Between the Waiting…

Life is what happens between the waiting. My dog has developed a bad habit. He watches the door. When someone leaves, he waits for them to come back. Most of the time they have gone out for the mail, to the car, or the garbage, and he is rewarded with their immediate return. This has happened often enough that he has been trained, so he waits. Sometimes for hours on end.

Time is such a complicated thing, worthy of a very long, possibly boring book. One of the longest boring chapters is probably the expectation of time. “Something is going to happen in the future, sometimes you are given a date, sometimes you are told to wait…” This is almost poetic!

News flash! Something is always happening. Between the expectations, something always occurs. We encapsulate an idea, make it important, then wait for the future important idea. The problem is that we would like to have blank space between the two ideas. Why is that?

Imagine if we had the ability to self-induce a coma. If we then had a toothache on Monday, and we were told that a root canal was planned on Wednesday, well… coma time! Extend that concept to having cancer, then treatment, then see the results in three months. Coma time?

The expectation of time… reminds me of the old joke, “Do you want to hear God laugh? Tell him your plans!” We are doomed at both ends. Either we make no plans between expected events, or we create elaborately detailed plans for something that may not ever occur. Okay, but what is worse? And by worse I’m thinking, what creates an unhealthy choice in living? Wow, such subjectivity! This is good, this is bad.

A conscious mind makes decisions. Decisions are based upon knowledge, values, and experiences. Sometimes these are connected, sometimes they are not. Having the ability to isolate events in time does not change time, time is a river, time flows. Shutting down between time events effectively removes you from the river. Don’t do that! You are not a dog!

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Heart Tales #3

An update from the heart attack… The word is wait. Not enough information. Apparently there are three things to consider.

1. The heart attack can damage the muscle. It would be nice to know how much is damaged. Better to force the heart to work overtime, and then measure the results. They call it a stress test. Better to stress out the heart after it has recovered. So, wait…

2. My right artery is huge. Most right arteries are larger. Mine is larger than large. The good news is that it will take a lot to close it back up again. They placed a wire stent to force it open but the body wants to cover the stent with tissue. The body will do that, but it can go wacky and keep covering the tissue with more tissue. It takes several months to know what is happening. So, wait…

3. Being in better shape, eating better, establishing a better lifestyle is always good. It took a long time of bad habits to get to the event. Controlling blood sugar, losing weight, reducing fat cells floating around, is all good. Developing good habits over time is better. So, wait…

If I had gone to the cardio hospital first, they probably would have done the triple by-pass, and I would have been recovered by now. Missed that by a couple of miles. I have been living a month to month existence for awhile, it looks like nothing is going to change. My focus will be to live a full life in between the waiting. That is a challenge, but doable.

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Follow the Leader

This may be the most basic of all childhood games. The rules are simple. Choose a leader, then do everything they do until a new leader is chosen. Leadership generally gets shared but creative, fun leadership sometimes trumps over boring a leader that brings boring activity.

I saw a Ted Talk recently, given by Lt. General Mark Hertling. It was an amazingly forward thinking talk, and it convinced me of two important things. It reminded me that I have had the privilege to know several military leaders that I would follow anywhere. And the second, is that some military leaders have the amazing ability to see a problem, and start to work on a solution long before anyone else is aware of the gravity.

Gen. Hertling has had a long a interesting career. The definition of a well rounded professional soldier can hardly find a better individual. Highly trained as a combat soldier, Hertling was promoted to a command for basic training.

I remember basic training. Eight weeks of grueling physical and mental training. I’m not sure the mental training was completed in time, but the physical training was well along the way.

I had already done a dozen or so extended hiking expeditions with a heavy pack as a civilian. The military training pushed that further than I have ever been. The spare tire that I was beginning to build disappeared pretty quickly. Morning PT before breakfast created an appetite, but that was burned off easily. We even had a twenty foot section of “monkey bars” to travel just in order to get to the mess hall door.

Imagine my surprise by hearing the general say that a huge majority of the initial new recruits failed to qualify physically, and were rejected. In the 70s we were mostly draftees and we still qualified. What was different?

Most of today’s physical rejection comes from new recruits being obese. Not just a couch potato, but a serious, video gaming, professional couch potato with no high school credits in PE.


Somehow, boards of education all across the country have made PE optional in the last years of high school, so many students have “opted” out. At the same time, “screen activity” has increased to five or six hours a day on the average. Not only has cable options increased by hundreds of channels, but the video industry has captured several generations of youth.

I might add, captured, and placed in concentration camps. Oh, the camps are comfortable, because it is their own bedrooms and living rooms. And they also come with all the sugar drinks and snacks that one can eat.

But, if an enemy wanted to weaken a country, they don’t have to place the population in camps, they just have to invent a new addicting video game. It helps if you also cancel all high school PE.

This was basically the point that the General was making. He worried that he could not fill his slots for future soldiers. Less than one percent of the population is in the military currently and he didn’t think that this was sustainable.

There is a real crisis facing us. Can we still follow the leader? Or are we too winded for even the one percent of us that is needed? Watch the TedTalk.

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I used to love backpacking. No, that’s not right, I still love backpacking, it’s just that I haven’t done it in awhile. Not only did I love backpacking, but in many ways it can be seen as my life parable.

A good friend of mine is parable driven, using the words of our Savior to open up new thoughts about God. We share that perspective.

As a parable we can break backpacking down to some basic components. 1) there is a destination. 2) there is a need to go there as a self-contained entity. 3) time is an important consideration.

Backpacking takes planning. One of the first books that I read about backpacking was “The Complete Walker” by Colin Fletcher. This was a marvelous book by an English author that should still be read today. Colin broke the subject down in a slightly different way. He said the first concern was the “foundation” of successful backpacking, and that was the shoe. One cannot expect to travel hundreds of miles over different terrain without considering the types of shoes on your feet..

I took his advice seriously because I had spent two years hitchhiking the Western states in beat-up sandals. I may have gotten excessive when I purchased three pairs of expensive but ugly Pivetta Eigers. I was struck by the authors insistence of only having holes for the laces. Many of the hiking boots sported the metal clips that used a speed lacing technique. Colin said, “when you are fifty miles from the closest civilization, holes in your boots do not break.”

Back to backpacking as a parable.

1). There is a destination. If you plan to disappear into the wilderness the first obligation is to tell people where you plan to go. The reason is obviously based upon the possibility of accidents. Posting a hiking plan is a smart move, in some cases a necessary action. The forest rangers need to know where, when, and how long people are wandering in the mountains.

More importantly, backpacking without a destination doesn’t exist. You will arrive someplace after miles of hiking, if you don’t… then it is because you never left. There is a common phrase, “If you have no destination, then any path will lead you there!” This is a well-meaning phrase, but not accurate. If you have no destination, you are not traveling. Better to say, “If you don’t know where you are going, then any path will get you there.” This is an important difference.

Choosing a destination is often based upon the expectation of seeing or experiencing something specific when you arrive. It can often be a set trail for (XX) amount of days which may give dozens of difference experiences.

2 The choice in travel is to attempt self-sufficiency. This is not perfectly planned, there all always extenuating circumstances. Basically, this is not a day-hike where snacks are at the next store, and a place to sleep is prepared by using a plastic card to rent a motel room. You carry all the snacks you plan to eat, you carry your shelter and sleeping gear, and you carry all the water and food that you might consume.

One of the more interesting decisions is exactly how much food and water can you carry? Obviously you would eventually need to be resupplied. Unless there is a local grocery store in the mountains, you are restricted by how much food you have, the possibility of hunting and gathering is based upon skill and locale. A few wild mushrooms and herbs are a great find. And fresh stream bred fish can make a great breakfast. While I carry some line and hooks, I have used them three times in my 12,000 hours of backpacking.

Studies have shown the people may live as long as forty days without food, so long as there is still water. This could lead the backpacker to shift the balance by carrying more water. As important as water is, the general plan is to make use of local water sources. With proper filtration, even the muddy ditch can provide all the water needed for several meals, so I never carried much more than a quart. Of course all that changed when hiking terrain that was low on water.

Water was mostly foraged from running streams encountered while hiking. This is not true for the solid food of the meal. Aside from the rare fish, all food is carried in. In order to carry more, with increased nutritional value, some foods can be “freeze dried”, reducing the weight. Some companies have spent millions in order to have tasty, light weight prepared meals for hikers. I have made use of all of them, including raw brown rice and oatmeal. A tasty meal at ten thousand feet is a treat.

After boots, food/water there is a concern for shelter. A good, warm sleeping bag is the difference between joy and misery. I have spent much time and research in this area, and I have designed and sewn at least four artic-level sleeping bags. The most used project that I’ve ever created.

Several pounds of supplies fill out the remaining self-sufficiency needs. Maps, compass, first aid, optics, cords, safety rope, belt knife, etc are just some of the extras needed.

The lie, of course, is that I was now self-sufficient. What is true is that I might be able to delay my need to go shopping for a few days.

What strikes me now is, what made me gravitate to this activity? It’s possible it was extending into my adult-life the wonderful experiences of camping with my parents.

Perhaps it meshed with my ability to be alone with some satisfaction. Certainly I felt tested by the challenge of preparation. Maybe, I was also attracted to the visual delights of the wilderness.

Another truth is that many aphorisms created by hiking became important in a lifetime of choices.

“If you don’t have a plan for your life, someone else will step in to give you one, and you will be walking a path different from your own.”

“Spend a certain amount of time turning around on the trail and looking back. You may need to know what it looks like in order to get home.”

“Conserve your fuel until you need it. Drink your water often. Better to carry water on the inside, than in your pack.”

“Do not become ‘trail hypnotized’, look up and around, not only for enjoyment, but also to see where you are.”

“Make adjustment to the trail you are walking. Errors and poor choices can occur, correcting them early saves time and energy.”

“Walk lightly, don’t leave your garbage behind.”

I have made a quick estimate of my time commitment to backpacking. I have over 500 days and 12,000 hours clocked so far. I am ready for more.

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Heart Tales, No. 2

What do we know of the heart? We know it is achy/breaky at times. Sometimes it trembles. It is also strong and brave. The very word courage comes from the French root “cour”, meaning heart.

Apparently the heart thinks about things, or at least forms opinions. Like the stomach or intestines, we tend to rely upon the feedback. Although the heart appears to specialize in matters of emotions.

Proof of this comes around every February with millions of representations of hearts (sometimes with Cupid’s arrow) in cards, posters, and advertising. We seem to be good with this. I’m trying to visualize the same advertising with images of a brain pierced by a arrow, because we have used logic to choose a significant other. Not a pretty image.

The heart is a muscle, although in regards to being human it is rarely consumed. In general, the organs are classified as sweetbreads when consumed. It is a mystery concerning the root source of words. There has been several depictions of taking a bite of a human heart, and it is all wrapped up in the myth of the transference of power, bravery, and courage. Apparently in these cases it must be fresh and uncooked.

There are several dozen recipes on the net for beef heart. Much attention is applied to trimming anything “chewy”, even more to adding spices and different marinades. Apparently, to some folks, there is a slight metallic aftertaste, perhaps iron.

In general the whole area of consuming “sweetbreads” can be summed up by using the other categorical word “offal”. Yep, eating offal is awful.

Back to the heart as a muscle. We need to exercise this “muscle pump”, just like any other muscle. We need to push just a little past comfort if we are to gain strength.

