October 30, 2014

A Mind Decidedly Not Like Ours

After less than an hour of being severely brutalized this morning, I, recuperating, just now read this in a little book on "description," one of the primary concerns in writing (voice, tone, time...are some others), by Mark Doty: "When our imaginations meet a mind decidedly not like ours, our own nature is suddenly called into question. We place our own eye beside that of the fish (in the Elizabeth Bishop poem, "Fish") in order to question our own seeing. Consciousness can't be taken for granted when there are, plainly varieties of awareness..."

Hmmm, "a mind decidedly not like ours?" When I read that little bit, I had an epiphanic moment: the dentist!

I won't go to great length here, about who in the world would WANT to be a dentist, or about dentists always ranking at the top of per-capita suicides, regarding occupation. No, in fact I like this dentist, or I like the person who is this dentist. I was in Rotary with him for quite awhile. He's a good, hardworking man, clearly dedicated to the job, and he's good (pretty hard to determine what's "good" in this context, however). Nor will I go into the "work" I had done; too gruesome. I will only say that, of all the encounters and experiences I've had in my long life that fit into the "physical" category, this was not the worst. No. But it was in the top five, and I am not sure it would not be more accurately placed in the top three. Rugged.

And that lofty ranking is not bestowed here because of pain; it's something other than pain. What pain he delivered was exceedingly minor, and even now, eight hours after the attack, I'm not in pain, not really. I think that it's that I feel I've been abused. Helpless, shot full of Novacaine, on my back, people with power tools looming over me, so forth and so on, TENSE--as tense as Jodie Foster in that dark house with a lunatic in "Silence of the Lambs." I came out of there flat-out whipped. Numb, and I mean all over, head to toe, inside and out. Maybe it's like being hit by a truck, and living, lying crumpled but breathing and aware--not fully aware, no, just off the edge of full awareness. Just not right.

And I haven't been "right" all day. I'm coming around, took a slow walk on this perfect late day--made it just a few blocks, and, tired, stumbled back inside, wilted, and feeling disoriented, not exactly like, but something like, James Caan waking up and finding himself tied to Kathy Bates's bed in "Misery."

I swear I will never do it again. The dentist, who believes, brother, in his product--"I am so grateful we've done this ("we've"?). It will so improve your life. You will live longer for having done it..."--talked me into it. He sold me on it just two days earlier, like "Glengarry Glen Ross." As I left, I asked if he had a beat-up old car I could buy.

So, returning to my premise--how to accurately describe a thing with words. In his little book, Mark Doty, continuing the thought that opened today's tragedy, wrote: "...a relief, is it not, to acknowledge that we do not after all know what a self is? A corrective to human arrogance, to the numbing (!) certainty that puts a soul to sleep." If, after this morning's one-hour smash-mouth how-to-endure-and-survive-torture practice, I had even a smidgen of the "arrogance" I might have been plagued with at 16, it's a malady that, today, underwent a "corrective." My "soul"? Well, no, it's not "sleeping," just drilled full of holes.

What do you think? Have I delivered a pretty decent description?

October 28, 2014

As Texas goes, so goes...

The New York Review has a very interesting piece, "Texas: The Southern Baptists in Power" (Oct. 9, 2014) by Thomas Powers, in which I learned, among many other things, that H.L. Mencken coined the term "Bible Belt," and that a map of the Bible Belt and a map of the Confederacy are pretty much the same, and why? "The unbending defense of slavery by Southern Baptists before the Civil War--something everbody in the Bible Belt knows but most ignore, dismiss, or deny."

Southern Baptists, in Texas, at least, rule. "A big fact of American history: three of the last nine presidents have been Texans, and Ted Cruz and Rick Perry think they have a chance to be the fourth. Cruz is a Baptist, Perry, brought up as a Methodist, now attends an evangelical megachurch."

What else? Hmmm. The two largest churches in the country are in Houston, one has 43,000 members, the other 23,000 (both are Baptist, though the bigger one has begun calling itself "nondenominational charismatic"). And from the time of the notorious J. Frank Norris, the old Ft. Worth firebrand Southern Baptist minister, Texas Baptists' "evangelical zeal" is designed "to make America more like Baptist Texas while ensuring that Baptist Texas did not become more like the rest of America."(I cannot avoid noting that Norris was twice tried for, and acquitted of, serious crimes--in 1912, for burning his own church; and 1926, for shooting to death an unarmed man in Norris' own church office. Norris claimed that the victim made "the hip pocket move," as if to reach for a gun, and the jury bought it. Don't you love it, "the hip pocket move?")

