Skip to main content


Showing posts from August, 2010

A New Culture of Money (updated)

Sometimes it's hard to believe how much time an investor can spend reading business reports and opinions without finding anything of quality. Most of it is just news media fluff and cheerleading, performed by sex kittens; or Debt, Doom, and Gloom sermons performed by old bald white guys in bow ties. And yet, we are so much luckier than just a few years ago, thanks to the internet. The Mainstream never considers anything fundamental: it only cares about how quickly the country can get back on the wrong track, that is, Business as Usual. Outside the mainstream, fundamental issues do get questioned, but at the expense of a kooky element. By that I mean an outlook that is emotional, moralistic and scolding, and fixated. For instance, I sympathize philosophically with gold-bugs and the Debt & Doom types, but I seldom follow their financial advice. Still, I'm glad they're around to counter the conventional drivel and group-think of the narco-Keynesian mainstream. An indivi

Choosing a Retirement Town

When I settled into the Little Pueblo in southern New Mexico, a reader wanted to know how I selected it as my "retirement town." The short answer is outdoor lifestyle, climate, and altitude. But I like polemics like this, so let's look at the longer answer. Perhaps my opinions on this topic are of limited use to couples who care about how much house they can afford in any given area. I'm done with the house thing.  The basic decision is whether you want to look at a city as a grown-up or as an eyelash-fluttering Romanticist. The Romanticist is turned on by extremes: for instance they might choose a "vibrant" city that gets a lot of positive publicity, such as Portland OR. It's not exciting and romantic to consider the traffic, the anthill busyness, and the high cost of living in a big city. The Romanticist could just as easily flip to the other extreme by pining for a "quaint and charming" hamlet, while yawning about its lack of a doctor, g

Gustatory Demise on the Continental Divide

For a second or two it felt like a real punch to my stomach when the waiter told me that the little cafe would be closing soon. I cherished stopping in on the way back from a standard summer bicycle ride. The food was surprisingly good here, just a few pedal kicks from the continental divide, on the edge of an old mining town.  To actually get pleasure from a restaurant is so rare for me that it is worth dwelling on this wonderful little cafe. Normally I consider food at restaurants to be mediocre, tasteless, and obscenely over-priced. Oh, and the background din. This year they had added a overhead shelter made of galvanized, corrugated steel, one of the building materials used in decaying New Mexican dumps, a great favorite of mine.  Red chiles hung dried in bunches next to my table. The rafters of the structure looked like de-barked pine logs, and made me think of the ponderosa forest I had just bicycled through. Off in the distance was a pair of mountain peaks which some frie

Melodrama with a Butterfly

Arkansas River Valley, Colorado, a couple summers ago. Over the years I have learned how to turn some of my dislikes into advantages. Much to my surprise the result has been melodrama, performed on an outdoor stage. A melodrama needs a villain of course. The consummate outdoor-villains are forests, especially if they are dark, thick, and buggy. Going into a forest on foot or wheel takes some real effort; you have to imagine that the suffering will eventually turn productive. Just when I start to give up hope I see some brightness, some gap in the forest canopy opens up. The sun breaks into that gap and becomes the stage-lighting for a small performance stage on the forest floor where flowers and bugs run riot. The star of the show is that wing-artist, the butterfly. Sometimes a flutter in La Mariposa's dance coincides with a flutter of aspen leaves, as if they are applauding her performance.   One day there were at least eight different types of butterflies within a few ste

Summer's Din

What a sound it is. It doesn't really belong in New Mexico. Sometimes it happens when I ride my bicycle between a pinch of large trees. The din is so loud that it startles me and I stop pedaling. It's like the whole world has developed tinnitus. But then I realize it's just those crazy (male) cicadas. I look for them in trees when I hear their racket, but never see them. This sound is worth dwelling on. (Wikipedia has an interesting article on the cidada.) You enjoy things more when you are surprised, and it's very difficult to be surprised visually since entire industries are aimed at visual images. That's why sounds, smells, are feelies are so important.