My job for the next few weeks is to push, pause, reflect and listen to what my heart is telling me. The information I want is that my heart is healing. It wants to tell me, “Love is a many splendored thing…”

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Heart Tales, No. 1

It’s been a day since I spoke with the doctor who placed the stent in my right artery. I wasn’t allowed to see him, but I could talk with him.

It turns out that I went to the closest medical facility, instead of going to a hospital that was in my network according to my HMO plan. I am not an expert in medical insurance, and it is clear to me now that I will never be an expert. It’s obvious that people will be mostly ignorant until one uses the system by choice, or by emergency.

My medical plan is excellent, if it is an emergency then you are covered anywhere in the world. If it is not an emergency then you had better go to services in your network. Additionally, I got old and I’m covered by Medicare, that adds another huge level of complexity.

I used to think I was competent, well read, well educated… that may be, but it does not give you any understanding of how to weave through medical issues in today’s culture.

I am finished with the emergency, so now my coverage is different. The follow up appointment with the doctor who attended me is not in my network, so I can’t see him. I went to the appointment anyway, but I was denied at the reception desk.

I explained that I was also under Medicare, they don’t take Medicare. I asked if I could pay out of pocket. They said Medicare won’t allow it.

Just a little bit of Catch 22. The doctor recognized this and stepped out into the lobby to speak to me, he ended up saying exactly what he would have said in his office.

The long and the short of it is that I need to go back to the hospital at the end of the month for open heart surgery. They will cut and crack my chest, pluck out an artery from my leg, then stitch in a replacement for at least the arteries that are clogged.

I knew this from the beginning, but I had somehow convinced myself that I was better, and nothing more was necessary. Hah!

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Living life effectively is all about balance. Similar to a bicycle on a narrow path, you want to steer away from the edges, you can’t just arbitrarily jerk the handlebars away from the danger, you have to have balance, in addition to control. Transitions need to be smooth, slow and sure.

Balance is the artful way to live. Balance feels comfortable and secure. Balance is having the ability to see the path ahead and to make only slight adjustments in order to stay on track. Balance is the ability to stop, and not immediately tip over.

Balance is delicate, once obtained you can hold it forever, but the slightest shift can bring disaster. Balance is fair, ideas and actions are weighed and treated equally.

Balance is something learned, sometimes it comes quickly, sometimes it takes years.

My thoughts after this heart attack have mostly been about excess, balance, and the opposite of excess. It can be said that an excess of fats in my diet has led to the heart attack. Probably true, possibly if I had a better balanced diet, I could have kept my arteries healthier. Let’s say that every other meal has taste, then followed by a meal with ruffage for your heart. That would be balanced!

Instead, I am faced with trying to balance after I’ve already fallen off. Okay. I can do this. I’ve eaten well for 69 years, time to chew cud for awhile.

The same goes for exercise, sleep/rest. The formula is to careful build habits that does not fall victim to excess. The old “too much of a good thing is not a good thing”. The interesting thing about balance is that neither the good, nor the bad habits are to be prominent.

Is it true? Is it a good thing to completely remove bad habits? If we have the Ying and the Yang, does removing one of them create the sound of one hand clapping?

For the sake of effective applause, we should eat fatty cheese cake with our kale.

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Tests of Mortality

We are immortal, we are not immortal. No truer thing can ever be said. It seems at first impossible, two statements that are completely opposite. It is all contingent upon the word “we”.

“We”, generally refers to our physical bodies, an ever changing pile of flesh and bone. It is said that at least every seven years it is completely different, all cells have been replaced by… “replacements.” Therein lies the problem, the replacements are not necessarily “first string.” In other words, the replacements are like the players in a late quarter football game, when the score has already determined the game.

So, here I am, with several generations of “second string” replacement cells, trying to win, or at least, tie the game. No wonder I am not immortal.

More importantly, one can define “we” as the immortal spirit, created by God, completely incorruptible and destined for eternity. I am so convinced by this that I have no concerns and no worries. However, I don’t completely live there. I know it, but I am drawn back to the dilemma of my “second string” replacement cells.

I suppose it starts with stewardship. The immortal “we” is given custody of the mortal “we”. We are to care for the body, feed it, keep it safe, and to instruct it in the best way that we can in the Plan that has been created for us all.

How are we doing in that?

Lately I have been reviewing some events in my life where I haven’t been the best steward of my mortal presence. In others words, my life should have ended, like some Darwinian consequence, but instead, I have lived on.

This is certainly not a complete list, but here are some highlights…

1. At the age of eight I was fascinated with matches. Book matches, kitchen matches, long fireplace matches. I loved them all! Not that I loved the fire they created, it was the magic of combustion that fascinated me. Anyway, because of television or movies, I spent one afternoon trying to toss a lit match into the gas pipe of my father’s 1958 Chevy, two-toned, Bel Air, station wagon. I was obviously unsuccessful.

2. At 13, a couple of my friends and I discovered that the local pharmacy was willing to sell the ingredients that combine to make gunpowder. Against all odds, we did not blow our selves up. However, we did make a deadly “grenade” out of a used CO2 filled with ground sparkler dust made from hammering the common July4th firework. The galvanized garbage can that we tested it in was never the same.

3. At nineteen there was a “shooting” accident involving a Western gunslinger holster and a Ruger .22, single action revolver. The end result was a clumsy fast draw, and a bullet in my leg that still remains. While this is not life threatening, I was also shooting my father’s .357 magnum. That revolver would have penetrated my leg, shattered my thigh bone, severed my femoral artery, penetrated my other leg, breaking that bone and destroying that femoral artery. It would have been less than a minute to bleed out.

4. Of course, then there were several years hitchhiking the Western States. Not a particularly safe activity.

5. During this hitch hiking era there was a time that my friend and I took a day hike towards the middle Teton of the Grand Tetons. Some four hours later we were 3/4s of the way up the mountain, following a crevasse. We were hiking with no ropes, no safety gear, and I was wearing sandals. That should have not ended well.

6. And then there was the military. Too many incidents to mention.

7. At the age of 27 I finally experienced an event that was not my fault. A construction pickup truck broke free of it’s brakes, rolled down the hill, smashed through the barricade, then landed about a foot in front of me on the road below the barricade. The truck came down like some Acme safe in a Roadrunner/WileyCoyote cartoon. And there was all the redwood 8x8s that we’re flying through the air. Not a scratch on me, although it led to the ending of my marriage. Another story.

8. At 30 I was backpacking in the Sierras when I came upon a small stream to cross. It was a familiar trail to me, and I usually just boulder hop across. This time it was too early in the season and it was a raging torrent, three or four times the normal width. Instead of heading upriver to look for a better crossing, I simply forged ahead. Unfortunately my wife was along, and I endangered both of us with my actions. I crossed several times, carrying our backpacks, then roped my wife to my back while I crabbed sideways across the white water that was sometimes up to my neck. Nearly a case of hypothermia. It ended up being a great week in the mountains.

I just have to stop now. I’m suffering from PTSD.

Let’s just say that I have an obligation to be a better steward in the last half of my life. The first half was a disaster.

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Dung Beetle

We are who we are, and sometimes, we get to be who we aspire to be.

I had this random thought this morning. I’m not sure what was the cause or context.

I am home now, from the skilled nursing facility. I am no longer poked and prodded by nurses and CNAs. I poke and prod myself now. I prick my finger to test my blood sugar, I organize my medications for twice a day intake. I’ve counted the pills, some twice a day, some once a day. I take eleven pills!

Good grief!

I don’t use a walker, I can climb stairs slowly, I sit out in the backyard and enjoy the sunshine. It is all good!

Mostly I’m surrounded by family, and I can’t express how wonderful that feels! Much has been done at the home to make accommodations. A bed has been installed in the office so that I’m not isolated downstairs, and can easily slip in for a quick nap.

The big change was driving home into the garage! Actually room in the garage for a car! This way I take a short cut through the laundry room to take the stairs to the living area. It’s a real blessing.

It’s strange, because, while some things are different, most things are the same. I move through the house almost like a stranger. I wonder why that stack of books is on that shelf? There is a collection of random items in a bowl. Why hasn’t someone put that camera away? Wait, that would have to be me? The evidence of my eclectic sloth is overwhelming.

I recently gave an analogy combining the Myth of Sisyphus and the African Dung Beetle. The Dung Beetle moves about in his environment carefully rolling an ever increasing ball of crap. It’s very important to the Dung Beetle, so he tends the ball of crap and keeps it nicely organized. It that regard I am not like the African Dung Beetle.

And, like the Myth of Sisyphus, there is a hill to climb, and the ball must go before you, pushing, wedging, making sure the ground is gained. The trouble is, that it all comes crashing to a halt.

At some point, all the crap in your life breaks away and rolls to the bottom of the hill. The truth is revealed concerning the relative importance, and I am freed from the unending burden of pushing my crap in front of me.

Yet, I am now back from the hospital, back from the reality of what is life and death… I see all the little piles of crap all over, and I am oddly comforted. I don’t quite have the strength, but I am working hard to collect the little piles in order to push them ahead of me. Life goes on.

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My People

I am in a skilled nursing facility, recovering from a heart attack. Actually. I’m recovering a stent procedure given to stop the heart attack.

I don’t believe there was going to be a recovery, it was a major failure and quite scary. In either case, I only had a few days in the ICU, the rest of the time, before going home, is to be spent in a skilled nursing facility.

You could say nursing home. Probably because it is filled with nurses, and people from homes, who can’t get the care needed at home.

It is often viewed as a last place to go in order to die. Actually, there are hospice care facilities for that, but the tradition is long. This place is filled with people waiting, but not always waiting to be well.

It is not the Bedlam of Old London, but in the quiet of the night you can hear the plaintive calling out for attention, “Hello, hello?” There are bedside manual alerts, but when your need is great, there is no confidence that they are working.

I still have my usual sleeping habits, I nap, and I’m up at all hours of the night. Sometimes I peek out my door into the hallway to witness the late night environment.

There is the grey haired elderly woman, who is nearly mute, who pushes her wheel chair with one foot, while grabbing the wall rail to pull herself along. It is one in the morning and she has been doing this all day, recording a marathon of hallway journeys. Will this help to release her to her home?

There are more than a few nearly catatonic patients, victims of strokes, that are brought out into the public areas, hoping to create stimulation and response. They sit quietly, but they do not track the busy movement of patients or nurses.

I am one of the lucky ones, I am free from pain, I have very little demands, and I am clearly recovering. Still, I witness the group of people that I belong to, and I have great empathy.

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Gen Pop

I’ve grown up, I found a room in the regular hospital. They said it could come quickly, and it did, almost between bites of dinner.

The ICU was completely comfortably and very roomy. It was a little noisy and at times it was dramatic. Very dramatic. People die in ICUs. What was also true was that the staff was extremely dedicated. The doctors, the nurses . the hospital crew,were all professional and caring.

What happened next was being shifted to gen-pop, with a slight heart tinged after taste. Physical therapy could still find me but there were other issues. The one individual next to me was an escape artist. “Where are you going now?. Please get back in bed, and where did you find those cigarettes. You can’t have cigarettes in here!”

This is when the action folks descended upon me. Physical therapy, dietitians. Diabetics for life. Take your pick, take them all. My future is all “up in the action” folks.

