I am finished. I have uploaded everything I have to iNaturalist. I have gleaned 2,121 species from my 6,021 observations. It was time-consuming, but what’s time when it’s up against an obsession?
Here is the map of where I encountered everything:
These are my ten most observed species (not really; there are so many things I never photographed, particularly pre-digital, but here, on “iNat,” these are the top of the pile):
And while I am top-heavy in botany observed (another obsession?), I have encountered fauna now and then. Here is a substantial sampling of said fauna so get something to drink, or a snack, or both, sit back and relax, and “oo” and “ah” at what I’ve seen … if you want to feel envious, by all means, have at it. Cue fanfare:
I recently learned that my daughter has thrown away her journals. It’s none of my business, but I was very disappointed. It’s incomprehensible to me. I have been keeping a journal since 1973, when I was eighteen. I’ve been reading it – I’m up to 1988 now – and while I am disappointed, or embarrassed, or disgusted, by some of what I’ve read, I would never dream of discarding it. It’s my life, for Christ’s sake, warts, wounds, narrow-mindedness, and all.
A few years back my best friend from another lifetime told me he had thrown his journals away. I was appalled.
Having gone from a long-haired, Nixon hating, anti-establishment, kid to a far right-wing, opiniated redneck, who disapproved of my tattoos, I figured he was embarrassed by what he had written over the years; the words were those of a confused young man who was ill-prepared for life. At the time, he seemed to not grasp it at all. He was completely out of his element in the world, usually reacting poorly, immaturely, and cluelessly to what went on around him. He said (and wrote, I expect) some ridiculously stupid stuff back then, but he was in his late teens and early twenties, He was a child.
When his first girlfriend broke up with him, he fell apart, considered suicide, and schemed to get her back by building a raft, putting in on the Ohio River, and sailing down to New Orleans. He believed the inevitable news coverage would ring her bell and bring her back.
And that was merely the tip of the iceberg. His handle on reality was a long time coming.
Deciding to throw his journal away, he evidently didn’t take into account who he was, or when he was, when he was putting pen to paper. Unless he did, and it made no difference. It felt like he was trying to erase his past.
More recently another friend revealed that she was editing her journals, discarding anything that revealed what I took to be her then extremely religious persona, which mellowed considerably over the years. She didn’t want any of that foolishness to be part of her legacy.
Again, I was appalled. This was her life, who she was, where she came from, what she thought and believed, all the bits that go into who a person becomes over time. Denying, editing, or throwing it in the trash, changes nothing. It only hides the evidence.
Hell, I was a goof ball for Jesus for many years, which I have long since laid to rest. It may be embarrassing now, but it’s not who I am these days. And it’s certainly not enough to cause me to redact it or throw it in the trash. That’s autobiographical suicide.
I imagine that to whomever I leave my journals, he or she will be shocked, disappointed, and disgusted, by what they read, but a) that was who I was at the time; I grew out of it, and b) I’ll be dead and gone and won’t give a damn anyway.
As was so marvelously pointed out in the film, Magnolia, though we may be done with the past, the past isn’t done with us.
Bits of my journal from the late 1970s and early 1980s.
I’m sitting outside in my underwear, smoking pot and photographing the night sky. Tonight, is the peak of the southern delta Aquarid meteor shower as well as the eve of the alpha Capricornid peak. There are scattered clouds. It feels like “scattered clouds” is a metaphor for something.
This is hardly meteor showering of yore.
Clouds have overtaken the sky. This is meteor showering of yore.
It will be a couple hours, anyway, before I attempt any actual observing, though it’s more keeping my eyes open in case anything happens.
I haven’t gotten lazy or disinterested. I have gotten old. Don’t let my boyish charm fool you.
It’s about 4:30 in the morning now. I muse sleepily.
Forty years ago, parked alongside a dark road east of Cincinnati, minutes away from seeing a football-shaped UFO, I could not have possibly imagined I’d be sitting outside in west Texas, thousands of meteors later, holding a small rectangular computer in my hand, with which I would be controlling a small, camera-shaped, computer, shooting something known as “digital” photographs of a night sky across which Mars, Jupiter and Saturn are spread, and that I’d be in my late 60s.
Isn’t life great?
(We have alien technology to thank for this abundance of computers, retrieved from crashed discs, which always fall from the sky over the desert because to crash east of the Mississippi River simply does not engender the same mystique, and that’s what it’s all about, mystique engendering.
Have you ever wondered how aliens can traverse the impossible distance of space only to crash on Earth? What’s going on in those big, watermelon-sized, heads of theirs? And how does that skinny little pencil-neck hold up that big noggin in the first place? It defies the laws of physics. It makes me think it’s all just a lot of hooey.
I never expected to use the words “engender” and “mystique” in the same sentence.)
My nights spent beneath the stars are more than a spiritual communion with the infinite, they are populated with ghosts. Not the ‘boo,’ scary, kind. These ghosts are the spectral memories of fellow sojourners; old friends, acquaintances, and strangers who, at some point in my travels among the stars, went along for the ride. Whenever I look up into the night sky, they swim into focus.
My space-faring co-pilots changed over the years as I stumbled uncertainly through life, wandering off in a different direction, which I did more often than most. Others wandered off in their own direction, or simply stayed put. But their ghosts linger.
I love these people. We shared something ineffable. Something utterly cosmic. Something which connected us forever. How many can say that?
Some folks sat in the co-pilot’s chair but once, while others journeyed with me often.
The strangers who come to mind crossed my path along a dark road beneath the Perseid meteor shower many years ago. They got out of their car and grooved with a friend and me in the depths of the night. A close encounter.
After a brief, once around the dance floor, “oo”-ing and “ah”-ing and good old-fashioned fellowshipping, they returned to their car and drove off, disappearing forever. But they return, their happy laughter dancing merrily among the stars.
I think the Music of the Spheres must arise from such moments for my spirit sings out with joy, the disembodied voices of my ghosts joining in. We are a Heavenly choir.
Well, after more than four decades of watching meteor showers, and more than two decades of pestering folks about going outside at night for a change and looking up, it is incumbent upon me to pester yet again. It is meteor shower season, when a plethora of activity carries on in July and August, with the Perseid meteor shower being the star of the show. Once upon a time I went apeshit over this, spending as many nights as possible laying out and watching. Not so much these days.
This year the peak of the Perseids, on August 11/12, is devoured by a full moon. But they are active now, building to their climax. And the moon will be little or no problem for the next couple weeks.
The Southern delta Aquarids and alpha Capricornids are also active, the first peaking on the night of July 29/30, the second on the following night. They may not be as bright – though the alpha Caps are known for throwing out a fireball now and again – or as numerous, they are there, contributing to an orgy of “falling stars.” This orgy requires no nudity or sweaty stuff; you only need to be well away from city lights and wait until after one in the morning to begin your night of meteors. If you can make it until dawn, you might have a night to remember. Or you’ll be grouchy all day for having missed all that sleep.
Faced with a daunting 7,000-mile round trip from southern California to Healy, Alaska and back, I burned some CDs for our listening pleasure, and to dull the ache of mile after mile. Seven thousand miles reeked of the possibility for a lot of aching. My choice of music included Bebop, Ambient, the Beatles, and rock and roll generally. And “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.”
The music (and Douglas Adams), instead of soothing our aches, provided the soundtrack for an incredible journey through British Columbia, the Yukon, and Alaska. The lower 48 was all I-5. Nothing could assuage that.
I recently listened to one of the CDs. This was the playlist:
Theme From a Summer Place
Stand by Me
Ben E. King
Henry Mancini/Johnny Mercer
Booker T & the M.G.s
Everybody Loves Somebody Sometime
Theme from “Goldfinger”
Pleasant Valley Sunday
Hurdy Gurdy Man
Everything is Everything
In the Summertime
What’s Goin’ On?
