I was happy, a big selling point. It was in my price range — get this! Under $100k. That was then… and here… It had a fully fenced yard. The downside? The highway in front, of course, the ugly bathroom, but seriously. The seller had to put a new roof on the house before I could move in and that was my first exposure to what is known as “valley time.” I understand that now. The San Luis Valley is an inconvenient place to live. I moved in exactly 4 weeks after I arrived in Colorado for good. Crazy. The three little houses at this end of my street — all Southwestern style stucco — are known in town as “the adobes.” When I first came inside, it was decorated in Southwestern style which isn’t me. Since then I’ve thought about the actual Spanish colonial houses I’ve seen, restored from old photos, and they were not decorated in Southwestern style. Many had Chinese carpets on their floors, so maybe this style of mine (style?) is pretty authentic.

Back to Escape from Freedom

Erich Fromm has wandered into deep water at this moment and he’s really pissing me off (he’s SO worried about that!). He’s stereotyping the Middle Ages and has bought into the myth of the Italian Renaissance. I have to remember that since 1941 a whole lot of archeological science has emerged, and he could not know. But I like a little humility in my philosophers and the factual awareness that most of what we can know about, say, the 13th century is conjecture. He also seems to be floating along on that fallacy that the present (and by association, the future) is/will be more advanced than the past. That depends a LOT on what “advanced” means. BUT we humans have to believe in progress, I guess, but, again, that depends a lot on what progress means, the area in which progress is happening. I’m all for antibiotics and vaccines and the dramatic reduction in intestinal worms in civilized populations, but I’m not sure our addiction to our cellphones is healthy or progress. Progress seems to be always a mixed blessing.

It’s going to be tough going for me with Fromm now because, well, I have a different bias. My bias is that we really don’t know a lot more about the past than we know about the future. Much of what we know is what we have from the words of others and they could be 1) lying, 2) angry, 3) exceptional, 4) drunk, 5) tripping — we don’t know. A little humility in the face of human “development” is, to me, the first imperative of a historian but Fromm isn’t a historian, so I guess I have to cut him slack.

Last night I watched a documentary on Chaco Canyon that blew me away. I’ve been there and it’s strange. I’ve visited many Anasazi sites and most of them feel like “People lived here and did interesting things.” Those things were visible everywhere — from ball courts to theaters to piles of ancient trash, but Chaco? It felt weird. Last night I learned that it is now believed to be a gigantic, precise, celestial, observatory where few people actually LIVED but where people went at certain times of the year to celebrate rituals. I believe that — it’s in an area with a very hostile climate. You can learn more here at The Mystery of Chaco Canyon.

The other thing Fromm is doing that I am very skeptical about is he is choosing facts and creating definitions that “prove” his argument. That’s not cool but we all do it.

All this said, I also read some lovely, intriguing stuff I want to share. Among the good things he says about the Middle Ages is, “Although there was no individualism in the modern sense (I think that’s an overgeneralization, but…) of unrestricted choice between many possible ways of life (ah, OK) there was a lot of concrete individualism in real life.” I’m intrigued by two things in this passage; one is that the modern sense of individualism means “unrestricted choice between many possible ways of life” and the idea of “concrete individualism.”

If Fromm and I were to sit down and talk about this, I’d say, “I’m not sure about that. It seems to me that whatever era into which we’re born, we are born with limitations, the first being the era into which we were born. Humans don’t live in vast swaths of time. We have three days just like we humans have always had three days. And don’t give me that life-expectancy stuff. I’m onto that. Our choices are limited by the culture into which we’re born, our gender, our parents’ views, their level of wealth, the opportunities that exist in our world in the moments of our lives. No human is so free they have ‘unrestricted choice between many possible ways of life.’ Maybe our societies are not as fixed and stratified as most medieval societies, but that kind of freedom of choice? Doesn’t exist. As for ‘Concrete Individualism’? Isn’t that the most important? Do you mean integrity?” I wonder what he would say.

I’m not sure I would tell him I dreamed of playing centerfield for a professional baseball team, but I was not free to “choose” that. I remain skeptical about his dichotomy between “negative” and “positive” freedom, but I’m not him, and I’m mostly open-minded.

Two paragraphs at the end of the preceding chapter struck a chord with me. Here goes…

“…the history of mankind is one of conflict and strife. Each step in the direction of growing individuation threatened people with new insecurities. Primary bonds once severed cannot be mended; once paradise is lost, man cannot return to it. There is only one possible, productive solution for the relationship of individualized man with the world: his active solidarity with all men and his spontaneous activity, love and work, which unite him again with the world, not by primary ties but as a free and independent individual.

