July 27, 2015


The flowers are at their peak.  I have been hiking a lot.  Knee is good. My Physical Therapist said, "hiking is your friend," so here I go.

Pictures from Hasley Pass in Crested Butte.  It cannot be captured on camera.  There are basins and fields covered for acres, some over your head.  As you go up and into higher elevation, the flowers change and you see smaller tundra flowers but still is awesome and brightly colored.  I would like to take everyone up there on my shoulders, so you can see the magnificence.

                   Green Gentian (Monument), Columbines, Osha, Sneezeweed

Paintbrush, Lupine, Columbines


                                   Baby Elephants - see their trunks

                                     Columbine and Green Gentian
                                              Larkspur, Lupine, Mules Ears

                                       Field of dreams

Dense Flower Dock

                            Ladies bushwhacking up the basin through the tundra

                     Fravert Basin to Frigid Air Pass and West Maroon Bells Pass

Hagerman Peak, West Snowmass Peak, and Snowmass Peak way in the distance

                                  Maroon Bells from the Hasley Ridge

Ladies on top

There was a GPS among us.  We walked 3 hours and stopped to gaze and photograph 3 hours, so a six hour day, 2000' elevation gain one hour drive to Trailhead and back.  Beautiful day!

And to Third Bowl for ice cream in Crested Butte where a large male bear was in a tree right in the middle of town beside the river.  The Animal Control and police were keeping humans at a distance and intended to herd him out of town when we were all asleep.  And were to make it known to him that he was not welcome back.  Hopefully, he will learn and not get a "strike", for three strikes and you are out.

Tomorrow we are off for Creede to meet Telluride buddies, camp along the river and go to two plays "Guys and Dolls"  and "I love St Lucy."

Fun in our Colorado world.
Susan is back!

July 22, 2015

Farewell to Rudy and Ed Doctorow, fine companions both

E.L. Doctorow died of lung cancer. He was 84, and had an excellent career, though it was not until "March," one of his later novels, that John Updike was, Updike wrote, "cured of my Doctorow problem." Updike had criticized Doctorow again and again for playing fast and loose with history--a sort of Zelig of the novel, while other equally qualified and astute reviewers entirely disagreed.

I am moved this morning to write about Doctorow, after seeing the terrifying video of the Texas State Trooper's mauling arrest of the young woman--young BLACK woman, of course--who shortly thereafter hung herself in the Waller County Jail. She had moved into the right lane to allow the trooper to pass, but had failed to signal. The trooper basically picks a fight, mauls her, and (later) she dies, all for nothing--nothing? Not quite. She was "irritated" at the officer's treatment, and told him so. What did she expect?

Why did that awful story make me think of Doctorow? You will recall that, in "Ragtime" (1975), the story is of the lead character, Coalhouse Walker(?), refusing to allow his inhumane treatment at the hands of white authority to go unpunished; he was willing to die to gain retribution--and he did die, of course, just one of many over the course of so many ugly racist years.

Here is the link to the video and story: http://www.nytimes.com/2015/07/22/us/sandra-bland-was-combative-texas-arrest-report-says.html?emc=eta1&_r=0

Doctorow, who was called by his name, Ed(gar), was born in the Bronx and raised as a curious and intellectual boy. He said he just naturally attended the theater and movies and cultural events, and began writing very early-on. His novel, "World's Fair" ('85), he said, was pretty much autobiographical--the Depression, etc. And many of his works, including "The Book of Daniel" ('71--about the son of the executed Rosenbergs), "Ragtime" (in which James Cagney made his last screen appearance) and others won the major awards--Pulitzer, Book Critics Circle, the National Book Award. One of his best, in my view, is his short story collection, "Sweet Land Stories" ('84), which I learned of in my MFA program. It was a New York Times "Notable Book."

And Doctorow, named for Edgar Allen Poe, was a classmate at Kenyon College of an old friend and mentor of mine, Marshall Terry, a Dallas-based writer and professor at SMU. Marsh has published a couple novels himself--"Northway" and "Ringer," and both are wonderful, just like Marsh. Both men studied with John Crowe Ransom at Kenyon. Doctorow also taught writing in two or three universities, as well as writing for the theater, and the occasional stinging leftist political essay.

