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Showing posts from September, 2010

Liliputian World

When you walk in a forest it is fun to imagine yourself as being taller than the trees and able to see over all the silvi-clutter and able to take in the topography, just as you would flying or ballooning. Of course you could shrink instead of elongate. What a jungle the grassland would be to a Liliputian.

Gadget Paradise Postponed

Or, Requiem for a Lightweight A few weeks ago the requiem was written for smartbooks. These were meant to be similar to netbooks (with a keyboard and a clamshell design) based on ARM's microprocessors instead of Intel's, and on Google's Android operating system instead of obsolete Microsoft Windows. The lower power would have meant that you could leave them on all the time, like your cellphone, which is also based on an ARM microprocessor. You can see why this would have been appealing. I was hoping to use one instead of a WINTEL notebook to do the usual things, such as surfing the web, editing photos, and printing. Was that really asking so much from the computer world? Apparently it was. Why would the computer industry want to cannibalize the sale of $800 notebooks with $250 smartbooks? The losers would have been WINTEL, Apple, HP, Dell, Toshiba, etc. Fortunately for the computer industry, Apple found a solution to this conundrum: it assassinated the smartbook with th

A Day in the Life of...

Oh no, here comes that damned fool of a dog. Get ready for a lot of noise: Just look at her down there, carrying on so! I'm embarrassed for her. Nobody will ever convince me that dogs are real predators. I guess she thinks if she barks some more, I'll come down and let her eat me: I can't take any more of this. Besides I'm just encouraging her. Enough:

Crossing Swords

Overlapping yucca.

Grasshopper Season

  There are some very colorful grasshoppers in the field these days. This one wasn't too colorful but I thought it was right handsome, especially that pharaonic neck collar.

Real Football

It almost seems unfair that a season like autumn, which already has so many good things about it, should also have the football season. I sighed with pleasure about the football season to a non-football fan, the other day. I had her/him stereotyped as the kind of person who would turn up their nose and say, "There's already a perfectly good game that the rest of the world calls football. What's good about stupid American football?" They were referring of course to the deadly dull "world-sport" of soccer. Was there any point in trying to explain one of the finer things of life to a big, overgrown, NPR-listening, college sophomore? Probably not, but she did ask the question. With my best effort at being understandable and non-condescending, I started with the premise that Sports are mock-War. She agreed to play along with that, and suddenly my cause appeared hopeful. The rectangular field of football fits the TV screen well, but the same is true for socce

Breaking the Internet Slump

As expected I broke my internet slump by going to the library and walking down an aisle at random. Years ago I had a prejudice against rereading books, but now it seems like the option most likely to succeed. So I grabbed "The Education of Henry Adams." Yes, the famous Adams of Boston and Quincy. The young fellow at the circulation desk astounded me by actually knowing of this classic book. Young Henry served as his father's assistant when the latter was the Yankee minister to Britain during the War of Southern Independence. After the war Henry started thinking about his own career and thought of being an editor at a newspaper or magazine. He said that, "Any man who was fit for nothing else could write an editorial or a criticism." Hey wait a minute...

The World Passes Us By

The other day a friend and I were discussing how hard it is to understand the lingo of youngsters who have grown up in MTV culture. He said it is indeed strange how the world passes us by. That was one of those statements that really sticks with you; it only happens once in a great while. Recently I rewatched Billy Wilder's classic movie "Sunset Boulevard." Gloria Swanson and her butler had turned away from the "real," outside world while living in an aging hulk of a Hollywood mansion. Bill Holden's narration said that they didn't want to look outside and be reminded of what has-beens they were. It's quite an issue for an old fogey to wrestle with. Recently I have found myself telling stories to young people; stories that didn't fit in all that well with the rest of the discussion. Oh no! Am I going to become one of those old men who hears some buzzword in a conversation and then launches into an interminable story about something that happene

Dew Chandelier

  We can all agree that the last thing this blog needs is another photograph of curved bill thrashers, red tailed hawks, or grassland texture. But I can't help it; I'm obsessed with the perfect photograph of certain things, and dew-chandeliers are one of them. Besides, sweet obsessions are one of the under-rated pleasures of life.