Allman Bros. Band
Please Come to Boston
Michael Martin Murphy
I’d Really Love to See You Tonight
England Dan & John Ford Coley
We’re All Alone
Heart of Glass
I avoided the obvious stuff – the Beatles, Stones, Jimi, etc. – in favor of personal favorites, some of which are guilty pleasures. And there was Disco! (Picture me, if you can, sans ponytail and earrings, attired in tight polyester, “staying alive.” Discos were a great place to meet women. Our main venue of choice was Lighthouse Limited, in the Clifton neighborhood of Cincinnati.)
I was five years old at the beginning of the list.
More iNaturalist validation/My map and top ten species observed (photographed) through 2014.
Four summers’ worth of photographs from Alaska got tedious. Same with all the California desert wildflowers. At the time they were magnificent. Now it’s been there, done that. I’m so shallow, huh?
A little teaser: I’ve gone through my Costa Rica photographs from 2015 and have topped 1,500 species.
My wife and I are planning our next adventure slash last hurrah. We’ve baked in Texas long enough.
The Lone Star State was never a desired destination, primarily because of the politics. The nature has been fabulous. The gun-totin’ Texans have been friendly. But it has never been a place where we wanted to settle. It still isn’t.
We ended up here because it was affordable, which is likely going to change because so many Californians are moving in, infesting the place, drafting a resolution to rename the state “New California” (not really; the gun-totin’ Texans would never go for it). It has nothing to do with our adventuring on. The ever-escalating cost of housing does, and with all these erstwhile Golden Staters moving in, prices are certainly going to leap upwards. But mostly I blame Airbnb.
People are buying homes, fixing them up as needs be, and then Airbnb-ing them. There is no place to live; they are all Airbnbs.
From 2014 to 2016, we rented a place up on Yucca Mesa, above Joshua Tree, for $950 a month. It was a three-bedroom, two-bathroom home, with a fireplace. And it sat beneath a wonderful night sky, starry and infinite. It now rents for $2,100 a month.
As a guy I once worked with used to say, fuck that noise.
Consequently, we are heading down to Mexico for two, three, or more, months. We can afford that, plus it is a new adventure slash last hurrah. The “slash last hurrah” business is because we are getting older, and we’re tired. We can’t keep this up no matter how much we desire to do so. Should we settle there, or some other country south of us, it is because Airbnb has driven us out. And we are certainly not alone.
I never imagined 900 could feel so good. We have been baking in the southwest, with temperatures in triple digits going back weeks, disappearing in the mists of the past, steaming mists from sublimating water, where there is water. And the wildfires are ubiquitous. It has been relentless. It is not good for the psyche.
It was a near-storm moving through that “cooled” things off. Around midnight it was in the 70s. Absolutely frigid.
I guess it’s a matter of perspective. What’s your perspective on climate change: fairy tale, or we are killing the planet?
A Jefferson Airplane light show as the setting sun illuminates the passing near-storm clouds.
When we applied to the Curly School, in Ajo, Arizona, we submitted a couple of my songs and two or three photographs because they needed proof of art. (How do you submit your life as a work of art, which I considered mine to be?) Proof of income, or lack thereof, was easy enough to prove with bank statements.
The whole set up seemed fishy to me, an artists’ community in a refurbished old school, classrooms converted to living and working spaces. And if not fishy, then certainly too cool to be true. I imagined it to be populated with a bunch of kids.
If it was legitimate, there was no way in hell they would accept us. We were poor, sure enough, but we were also old, merrily skipping along in the direction of Mr. Brink.
The Universe, uncharacteristically, had other ideas, favorable ideas. We were accepted! Christ, my stomach lurched. I would be expected to be an artist. I would be expected to be a musician. My stomach lurched again. There was stomach acid.
Defeated by the ever-rising cost of simply existing in California, we, yet again, jammed our stuff into a U-Haul and made for Arizona.
I wanted so badly to be a High Desert Californian. Now I was going to be a Low Desert Arizonan. Regardless of such dispirited sentiments, I was relieved we had a place. An affordable place.
Arizona was a mystery to me, other than the lush desert we would now be living in. We had driven through a few times during all that wandering; we were familiar with Flagstaff and Williams, but little else registered.
We arrived on the second of December. We had no idea what we had gotten ourselves into, as usual; we were apprehensive, as usual.
We had our choice of, well, these were condos. Lofts. And we had a choice of a first- or second-floor unit. The first-floor place had its own outside entrance; the second-floor place had an entrance from the hallway through which thousands of elementary school children once trod. To smoke pot, or walk Steve, we could only get outside via said hallway. That was a considerable negative.
But we chose the second floor.
It had high ceilings and the old school windows, which reached all the way up to the ceiling. That was cool.
There was a small bathroom and two small bedrooms. It was equipped with a new, 21st-Century, washer and dryer. The living room/dining room/studio area/kitchen occupied a single large space. Now that was hip.
The place had potential. Was the Universe coming around to my way of thinking at last?
Of course not.
The Curly School had three floors. There was a small library organized and kept running by the tenants. There was a small giftshop, but how could there not be? This was an alleged artists’ community. Poor artists. And most of them old.
After meeting several of the residents in our building as well as a few from the single-story building of apartments (old classrooms) across the parking lot, it began to feel as if we had moved into some weird, not-of-this-world, retirement home. Where was Scatman Crothers and his can when I needed him?
Those folks we did get to know to any degree each had their own weird shit going on. Everybody was unusual. Hell, everybody was weird, some considerably more so than the rest of us, and that took some doing.
A lesbian couple, Babra and Particia, were our neighbors on one side, an old Zen Master in a beat-up chassis on the other. Entirely different vibes radiated from those two apartments.
They were our main exposure to apartment living. There were many others, of course. Potential neighbors lurked around every corner, in every shadow. Not one of them was committed to full time residency on planet Earth.
We got ourselves into something weird, in the middle of the lush Sonora desert. This whole thing, on so many levels, was a long way from absolutely everywhere.
The entire lack of a private entrance business was a major negative. Going out to smoke pot, I would run into somebody. Taking Steve out for a poop and a pee at three in the morning, Sheri would run into somebody. It seemed as if they took shifts, waiting on us.
Neither of us was a fan of it at all.
We met a large bunch of our neighbors not long after we moved in.
Every six months the local power company shut down the town to do whatever it was the power company did when they shut everything off. On this night, a gang of folks were gathered outside having a jolly time of it. A bunch of introductions went on. I talked to folks to be neighborly, but I wasn’t into it. I simply wasn’t interested.
Folks functioned in various art milieus, each with a sense of purpose. Each with unabashed self-involved self-importance. This was going to be difficult. I didn’t take any of this shit seriously. I was just having a life.
However, and strangely, I began to feel more creative as the days passed. I was suddenly writing again, with verve and panache. A typical Sunday morning found me outside in the sunshine before it got too hot, and hopefully before anyone was out and about, writing.
It was my Sunday morning worship service, but it only lasted until winter set in, or somebody came along. Both were inevitable.
I also seemed to be shooting better photographs. Not pictures; photographs.
Two old friends are walking down the street. Their friendship is older than the Internet. They are engaged in their usual lively banter.
“I was in a garden store the other day,” one of them says. “They were selling ‘Climate Change Tolerant’ plants.”
“No,” the other responds. “Really?”
“No, but they will one day if we can stop the planet bursting into flames in the meantime,” the first guy says. “Climate change … the theory that won’t go away.”
They continue on, briefly silent. Then the second guy says, apropos of nothing, “My wife’s been complaining about how lazy I am. She says to me, she says, ‘Why don’t you do something about your laziness?'”
“What did you say?”
“I was honest with her. I says to her, I says, I really want to. I do. But I’m just too damn lazy.”
* * *
“Saturn and Mars seem equidistant from Jupiter. The Jovian giant sits smack dab in the middle of them, strewn along the plane of our Solar System like spectral pearls on a string.”
“Oooh,” his wife moaned softly. “I love it when you speak astronomy. The rings of Saturn! Oh my God, tell me about the rings of Saturn!”
She really likes the rings of Saturn.