Only, I can’t get a Bi-pap apnea machine because, although have been diagnosed with apnea, I have not been a part of a clinical study. I have to come back, get some sleep in his lab, then I get a bi-PAP Machine.

Mean time. I should be transferred to a nursing care facility to focus on the work of physical therapy.

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The Quiet Hours

It a strange time in hospitals, between 4:30 and 6:30 am. Mostly it’s sleeping, except there are several dozen individuals softly shuffling from room to room with their little baskets of vials, needles and tape. The blood collectors.

Some have taken on the characteristics of the Vampire Bat. No, not a scary, hairy thing with wings. The Vampire Bat slowly crawls up to you, nips the flesh between the toes and gently licks the blood flow. You never know they are there.

I know they are there. I can feel their soft hands gently uncurling my fingers. I can feel the faint prick of the needle, as vial after vial of blood is drawn from my body.

It’s a little game we play, they try not to wake me up, and I pretend that they succeeded.

It’s been a few days, I’m still in ICU. I might get a room today. I might be sent home. Someone is talking, someone is making the argument, but it’s not me, or the doctors that I’m talking to. That’s fine, lives are in the balance, the sick must be healed. I just wanted to know where to lay my head.

In hospital standards, I’m proven. I have given many gifts of urine, and I have successfully done Number Two. What more could they want from me?

Apparently I have to prove that I can shuffle the hallways, string together a series of short walks with my gown flapping in the breeze. Okay, sounds fair, but what about the other blockages? More stents? Or what?

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Life goes on

If you blog, you write what your experience. Sometimes you write what you think you’ve experienced. I’m always unclear about that little difference.

I’m currently lying in a hospital bed. I have nurses that are thrilled with my gifts of urine. I have other nurses that comment how much better I’m doing because I helped in the process of rolling to one side.

I’ve been poked, prodded, bled, squeezed, bundled, schelped, scanned, x-rayed, charted, and noted upon. I have generated reams if paper and tons of data. I am deep with the healthcare system. I like it.

I lie here in my hospital bed, being squeezed by my blood pressure cuff every fifteen minutes. I have calf wrappings that gently hug my lower legs rhythmically, first the left, then the right. I have breathing treatments that have a cool misty fog that reminds me of past mornings on the north coast. It’s wonderful.

And all I had to do to get here was to have a heart attack.

I’m afraid it’s going to be a boring few weeks while I relate my current experiences. Perhaps the imagined experiences will have some entertainment values. We will see!

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What You Don’t Know

Days and nights are getting a little out of control. I think I’ve been in the hospital a few days. Hmm, since Saturday? Apparently I pushed myself a little too far while tearing out a deck. I thought I had developed a muscle pull between the shoulder blades. Well, it seemed reasonable, I was really very tired. I tried resting, reclining in my car. It didn’t work. I tried laying down, it was like laying down on a golf ball, I could get comfortable, but I still wasn’t recovering. I wanted to drive home. Maybe I was dehydrated.

I’ve never been dehydrated, I had the sweats, that doesn’t sound like dehydrated. I’ve never had low blood sugar, maybe that’s it. I have some emergency stuff in the car, but what if it is actually super high sugar. I haven’t had any of these things so I couldn’t tell what what was going on by experience.

I also hadn’t had a heart attack. Apparently a golf ball between the shoulder blades is the warning I get. Not that it stayed like that. Good grief no!

Soon after I was admitted to triage, I started getting crackling sounds while breathing. My lungs were filling with fluid. Not good, I can’t get air where need so technically I’m drowning. I’m supposed to relax, be beatific, calm… nope, I’m fighting for my life, I’ve got both bed rails in a death grip (hey, that’s where that comes from) and my feet are pushing through the end of the bed. I had this brief vision of an old western hanging, while the cattle rustler was gasping for breathe.

I just couldn’t inhale deep enough, so the visual was more like a rapid panting while I said “I think this is it”. My daughter and wife didn’t agreed, which was fine from their perspective. I wasn’t so sure. My daughter had just had a baby so perhaps I should treat it like pushing. Every breath I pushed air in, one after the other. I could tell it was up to me because the doctor was standing there with his hands in his pockets. He didn’t have some magic drug or instrument. I had to do it. Eventually I passed out.

I woke up with a tube in my arm The wire was carrying a balloon and a shunt. The offending artery was patched, heart attack over. The bad news is that I have two or three others that are clogged or completely closed. I’ve got to come back to take care of them. Probably open heart surgery.

I can’t seem to get out of ICU because my diabetes is way off the mark, and I’m still short of breath, so I have a mask that shoves air into my face. Oh well….

So now I know A few things more than I did. I’m still pondering the care and love that has been expressed to me. I thought I might be will to go peacefully, not true, I’m fighting hard for every inch. Apparently it shows, because nurses are always offering morphine.

It looks like a long path to recovery.

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Life and Death

There are two states that are guaranteed for all, you are either one, or the other. Further more, all who are alive will eventually he dead, that’s a sobbering thought. Its not a blog I generally like to write about, too depressing, too final. And yet I have mentioned that I’m closer to the end than the beginning. I just had a birthday and you can’t deny that 69 is old! Not decrepit, but pretty dam old.

Well, this year a plot was added to the birthday four days later. On June 16, 2018 I had my first heart attack. It should have been my third or fourth but my body kept adjusting. The valves are closing, well, build another one to bi-pass it. Adjust!

But on that day it had had enough. The right closed-up, the left took it’s lead and shut down. The central had been plugged for almost ten years and tried to muscle through. It didn’t work, blood flow slowed to a minimum and the surviving muscle sent out pain signals.

I had been tearing out a rotting deck, I thought I was tired, with a muscle pull between my shoulders. That rationale lasted about twenty minutes. When I finally called for help, wiser heads prevailed, and I was taken to emergency. Little did I realiize how crucial the timing was.

The long and the short was that three pathways were clogged. One received an emergency stent. Heart attack stopped. One can’t be stinted, so in a month it will be open heart surgery.

I’m still processing what I experienced in the ICU, and the thoughts of the future. For now. I am still alive.

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It’s true, I love photography. I’ve been blessed to help teach hundreds of students to be more successful at creating images. I say “help” because way more than half the instruction is students teaching themselves and other students, by practice in the field or studio.

i also love words. I’ve been noting the many important concepts in photography that use words that have a double meaning. There is the photographic context, and then there is a very important communication or thinking context.

1. Contrast: all photos must have contrast. A snowball on a snow field. Where is it? In life we need the same contrast for clear thinking. We need to isolate ideas to find their edges. Defining edges gives the shape of an idea.

2. Perspective: not all photos demand perspective, but when it naturally occurs it is a powerful element to emphasize. We also need perspective in our daily decision making. We need to have a mental space where we can stand to see more clearly, to make decisions more accurately. A fresh perspective often gives a new lease on the life of an idea.

3. Framing: the true lie of photography is that we choose the right focal length in order to put a frame on a photograph. Generally there are no frames in nature, and unless you suffered from tunnel vision, you do not see things with a frame. A frame captures an area that the photographer wants you to explore. When we frame arguments or discussions, we set the limits of ideas in order to come to a conclusion. Sometimes we manipulate the situation in such a way that the frame gives no choice in the decision.

4. Focus: an “out of focus” photograph is a contrast blob. No detail, no fine lines to form edges. Lack of focus in thinking has the same effect. Bokeh is the Japanese word for the quality of the unfocused area. The unfocused area of our lives does not generally have quality, unless we are Zen masters. Focus allows us to follow a lineal path to a conclusion. The more focus, the shorter time on the path.

5. Depth of field, or depth of focus: choosing the right f-stop can isolate a subject in order to direct the viewers eye to that subject. Otherwise the viewer may never see the reason for the photo. Using the depth of your focus in thinking helps not only to clarify an idea, but it also isolates it from the random, and incessant noise, that distracts your thinking.

6. F-stop: controls the amount of light that will give the image it’s shape and form. Sometimes the trouble in life is that we have too much. Too much experience, too much distraction, too many “shiny objects”. We need to develop a mental iris that will constrict the amount of ideas at times. And then, when appropriate, we need to open up, let more light in, and think out of the box.

7. Time: the amount of time for exposure must be controlled. Not enough time and nothing develops. Too much time and everything is burned out. True for photography, true for life

8. Sensitivity: our image capturing must be adjusted for sensitivity, a slow ISO to record rich colors and detail. Fast ISO to penetrate low light and darkness. In life we also need to monitor sensitivity. If we don’t we can create chaos in our thinking and in our communication.

Possibly there are other connections, other double word meanings, but these eight have kept me entertained for years. Other suggestions?

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Roofing Rant

“Home is where the heart lies”, said to be a quote by Edmund Coke from the early 19th century. I take it to mean that emotion helps to define home, not architecture.

And at various times in my life the roof of my home has been canvas, ripstop nylon, and wood shingles. For the last 24 years it has been composite asphalt tile.

I once read a book with a whole chapter dedicated to “roofience”. Why a roof? What is a roof? What can be expected from the concept of “roof”?

I am old, but not at the end of my life. My roof is old, and it is at the end of its life. Thank you, roof! You have mostly kept me dry and comfortable. Now, I need to replace you.

This would have seemed to be a simple process. Call a few roofers, get a few bids, don’t lowball- but go for good quality from a good company. I had no idea what I was about to unleash.

The first issue is to maneuver through the meaning of words. There are guarantees, materials are guaranteed from the manufacturer. Workmanship is guaranteed by the company. They are not the same time frame.

It used to be tarpaper, then tiles nailed on. Now it’s underlayment, flashing, architectural composite tiles with fungus control, and roof venting system. It takes a full afternoon to understand the terminology.

At the end the day you just want to know that you will be dry and how much will that cost? The answer is… “It depends!”

Do you want a company that will guarantee a quality installation for ten years? Materials for twenty-five years? Fifty years? Hey, I don’t want any mistakes in the first place. What kind of hellish reality would it be to have bad installation, repeated by a never ending guaranteed fix? Does anything last fifty years on in the weather? How do I know that?

Just know what you are doing, use good materials and do it right.

Do you want “Johnny on the Truck” roofing that will take $1000 down and half the contract on the first day of installation, and then disappear, never to be seen again? Hey, is that a thing? Does that happen a lot? Isn’t there a contractor’s license at risk?

Are sure your roofer has a contractor’s license?

What? I need to hire someone to vet my roofers? I’m sensing that something has been lost.

I long for the day when a contract was a handshake and a fair wage asked for a fair day’s work. I live in a zip code where bids are 30% higher because the homes have higher value. A shingle is still just a shingle.

Terminology has been used to terrify, not to inform. This product is guaranteed for fifty years, but this inferior product is only guaranteed for twenty five years. The question I have is, “Has anyone gotten a free roof because the roof shingle fell apart five years short to the guarantee? Has any modern roof been replaced free because of material defects?

I have not been a good homeowner. I have not kept up with the proper maintenance. My brother tells me that it is almost a full time job, because once one project is done, there is another where time has run out. It’s like the Golden Gate Bridge in a constant state of repainting.

Perhaps that is true. At this time in my life I’m trying to simplify. Just pay someone else to do it, and take a nap.

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A Little Sharps Work

Summertime filing, sanding, and polishing.

Braided wire wrapped over leather, solid grip in wet circumstances.

