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Showing posts from 2019

(Autumn) Paradise Lost!

I wonder how many RV wannabees look at the pretty scenery on blogs and vlogs, and then flutter their eyelashes about "Living the Dream" someday? To their eyeballs, the RV lifestyle must seem like an escape from reality.

But it isn't. It might be an "alternative reality" in a "parallel universe," but it is not an escape from reality. 

The most mordant illustration of this fact happens the third weekend of October in Utah. The kiddies get a school holiday on the same weekend that deer hunting season starts. Remember that red-state Utah is fond of guns, ATVs, and making babies.

This weekend always causes my heart to sink. The weather and scenery are perfect in Utah in October -- and a cynic would say that 'things that seem too good to be true, usually are.

Actually, it would be better to say that things can be perfect, here and there, for a  short while. And that is what happens until the third weekend in October. If you were considering visiting M…

I Tawt I Taw a Pootie-Tat

What would happen if I encountered a pootie-tat on a mountain bike ride? Would my dog be foolish enough to run towards or away from the mountain lion? (She chased a black bear once.) But I've never seen a mountain lion in the wild. That's not to say that one hasn't seen me. I do carry a knife. 

Would I have time to take a photo of it? Can't you see me calmly fumbling with getting the camera out of the handlebar bag, removing the lens cap, turning the camera on, and stepping down through the menu system, while the bright sun makes the screen illegible? Then I would have to remind the cat to smile. 

In the meantime, this photograph is the best I can do. Can you spot the head and face of the cat?

The kitty is looking at something in the reef. Reefs are indeed one of most wonderful geological and topographic features of Utah, despite what the tourism industry says about those stupid arches.

The Benefits of a Freak Cold Front

After a lot of unnecessary worrying, the dreaded cold front has vanquished Utah. Actually it has turned out rather nice. I "retreated" to Green River to warm up. But Honour required me to first find a legal loophole: like a good general I am superstitious about retreating. But making a small loop back to where you were recently is different from "retreating."

So that is what I did. Rather than sit in the trailer and freeze -- or worse yet, deign to use a heater or plug into shore power -- I am spending most of the day in the driver's seat of my van, with its huge windshield facing the sun! What a great feeling it is to be warmed by the sun, when you are surrounded by chilly air!

This afternoon I am being reminded of the calm euphoria and healthy-mindedness that comes from being able to enjoy a sunny day. 

Postscript: last night was the coldest one. It works wonders to shake/roll the shoulders to warm up, when you are sedentary at a desk. Also, I filled a nalgen…

Have We Seen the Future of the 21st Century?

Much of the destiny of the 20th Century was laid out in 1919, when the Versailles Treaty was worked out. Wouldn't it be a strange coincidence if September 2019 had the same significance for the 21st Century? That is the month of the successful attack against the Saudi oil facility by drones and missiles.

The story fell off the "front pages" after only a week. But what is on the "front pages" should not concern anyone who tries to understand the world. 

Perhaps September 2019 marked the end of the American hegemony of the post-World-War-II era, and the beginning of the Chinese hegemony of the 21st Century.

The attack showed the obsolescence of the U.S. military establishment. It showed the future of military conflict, dominated by inexpensive (but electronically advanced) drones and missiles. And in turn, whoever is best at manufacturing and selling these drones and missiles will dominate the world.

China has a huge advantage at this kind of domination because it is…

Surprises in the Backcountry

There is a nice kick to starting a post with only vague notions about the title, theme, or photos. I never begin with a blank slate. But there is enough uncertainty that nature becomes a problem to solve. And surprises happen.

The first time I was at today's location, many years ago, I arrived with only vague notions about something special being here. I had to find it, and when I did, it took my breath away.

How fortunate I was to experience this feeling. Does that opportunity even exist anymore? I am referring to the modern addiction to "researching" everything on the internet before you go there, so when you actually go, there are no surprises except perhaps the disappointments.

When I see tourists driving up at high speed, stepping out of the car, taking a couple snapshots, and driving away in a hurry, I wonder why they didn't just stay home and look at postcards on the internet. Please don't tell me "There's no substitute for being there," because…

Pulling a Trick on the Tourists

There was a time, not so many years ago, when you could camp all by yourself on public lands. But it has gotten a lot harder to do this, thanks to several trends: more people, #vanlife, solar panels, better internet in rural areas, and -- my least favorite -- the blabbermouths on social media and internet blogs.

