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Opening Up to the Charm of Other People

Learning to appreciate a variety of things is important for what I call an independent lifestyle, that is, one in which sheer busyness, phony pragmatism, and chasing after toys and status symbols is not the 'meaning of life.'

I had a couple examples of appreciation that were new to me, recently. My dog and I were returning on a mountain bike ride. Therefore we were cruising downhill. Another dirt road 'teed' into ours. Coming down this road were a half dozen large beautiful horses, with riders. I guessed that the horsewoman who led the troupe was the employee of a nearby (dude) guest ranch. 

I asked and she confirmed it, in four or five words.  That's all it took for me to bike away, cooing, and fluttering my eyelashes at the sheer prettiness of her voice. This effect was so exaggerated that I had to wonder about it.

Was it just the usual joy juice in my blood that comes from mountain biking? This has happened so many times. Sometimes it almost scares me. Certainly, t…

Retro-grouch Gets His First Smartphone

Just in case I haven't said it often enough: late adopters rule, and early adopters drool. That is how I am feeling after finally finding a telephone/internet plan that I liked. Walmart was offering a pre-paid Verizon plan that can serve as my internet and phone plan, after I bought an inexpensive Android smartphone to serve as a hotspot for the laptop computer.

My goodness, I have held off for years! Because some people think a retrogrouch is either afraid of new things or is just a chronic curmudgeon who aims his curmudgeon-ness at technology, allow me to say a word in their defense. The problem was always the high price of the plans, not the smartphone itself. 

Actually it was fun and easy to learn how to use the Android smartphone. (Must I add that I wasn't even tempted to debauch myself with an overpricediPhone?)  

Better yet, there was a certain vindication in being a crankypreacher against excessive motor vehicle usage. Look at how everything on the smartphone is aimed at …

Fire and Ice

Now and then, I catch myself bragging about setting a 'personal best' when camping. Last week the temperature insidethe camper hit 27 F. 

Of course I have a heater, but refuse to use it. Usually I try to joke my way out of it. A better explanation would be to point at the movie, "The Red Violin." 

Chilly dry air, in contrast with sunlight at sunrise, seems like perfection to me. With a Platonic and pseudo-religious attitude, I pop my trailer door open to the east, and let the glorious sun come into the trailer. It feels warmer instantly, and irresistibly cheerful. If there is a better way to start a day, let me know what it is.

Nevertheless, consider this an exception to the rule. You will not have to read many advertisements for 'the ideal' or 'perfection' on this blog. Experience has taught me that the enemy of the Good is not the Bad, as you would expect. The enemy of the Good is the Ideal.

Natasha Dances for the American Deep State

How nice that I have managed to appreciate art in 'this lifetime.' Although music and comedy were two forms of art that were easy to appreciate, the visual arts left me yawning, in the past.

I refer to "art" in the Tolstoyan sense. This is quite different from Beauty, which most people confuse with "art."  Tolstoy thought that art was anything that transferred emotional experiences from the artist to the viewer/reader/listener, by means of words, pictures, sounds, or stories. Beauty is a another matter, according to Tolstoy.

Movies should be good at providing "artful" experiences in this sense of the word, and, one would think, the Russian movie version of "War and Peace" should be good at it, too.

I watched the first third of the three-disc movie, and couldn't make up my mind if I liked it. The star of the second third of the movie was "Natasha," the young Russian noble-girl who came of age during the lead-up to Napoleon'…

How Someone Should Write History

I should probably offer an excuse for talking about a book about the French Revolution, lest somebody say, "Yea but how is that, like, relevant, man?"  The answer is that much of what we call political news and "current events" is really just fighting the French Revolution all over again.

Details. Do I ever hate details in history books. Consider a book on the causes of the French Revolution: the author could grind through the legal system, economic conditions, etc. All very important of course. But what a tedious bore!

Consider the rather different approach used by Simon Schama, in "Citizens," A Chronicle of the French Revolution. Old-regime France had been no stranger to public ceremonies and spectacles. But your place near the viewing stand was controlled by the aristocratic pecking order.

Then, in the 1780s, public spectacles saw a radical change. Balloons became the high-tech rage. Once they were in the air, it all viewers had the same view.
In other wor…

Connecting With the Cosmos

Well, here I am again after a hiatus of a couple years -- back in a favorite camping area. The special attraction here is the 'alignment of the stars.' Just kidding.

'Sleeping under the stars' is both romantic and phony. How many times have you done it, literally? I did it once, as a lad, above tree-line in Colorado -- quite an adventure for a lad from the flatlands. But I was too uncomfortable to sleep much.