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We have all heard that the secret to life’s success is to do a lot of multitasking. Meaning, I suppose, that whatever you are doing, learn to do two or three things simultaneously, in order to get ahead and be successful. It doesn’t matter that there are studies that show that humans can’t multitask, and never have.

Certainly we can see and hear at the same time, and we can walk and breathe at the same time. But it doesn’t mean that we can process two different sets of data in order to create action. What we are very good at is “fast switching”.

I didn’t say that we can walk and chew gum at the same time, but we can, because both walking and chewing have certain aspects of “automatic mode” in terms of thinking. A drummer can beat out a rhythm with her left hand while steadily beating another rhythm with the right, but they are in automatic mode with thought controlling only the beginning and the end.

The classic teenage response is that “I can listen to music and study at the same thine.” This is only true if one action becomes automatic with no thought behind it. If the music becomes “background noise”, then perhaps study can occur. But if a lyric catches your ear, then suddenly you are pulled out of your text or essay, and you are listening and not studying.

I don’t know if any study of schizophrenia shows the ability to multitask, but at least the theory that it takes two minds to have two thoughts simultaneously is correct.

So, how fast is our “switching” ability? How many eggs can we juggle before the entire cartoon is destroyed?

Well, it depends. Most nerve signals travel at roughly .3 seconds from brain to extreme limb. However, most can blink an eye in .1 of a second. That’s three times faster, (however, brain and eye are considerably closer together). We are now only talking about the signal to move, not the assessment and calculations that are necessary to consider the action. All that takes additional time.

My wife and I enjoy playing cards together, generally with another couple. I should say that the enjoyment is not equally and consistently shared. It has evolved from playing games of clever strategy, with bidding, or calculating odds- to games of action and stress, as the situation is fast paced and in constant flux.

One particular game requires that you play a solitaire situation in front of you, turning three cards from the deck in order to see what can be played. That can be stressful if there is a time element in order to beat the other players. They have their own decks and their own game of solitaire. Add to that stress by playing the aces on piles in front of you along with all the other players, collectively.

I have my solitaire game in front of me but the aces piles are constantly changing. If I concentrate on my hand, looking to play cards, I am aware of the cards I need, except on the ace pike everyone else is playing and what is needed is in flux.

My neurons are firing, but often they are firing on old information. I’m looking for a two of clubs and the pile is now at the seven of clubs.

The hand must be faster, but the data behind the movement has to be even faster, and keep track of the changes.

What is curious to me is that often my wife is holding a card in her playing hand, waiting for me to recognize that I have a play, then tenths of a second after I play she puts hers down. Spooky! How does she know what I am going to play before I even turn my cards?

I can understand how someone is faster. Both are ready, the shot is fired and one person crosses the line first. But she crosses the finish line before I can tie my track shoes.

I used to play racquetball. When I played younger faster players I would win only if I played smarter. But what I f they are faster, smarter, and have psychic powers?

Multitasking? Apparently I can chew gum and walk. But I cannot rotate through a deck of cards three at a time, play solitaire, and watch as everyone keeps playing in the ace piles.

We call the game “Squeal”, maybe because of the joy of winning, maybe because of the sound of my losing.

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Some Unusual Art

I attended a jazz recital last night. Our music department generally has a performance to celebrate their student’s accomplishments. Our jazz quintet, “Jazzology”, was the featured performer. We also had a guest performer, Kallil Wilson, a great voice, with amazing runs.

Each of the performers had an opportunity to engage in some “scat” singing. Classic sound riffs, where the voice becomes an instrument that is played, as opposed to singing.

Ella Fitzgerald was famous for her scat performances, and helped to popularize the technique. As I listened last night I couldn’t help thinking about the connection between scat and sound poetry.

Both movements appeared in the early 1900s. Jazz came out of New Orleans and the southeast of the US. Sound poetry came from the cafes and cabarets in Europe frequented by the Dadaists. Dada had turned the art world upside down. The Salon controlled art world, was in turmoil, with art being defined by artists, and not professional critics.

It is said that Dada was named by randomly pointing a finger in the dictionary. Either that, or the first words of an infant.

In either case, Dada, broke the rules. Piet Mondrian graded the canvas, Marcel Duchamp “found art”, and declared it so!

In poetry, a German named Hugo Ball, wrote a poem in 1916, and declared it as part of a new genre of “sound poetry”. It was called “Karawane”. He performed it while wearing his “lobster suit”, certainly one of the first performance artists of the century.

If this is the first time you have heard of sound poetry, try thinking about the first time you experienced jazz with scat riffs.

What really helped me was Marie Osmond.

I can’t believe just wrote that, but there is a reason. She was a guest on some sort of variety television show that liked to prank famous people. A writer had thought that it would be funny to provide Marie with a poem to memorize with very little forewarning. A classic fear from any English lit class in high school. The additional fun was that straight-laced Marie, would be memorizing the classic Dada poem “Karawane”, words with no meaning.

The surprise was that Marie memorized in a few minutes, then delivered an amazing performance. The sound clip made it to the internet and has been one of most popular versions of Karawane. Later, she was asked to make another video to explain sound poetry and Hugo Ball. Click below

Jazz, Dada, Hugo Ball, and don’t even get me started on Duchamp. It’s been a full weekend already.

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More Murmurations

I have now spent several hours watching YouTube murmurations. I am enthralled! I desperately want to experience this first hand. I can remember once, while my family fished from the levee on the Sacramento River, early in the morning, a dense black river of starlings going east, flying just yards above the water.

It was continuous and it must have taken an hour with very few gaps in the cloud of feathers. They didn’t break and create spirals in the sky, they were directed and linear. They had some place to go!

The funny thing was that later in the afternoon they came back, just as dense, and just as directed. Black feathers blotting out the sky!

I remember reading stories about herds of bison that took days crossing a particular river. Then, a few short years, and mountains of bones later, they were mostly gone. Murdered almost as successfully as the dodo. Hmm, man can change the environment, and he has!

Back to murmurations, I just can’t imagine how signals are communicated so quickly, and accurately. “Wait, you want me to follow you? Where are we going? What do you mean it’s partly up to me?” It’s beyond human understanding.

An instantaneous collective thought, maybe the patterns are three dimensional thoughts, written above the fields, murmurations disappearing as thoughts fade. Someday perhaps our recordings of these patterns may be deciphered, and we will understand the language of the flocks. Will they say something profound? Or will it be “I’m cold and hungry!”

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Thought Murmurations

I just used the WordPress feature of tracking the access of my blog posts. It isn’t that time consuming, haha, hardly a dozen eyeballs a week find my posts. Notice I didn’t say read and comment!

Anyway, over the last few years I’ve noticed that one post usually gets several hits per month. I wrote about Abraham traveling West from Ur. I wondered about the possible story telling around the fire. He was part of the foreign ruling culture of Ur, and he was probably literate in Sumerian, so I researched what I could about Sumerian Proverbs, thinking that they might be entertaining, and appropriate campfire content.

And apparently a lot of others are interested as well. It is still the most popular post on my blog.

I started this blog about four years ago, partly in respond to my retirement. I say partly because it is unclear which motive kick started my action. While I did teach about blogging and general web activity, I didn’t really have the time to do much personal work. I was on Facebook but mostly lurking and connecting with my students.

After retiring, many people asked about the free time that I had acquired. I admit I went through several “hobby” activities. They were fun, but I approached them with “project mode”, an intensity that looked to completion. I was “done” in a few weeks with each of them.

I was tired of listing the various activities that I had burned through, so I made up a story, “Well, I spend a certain amount of time pondering, and then writing posts to my blog.” Except that I wasn’t. So obviously I was convicted to make that a truth. I do ponder, especially when I have the time, and I did profess when I had a classroom. So why not actually write down some thoughts and keep them in a publicly accessible archive. I didn’t really think that one through. Part of me really wants to make some serious edits. Not everything pondered should see the light of day. Especially years later.

So again I looked at the history of my posts as I wondered about where I was and where I am now. One of the first posts was about Ivan Illich, a thinker, author and educator. On reading this I marveled on my undisciplined approach, wandering all over in big sweeping circles, barely keeping the focus, almost like some bird or fish murmurations. Where was I going?

Yep, that’s how I think, “thought murmurations” and who has the time to read through that?

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The fear of missing out. I love the internet based short hands, but this one is a little different.

The general category of human fears has been well documented with little change over the years. The fear of snakes, spiders, heights, dark, broccoli, ….wait, the studies on broccoli are recent, and inconclusive. Basically it’s only been some recent media generated fears that have added to the list, like shark week or snakes on the plane.

So where did “the fear of missing out” come from? Clearly the net citizens resonant with this term, they type the acronym out fairly regularly. Sociologists have correctly labeled this as the Age of Information. That’s not only true because of the importance, but also because of the volume.

The amount of important information at your fingertips is multiplied a hundred times by the amount of useless data. Perhaps realizing that we don’t have adequate filters to select the important stuff from the unimportant, we have generated a new term, FOMO.

As with any fear, we see individuals respond in various ways to fear. We carefully look under seats and in loverheads for snakes, we keep a wary eye for shark fins. But how do we respond to FOMO?

I credit my wife with a new possibility. She thought that perhaps there is a “hoarding of experiences”, an over abundance of events in order to stave off the potential fear.

Hoarders of possessions are often addressing the fear of poverty. They don’t make a rational decision to invest in real estate or bonds, instead they collect multiple sugar bowls, or a half dozen ski parkas.

People with FOMO collect meetings, join book clubs, sign up with PTA, volunteer at church, attend political discussion groups, etc. None of these things are bad, and being active in several at a time should not cause alarm bells to ring. The question might arise when someone’s calendar is always full.

Are there days that are open? Is there down time when hobbies can allow relaxation? Or has even hobbies become somewhat manic?

So the question one should ask is “Have you become a HOE? A hoarder of experiences? Hmm, perhaps some further work is needed on the acronym.

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Smartphone Photography

One of the biggest improvements to photography is the development of smartphone cameras. This also has created tremendous challenges.

The first challenge may seem odd, but it is a hard problem to solve. There are well over 2 billion smartphones in the world. The goal of placing a camera within the immediate reach of individuals is almost achieved. The difficulty is that we generally forget that we have it.

Clearly, many folks are very aware of the camera function, but it is not the same as slinging a DSLR around your neck in order to take a photo. The phone connection is the primary tool, and the camera is a nice secondary option.

The first thing to learn in taking better photos is that you have a camera with you! It may seem like a silly exercise, but practice taking photos with your phone in the same way that you do when you break out your larger DSLR. Developing that sense of image making at your fingertips will lead your desire to improve the images.

What are the next few issues that smartphone photos have that need improving? Basically there are three general problems that I commonly see.

1. Fuzzy. Images are blurry.

2. Light. A better understanding of light is needed.

3. Framing. Too much sky, ceilings/wall, background.

The cameras are generally producing images that are remarkably good. Wait, change that, they are amazing! The automatic focusing and exposure issues are a thing of the past. So why are photos blurry?

The most common reason is answered by asking the question, “Where do you commonly keep your smartphone?” It is probably not in a lint-free container, carefully sealed from the greasy world. It may actually be in the same jacket pocket with yesterday’s half eaten snack!

We have gotten used to the idea of cleaning our camera’s lens, but recognizing that our smartphones have a lens is the issue. Swiping a greasy thumb across the surface is not the solution.

