So Now Comes The Wind

tumbleweeds

So now comes the wind —
Our winter’s downhill neighbor
testing the hinges.

From beyond, somewhere
in a distant mountain place,
it comes to life.

It finds its power —
it scours the dead and dying —
it tries to take you.

But you bow your head.
You divert your swollen eyes.
It passes over.

A born acrobat,
Tumbleweed pulls up her skirts
and scatters her seeds.

It takes what it wants
leaving man and beast behind
tumbling into Spring.

 

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The Power of Conversation

quote2First I direct your attention to a recent blog post entitled “It’s so typical of me to talk about myself, I’m sorry.

Full disclosure: this is my daughter’s blog and she works as a children’s librarian in a community just south of Albuquerque. She raises some interesting points and voices some frustration with the current state of social conversation.

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Conversation is a lost art…lost long ago…and it is becoming a lost personal skill. Human evolution on the mega time scale and personal development of individuals in a micro scale, from the cradle to the grave, depends on meaningful human interaction. We have to be able to carry on a rational conversation with our doctor when we are sick or having a check-up. That is just one example but we have maybe a dozen events during a typical  day when we have to speak with and listen to another person and communicate in a rational manner.

I recently went to a meet-up — one of those scheduled social get-togethers where strangers introduce themselves and converse over drinks or a meal or maybe engage in a common activity, like photography or dominoes or whatever. There were twenty people there and several were attending for the first time — like me. Some were familiar with each other and they fell into a friendly and joking evening of conversation. I was sitting next to and across from people who were not familiar with the group so we just talked among ourselves. The young guy next to me was a zookeeper at the city zoo. He was a bird man but at other zoos where he worked he had different assignments with different animals. The retired woman across the table recently returned to the US from a thirty year career abroad, mostly in Germany. She was a civilian employee of the military. Our conversation, over about two hours covered travel in Europe and specific countries (Portugal in particular), various foods, zoo operations in different cities, zoo emergencies and emergency preparations.

It turned out that the zookeeper was the guy on call to drop a rogue or escaped animal before it attacked too many visitors. Too many, he said…it seems to be a given that someone is likely to get hurt before the situation is under control. This was, to me, a very peculiar aspect of zoo management…one I had never considered. He said that the chimpanzees might be the most dangerous of animals if they escaped. Most animals would try to run away and not intentionally hurt anyone but the chimpanzees can become very aggressive. They apparently have a plan at the zoo as to what caliber bullet will take down what animal. This was news to me and this fellow was very serious.

The lady across the table was very fond of Portugal but not very complementary regarding Italy. To her way of thinking, the Italians are too ego-centric and can’t see beyond their borders. If something wasn’t Italian it was unworthy. I was surprised at that perception because it didn’t agree with my own experience. On the other hand, she was very impressed with the little towns and villages of Bavaria where she spent several years on assignment. Never having been to Bavaria or Portugal, I was interested in her experiences.

I personally didn’t have much to contribute to the conversation other than to ask questions  and follow along. The zookeeper wasn’t much interested in Europe and the retired woman wasn’t much interested in the zoo or animals escaping. Somehow, I became the glue that held the conversation together by asking questions and giving an account of a few experiences I had in Italy or at the zoo. We had a fairly enjoyable evening.

Another night this week I went to my local brew pub. This is something of a regular Tuesday night event with me and a friend spending a couple hours mostly talking about music or our past careers…we are both retired but had very different jobs. I was a little late this week but when I got there my friend was engaged in a conversation with another patron, I’ll call him Al, who we see from time to time at the brew pub. Al is a force of nature as far as conversation goes. He has the broadest range of interests and is fairly knowledgeable  on all sorts of topics. He is a retired mechanical engineer. He can talk for hours but he has a special skill in drawing others into the conversation. You can’t sit on the sidelines. I knew when I walked in it was going to be a wild ride.

The topic, when I arrived, was the various pros and cons of brewery and brew pub business plans. This morphed  into how the craft brewing industry seemed to be falling into several different categories and how some were “selling out” to big brewing conglomerates while others were intentionally staying small and flying under the radar.