* * *
Their names were Larry Jerry and Fabulously Moi, and they were truly an obscurity, contrary to how they regarded themselves.
The rocked the … Baby Jane … vibe, long ago locking in on matching flattops kept short, sharp, and perfect. Flat Earthers got giddy at the sight of them. Lesbians couldn’t help but desire the woman beneath the butch coiffure.
They locked in on their Fry boots and suspenders with equal ferocity. By this time – now – they had to be special ordered to match the originals. They strived for authenticity, as if that mattered.
It did. To them.
This was their “look”; they believed they were making a statement, even now, in their 70s. In the 21st-Century.
By this time – again, now – their Marine haircuts were merely suggested by the remaining hair each had. She refused to acknowledge her baldness; he didn’t dare mention it lest she kick his ass. She was scary when she was angry. And mean. To the point of cruelty. Vanity was no friend of criticism or helpful suggestions.
The pulsing blue blood vessels in their heads did little to add to the aesthetic, unless they were going for the old-people-not-letting-go look, which they were pulling off anyway.
Years passed. Fashions changed. Music changed. Belief systems rose and fell. Eunni was the backbone of society. Flat Earthers were now MAGA vessels; lesbians stopped coming around. The New Age hooey to which they subscribed and aspired was a trivia question. The skin of their bubble thickened. They were resolute in ignoring reality.
They envisioned themselves an example of living art, ever-changing, ever-evolving. That might have been cool in their day, but their day was before the Julian calendar. Their ever-changing, ever-evolving performance lifestyle, which changed little and evolved even less, was suffering the fate of most, particularly those who regarded themselves as ‘hip.’ They were aging regardless. And they couldn’t let go of the good ol’ days. They refused to let go. The ‘hip’ part, which they felt was in evidence and obvious, was now reduced to little more than a cultural and sociological historical curiosity.
Their performance art lifestyle, their raison d’etre, was their identity. It didn’t spring up over the course of their marriage. It came about at midnight on their honeymoon, when they performed a sacred, pinky swear, ceremony in what was reputed to be a sacred grove, at an undisclosed location.
There were a series of conditions each of them recited solemnly. They were the Ten Commandments of how they expected to live their life as a couple, though the list fell well short of ten, and no stone tablets were involved. The list itself may have been make believe.
They stuck to it. They never wavered. Never faltered. Never admitted their self-doubts to each other about it all, and how ridiculous they were. They didn’t ignore the changing world around them; they were oblivious to it. It was if they were incapable of being aware, so focused were they on themselves.
They liked all the movies they were supposed to like, given their ‘hipness,’ obscure, unintelligible movies. The less sense the movie made, the further up their alley it was. It was the same with obscure, unintelligible art, and obscure, unintelligible books. This pursuit of their ideal resulted only in them being obscure and unintelligible.
They were performance art incarnate. People threw money at them, or applauded, not showing their appreciation for this daring weirdness, but being sarcastic.
Unaware the money and applause were sarcasm, Larry and Fabulously took a bow and went off to have dessert.
They put … Baby Jane … to shame.
Not a single person ever saw them for them. They were just a couple of old people dressed inappropriately young for their age, doing weird shit on the periphery.
Screen Savers and You – What does your screen saver say about you? This course offers an in-depth analysis of what’s on your computer screen, I-Pad, or Android, as it relates to, and reflects, who you are, and if you can be repaired. Typically, it’s too late.
It’s been too late for me for many years, but let’s have a look anyway, shall we, at what subconscious story is being played out inside me. In no particular order …
Based upon these few images … and I’ve barely scratched the surface … I would say psychosis is rampant. I’m all over the place, which explains plenty.
What theme is detectable? Reality, or rather its absence. A very loud and obvious absence.
Does it concern ne? Nah.
Let’s dig deeper, shall we?
Alarming, isn’t it? There is a modicum of reality, but an enlarged prostate will do that, bring you back down to earth. But it would also appear I am tethered to the earth only briefly, then I’m off again, into a realm of cosmic magic. And nostalgia. I’m a dreamer, in search of some inner truth or meaning. That’s what these pictures reveal.
But wait! There’s more!
I am clearly resistant to the 21st-Century. And crazy.
What started out as an attempt to I.D. some butterflies and wildflowers from some photos shot in the late 1980s up to 2007, when I went digital, has turned into an all-consuming obsession. Turns out it feels a bit like validation, too, and who doesn’t enjoy some validation now and then?
iNaturalist is a worldwide website that gathers nature observations from hobbyists, enthusiasts, and the pros. Folks help you I.D. things. Your observations are tallied. The number of species you’ve identified (often with help) are tallied. They are mapped, which is where the validation figures in. And you feel good about yourself and how you’ve spent half your life while others were participating in the status quo.
Two decades as a gypsy innkeeper permitted me access to nature all across the U.S., giving me a leg up on most folks. Occasionally two legs.
To date I have uploaded scanned and digital photos from the late ’80s through 2013, as well as my observations from this year. I have logged over 1,300 species and over 3,000 observations.
My map looks like this:
Pretty cool, huh?
And these are the species of which I’ve logged the most observations (photographs):
June goes away. Climate change was a constant parched Earth, drought engorged, presence. A lot of ugly continued unabated among humans. We are determined to fuck things up. For ourselves, and for the planet.
The Supreme Court, which has just taken a woman’s right to an abortion and placed it back in a rat infested, filthy, alley somewhere, has now neutered the EPA. How can the EPA protect our environment when the Court of Conservative Clowns is busy following an agenda? What agenda? Hell, if I know, but it reeks of stupidity and continued slow planetary suicide. The planet will reboot. It always does. Us? Not so much.
My quiet, low profile, June looked like this …
And it sounded like this …
… though nobody is interested. What happened to that spirit of communal creativity I once felt? Supreme Court probably banished that, as well.
I always start these things with an emotional chip on my shoulder. I’m a knee-jerk reaction kind of a guy. Hell, I start these things because of that emotional chip on my shoulder. But I’m pissed. Not inebriated. Angry. “Pissed” is a better word though. It feels right.
Roe v. Wade, are you kidding me? Nobody has the right to inflict their narrow-minded, god fearing, cave man, opinion on anybody. And it isn’t just misogynistic old men, their elderly testicles banging against their knees; young and middle-aged women are along for the ride as well. This is ignorance at its worst.*
They are fearing a god that does not exist. I know something about that. I lived more than half of my life fearing god. The Southern Baptist Christian god. The “thou shall not …”, fire and brimstone god. The absolute male figure, eh? The omnipotent father. The punisher.
Whenever things were going badly for me, I knew it was god punishing me. Sexual escapades, always great fun, filled me with no end of guilt. Any afterglow quickly succumbed to the realization that god was going to punish me for this. God was a motherfucker.
Sure, people seem to need to believe in something. The White Queen told Alice, “Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.” Sure, some people have this spiritual longing, but they equate that with a dangerous fairy tale. Throughout history, people have done all sorts of hideous shit in the name of god. Why can’t they just believe in Santa Claus instead? He might give them a lump of coal if they have been naughty, but he wouldn’t condemn anyone to an eternity in a lake of fire.
I questioned this god person for many years but could never break free of the spell. One might have thought I would have been done with this god business when my mother died, but no. During the thirteen months she was in a coma I prayed my ass off, I read the Bible, I carried the damn book with me when I went to classes at U.C. I figured god was punishing us … me, my dad, my sister and brother … for not being better children and a better husband. My dad probably felt similarly. The guilt I felt bent the fabric of space-time.
Christianity. Christ. The whole son-of-god gestalt was firmly imprinted on me by my parents. I absolutely accepted and believed every single thing they told me. They would not lie to me. They were my parents.
Of course, they didn’t lie to me. They truly believed in God and Jesus and the holy nine yards. They were parenting me the best they knew, presumably carrying on with how they were parented, which was probably a bit more unpleasant than I wanted to know. Ultimately, it’s religion’s fault (though humans have had their hand in the cookie jar). Pretty impressive, too, the hold it can have on you, for whatever reason.