This is also one of the most difficult issues to resolve. In many cases the actual case is the culprit. In the attempt to weatherizing the smartphone the case manufacturers have placed a clear lens over the hole where the camera is located. This lens often is not optic quality. It also traps particles on the actual lens. Cleaning the lens by removing the case doesn’t clean the case.

I don’t recommend enclosed cases, and I also don’t recommend cases with a deep recess for the camera to look through. The best case has a very tight fit around the edge of the camera, and a beveled opening that would allow a cleaning tissue to access the lens.

Use a dry, soft cloth or tissue. Once the lens is clean that will solve most of the blurry images, but not all. Fuzzy or blurry images also occur when movement occurs while the image is being taken. Check the image carefully. If the subject is blurry but the background is crisp, then you have done your best, but the subject moved. If the background is also blurry then you moved.

The smartphone camera has an electronic shutter. It is similar to a standard camera shutter. If the subject is not well lit, then the shutter stays open to let in move light and you can’t move while that is happening. Learn to hold the smartphone steady!

Cleaning the lens, and holding steady, can remove nearly all the blurred images. The next issue is understanding light.

Light is either natural or artificial. In either case it comes from a direction. Try your best by having the light come from behind you, and slightly to one side or the other. It’s also good if it is a few feet above your head.

With natural light this can be an issue because you can’t adjust the light. It is the Sun and we are stuck with where it is. The biggest thing to remember is to avoid shooting into the sun, or have a brightly lit background, when your subject is in the shade. You will have to do your best to move people around. The great thing about digital is that you can immediately see if there is a light problem.

I love taking photos outside with cloud cover. It removes most of the harsh shadows. I also like “long light”, taken in the early morning or later in the afternoon. The worst light for me is noon on a bright sunny day. Time for a siesta!

If you are dealing with artificial light then you might have a chance of adjusting the light, or at least moving to an area that has better light.

Lastly, the camera flash is truly the worst option. The flash on a smartphone is not the same quality as a flash on a regular camera. It does not reach far, and is only good for close portraits, and even then has issues. I have found that turning the flash off is actually my best move in getting the image I want.

Finally, the framing problem comes from the lack of a standard lens. The smartphone is basically a wide angle lens. The zoom feature is not the same as a typical zoom lens with moving optics. Besides, we rarely pinch/spread to create the zoom when we take the shot.

Framing the photo takes an extra second but it is well worth the effort, and we have an extraordinary zoom feature that we don’t generally use. Walk closer!

If the framing with a wide angle gives too much background, then move closer to the subject. If you a taking a landscape, then drop the image to reduce the sky. If the foreground is too messy then you can crop it off later.

Addressing these three issues will vastly improve your images. I would also consider downloading several different camera apps that give you the ability to manually control your camera. You will learn about shutter speeds, aperture and even ISO sensitivity. Manual control can be lot of fun and will give you more control over your potential images.

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I am radioactive, or more accurately, my blood is radioactive. I suppose by now my blood has passed through every organ and bone in my body. For a time, the radioactive blood flowed through my eyes and I had x-ray vision. That’s gone now, I suppose my liver is trying its best to collect the harmful residue. Perhaps my finger nails will take some, that I will clip off in later weeks.

I did not feel like crawling the walls, or shoot webbing out of my spinnerets, probably because it wasn’t from a radioactive spider. I really don’t know the source of the radioactivity. It’s funny how we just accept foreign objects into our bodies based upon our doctors opinions.

It’s all part of a cost benefit analysis. A little bit of radiation (bad), in order to gain knowledge (good) that may extend life.

The problem with this type of mental bargaining is the buy-in that is necessary. What about my plans to rent a bush-plane in order to drop me off in the Alaskan wilderness? Another time, probably a few decades ago.

You have to follow up on the good knowledge, and the future procedures that it will suggest. But you have to be around and available.

I have a smart phone, a smart watch. Would it be too difficult to keep a calendar of the things that are running out of time? The bloody things have access to all my medical records, it would not take much to give me a heads up on the activities that are phasing out.

I am reminded of a recent conversation with a friend who is in Thailand. After I had gotten over the remarkable fact that it was a free call (what happened to long distance?), I asked what it was like there. He replied endless white beaches, no tourists, English speaking natives. When I said that it sounded like a young persons heaven, and that older people want to know about medical care! He replied that there were at least three hospitals nearby and one that even catered to Westerners.

Yep, once you get to the buy-in, you’re trapped. You can’t go to Alaska, but you can go to a deserted isle in Thailand.

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The Prostitute

Eric and I were barely speaking, not that we were angry with each other; it was just that we had no room for communication. We had shriveled up, lost our vital fluids in the heat of the desert. Spiritually shrunken, physically desiccated, yet still walking, still moving forward. The universe reduced to moving from one streetlamp to another. All I knew, all I could see, was contained in the bright circles of light, thirty feet across, illuminating a deserted street. To either side there were shadows of some other reality. Uncertain and unimportant, they faded in the distance. My goal was the next spot of light, and then the next beyond that.

Pressing forward, head down, glancing up, and sometimes back, checking to see if Eric was still there a few yards behind me. Then, suddenly, she was there. Up ahead, in the future, two spotlights away, I could see the figure of a woman standing, waiting. I slowed but continued walking forward, disappearing from the one light, moving forward, and reappearing in the next light, closer each time to the future woman. Then the future became the present, and we shared the same harsh halogen light.

She was wearing a black dress of sequins, light bouncing from her shoulders, breasts and thighs, sparkling… and fingering a long strand of turquoise beads. Her face, heavy in make-up, framed by black, teased, shoulder length hair- was smiling, but sadly. She was probably forty years old, maybe older, with tracks of the world on her face.

As I approached her, I instinctively nodded my head, and I could see her bright red lips forming words- words I couldn’t hear, although I should have been able. She blinked and smiled again; I noticed that she was holding a shoe by its strap. It was missing the heel.

Heel-less shoe swinging,

turquoise beads swinging,

thousands of bright micro lights flashing,

and wordless lips moving.

Then I left the light, and headed into the darkness between the spots. At the next streetlight I looked back, and there in my past, now captured by the halogen circle, I could see Eric sharing the spot with the sequins dress, and then he too, moved forward. For the next few minutes I looked back periodically, to see if I had really seen what I thought I had seen. Four streetlights back I saw a sparkling figure disappear from one spot, but then never appear in the next spot down. I waited, but nothing showed. Eric came next to me, and he looked back as well. We both waited. He managed to ask where she had gone, but I just shook my head and turned away.

Another few blocks there was an empty lot, covered in tall grass. I thought that if we went to the back wall, we could lay undiscovered, and maybe even fall asleep. There was a narrow trail in the tall grass, I lay my sleeping bag directly on it, well covered from the road. Eric placed his bag in the same trail, and we lay there head to head in a footpath, not speaking for some time. Then Eric asked a question.

“Did you hear what she said?”

I thought about it for some seconds. Remembering the lips forming words. Bright red, moving shapes, parting, closing, then opening again, but no sound. Why hadn’t I heard?

“She said, ‘I hope you have better luck than I.’”

I lay on my back, looking at the stars above me, I listened to Eric’s words, and I listened to the soundless words of a vanished spirit. I thought about events, and the meanings that we place upon them, and I finally thought about compassion and empathy.

I answered Eric, that yes, I had finally heard.

Edited from On The Road, Again. A journal of hitchhiking in the Western States, 1968

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The classic definition refers to either insect or amphibian and the process they go through from juvenile to adult. The remarkable thing is the complete change of the same creature. A crawling, multi-leg earthbound worm that turns into a winged flying beauty. The amphibian is less dramatic, from slimy fish, to slimy frog.

The word simply means transforming, it doesn’t calculate the amount.

I’ve been thinking about re-reading Kafka’s Die Verwandlung, published in 1915, and usually translated as The Metamorphosis.

Kafka is more widely known as an adjective. “That was so weird and Kafka-like”. “Right out of Kafka!”

The trouble is that most people have never read Kafka, although they are certain that either he, or his stories, were weird.

Unlike my usual practice of reading everything published by my favorite authors, I have only read one short story by Kafka. The story of a man who suddenly metamorphosed into a cockroach.

Well, the original German suggests “vermin”, but cockroach does pretty well, certainly not a charming cricket, or an industrious ant.

The story is short and centers around Gregor (cockroach), his father, his mother, and his sister. Initially, Gregor can’t communicate why he can’t go to work as usual. The family is concerned about how his economic contribution will cause great stress. They don’t yet know that he is an insect, just that he can’t be roused from his room.

Finally Gregor uses his disgusting mouth to open the door. Everyone either screams and runs away in fear, or they faint. Gregor retreats back into the room. His sister begins to periodically clean the room while Gregor hides under the sofa.

We still aren’t sure of Gregor’s size. He could be five feet tall, yet he can effectively hide under the sofa. He also can scurry up the walls while listening to the family discuss the situation.

Gregor is brought food, but he has no interest in some of his favorites. He is slowly dying. He trys once again to come out of the room. He scares the potential boarders that would have helped the finances of the family. The father throws a apple at Gregor which wounds him in the back. Again, Gregor retreats into his room, where he eventually dies.

The cleaning lady disposes of the body, the family now notices that the daughter has grown into a beautiful young lady. They now move into a smaller, but much more affordable place, and everybody is happy.

Yep, it was that weird.

And literally everyone who read it has taken the time to make an analysis and codify the symbology. Most see it as detailing “daddy issues”, or how does a young man grow to adulthood. Some see the sister as truly metamorphosing. Everyone has an opinion.

I have one too. I haven’t seen this as a detailed critique from anyone, but it was the first thing that came to me. Gregor doesn’t realize what has happened to him. He knows that when he speaks they don’t understand. He is aware that he can’t use his hands to open the door, but not because he is aware that he doesn’t have hands. For Gregor, he is still Gregor.

Instead, Gregor is defined by others. One morning everyone silently agreed that Gregor was a useless parasite, a vermin, that was if no use to the family, and even a detriment.

We are what we read, we are what we eat, we are what we do… well, in this case, we are what other people decide we are.

I was reflecting on this with a colleague in the world of academia. She had also just recently retired and was experiencing the transformation.

One obvious shared experience was the lack of involvement in students lives. We have no students. We are not we do, we are barely what we did!

I noted a brief summary of my career. I was once young an inexperienced staff member, I was a Young Turk who suggested actions that had been tried decades ago, but not by me! Then I matured into a team player who worked by consensus, that transformed into a “conscience” that reminded the Young Turks that we had already tried that, further transforming, I got into being the elder, but respected, statesman for a few short years. And finally into the funny, quaint, old guy with the beret. And the ever present question, “are going to retire?”

I was the same creature, in my room the mirror showed only a little age. The world I lived in transformed me into… well, not a cockroach, so I guess I’m thankful.

Note to self: read more Kafka!

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Knock, Knock!

I’ve been listening to a persistent knock for the last ten minutes. I check my Arlo alert and sure enough, there is a man dressed in a black business suit gently knocking on the door with his rather pale first knuckle joint.

What do I do now? If I didn’t have the camera, I wouldn’t know who was there. I might have even opened the door. Not now! No way could I do that with the evidence on video. I go down to the door, wrapped in my flu blanket.

“Go away”

“Special delivery. I have a special delivery for John.”

“Leave it on the table

“I can’t do that, you have to sign for the package.”

I’m looking at the live feed, he doesn’t have a package. He’s lying! Okay then, so this is the relationship that we have.