Powers writes that, in politics and religion, "Texans appear to have a low tolerance for difference. They are prepared to change but only like starlings, at the same time in the same direction and all at once." They have, for instance, voted overwhelmingly Republican since 1976, the last time they voted for a Democrat for president--Jimmy Carter. "He was a Baptist and a southerner," Powers writes, "but in the Texas view not the right kind of either."

And I think he's got a good point, as in, now, the country is closely divided, yes? Texas? No, not even a little bit. Powers: "At the moment Baptist Republican Texas is for election of a president in 2016 who respects traditional verities and is a guilt-free white male straight Protestant Republican who believes the final word is not yet in on man's role in climate change."

This was not news to me: "Religion is a growth industry in Texas, which has twice as many Baptists as any other state." Texas is, after all, bigger--I have never been able to remember that Alaska is a state. Who says so?

That's NYRB. This same month, Texas Monthly magazine's cover story is about Baylor University in Waco, the biggest and most influential BAPTIST university in the world. Who is its president? Kenneth Starr--yes, THAT Kenneth Starr, who, it turns out, is quite the evangelical Baptist himself, running around in shorts and a green and gold shirt (Baylor's colors), high-fiving incoming freshmen. Non-Christian professors will not be hired at Baylor; it is an open policy. The way to revived glory and sparkling new campus and larger enrollment? Football! (All sports, reall. The women's basketball team has been a national powerhouse for quite some time now.) Baylor has a huge, new stadium, built right near I-35 so it can be the beacon for Waco, an advertisement seen by countless thousands of motorists on their way through town. (Tuition at Baylor is now $35,000 a year.)

Texas is, and always has been, just flat out bigger in every way than anyplace else. How tall IS Lyndon Johnson? people would ask. "We don't know, really. He's just taller than anyone else." LBJ called his male member "Jumbo," and probably for good reason.

I grew up a Methodist in a very small West Texas town, but I had more fun at the Baptist church a block or two away. I add a caveat: I never went to the Baptist church until its summer revival came to town. Then, I'd go, to see the great preachers AND to watch my classmates, Baptists, be baptized--in a white robe, dunked in a glass tank behind the altar, whoo, boy! That was something to see and laugh about. We Methodists just sprinkled. (There is a joke about that difference, but, you guessed it, I forget.) I've yet to forget, however, attending those spirited sessions as an outsider, a teenager to boot (and booting is what I had coming, more often than not). Homer Martinez? Angel Martinez? Those names ring a bell? I think I'll Google them to see if they're still around. They'd be old, in their eighties at least, even more, but Baptists, I believe, though my studies thus far are inconclusive, that Baptists live longer than the rest of us, so...

The Martinez revival preachers, brothers (there is a name for revival preachers, but I can't think of it just now--EVANGELISTS, of course) were handsome, charismatic, really funny and cool--and they were believers, brother. You can believe ME when I tell you. One would come one year, the other the next, and I'd never miss a meeting; they'd always hold a youth meeting, before the main event. I loved to banter with them, though I certainly won't say I was a match. Both of them knew the Bible by heart. We'd call out a book, chapter, verse, and Homer or Angel would recite it, word for word. They never failed. I was blown away--

just as I was blown away one night about that same time in my life at a community gathering at the school auditorium; a magician put on a show. The place was packed. I'd been to these kinds of things before and knew that, at some point, he'd ask for a volunteer from the audience: "Who is bold enough, brave enough to volunteer for an experiment?" and 20 hands would shoot up. But it wasn't a large auditorium. I figured if I played my cards right (to stay in context), I had a good chance. I wore a bright, red shirt, sat up close, and, yes! I was picked, annointed. I'm fuzzy on the details of the "experiment," but it did involve my tying the magician's wrists with a rope--tight--then follow his orders, to look out at the audience, holding the rope--and "whack!" he'd tap me alongside the head, the audience would laugh, I'd jerk my head, look at the rope, pull on it--tight!