And if that doesn’t happen? Fromm is ready…”However, if the economic, social and political conditions on which the whole process of human individuation depends do not offer a basis for the realization of individuality in the sense just mentioned, while at the same time people have lost those ties which gave them security, this lag makes freedom an unbearable burden. It then becomes identical with doubt, with a kind of life which lacks meaning and direction. Powerful tendencies arise to escape from this kind of freedom into submission or some kind of relationship to man and the world that promises relief from uncertainty, even if it deprives the individual of freedom.”

It made me think of the Czech writer, Milan Kundera, whose work I loved back in the 80s. First was the title of one of Kundera’s books, The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera; the title was so intriguing and, to me, pointed to just what Fromm has described, that being itself is so volatile, so “light,” (we ARE light in a sense) that it can be unbearable. “Being” could, maybe, be equated to Fromm’s idea of “individuation”? I don’t know, but… Being an autonomous “self” is difficult. My unmarried Aunt Martha took so much shit from the family just for that choice she had made. Just that. In a way Kundera did reach this in another novel, The Book of Laughter and Forgetting when he writes about the “circle dance.”

“That is when I understood the magical meaning of the circle. If you go away from a row, you can still come back into it. A row is an open formation. But a circle closes up, and if you go away from it, there is no way back. It is not by chance that the planets move in circles and that a rock coming loose from one of them goes inexorably away, carried off by centrifugal force. Like a meteorite broken off from a planet, I left the circle and have not stopped falling. Some people are granted their death as they are whirling around, and others are smashed at the end of their fall. And these others (I am one of them) always retain a kind of faint yearning for that lost ring dance, because we are all inhabitants of a universe where everything turns in circles.”

― Milan Kundera, The Book of Laughter and Forgetting

Kundera’s point is that if you CHOOSE (as he did) to leave the circle you cannot choose to return. The circle closes. He’s writing about the Communist takeover of Czechoslovakia (as was), but it could be any social/political system that offers an escape from freedom, as Fromm writes about.

I think we experience this in a lot of ways that don’t have anything to do with politics, anyway, I have. Doors close, another limitation put on our freedom of choice. When that last happened to me, I ended up here. What were my limitations? Money, first and maybe that was all. Within my limitations I had to find a place where I would like to live. I was not “free.” I was “free to choose” within that parameter. Did that make me “free” from having to live in a million dollar home in California?

So far, I don’t know. Fromm has me both nodding and shaking my head. I’m not sure this is anything new. I’m free to think that. 😉

For “concrete individualism” I offer Emerson: These are the voices which we hear in solitude, but they grow faint and inaudible as we enter into the world.Society everywhere is in conspiracy against the manhood of every one of its members. Society is a joint-stock company, in which the members agree, for the better securing of his bread to each shareholder, to surrender the liberty and culture of the eater. The virtue in most request is conformity. Self-reliance is its aversion. It loves not realities and creators, but names and customs.

Whoso would be a man must be a nonconformist. He who would gather immortal palms must not be hindered by the name of goodness, but must explore if it be goodness. Nothing is at last sacred but the integrity of your own mind. Absolve you to yourself, and you shall have the suffrage of the world. 
Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Self-Reliance.”

More Discussion of Escape from Freedom

Fromm begins his book — and his argument — with his two definitions of freedom — one positive (Freedom To) and the other negative (Freedom From). I’m not sure I buy those as opposites. Freedom FROM hunger is freedom TO eat. Freedom from oppression is, uh, oh, yeah, freedom. But I’m happy to see where he goes with that (to me) rather arbitrary dichotomy. I know one thing for sure about freedom. It’s difficult to define.

Yesterday the ladies and I went to the museum to see the new exhibit which is all kinds of stuff from the olden days. The idea is to figure out what all these strange things were used for. Lyndsie (the new director) made a guide to go with the objects that are common household tools and objects for farming, things like a cream separator and a seed spreader. We had a good time. It was followed by lunch which wasn’t great.