But he is not the only loss we've suffered today, perhaps not the greatest loss, either. My lifelong friend, L.Z.'s dog, Rudy, called  it quits, also a victim of some kind of cancer. We visited LZ and his wife, Marilyn, in Victoria, B.C., back in late May, and got to know and love Rudy then. He was a Springer Spaniel, just like, if I'm not mistaken, the dogs LZ's dad, Willie, had when LZ and I were kids. Willie was a bird hunter, though neither LZ nor I followed that lead. Rudy was a fine and faithful companion, leading LZ and Marilyn on two walks each day. What now? Will they remain sitting, quit walking? No, I don't think so. Rudy wouldn't approve. His example will live on.

July 17, 2015

Bye bye to Portland, but, gulp, forever?

"Much have I travell'd in the realms of gold,
and many goodly states and kingdoms seen..."

Yet, may not see them again, if a piece in the current New Yorker magazine is close to right -- "The Really Big One" by Kathryn Schulz, a staff writer and author of "Being Wrong: Adventures in the Margin of Error," which, Daniel Gilbert termed "an insightful and delightful discussion of the errors of our ways..." in The New York Times Book Review of July 23, 2010. I read that review, though not the book (my default position on most books, I'm afraid), and took away the opinion that it is in the genre of "psychobabble," concerning little Malcolm Gladwell-type conclusions drawn from anecdotal information. Fine...

But in "The Really Big One" Schulz commits journalistic fraud, in my view, by sensationalizing a real danger -- and leaving us there, scared and hopeless. Her report is truncated, though, I feel sure, not by any editing massacre such as I have mentioned in earlier posts. She is responsible (but I do find fault with the usually reliable and uber-circumspect editorial department at the magazine for not pushing her to go further) for the frightening story of the biggest earthquake-sunami in history that will without a doubt at any minute now wipe the Pacific Northwest coast off the map, and also I call her out for the lack of input about what we might be able to do about it, as in don't we have ways of warning buried way out in the ocean or something?

I just felt that she came up short. Maybe it's because I was so interested in it. Susan and I -- and, boy, have we become world-class over-the-road companions -- drove two days back from Portland, arriving in Gunnison at six o'clock Wednesday evening. The next trip -- if there is a next trip -- I'll be looking over my shoulder for that wave that is not a wave but just the whole ocean now forty feet or more above where it was just a moment earlier. If you saw "The Impossibles," you'll recognize the description.

The question of "not if but when" is a common question among Portlandians. But for the rest of the country, the only earthquake concerns depend on the San Andreas Fault, down in California, and that's a concern, all right, but it pales -- as in PALES -- when compared to the Juan de Fuca, up higher in the Northwest, including Vancouver Island, Canada, where we also spent a couple days with old friends, and I'm glad we did, because the next time we go visit neither they nor Vancouver Island will be there to welcome us with a COLD beer...or two.

The point is that publishing a fearsome piece that could and should be far more complete is not fair to the reader. It is what "yellow journalism" means -- sensationalistic reporting...but, well, maybe that's what we need, if we are to be called to arms. After all, readers of Schulz's story are left with the image of a schoolhouse full of little tykes in Seaside, Oregon, defenseless, innocent, and destroyed KNOWINGLY by OUR laissez-faire approach to their welfare. The school, the superintendent says -- and everyone knows he's right, including the powers that be -- should be moved, but all these cuts in education funding and...well, adios, ninos!

Portland is a great town, my favorite place. Tears stain my grizzled cheeks as I contemplate its demise, recalling the quoted expert's words: "Everything west of I-5 will be toast." That's Portland, and Seaside, and all those duffers whose feet won't reach the floor as they sit at their desks, waiting, but they don't know for what.

Oh, the lines at the top? Keats. "On First Looking into Chapman's Homer." Say what? You already knew that?

July 12, 2015

Nice Trip

We've had a nice trip to Portland. We're still here, but are just sort of wrapping things up and will be heading back to Colorado early Tuesday. It's been good to catch up with our children, who are almost too old to enjoy now, and the wedding day was splendid from start to finish--a long day that flew by. The entire event made us happy and proud of the people our children have become: you are known by the company you keep, and they keep the best. We were even included. I did my part, eating more devilled eggs (my favorite) than I've ever eaten in my life, and all I can think about is that I wish I had a few more.