When the girl I thought I was going to marry decided to take her business elsewhere, I was devastated. Clearly god was punishing me. I wasn’t sure why, but in his infinite wisdom, he knew best. Every negative thing in my life was god punishing me. Financial struggles? God’s punishment. Car troubles, which occur often when you are a struggling college hanger-on? God, again. Every single thing I did was a sin. It was exhausting, being young and getting punished for it. And yet I clung to that belief, that son of bitch folks called “god.”
Marion Zimmer Bradley’s The Mists of Avalon began to finally loosen some of that sticky ol’ Christianity. It was a great read (so great, my first wife didn’t leave me until she finished it. Yep, god) – telling the tale of King Arthur and the Old Ways – the Mother Goddess – in a time of upheaval, not just in Camelot, but with the incursion of Christian kooks, threatening their way of life with a new-fangled religion featuring an all-male line-up, which had no problem dispensing Christianity with a sword or a cudgel. It did what any book should do, even fiction, very good fiction more so: It made me think.
I researched the “old ways,” I danced around a Beltane fire or two, I dabbled in Tarot and Ouija boards, I sampled the whole panoply of New Age hooey. It was all good fun, and those old Pagan ways were full of old herbology which is still useful today. They venerated nature, not some made-up guy who is really cruel. These were my kind of people.
Ultimately, it was the daily headlines that opened my eyes. How anyone could believe in a god that allowed so much suffering in the world was really grasping at straws.
But they do believe in a god that allows so much suffering in the world, and now a woman’s right to choose what she does with her body is being taken away from her. What happened to Separation of Church and State?
*Actually, Trump is ignorance at its worst, but he opened the door to stupidity and people eagerly flooded through. He made it okay to be an idiot. He wears his stupidity proudly, on display for all to see. Idiocy, the Emperor’s New Clothes?
I’ve been reading my journal for several months now. I’m currently going through late 1982. I was twenty-seven-years-old. I was in Columbus, Ohio. I was still attempting to get an Astronomy degree at the Ohio State University but was nearing surrender. I was delivering pizzas for Papa Joe’s. I had a girlfriend. Her name was Amy. I was mad for her. But what mattered most on November 4th was my new high score on Centipede: 225,000 points! Only a week earlier I had scored 166,814, my then new high. I obliterated the hell out of that.
They early 1980s were a happening time for me. I had finally gotten on with a life held back by the passing of my mother (she was only forty-nine-years-old) and the end of what I thought was going to be a forever thing with a particular girl. Actually, we had ended a handful of times. It hurt every time. That was my fault; I kept opening the door.
Living a block off campus of one of the largest universities in the country was a good way to get the ball rolling. And, like my previous high in Centipede, I rolled the hell out of it. There were ups and downs, but I got on with it.
It was a lust-filled, hedonistic time. It was the best time of my life …
A few, perhaps several, it’s all beginning to blur, weeks ago I began uploading scanned photos to iNaturalist for the purpose of identifying some butterflies from the ever more distant past. Then there were some insects, some spiders, wildflowers, etc. After uploading all my observations/photos from the late 1980s through 2007, when I purchased my first digital camera, I kept going. I am currently perusing photos from 2010.
What drove me onward was that the site keeps track of all sorts of things, including my running total of observations as well as my running total of species observed. Today I passed 1,000 species (not just birds or butterflies or wildflowers … everything) and 2,000 observations. And there is a map to prove it! That’s it at the top of the page. If that isn’t far out and groovy, then absolutely nothing is. Oh, and pretty cool.
In addition to all the new wildflowers I’ve seen in Texas this year, I’ve been able to I.D. many from the past (when it was all sunshine, lollipops, and rainbows) due to iNaturalist. Consequently, I have topped 2,700 North American wildflower species (including non-natives) on my life list.
Since we moved to the scary conservative Lone Star State eight long months ago, I have added 159 new wildflowers to the list.
Below is a map of my observations in the contiguous U.S. (Contiguous. I don’t use that word enough.)
Only eleven more years to go. It will probably take that long.
In the evenings, weather permitting (i.e., it’s hotter ‘n Hades), my wife and I sit outside and watch for satellites and Gulf Coast toads and relax. We usually have music going on – Pandora. Each evening we listen to the “hits” of a different year, jumping ahead ten years each time. We began in 1950, went to 1960, then 1970, then 1980, and 1990.Then we started over at 1951, repeating the ten-year cycle. It borders on higher math.
My wife was born in 1951, me, 1955, so this is the music of our lifetimes. Our respective soundtracks. It has been fascinating, listening to the onset of rock and roll, and its demise. It begins turning to crap, after a nice, more acoustic beginning, during the 1970s. By the ’90s, it belongs to another generation; I recognize very little of it, and find it mostly unlistenable, uninspiring, and vapid. I may be behaving like my parents and grandparents where music (and the 1960s) is concerned, but I’m old, I have that right, though behaving similarly to my parents is not something I ever thought I would do.
We listened to 1966 last night. It was the best year we’ve heard so far. Totally groovy.
Personally, I continue to write and record music. It continues to be influenced by the music of my much younger days. Kids today likely find it unlistenable, uninspiring, and vapid.
“So Am I” is my latest. Can you dig it?
– – – – –
He’s as black and white and right-angled as a person can be, but that’s just between you and me. He was driven to success by his insecurity. He’s as black and white and right-angled as a person can be,
Chorus: Everybody’s got a pied piper to chase. Land on your feet or fall on your face. Trying and failing is no disgrace …
I close my eyes and I try to see all of the things that are hidden from me. Sadly, this is all I will ever be. I close my eyes and I try to see.
Staring up into a Texas sky. Black vultures, they’re really high. Come to think of it, so am I. so is he
All of us, we were so very long ago. We were young and so beautiful, don’t you know? It’s going to be hard when it’s time to let go. We were young and so beautiful, don’t you know?
He’s as black and white and right-angled as a person can be, but that’s just between you and me. He was driven to success by his insecurity. I close my eyes and I try to see.
At least 12 dead in another weekend of mass shootings across America. June 4, 2022
Worshippers killed during church service in Nigeria. Again June 4th.
The 4th was a busy day: Four hours of searching for a missing boy on Saturday ended tragically with the discovery of his body in the Ohio River.
Yep, the 4th: A shooting at a graduation party in South Carolina left 1 dead and 8 injured, including several children.
A Jupiter, Florida couple was accused of locking their 14-year-old in a specially built room in their garage for up to 18 hours a day.
Dad drowns trying to rescue 9-year-old son floating away on tube, say N.C. officials.
You know where I’m going with this, a place not liked by believers. Any believers. I can’t seem to spot god anywhere in all these deaths, all this ignorance. It’s not unlike “Where’s Waldo?” Yoo hoo. God? Are you in there somewhere? Or out there? Anywhere? Hello. Hello!
Blake Masters, a Republican candidate for U.S. Senate in Arizona, and drop dead ignorant, who is backed by former President Donald Trump, is a believer. He believes gun violence is largely a racial issue.
“We do have a gun violence problem in this country, and it’s gang violence.” he told the Jeff Oravits podcast in April.
“It’s people in Chicago, St. Louis shooting each other. Very often, you know, Black people, frankly,” Masters said. “And the Democrats don’t want to do anything about that.”
Just weeks after his comments, ten Black shoppers were murdered in a mass shooting in Buffalo, New York. The suspect, who is white, allegedly targeted Black people during his killing spree. He was also reportedly a believer in “replacement theory,” a conspiracy theory that has found life in conservative media circles such as Fox News.
Masters has pushed the same theory, which claims Democrats are trying to replace white voters with people of color via immigration.
“Obviously, the Democrats, they hope to just change the demographics of our country. They hope to import an entirely new electorate. Then they call you a racist and a bigot.”
And there are the masses, always the masses, who believe this horseshit. Which horseshit? Take your pick.
