July 20, 2014

The News

Headlines: Deadliest Day in Gaza...Russian Separatists Blamed for Downing Jet...Berlusconi Acquitted on Sex Charges...Another NFL Star Charged with Domestic Abuse...So Forth and So On

Gee! Bleak. Remember the good old days? Pat Boone? LSMFT? Pillow Talk?

How about: "He didn't even have the satisfaction of being killed for civil rights. It had to be some silly little Communist." Jackie Kennedy (according to a new book about how the Civil Rights Bill came to be). In other words, Louis Menand writes in The New Yorker, "John Kennedy was not a martyr for civil rights, but his death aided the cause."Splitting hairs? Come on, Louis.

It is interesting, the longer we live, to find out little things we never knew, don't you think? Deep research by smart people with soft hands working on generous grants find that, oh, Lyndon Johnson "stole" the election for UT student body president, or, oh, this or that--stuff we did not know and may not even believe, and, hey, for good reason. Why SHOULD we believe, when even our textbooks are the products of politics?

Forgive me that pitiful schoolboy digression. I am, in fact, an iredeemable optimist. I am here to report that...

Friends recently attended a reading and appearance by the former Colorado senator and--many feel--ALMOST president Gary Hart ("monkey business" remember?) in Durango. They, as it happened (oh, how quickly we forget), were two of maybe half a dozen who were there, so Hart just said, hey, let's sit down and shoot the breeze, and they did. He's 77 now, still looks good, is still married to the same woman he mistreated back in the day, and is writing novels, among, I think, other things. One of his favorite topics, there that night in Durango, was the Kennedy assassination, about which he has, yes, written a book. "A conspiracy, no doubt about it, the Mob," he said, in Durango. I am one of the millions who is a fringe assassination conspiracy buff, for what it's worth--not much, and even that much is too much.

That, though, is not my point tonight. Whether JFK was the victim of a mob-run conspiracy or not, well, the jury will likely always be out. The point is that conspiracies do exist, and many times it's good that they do.

Martin Luther King, for example, called the Civil Rights Bill of 1964 "the child of a storm," meaning that, by 1964, the movement for civil rights was in the streets. That is, the long legal maneuverings of Thurgood Marshall and the N.A.A.C.P. "to clear a jurisprudential path to (Brown vs. the Board of Education)," Menand writes, was trampled by the onslaught of the King-led movement, which was based largely on Scripture and putting bodies in the way of billy clubs, fire hoses, and, even, bullets. King knew that the bodies, not constitutional law, would get Kennedy's attention.

Think back: In '60, JFK vs. Nixon, the most admired African-American in the country, Jackie Robinson, campaigning for Nixon, who was--YES--to the left of JFK on the issue of racial equality. But because of conspiratorial behind-the-scenes (where else?) machinations led by RFK, among others, JFK wound up with 70 percent of the black vote.

But we were not, at that point, 1960, focused on civil rights, but STILL on the Cold War. But Alabama, bless its racist, ignorant heart, changed the world: "Segregation now, segregation tomorrow, and segregation forever!" We owe civil rights legislation--so early--to the moron George Wallace, 1963, in his inaugural address as governor. Fire hoses, bad dogs, Bull Connor--pictures sent around the world, and JFK saw them.

So, JFK and LBJ are given the credit, and most of it well-deserved, but we do not know--or I did not know--that Harry Truman had made the same speeches in 1947, without effect, though he was able to end racial segregation in the armed forces by executive order, in '48.

The story goes on: Kennedy makes his "blacks have rights, too" speech on TV and, in Jackson, MS (should such a place be allowed to exist?) following the speech, Medgar Evers, the N.A.A.C.P.'s field secretary for the state, was shot to death by KKK ignoramus Byron De La Beckwith, and Evers's wife and three little children, who had stayed up to watch Kennedy's speech, saw their husband and father die.

A SINGLE WEEK LATER, June 19, Evers was buried in Arlington National Cemetery (all right, JFK!) and THAT SAME DAY the White House sent a civil rights bill to Congress.