I've just read the NYT review of Harper Lee's "Go Tell A Watchman." It was more of a summary (also of  "Mockingbird"); no judgement calls--was it good, bad, whatever. I'll have to wait for my book club to take a look at it, which we will be doing, though I don't remember which month. It's a cool book club, and the readers who come--most have even read the book!--are fun but serious. I'm leading the session in February. "My" book is Anthony Doerr's "All the Light We Cannot See," which Susan has read and liked a lot. It's sort of long, so I need to get on it. But--

How can I when I keep going to Powell's and buying five more, which I then start reading a bit of, as in a bit of this a bit of that, though I rarely anymore just bear down and, night after night, read a whole book. I just did that, as it happens, with T.C. Boyle's "The Harder They Come" (the title is taken from the old Jimmy Cliff song), and am very glad I did; really liked it. It, too, is one of the book club's coming selections. My friend, Pat, a retired English lit. teacher, will lead that discussion, and I'm anxious to find out what she thinks. She's smarter than I am, but then so are the others, for that matter. I think I have observations they are interested in hearing. But they are nice and democratic, so they might just be putting me on.

So, we've not been going to movies this time around--except, I did see a marvelously restored print of "Psycho," at the Laurelhurst, which has maybe three screens, could be four, and shows classics and second-runs. It's a great house. I just learned that it's owned by a couple of guys--free and clear of any mortgage--who also have a cafe in town. I feel better, hearing that it's doing very well financially, and yet I also learned that there is development pressure on it, like every place in Portland, it seems. A huge condo complex is being completed right next door, the immediate area is "hot," and who knows--oh, the theater is right on one of the finest corners in Portland, too.

The other film was one of the all-time greats--"About Elly." It's Iranian, by the same director who did "A Separation" (2011-12, or so), which we also saw. It, too, was a knockout. This one was sort of a "Big Chill" made by a grown-up with good sense. I won't go into the plot. It's just beautiful and, as my son-in-law noted, "compelling." He's right (he should be, of course, being a film expert). He pointed out that this director (and his actors, all of whom are excellent) makes simple, everyday, mundane activities and happenings "compelling." We were all just blown away.

So, I'm only wanting to stay in touch here. I don't have a lot to say, and there is nothing to speak of on my mind (other than those devilled eggs). I will probably not post again before Colorado, but I might, if something occurs to me. In the meantime, stay in touch with each other and stay away from television. Duh!

Oh, "Psycho" was as good as ever, maybe better, although the "scare" factor has long ago been taken out of it for me, I'm so familiar with it. But Anthony Perkins was just tremendous, and--

Hey, what am I thinking? We saw "The Third Man," the movie made from the Graham Greene novel, starring Joseph Cotten, Trevor Howard and the overwhelming Orson Welles as Harry Lime (love that name! particularly in context). Again, a wonderfully restored print. This "noir" from 1950 or so, I think, is lauded by all critics worth their salt, and often said to be the best noir film of all. Don't miss it! It played at another of my "favorite" theaters, Cinema 21. Good stuff in this town is, I'm not kidding, everywhere!

July 6, 2015


In a recent conversation with a writing colleague here in Portland--the conversation had begun when I mentioned that I had just seen a great print of "Psycho"--the subject of India somehow entered the jabber, inspiring my friend, who has never been to India and was interested in going, to bring up Jean Renoir's 1951 film "The River," which was set in India, and, said my friend, whom his wife calls "the brain," is "maybe the most beautiful piece of cinematography I know."

I am not familiar with the movie, which was remade in 1984 with Mel Gibson, nor with the novel from which it came. The novelist, Rumer Godden, also wrote the screenplay for Renoir's film. She was British, was born and lived off and on in India under The Raj (British rule), and died not all that long ago at age 90. I was also unfamiliar with Rumer Godden, whose most famous and successful book is, I think, "Black Narcissus." That book, too, was made into a movie, but I know nothing really about it. (If I am sounding dumb, well, duh.)