I have not been immune to believing over the course of my life: flying saucers; Santa Claus; Tarot; the Second Coming, which implies a First Coming; not Astrology. That was one place I didn’t go. Science got in the way of that. Science has often gotten in the way of believing in something. So has a bit of common sense.
But that does not, in any way, diminish my life. It has freed me from the ludicrous.
P.S. June 9th headlines:
White Supremacist Group Distributes Leaflets Across East Haven Streets.
Marjorie Taylor Greene’s new intern once called for every member of Congress to be ‘hanged.’
Trump says January 6 ‘represented the greatest movement in the history of our Country’ ahead of House committee’s first public hearing.
GOP gubernatorial candidate charged for participation in Jan. 6 Capitol riot.
Mexican megachurch leader gets more than 16 years for abuse.
GOP Candidate Carl Paladino Calls Adolf Hitler ‘The Kind Of Leader We Need Today.’
Holly Springs mayor rejects gay Pride month proclamation.
“Just generation, generation … probably in about four or five generations no one will be straight anymore. Everyone will be either gay, or trans, or nonconforming or whatever list of fifty of sixty options which there are,” Ms. Greene said, claiming LGBTQ+ education will make straight people extinct.
She also recently told us, ” … Bill Gates wants you to eat this fake meat that grows in a peach tree dish, so you’ll probably get a little zap inside your body that’ll say ‘No, don’t eat a real cheeseburger, you need to eat the fake burger.”
Peach tree dish. Gazpacho police. This woman is priceless.
She was a big fan of voter fraud in 2020, telling us, ” … there was MASS voter fraud on a scale that should terrify every American regardless of political party.”
Let’s not forget the space lasers she claimed started the devastating Camp Fire, in California.
She once referred to the President as the “commander and chief.” Yep, priceless.
She tweeted about Republicans Senators, “Murkowski, Collins, and Romney are pro-pedophile. They just voted for #KBJ (Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson).” And then she files a police report against Jimmy Kimmel for making fun of her in his monologue. She considered his reference to Will Smith’s Oscars smacking as a threat to her. She filed the report with the Capitol Police, the same folks whom she voted against awarding congressional gold medals.
After the massacre of fifty-eight people at a country music concert in Las Vegas, she tweeted that the mass shooting was a government-orchestrated plan to strip away Second Amendment rights.
You can’t make this stuff up. It’s as if she were channeling Andy Kaufman. He’d be proud.
Who voted for this woman? And why? You have a lot to be ashamed of and held accountable for.
The tau Herculid meteor storm did not materialize. These storms often don’t. I’ve been through it before. I was younger then. It didn’t matter so much. It does now. I was too damn tired to watch, but I did. It was an unimaginable waste of time.
So was Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore, which rhymes with snore, which was apt. It was nothing but a collection of incidents alleged to coalesce into a story. Uh uh. Those individual events were tedious; they lacked … period. They lacked. Two hours and twenty-two minutes of nada. Christ, there was more fun in the closing credits, when the movie was finally put to rest. Poor Mads Mikkelsen.
May 24, 2022, Texas: 19 students, 2 teachers dead after shooting at elementary school.
War in Ukraine: 200 bodies found in basement in Mariupol’s ruins.
Indiana pastor admits adultery, neglects to mention it was with 16-year-old girl.
Indianapolis: Taylor George just started a new life. She was then killed downtown near the War Memorial.
Southern Baptist president says sexual abuse rumors were ‘always out there’.
GOP Rep. Paul Gosar spread a baseless transphobic rumor that the Uvalde school-shooting suspect was a ‘transsexual leftist illegal alien’.
Marjorie Tylor Greene: “We don’t need more gun control. We need to return to god.”
May 25, 2022, Arizona: Right-wing agitator says he’ll ‘hunt’ Phoenix LGBTQ supporters and they are ‘not safe’. Ethan Schmidt tweeted: “I also like to hunt LGBT supporters on my free time. That’s one of my favorite pastimes, you know. Also, we’re going to be going on hunting expeditions pretty soon, you know, hunting the LGBT supporters across Arizona and Phoenix. So, you know, keep an eye out for that because you’re not safe. If you support the LGBT agenda, you’re not safe.”
The Trail of Tears.
The Branch Davidians.
Ad nauseum …
Is this what happens when god doesn’t answer the phone? Of course not. There is no god. And if there is no god, there is no phone.
“Groovy” is still a working adjective in my vocabulary. I will use it here, as in another example of why astronomy is so groovy. Far out, even.
Comet 73P/Schwassmann-Wachmann 3 (SW3) was discovered in 1930. It orbits the sun every 5.4 years. It has not been a particularly newsworthy object (but for astronomers and enthusiasts), coming and going, coming and going. But in 1995, the comet began to fracture and leave in its wake (orbit) an increasing amount of debris, which is the recipe for a meteor shower. In this case, it may be a delicious treat.
Meteor showers work like this: Comets, which are typically dirty snowballs in space – imagine getting hit in the face with one of those – swing around the sun in their orbit. As they do so, they react as one would expect, they begin to melt, bits breaking off, debris strewn along the comet’s orbit.
That’s all well and good, but when the Earth’s orbit intersects that of a comet, cosmic frivolity ensues. When we intersect the orbit of comet Swift-Tuttle, for example, we have the Perseid meteor shower
When we cross paths with a comet’s orbit, we pass through debris it has left behind. The particles, upon hitting our atmosphere, heat up from the friction generated by the encounter. They become hot enough to incandesce, which is a fancy word I rarely use. Poetically, these are our falling stars. Our shooting stars. Meteors. And thus, we have a meteor shower.
The more particles we encounter, the better the meteor shower. In 2001 I counted nearly 400 meteors per hour during the peak of the Leonid meteor shower. I counted more than 100 Geminids an hour in 1998. And now I’m just showing off.
Often there are few meteors.
What we have happening now is, on the night of May 30/31 we will be passing through a dense stream of particles left behind by SW3 in 1892, 1897, and 1995. This reeks of the potential for something fabulous happening. Maybe.
This outburst of cosmic psychedelia has been calculated to fall upon us about midnight CDT, as the 30th becomes the 31st.
The meteor shower associated with this activity is the tau Herculids, so named because the meteors were calculated to radiate from that area of the constellation Hercules, after the discovery of the comet, in 1930. However, no meteors have ever been seen to radiate from there. Due to the tug of gravity from Jupiter, the radiant has drifted.
It is now located in western Boötes, near the bright star of Arcturus, close to a globular star cluster, M3.
Confused? The following illustration should help.
Bottom line: There is a possibility of a meteor outburst centered on midnight, May 30/31, CDT. A dark location well away from the obscene intrusion of artificial illumination will provide you the best chance for witnessing a potentially historic meteor display.
See? Groovy. Far out, even, even if it is possible nothing extraordinary will occur. But don’t risk it. Get outside and watch the damn meteor shower.
Well, we had another gorgeous lunar eclipse. Certainly, it must have presaged the End Times for somebody for there is always someone who attaches such ludicrous notions to wonderful things.
The drought we’re having in Texas looks more like the End Time to me. It’s not the End Times, but it is an awesome and frightening thing to behold. I look at Climate Change as a player in this game. Those who believe the eclipse to be a sign are also likely to deny the hell out of Climate Change. I’ve given up on them. The planet is doomed.
Fortunately for me, we live a block from Santa Rita Park, which has some underground water going on. It created a brightly colored rainbow of wildflowers that began in late winter. It continued to evolve as species came and went. It continued to be gorgeous. The city mowed it down a couple day ago. I’m still angry. Wildflowers are medicinal, don’t they know that? They are a source of existential joy. And they are part of the chain of life.
Well, that’s a broken chain. More bad news for the planet.
And then there’s life in general, or more to the point, life in my late-60s. I am having problems dealing with it, accepting it, finding much joy in it. Mowing down my wildflowers was not good for my psyche.
I have done whatever it was I was going to do with my life. I am slipping into feeble. The mirror is no longer my friend. I have no grandchildren, nor will I. I take sundry and many prescriptions for what ails me, and what ails me is I’m getting old.