“Listen, I don’t believe you have a package, what is in the package that you don’t have?”

“Um, food. Some tasty food.”

“I have you on video, you do not have a package. I will not open the door to a liar.”

I see on the video that he pulls out an plain envelope. “Seeds, I have an envelope of seeds which can be planted to grow tasty food.”

“Nice try, but I’m not going to have the time to grow them if I open the door. I said before, Go Away!”

“Come on, John! Open the door. This flu thing has gone on long enough, it’s time.“

“I said go away!”

The knocking stopped briefly, then resumed at a faster rhythm, punctuated with the word “Johnny”. Apparently on Death’s off hours he watches TV. Another five minutes passes.

“Listen. Being irritating is not the best way to convince me to open the door. What works on television does not relate to the real world.”

The knocking stopped. I looked at my phone and the live feed, he was still there, and he appeared to be scrolling through his phone. Then the knocking started again.

“Open up, can you produce your drivers license and proof insurance” , then some more knuckle tapping.

This repeated for another few minutes. I was confused until I remembered a few YouTube videos. “I don’t have to show you any ID. I am a free sovereign citizen. Am I being detained? Or am I free to go?”

The knuckle tapping stopped. “John, can we just talk? I’m just trying to do my job, and here you are just messing with my timetable.”

I thought about this for a moment, and decided that perhaps I should take another tack.

“Okay, I see your point. I’m good with the whole timing thing, but there is something you don’t understand.”

“Okay then, what is the problem? I’ll work with you!”

“Well, if I open the door I imagine I’ll have a second or two before I collapse

“Okay, maybe less, but there is nothing I can do about that, it is what it is.”

“Okay, but my problem is the guest bathroom is right next to the front door. If I go down then there is better than a 50% chance I will fall into the bathroom. Then, my whole life will end with the “found dead in the bathroom” statement. If you check on my blog, I really don’t like the idea. How about you going to my back patio door? I’ll be found dead in the kitchen then!”

“Umm, a little unorthodox, but sure, I can do that. I will see you in a few.”

I checked on my security camera for the back patio, and there he was, gently knocking. I grabbed my keys, tightened my flu blanket around my shoulders and I headed for the Jeep.

I’m thinking I need some black tea at Starbucks, and no, I don’t feel bad about cheating death. He was a liar from the beginning.

(A repost, I accidentally deleted it.)

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Daniel Tiger Live

Katerina Kittycat

Today will be the last time where I see my daughter perform in the “Daniel Tiger Live” show. It’s not the last performance. She will continue on, singing/dancing as Katerina, working her way east, playing venues every few days. The tour is coming to an end though, she has done over eighty shows and has roughly twenty more to go. With today, I have seen nine of them.

It’s true, we are very supportive of our daughter, so naturally we would have traveled to see as many shows as possible. But there is something more going on beyond just the support. The show is a much needed booster shot to my soul.

Fred Rogers was a kind man, a very kind man. You should spend a few hours watching YouTube, and you will be amazed and grateful that he committed his life to children’s television. He wasn’t sophisticated, he was just an honest caring person. His show was straight from his imagination, and was unforced pure love and care.

The Daniel Tiger Live show continues into the second generation, with the same care and love. The entire ensemble is just magical. When I listen to the songs, they are not just lyrics. The words pierce my inner being, reconnect me to my childhood, instructing me in the way I should live, and encouraging me in my efforts for the future. I know this sounds a bit much, but it’s all true.

It’s rare when you realize that you are part of a gestalt experience. Something that is larger than the experience itself. Watching the children in the audience becoming enthralled when the characters they have grown to love are right there, out of the television screen, fully flesh and bone. The memories made this day are seared into their psyche, and they are forever changed. I get to witness that.

I get to witness my daughter’s hard work, her years of training, being used for such good. I know that this tour will end, and she will go on to other shows. But this one will always be special, and fondly remembered.

And I continue to be forever changed, and grateful.

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Stallion .45


My Stallion .45’s

It was Christmas Eve, 1950. I was 7 years old, and so excited that I would finally get the long-hoped-for shiny new bicycle. But it was not to be; instead of the bike, my parents surprised me with my second top choice — a pair of shiny new cap pistols.

But these were no ordinary cap pistols. These were a pair of Stallion .45 Colt “Peacemaker” pistols. They were made in Texas, and were advertised as “The King of the Cap Guns” by The Nichols Company. Years later, my mother told me that those cap pistols cost my Dad a day’s pay.

The guns were fully 12 inches long; they were heavy, and a real handful for a small 7 year old boy who was determined to hit the trail with Roy and Hoppy. I was breathless as I tore open the box and pulled out the shiny new pistols, and to this day, I can remember smelling the new leather of the matching holster set.

The guns came with 6 toy bullets that you inserted into the pistol’s rotating cylinder. They had white pistol grips, with an embossed rearing Mustang on one side, and a Longhorn steer on the other. And if that wasn’t enough, there was a mesmerizing red ruby jewel that was embedded at the top of both grips. There was no doubt about it, . .in my mind, these were just what a real cowboy needed to have.

As I grew older, I lost interest in my Stallion .45’s, and I really didn’t care what became of them. My younger brother, John, played with them for a while, but eventually they were lost, making their way into strangers hands.

Later, as an adult, I regretted letting those pistols get away from me, . .and I never ran into one at any of the numerous garage sales that I went to over the years.

Then came eBay!

I went on the new site to see if it was possible to locate any Stallion 45s. What!!! . .there they were! . .a mint matching set, with holsters,. .just like MINE! I watched as the auction came to a close, . .SOLD! for $850.00!

Unbelievable! . .and waay out of my range! But there was also an auction for a box of the Original Stallion caps, and 6 toy bullets, which I bought for $15.00, . .but it would be ten more years before I would get the gun to go with them.

That day finally came when I won an auction on eBay for a Stallion .45 for $73.00. It was a trashed gun; the cylinder didn’t rotate the loading gate was broken, and it had a chipped handle grip, . .but it looked good to me, and I was confident that I could restore it to its former glory.

Shortly after it arrived I began the repair of my Stallion .45. I carefully unscrewed the two screws that holds the two halves of the gun together. As I lifted the top half of the gun away from the bottom half, . .there was an explosion! . .parts went everywhere! The main spring went flying somewhere, and a large metal pawl flew up, hitting me in the forehead, ricocheting up and behind me out of sight.

I just blew it, . .I will never be able to find all those small parts, let alone know how they all fit back together. So, with a bleeding small knot on my forehead, and a bruised ego, I began searching for the parts, and found all but two of them. After some frenzied searching, the powerful main spring that caused the explosion was found AROUND the corner, in the living room, sitting on the seat of a chair, . .talk about a ricochet! I didn’t find the pawl that hit me in the head until I unloaded the dishwasher, . .the dishwasher door was open at the time, and the part came to rest inside, on the floor of the washer.

So, with all the parts, (I put on my safety goggles this time) I attempted the repair and reassembly of the gun. By this time, my wife, Joanne, could not hide her amusement of the situation any longer. I just ignored her laughter and went about finishing the job at hand. . .and I finally wound up with a reassembled pistol.

Today’s kids are not into cap pistols, and all toy guns are now required to have a visible “orange tip barrel plug” so it won’t be mistaken for a real gun.

It’s just another example of a sad commentary on our times. Back in 1950, the police never worried about us kids carrying around real guns, and I so appreciate that I was able to grow up in the era of no “orange plugs”.

So at age 75, . .I finally got back one of my Stallion .45’s, and now I spend a little of my free time practicing the “Road Agent’s Spin”, . .something that every cowboy should know.

Happy Trails To You!

(A guest post by my brother. Posted by permission.)

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At the Airport

Southwest Airlines has lost a pilot. There is a perfectly good airplane sitting at the gate with a full compliment of passengers and crew, but not enough pilots.

Delays like this are unfortunate, but there is nothing for me to do about it, unless I join in the hunt for the missing pilot. Where to look? Passed out in a bathroom stall? Asleep in a lounge? The one thing that will be true is that the pilot will be at the last location searched.

Thinking about transportation, much of the terminology seems to come from ships on the water. We board trains, we board planes, but we don’t board autos. We get in autos. And why do we insist on calling them airplanes? Are there groundplanes?

Pilot is a nautical word, and captain is a nautical title. But in announcements on the plane they refer to the left side or the right side, instead of port and starboard.

In case you are confused there is a nifty trick to help remember the difference. Port has the same number of letters as left. And starboard has more letters and right has more letters. I know that starboard has a lot more letters but you get the point.

Going further into the source of the words might help as well. The port side of the vessel always came closest to the dock. The reason is that the starboard side had the steering board lashed to the side, so if they came into port on that side it would crush their rudder. It took a few centuries to place the rudder at the very end of the ship.

Another piece of trivia, the rudder steers the ship in the desired direction. It is thought that rudder comes from “rutter”, the written directions for navigation, passed from captain to captain.

George Carlin has a great monologue about the terminology of airports. He wonders about “getting on board”. He doesn’t want to get on the plane, he wants to get in the plane. He has a fear that he might have to hang on to the wing like gremlins.

Another interesting word gremlin. It comes out of the early years of flight, when pilots had difficulties with random problems on the aircraft. Gremlins were thought to be the source. The famous Twilight Zone television program’s episode of a young man seeing Gremlins fly out of the storm clouds to land on the wing, then start tearing the flaps apart is a perfect example of the belief. Oh, the young man was none other than William Shatner, who later as the Star Trek captain had a variety of gremlins attack his spacecraft.

A complete aside…. Why in the world world would American Motors name one of their models the “Gremlin”? That is as bad as when Chevrolet named their model “Nova”, which in Spanish was “no go”.

A new captain drove in from San Francisco, so everything is okay. I still wonder where is the missing pilot? Gremlins?

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“The nation that makes a great distinction between its scholars and its warriors will have its thinking done by cowards and its fighting done by fools. “

a Spartan King, quoted by Thucydides

My eldest daughter wrote a paper for a class that was leading to her Master’s in History. What better source than her own family? The title was “From Protester to Soldier: An Oral History”.

I was vaguely aware of her intentions, at least I think so. It was several years ago when she taped a four hour interview. She later told me that it took eight hours to transcribe it to written form, and then she was only able to quote about a third of what was said. She probably could have edited it down even further. She kept putting in stories that were interesting, but only tangential to the point of the essay.

The stories were part of the family lore so I can see why she had to include them.

As I said, this was almost four years ago so I barely remember the interview, and if she gave me the final paper, well, I don’t remember that at all. I don’t think she intentionally withheld showing me, her life was very busy, and she was eight months pregnant. All excellent reasons.

We were talking about it the other day, and she said she would forward the final paper once she found it.

I read it this morning and I was stunned. Of course I though it was brilliant. My daughter is brilliant, all of my five children are brilliant. It is quite another thing to read a paper based upon my life, with citations and quotes!

And beyond the factual data, there was an analysis that broke down the process of a moral shift in my thinking and beliefs. How did I shift from a Pacifist (active protestor) to a professional soldier?

Without even looking at the data, it would be reasonable to question whether either of those labels were correct. They may be accurate on the surface but perhaps neither one was felt very deeply. I am reminded that before uniforms were standard, soldiers would go into battle with different colored armbands. After the fighting began, one would look around to see how things were going, and if necessary you could always go into your pocket to put on the other armband. Everybody went to war with two armbands.