It was as mysterious as the story of Jonah and the whale--still.

October 26, 2014

Books and Movies and Life

I am sitting right now, looking at a photo of Henri Matisse, with his scissors, cutting out "shapes" = "the radicalism of Matisse's cutouts," according to The New Yorker. My friend, Pamela, will be in New York in a few days to see the "cutout" exhibit at The Museum of Modern Art. How cool is that going to be? What a treat! And I read online somewhere just today a piece by--no, it came in an email from Pamela--John Richardson, who apparently was best friends with everyone who's ever been anyone in the art world, noting that when he was 26 and an art critic he visited Matisse in his Paris hotel room--many rooms, in fact--where the master, in bed for several years already, was perfecting his cutouts. Matisse was 82 and because of very painful ailments in his I don't know where-all, he'd just taken to his bed and stayed there. At this point, he was cutting out his art with scissors and whatever. Amazing. Because, imagine, those "things" Richardson--just 26!--saw the great maestro creating are now being shown in all their glory right here--or there--in New York!

I don't always go to sleep when I get in bed, but I'm liable to. For sure, I don't pick up my 12-foot-long bamboon pole and poke my assistants to "get it right!" like Matisse did. I guess I would, if I had such a pole and had any idea about art. I read that the one diversion Matisse would allow was Picasso's 3-year-old son, who would come in and--hey, like ANY 3-year-old--jump up and down on the bed.

You know, when you think about it, a guy like Matisse, 82, bed-ridden, fat, but still "with it," and going right on doing whatever he had to do to "work," well, do you think Matisse was worried about the hereafter? Don't go OFF on me here. I just thought of that as I was typing. But, really, did Matisse even THINK about the hereafter or wherever? I mean, he's basically on his death bed, but instead of calling in St. Francis or somebody and getting right with God, he takes his scissors and a long bunch of paper and starts cutting out, well, not paper dolls, not like you and I might cut out, but ART. Interesting.

I think that, while I've known quite a few very accomplished and successful artists in my day, there are those who are just out there, above there, off in space there, wherever "there" is, and everybody, even the best of the "regular" sorts of artists, knows it. Matisse was out there, brother. He was in his bed, whipped physically, 82, on his way out, and he didn't give a damn. He was still working, creating art. Painting in bed was a little sketchy so he took to just cutting out paper, and that paper, after all these years, is on view today in New York City, and it don't get any bigger than that. Matisse. My man! A million people, minimum, will go to whatever lengths and expense to see those paper dolls.

And to Matisse and writers who go blind--Milton, et al--and continue writing by dictating (in Milton's case) 10,000 lines in perfect pentameter, well, hey, here's to you. They don't make 'em like you no more, or maybe they do and I just have not stumbled onto them, but have stumbling on them to look forward to. You are all a formidable example and benchmark and I'm out to not do you one better, but just to be a small part. To begin with, way to go, and thanks.

Power to the good people-ism,


October 24, 2014

Ebola

I think I mentioned a day or two ago that I would be writing more about Ebola. As you can see--as if you needed more proof--I mean what I say and say what I mean, other than the time or two I've been mistaken and had to lie my way out of it. That earlier mention, though, had to do with music and musicians, and in particular Pardis Sabeti, songwriter and lead singer for an indie rock group, who, as head of a lab at M.I.T. and Harvard, is one of the leaders in the race to find some kind of cure for the Ebola virus. She's only in her late 30's, and looks like I'd expect an indie rocker to look--pretty good, in other words.

Since then, I've learned, via reading about the Ebola "outbreak" in The New Yorker (I am, I'm afraid, not all that interested, and only read the article because I know that The New Yorker would make whatever I read in its pages interesting). One of the things I've learned is that Ebola is very hard to recognize, which is the main reason it's so hard to corral. An Ebola particle is invisible to the naked eye, of course; that was no surprise. But to describe it in a way we might understand, the writer, Richard Preston (we remember him as author of the huge best-seller "The Hot Zone"), put it this way: "An Ebola particle is only around eighty nanometres wide and a thousand nanometres long (me and nanometres are tight). If it were the size of a piece of spaghetti, then a human hair would be about twelve feet in diameter and would resemble the trunk of a giant redwood tree." Ebola particles, I take it, are pretty doggone small.