Internet Slump

When an internet junkie is having a slump, nothing rubs salt into the wound more than a rainy day. When a stick-and-brick house dweller asks me how I could live in a small RV, I just roll my eyes at them, because it is quite easy. But in rainy weather the difficulty goes up a factor of 5-10. If he is a dog owner, it goes up another factor of 5-10.  How do you handle an internet slump? The book reader who is slumping can walk into a new bookstore, or down a different aisle in the library. And it works (!) more times than not. But when that computer screen stares back at you, it can intimidate you how much information is on the other side of that screen. You become frozen with inaction. You are tired of wading through all the crap, the linkbait. In theory you should be able to branch out by going to the links listed in the websites that you have read in the past. Either that doesn't work as well as it should or I haven't tried it with enough persistence.


For extra credit, identify the movie where the guy said, "Oh, and Stockel, let's see some real flying." In case you can't get that one, at least help me with this bird. I was sure it was a turkey vulture from its magnificent, playful, flying style, but there was no red, featherless head. When the sun catches the underwing at the right angle, you can get deceptive iridescence, but still, white underwings?

The House-sitter, Home Alone

Full time RVers occasionally house-sit for friends or relatives who live in the normal world, the world of sticks and bricks, lawns and driveways. It's been so many years since I've spent a few days in such a structure that the experience seemed exotic and adventurous. This isn't as whimsical as it might at first seem. For one thing the typical suburban house is dangerous. I've never had a close call when hiking near 1000-foot-high cliffs, but I've come quite close to slipping in those bath tubs found in most houses. That never happens in my travel trailer's shower stall, where heat, pressure, and vibration have solidified desert dust into gritty, metamorphic layers. We have fewer pieces of seldom-used junk than the house-bound, but we can actually find the useful stuff. I was looking for a simple spoon the other night during my house-sitting gig. My arm actually wearied opening drawer after drawer in the kitchen, while I stared at every kitchen gadge

The Slavery of Elections

The world is so full of praise for Beauty that it drowns itself out. The Uses of Ugliness is a theme that seems under-rated to me. And speaking of Ugliness, we have another election season coming. There should be an alternative to the usual choices of watching Media coverage with sour disdain or with numb toleration. There is a point when Ugliness attacks an irreducible center of human dignity. We simply must defend ourselves in order to live. Here is something that works for me: there have been a few books written over the centuries that say something worthwhile about politics. We have all heard these classics praised, and we say that we probably should read that book someday... That is the beauty and use of Ugliness. Ugliness can be a sharp sensation felt right now, not just someday . It impels us to action; quite an accomplishment for a "negative" thing. So instead of following the electoral horse-race on the boob toob I will be rereading Alexis de Tocqueville's &

Home to Papa?

  For a so-called cattle dog Coffee Girl has quite a hankering for flying birds. It's a bit like watching a roadrunner and Wile E. Coyote episode. She "tree-ed" a red-tailed hawk on one of the power poles. The hawk stared down at her, with a look of bemused astonishment, while Coffee Girl had her forepaws on the pole, and howled back, as if she was a hound who had just tree-ed a raccoon. The hawk flew off and then took a dive at the dog; not enough to be scary, just enough to piss her off. At the next pole, the hawk's mate was waiting. The harried hawk would be over there in three seconds or so, so I had to move fast. Bingo!

A Real Pickup Truck

One of my favorite things about downtown in the Little Pueblo is the funky, hand-crafted motor vehicles. In order for something like this to be practical you need to live in the hippie district downtown. In the 'burbs they drive the usual monster-trucks to the grocery store to pick up one small bag of groceries.

Dewy Spider Web

Laboratories of Politics

With elections coming up, it is fun to step back from the hackneyed slogans of day-to-day vote-buying and think about the big picture. Ancient Greece was supposed to be a laboratory of political science, with democracies, oligarchies, and tyrannies just a few miles away from each other. Like a modern Aristotle cataloging the various constitutions, we can observe and compare many little societies, such as churches, lodges, civic organizations, etc. In my case it was bicycle clubs. Bicycle clubs do indeed span the political spectrum. One such club was helpful and considerate almost to a fault: they would always wait at the top of a hill for the slowpokes to catch up. If anybody had a flat tire, the whole group would stop and assist. They shared meals together. Great folks, it seemed. But over a summer the starting time would slip because they simply lacked the guts to leave anyone. Many of the flat tires were caused by people running on old rubber. Their obsession with safety became

The Ultimate Camping Machine?