Elizabeth is Australian and she got up early to watch Queen Elizabeth’s funeral. She’s long held the thought (and frequently expressed it) that the United States needs a royal family. On the drive home, I mentioned I was starting to see her point. That led to a front seat discussion about presidents and who did and did not “act presidential.” They agreed Obama acted presidential; there was dispute over whether Biden does. I was in the back so I had the privilege of listening with Fromm’s book still on my mind. I think a lot depends on what a president inherits when he takes office — and Biden inherited a mountain of shit — divided country, an insurrection, a pandemic and its resultant economic challenges, all followed hard on by a war in Europe.

When I was able to pick up Fromm’s book again — beginning a new chapter, “The Emergence of the Individual and the Ambiguity of Freedom” — I was again stunned.

“The social history of man started with his emerging from a state of oneness with the natural world to the awareness of himself as an entity separate from surrounding nature and men.”

Good god… This was a little challenging for me because I think our separation from the natural world is an illusion. We might THINK we’re free of it, but we’re not and, in this particular case, that is to say it seems to ME, that at this juncture in human history, this drive and (its corresponding illusion) is killing us. The other day, MTG said, “AOC worships the climate. I worship God.” All I could think was, “Uh they are one and the same you stoopnagle.”

Too much abuse of our world, resulting from our freedom to create an environment designed for man, might lead us to a very sinister negative freedom, that is freedom FROM life. But the bizarre end-days cult to which she clings might be all about that, after all Revelations says the world will end in fire. I don’t know. I can’t know what goes on in their twisted little minds.

Fromm went on to discuss the emergence of each of us as an individual, a process he called individuation which is the moment in which a person recognizes that he/she is a separate entity, not connected to parents, but a self of its own. As I read I thought about my own childhood and recognized the moment, though it wasn’t a “moment” so much as a process of self-definition that took about three years. It began on a train crossing Wyoming north to south and culminated in a little movie theater in Nebraska watching Lawrence of Arabia and sucking on sour cherries. The first was the opening of the question, “Who am I?” the end was, “I am no one but myself.” A book was an instrument in the beginning; a film in the completion.

I remembered the numerous times my mom said, “You and your brother were easy as little kids and then?”

Well, mom. I thought of all the times I said, “I’m not you. THIS is what I want to do.” I understood at that point that what I did might not work, but I was OK with that, I was OK with failure. My independence mattered more to me even as a kid than success.

It hurt when friends snubbed me (kids do that) and it wasn’t easy for me to make friends, but after a while that was OK, too. I didn’t feel isolated. I came to understand back then, on some level, that all the kids around me were in this process, too. That was one reason kids fight. That was a motivation behind adults organizing us into team sports where each of us would begin to focus more on a skill than in competing for identity. It seemed to me at the time — and I have no idea if it’s true — that girls were generally less determined to become selves than were the boys. Their playground games were more peaceful and sedentary; their games at home seemed to revolve around role plays of adult life. The boy’s games interested me more; I wanted individual achievement. I wanted to get better at things, run faster, hit more balls, see more, know more.

Fromm then discusses how the moment (process?) of individuation affects people (the process is inevitable). Some people are overwhelmed by the sense of solitude in the universe. Others recognize the solitude, but accept it.

“The process of individuation is one of growing strength and integration of its individual personality but it is at the same time a process in which the original identity with others is lost and in which the child becomes more separate from them. This growing separation may result in an isolation that has the quality of desolation and creates intense anxiety and insecurity, it may result in a new kind of closeness and a solidarity with others if the child has been able to develop the inner strength and productivity which are the premise of this new kind of relatedness to the world.”

Whoa. Person 1 — riddled with anxiety and insecurity — will seek submission to escape that painful solitude. Person 2 won’t, having made peace with freedom, or so it goes more or less. I’m not sure, but this seems to be the argument Fromm is building. Naturally, I brought all this home to people I have known. I saw my mom in a completely different way. I saw that she never made peace with the intrinsic solitude of individuality, never found a way to live productively within it. It struck me that perhaps the foundation of freedom is just that. “I’m alone and it’s OK with me.”

Fromm makes that point.

P.S. This might be tedious, but I don’t have anyone around to talk about this with. Writing about it helps me process the ideas. The book is just under 300 pages so this won’t go on forever 😜

Circus Parvus*

The San Luis Valley Potato Festival was smaller this year than I’ve seen it. I wonder what it was like in 2021? I didn’t go. Thinking about it, a couple of things struck me. One, the little “circus” which was really a few acrobats and tumblers, a couple of trapeze like things (not exactly trapezes…). The acrobats wore bright colored circus clothes; the tumblers wore comfy street clothes. They had a large tumbling mat. There were three rows of folding chairs, and kids filled the front row. They were enraptured, especially when the tumblers did charades.