Rumer Godden was a very interesting person, a woman who knew and responded to her own mind. Reading a little bit about her (praise be to Wikipedia, which, I was alarmed to learn, may be in jeopardy of either "not making it" or of being bought by some other outfit with an aim to make it "profitable," and we know what that means), I found that she was pregnant when she married, that the guy she married didn't like her anymore than she liked him, that they had that first daughter then another, but only the first daughter succeeded her at her death and I found nothing about the other daughter at all, that she then married a civil servant who was devoted to her, but when he died after many married years, she said she never wanted another man, never wanted to be "consoled" again. And this: Her second husband "looked after her devotedly, leaving her free to produce a steady stream of books in the 1950s and 1960s." Godden described him and the marriage: "A nice, ugly man. He would do anything for me, but it was not the other way round." Her heart, she claimed, had been given to Jane Austen's Mr. Darcy: "I loved him far more than my own husbands."

It is interesting, how many well-known writers and literary types today, when asked 1. who are their favorite novelists, will include Jane Austen, and at the same time, so many who, when asked the question "what book(s) are you embarrassed not to have read," will say, "anything by Jane Austen." Hmmm? I, for example, don't believe I have read--yes, I have, too. I am sure I read "Pride and Prejudice." Is that the one with Mr. Darcy?

As for "The River" (Renoir's), I read that it is one of Scorsese's favorites, that he once showed a print to Wes Anderson, who then made "Darjeeling Limited."

That's it. Our lesson for today.

July 4, 2015

Say what? Writers don't always like what they read?

Theodore Weesner, a more or less "obscure" novelist who also taught writing for most of his career, died last week. He was almost 80. I don't think I've read anything he wrote. The most popular and well-known of his works was "The Car Thief," a coming-of-age story about a sad teenager who steals cars--lots of cars. While Weesner was highly regarded by a few other novelists, he could never quite "make it," and when The New York Times published a less-than-glowing review of "The True Detective" (1987), he took a step many writers want to take, but don't. He fired off a letter to The Times, which they published.

"The book in question is one I worked on for more than five years, and it came alive, and it does work--it is relevant and it is compelling--and the responses I've received from others and in earlier reviews have been genuine, extravagant, even passionate. Yet you chose to give it a short review, inconscpicuously placed, and--I just cannot deal with this--your reviewer did not even understand what he read. I repeat: Your reviewer did not even understand what he read. And you printed it. You break my heart. You owe me much more than an apology."

Well, you have to hand it to him, in my view. Bless his heart, he believed in his work and stood tall in its corner. Power to him! Rather than merely sulk, or swear (as so many writers do) "I don't read reviews" (hah!), Weesner laid himself bare, writing from the heart. And I imagine that's the way he wrote his novels, as truly as he could make them.

Like Robert Frank made his photographs. You may have seen the LONG piece on Frank in The New York Times Magazine this past week. Frank, who is of Swiss (or something like that) descent but basically has become an American over all the years, is 90. His career has been a huge success. Unlike Weesner, Frank put his work out there, and then went on his way--"his" way being a euphemism for doing exactly what he wanted to do, no matter who it hurt, including his family and, sooner or later, virtually every friend he ever had. Of course, he's a tad more mellow now, but back in the day, running with The Beats, if and when he ran with anybody, Robert Frank put real faces to the faceless people few of us ever see. When his "The Americans" was published over 50 years ago, it was a sensation. Other artists were blown away. Here is how the LA artist Ed Ruscha remembers it: "I was sitting in an art-student cafe when a classmate brought in a brand-new copy of the book. Suddenly, there weren't enough chairs for everyone; we were craning our necks, looking at it page by page. It's like--You know where you were when John F. Kennedy was shot? I know where I was when I saw `The Americans.'" For Ruscha, in Frank's hands, the camera became a new kind of machine. "I was aware of Walker Percy's work. But I felt like those were still lives. Robert's work was life in motion."

"Life in motion." What better "review" could a person want, artist or just plain old person (Yours Very Truly, for example)? I don't think Frank complained. Weesner? He might have. But even Weesner would surely have been placated with an even higher compliment. Like this: "Over the years, `The Americans' would follow the trajectory of experimental American classics like `Moby Dick' and `Citizen Kane'--works that grew slowly in stature until it was if they had always been there. To BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN, who keeps copies of `The Americans' around his home for songwriting motivation, "the photographs are still shocking. It created an entire American identity, that single book. To me, it's Dylan's `Highway 61,' the visual equivalent of that record. It's an 83-picture book that has 27,000 pictures in it. That's why `Highway 61' is powerful. It's nine songs with 12,000 songs in them. We're all in the business of catching things. Sometimes we catch something. He just caught all of it.'"