Do you think I'm just looking at this sexy little beast through a romantic haze? At long last, a cargo van built on a car platform, rather than a heavy truck platform, so that it gets good mileage. Perhaps a version of the Ford TransitConnect is available without those useless windows. A cargo van should possess a rugged and manly minimalism. There are sliding doors on both sides. A six-footer can walk through, if he bends over a little. If only the tires or wheel wells were bigger, for higher clearance! These vans have only been available in the US for a year or two, so it'll be awhile before many exist on the used marketplace. (Ford makes them in Turkey, primarily for non-US customers.) Neglecting the wimpy ground clearance, these guys have a lot of potential as the ultimate camping machines for the short term boondocker.

You Belong in New Mexico if...'re turned on by old junk like this. I added a spur to one of my coffee shop-anchored bicycle routes in order to visit an old mining area. There is nothing spectacular, but there are twenty old wrecks that make me feel satisfied. Satisfaction: it doesn't sound very exciting, does it? When I converted from a full time, traveling RVer to a townie I had to relearn certain habits of adulthood: satisfaction is more reliable and sustainable than the titillation of novelty. (Channel surfing with gasoline.)

the Boonie and the Moonbeam

A newbie in town and I had lunch together the other day. Perhaps it could be called a "date," but I'm so far out of it that I don't even know the technical, legal definition of a date anymore. She was from a college town in Oregon, so I was suspicious, but tried to keep an open mind. Several times she introduced key buzzwords into the conversation: organic, Asia, yoga class, and whether there might be trace amounts of meat in the chili; then she appeared to wait for me to take the topic up. With each succeeding blow, my shoulders slumped a little further. Finally she mentioned "vibrations." I'm happy to report that I did not audibly groan, nor did my face fall into the plate as a sign of final surrender. Maybe I sighed a little. Well who ya gonna blame? I moved to a town full of aged hippie-dippies and New Agers, and then complain when they act like it. Actually they are only 10% of the town, and are concentrated in the hippie district. Oddly enough,

Bent Venetian Blinds?

The bird was caught alighting from the dead cholla stalk. Its head is to the right, I think. The angle of the wing is more downward than I would have expected.

Migration Tactics

The Arkansas River Valley, Colorado, a couple years ago. Most people yearn for a long, lingering autumn, full of crisp mornings and warm afternoons, of apple festivals and glorious colors. A season without snow, rain, humidity or bugs. Many autumns don't quite live up to this dream, because it gets rainy and blowy just when the colors get going. Down go those beautiful leaves, down into the first of the winter mud. Living on wheels would seem to be the perfect solution. Just imagine a gradual migration, surfing the wave-crest of colors southward! That is what I expected out of my first fall migration, many equinoxes ago. Much to my surprise, when the October weather collapse happened up north, it quickly went south. There was no six-week-long autumn like I had fantasized, even when migrating from northern Michigan to the Texas Hill Country. The moral of the story is that latitude is over-rated. Moving to the western states, latitude proved to be even more over-rate


The Modern Village Atheist

No matter how thick a book is or how well you might like it, isn't it true that you only remember a few scenes? Why that scene and not some other? Sinclair Lewis's Elmer Gantry brushed off the village atheist one day. That book was written in 1927. I wondered if people even use that term any more. Village atheist, town drunk, slut, gossip, or do-gooder -- how do they matter to an America that doesn't live in villages anymore? America is a hollowed-out country, a coast-to-coast archipelago of monstrous conurbations. People sat out on porches and kept an eye on each other on Lewis's Main Street. Today we experience our neighbor in the 'burbs only in seeing his garage door open up, a car with tinted windows emerges, it heads off to work or to a fast food drive-through, and then the garage door closes. The Village Atheist used to be portrayed unsympathetically. If he was jolly enough, he might have been tolerated as the licensed lunatic, but usually he was seen as sou

Late Monsoon Season

Western Kingbird in its Native Habitat

In the field you do have to struggle to see the yellow breast of some birds, which Bobbie and Dixxe helped me identify as a western kingbird. Soon the migrating birds, of both wing and wheel, will start coming through. I hope the performance is as much fun as last year. Northern flickers were the first invaders.