So you must get more shrewd and ruthless in order to avoid the noisy, tourist masses. I seem to be succeeding at this, at the moment. 

It helps to put yourself into the mindset of the big-city weekend warrior and mass tourist, and then deliberately develop proclivities quite the opposite of them. For instance, mass tourists from the East or the Northwest want land to be green. (What philistines!) They are easy for me to avoid. I like parched, brown/grey BLM land, rather than green forests.

Mass tourists ooh and ahh over red rocks. Red is a nice color, but really!, is it necessary for outdoors fun?

Mass tourists ooh and ahh over large and freakish verticalities. But a mountain bike…

Autumn Pleasures

A person could write forever about how wonderful autumn is. One of its understated virtues is its scratchy, dry texture. This is visually evident in tawny grass seedheads. 

On today's ride I brought my real camera (an Olympus TG-5) to look for sunflowers. They were found. It took a lot of looking but I am pleased I found a camera that has an adjustable aperture just by turning a knob, instead of the usual stepping through a complex menu that is virtually invisible in bright sunlight. I love blurry backgrounds.

Real "Fall Colors" For a Change

This is the time of year for "leaf peepers," that is, tourists who drive around and gawk at yellow aspen leaves, while rhapsodizing about fall colors, plural.

I envy people back East at this time of year: old barns, real trees with leaves, a true variety of colors, apple cider, and crisper mornings.

But guess what?!  My friend and I went prospecting for a new campsite today, and we found something unexpected. I made him stop in the shade, at a stream crossing. There were maple leaves on one side of the road, and oak leaves on the other.

 And we found two streams that had a little water flowing.

Three miracles of nature on one day is all the excitement that I can take!

Exploring Versus Outdoor Exercise

Since I was not mobile this summer, certain experiences are coming back to me as if they are new, but of course, they aren't really new.

For instance, on a couple mountain bike rides I got to re-experience how fun it is to start off with minimal information, and then bumble and stumble my way through the route. 

Relatively small surprises can become puffed up into "discoveries" when you don't start off knowing what the answer is. Does the road connect with anything? If it starts rough, will it get better? The flowers were past their prime on a nearby road, but they were peak on this road, for some reason.

The scenery was excellent along this route, but that is not my point of emphasis. It consistently works better if I choose an area with mild expectations about the scenery, and then let Mother Nature surprise me on the upside.

So it is time to just admit that I think more like my dog than like the prevailing mountain bike culture, where people love dangerous acrobatics …

Soulmates in the Outdoors

For several good reasons I don't talk to women when I cross paths with them on a trail or on the street in town. But the other day I might have overdone this: a runner crossed paths with me on a narrow dirt road, and I didn't even exchange brief pleasantries with her, make eye contact, or otherwise acknowledge her existence.

Soon I got back to my van and found her vehicle parked next to mine. I was appalled!

A black truck! With the windshield facing south! It was perfectly clean -- how does she do that?, by spending money every three days at the car wash? Good heavens, she lives in a world of scalding sunlight and blowing dust. How could she be an outdoorswoman and be so detached from physical reality?

Meanwhile, a higher order of female, my dog, became quite accomplished this summer at digging 'spoons' in the dirt. They probably felt cool. She shaped them to the contours of her body. She located most of them on the leeward side of a sagebrush, for protection against the …

Solar Tailwinds

A summer in one place gets a guy out of shape when it comes to driving. Still, I like driving better now than when I was young. Perhaps it was the impatience back then?

Nothing is better than driving early in the day, with the sun at your back. (Especially true for un-air-conditioned vehicles like mine.) Why, this is more important than having a tailwind for a cyclist or sailor. 

My goodness, I drove over 100 miles today! When I got into Price, UT, I was hot and cranky. I even yelled at my dog.

But then I went uphill onto the land that I love. It only took 15 minutes of exploration on some BLM land before I was feeling happy. There was real drama to it, considering how vile I felt down in the hot parking lot.

It is easy to stand somewhat outside yourself and watch the magic take over in just a few minutes, despite it happening many times in the past. 

Now I am cooler, and have an almost 180 degree view of Book Cliffs. My (current) dog's life started with me because my first dog disapp…

To Utah, Faster

The last post showed a rig that had some nostalgic appeal, as in Ward Bond and Robert Horton.  But progress was slow.

So I upgraded to this RV:

Towards Utah

It's hard to believe I was a host for three and a half months! The gig is finally up, and the timing is perfect. It's "Wagons, Ho-o-o-o-o-o!", this morning.