I resist showing cloud photos because I fear never stopping. But these clouds were so crisp at sunset tonight that I can't resist. With a closeup you can see the weird shadow on the top cloud:

An Old Hotel

After admiring the old hotel in town for the last two years, I finally got a chance to see the rooms, thanks to some visitors from out of town who stayed there. It was pleasing: old embossed metal tiles on the high ceilings; lots of wood and old photographs on the walls. But my heart skipped a beat when my friends pointed out the transoms above the doors. Without the transom you'd get no ventilation in an old hotel, but didn't they also ensure that the guests heard each step in the creepy interior hallway? They probably heard the goings-on in neighboring rooms, as well. The guests would have had to open the window to get a little air; just think of all the street noise. It was so stuffy in those old rooms that I would never pay to stay there. It reminds one of the hot stuffy hotel rooms in the Coen brothers' "Barton Fink." I didn't bring a camera, but perhaps it's just as well. Our fine old hotel wouldn't offer the camera-candy provided by more fam

Nice Rack

While I was harrying a bird this morning my young kelpie, Coffee Girl, charged off toward the arroyo in one of her 'I saw it first' feints. Good work, Girl.

Elmer Gantry for Modern Times

For the first time in years I've finished a novel: "Elmer Gantry" by Sinclair Lewis. I was inspired to read it by Burt Lancaster's performance in the movie as well as the supporting actor, Arthur Kennedy, who played the cynical and world-wise newspaper reporter, as he did a couple years later in "Lawrence of Arabia." I was surprised to enjoy the novel as much as I did, since I'm weary of secular intellectuals trying to out-voltaire Voltaire a century or two too late. Poor old Christianity has been beaten up so much since the 1700's, why do "bold" free- thinkers think they are so heroic in attacking it? It's a case of arrested development; they are perpetual adolescents who are rebelling against the religion of their parents' generation. What about people born in the 1960's? By the time they were adolescents, pseudo-Hindu-Buddhist fads were becoming pretty dated. Why didn't they rebel against them? They should be in their p

A Secret Garden

Upper Rio Grande valley, Colorado, a couple summers ago. Last episode we left our heroes staring right into a dense, miserable forest. There was no way to finish the hike to the mountain top with that hideous forest in the way, so I was resigned to retreat. But what was that barely noticeable lightness hiding behind the forest's black curtain? I must have been intrigued--what else would make me wade in through that junk? It was a small meadow, an island of light and air, surrounded by dreary, dark forest. I really didn't know that such islands existed. Sailors must feel like this when they discover a small, secret cove that isn't on the charts; it instantly becomes their own little paradise; the rest of the world becomes uninteresting to them. Rather than break out onto the grassy slope on the way home, I decided to walk along this shoreline of forest and grass, and plunge into the arboreal netherworld whenever there might be another of these little garden-mea

The Calmness of My Inner Peasant

Can you imagine anything more boring to a young person than going to a so-called farmers' market on Saturday morning? It was even boring to me a couple years ago. But lately I have come away from them in a mood of satisfaction and appreciation. How strange.  In the past I might have been turned off by the high prices and the hippie-dippieness of small organic "farmers." (Gardeners, actually.) I expect to pay grocery-like prices for groceries, not boutique prices or art-gallery prices. But when you live in a state that is an agricultural nobody, you do start to appreciate the growing of food. This isn't the only example of how our tastes change as we get older. Maybe we come to the conclusion that the world, for the most part, is a lot of crap -- noise, useless busyness, and bother; and since we as individuals can't do much about it, we withdraw into a cocoon to enjoy a few quiet, honest pleasures that are available. Perhaps 'cocoon' isn't the r

Upper Rio Grande

Upper Rio Grande valley of Colorado, a couple summers ago. It was so easy to decide what to do first at this new RV boondocking campsite. A large peak loomed over camp. Though not a "peak bagger" I just had to start towards it, because of the grand and grassy slope in front of the trailer. It wasn't a planar ramp. It was a steep ascension of rumpled folds, like a woman's green dress in a more gracious and elegant age. There are so many places like this in the national forests out West. But you can't see them because they are covered with the Stygian gloom of an overgrown silviculture. Why is this hillside free of the usual clutter -- did it burn some years ago? I had to walk up it, that first morning. While the dogs enjoyed their romp over the grass, I stared in admiration of the landscape: I was looking at the upper end of the Rio Grande, leading into the center of Colorado's San Juan Mountains, near Lake City. The hillside was so steep that,

Pair of Thrashers

It can be a surprising amount of fun to sneak around a juniper bush and zero in on unsuspecting birds. This is a pair of curved bill thrashers. Love their eyes.