I had no idea the last season of my life was going to be so difficult. Score another point for naiveté.
I do not recommend this stage of life.
But there was the eclipse, and the wildflowers … I should stop complaining.
P.S. I am releasing an independent, home-grown album, below-fi all the way. It releases on the summer solstice. It is titled “Hallucinations.” Here is a medley from the album …
I started working in the warehouse of God’s World Publishing the Monday before Thanksgiving. I had interviewed for the job the previous week, one of the few interviews I had been invited to in a month and a half. That, in itself, reminded me, I better take this job. The interviewer, Sheryl, was a friendly southern belle of a young woman, full of “y’all”s and “ight”s, which I would eventually learn was a kind of southern drawl lazy contraction for “alright.” She was the Warehouse Manager and understood how difficult it was to find any kind of a job, never mind how little they all paid. She knew I was over-qualified, not just to pack orders for shipment, but to be interviewed by her. But being the Christian she was, she was more than happy to hire me, knowing full well I might move on to something better should something better come my way. And perhaps she thought I was a Christian; why else would I apply for a job at God’s World?
It was a pretty small operation, most of the vastness of the warehouse taken up with row upon row upon row of religious and quasi-religious reading material. This material ranged from simple Jesus Kept His Wee Wee in His Trousers pamphlets to nature workbooks such as Why God Put the Cock on Cockroaches and Darwin Was a Sinful Pug to such wholesome reading as Little House on the Prairie,All Creatures; Great and Small, and Tweedle Dee Saves Himself for Marriage, and Even Then, He Waits a Week.
“Ight,” Sheryl said with excitement when I told her I’d take the job, “we’ll see ya’ll aroun’ 7:30, 8:00 Mondee mornin’, ight?”
I hadn’t faced going off to work like this in more years than I could remember. I had worked all those years with the engineer. Before that I had made pizzas and gone to college. Now … this.
I forced myself to don my coat, grab my lunch, and shuffle off to the car like a man on his way to the gallows. “Please don’t start. Please don’t start,” I urged the Jeep, the Fates, and the Universe in general as I stuck in the key. Damn Jeep practically started itself.
I backed down the driveway, turned out onto the road, and drove to work.
On Wednesday morning, my mother walked me over to Reading Hilltop Elementary School, which was only a block away (grudgingly, I had to admit that was an improvement over the old status quo, where my round trip to and from school was about two miles). We stopped in the office where I met the principal, John J. Singer, a rather gnomish and round man, the thought of whom, to this day, gives me the creeps. (In Fifth Grade, when I got caught signing my mother’s name to my report cards, I was escorted down to the office, where, teary-eyed and snot-nosed, I was lectured by John J. on the moral fabric of America and how sinfully wrong forgery was and I was certainly laying the foundation for a life of crime and say, did I know what a life of crime was? Did I know what prison was like? And that’s enough of that now young man, why don’t you come over here and sit on Mr. Singer’s lap and we’ll forget all about it if you promise to never do it again. I suspect some very serious psychological damage occurred that day. It was really piling up, that psychological damage.)
After getting enrolled and meeting Mr. Singer, the secretary explained that, unlike the 1950’s school system of Wyoming, Ohio, here, in Reading, the wheat got separated from the chaff at an early age.
“Pardon me?” my mother asked.
“Intelligence, Mrs. Pasterick, intelligence. Some of the best and brightest young minds of this generation are right here, at Hilltop, future astronauts and presidents and T.V. game show hosts, and we can’t have their waters fouled by the stupid kids.”
“Pardon me?” my mother tried again.
The secretary stopped to consider my mother, her suburban holier-than-thou attitude barely suppressed, the urge to patronize welling up in her throat like spicy sausage. She gathered her uppity wits and continued, “While I’m sure that Wyoming’s educational system was everything it could be … everything you expected it to be … we have higher expectations here, in Reading. At Hilltop.” She paused to give my mother the chance to catch up. After all, she had only just left Wyoming for the suburbs, and all that really meant was a change of address. It didn’t actually mean she belonged in the suburbs.
“Go on,” my mother prodded impatiently.
“Oh. Yes. So … um … we divide each grade up into three separate entities: the smart kids, the average kids, and the … uh … well … those we presume will not be scholastically inclined.”
“What?” A blood vessel in my mother’s neck began to throb rhythmically.
“Um … yeah … uh … that is, they are … uh … educationally challenged.”
“They’re not as smart as the rest of the kids,” my mother said.
“Yes. Yes! That’s it. They’re not as smart.”
“And who determines this?”
“Why, tests. We have tests. They take tests. There are tests. You know … tests.” The secretary was on her proverbial heels.
“I see. Well, let’s just stick Gregg in with the smart kids. I’m sure he can keep up.”
And the three of us – my mother, the secretary, and I – marched down the hall, to Mrs. Korea’s class, the smart kids’ class.
Meeting new kids is hard enough, but when you are brought into a new class – with your mother no less – and you have to stand there, in front of all those new kids, and get stared at and appraised and judged – with your mother no less – and then introduced to the class – “Class, this is Gregg Pasternack.” “Pasterick.” “Huh?” “Pasterick. You said Pasternack. It’s Pasterick. No ‘n.’ An ‘i,’ not an ‘a.’” “Oh. Sorry. Class? This is Gregg Pasterick!” and the whole class watches as your mother gives you a kiss on the cheek, and then wipes a bit of lipstick off of your cheek, and tearfully tells you goodbye, essentially tossing you to the wolves, which my parents had been doing a lot of to me lately, it’s sheer hell. Right now, at this very moment, all of my old friends – Regie, Billy, Mark, Dick, David, both Jays – were in class together; they had probably already forgotten all about me. As far as they were concerned, I no longer existed. But I did exist, here, in front of a class full of strangers, in some damn new-fangled suburb, far away from everything I knew and loved. It was a nightmare even my waking hours couldn’t rescue me from.
It was all I could do to not turn and run out of the room and chase my mother down the hall and beg her to take me back to Wyoming.
But I didn’t. I was assigned a seat in the back of the room, next to Nancy. (And I cursed my parents – yet again – under my breath. While it was my brother who would soon be joining the Navy, I was certainly developing a vocabulary worthy of that branch of the service.)
I walked back to my desk feeling like a prisoner going to the gallows, whatever gallows were.
A low and persistent murmur, which began at the mention of my name, continued as I sat at my desk. It did nothing for my self-confidence, which seemed to have gone out the door with my mother … damn her. As it turned out, the kids – my new classmates – were murmuring about my name. I was the third ‘Gregg’ in the class, which did strike me as very weird. I was different, of course; the other two, Greg Ray and Greg Shepherd, each spelled their name with a single ‘g.’ That was even weirder. Who spelled ‘Gregg’ with only one ‘g?’ And this was the smart class? Move me to the front row.
And with that, my joining the smart kids and the two Gregs in Fourth Grade at Reading Hilltop Elementary School, the move to the suburbs was complete. Apparently, we were in for the long hall, though I stubbornly held out hope …
“Okay children, if you’ll open your physics text books to Chapter Three, we’ll continue with our discussion on String Theory as it applies to the Event Horizon of recess…”
I’ve been hauling two album crates full of binders, in turn full of my photographs, around the country for two decades. I went to digital photography in 2008, but until then it was film, which resulted in two album crates full of photos, which are just too damned heavy, and getting heavier with (my) age. I have tried to throw the damn things away a few times, always with the same result. Except this time. I think.
We have moved twice in the past four months, and my neck, shoulders, and back are not happy. This comes fifteen months after an Anterior Cervical Discectomy, and a year after a Laminectomy. It’s a little scary, so, out the photos go. Or at least some of them until I scan the remainder.
Going through them has been a casual stroll down memory lane, the very incarnation of nostalgia. And I discovered during my perusal, these photos mapped out a timeline of our travels in Technicolor, Stereo, and 3-D.
Take 2005, for example.