Towards Utah.

Art Students at Work

For the first time I encountered (ten) art students drawing something or other on a road that my dog and I were biking on this morning. I tried to be quiet and non-intrusive. I wonder what objects they were drawing.

The area has an austere attractiveness, rather than the "postcard prettiness" that you'd expect to attract an art class. That's why it started me thinking. Were they there for the variety?

What if somebody had walked up to the teacher and asked, "Have any of your students chosen to draw the sheer terror of a ground squirrel, scurrying for his life, with a hawk circling in the background?"

She might have liked the idea. Or do they draw only pretty things? And what if they did draw something more out of Darwin or Jack London than out of the tourism industry -- would they automatically get a poor grade in this art class, regardless of how effective their drawing was at transferring emotion to the viewer? I don't really know.

The Shadows of September

Talk about 'a watched pot never boils...'

A couple weeks ago I started obsessing over the length of the noon shadow, as created by my camper. In early summer I got so little shade that I spent the entire mid-day inside. Then in mid-August, improvement was noticeable: I could actually sit outside in my chair if it was backed up against the camper.

Then I forgot about it, for a week. Today I was astonished to see the luxuriousness of that shade. A September day might be nearly as warm as mid-summer. But you can find shade in September, which is what really counts in the American Southwest.

This might seem a self-inflicted problem, since I have no awning on my camper. But in the Southwest, mid-day winds are over 30 mph.

Thus the long disease of summer is over, regardless of the temperature, although it is cooling as well. For the next six months I can stop fantasizing about moving to Spitzbergen or Jan Mayen Island. 

It brings to mind a term I don't use frequently: Grace. WordWe…

An Over-aged Skateboard Punk

I've seen guys like this several times, especially in this college town: a skateboard punk, self-consciously looking the part, except that something stood out...something was wrong. He was too old to play the part.

With more practice a person might be able to silence their smartphone quickly enough to remain unobtrusive. So far, I haven't been able to do this, so I can only take a photo from the internet. But it doesn't really express how pathetic these over-aged skateboarders look.

Teenage-fad clothing, dreadlocks, tattoos, body piercings, etc. In a couple years he might start losing his hair. What will he think of his dreadlocks, then? Maybe he will cover his head with a baseball cap, worn backwards, of course.

At this guy's age, our parents were already married and starting a family. Was this guy still a college student, or was he one of those permanent students who hangs around a collegetown and adds one useless diploma (in some soft subject) to another? 

He was the p…

A Loyal Friend on Duty

Many times I have praised the habit of catching things out of the corner of your eye. It happened again today.

I was driving to town on an errand. Fifty yards off the road was one of the rental outhouses at this recreation area. There was a large chocolate labrador retriever (lab) close to its door. 

Clearly, his human partner was inside the outhouse, doing his business. The dog's head and body language were so curious, expressing the great importance and significance of the dog's supervising or guarding. The dog was unnaturally stationary for quite a long time. What an expression of loyalty it was!

The best I could do was take a smartphone photo from the van. It was disappointing. The photo doesn't seem to express the endearing behavior of the dog that I thought I "saw". But this isn't the first time I saw something out of the corner of the eye, fluttered my eyelashes over it, and then later, wondered if it was actually real.

This suggests that the ambiguity of…

The Truth About the American Southwest

It is a healthy sign of our culture that YouTubers are starting to make fun of #vanLife videos produced by illiterate charlatans who look good in a bikini. But why didn't old-fashioned blogs -- you know, the kind you have to read -- go through the same phase of healthy self-criticism?

Consider their presentation of the American Southwest. The bloggers are here for a couple months, when it is sheer frozen hell in the rest of North America. So they have an 'easy audience.'

Typically they are sitting out in a folding chair, in front of their rig, while reading a book. They are wearing shorts and a straw hat, perhaps. The readership sees this and thinks, "And it's January. Paradise."

In case the suckers haven't been sold yet, the blogger then shows 30 postcards of saguaros at sunset or red cliffs and arches. That really gets the armchair travelers to flutter their eyelashes. 

The sort of half-truths you can tell with a digital camera and a free blogsite! A blogge…

Willie Leaps!

She was a funny-looking little dog: a red heeler, more or less. But she was too stubby and a little porky. Her name was Willie, short for Willow.

But she had talent. I watched her human partner throwing a small diameter frisbee to her. She was better at retrieving than he was at throwing. Twice she ripped the frisbee out of the sky. The second time was spectacular! If only I had my camera along, with it set on multiple exposures.