Before we were finished that evening the topics went from the initial subject to the Theory of Relativity, E = mc 2, and string theory; laser technology in several forms; Machu Picchu and the Nazca Lines; the future of Chinese economics and consumerism; my home brewing prowess and home brewing in general;  gravity and mag-lev technology; migratory bird perception and sensing of the earth’s magnetic field; variations of time on different planets and in space travel in general; the Doppler Effect and the properties of sound under different atmospheric conditions; and a half dozen other topics I don’t even recall now. Granted that this was a brew pub but we were so engaged in conversation that not a great deal of beer was consumed. This was about a three hour conversation and we were exhausted when Al left but energized at the same time. He has a way of stretching your engagement and keeping your interest. My friend and I have had these types of conversations with Al a few times before and sometimes we try to go off on a parallel or tangent topic and he will go along for a minute or two but then circles back to the course that we were on.  I haven’t had conversations like this since graduate school and only a few back then came close or equaled our discussion that night.

quote1I have had similar long conversations with fellow passengers on Amtrak travelling cross-country although the topics usually were not so wide ranging. Actual face-to-face prolonged conversation is invigorating. There are some topics that can get people enflamed and angry but over these two recent evenings and about five hours of talk we never touched on politics or religion or immigration or anything that normally gets people enraged.  I will go to a popular chat forum about once a day and just look at the topics and some of the comments. People are very willing to stick their thumb in your eye in a verbal sense on these forums. Civility is the first victim in many of these forum conversations because the parties are anonymous and feel they can say anything and not suffer the consequences. In real live conversations that isn’t the case and people measure and filter their words and their topics seem to keep some civility if not cordiality.

Social interaction doesn’t have to be prolonged or deep. Two people talking about the weather at a bus stop could turn out to be the bright spot of your day. I have become somewhat chatty over the last few years and people will usually be happy to talk. I can recall only one occasion in the last year where someone refused to be at least cordial and respond to a simple verbal encounter.

So, your assignment is to go out there and talk to strangers or engage your friends in a substantial conversation. Report back on how it went.

Driving Miss Mary [Colter]– Part Two

Brick and Stone: Architecture and Preservation

PART TWO — On to Grand Canyon

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I was enjoying Flagstaff and especially the local brewpubs. I wasn’t thinking about architecture or Mary Colter. As a home brewer I’m always interested in what the local craft brewing scene has to offer….but that’s a different blog altogether…now, back on topic.

I left Flagstaff for a two-day excursion up to Grand Canyon National Park. I’ve been there a few times but never in the winter. I decided to follow a route my dad drove some 40+ years ago the first time I was there. My dad always thought that if you couldn’t see something from the car window it wasn’t worth seeing. He liked the comfort and control of sitting in the driver’s seat and he was the only driver. I’m not joking when I say we did a driving tour of Williamsburg…where cars are not allowed.  There were there were all sorts…

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Driving Miss Mary [Colter]— Part One

Brick and Stone: Architecture and Preservation

Not being otherwise occupied, I have fallen into the habit of taking a week or ten days in the winter and going on a road trip. This is usually between Thanksgiving and Christmas so I guess this is actually late fall but it usually feels like winter. This year I decided to take a week or so and go to Flagstaff, Arizona, making stops along the way or side trips that present themselves. Road trips in the winter are sometimes an adventure, depending on the weather. If conditions turn bad and I run headlong into a blizzard I might find myself spending the day in a truck stop with fifty or sixty truck drivers, a stranded Baptist Church choir or a busload of Chinese tourists. The possibilities are endless. The weather seemed reasonable on this trip…seasonal but not too bad. There was a chance of snow but temperatures were up into the 30s…

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In Praise of Old Hotels — Gallup, NM

Posted on Brick and Stone —

Brick and Stone: Architecture and Preservation

El Rancho Hotel – Gallup, NM

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During my late December trip to Flagstaff I was looking forward to stopping at the El Rancho Hotel in Gallup, New Mexico, on the way home. I had heard stories about the place. It was a “must see” according to people who had been there. My curiosity was caught up in the anticipation of a classic old hotel. On my way west I spent a night in the La Posada Hotel in Winslow, Arizona, and at Bright Angel Lodge at the Grand Canyon. Both of those places were part of the Harvey Hotel operation and were associated with the Santa Fe Railway.

