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Showing posts from July, 2010

Hungry Squatters

I've only noticed this in one spot of my dog-walking grassy field: a cluster of hungry squatters, munching away on their campsite.

Dogs of Iron, Rocks of Wood

Northern Arizona, a couple summers ago. What a relief it was to drive away from 7000 feet and snow and head down and north to Snowflake AZ. Certain things gave me a chuckle, like "Alaska Oil" gas stations and "Our Lady of the Snow" Catholic church. After driving only fifteen miles it seemed like a different state. Northeastern Arizona is a strange combination of LDS (Mormon) towns, Indian reservations and fossilized trees. I thought of the joke that ended the movie, "Raising Arizona." It was nice to be back in "greater Utah" in some ways. Nobody could lay out a town like Brigham Young. I chose one of those wide streets and pulled a U-turn, just because I could. Once I asked a couple men of good taste which state had the best looking women. We all agreed: Utah. They exude wholesomeness, an underrated  quality in a society saturated with media smut. There was another wholesomeness that you can appreciate best when you compare it

Kestrel's Eye

I compliment Netflix quite a bit on this blog, and have to do it again. A Swedish documentary called "Kestrel's Eye" caught my eye the other day. The opening moments were not confidence-building: how could a nature documentary without narration or a musical background hold my interest for almost an hour and a half? Much to my surprise the lack of narration helped the movie. It made it seem so real. There have been other times when I've watched a movie in which the action was slow and the dialogue was understated, and wondered if this was really a movie. With "Kestrel's Eye" the viewer has to make a persistent effort to be satisfied without the noise and razzle-dazzle that we are accustomed to in entertainment products. And it worked. The other advantage of no narration is that you are spared the predictable sermons and platitudes about 'what man has done to the Earth' or the 'delicate balance of nature.' It's funny how animals are

The Crooner

A curved bill thrasher sings into the microphone.

Appreciating Humidity

Back East they complain that 'It's not the heat, it's the humidity.' I'm here to tell you that it's not as simple as that. Easterners suffer from such an excess of moisture over an annual cycle that they never think of the hardship of aridity.  I just finished a bicycle ride in enormous humidity by New Mexican standards: 60% in mid-morning. It only takes 30% to generate an afternoon thunderstorm. The fields have become green with all the rain and humidity lately. The Easterners yawn at this news. But not me. Soon my camera will go to work on fields full of seed heads, texture, and flowers. Bear in mind that in April, after a freakishly wet and snowy winter, everything was still brown. Some people's idea of sensual luxury is to go to a spa and be pampered with hot springs, massages, aromatherapy, etc. I'll settle for an experience like today: I didn't need to smear my skin with that crisco-like sunscreen, since the high humidity partly blocked the s

Lovey Dovey

A couple of immature doves.

The National Codpiece

I was interested in a recent article in asia times dotcom that speculated on whether China would emphasize aircraft carriers or anti-carrier missiles. With their satellites they know exactly where American aircraft carriers are, and to knock them out it only takes a high-tech missile that costs, what?, 0.3% as much as the aircraft carrier. The missile can be fired from anywhere -- even a fishing trawler. Of course the US Navy believes that nothing projects a country's power like the carrier battle group. One of the most amazing features of modern American life is how much money it spends on its military, and how useless most of it is. Fred Reed is a favorite writer of mine who has a military background that has left him with a respect for military personnel and a savage disrespect for political/military policies. Perhaps the US should recognize that it has a second-rate military at phenomenal cost – an enormous, largely useless national codpiece.

My New Favorite Species

Somebody needs to break the sad news to the curved bill thrashers of the world: ravens are now my favorite bird species.