Those guys would have been in any medieval fair, walking up and down to get an audience, “Jongling” and talking to people — and one girl was doing just that.

Last night as I drifted off to sleep I thought, “The Potato Festival was an echo of the oldest fair in the world, the immortal fair, a medieval fair, not a glitzy Renfair, but the real thing, a village fair.” Cottage business, local organizations with pamphlets, clubs raising money to keep going and to help others. I bought water from the Rainbow Girls. I took a free kids’ book (free meaning no payment, not liberate) from an earnest, beautiful young woman involved with Head Start in one of the small towns in the middle of the farms and ranches, surrounded by fields of potatoes, the soil that yields the tuber that drew us all to the park in Monte Vista two blocks from my house. We chatted about the wonder of being bilingual.

One person I haven’t seen since Covid is farmer and Metal Sculptor, John Patterson, whose work is beautiful, humorous, whimsical and engaging. He designed and built the new bike racks that are now all over downtown Monte Vista. It was nice to catch up a little. We talked about the museum in Del Norte and I let him know there will be a holiday show. Here’s a photo of some of his extremely cool work and a couple of enchanted children.

Photo: John Patterson on Facebook

The fair — historically and now — was a bonding activity bringing people to one place from all over in a kind of reunion. It was that for me, definitely, not only with my own dear friends visiting, but encounters with people as we wandered the vendor booths. I understood it more deeply this past weekend, having had Covid and still regaining “self” from lingering problems of Long Covid. My progress has been steady but slow. It was scary there for a while when I didn’t understand what was going on, before I understood that no one could understand what was going on.

In its small size, its comparative lameness, in its optimism and determination — the Potato Festival was me, it was all of us.

Photos by Lois Maxwell. “Parvus” is Latin for small. I had to look it up, but since the Potato Festival was definitely NOT Circus Magnus…

Quotidian Update 57.91.xi.2

“force (someone) to walk forward by holding and pinning their arms from behind. ‘The cop frogmarched him down the steep stairs’.”

As they say with great optimism, “You learn something new every day.” I’ve barely started my coffee and I’ve learned a new word from the Rag Tag Daily Prompt. I can’t use it, though. No frogmarching around here. Bear, Teddy and I are a cooperative and non-punitive operation.

The news from the back-of-beyond this sunny and soon to be very hot day is that the San Luis Valley Potato Festival of Song and Story is happening this weekend, and I am having house guests. It’s amazing how small this house becomes when there are people in it. I’m looking forward to it very much, though I’m still battling the reluctantly retreating effects of whatever the fuck that virus did to me. I will be hostess to three people and Frosty, a little guy my dogs and I love. The people are pretty nice, too. 😉

My studio is now a bedroom.

As the vicissitudes of fortune and weather would have it, after this hot spell, we’re about to be hit by the cooling remains of a Pacific Ocean hurricane and the weekend will be cool, hopefully it won’t rain (Yeah I really wrote that).

As advertised, the Potato Festival itself seems to be a few notches down from past years with no trick motorcycle riders in the rodeo grounds for the evening extravaganza. Instead the big event is a small circus-like-thing in the nearby park. Here’s the full schedule! Don’t be jealous. I’m sure cool things happen where you are, too. Included in the event are two tours of the potato fields which I would like to do sometime. For my guests, the animals (alligators, horses, maybe a goat or two), the potatoes, tractors and trucks are the big draws. Lots of craft shopping for Christmas. One year my neighbor and I went to the chef demo.

I always talk about this (write?) kind of tongue-in-cheek because you know I know this is a small town event and there is something funny about potatoes, but in real life it’s a lot more than that. It marks the end of the summer push. It celebrates the harvest of the BIGGEST money maker for our area. It hearkens back thousands of years to harvest festivals through all of human’s agricultural history. Our particular event a lot more going on than this schedule suggests.

AND it’s a lot more pleasant to wander around a small fair in cool weather than in the searing blast we’ve been having.

Temperature is funny. The altitude of Monte Vista is 7600 feet/2317 meters, so even though the temps have been topping out at 86 F/30 C — which wasn’t terribly hot back in CA — 86 is very very hot here. There’s also no “atmosphere” to speak of, no humidity to come between the sun’s rays and the person. The traditional cowboy hat worn here has a very wide brim, a combination of a Mexican sombrero and c’boy hat. The good news is that it cools down drastically at night. Thankfully we won’t be wandering around the park in the heat because it is really NOT fun.