Okay, okay, and so it went, and still goes, on. Civil Rights. Say what? Unlikely, but still...

Who made what should be and should always have been and almost is possible? JFK? LBJ? MLK? LHO? Who? A conspiracy? We need more of 'em.

LHO? Hmmm?

July 18, 2014

I'm Back and I'm...thinking about 19th century stuff

After a couple wonderful days and nights on the Rio Grande outside Creede, a little (200 pop.) mining town over Slumgullion Pass from Lake City, and following being blown away--again--by the young thespians at the Creede Rep's productions of The Liar and Annie Get Your Gun (next year will be the theater's 50th anniversary, and you'll never believe it till you see it), I'm back, wondering if "we" in this day and age are anywhere near matching the 19th century's literary output--lasting literary output.

I suppose I've been thinking of that subject because I'm reading Dostoevsky's The Brothers Karamazov, almost 800 pages of splendor--after you wade through the first 100 or so pages of what appears to be confusing silliness. Then--suddenly, part-way through brother Ivan's long, long "poem" about heaven, hell, faith, you cannot help but realize that you are in the presence of awesomeness. And, following Ivan's lengthy soliloquy (basically, though Alexi is sitting there, saying, "uh, yes, but..." now and then) with Elder Zosima's "dying" remarks about his life and "what IT all means," well, I suppose, yes, that's when I thought of "our" literary pantheon and came up with, as I always do, the mid- and late-19th century.

While Dostoevsky published Brothers in 12 magazine installments in 1880, after Tolstoy had come out with Anna Karenina three years before, around 20 years after Hugo's Les Miserable, I was also familiar with some of our own publishing prowess of that time: Thoreau published Walden in 1854, three years after Mellville's Moby Dick and just shortly before Whitman's Leaves of Grass made its first appearance (1855, and I say "first appearance," because Whitman wrote, rewrote and revised Leaves the rest of his life; it went from 12 to 400 poems). And, of course, Twain published Huckleberry Finn in 1885, the same year Victor Hugo died (a great man, not only of Letters but of all things France--politics, rebellion). Imagine the more than 1 million mourners, following Hugo's funeral carriage through Paris, sneaking glances at the recently available Huckleberry Finn as they walked along.

And 1885 was followed by Tolstoy's The Death of Ivan Ilyich in 1886. That's a book--a short book--I've read several times, and just now, well, as soon as I finish Brothers, I think I'll read Ivan Ilyich again.

But soon enough, these great MEN came crashing down, brought to their ends by life, as it seems so often to happen. Thoreau cashed in in 1862,  Hugo 1885 (83 years old), Mellville 1891, Whitman on Mellville's heels, 1892. Nineteen ten was a bad year: Twain and Tolstoy, bam! bam! (Pretty interesting, though, huh? These two giants lived into the 20th century! Almost long enough to rub shoulders with Harold Robbins.)

And then there is--was--the great Dostoevsky. I've written before, about the precious memory I have of the time spent in a rather bleak period for me, with Crime and Punishment (1866), another book I've read three or four times. Dostoevsky, of all these writers, was, to me, the most memorable and vital and tragic and brave and resilient, even though he was just 60 when he died. (Thoreau's life was the shortest. He lived to be only 45, dying just after the start of our Civil War.) Dostoevsky, at age 25 or so, was convicted of behavior detrimental to the STATE and sentenced to death, along with a few others. The Tsar commuted the sentence just as the rifles were being raised to the shoulders of the men on the firing squad. Dostoevsky spent four years at hard labor in Siberian gulags instead. He suffered from epilepsy from that time on, and ultimately died of complications thereof.

A great time, the mid-19th century. There was a lot more to it, of course, but these are, to me, highlights I've long been aware of. Gives a guy something to shoot for.