Was my pacifist nature deeply felt? Yes, it looked that way. I laid down on railroad tracks to stop the troop trains. My body wasn’t cut in half, I never really paid the price. I was tear gassed, I felt the baton’s, I was shoved through a plate glass window. But I bare no scars, not even emotional ones.

I knew people were dying on both sides of the war. I knew what war was, I saw it on television, and I was against it. Sorta.

There was still a part of me that was covered up. I made a choice to take the high road, and bury the berserker that was within. We all want to be better versions of ourselves. Part of that process is to see all the parts, particularly those parts that shouldn’t see the light of the day.

The army wanted the berserker. Fixing a bayonet to the end of a M-16, and using it as a short spear, a stabbing weapon in close quarters, is not a civilized process. In fact, someone looked at this and removed it from the basic training process. It was still there when I went through. I recall quite vividly the human dummy that I had to eviscerate with several thrusts, all the while emitting a primal scream. I’m pretty sure we didn’t ask the dummy to surrender.

Without getting too deep into the psychology, I think it is safe to say that my pacifist convictions were strong, but it was much easier to let out the berserker. I’m often reminded that we don’t have to practice to be uncivil.

What did the army use to break down my convictions? Again, one must look at the real strength not the surface appearance.

I think for me it was the “band of brothers”. I didn’t fight for some national ideal. I didn’t really fear the Communist Red Menace, I fought for my friend next to me, I fought for the platoon. I had a free ticket to get out and go home, I didn’t use it. I couldn’t leave, because they had to stay.

My daughter’s paper points this out fairly clearly even though the family lore stories tend to crowd it out. Looking at this forty-five years later is still amazing.

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I have been thinking about labels. A very useful concept. A stack of boxes with no labels is a nightmare of exasperated searching. When there are labels, it narrows the search, saving time.

Labels are a short cut to anyone searching, like signs on a map.

Labels on people work the same way. Conversations are edited, information to be shared is steered in one direction, information received is processed by a filter based upon the label.

All this is helpful if the label is correct. Unfortunately it is rare that the box generates its own label. People are mostly labeled by other people.

So, mislabeling is probably the most harmful action to real communication. It’s a useful short-cut only if it is correct.

A list of current important labels…

1. believer & non-believer. Something to watch for is the hidden bias. Defining a whole group of folks as “non” tends to invalidate their position.

2. Liberal and conservative. There is a difference, but the differences are not fixed by the words. People apply the specifics, and they change over time.

3. Democratic and autocratic. The same thing apples from above.

So maybe we need to use different labels

1. Loving and hateful. Now this is a really useful label if can be proved true.

2. Good and evil. This is great, if we can actually find folks who honestly embrace evil.

3. Moral and immoral. Same problem exists, who champions immorality?

Perhaps in the comic book universe where superheroes and super villains exists.

I have been asked often about where I stand. What label that is self defining?

Periodically my children ask who I voted for? I declare that I took an oath to defend our right to a secret ballot. The problem is that the secret ballot hasn’t always been central to the constitution.

In fact, there is ample evidence that democracy depends upon knowing exactly where a representative stands by a simple yes or no vote n public.

I am not a label, it would not be easy to place my beliefs in one camp or another. I am not an independent, although I tend to think independently. I have registered with a party where I believe I can have a larger impact, not because I am surrounded by lockstep thinkers.

My wife has a genealogy that is missing. There are grandparents and cousins that basically disappeared in 1941. I have taken that to heart as an analogy.

The most basic label is… there are people that will put you on the train… because they are evil, or frightened, or unthinking, or mistakenly patriotic, or apathetic, or just plain asleep.

And then there are people that would never, ever, on the pain of Death, even consider putting people on the train.

I know where I stand in this labeling and it is my first consideration when I look at the labels of others.

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Otzi, Man of Copper

In 1991 a couple were hiking in the Orztai Alps, on the Austrian/Italy border, going slightly off trail. They found what appeared to be a hikers body in a crevasse, with his lower body still encased in ice. They hurried back to the lodge to report they had found a hiker from several seasons ago, and that the body was still mostly frozen.

Five days later an archaeologist determined that the body was approximately four thousand years old based upon the style of copper ax that was found with his remains.

The Age of Copper only lasted about 2000 years. Of course stone tools existed before copper, and they existed all through the Age of Copper, and still were in existence well after the Bronze Age. New technology does not completely replace old technology in an instant.

The generally agreed upon standard is that the Age of Copper was from 3500 BC to about 2300 BC. Although in some places copper smelting may have occurred several thousands of years earlier.

Otzi lived about two or three generations after copper became widely known. In fact, the Battle Ax culture had stone axes that were shaped like copper long before they had copper. For Otzi this was new technology, incredible technology. Otzi had a copper ax. This would have been as if he had an iPhone and everybody else had public phone booths.

Otzi was not a thief, at least he didn’t have to steal the ax. From chemical analysis of his hair they found trace elements of copper and arsenic. Considering that the copper ax was 99.7% pure, it was concluded that Otzi worked it, smelting the copper from natural formations or copper ore.

For at least 3.3 million years humans have used stone tools. We had used the rocks as they were, and after a million years we had developed very good flaking techniques. Two million years later we had the knapping technique down pat, and include notches the tie the stones to shafts or wooden handles.

Otzi probably did this as a young man. But now he was a man of copper, he didn’t have to flake or knap, he poured liquid copper into a mold, then hammered the result. Conquering metal was the first step in the race to the future.

The mummified corpse of Otis has been poked, prodded, x-rayed and scanned more than any living human. They have discovered what he had eaten for the last week and even what he ate just hours before his death. They looked at his teeth, his nails, the 61 tattoos on his body. Everything together gave a fairly complete picture of a man that was very used to going for long walks in the mountains.

One possible story for Otis, is that he was traveling with one or more friends when they were attacked by another party. There were four different blood types found through DNA testing. Two different types were found on one arrowhead that was found with him. This could have meant that Otis had killed or wounded one individual, then retrieved the arrow to wound of kill another. Another blood type was found on his flint bladed knife, he still used stone tools. The fourth blood type was found on the back of his coat, which may have come from carrying a wounded comrade.

We are not sure how far he carried his friend, there was no trace of other bodies. It might not have been very far because was thought to have bled to death from an arrow found in his shoulder. The shaft was missing but the arrowhead was deep in the shoulder, causing massive hemorrhaging. There were also cuts and bruises that were made shortly before death. Ottis had collapsed on his stomach, perhaps in order to pull out the arrow shaft.

Whoever killed Ottis did not take his clothes, his quiver of arrows, his shoes, or his fabulous copper ax. It is possible that they were thankful that he was dying and they were still alive. So Otis lost blood, lost consciousness, and froze in place for the next 5000 years.

We do know a few things. His clothes were very specialized and high tech for the times. At least four different skins were used for different purposes, his cloak was of woven grass. His leather loin cloth and coat were made from sheepskin. His leggings were made from goat, and his hat from bear. His shoes had top sides of deer and the sole was bear. The shoes were so well designed that a Czech company asked for the rights to reproduce them.

We also know that Ottis ate a large amount of grain, probably as bread and that he was lactose intolerant. Wheat, barley, flax and poppy were all present. He had also portions of antelope and deer meat that were eaten just hours before his death.

From the pollen evidence, it is thought that Otzi died in the summer, and was frozen that winter, completely covered in ice.

As far as we know there were no towns or cities. Villages probably were know for their specialized trade goods. Leather produced here, metal workers in another village. The constant travel meant that communication was widespread. It also meant that travelers could be set upon be those that wanted your goods if they could take your life.

We don’t know what Otzi and his friends carried, all we know is that Otzi never completed his trip.

Oh, by the way, DNA testing found 19 living relatives of Otzi in the local area.

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It’s in the Smoke

“Ruminant manure constituted an important factor in American settlement on the Plains, providing fuel for heat and cooking in the near total absence of wood or coal, and serving as a medical specific for injuries and medical complaints ranging from the reattachment of severed members and snake bite to hiccups and sunburn.”

“Travelers on the Plains, European Americans and Native Americans alike, erected cairns of buffalo chips to serve as landmarks. As a fuel, cow and buffalo chips offered the advantage of not throwing sparks into bedding or clothing, which was especially important in military tents and tipis.”

One early settler reported, “Don’t feel sorry for us cooking with cow chips. They had their advantages– didn’t need to use pepper.”

It may have been Tom Robbins that once suggested that cooking with buffalo chips changed brain function. Instead of focusing on the burned pancakes, the thought was, “Go West!” And west they went, only to find and burn more buffalo chips. They continued west until there were no buffalo chips, just the Pacific Ocean.

I wish I could remember the exact book. It sounds like something Tom Robbins would write. It was funny at the time. Imagine that the smoke would induce a thought, or perhaps it was induced by the eating of small microbes. Go West, indeed!

Then I remember the Cat Lady theories.

“Toxoplasmosis. Toxoplasmosis is a parasitic disease caused by Toxoplasma gondii. Infections with toxoplasmosis usually cause no obvious symptoms in adults. … The parasite is only known to reproduce sexually in the cat family.”

Jaroslav Flegr is the Czech biologist that suggests that the parasite can cause unique brain activity, causing increased traffic accidents, schizophrenia, and other problems with auto-immune issues. By conjecture, the parasite wants the host to die so a cat will eat it, and the parasite will complete it’s sexual cycle. Wonderfully complex, and just too weird to be true.

Still, it nags at the back of my brain. What if it is true? What if buffalo chip smoke keeps you headed west? What if copper smelting fumes changes your brain chemistry into experimenting with more metals, thereby creating bronze, iron and eventually steel. It would explain a lot of things.

Of course it is the height of lunacy to think that mere smoke can alter the way the brain thinks.

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Copper Man

I know a man who knows copper. He knows copper, but he also knows the meaning of copper, where it fits in today’s world, where it fit in yesterday’s world, and how it came into history.

I am a student of the “ages”, some of this is structured knowledge from coursework, most is eclectic reading. Our earliest “age” is called “the Stone Age” but it could also be called “the Bone Age”, because our tools were made of stone and bone.

We really don’t have an accurate timeframe, the beginning of the Stone Age could be millions of years ago. Using stone without “working the stone” may have just been as natural as throwing rocks.

The earliest “worked stone” tools are now thought to be 3.3 million years ago, according to a recent find. Previously it was thought 700,000 years later. It is safe to say the our progress in developing tools was as slow as the glacier that we lived near.

But then, something happened, we discovered metal. It could have been a nugget in the stream, or a natural ingot exposed in a river bank. If it was gold, we discovered it could adorn our bodies, but not much use for anything else.

If the metal was copper, that was a different story. It could be formed into jewelry, it could also be formed into tools. It was discovered that hammering copper actually made it harder. A copper tool could also make more copper tools. An actual sharp knife could be made.

As soon as metal was discovered, our tool making skills took a logrhythmic turn. There is much disagreement, but most scholars date the earliest copper artifacts were in Turkey approximately 7000 bc, give or take a 1,000 years. In any case, it only took 10,000 years to get to our modern age. For 3,000,000 million years we had only improved our flaky techniques in stone.

Most general knowledge is centered on the “Bronze Age” or the “Iron Age”, and I can completely understand this. Hard to compete with the Trojan War, and medieval knights. What do we really know about “the Copper Age”?