The news on my spider is that a male is in her proximity. I saw him yesterday. I also did some enlightening research into spider sex. Now THAT is hilarious, unless you’re a spider or maybe even IF you’re a spider. I think, in the sexual area, if I were to come back as a bug, I’d like to be a dragonfly. Doing it in the air while flying? That looks like fun. You’d fulfill your biological imperative but with a view.

Stoned Free

“Wow… Huh?”

“Not much of a post, Martha, and you haven’t even used the prompt!”

“No, not yet. What was it again?”

“I see what you’re doing. You’re tricking me into saying it so you can get out of figuring out a story to go with it.”

“Maybe. Maybe not.”

“You don’t have any great thoughts this morning?”

“Not really. My coffee is good, Bear didn’t want her breakfast, and she could be blackmailing me into cooking chicken and rice for her again. The Rolling Stones are not as good as I thought they were back in the day when I had all their albums.”

“Huh? OH! The radio…”

“Yeah. I was a Stones fan. I owe them something, too. Those albums paid for my first divorce.”

“There’s a story there, Martha.”

“Oh, Brain, there’s always a story somewhere.”

“See? Can you work ‘flounce’ into that one?”

“I’m sure I’ve told it before.”

“C’mon. Tell it again grandma.”

“OK, well, I was pretty poor, still in grad school, working at the University of Denver College of Law. Believe it or not, I was doing payroll and other accounting tasks.

“That’s hard to believe.”

“God bless the ten key adding machine. Any-HOO I’d filed the papers for my divorce and the hearing was coming up. I was scared. My friend Bess had given me the BEST dress I ever owned to wear, well, and to keep, so that part was covered (ha ha). It wasn’t a contested divorce, no custody, no property, but you know, it was a law school and was full of lawyers who thought legal representation was really really really important to ensure a successful outcome.”


“One of my friends at the time was the secretary to the Assistant Dean of the College of Law. She told him my story — abusive husband, etc. — and one afternoon he sought me out and offered to represent me at the hearing. I wouldn’t even have to go. Jesse Manzanares who was, along with this, one of the nicest people I’ve ever known. He would have done it pro bono but I felt weird about it. He liked my collection of Rolling Stones albums and that’s how I paid him. He came over one Saturday afternoon and picked them up.”

“You made that up.”

“Will you love me when I’m 64+ 6?”

Humility is great, but the thing is, we ARE someone. We’ve done things. Yesterday, for the second time since I retired (the first was to the contest for which I judge books) I sent someone my CV. Out of habit, I keep it up-to-date. I never knew back in the day when some capricious boss was going to ask for a “complete annual report” which was a big project that included a complete CV organized in a way specific to the College of Business at San Diego State. So, after two of these “events,” I learned to keep it up to date at all times. Argh… I am not sure that the person to whom I sent it will need it, but sometimes you need to let your freak flag fly.

What provoked that uncharacteristic action? Well, here’s the deal. I had the Chautauqua idea for an event at the local museum. I shared it with the director of the museum. She shared it with the board as if it were her idea which is a little tacky, but whatev’. They hired a woman from the oldest and most prestigious Del Norte family (!) to do the event. Yesterday she called me to see if I was interested in participating. It was weird. She’s an elementary school teacher, retired, I presume. She went on and on, very dynamic and “mover and shaker” in her manner. She has a vision and experience, the right connections, and is a good choice. BUT the vibe was one I haven’t experienced since I retired. My radar went off; red flags waved; sirens blared. I told her what I would do. I’m pretty sure it didn’t mean anything to her. Then it hit me. If — say the director of the museum — wanted to tell someone about me she wouldn’t know anything. Now she has the CV. That’s not the only reason. It’s also a kind of smackdown, kind of “I’m the shit. Don’t fuck with me. I’ve been fucked around enough.”

We all have. All us older people? Really HAVE been there, done that, and had it done to us. We may not (I certainly don’t) want to be in charge of anything any more, we have nothing to prove to anyone, but we also did not just fall off the turnip truck. I’m also a little surprised at myself, to be honest. I keep thinking of Hamlet, “Use every man after his desert, and who should ‘scape whipping?”