A camper could sleep out under the stars anytime he saw fit: a nice cot, air mattress, and sleeping bag should do the trick. A tent would ruin it. So why don't I do it? There are unpleasant practicalities, of course. Perhaps I don't really think the stars are all that interesting to look at. Maybe the shallowness of mere looking is the problem.

But let's return to the nightly spectacle of 'alignment' here. I love the alignment of the setting sun with a certain topographic feature, near the equinox. Currently it is about a month away from the equi…

A Great Chapter of Life Ends

A title like that sounds like a traveler who is announcing that they are going to hang up the keys, or at least, close their blog. Nothing quite so drastic. 

I came back from the bicycle shop sniffling and whimpering, like a puppy with an ouchie stuck in his paw. But my friend in Mayberry-for-Hippies just laughed at my silliness. I was halfway serious though. A big chapter in my life has been closed: I sold my road bicycle. Now I am down to one bike, a mountain bike. Earlier in my career I traveled with four and a half bikes in my van.

It has been a wonderful part of life: road cycling, that is. I built my annual travel schedule around it. Most of my friends were bicyclists. I felt happier road cycling than at any other time. 

With an advertisement like that, why give it up? Primarily because of safety and better agreement between backwoods camping and mountain biking. You need to camp in town to be a road biker. 

As a help for anyone taking up road bicycling, note that there are more of…

When Is It Time to Renounce Folly?

I've had thousands of chances to drive off, after a bicycle ride, and forget something -- like a front wheel. And yet I never did so until recently. Although I knew the spot where I left the front wheel, it wasn't lying there when I returned two days later. Infuriating!

Add this wheel to other casualties over the years, such as the $120 hiking poles I left behind, once.

After this incident I have started to put the front wheel in the van first, since forgetting the rest of bike is less likely. How much thinking was required to make this trivial improvement? And yet, it takes a surprising amount of persistence to form a new habit.

So why didn't I think of this 40 years ago? When my grandfather was in his seventies, he once told me, 'A young man just lets things happen to him. He doesn't think about the consequences of what he does.'


I own several pricey cylindrical flashlights. They were purchased after a great deal of 'd…

What If I Were a Car Camper?

Every day I travel by a solitary car camper. Sometimes I feel like walking up and introducing myself. But I never have.

Is this just bourgeois prejudice, looking at somebody who appears to be a low-life? It could be, but it could also be reasonable caution. How am I supposed to know which topic lights the guy up like a firecracker? And how will I escape his rant, gracefully?

Another motive is self-protection. His situation seems sad, and I don't really want to wallow in it. The other day was a big day for him. I saw him walking around his car a little bit. At one point, he bent down and tied his shoes. That is the most action he has had in a week. The rest of the day, he just sits in his car and looks out the windshield.

There could be some genuine drama happening in that car. But who would know? Who could be affected by it vicariously, if everybody is afraid of him?

I always feel ashamed of myself when I go by him. Are he and I in the same category -- desert rat boondockers?

Thoughts for a Rainy Day in Arizona

The woman at the bakery was quite serious when she complained about Quartzsite business being down this year. Well, I was certainly doing my part to help, considering how many times I have been into the bakery. Perhaps she should stay open more than four days per week? And really, being closed on Saturday! But what do I know about running a successful business?

Still, perhaps we should all do our part, and try to come up with fresh business ideas to bring the crowds back to Quartzsite. The only sure winner I can think of is ... drum roll... clip-on dreadlocks. Why should millennial hitchhikers from California get all the babes? Old guys need a chance, too.

A hard rain last night. How strange that I felt so resentful. There is supposed to be a secondary rainy season in the Sonoran Desert in mid-winter. And after all, I appreciategreen ocotillo stalks and spring wildflowers. Since I prudently stayed camped on desert pavement, there was little cha…

The Benefits of Classic Books

At the beginning of World War II, George Orwell started an essay off, as German bombs fell in his neighborhood. It was a scary time for the Brits. His essay was full of a determined optimism. He concluded with a prophecy of how the war would go:
...but England will still be England, an everlasting animal stretching into the future and the past, and, like all living things, having the power to change out of recognition and yet remain the same.That sentence knocked me over, when I first read it. Looking back at it later, I wondered why it made such an impression. After all, it essentially says what the old proverb does: 'the more things change, the more they stay the same.'

Although there is some historical glamor to discovering some "new" truth, this experience reminds an individual how exciting (and more frequent) it can be to rediscover an old truth. Old truths become uninspiring as they devolve into bumper sticker slogans and one-liners. They become stale clich├ęs.

An …