Giving up on Historians

The North-South cultural split in Europe still intrigues me. Sure, it's fallen off of the front page of the news, but Europe's financial problems are not over with, and they could have quite an impact on the world. Besides, this blog is not enslaved to the Breaking News Syndrome.   I've found a shelf of books at the local college library that seemed like it would enlighten me on the North-South cultural split in Europe. But after reading a half dozen books on the origins of cultures and civilizations, I was disappointed and frustrated. Think of history as a machine that has an input and an output. What is the input other than other books? But there weren't a lot of books written when Germans were being Christianized and de-barbarianized. And what was written doesn't really explain the habits of thought and feeling that evolved in northern Europe and set it apart from the Mediterranean South. (I've already rejected Protestantism as an explanation or Cause; i

A New Plane/Plain of Existence

In the desert west of Phoenix, a couple years ago. It's been so long since a real cold front blasted through, like they do back east. Wonderful. We went out to explore the desert plain around our new boondocking site near Tonopah, AZ. The altitude was just over 1000 feet. Some of my plastic bottles were flattened by the air pressure. I dreaded returning to the creosote bush-dominated desert of lower Arizona. Perhaps it was monotony of a desert plain dominated by one plant ; or maybe it flatters the ego to live at high altitudes. But someone who has been hiking in thorn and sticker country recently can see creosote bush as a blessing, since it has no stickers or thorns! That is no small miracle. Just a few feet from this monotony you could see the lush boscage of a dry wash. Maybe they were ironwood and elephant trees. Just imagine walking across this hellish plain in June, and finally finding this shade! This desert plain is covered with desert pavement, like at Quartzs

A Doctor for the Dismal Science

When you follow economic news these days, it's easy to overlook how extraordinary it is that so few ideas are actually discussed. But why should we overlook this? How could an entire field be so moribund? Maybe the only way to make sense of this is to back up a step and imagine that you're living in 1776, when the first economics book was published by Adam Smith. Consider the status of other sciences during this year when economics was founded as a science. For instance, look at the condition of medicine. If somebody had a serious injury of any kind, out came the leeches; or the physician bled the patient. This was based on the ancient theory of the Four Humours being out of balance.  In the 1800's a wounded soldier could expect little help other than a tourniquet and a saw. When you see that happening in the movies, you think, "Oh no, not another amputation; is that all you guys are good for?" It's strange to think that only a few generations ago, medical

Sun Dog

I've never seen one this bright before.

Serpents in Paradise

San Luis Valley, Colorado, a couple summers ago, on a mountain bike ride with my two dogs. I couldn't see it, but there was no mistaking the sound. Finally I saw the rattlesnake just two steps off the mountain bike trail. He was moving a little. His rattles were up in the air. This rattler was huge. And he was pissed. My first concern was to get both of my dogs on the leash.  It's odd to have finally heard and seen a rattle after all these years in rattlesnake country. I was beginning to think that they were just a chimera. Prior to this week I had seen two rattlesnakes in eleven years of hiking and biking in rattlesnake country. Fortunately they are dormant in the winter, or as the Bard would put it, they lie there in "the borrowed likeness of shrunk death." In the summer, our early starts in the morning keep the rattler issue manageable. But today's rattlesnake was the third one this week. Apparently the west side of the San Luis Valley of Colo

A Helping Hand

Grooming each other must be one more manifestation of the Raven's sociability, along with their sportful flying, talkativeness, and dog-teasing.


I was pleased and flattered the other day when a friend and fellow blogger used one of my posts as a point of departure for his essay . It will probably surprise him to see the same thing happen to him. He mentioned the word 'simplicity' three times. Growl. Why have I always reacted so angrily to a "nice" word like that? Perhaps this essay will only find sympathetic ears amongst folks who have a mean streak of anti-romanticism. Simplicity sounds escapist and sentimental. Even worse, it sounds sanctimonious. When a modern disciple of holy Simplicity praises it, he starts fluttering his eyelashes; he imagines Gandhi or Thoreau looking down from heaven and smiling upon-eth him. Simplicity is connected with Minimalism, another of the holy mantras. I have no interest in making life empty. Perhaps Simplicity is associated with cultural fads and trends that are pseudo-Buddhist, New Age, etc. In the early nineties, an authoress turned Simplicity into quite the little indus

New Landlord

A raptor just doesn't rate too high in my book without a good, blood-curdling screech. The neighborhood hawks were silent. But lately the neighborhood is ruled by a new (?) red-tailed hawk who is noisy; he is always fighting with small birds. For once he got close enough to our morning dog walk for this photo, right before he flew off with an indignant screech.  