In marginally related news, Amazon is running a BIG sale on my historical fiction. Strangest damn thing to me that the Leper Genre and the family saga set in Switzerland really never caught on in a big way (ha ha). Anyway, they’re around $5 in paperback at the moment. You can learn more here.

Self-Indulgent Post about Not Knowing What to Write, Offering Amends, and News

Mainly I wonder if it’s going to snow this winter. It’s rained a lot this summer which could mean the clouds are wrung dry or we’re in a wet cycle or we’re in a summer-only wet cycle, forget winter or a hundred other things. My snow shovel is ALWAYS ready. Please don’t tell it it’s because it’s a useful tool in general, OK? It likes to feel special, but don’t we all?

I’ve done a couple of things on this blog I’m sorry for, and I want to get them out in the open. First, when a reader told me what one of my paintings “meant,” I got pretty angry AT her. That’s not cool. I should just have ignored her. Second, another reader — well, I told her that sometimes I have a hard time understanding her stream-of-consciousness writing (in comments). That’s not my business, either. My job is to do my best. None of us is perfect, but… It’s been a long, wearying summer, but that’s no excuse. Anyway, if either of these women are reading this, I’m sorry.

As for my blog — I’m not sure where to go next. I’ve written a LOT, more than 3000 posts, for almost a decade. I think I might be in need of rejuvenation (who isn’t?). I’d hoped the online class would be great, but it happened that on the free plan you ONLY get to do two units. I guess they figure you’ll be hooked and want to pay the $100+ for the rest of it. That’s OK, but they didn’t say this upfront. It was advertised as “free” excluding “some features.” “Some features” was a substantial part of the class. So… There I was, ready to start reading The Odyssey, and the material for the unit was unavailable without me sending them some $$$ I don’t have for this. It made me think of the proverbial “first time free” man who gets you hooked and there goes your life. 🤪 I need to support my OTHER drug habit; the big cranes-in-the-wind painting needs a frame.

I was just hoping a small, intellectual challenge would help my post-Covid brain get back to “normal,” and entertain me. Covid and its follow-up have been incredibly boring, and, as Merlin said to Arthur, “You’re bored? Learn something new!”

In other news, I was able to ride the Sainted Bike to Nowhere yesterday the full distance. Waaa-HOOO! I enjoyed it. I’ve missed it. It’s one of the lamest “sports” on the planet, but I’ve done it “religiously” for more than 15 years. I think it is a kind of meditation for me, just to get on, “ride,” listen to music, “go” through incredible Alpine scenery (I’m “riding” in the Austrian alps these days) for 30 minutes or so. Anyway, afterward, I was fine. No pain in the hip, and none today. I might have turned the corner.

Featured Photo: My dad and me setting up my first ever bike as a stationary bike for him to ride back in the early 60s.

Voice of the Angel

Just because my hip doesn’t need surgery doesn’t mean it doesn’t hurt. It’s frustrating but the good thing is walking makes it feel better. SO…Bear and I managed our escape alone together yesterday before the rain started. Clouds were coming at us from three directions so things were looking good. The deer flies have mostly gone, and we were greeted by a little mayfly who landed on my glasses. Dragonflies everywhere. As we neared the cottonwood trees (there are only a few) a hawk took flight from one of them. We stopped. He flew back and up where he had been. I am not sure but I think he had food up there. I took a few more steps hoping to see him in the tree, but he was dedicated to maintaining his privacy and flew off across the field. I saw he was a Red Tail Hawk and saluted him.

I heard thunder rumbling and we turned around. It was pretty far away but still. The clouds were very dark. It was promising a gulley washer somewhere. We would hit it on our way home, and Bella would get a good wash.

I saw a Refuge trucks parked by one of the information signs they have for bird tourists, the one that introduces them to the yellow-headed blackbird. I’m always hesitant to pass people because they might have a hidden dog or agenda, but I didn’t need to be. A guy was working on the sign. We said “Hi!” and I asked if he’d like to meet my dog. He wanted to so we crossed the road. Bear liked him. He looked to be a guy who might’ve been tossed hard by a large animal at some point. That’s a common possibility down here where kids start to rodeo at a young age. He had bright blue eyes, tanned skin, creased from working outside. I opened with, “Looks like the crowds are gone.” I meant the birders clamoring to see the Yellow Rail. He was putting up a new barrier to keep birds from pooping on the sign, an exercise he thought was both funny and futile.

“It was crazy here for a week or so. The cranes will be here soon. A month?”

“About,” I said. “I’ll be glad to see them.”