Thirsty for Nature

Bicycling isn't the only sport that needs a certain amount of gathering-up prior to beginning. Nor is old age the only time of life when you forget things. But for some reason none of that helps when I start a bike ride without a water bottle.  My ride begins by climbing over a 1000 feet up to the continental divide. If I notice that I've forgotten water halfway up the hill I become so angry at myself that I can't think about anything else. A desperate thirst overtakes me. This happened again recently. (Why not just store equipment, including the water bottle, on the bike? Then you won't forget anything. I've been telling myself that for 30 years.) To make matters worse there is no place to buy bottled water on my route. What the heck was I supposed to do? Approaching the Divide I suddenly got an idea: there are always plastic bottles littering the roadside. Normally I just avert my eyes. Why not keep an eye out for them, grab one, take it to the cafe or somebod

Nice Toe Nails

After five minutes of hoopin' and hollerin' aimed at getting this hawk into a more photogenic pose, he finally got annoyed and ruffled up a bit. Nice talons baby.

A Gifted Actor

Isn't it wonderful to watch a human being -- or any other animal -- do something really, really well? Those of us who are suckers for boy-meets-dog/boy-loses-dog movies might claim that we appreciate good animal actors better than human ones. But it wasn't until recently that I knew enough about animal acting to properly appreciate it. While watching a "Benji" sequel I went to Wikipedia to learn about the dog himself . Did you know that there is such a thing as "trainer eye?" An animal actor who is really good lacks trainer eye; that is, the animal doesn't glance over at the trainer, who is just a couple feet off screen. The classic performance of poor animal acting was done by "Toto" in the Wizard of Oz. When Dorothy was singing about bluebirds and rainbows, Toto was repeatedly -- mind you, repeatedly -- glancing at the trainer off screen. I suppose it didn't matter too much, since the audience was focusing on Dorothy. While watching B

Meeting an Old Flame

I'll be the first to admit that pretty flowers don't typically drive me into rhapsodies of poetic excitement. But this small flower does. Perhaps it's the blood-red color. I saw it for the first time this year on yesterday's bicycle ride into the forest. As a recovering travelholic (an ex-full-time-traveler) I have to remind myself  that it's OK to have seen something before. After all, it's been a whole year since I've seen this little darlin'.

Hope for Historians

Just when I was ready to give up on reading history, an interlibrary loan came to my rescue: "Medieval Technology and Social Change," by Lynn Townsend White. It is probably considered by some to be a modern classic. Take a look at the Preface: Voltaire to the contrary, history is a bag of tricks which the dead have played upon historians . The most remarkable of these illusions is the belief that the surviving written records provide us with a reasonably accurate facsimile of past human activity. 'Prehistory' is defined as the period for which such records are not available. But until very recently the vast majority of mankind was living in a subhistory which was a continuation of prehistory. Nor was this condition characteristic simply of the lower strata of society. In medieval Europe until the end of the eleventh century we learn of the feudal aristocracy largely from clerical sources which naturally reflect ecclesiastical attitudes: the knights do not speak for

Eavesdropping on a Forest

Summer boondocking in the upper Rio Grande, a couple summers ago. If I had to pick my favorite moment of an outdoor-day, it might well the first one, when "night's candles are burnt out, and jocund day stands tiptoe on the misty mountaintops." [*] That's how the day starts for us when I park with the RV's door and bedroom window facing east. Soon the high-country's sun hits the bedroom window with a soft pounce. Coffee Girl starts her day by walking from the foot of the bed to my head. She softly drops her head on my neck and holds it there. My official morning hug, I guess. Both dogs are impatient to get going. They prefer to hit the trail at sunrise. There aren't many wildflowers on today's hike, but they're nice. Hunters are probably the only people who have ever come up the volcanic ridge that we were walking on. Most hikers follow the brown signs and stakes. I loved the contrasts of grass and trees, ridge and cliff. Most of

Ladybug Bacchanal

Strange things are happening around here lately, with the monsoons in full gear.  The male brain being what it is, I suggested to the lady hiking with me that it looked like some kind of orgy. She considered the suggestion indelicate. But after looking at a blowup of one of the photos, perhaps I was right.

End of An Empire

Since WWII has never seemed interesting to me it seemed like a good idea to add "The World at War" documentary to my Netflix queue. Indeed, it did prove to be a well-made documentary. It helped a little that it was made in Britain. Why are Americans so interested in WWII? It's probably just triumphalism. Most Americans -- who see themselves as patriotic -- are probably unconcerned that the end of that war saw the USA morph from a constitutional republic to a militaristic world empire destined for Eternal War. Or maybe they think it's cool. Most people who have lived long enough have actually experienced short term triumphs turn into long term defeats, and vice versa. It usually happens to nations too. The other mighty victor of WWII, the USSR, no longer exists. How much longer will the USA maintain its current importance? I think the USA, despite its high-tech weaponry, has hollowed out in many ways. It is actually a weak country. But the rest of the world hasn'