Old Rocks

In the Southwest a few years ago. 'Love at first sight' is a principle that doesn't seem to apply to geologic layers, at least for me. It fails in both directions. When I saw red-rock Utah for the first time I drooled over it like anyone would. But once the brain has seen red rock and admitted it as a possibility, it ceases to be interesting. And yet I know RVers who make a big deal of it, long term. Red sandstone cliffs decompose into loose red sand which is impassable to a mountain bike. Conversely I was none too crazy about granite at first. It was crumbly and ignoble. Eventually though, the eroded hoodoos and gargoyles win you over. Soon you appreciate the sure-footedness that you have while scrambling over granite rocks, but it's the dry washes that are the most fun. They are filled with granite decomposed into coarse sand. Granite sand can be sharp-edged; under the shearing pressure of your shoe it locks up and makes for easy walking. My little poodl


Coen Brothers' Movies

The movies of the Coen Brothers, such as Fargo, Barton Fink, Raising Arizona, O Brother Where Art Thou, and Intolerable Cruelty, have given me a lot of kicks over the years. No doubt they will have other successes in the future. There is something they could do to ensure that, and it ties in with writing in general, not just movies. Critics praise the scripts of Coen Brothers movies for being quirky, offbeat, or for breaking Hollywood formulas with surprises. But these things are both good and bad. A movie is interesting because the viewer is caught up in the dilemmas and conflicts of characters that the viewer cares about. If a speech or a plot twist becomes too offbeat, the viewer can no longer believe it. "Witty" dialogue can be so overdone that it seems contrived. Surprises become ends in themselves. The writing ceases to be about a character and becomes a character itself.  In other words their scripts are examples of what Strunk and White, in the "Elements of St

"Pacin' the Cage"

Every now and then I listen to some Jimmy Buffett songs while taking a snooze. The song with the refrain about "pacin' the cage" made quite an impact. RVs started pulling out of this park early on Labor Day, headed back to the torrid, ghastly conurbation of lower Arizona. They did no harm and I really feel kind of bad about being so glad to see them go. Maybe they are just reminding me of missing the autumn migration, which usually started in September. The autumn migration always seemed twice as dramatic as the spring. Maybe that's an ancestral grudge against winter. I used to study DeLorme and Benchmark atlases for weeks while anticipating it and feeling nervous about it. I did my share of constant travel in an RV, but it never really seemed necessary or even desirable. It's probably lazy to fall back on the old buzzword, natural, but it does seem like snowbirding -- seasonal migration -- is more natural than the endless running around that some RVers do. Anim

The Chandeliers of September

Just imagine a guy like me running an art gallery of the photographic kind, especially in a high rent district like Sedona or Bisbee. I'd put a photograph like this on the wall and some well-heeled dowager or matron would look at it and say, "Huh? How does this make the wall in our new retirement McMansion look more upscale?" My art gallery would go broke in three months. This is my favorite season, when monsoonal humidity meets cooler night air, and the result is torrential dew that decorates and honors the finely-textured grasses that I love. My eyes hunt for these dew-clusters, while my dog runs between them or sometimes through them, as she chases her varmints. She comes out of the field soaked and happy.

An Amateur Photographer

When I'm out walking the dogs near sunset I walk by a patch of tall heliotropic sunflowers. Maybe butterflies hang out there at that time of the day, or maybe the low sun presents their wings to advantage. I must have looked silly chasing camera-shy butterflies around the patch, with a rather confused dog attached to me. They certainly are good at escaping just a second before you get a good photograph. The eye and brain flutter over the sunflowers as well as the butterflies, and at some point in the confusion, they all seem like the same species. This is great fun, and I was lucky to get such a close-up. And yet it looks like a standard postcard or Olan Mills studio portrait of a butterfly. How dreadful it must be to be a professional photographer! The customer looks at his end result; the subjective experience of taking the photograph means nothing. How unfair: the experience was living. The end result of work is dead; it's what gets pinned to the page. But I guess any ki

Uses of Ugliness

Arkansas River Valley, Colorado, a couple summers ago. Believe it or not, I will say something nice about motor-crazed yahoos today. First off, should I use a new name, such as "motorsports enthusiasts?" Actually ATVs aren't that noisy and tend to be operated by responsible adults, which the dogs and I are friendly to, on the trail. But those young guys on their dirt bikes! Growl. On Friday night they arrived in force, with all the usual commotion and anticipation. They have finished their drive from a population center and to celebrate the occasion they serenade the nearest square mile with ugly, raucous music. One of the cretins camped fifty yards away from me. The next day they buzzed around like insect pests. I kept to short hikes in the dry washes of decomposed granite so I wouldn't have to overlap with them.  On Sunday morning I played a game with myself, guessing which group of louts would leave first. What a joy it is to see the ramps get put in

Friendly Fingers

The friendly fingers of cholla at sunrise.


This is my favorite time of year. The grasslands are turgid, full of seeds, and besotted with dew. I never really appreciated texture until the last couple years, and have no idea why it started.