The El Rancho and the La Posada were often inhabited by movie stars when they were working in the area shooting old western films. My expectations were influenced by my stay at the La Posada and at Bright Angel Lodge. That was unfair…

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E Pluribus Unum: What Would MLK Do?

e pluribus unimMartin Luther King, Jr. has been gone almost forty-eight years and there is no one quite like him today in America. There were some who stepped up over the years and spoke out but today we really don’t have anyone of his stature who can serve as a voice and conscience of America. I think he would have his hands full if he was alive today. We have many who will stand and spread an opposite message who simply do not know right from wrong.

It seems that a certain ugliness of spirit has overtaken us in recent years. Right now it is manifest in the political ranting of Donald Trump and a few others. Privileged voices speak out against those they wish to blame for imagined threats and petty grievances. Last year I recall Al Sharpton complaining about the skin pigment of Oscar nominees. The “Black Lives Matter” slogan ignites all sorts of debate and demagoguery on all sides. Trump and his kind think that if only we could deport the illegal aliens, block all Muslims from entering the country and threaten our real or imagined enemies with annihilation  we would be better off. The privileged class in America, whether economically privileged or racially privileged, feels threatened and those among them with the money or power to do so are manipulating the others with fear and unfounded rumors.

We frequently hear people complaining about “political correctness” and saying that they will have none of it. They are willing to insult and make crude comments about anyone or anything. It gives them a feeling of power to degrade someone else. Political correctness is nothing more than civility.

The deep-seated fear and anger that has taken root in the country seems different to me from what we once recognized as basic intolerance or racial bias. We have had that for centuries and God knows it has been a thorn in our side from the very beginning and has erupted in horrible and bloody ways. What we have now is something very mean-spirited and hard to define. There is a loss of civility and a willingness to embrace hatred and even overt acts of violence.  We have seen people murdered in churches, mosques burned, attacks on Planned Parenthood clinics with people killed,  and now a ridiculous armed gang occupying a bird sanctuary.

We had that kind of violence in the 1960s during the Civil Rights Movement. People were killed and churches were bombed or burned. Peaceful protests were attacked by mobs and police dogs. Back then, much of the problem was institutionalized racial bias in the South and northern cities and elsewhere. There was something identifiable that was wrong that had to be fixed and people moved to fix it. Leaders like Martin Luther King were able to frame the discussion and move things toward a resolution.

Now we are hearing of all sorts of alleged and imagined evils that often do not exist or do not exist nearly at the level that would require the anger and hatred that we are seeing. There are popular voices that keep spreading this fear and building on the anger. They are doing this for a reason and are benefiting somehow by stirring up this hatred. President Obama is, of course, an easy target for several reasons and it comes with the job. There are many other targets and many outlandish claims being made. There are real problems and there are grievances but these false complaints and outlandish claims divert attention away from them.

I occasionally hear statements, accompanied by hand wringing, that white people will be the minority in the United States in just a few decades. I have news for you…white people are already the minority in many parts of the country and all is well.  Non-white people have the same values and life goals as white people. They want to work, have families, live in a decent home and have their kids live safe and healthy lives and get a good education. What is wrong with that? That is not a radical departure from what white people want…it is the same thing.