Art Appreciation

More than once a friend has astonished me by appreciating only the most dreadful music or none at all. I pitied them. And yet it has always been that way for me regarding any kind of Art, besides music. No doubt other people see that as a deficiency in my central nervous system. Or maybe the deficiency is not physiological, but instead lies in narrow opinions. "Art" has always seemed like a useless and expensive decoration that a bourgeois woman sticks in her living room, in order to evoke praise from dinner guests. Whatever the cause, I was floored the other day when I was reading a book on the ascent of our species, thousands of years ago.  “The constructive character of the potter's craft reacted on human thought. Building up a pot was a supreme instance of creation by man. The lump of clay was perfectly plastic; man could mold it as he would. In making a tool of stone or bone he was always limited by the shape and size of the original material; he could only take b

Home on the High Chaparral

South of Tucson, a couple springs ago. Full time RVers are often asked whether they have found 'that perfect place' where they will settle down. It might be meant as a yes or no question, but it usually evokes a long-winded answer. Why must there be only one ? In fact on the mountain bike ride today we got a glimpse of land that brought a lump to my throat. It's not many people's idea of the perfect postcard, but I like it so much that I visit every year. Elephant Head, in the background, is one of my fiducial points--an important reference point that measures the year. It's the grasslands that attract me the most, I suppose. Spring is certainly noticable in Arizona, but it's a mild experience compared to what people go through north and east of here. There is a real drama to the agonies and ecstasies they experience when the first crocuses poke up through muddy snow, and then the worst snowstorm of the winter hits. Thinking back on all tha

Back to Real Camping

Casa Grande AZ, a couple springs ago. The last day of my urban boondocking I rebuilt the trailer's battery box. It was enjoyable to learn more about how the travel trailer was built, and to think how it should have been built. During this work in town the dogs were a real nuisance to me. They only got one real run at sunset in an open field--on one of those deeply furrowed, irrigated fields that central Arizona is famous for. Or used to be. Sometimes my youngish dog, Coffee Girl, would gambol across the field, jumping the furrows like it was a steeple chase. At other times she adjusted her angle across the furrows so that she ran horizontally--her stride's wavelength commensurate with the bottoms of the furrow. She had reinvented the principle of the interference filter, which a thin layer of oil on water can also do. The little poodle looked completely different running across the furrows. He looked like a small skiff sinking into the trough of an ocean wave,

Climate Change in the Sonoran Desert

Boondocking east of Gila Bend AZ, a couple (early) springs ago. These volcanic knolls aren't exactly Irish hills but that doesn't stop them from trying to be, this spring. They are surrounded by sloping lawns of grass. At the base of the knolls are guard-rings of vicious cholla. The cholla seem to like good drainage. From the top of the volcanic knoll Coffee Girl surveys her empire. I seem to be encountering strange optical effects lately. This sloped valley of hers had plants on it that seemed to be arranged in parallel rows. On any given day all of central Arizona is covered with "climate change," Phoenix style: smog during the day and light pollution at night. I'm not sure which of these ever-expanding, glowering blobs is more hideous. You must tolerate this if you are going to enjoy the BLM land that is now called the Sonora national monument. The pollution does create some interesting optical effects, like colorful sunsets and this:

Hohokam Empire of the Sun

In our day many people feel revulsion towards the Valley of the Sun, metropolitan Phoenix. And yet people are still moving here. If ever there was a proof that 'Reputation is a Lagging Indicator..." I've avoided this smoggy monstrosity for most of my career as a full time RVer. It has been a pleasant surprise this winter to find some areas on the western fringe that are still nice. This was probably the largest, irrigable, agricultural valley in the Colorado River system. Only the Grand Valley near Grand Junction, CO, or the Dome Valley east of Yuma come close. And yet the specialness of this never made much of an impression on me before. Just after sunrise one morning I noticed pendulous bulbs of dew hanging on the side of the van. But just barely. Tap the van, and they collapsed like a monsoon downpour. They were accentuated by the rays of the sun striking them at a glancing angle. Suddenly I was a schoolboy doodling at the blackboard, and why no

Old Fat Man, Thank you

Not surprisingly, blog host providers don't make it particularly easy to switch to a new service. Perhaps the problem was on the blogger-blogspot end. In any case, one of my readers, Barney, the Old Fat Man, notified me that photos were showing up as rectangles or X's on the older revised posts which I had cut and pasted to my new blogspot site, which you are now reading. I have found the solution, albeit a labor intensive one. So there shouldn't be any of those funny little placeholders indicating photos, soon. I've already corrected the blog back into late May. Whew, it took a few hours, but I've fixed the photos in the entire blog. Once again, thanks Barney.

White Winged Dove

White winged dove, with blue eye shadow

The Clan of the Cave-poodles

Wickenburg AZ, a couple years ago. I learned a new trick for enjoying the land near Vulture Peak. On the leeward side of the peak the teddy bear chollas are manageable, and much better for camping. The windward side is the dangerous side. Nevertheless we had to go to that side to use the trail up to the top of Vulture Peak. It was a challenge to negotiate the minefield of teddy bear chollas on the way up to Vulture Peak. I leashed my dogs until we were near the top, when the chollas disappeared.   Looking at the 360 degree view from the top of Vulture Peak, it was easy to appreciate the strategic location of Wickenburg, AZ. At an altitude of 2000 feet it's only a couple degrees cooler than Phoenix. Off to the northeast the mountains begin their march up to the Mogollon Rim. Vulture Peak itself is not large, but it protrudes photogenically from the desert plain that surrounds it. A hiker would feel quite exposed if he were caught up here during a monsoonal thunderstor

The Strip "Mauling" of America

A CNBC headline announces that strip mall bankruptcies are up. Indeed, a video store that I walk by everyday has gone out of business, recently.  All I can say is, It's about time. I'm not wishing harm on the individuals running the businesses of course. But it's a pleasant fantasy to imagine a country with less blight. Surely I can't be the only one who has wondered how there could be so many little stores, selling useless things, all across America. They looked empty most of the time, but they stayed in business somehow. And they were always building another one! Video stores, bridal shops, vitamins, nail parlor, mini-gym, payday loans, etc. As for video stores you'd think that most of them would have closed down years ago. I can't even remember the last time I rented a movie. Netflix rendered them obsolete. Think of how inefficient a bricks-and-mortar store is. What is the customer actually paying for, when he buys his wizzmo? Online shopping is so much b

Teddy Bear Cholla

Wickenburg AZ, a couple years ago. How can dogs run so easily through the desert? For years, my miniature poodle scampered between the cacti while only suffering one mild incident. So it isn't surprising that when we came to Wickenburg AZ we weren't expecting anything but some nice desert hikes and scenery. Indeed, we found a nice wide dry wash behind the RV campsite. I took a shortcut back to the trailer, late one afternoon. The little dog went ahead. When I came out of the dry wash the little dog was bucking violently at something. He had three sticker balls on his forelegs, and more in his lip. He was wildly panicked, and I was just as bad. But at least there wasn't a lot of blood on his mouth even though there were spines inside his mouth. My only thought was to do nothing that made it worse! Panic is something you have to get out of one notch at a time. A dog goes for stickers on his leg with the mouth, so I flicked the remaining ones off of his legs wi