My own dog has no airborne tendencies at all. She won't even chase a tennis ball on the ground. Her only real talent is turning on the charm to newcomers and immediately conquering them. Actually I prefer her personality to these super athletes of the air -- they are usually obsessive. They can get tiresome quickly. Still, it is fun to watch them in "small doses."

Email Ping-pong with Car Salesmen

I am beginning to think that I can no longer communicate with my fellow American. Sure, you expect this kind of thing when calling 'customer service' or some kind of 'call center'. But that is because you are calling India.

Lately I have been drowning while playing email ping-pong with car salesmen. Yes...the great day of replacing my 1995 Ford Econoline van, with 292,000 miles on it, is approaching. But the ping-pong is driving me crazy.

It is understandable that we could all stand some improvement in our email style -- after all, none of us was taught in grade school how to write useful email. But car salesmen are professionals, so they should be good at writing emails.

Now, I needn't reiterate my rant against pronouns, acronyms, and abbreviations. What these guys need to learn how to do is write a self-contained message, because only then is it actionable.

For instance, they start off saying, "But that car is not..."  Which car is "that" car? The…

Epstein's "Suicide": The Last Straw Before a Political Explosion?

Will the supposed suicide of Epstein finally cause a populist political explosion in the USA? Unlikely but possible.

What will it take for the general public to wake up from their sleepwalking about how America actually works?

In the mean time, let's be realistically optimistic that enough documents are already in the hands of prosecutors that can incriminate some very wealthy and powerful people.

Celebrating the Waning of Another Summer

It is worth exulting over the passing of another summer, even though it was a merciful one, that is, cool and wet.

Summer is a season that must be suffered stoically.  Oh certainly, August is still a summer month. But the small improvements compared to July are noticeable: slightly later sunrises and longer shadows in mid-day; and cooler temperatures, even if it is only a couple degrees.

It is a fundamental fact of human existence that a couple percent of improvement from a given base seems to affect a person more than the base.

Even easier to appreciate is the waning of the tourist season in Colorado. Some of the big school districts restart in early August, these days. 

The icing on the cake is that we are getting afternoon thundershowers that might not bring a lot of rain, but they bring clouds, shade, and a 10--15F cooling off. How magnificent!

Success at an "Art Booth"

I have long accepted that I am artistically challenged, in the sense that visual arts have no effect on me. Rather than taking that issue on by direct frontal attack, I prefer an indirect, flanking movement. That is, it seems preferable to stretch the definition of what "art" is.

The other day, my dog and I were bicycling by the Rocks. Out of the corner of my eye I caught a dog and a half dozen small children frolicking on the rocks. Talk about the indirect approach! There is a lot to be said for catching things on the edge of your vision.

Something about it fired my imagination. It made me turn in to the campsite and give the parents a compliment. Then the magic moment fizzled: the campers didn't know I was the host, and they thought I was intruding. The dog was said to be unfriendly. Then there was an awkward silence. I looked for a face-saving way out of this embarrassing situation.

In an ordinary folding chair around the campfire, sat an ordinary camper -- a mother and …

I've Got HIM on the List...

Give in to the whimsical, and imagine Gilbert and Sullivan working in the tourism industry in Colorado, in summer. What a field day they would have, especially with "I've Got a Little List."

As some day it may happen that a victim must be found
I've got a little list — I've got a little list
Of society offenders who might well be underground
And who never would be missed — who never would be missed!
There's the pestilential nuisances who write for autographs —
All people who have flabby hands and irritating laughs —
All children who are up in dates, and floor you with 'em flat —
All persons who in shaking hands, shake hands with you like that —
And all third persons who on spoiling tête-á-têtes insist —
They'd none of 'em be missed — they'd none of 'em be missed!

He's got 'em on the list — he's got 'em on the list;
And they'll none of 'em be missed — they'll none of 'em be missedNow, there is no point to …

When a Book is Beautiful

Whenever a certain RV friend visits the area, I feel inspired to simplify my rig. In the past, that urge has had pretty important consequences. So I tried to get in the mood again, this year.

It had been awhile since I had made use of the 20 dead-tree books that I carry in my tow vehicle. So it seemed like a good idea to reread them, and try harder to replace them with the eBook version.

The first book was "The Heavenly City of the Eighteenth Century Philosophers," by Carl Becker. It is tempting to try to explain why I have always loved this book, but maybe analyzing the book will kill its beauty!