“They can be very annoying.”

I thought about how if I worked out there I might find them annoying, too. They’re big. They poop. They make a LOT of noise. He told me a story about how 40 cranes died in a sudden gust of wind, tangled in electrical wires. “They’re serious about that. It was out on the 7 mile.” (I live where the streets have no names) “The sheriff and everyone, Parks and Wildlife, everyone was out there counting, them, GPSing them, making sure they’d got them all. They’re serious about this.”

I didn’t know what I would do if I saw a dead crane. My love for those birds is a little crazy, but I arrived in 2014 at the same time the cranes did in October. I feel a kind of connection to their flight. BUT — mainly they’ve been a “gateway drug” to the Refuge, the Valley landscape, mobility, birds I never knew and a lot more. We talked about crane tourists.

“Bear likes them. She likes saying hello.”

“Yeah, people go crazy for those cranes. They come from all over the world. England, France…

“China!” I thought about the amazing coincidence of meeting being from Beijing the day before I was going to read from my China book at the museum.

“They used to have the bus tours, but now I guess people drive to a parking lot and the biologist speaks. You ever notice how they all drive Subarus?”

They do. Most of them drive Subarus. I laughed. “I liked the buses. They were great. It’s fun to see what happens to a bunch of adults on a school bus.”

“I hadn’t thought of that,” he said, “of course if they can get up the steps.” I laughed inside at that, not sure that either of us could get up the steps of the school bus. “I think they’re going to have the kid’s crane festival this year. I love that. They have us mow that section there,” and he pointed. “They set things up so the kids find nests and all kinds of stuff. I love that.”

People out here talk in stories and that is how I grew up. I learned that’s not how everyone holds a conversation and that many people expect stories to GO somewhere. My stories don’t always go somewhere and neither do the stories of the people around me now. I think it’s something about the rural west (and maybe other rural places?) where people have time and less interpersonal contact than in crowded cities. Stories ARE what we share. Often pointless stories that exist for their own sake.

As we talked, I watched an osprey and a Harris Hawk and thought, “The good times are on their way,” meaning fall and winter.

“Do you know Terry Something?” he asked

“No,” I say. Everyone here of a certain age knows the people his his/her generation. My town has one elementary, one middle, and one high school.

“Well, I was out here cleaning brush from this trail. ‘Course it’s pretty overgrown now, the chico…” “Chico” is the local word for greasewood. He was describing Bear’s and Teddy’s favorite trail — a short loop called the Meadowlark Trail. “It was so overgrown, couldn’t hardly find the trail. I got to the picnic table. I didn’t even know there was a picnic table! It was broken down, a mess. Well, Terry went door-to-door to raise money for materials and he built a new one.”

“I know him. I didn’t know his name. I met him and his wife out here. They were having lunch, and they told me about the table.” I thought for a minute, “You know people in the Valley aren’t that good at introducing themselves. I’m Martha Kennedy.” We shook hands. “I’ve seen him and his wife out here a lot. Really nice people.”

We talked a bit about the last Crane Festival which didn’t really happen and how the Refuge didn’t even have a display. “Terry was out there, though,” said my new friend. “With his wood working and carvings. He’s a good whittler.”

“They’re great people,” I said. “They have a dog who’s not dog friendly, and neither is Bear. We’ve talked about it and now if they see us heading toward my car, they wait until I get my dogs in the car before they keep going. It’s amazing.” I didn’t mention that their dog rides untethered in the back of their pick-up and we are ALL afraid he’ll jump out when he sees my dogs. That doesn’t diminish their consideration of me.

“I didn’t know that. I hope he’s OK. I haven’t seen him in a while.”

“I think the last time I saw them was May. I’m out here almost every day.”

“I know. I’ve seen you.”

I kind of laughed. “Well, you know.” I stopped. “For a while I was feeling sorry for myself. I used to run trails in the mountains but now, I can’t. But it’s OK. Now I can come here to hike and I see so much. If this is hiking.”

“It’s hiking. You’re here and you’re walking.”

The angel had spoken.

Featured photo: The yellow band is a barley field. The bright yellow is sunflowers growing around and in the field. That’s pizazz!

“Quit Telling Me What to Do!!!”

“What’s that noise?”
“Your engine’s knocking. Your car needs oil.”