It may have been just a Mediterranean phenomenon, existing primarily from 3500 to 2300 bc according to some scholars. There are copper workers in other areas of the world, in the Americas and Asia, but certainly the Mediterranean cultures took the metal to new heights.

Yes, it is true that copper weapons were sharper and more deadly than bone or obsidian, but copper allowed the culinary art to form. Copper vessels were not very toxic and water could be easily boiled.

Changing the eating habits of a people has a far greater impact then you might imagine. The inedible could be come edible. Foods could be rendered and mixed. In general, before copper, food was eaten one individual bite at a time. Cooking allowed stews and soups to be created, mixing various foods in that one bite.

I’ve seen demonstrations of wooden bowls of water being heated by hot stones. Well, perhaps they worked, but not half as well as a copper kettle, suspended on a tripod over the fire. And later, perhaps the kettle became a helmet. I recall heating water for coffee in my steel helmet while in the field, True now, probably True then.

Why such a short age? Barely over 2000 years before becoming erased by history? It was simply the art of metallurgy. Instead of relying upon naturally formed ingots, we discovered the ability to smelt copper ore. It wasn’t long before someone experimented with adding other metals to the liquid copper. With tin added, copper became bronze.

Imagine the shock of Egyptian troops with their copper scythe-like swords being cut in half by the sharper bronze swords in the hands of their northern barbarians. It must have been the same as the bronze wielding armies when they faced the far northern barbarians that had iron swords.

There was a time that I fenced quite a lot. I preferred the saber over the epee, or foil. It wasn’t life or death in the heat of the match, but sometimes it felt that way. One time I raised my blade in defense to block a downward head cut. My blade snapped about six inches up from the guard. My sword was cut in two.

In that one moment I felt all the emotions of thousands of individuals that had trusted their weapon, and then realizing that their life hung in the balance because of a superior metal. It was devastating.

Someone needs to give me more information on that first age of metal. Someone who knows the meaning of copper. Perhaps my friend?

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Rishi Sharma, my hero

Just heard a radio commentary about Rishi Sharma, a young man who has dedicated himself to contact living WWII veterans, and then document their lives. He started doing this when he was seventeen. There were over 16 million veterans in WWII, there are approx 650 that die each day. Only 2.8 percent of the veterans are still alive. He has just over 840 interviews done.

Check out his page,

It reminds me of my father-in-law. I found his WWII diary in his bookcase. It was the standard diary issued by the army. I was given one and left it blank. Al filled his out, sometimes in pencil. It took a long time to know his handwriting.

Al was part of five “hot landings” on beaches from Australia, up through New Guinea, Philippines, and then Japan. Every few weeks Al would update his diary, not only on what he saw, but on what he did, and what he ate. It was an honest soldier’s diary.

I asked to borrow it for awhile and he said “Sure!” It was more like three weeks, I don’t type very fast. I got the book back to Al, but then I began to research what he had written. I used several sources to create a “pull out” section to give additional details. Then I laid out the copy to create a paperback book. This was several years before the “vanity press” companies. I had to do it the old school way.

It was fortunate that I had several friends in the printing business. One friend printed the four color cover on the margin of another job he was already running. I cut the covers to match the interior pages. Another friend printed 500 copies, and yet another friend collated and trimmed the final product.

After about a month I could give my father-in-law 500 copies of his book, titled “My War”, with a $75.00 price tag. A bit high for a paperback but still a bargain, it didn’t matter because he simply handed them out to anyone who was interested.

Thinking back, it was one of the best things I’ve done for a variety of reasons. And Sharma has done this 840 times. I am so impressed.

Check out Al Goldstein

My War

and a collection of letters to his wife Anne.

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Medieval Thoughts part 2

Hildegard von Bingen was a real person. We know so much because she wrote and was written about. History calls this time, from the fall of the Roman Empire in 476 to the Renaissance of the 14th century, as the Dark Ages. Actually there are several Dark Ages within the Dark Ages.

It is not because we forgot how to make candles, or that burning cities created dense black clouds, (although this is also true). It is the Dark Ages because very little was written, or saved, if it was written. Without the trappings of Roman culture, with their scribes and libraries, very little writing was going on. The system of scriptoriums in the Catholic Church hadn’t reached its potential. Yet there were a few written examples. The written works of Hildegard, also the story of Abelard and Heloise.

There are several good books with some excellent recent research available, and the general story is widely known. It is about love, societal standards, perseverance, tragedy, and faith. It is also about power.

Ever since Alcuin stood in chambers with Charlemagne, most of Europe’s leaders sought out learned men to give advice. Armies gave power, but knowledge kept power. Men who knew things were honored. If you ruled, you wanted your children to be educated. In this case, Heloise’s uncle wanted his niece to be educated. Why? Was it cynical? Did he want his niece to be worth more in the typical arraigned marriage in order to build empires? Or did he simply want her to be able to expand on her already considerable knowledge? We don’t know, but we do know that he hired a young, and very famous academician that was currently teaching at Notre Dame.

Fulbert, Heloise’s uncle, was a powerful man, and Abélard wanted to align himself with his House. He also boasted of his ability to seduce Héloïse. Fulbert stepped in to separate the lovers. They went around him. Heloise became pregnant and Abélard sent her to his relatives to have the child. It appeared to Fulbert that Abélard was not serious about the relationship, Abélard had proposed a “secret” marriage but Heloise wasn’t going for it. Abélard then sent her to a convent to protect her from her uncle.

Fulbert was not amused and sent some of his men to find Abélard, and then castrate him. Obviously this was going to change his life. The first thing was that Abélard became a monk, and he insisted that Heloise take the vows of being a nun. We have the letters that Heloise wrote that asks why should she submit to that life, when she did not feel the calling. This was a tragedy of epic proportions.

It gets worse, the arrogant scholar became a theologian and began irritating monks, bishops, and even Popes. His fame grew even more, and his students multiplied. He even rejoined with Heloise. She was now the leader of her group of nuns, and they came under Abélard’s order, although now as brother and sister.

Abélard continued to write books that were challenging to authorities. Pope Innocent finally excommunicated him and ordered all his books burned. A life’s work gone up in smoke. Fortunately, before he went home to France, he stopped at a friend’s who ran the monastery at Cluny. Abélard was getting old by this time, and his friend convinced the Pope to rescind the excommunication because Abélard was in “retirement” at Cluny.

He died soon after and Heloise arranged his burial, with plans for her own burial beside him. Probably a template for dozens of fictional lovers that could never catch a break.

Tristan and Isolde was also written at this time. The beginnings of the story of Lancelot and Guinevere was also being developed. Maybe even Shakespeare was thinking that Romeo and Juliet had a connection.

Not exactly the Dark Ages. I need to read more on this.

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Medieval Thoughts part 1

I got to thinking about Hildegard. I rented a car at the airport and it has this feature of charging my iPhone and somehow accessing my music library. Actually, I know nothing about the process beyond plugging in my phone. This is why I was suddenly surprised to hear Hildegard von Bingen playing while I was crossing the snow laden valley of Spokane. Instead of the local aired “oldies but goodies”, I was listening to my collected music.

Approaching Idaho with Gregorian chants.

Hildegard von Bingen was born 1098 and died on Sept 17, 1179. According to Wikipedia she was an abbess, writer, composer, philosopher, Christian mystic, visionary, and polymath (meaning a knower of many things).

Many scholars believe that Hildegard may have been the most intelligent human ever born, including past and current scientists. In fact Hildegard is still considered the founder of scientific natural history..

Hildegard may have been the youngest of ten children, records only exist for seven. She was quite frail and experienced visions. Her parents decided to place her in the church at the age of eight. She was raised by the nun Jutta, who taught her to read and write Latin.

When Jutta died in 1136, Hildegard was unanimously elected leader of the sister nuns. By 1150 she was the first abbess that had her own independent monastery not run by a priest.

The reading of her accomplishments are truly amazing. She wrote about plants and herbs for medicinal purposes, she invented a language with accompanied alphabet, she popularized the use of Arabic numerals, including the concept of zero. She wrote music, plays, books on astronomy, geometry, and grammar.

Her opinions were sought by Kings Emperors, and Princes. As she said, “woman may be made from man, but no man can be made without a woman.” She obviously influenced James Brown when he wrote “It’s a Man’s World”.

She had four speaking tours, preaching against corruption by those in power. This was unheard of in the time. No women could bring correction or the gospel. Except that she did.

Pope Benedict made her a Doctor of the Church in 2012, and after eight hundred years, she is being studied in colleges regarding her impact in the world, particularly by feminists.

And, I really like her music, set to the frozen gravel of the glacial plains of Spokane.

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The Portobello Needs to be Diced

I am alone in Spokane, fending for myself. There is still six inches of snow on the ground. There is a heighten sense for the need to find warmth and food. I have a really nice, comfortable room, but I am in search of food.

Of course this is more than just a travelogue. The take-away is finding the analogy that lays deeper.

I find a grill with lots of hanging lights, giving a warm holiday sort of vibe. And it doesn’t disappoint. It has a varied menu with interesting sandwiches, appetizers and entrees. I’m thinking that my red meat quota for the week is done, and the fish or chicken doesn’t grab me. So, it is either Mac & Cheese or the Portobello Parmesan. I go with the Parmesan. The soup was a tomato basil that made me want a grilled cheese sandwich, but I must accept the Parmesan instead.

It’s funny how some “parings” are based upon tradition and personal life experience. Tomato Soup and Grilled Cheese is probably the most general comfort food that exists. But I’m only half comfortable.

The Parmesan comes in a bowl with a side of baby broccoli. The broccoli was first rate. The bowl was a challenge. On the plate, behind the bowl, was the largest steak knife that I’ve ever seen outside the kitchen. It could have been presented with its own sheath. Hmm, I didn’t order steak, I ordered the mushroom.

Hiding below the marinara was the mushroom. It neatly covered the mozzarella and pasta, being exactly the size of the bowl. I first tried the fork, but the mushroom completely blocked me, only allowing a thin taste of the marinara. It was good, but I needed the mozzerela and the pasta. I also needed the mushroom. I viewed the steak knife with new appreciation.

After briefly considering lifting the mushroom up to scoop the delicious underneath, I picked up the knife, tested the sharpness, and prepared to go to work. It was a disaster.

This mushroom was grilled wonderfully, but it was also resilient to attack. The more pressure I exerted, the more it slid out of the way, causing pasta, marinara and mozzarella to be displaced almost like an eruption. After many tries to cut the mushroom into manageable bites I gave up. I couldn’t see the mushroom anymore, it was buried and laying at the bottom of the bowl.

Not giving up on my consumption, I exchanged the knife with my fork. The broccoli was handled, the Parmesan was eaten. And here is the analogy. Because the mushroom was not professional diced, the pieces that I could fork were larger than normal. The mouthful was at times mostly Portobello, at other times is was pasta and mozzarella, rarely was it the balanced portions were the taste was designed. In the end I ran out of mushroom and the rest of the Parmesan was left uneaten.

Why wasn’t the mushroom diced before serving? The chef was trapped into the cute and creative “covering” quality of the mushroom. True, dicing was also another step, but should I ever order a grilled portobello again, I will ask for the dicing.

Don’t let style or coincidence take you away from the original intent.

(Okay, so maybe at my age I need my steak cut by the chef as well.)

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