My wife and I began the year parting ways with our innkeeping gig on the coast of Washington. We hustled to find another job, but by the end of February a near-miss with Bettles, Alaska was as close as we got to getting employed. We got back in the road heading south to an interview in Jacksonville, Oregon. They couldn’t afford us.
With no work in sight, we turned our attention to Ohio, and my mother-in-law’s place in Columbus. It wasn’t the destination for which we hoped, but maybe we’d find a job along the way. I decided we’d drive down California and turn east in the desert, keeping south and avoiding winter weather as long as possible.
Driving through California was a teary-eyed reunion for me. I wanted to pull over and stay, but we continued on. In Arizona we spent a couple nights in Tombstone. It was a hoot. So was Roswell, New Mexico, which we passed through a couple days later.
Our stay in Ohio was brief, and after being treated to my first encounter with Snow Trillium, it was mid-April and time to head out. We had been hired to manage a motel in West Glacier, Montana, and rather than drive straight there, we decided to take our time and make it a wildflower tour.
Texas was our first and primary goal, for the Blue Bonnets and paintbrush. It did not disappoint. The wildflower bloom continued into the West Texas desert, through New Mexico, into Arizona. This was the stuff of which dreams are made, if you dream of wildflowers.
Ther fabulous bloom continued in California, from the bottom to the top. It was exquisite.
It was still wintry in Montana, but what the hell, we were in Montana! The summer was marvelous; the job was perfect. We would have to do that again.
The season over, we pulled out of West Glacier the beginning of October and drove south. We had our next gig lined up in South Lake Tahoe. Along the way there were many fewer wildflowers, but there was a male tarantula looking for love along the road up to the protected Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest, in the White Mountains of California.
I got my first job the summer after seventh grade. Or rather Smitty got it for me. His older brother knew a guy who had a paper route which involved selling the Post-Times Star Racing News at River Downs Race Track down along the Ohio River, next to Coney Island Amusement Park. Smitty’s older brother got him a job selling papers, and since they needed another kid to work the crowd, Smitty asked me if I wanted the job. I figured what the hell, and said, “Sure!” Working with Smitty could be fun. A job. Wow.
I really was growing up. And again, my parents – particularly my mother – certainly weren’t indifferent to the changes.
“Norman, Gregg wants to sell papers at River Downs with Smitty.”
“It’s at River Downs.”
“River Downs! On Kellogg Avenue!”
“So? He helped Jake Maynard deliver papers when he was eight!”
“But that was just across the tracks, in Lockland. With Jake! This is down on the river.”
“It’s a bad part of town!”
“He’ll be with Smitty.”
“They’re thirteen-years-old, for crissakes.”
“Did you just say ‘for Christ’s sakes’?”
“Yes, you did. I heard you.”
“No, you didn’t.”
“That’s taking the Lord’s name in vain, ya know.”
“Yes, it is.”
“But Gregg wants to sell papers at River Downs. On Kellogg Avenue!”
“He’ll be just fine.”
For a pampered kid like me from the suburbs, River Downs, on Kellogg Avenue, was a rough part of town. Going from sixth grade at Hilltop to junior high at Central was nothing compared to working at River Downs. I certainly couldn’t have survived that without Smitty.
There were two other kids who also sold papers with us; they were both from the neighborhood around the race track. These kids were worldly. Experienced. They made those eighth graders I so feared seem like Disney characters, all cuddly and cute. These two guys were rough. Wild. Untamed. Carnivorous.
Incredibly, I managed to hold my own with them, never once letting on how close I was to shitting my pants on a daily basis.
The job itself was tedious. There were two “routes” at the track. One was working the crowd in the grandstands and below, near the betting windows and the restrooms and the snacks. The territory was large enough that it required three guys to cover it. The other more desirable “route” was at the entrance to the club house. It didn’t require any walking at all, and that was where all the big money was, in the pockets of the folks who could afford to lounge around in the air conditioning of the club house and drink something more exotic than bottles of beer or Coke. They could certainly afford to give a dime to a kid for a paper.
I lasted about two weeks at the job. Sure, I made a pocketful of change each day, but it was so damn boring. Besides, just because I was now thirteen and could no longer enjoy long, hot summer days at Hilltop Pool, or rush into the street at the Doppler-shifted approaching sound of Fred the ice cream guy’s music or go out and play army or superheroes or Frankenstein with the guys, I was still just a kid. I was too young for this working bullshit. There would be plenty of time to have a job later (an attitude which has never been far from my heart).
My mother was relieved. My dad, seeing an opportunity in the new and unexpected employability I had suddenly demonstrated, gave me the job of mowing the yard. It wasn’t a pocketful of change every day, but it was some folding money on a weekly basis.
The first time the guys witnessed me behind the lawnmower, they stood around ‘oo’ing and ‘ah’ing. There was even a smattering of applause. They clearly were impressed. Stand back children, I am growing up.
Life in the suburbs hardly seemed the carnival it once was, and like Brian Wilson, I took refuge in my room. It became the new center of my universe.
I hung posters. I displayed my slowly growing album and singles collection prominently, as well as my library of books (which consisted mostly of books about flying saucers). I bought a black light. I burned incense. (My first cone of incense … blueberry incense … was a gift from a classmate. Knowing that it had something to do with drugs, I secreted it away among my schoolbooks, lest my parents find it. Later that night, Magical Mystery Tour playing on my cheap little record player, bathed in the near darkness of my black light, I lit my incense. Again, realizing that burning incense had something to do with drugs, I leaned over its plume of serpentine smoke and inhaled, expecting my head to fill with visions and revelations. I coughed until my ears ached.) I turned my room into a twelve-year-old’s idea of a hippy pad. I can’t imagine my parents were particularly enthused: “Norman, have you seen your son’s room?”
“No. Why? Does he have girlie magazines up there?” (I would get caught with my brother’s girlie magazines eventually. Nothing’s more embarrassing than being scolded by your dad while sporting a tremendous erection. Mine, not his.)
“He better not have girlie magazines up there.”
“Well, what then?”
“He’s playing all that rock and roll in the dark. And I think I’ve smelled blueberries.”
“It’s Satanic, what he’s doing.”
“And you better go right up there and put a stop to it.”
“But it’s blueberry…”
“It’s Satanic! You go right up there and put your foot down.”
In fact, when Paul McCartney admitted that he had tried LSD, my parents were livid. “You are not to bring another Beatles’ record into this house, young man. Do you hear me? Not another one!”
Of course, they forgot all about the Beatles ban in no time at all. I suspect they knew an unsavory thing or two about Mitch Miller and figured, ‘what the hell.’ Or what the heck.
Synchronicity has been a regular visitor in my life, and during those first years of hospitality it seemed to get involved a lot. (Sometimes we flipped a coin.) When confronted with my cowardice regarding Alaska, I offered up a joke: “If we’re going to move west, why not start in Indiana? It’s just one state over.” The next day Sheri found a job in Indiana.
Joyce, a self-proclaimed inn keeping consultant, invited us up to the Duneland Beach Inn the second weekend of January. It was with considerable depression that we accepted.
The drive up was non-eventful, and northern Indiana in January was simply more middle of Ohio except it had an ice-jammed Great Lake.
Joyce greeted us with a hug, bellowing “hello” at us as if she were a trumpeting elephant heralding the arrival of royalty. We spent the weekend with her – there were no other guests, and to call it the “off season” would have been generous. We talked about innkeeping in general, as well as our lives, our plans, our goals, and our ambitions. We had no plans. No goals. Few ambitions. We nodded and lied a lot.
We spent the weekend getting a feel for the place as Joyce got a feel for us. She thought we could handle the job, and told the owner, Tom, as much. I don’t know if she actually meant it. She just wanted the hell out of there. Until the inn was sold, she would continue to be paid as a consultant. It didn’t matter who the innkeepers were, but she could go home.