Little but loud: "In a fatal case, a droplet of blood the size of the 'o' in this text could easily contain a hundred million particles of Ebola virus." Man! And the "o" in the article is smaller than this "o" right here!

As we've all noted, doctors and health care workers--the front lines--are far and away the most likely to be infected (other than family members of those who were infected in the first place). And Ebola is extremely infectious, the most infectious disease sine H.I.V. appeared in the early '80's. Ebola apparently got its start in early December of LAST YEAR, in a village called Meliandou, in Guinea, in West Africa. A 2 year-old boy, with diarrhea and a fever, died from the parasite, which normally lives in some as yet unidentified creature in the ecosystems of equatorial Africa. (This is perfect Richard Preston style--lives in a "creature" etc.) This creature is the (here comes Preston again) "natural host" of Ebola--a type of fruit bat, or some small animal that lives ON the body of a bat, maybe a bloodsucking insect, a tick, or a mite. (I am cancelling my reservations at Carlsbad Caverns.)

So, Ebola killed the boy, then his mother, his 3 year-old sister, and their grandmother, then left their village, moving through the human population of Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone. There is no vaccine so the only way it can be stopped is by breaking the chains of infection. Health workers have to identify people who are infected and isolate them, then monitor everybody with whom those people have come in contact, then make sure the virus does not jump to somebody else and start a new chain. In West Africa, doctors and health care workers HAVE LOST TRACK OF THE CHAINS. Too many people are sick, and more than 200 health care workers have died!! I did not realize that. The number of people infected? Who knows? What IS known is that 9,000 cases and 4,500 deaths have been reported so far. The number of cases is doubling every three weeks. It is, Preston writes, an "epidemic," though the developed world--the U.S., in particular--seems in control of the situation here...

Then, this morning, we find that a doctor in New York has Ebola. New York is not Lagos or Calcutta, but still. The biggest concern is that the virus will get rolling in someplace like Calcutta or Lagos. Then, brother, watch out!

For a friend, Dr. Khan, the main man in the fight in the filthy wards of West Africa--and the descriptions of those wards and the mucous and crap and sweat and vomit flying around, landing on everyone nearby, is blood-curdling--gave his life, fighting Ebola. Pardis Sabeti wrote a song for him called "One Truth," with a line "I'm in this fight with you always." Her hope was to sing it to him. She did not get the opportunity. When he died, she said, "I can't even begin to describe the feeling of loss for the world."

Reading about these doctors and health care workers who knowingly risk their lives to do the right thing, makes me feel even less valuable in this world than even I should feel. (I won't go into how it makes me feel about so many of our own chubby docs who are too busy to see us, or who won't take Medicare, or...oh, well, the Hippocratic Oath? Is that a swear word?) One droplet of blood or one droplet of some infected someone's sweat or spit and---

Yours in faith-based surely it won't happen here-ism I mean other than in New York-ism--


October 22, 2014

Music Is, or Should Be, What It's All About

Reading about the protests against the Metropolitan Opera's staging of John Adams's "The Death of Klinghoffer," I'm reminded of the riots that took place in 1913 when Stravinsky introduced his ballet, "The Rites of Spring," in Paris. Like Beethoven's 9th changing the way symphony music was presented, Stravinsky's ballet changed ballet. Before, all ballet was graceful, pretty, quiet, then came Stravinsky's dancers, leaping and plunging, "landing so hard on the stage that their internal organs shook," or so I read someplace. Fistfights broke out as those who appreciated the new "thing" duked it out with those who did not like change. Even before the halfway mark, the audience was fighting. Police calmed the scene, only to see it erupt again later. Stravinsky was so shaken he fled the auditorium before the ballet was over.

Now, people in New York are queueing up, for and against, the decision to put on the opera, the story of the Palestinian terrorists boarding a cruise ship and pushing Leon Klinghoffer overboard in his wheelchair, among other atrocities. The best I can tell, some Jewish organizations and individuals are accusing the Met of promoting terrorism, merely by showing it on stage.