Aw hell, I'll do it anyway: the book is about a fundamental topic; it is short; although written by a professor, it is enjoyable to read; it doesn't let the trees get in the way of the forest; and it is full of imaginative warmth. 

Therefore it is a good book to practice the consummate skill of trying to 'rip the book's heart out', that is, extracting the book's…

The Sky Gods, Incarnate

What pompous fools most intellectuals are! They think they are accomplishing something by cogitating over the Big Questions, and burying everybody under a mountain of vague verbiage.

Once again, the afternoon sky had come alive and threatening. What a show it is!...this noisy blustering of the Indo-European male sky gods, strutting across the sky, high over our 'sagebrush sea.'

As the Sky built up to its climax, a young man and his dog mountain biked by my campsite. On the ascent the dog finally got the better of the biker, and spurted ahead. My dog ran out to check the dog out. This gave us a chance to talk. We had to communicate quickly because the biker was afraid of cold rain, lightning, or hail.

(It was like that scene at the beginning of the "Wizard of Oz", when Dorothy and Toto are on the run, and you wonder if they are going to get home before the twister hits.)

The dog had a pair of doggie saddlebags on, which carried water, a collapsible water dish, and sna…

Our Eponymous Wildflower

Many people like to look at wildflowers. Over the years one flower in particular has caught my eye.

I see this mostly white flower in high sagebrush or alpine meadows.

With all the rain we have had this year, flowers abound, including this mostly white flower. After doing a little homework, I was delighted to find that it is our eponymous "beautiful grass" flower.

It is popping out all over, in our 8100 foot sagebrush.

The other photos were taken in northern New Mexico. Here is the local product:

I love using large camera apertures to photograph flowers, so that the background is blurry.

So what is the point to this useless prettiness? It actually gave me great satisfaction to learn that the wildflower was named for the local area and, indeed, grows in the local area.

Was this essentially the same satisfaction that ancient pagans got from worshiping their smaller gods, such as hearth gods? Similarly Catholic peasants in the early days loved their smaller saints.

The Big and the Small in the Outdoors

I sat on my rocky ridge and looked down on the main dirt road coming into the recreation area. There was a half dozen runners coming uphill. Tall, tan, and quite fast. Why wasn't it easier to admire them? After all, I had done a little bit of running in my life. That should have made it easier to appreciate these runners.

A raven glided by, just about at my altitude. He was playing with ridge lift, to parallel the rocky ridge, without much effort. The human runners were completely forgotten, but I couldn't get my eye off the ridge-running raven. The muscles in my chest started to feel tired.

Sometimes inanimate objects grab the eye, such as the rocky islands set amidst the 'sagebrush sea,' around here. Yes, I know: the land use agency needs a new prose stylist. 'Sagebrush sea' has become a cliche.

But the cliche starts to inspire when I look at the little rocky islands, so forlorn and lonely, set in the middle of t…

Redemption as a Guest Star

I take my nightly sleeping pill in the form of watching DVDs of old television westerns from the late 1950s up til 1965 or so.  Several times now I have been profoundly affected by seeing a guest give a great performance. Previously I had only known that actor as a regular on some idiot sitcom I remembered from childhood. 

As a guest star, they had a real chance to show what they could do as an actor. Of course I remember the actor as the regular on the idiot sitcom. And now, to see that same actor give a great performance as the guest star...

It makes me feel so good to see that actor redeemed. In fact it seems to redeem the entertainment industry and the good sense of my parents' generation.

At the time I always wondered how they could produce such a shabby product: sit-coms that never made me laugh; weak, clownish fathers on the sitcoms; intrusive and inane commercials, etc.

I suppose it shows how 'context is everything.' It's tragic though, to see these talented people…

America's Last Chance?

I keep wondering whether I will bother to read a single history book in my 'next life.' The reason is that I fear that reading them during my current life has been a big waste of that life.

It's not that I expect the reading of history books to make me clairvoyant about the future. But it should at least help me identify fundamentally important issues and structures. If it can do that, then at least I won't waste much time on trivial or superficial things.

Consider the Russia-Gate hoax. Many people might think that this is purely a partisan issue or dependent on how much you hate Trump.

I hate Trump, but that seems like a secondary matter. There are more important questions.

Quoting Paul Craig Roberts:

The felonies committed by the CIA, FBI, and Obama Justice (sic) Department constitute no less than a coup against the president of the United States, an act of sedition and treason.Yet, those responsible might never be held accountable.Later he adds,
This is the last chance …