I recently drove across northern Arizona and scanned the radio for something to listen to. My car radio settled on a Christian station with a call-in talk show. In about four minutes of listening I learned that all “progressives” were friends and supporters of ISIS and supported terrorists; the Roman Catholic hierarchy was so old and feeble that they didn’t recognize that the younger priests were communists and were recruiting communists to fill the seminaries; Methodists in particular and other protestant churches were also riddled with communists; and the Jesuits are all communist agents. This  all was broadcast out for public consumption before the call-in portion of the show started — just to set the tone. This was the insane agenda of the commentator in charge of the radio show. You have to wonder where this person got these ideas, where he came from, who is paying for this program to be aired and how did it get on a Christian radio station. Some people will hear these outlandish statements and believe they are true. I have a retired friend who was an educator and has a masters degree. She became so convinced that the Census Bureau was a secret arm of ACORN that she refused to participate in the 2010 census. When a census taker was sent out to her home she threatened him with violence and chased him off her property and then proceeded to brag about how she had taken a stand against Obama.

It is time to stop this foolishness. In March of 1865, while we were still engaged in a horrific civil war, Abraham Lincoln was faced with what he surely knew would be a reunified nation not at peace with itself but filled with hatred and a thirst for retaliation in an uneasy state of military enforced order. He offered these words in his Second Inaugural Address:

“With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.”

Let us move forward together into the unknown because we are able to overcome. We have done so before. We are E Pluribus Unum. If anyone says otherwise, they are wrong.

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Quick View of Canyon de Chelly

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI’m posting this partly to cement my commitment to return to Canyon de Chelly on a better day when I have more time. I decided to visit almost spontaneously as I was driving home from Flagstaff. I already had motel reservations in Gallup and the drive from Flagstaff was so short that I would be there by 11 AM. What to do?  I already went through the Petrified Forest and Painted Desert — you can see that here . Sitting in a McDonalds in Winslow, I looked at a map and my watch and figured I could make it to Canyon de Chelly just for a quick visit and then go on to Gallup. I’ve never been to Canyon de Chelly.

One of my few complaints about family vacations as a kid was that my dad figured that if we couldn’t see something from the car window as we drove down the highway it wasn’t worth seeing. I’m just the opposite and I dilly-dally my way across country and purposely make advance motel reservations about four or five hours apart. As they say, we may never pass this way again.   But…here I was trying to squeeze in a side trip that deserved much more time.

So off I went.  It took a little longer than I anticipated to get there so that left me with maybe two hours to see what I could see and then get back on the road for Gallup. I stopped at the Visitor’s Center and got advice and a map. I would only have time for the south side of the canyon. The advice was to go all the way to Spider Rock and then work my way back.

I quickly learned that looks are very deceiving at Canyon de Chelly because you lose proportion and context a little. You don’t realize how high the canyon walls really are…and how far down it is to the canyon floor. This is especially true in my case just coming from a visit to the Grand Canyon.

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Spider Rock is over 700 feet tall from the floor of the canyon… and you are looking down on it. I was raised in St. Louis and learned to gauge tall things by the height of the Gateway Arch.  Spider rock is almost 100 feet taller than the Arch.

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The day was moving on and it looked like maybe we would see some snow. I headed back along the south rim road and stopped at s few spots.

 

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Ansel Adams photo – book cover

It was a cold day and I’m certain that I missed several places along the way. I finally reached White House Ruin overlook. If you are familiar with Ansel Adams you will probably recognize White House Ruin. You can easily find his photograph just about everywhere.  I’m guessing that this is now one of the most photographed spots in the west but it is hard to capture it. Adams was on the floor of the canyon looking up at the ruin. When you get there you expect it to be larger and almost expect to see it in black and white. There is no easy access to the canyon floor…and you usually need a guide or Navajo escort because this is a sacred place. Most people don’t climb down the long trail to the canyon floor to take a picture. It is a long way up again. So…the first challenge is that you are close to a mile away and the ruin is quite small.

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In Adams’ iconic photograph you only see the upper ruin in the rock shelter. There is another ruin on the canyon floor pressed against the rock wall that is as big or bigger than the sheltered one.  Adams found a vantage point that concealed the lower ruin so he could focus on the white ruin tucked into the rock shelter. I don’t know much about his method or equipment but he must have had plenty of time and patience. This was two generations before the birth of digital photography.

 

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My day was running out and I had to get on the road. I wasn’t quite sure of the route back to Gallup. I will come back here and spend more time.

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