I like all the tussling. It gives music a bit of a boost, in my mind. Rather than sit on our hands as if we were at a tennis match, let's behave at least a little bit more at the symphony like we do at the Stones. Classical music needs us all, and in fact, I've been told by my daughter, who knows, that before a certain point in time (which I don't remember), audiences did raise a little hell at symphonies and operas and the like. There is some opinion that the move to quiet consideration, not to say nodding off to sleep, has, over the years, caused would-be audiences to stay home. I imagine that, if that is indeed the case, the atmosphere at concerts will surely revert to rowdier climates. I've even read that there is discussion underway, regarding turning crowds at tennis matches loose, letting them root, root, root for the home team, rather than pat-pat-pat their white-gloved hands.

Music is the greatest thing on Earth--and, I'm sure, beyond. As a matter of fact, reading today about the idea of "genius" in The New York Review of Books, I learned that "experts" consider Bach the reigning musical genius--not his choral works, his Mass in B Minor, but the instrumental works, and the keyboard works in particular, that give some credence to the theory that man's mind--or some people's minds, some very few and select people--has capacity for genius, and, indeed, has evidenced now and then an almost God-like ability to figure things out. When Carl Sagan was asked what music he would send off with Voyager 1 on its eternal journey way out there where there might possibly be other intellectual life, he said, "I would vote for Bach, all of Bach, streamed out into space over and over again. We would be bragging, of course, but it is surely excusable to put on the best possible face at the beginning of such an acquaintance. Any species capable of producing the music of Johann Sebastian Bach cannot be all bad." That was a long time ago--Bach, I mean--the 18th century. To modify a well-known aphorism: what have you musicians done for us lately?

Well, quite a lot, really, and in more ways than just writing music or playing it, though we must note that John Adams, the composer who should be credited for creating some action at the opera, is alive and well and even lives (I think) in LA. But I point to others, who bolster the claim that great musicians are whizzes at math, and even brighter than that.

Pardis Sabeti, an associate professor of biology at Harvard University, is among the leaders in the race to come up with some kind of antidote for the Ebola virus. She is the head of a lab at Harvard, and leads viral genome efforts at the Broad Institute of M.I.T. and Harvard. And here's the kicker: In her spare time, Sabeti is the lead singer and songwriter for an indie band called Thousand Days. Its fourth album has been delayed owing to her work on the Ebola outbreak.

Don't you love it? An indie rocker leading the worldwide charge against Ebola (about which, yes, I expect to write more in the near future)? I do. And her researcher sidekick is a tall, handsome young guy with a tattoo of a particle of monkeypox, a stylish image of the virus's inner structure the guy, Stephen Gire, designed himself, on his left forearm. (He, BTW--hey!--is a talented chef and turned down a spot on the TV show "Top Chef" to go to the Democratic Republic of Congo to study monkeypox--related to smallpox).)

Yours in faith-based play it again, Pardis-ism.

October 21, 2014

"Fury" A Good Title for War

I drove up to Crested Butte, to the Majestic Theater, to see Brad Pitt's new movie, "Fury." It was a David Ayer film, whoever he is. WW2, "THE" war, is shown in a way--dark, wet, cold, tiring--to give non-combatants like Yours Very Truly a good "feel" for what it must have been like (though it seems to me that it would be impossible to truly portray the visceral horror and fear those people involved must have felt). Pitt is really good, just like he always is, in my view. He actually smokes his cigarettes, unlike the stars who pretend to smoke them. He curses violently. He kills violently. He HATES the enemy. He is brutal, cruel, but smart. He is a sergeant and the commander of the tank, Fury. He has kept his crew alive--but one--while most of the tanks around them have fallen. And throughout, he and his men rally with the statement, "Best job I ever had." In the end, well, I guess I'll not go all the way to the end. You might see it. I cannot advise seeing it, because of one long scene--15-20 minutes--that just did not fit. For me, it ruined the movie. I know you'll be dying of curiosity after so mysterious an offering, so I'll just say that it was in no way pivotal to the action, did not lend anything at all to the story, and that is my objection to it. It's a scene in which Pitt, who pretty much knows everything, takes the newcomer, a very small and squirrel-like kid who's a typist and the butt of the rest of the crew's anger and jokes and general disgust with the whole thing into the apartment of a German woman and her young cousin, an apartment that has not been wrecked, bombed into rubble--and so forth. It just does not belong in the movie. (The kid's assignment to the tank crew is a metaphor for how muddled the army was, how short-handed, AND it was 1945, the last year of the war; that so many people were still dying so miserably at that late stage! But, after all, the game is not over till the last bell rings).