July 14, 2014

Outta touch for a couple of days

We'll be out of touch for a couple of days, beginning tomorrow afternoon, though I'll do my best to keep tabs, or have you keep tabs on me; it's hard on you otherwise, I know. We'll be down on the Rio Grande southwest of Creede, camping for two nights with old Telluride friends, and seeing two plays at the Creede Rep, a truly Broadway-caliber theater group. In fact, Broadway actors and stage people show up there every summer, so it's the real deal. We've been going for several years, and it's fun. It's a beautiful camp spot and Creede is a cool little town--an old mining town, the end of the road, and 9000 feet, maybe a little bit more than that. It's still tough in winter, though there are hardy year-rounders there. We're used to it, of course. Telluride, too, Crested Butte, other old mining towns were end-of-the-road rough spots. Go there, and try to imagine what it would have been like, living year-round, clinging to the side of a 14,000-foot mountain, trying to mine gold, raise a family, and stay drunk. Do that, then you'll understand why gold is so valuable.

Little towns. As you know, our daughter and fine son-in-law are driving cross-country to a new job and life in New England. They've been camping along the way, with the dog. I've tried to follow them on the Atlas. Yesterday, tracing with my shaky finger across South Dakota and into northern Iowa, I found "the highest peak in South Dakota (almost 8,000 feet, as I recall)" the name of the nearby town? St. Onge. The St. Onges are very dear friends of ours in Telluride. A few inches farther and I came across Sibley, then, smiling, because one of my best friends here in Gunnison is named Sibley, I also saw, an inch to the west, the tiny town George. Now, get this: my good friend's name is George Sibley! Pretty weird? Good thing they don't make 'em weird enough to suit me.

The little heiress texted today, telling me that "it's fun, but insane, all this driving; it's fun, but we'll never do it again." Forty-five hours in a Honda Fit--great car, but small, as in little bitty. I know there are highlights along the way, though. I warned them to stay away from Wounded Knee: bad juju. And I asked for photos of fracking activity, but haven't seen anything from them yet. I think they'll stop in Indiana tonight, then muster out in the a.m. for Chicago, where they have friends. I was in Chicago for about two days and nights once; drove from Texas with friends to see friends, playing basketball all along the way in high school gyms. It was a great trip. I went to Comiskey Park to see the White Sox play--Nellie Fox, Aparicio. In '59, wasn't it?, they had played in the World Series; might have won, but I don't think so. My trip there would have been about '64 or '65. The Windy City, for good reason, I imagine.

And I'll let you know that we finally saw a movie here; they play the absolute worst junk, always, both up in Crested Butte and down here, too; same people run both theaters. You'd think...But, nah, nothing but Transformers this and Hercules that. We saw Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, and I've liked those pictures; seen them all, I think. I liked this one, too, except it finally went the way of all things Hollywood, disintegrating into ear-splitting mayhem, guns and tanks and all-out war. Otherwise, it was pretty good, really. But if the previews turn out to be prescient, we're in for another long, dry spell.

How dry? We might even get to see Adam Sandler's Grown Ups 2, in which (I read) a frightened deer urinates on Sandler's face. (Anthony Lane in The New Yorker: "In the animal's defense, one could argue that it was merely taking movie criticism to a higher and more clareifying level.")

See you Friday, give or take. See how you do, going cold turkey, you-all.

July 13, 2014


Look at these cute buggers having their own little shoot out before our Cattlemen's Parade.  What form!

More of the wedding which was simply lovely.

Cattlemen's Day Parade with Chris delivering the Country Times newspaper to Main Street, the Queen looking radiant, and the Rodeo gearing up.

More from the reunion

                                      PITCHER TOM

                                    OUR CHAMPION

                                   TEAM WIFFLE BALL


And there you have some more pictures, by popular demand.

July 11, 2014

Confusion reigns

Often--as in always--we don't know what who is. We really have no way of knowing, just by sight, if the new people in town we are talking with at a party are democrat, republican, conservative--what. Not by just looking. That's good. Or, is it?