Robert Frank. Bob Dylan. The Boss. What could be better?

June 28, 2015

O-Bar-O Action non-Abating

Thought I'd grab a quick moment to bring you up to date, while five little boys--two sets of brothers, the oldest of whom is eight--paint birdhouses on the picnic table outside my window here at the O-Bar-O resort on the Florida River just outside Durango. A couple decks down, my "little" brother, Tom, and basically everyone else are gathered around a table, playing some card game; I hope not poker. Susan is playing and I notice I'm missing my wallet.

A lot going on, in other words, most of it simple fraternizing with family and soon-to-be-family, much of it "extended." It's the slightest gathering we've had here at this Ritchey Family Reunion since it began, maybe 13 years ago. How many there have been is something of a non-urban legend. No one really seems to know.

It's a nice place--a bunch of log cabins lining the river, which is the highest it's been this year, because of the heavy snow that fell late into the spring high in the mountains, the daily rainfall all the way through May and the first part of June, and the temperatures, which waited till all the snow had piled up way in the top crevasses of the peaks, before turning hot and staying that way. The melt has filled all the reservoirs and our rivers runneth over.

Each morning, pretty early--6-6:30 or so--I'm out at the hot tub area, visiting with my brother, drinking my coffee. We talk about sports, for the most part--he's the old coach, of course, and I'm always interested--but, too, we chat, as we did today, about "ancient" family memories, seeing if what each of us remembers is anything like the memories of the other. They are, to my mind, close enough. The rest of the day is filled with piddling, walking, talking, eating--and my sister-in-law and her sister, "playing" with the children.

We almost lost the littlest one back in the spring. He is Waylon, 3, and the youngest of three San Diego brothers. He has some kind of problem that's been handed down through his family, which causes some kind of I don't know what on his brain, requiring "craniotomies"--he's had three already. You can't tell it--oops, the little boys have painted the birdhouses and, oh, yeah, time for another picture. But Waylon's dad, Brian, is quite a dad, believe me. He's a leader in "Indian Guides," which I think is something like Boy Scouts, and handles the three boys with ease and humor, and there is clearly a strong connection. This year, Brian is here with his fiancé, Risa, who came to this country all by herself, eight years ago, speaking not a lick of English. Pretty good story:

Risa says she never felt comfortable in Japan, and, indeed, she does not seem "Japanese" to me, really. She says she is and always has been way more outgoing, verbal, emotional--and that's what I mean: I've thought of Japanese people as being more taciturn and self-effacing. Risa is a pistol. She's a hit here, so far as I can tell. And, oh, but anyway, back to her "story."

She flew alone to San Diego where she expected to meet a "host" family, with whom she had somehow arranged to live. The family was not at the airport. Risa did not know what to do, so she just sat down to wait and think. She sat for a couple of hours, before a man approached and, struggling to communicate, asked if he could help. He told her that his wife was Japanese and would be landing any minute. When the wife did land, she and Risa talked, and that couple found the host family, and Risa was on her way. She's learned the language pretty good--real good, to tell the truth-- and she and Brian have been dating for 15 months. He's going with her to meet her family in Japan in August, and is learning how to ask her father for her hand in marriage--in Japanese. Brian says there is an app on his phone that allows him to type in what he wants to say, and the phone "speaks" it in Japanese. I don't know, but I bet the father says "yes."

It's close now to time for the afternoon whiffle ball game. It's a small outfit, playing this year, since our numbers are down, but it's still spirited. The competition for the Mighty Whiff is fierce. A fancy trophy awaits the player who strikes out more than anyone else. I think Brian is leading. He is a strong contender for the title every year, and told me he made sure to have room in his luggage so he could get the trophy back to San Diego.

And tonight will be the last night for Movie Trivia around the campfire. We've had two very close matches, but the "youngsters" have won both rounds--last night's in overtime. I'm resting up. They don't know who they're messing with.