Watching it--and later, too--I thought of my father-in-law, who began WW2 in the cavalry! Yes, horses. (And, indeed, the GREAT opening scene of "Fury" is a German officer coming at us mid-screen, slowly, slowly, on a big white horse.) His stories about training down around Brownsville at the tip of South Texas and even in Louisiana in all that heat and all those woolen uniforms were great stories. But he was smart. He saw the writing on the wall, and when a chance presented itself, he signed up for the Air Force. From horses, he went to airplanes, learning to fly in just weeks, as they did then under so much pressure, and before he knew it, he was the pilot of a B-24 bomber, flying from Britain over Germany, bombing everything to smithereens. He told me he did not know what all the targets were; he just flew and bombed--30 missions and never lost a member of his crew. I've read that the fatality rate of bomber pilots was 89 percent. Everyone wanted to be on his crew.

But he didn't tell those stories until way late in life. I don't know if he was self-effacing--he was--or just didn't want to talk about it. I do know that he never flew a plane after the war. He said he had absolutely no desire to do so. I know some men who won't talk about their experiences--WW2, Vietnam--and I am sure I don't blame them. How could I? Asked by, say, me, someone who, even though I'm old enough to have fought in Vietnam, didn't, didn't even go into the service in any way, shape or form, those guys who did go can be forgiven for not talking to me. I knew fairly well one veteran, an infantryman, who became a professor at the university here. I knew he'd been at Normandy or Omaha Beach, one of those ridiculously ordered landings--though they were, I suppose, decisive in some ways, or at least hurt the Germans and kept us moving. I said to him one day at Rotary Club that, if he ever had the time, I'd like to talk to him about..."I won't ever have the time," he said. He's dead now, so he was right.

There are a few moments in "Fury" that are pretty sickening, and overall, well, it must have been a terrible thing. My late uncle was in the infantry, made one of those landings, went through the war and came home. He told me that you would get so tired and so cold and so mentally exhausted that it hardly occurred to you to do anything but what you were told. "We'd had a very hard time all of one day, one bitter cold day, losing a lot of the men, and at nightfall we were told we were charging a big machine gun nest the next morning. One young guy was crying. He said to me, `I can't do it, Corporal. I just can't do it. I'm 19 years old. I just don't want to die.' I said, `I'm only 22. The captain himself is 24. I don't want to do it either. He doesn't want to do it. But we will. That's just the way it is." But morning came, and the order came down, calling the charge off. "Can you imagine?" my uncle said. "I spent the whole night awake, thinking tomorrow would be my last day on this earth, and then to have it called off?"

It's something, isn't it? War is as ingrained in us as breathing, I think. It never stops and never will. I'm reading now, in The New York Review of Books, a great piece by Charles Glass, who, in September (if you can believe this), traveled the eastern boundary of Syria, all through that ruined land, a true Mad Max dystopia (don't ask me why he did, but he did). His article is "In the Syria We Don't Know." It's unbelievable, really, far worse, if these instances can be ranked, than the massacre (surely) of the young people down in the state of Guerrero in Mexico. I won't go on and on about Glass' story, just a part of the opening, in which a young woman shows him a picture on her phone of her cousin, a family photograph of a young man in his 20's with his two sons, age 5 and 6. Her next picture was off the Internet--"the same young man, but his head was severed. Beside him lay five other men in their 20's whose bloody heads were similarly stacked on their chests."

Pretty rugged. Can't get any worse. Well, maybe not, but Glass goes on, to another photo on the young woman's phone: "His once happy face had been impaled now on a spike. The spike was one of many in a fence enclosing a public park in Raqqa, a remote provincial capital on the Euphrates River in central Syria. Along the fence were other decapitated heads that children had to pass on their way to the playground."

I shouldn't be surprised or even horrified, at the thought of young children growing up (with luck) in that kind of environment. Why shouldn't I be surprised? Because I heard Brad Pitt tell the snivelling newcomer he'd probably be surprised "to see what men can do to each other."

