…and fire in the sky

Flathead Lake, Montana. September 1972.

Forest fires in the Pacific Northwest create spectacularly colored sunsets. This photo–likely digitized from a slide, but I’m too lazy to dig into the files and figure it out–was taken from the University of Montana’s Yellow Bay Biological Station during the one year I attended the UM.

A better Valentines Day

Clearwater Beach on the Gulf of Mexico. February 13, 2013.

Sure, flowers are nice–especially the two dozen roses I handed my wife a few hours ago. But warmth, white sand, palm trees, the Gulf, and a previous visit to the Phillies Spring Training Camp? Priceless. “Bouquet” is a fluid term.


Bogue Sound, North Carolina. November 2019.
Some comb beaches
pocketing striking shells,
attempting time's arrest.
I, rather, snatch sun's
rays from morning and 
evening skies, saving
moments too fleeting for
memory--tweaking my 
specimens to resemble
what my minds-eye says
actually occurred.
Bogue Sound, North Carolina. November 2019.

Smoke in the Smokies

Great Smoky Mountains National Park, western slope. May 2004.

At the beginning of May 2004, we headed to Gatlinburg, Tennessee, primarily to visit the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. I’ve searched in vain for a photo taken around that time near our home in Grafton, New York, where Spring still fought Winter’s grip on our weather. Two days later we entered Spring’s glory, Smoky Mountains-style. I’ve posted other photos (here and here) which display the explosion of green we encountered. I said to my wife as we drove through undergrowth with leaves as large as my hand–some kind of berry, I suspect–and kept an eye out for black bears newly emerged for the Spring, “You know, I think I could live here.” Two winters later, as I cursed the snows again, an opportunity beckoned to test that conjecture, and I took it. North Carolina pleased us even more than Tennessee. Recently, I’ve posted several photos from that time because late January reminds me of the move, and the approach of Spring always makes me thankful I get to experience a long, lingering one here below the Mason-Dixon Line. I’m thinkin’ I need to put on my travelin’ shoes again…

the rhymed poem

My poems seldom rhyme. To me
it seems contrived frivolity.
Pushing literary toes
into narrow shoes just shows
clever, well-turned rhyming tricks
meant not for skill, but merely hicks
who hold a cowpoke's doggerel
more meaningful than good ol' Bill!

Dashboard Cooper (aka D.B. Cooper) disrespected contrivance in all its forms. Sometime in 1989.

Me stuff

When I tossed my 1968 J. C. Penney’s Towncraft wool coat, it was older than about half my co-workers. Its brown, blanket-thick fabric had kept me warm for 38 winters. It arrived in my life as I began my freshman year for high school (still to be served in a junior high school), when my mother decided my brother and I needed new coats. We both came home with nearly identical wool coats, cut at the hips, and lined with polyester faux fur. They cost $20. According to the website in2013dollars their purchase price would be $170 or so today. That’s a little difficult to believe, because I know Mom wouldn’t have spent $170 in today’s marketplace to buy me a coat, but not everything remains the same today as it was then. A gallon of gas should cost about $2.90 based on 1968, but I’m paying more than that and only briefly did I see it below $3 at all in the past twelve months.

But back to the coats. In January 2006, more than 37 years later, I threw that coat away. It had hung in our basement, only coming out when I took walks in the woods behind our house, and the coat had developed a green sheen indicating some type of moss which I couldn’t see individually had taken over the wool. I promised my wife I wouldn’t try to save it when we moved south to North Carolina.

Moments before it went into the dumpster: the 37-year-old coat. Grafton, New York, January, 2006.

I still hear my parents saying you wear clothes until you outgrow them or they wear out. Before I reached 30, I realized I wouldn’t be throwing many clothes away for the latter reason because I just didn’t wear clothes out much for reasons I still don’t understand. Sadly, I do outgrow them still, but these days it has to do with an expanding waistline. I absolutely love buying clothes. The fact that they will take years to wear out frustrates the consummation of that desire. I prod myself to ‘just give them away–if they don’t bring joy…’ but it’s a lost cause. Most of them still bring joy. A few bring sweet pain:

  • There’s a wool Pendleton wool shirt I just took off two days ago. My father wore it in the last years before he died at the end of 2013. The shirt shows absolutely no wear, and I would bequeath it to my son except I don’t have one. I’ve donated most of the shirts I took from his closet, but a fleece pullover remains for reasons which elude me: I dislike it and wear it little, thus ensuring it will be good enough to bury me in, or at least keep me warm in the nursing home.
  • Look up at my avatar photo. Though difficult to see, I’m wearing a robin’s-egg blue sweater. The photo was taken at Christmas 2009. There are several other sweaters in my closet purchased at the same time, since I tend to buy several things at once but only once or twice a year.
  • Yesterday I wore a pair of sneakers which I distinctly remember purchasing when we lived in New York. We left New York in January 2006 as mentioned above.
  • I’ve lucked out more with t-shirts. The oldest one (I think) appears to be one purchased while on vacation in Boone, NC. We took that vacation in May 2013. The T-shirt looks fine; I’m sure it has years ahead of it given that I’ll only wear it in certain circumstances because it’s not 100% cotton, and I dislike such shirts. (“Why don’t you throw it or donate it?” “Because…”)