Teddy Bear Cholla, part 2

Wickenburg AZ, a couple winters ago. My noble experiment has hit a snag. I was trying to improve the winter RV boondock camping experience by tolerating cooler weather, in order to find prettier land and less crowded camping. But lately the weather has been wet, rather than just cool. I don't know if I could ever readjust to wet weather again. I wasn't the only the person standing on the bridge over the mighty Hassayampa "River", gawking at it. I took some photos but won't show them since there are readers north and east who refuse to be wowed by water flowing through a river.   The dogs and I headed up to Vulture Peak, right from the trailer door, by screaming up Cemetery Wash. It is amazing how you can play with dry washes and the ridges between them. Day after day you can walk the same basic area, but small variations make the loop interesting. There are a lot of horsemen in the Wickenburg area. Normally horseshoes are written intaglio into

The Bureaucrat, part 2

I leave it to the reader to decide whether it is a vice to look for images to overcome confusion or disorientation when confronting a new situation. At any rate looking for an image was what I did recently when I volunteered for a committee that tries to develop walking and bicycling trails in my little city. As luck would have it, I soon thereafter ran into an interesting movie: "Ikiru (to Live)" by the famous Japanese director and auteur, Kurosawa. The supposed greatness of his other films has always escaped me; I've never been able to finish them. Fortunately I gave "Ikiru" a chance. The movie is about an older man who was section chief in city government. He had spent the last thirty years sleep-walking through his job of stamping approvals on meaningless paperwork. Then he found out that he had terminal cancer. At first I thought this was going to be a Japanese film version of Tolstoy's "Death of Ivan Ilyich." But there was no Tolstoy-ian gr

The Noble Scavenger

While sitting at my desk I saw a coyote saunter by, nonchalantly, and just a few feet from the window. Why had he not smelled my dogs and run off? What insolence! When I stepped out the door and yelled at him he trotted off prudently and cautiously but not fearfully. He was smaller than Coffee Girl, my 40 pound Australian kelpie (similar to blue heelers). How would she would react to a close encounter with canid kin of the feral kind? I know how my miniature poodle feels about coyotes--he hates them and howls at them. How had that miniature poodle survived fourteen days of being lost on a high plateau in Colorado without running into coyotes and being killed? But leaving my concern for my dogs out of it, I've always had a sneaking admiration for old Wile E. Coyote. One spring a couple years ago, near Silver City NM, a friend came over from the Arizona Territory to visit the wolf/dog sanctuary nearby. On the way out to the sanctuary we asked for directions from a neigh

The Boonie and the Bureaucrat

After my flop with volunteering on the Continental Divide Trail I started working on a committee that tries to expand recreational trails in town . Since I've benefited from other people's work on such trails many times in my life, maybe it is high time I contributed something. Yes, that is a bit of a guilt trip, but for some reason it doesn't matter in this case. Everybody likes the old Chinese proverb of 'lighting one candle rather than cursing the darkness.' Can you think of a better application than a recreational trail in an American city? To me, trails are one of the few things that make life in a city worth living. Kunstler refers to the American landscape as "The Geography of Nowhere," due to our noisy automobile-sewers, big-box parking lots, nation-wide uniformity, etc. It was a bizarre experience to attend the first meeting at a county-annex building in a strip mall. These days, county governments are bigger than the Federal Government during

Footprints in the Sand

Cottonwood AZ, during a recent autumn. (This is an attempt to eliminate confusion, Rick.) The location and land-form of my new campsite are attractive. What's this? Other RVs boondocking nearby. In fact some are unappetizing Desert Rats. For some reason I pulled in anyway; normally I won't camp near others, for obvious reasons.   A couple of the Desert Rats had a campfire the first night. Seeing them huddled around it, it was easy to imagine them as the male, desert version of the "Weird Sisters" in the opening of "MacBeth." The next morning the dogs and I walked down to the Verde River. Our first pleasant surprise was limestone. Ahh, I had a fit of nostalgia for the limestone caprock of West Texas and the Hill Country, where I spent my first snowbird winter. Limestone might not be much to look at, but it is a marvelous layer for wheels, heels and dog pads. Soon we were along the Verde River, which was flowing with great force thanks to the re