A missive like this one can be read as depressive--we don't want to read this kind of stuff; give us accounts of a trip to the forest. The point is to make as many of us as possible vote against wars and for children.

Yours in faith-based people who love guns can kiss my grits-ism.

October 17, 2014

Lost on the Edge of Town

I suppose I could blame it on the heavy pondering, turning something I recently read in David Denby's movie review over and over in my mind: "A parent I know, grounding his teen-age daughter, took away her texting privileges for a week but allowed her to use the house landline. "You can call your boyfriend on the phone," he said. "I wouldn't know what to say to him," she protested.

Pretty good, huh? I was just walking along, chuckling, thinking of how texting has taken over the world. I'm even a big texter now. Call me "One Finger Mike." And, huh? I began to realize that I was lost. Well, no, I wasn't lost, not exactly. I mean, I knew where I was, sort of, but did not have a clue about how to get where I thought I'd been heading.

Yesterday and today have been two of the most beautiful days imaginable, just perfect. I got up, had some coffee, and, with a thermos of coffee and a water bottle and a power bar and a book, I drove about five miles to what is one of the most amazing places you'll find anywhere. It's called Hartman Rocks. It's just outside town, and consists of I don't know how many thousands of acres of what appears to be and feels like Southeastern Utah--Canyonlands, slick rock, towering canyon walls, and miles and miles and miles of bicycle trails, some of which allow motorcycles, and all of which are open to strollers like Yours Very Truly.

I came off Kill Hill at the top, waved to a friend, jogging with her dog, then made a turn and drove, I don't know, almost a mile into the canyons. I parked, and strolled off toward the east, keeping half an eye and a passing thought on directions. No problem. I went out so far, then turned around and walked back. It was 35 minutes. I had a drink of water, slipped off the warm-ups, and took off again in hiking shorts. My route this time was the Rocky Ridge Single-Track. I had no watch or compass or water. I walked quite a bit (even jogged now and then up a hill or two), realized where I was, and decided--crucial point this--to keep going, hit the main road, take it on back. Did I tell you it was a beautiful day?

The trail ended right where I thought it would. There is a big map on a signboard to show you where you are and so forth. I looked it over. Yep, right straight north on the main road toward Kill Hill, before I'd take one of many roads leading back east to my car. I did some walking, let me tell you, and walked right past MY road, then east, then south, back west, south, west, knowing where I was, but not where I was in relation to my car.

At last, from my perch way up high in the rocks, I saw the car parked on a ridge a mile to the SOUTH. I'd walked past MY road. I had quite a climb down, down, then, because I was tired, I bushwhacked through the sagebrush, up and up, and finally got to the car. Triumphant, I slumped into the seat, drank the whole quart of water, got my power bar and thermos, found a comfortable rock in the sun, and...

Two and a half hours, wandering, not really worried. I truly did know where I was, but sneaking a look at the clear sky, silted a little with smoky cloud stuff, being very grateful for the lack of rain. A bluebird day in the Rockies can turn quickly into buzzard conditions--uh, huh, buzzard.

It's a wonderful place, Hartman Rocks. Quiet. Now and then, a biker or two will pop suddenly out of a rock formation that appears an impossible place to ride. These people can ride, brother, and that's all there is to it.

Finished with my coffee, I eased the seat of the Subaru back and just rested there. A family of four--father, short, fat mother, two little girls maybe 9 and 11, two beautiful matched dogs--parked, unloaded their bikes, and off they went DOWN a steep single-track called Beck's. The little girls were ready! None of that, "I don't want to. It's too hard. I want to stay here" kind of stuff. Just got out of the car, slipped into their camelbacks, and poof, slipped off in single file down that steep track.

Then, my eyes closed, I heard a scratch, scratch, scratch, coming up the road. A beautiful, dark-haired young woman in a solid black jogging outfit came scratching by--scratch? She was wearing those glove-shoes, all the toes in their own "fingers," accounting for the odd noise. I waved, she smiled and waved, and scratched on out of sight.

I'm home now, hoping to get lost like I did today a time or two yet, before you know what falls. Even then, skiers slide all over those quiet acres, freezing weather be damned.

Finding a way to get outside and get back again in God's High Country, I remain yours in faith-based another old geezer, still picking 'em up and laying 'em down.