I recently read in The New Yorker about Egyptians, and the way anyone, even a foreigner just in on a visit--an informed foreigner--can tell what who is, just by "the niqab, the hijab, the beard and the prayer bruise on the forehead." And an uncovered head? A Christian, no doubt about it. And if no women are wearing niqabs, you've been caught up in a slew of devout Muslims. If that immediate clarity seems like a good idea, well, maybe it is, and yet it might--very often does--lead to, say, a Christian, who stumbles into a band of bushy-bearded, prayer shawl-wearing Muslim Brotherhood men, having her or his bare head bashed with a tire iron (since they have so many flat tires over there).

The closest analogy I can come up with here on the spur of another cool moment is the tragic shooting death of Trayvon Martin, who made the (you'd think) innocent mistake of wearing a hoodie in George Zimmerman's neighborhood--the ignorant racist George Zimmerman. Had Trayvon been bare headed, who knows? He might have lived long enough so that Zimmerman might some night later on have gotten another crack at him.

If that analogy is a pretty good one, I'm having more trouble coming up with one for this: one of the bushy-bearded Egyptian men interviewed hiked up his galabiya (that long dress-like robe thing they wear, like Ken Kesey used to wear on his farm in Oregon) to show off a rubbery band of scar tissue encricling each of his ankles. "This was from being hung upside down," he said. "After twenty years, you can still see the marks." Then, he pointed to his friend, another bushy-bearded guy with a prayer bruise on his forehead. "He's the same," he said, and hiked up his friend's galabiya--white rings of scar tissue around both ankles.

Hmmm. Let's see. Other than racial and various other categories of stupid violence that takes place every Saturday night down South, the best I can do is just silly--so silly I won't mention it. I suppose, though, I could bring up the miserable and in my view criminal ways we treat the people trying to come across our southern border. But that might be cheating, since, truly, those desperate people do look different. We can tell what is who down there in deep South Texas, and our reactions to that "on-sight' identification might rank with scars from being dangled upside down by the ankles.

Pretty rugged business, anyway you, uh, look at it.

And, on another subject: a good friend, cruising past the very nearly priceless estate on her bike this morning, stopped to visit, then on her way off to work--WORK! cried Maynard G. Krebs--she said she preferred Susan's blog posts "because of all the pictures." I feel the same way. There would be more Susan blog posts, but it's hard to talk her into it. She's not here right now, but when she gets back, I'll have her string me up by my ankles and take my picture. That should be a winner. I bet it will be my friend's favorite.

July 9, 2014



We had a wonderful time with family along the Florida river at our 14th Ritchey
Reunion in Durango.  We are quite the crew!  And we all helped Mike's brother Tom and sister-in-law Sherry celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary.

I am living vicariously through all my hiking friends who are out in the woods and on top of mountains.

                               The Castles and West Elk - I can feel the magnificence.

                                Silly Kate is making me smile

My knee is getting better but not fast enough to suit me.  Big Pow Wow tomorrow with my PT.  Guess I need to establish how long I am going to give this.  The summer calendar keeps filling up which makes for more postponing for any surgery plan.

We go to Creede next week for camping with friends and seeing some of those excellent plays put on by the Creede Repertory Theater which have been happening for 48 seasons.  I go to Corpus soon.  We have a very important wedding in Telluride in September, and I do not want to be hobbling around on crutches up high at Aldasora.  I just don't have time or inclination for a surgery.

Mike married our good friends Delaney and Jeff while daughter, Cooper, looks on with all smiles.

Friends are out and about...and what will they come up with next????
Here are friends on the other side of Bridal Veils in Telluride.  Yikes!

And here is Chris Drew riding his kayak down South Mineral Creek in Telluride.

And our little girl starts out tomorrow with her fellow and doggy on the 45 hour trek from Portland,  Oregon to Northampton, Mass to start their new lives.  They are in the final throes of packing, movers come tomorrow, final goodbyes to treasured friends.   May the force be with them!  Bitter/Sweet!

So, that's the weekly news from Colorado.  Hope everyone had a terrific 4th.  Wish I had snapped a picture of the 20 or so hot air balloons lifting above our roof  during the holidays.  It is always a beautiful sight, and a wonder to listen to the air blowing.

Peace to all!