That would have been my 1970 VW bug because, back in the olden days when cars were not filled with microchips and computers, they had to find other ways to communicate with their owners. Cars had small mechanical things that turned on small lights to tell us when we needed gas, when the oil was desperately low, and when the battery wasn’t being charged. These things usually worked, too. They also told us how many miles we’d driven. Those little numbers worked fine.

For other things? The mechanics who worked on our cars said, “Every 2000 miles, Martha” (if that was your name).

I often changed the oil on my VW myself. It wasn’t hard. Go under the car, undo a wing nut, and let the oil pour into the conveniently placed (by me) tray to catch the old oil. Put everything back together, put in oil, and Bob’s Your Uncle. The oil was very important in a VW because they were oil cooled. It was also important to change the oil filter and have a look at the fuel filter as it could get clogged. Easy fix that, too. The air filter was another thing to look at — again easy — undo a wing nut, lift the lid of the compartment, look at the filter.

The most complicated thing about this whole procedure was the human factor which might not have remembered how many cans of oil or what size air filter which would necessitate getting a ride to a parts store. That said, once a friend and I rebuilt the carburetor on my VW. That was a very cool achievement.

I think the last car I had that made no attempt to communicate with me except in mechanical terms was my 2002 Ford Ranger. I think it still spoke “car.” After that? Every succeeding car spoke more often in something like “English.” Bella — my Jeep — is tri-lingual. Italian (her first language), French and English. I’m sure she’s capable of other languages, too, but not for the US market.

I’ve wondered sometimes about the people who program her “suggestions.” I don’t respond well to a certain authoritative tone in people, my phone, my watch or my car. When my watch was “cheering me on” to close my exercise circle (“C’mon, a brief ten minute walk! You can do it!”) my response was — as you might expect, “STFU, watch.” I found the motivational coaching DE-motivating. Luckily, whoever taught Bella English opted for pure, clean, useful information such as “Holy fucking shit! We’re on the edge of a 1000 foot precipice stupid! Do you want to DIE???” No wait, she doesn’t say that. She’s a trail-rated Jeep who can go anywhere. She’d never say that. She’d say, “FINALLY! Something more exciting than a snow bank, a muddy alley and a dirt road. Why did you buy me, anyway?” No, no, no she wouldn’t say that, either. What she says is, “Some features are not available when the car is in motion.”

When she HAS to say something she usually shows me pictures — like a tire is low. Usually this happens on the really cold days of winter. I look at the numbers she offers and say, “It’s OK, Bella. It’s -12C.” Bella shows me the ambient air temperature in celsius. I could change that, but since my watch and phone are telling me in Fahrenheit why should I? Besides, I can go outside. Once we get going that tire is going to inflate.” This is a lesson I learned from before cars spoke human languages. Bella is always doubtful, but pretty soon she sees I’m right. When the tire really WAS flat (a nail) she had a far more urgent and helpful message. It went “Fwap, fwap, fwap” and was accompanied by the picture of her with a one tire in red, an arrow, and a reading of its exact pressure. I was OK with that kind of conversation with my car. It was clear and useful.

I have wondered about the people behind these programs. How do they decide what “tone” to use in communicating with the humans on the consumer side of the interface? Why is my watch such an obnoxious coach? Why is Bella not? Someone’s behind all of this. My new fridge? It doesn’t “talk” but if the door is open longer than it thinks is OK, it beeps. When I beeps I hear my mom yelling, “Close the refrigerator door!” That was back in the days when refrigerators had to be defrosted manually. I am sure many hairdryers were bought just for that purpose, but I don’t know. My hair dryer is in my studio for dusting paintings without touching them in case there’s a smidgeon of wet paint somewhere.

Long ago (80s) I read and enjoyed Douglas Addams’ wonderful Hitchhiker’s Guide four volume trilogy (yep, four…) with all of its entirely too helpful robots. I’ve also read pretty much all of Philip K. Dick’s scary, funny, and wonderful novels with THEIR self-driving taxis (with drivers who have stereotypical New York City cab driver personalities) and apartments that keep their residents in line, on time, and fed. I think we might be headed there (or have arrived?) and one of the things designers might want to offer is an option for people to choose how much “authority” they want their machines to have in the way they address their human (on whom they are still dependent). I turned off all the coaching on my watch — which is an automatic feature of an app I can’t delete. I never needed to be told to exercise or to measure it. What I learned from that is a lot of people do. That scared me.

In other news, yesterday Bella and I took the contest books to the library in Del Norte for their upcoming book sale. It rained the whole time and now Bella is nice and clean.