In the room two doors down from this office, a leaf-green down jacket is draped over a plastic lawn chair. I purchased three items in the summer of 1972 to keep me warm while camping in the Rocky Mountains. Recently graduated from high school, I had never camped in my life, and in the fall of that year I would enroll at the University of Montana in a program featuring frequent camping trips. My new advisor recommended two things for camping: a down jacket and a wool sweater. More precisely, he recommended buying two wool sweaters at Goodwill, cutting the bottom six-to-eight inches off of one and sewing them on to the other to make a wool tunic. I bought the jacket and the two sweaters as directed, paying $1.99 for one sweater and 99-cents for a second. My mother made the necessary alterations. (The more expensive sweater fell to her shears.) When camping ended a year later, I removed the add-on, and kept the 99-cent sweater until it joined the mossy wool coat from 1968 in the commercial dumpster in my front driveway. Mostly I tossed it to appease my wife, but I admitted to myself that the high neck on the coarse wool sweater irritated my skin. The green down jacket sports a two-inch square of green plastic tape on one elbow where a spark from a campfire fell and melted a hole. It’s the original tape from 40 years ago. I wore the jacket just a few weeks ago during a cold snap when temps lived in the teens and twenties.

My first real camping trip with Woolco, a group of us leaning in to the message of our faculty advisor: “you gotta wear wool if you wanna stay warm”. Arrowhead Lake, Glacier National Park, Montana. October 1972.

I’ll toss expired food as if it insulted my mother. I’ll throw away half of our Christmas decorations because I don’t like putting it all up in early December only to take it down as January begins. I once sold off virtually every piece of furniture from a 4000 square foot house prior to a cross-country move. I don’t hoard in general; I hoard specifically. To wit:

  • While working in New York I picked up the habit of using scratch paper for most computer printouts. From that point forward I routinely brought home scratch paper from work once I moved to North Carolina at the beginning of 2006. I still run across paper from those years. We’ve moved three times since then.
  • I recently forced myself to ‘designate for assignment’ most of the old computers I’ve clung to. Those which remain able to perform at an acceptable speed sit around waiting for a purpose in their sad little electronic lives. Until I joined the ranks of music streamers a year ago, an old laptop from 2012 sat on my downstairs bar to serve up our digitized music. Though it’s slipped into retirement again, it sits on the bar still. Perhaps it will become a photo display.
  • But for a divorce, I would still own a Yamaha amplifier and its matching cassette tape deck, purchased in 1986. (Well, not the latter. I’ve not needed a cassette deck for a decade.) I still cart around the Boston Acoustic speakers which they powered; these speakers were in use through 2009 when I discovered the woofer in one had shredded. I still plan to fix it, more than a dozen years later.

I want to think my distinction involves the usefulness for the tools in my life: the clothes which keep me warm, the computers which enable me to work and communicate, the audio/video equipment which entertains me. If so, how to explain all the memorabilia, the extensive library, the suits I will never fit into again, or, frankly, the pool table which came with the house and hasn’t heard the crack of a cue stick on the white cue ball in years? Perhaps the memorabilia serves as a tool for memory, and I can rationalize the books because every few months I want to look something up in them, but the suits? The pool table?

We’re all biologic collections at war with ourselves: laziness versus industriousness versus mindfulness versus purpose; emotion versus analytical thinking versus empathy versus pragmatism; habit versus creativity versus spontaneity versus thoughtful planning; childlike wonder versus mature knowledge versus arrogant authority. Those things around us, be they physical or metaphysical, play the part of a charcoal rubbing of our psyches, of who we are. I’m going to look a bit more closely at this “stuff”. It seems to want to tell me something.

Smasho! Bango!

My beloved Subaru sedan shortly after its death. January 2007.

I have no favorite vehicles but some were certainly better than others. My special edition Subaru Outback sedan was a lifesaver when we lived in snowy New York from 2001 to the beginning of 2006. One year later, it was dead, the victim of my ill-considered decision to turn left in front of an oncoming car doing about 60mph. That’s the bumper on the left. It’s amazing how many micro-seconds are still in my mind about that day. Believe it or not, I received no ticket for this because the guy was 10-20mph over the speed limit and ran a red light (it had just turned when he entered the intersection).

I thought to have a post today on possessions, started yesterday, but no…

Comin’ into Lost Anjeleez

On approach to Raleigh-Durham airport. January 2020.

About three years ago today, as we ignorantly assumed nothing like Covid-19 lay on the horizon, I returned to Raleigh, North Carolina, from my boyhood home of Spokane, Washington. I had spent two weeks sorting two lifetimes’ worth of goods my parents stashed into their house. Raleigh never looked so good to me: I carried the deep satisfaction from accomplishing a complete journey through the whole household, and I had left the cold, snowy north to the lovely near-spring weather pictured above. My retirement might have officially begun 50 days prior, but it didn’t really begin until this moment of coming home. One month later we returned through the same airport from New Orleans, unknowingly passing Patient Zero who brought The Covid to our area, and we spent all of March sitting on our butts wondering what had kicked them so soundly!