July 7, 2014

Stephen Crane flies under the radar

We don't often think of--or read--Stephen Crane, do we? "The Red Badge of Courage," "Maggie, A Girl of the Streets"? Now and then (as in every 10 years or so--I better hurry, if I mean to read him again, huh?), I pick up "Red Badge" and read it. It's eerie, imagining Crane, who was in his early 20's when he wrote it and had not been in a war, depicting those battle and post-battle scenes. Eerie, that he did it so well (or so it seems to me, though I've never been in a war either, other than here on the home front, a war I lose every day).

There is a new biography of Crane out now, being critically acclaimed. Reading reviews, I find that he was born in Newark in 1871--do you think that, because he died so young, it's surprising to learn that he was born so long ago? He'll always seem young, like David Foster Wallace. Crane was the youngest of 14 siblings born into a family of Methodist ministers; only nine of the 14 survived infancy (so, yes, it clearly was a long time ago). He was something of a prodigy: by age four, he was reading novels; at six, a friend watched as he smoked a cigarette on the way to a temperance lecture and drank a beer at a fair the next day.

But he was not much of a student, beginning by failing five of his seven classes as he set out to study mining engineering in college. In writing class, he got a zero. But later, at Syracuse (one semester), he wrote for the college newspaper. During that time, one reviewer wrote, "he shaped the material he gathered there into a first draft of "Maggie." So, his college career was worth something after all.

Like many other novelists, Crane, we're told, "worried over every sentence, sometimes writing just a polished phrase on a scrap of paper, and only then figuring out where to lodge it."

And, hey, get this: he was unable to find a publisher! I take heart! He "scraped together the money" to publish "Maggie" himself. (Sound familiar?) To advertise it, he hired four men to read it as conspicuously as possible on the elevated train...but "it fell flat."

He struggled. He was always broke, living catch as catch can. In one room, he found a quote from Emerson chalked onto a ceiling beam: "Congratulate yourself if you have done something strange and extravagant and broken the monotony of a decorous age." You have to like that, don't you?

In magazines, he read about the Civil War, but felt the stories "lacked immediacy:" "I wonder that some of these fellows don't tell how they felt in those scraps!"And it was between the summer of 1893 (he was 22) and the spring of 1894 that he wrote "The Red Badge of Courage." He imagined the "feelings" of battle so well that he fooled many reviewers. And photography was also inspiration. "Because exposure times in the 1860's were too long to capture soldiers in combat, the iconic images of the Civil War are of corpses after battle. When Crane writes, of the torn sole of a soldier's shoe, that death `exposed to his enemies that poverty which in life he had perhaps concealed from his friends,'" it seems he might have studied photographs.

But "the heart of his realism is psychological rather than photographic."

"The Red Badge of Courage" first appeared at the end of 1894, in an abridged form that was syndicated to newspapers across the country; a full-length book appeared the next year, as did a volume of his poetry. Then, he was sent to cover wars in Mexico. He frequented brothels and rescued a prostitute from wrongful prosecution. It was a scandal. Teddy Roosevelt, New York's police commissioner at the time, had been a friend and admirer, but the "scandal" caused him to sever the relationship. He also smoked opium now and again. Because of the scandal, his career as an investigative reporter was ended. The madam of Jacksonville, Florida's fanciest brothel became his common-law wife.

Adventure: War in Cuba. With gun smugglers, he sailed from Florida for Cuba. The boat sank. For 30 hours, he and three other men took turns rowing a dinghy back to land = "The Open Boat," his great story based on that experience. And the last three years of his life were exhausting--travel and work. William Randolph Hearst hired him and his wife, Cora, to cover the Greco-Turkish War, where he finally witnessed combat. They then moved to England. After several months, they left England and covered the Spanish-American War, witnessing combat again, in Cuba.

He was battling tuberculosis all this time, and in Cuba he became dangerously ill: "He looked like a frayed white ribbon," is how one journalist described him. He died at 28, and a few years after she buried him, Cora returned to Jacksonville and opened a new brothel.

It is possible that I have been leading too calm and clean a life to write novels. I'm ready for action! Watch out! Now, where can I find a brothel?