The job was ours if we wanted it. Sheri and I went through the motions of discussing it – the pros and cons – and anything else that might make it seem like a mature decision-making process had been gone through. There really wasn’t much to decide. We were belly up at this point, overturned like top-heavy beetles, arms and legs thrashing about as we tried to right ourselves. If we weren’t going to Alaska, where were we going?
We made it to Alaska eleven years later. It was weird right from the start, beginning with an employee who didn’t show up. She was two weeks late and we were all worried to one degree or another. Lively banter erupted among an office full of employees one day.
“…you think we should call the authorities?”
“Who? You mean the state troopers?”
“Or the FBI?”
“…too early for the CSI…”
“Maybe it was aliens!”
“Aliens? Ya mean like, what, Mexicans?”
“No. Like, ya know, aliens. From flying saucers.”
“Oh. Right. Like Travis Walton.”
“Or George Adamski.”
“George Adamski? Don’t be stupid. He was a crazy person out to make a few bucks…”
“Y’all watch too much TV. And aliens? Really? Look, I just got an email from her grandmother. She said to divvy up her stuff, she ain’t comin’.”
“Maryann’s. Her grandmother says she ain’t comin’.”
“Divvy up her stuff?”
Jeremiah was already shaking the boxes like it was Christmas morning. He giggled a couple times.
“Christ, Jeremiah, she ain’t even cold yet, and yer robbin’ her grave.”
The boxes in question – there were five of them – were all packages of stuff forwarded to the motel by Maryann. Maryann – the missing person in question – was to be the final member of our eight-person staff, and she had resolutely not turned up for nearly two weeks. And now, according to her grandmother, she wouldn’t be turning up at all.
Maryann, a self-alleged “work horse,” was due in on the 29th of May. She emailed during the course of the day to say she missed her flight. Her story was the shuttle driver got lost trying to find her and by the time they got to the airport her flight was in the air. The next available flight wouldn’t be for another week.
A couple days later she emailed to say her brother, who knew people who knew people, got some strings pulled and she would be flying into Alaska in three days.
Those three days turned into the original week-long delay and here we were, two days past that, pondering calling the police (or maybe MUFON) and filing a missing person report. She hadn’t turned up. She didn’t answer her phone or respond to our messages. She didn’t reply to our emails. We even tried reaching her on her Facebook account. Nothing. It was as if she suddenly ceased to exist. Or worse.
“This can’t be good,” I said to no one in particular several times. No one in particular responded every time.
It was creepy.
Her grandmother didn’t tell us why Maryann wouldn’t be joining us, only that she wouldn’t. That was creepy too.
We took all her packages to the post office and sent them back. Deeply disappointed, Jeremiah threw a hissy fit. He didn’t speak to us for a week.
Once we sailed through the equinox, summer faded quickly. The mass movement of several butterfly species is now a mere trickle. Leaves leap from the Cottonwood trees. Airborne, they resemble the butterflies moving through. I have misidentified more than one leaf as a Cloudless Sulphur, and vice versa. Nature can be tricky that way.
My wife and I have been here, in southeastern Arizona, a year. It’s the first time we’ve stayed put for twelve months since we left Ohio in early 2000. It has also been the first time we’ve been able to experience the four seasons, and all the nature they bring, from one address. It has been captivating.
The last few months really iced the cake. Summer was brutally hot. That was no surprise. Then, in July, monsoon season made itself known. The rain continued for six weeks. It was a surprise, awesome and amazing.
The storms were magnificent, throwing lightning across the sky in jagged webs of electric white. Thunder rumbled so loudly and so deeply it loosened my kidney stones. The rain was of the Biblical variety; flash flood warnings were issued almost daily. The humidity made me want to jump off a bridge.
Then came the wildflowers. I really didn’t expect that. They were glorious. Fields and roadsides and medians were blanketed with gaudy orange Arizona Caltrop; they were every bit as spectacular as the poppy preserve in California.
But they were the first taste that hooks you. Then you must slow down so that you notice more blooms, more color, more variety. I found all that; the entire rainbow rendered botanically.
Then came the butterflies. It was all so delicious. Southern Arizona can be a happening place, nature-wise, never mind the MAGA people who exist in quantity in these parts.
My wife and I weren’t certain, twelve months ago, we’d be able to stay a year. It started slowly, painfully, but we muddled through as we always do, and the reward has been all this wonderful nature meandering across the seasons. It was another thing we lost when we became gypsy innkeepers. I missed this.
So now what? We move on, of course. We haven’t lived in Texas yet.
September rolls to a halt. Autumn has descended with a vengeance. And my wife and I have been in southern Arizona for a year. It’s the first time we’ve managed to stay in a place that long since we left Ohio in 2000.
Perhaps that’s why we’ll be moving on in a couple weeks.
We’re definitely slowing down and napping more. I don’t know how many more times we’ll be able to pull this off, but there’s still so much to see. Some of it on other continents.
We’re squeezing every last drop out of our peripatetic lifestyle. And now I can say I’ve lived in a double wide.
I can’t decide if all this has been time travel, or space travel. The two are easier to confuse than you might imagine. There have certainly been eras and epochs a-plenty, as well as a variety of alien life, most of which I found to be sadly pedestrian.
Elsewhere, Otis sat at his computer. It was the middle of the night. His moon-round face hovered over the keyboard, a happy buck-toothed grin upon the lunar surface: He was about to write his novel. That very morning, after oatmeal, he decided he was an author, and now, scant hours later, here he was, writing his novel. Hopefully, a really fat one. Fat novels suggest something important.
He wouldn’t be telling stories. Fictions. He would be sharing tales of his travels, which he considered to be extensive. His travels were extensive the same way he was writing a fat novel.
But there was something much larger at play here. And delightfully less obvious. It was a kind of a mycelium connecting a myriad of lives across the lengths and depths of space and time. And it was more mundane that what a cosmic mycelium should suggest.
Otis typed ‘cosmic mycelium.’ And then he switched on the computer. He typed ‘cosmic mycelium’ again.
Elsewhere countless others were dabbling in their own self-importance, unencumbered by the sheer weight of living organisms in the known universe who, at that moment, were pleasuring themselves with their own brand of self-importance, the cosmic mycelium connecting them as one.
Self-importance can motivate to dizzying heights, but that’s usually not the case. Self-importance, it turns out, is a common survival strategy throughout the universe.
Otis isn’t the only one writing a fat novel. It’s a common manifestation of self-importance. However, what none of these Hemmingways realize is, you have to live a fat novel to write a fat novel. Living the fat novel, that’s what I’m all about. This has been my fat novel of a life.
I have been trying to turn folks on to meteor showers since somewhere in the vicinity of the dawn of time, with few takers. Understandably, who wants to get up in the middle of the night to star gaze and watch for shooting stars? Aside from me.
Folks have stories about summer meteors from childhood camping trips, or backyard sleep-outs. But they remain ensconced in our youth, like a jarful of fireflies.
Over the years I’ve been joined by many accomplices: girlfriends, best friends, an ex-wife, acquaintances, strangers in the night, a wife and daughter. But has a single one of these folks chased a meteor shower on their own? Uh uh. Granted, it can be a lonely experience, watching a meteor shower alone. But there’s poetry out there. There’s spirituality out there (not religion; that’s up to you. If you can keep the guilt trip and judgement of others out if it, well done. Oh, and it must focus on the natural world.) Science is out there. The infinite is out there. It is not diminishing, the infinite, but welcoming.
Still, that’s not enough.
I discovered meteor showers in 1975, and have chased them since, though I’m beginning to fall behind as I get older. This feels like a last heads-up. I’m tired of trying. Meteor showers occur throughout the year, every year. Sometimes there’s a moon, sometimes not. Some showers are slow drips, some are an irregular flow. Some flow steadily. And there’s always a chance for something extraordinary. This illustration is the best I can do to encourage folks to get the hell out of bed for a change. Do something different. Call in sick the next day. I always did.
Monsoon season in the desert. Isn’t there an oxymoron at play here? The desert is the desert for a reason, and in my mind, monsoon season doesn’t figure into it, yet here I am in southern Arizona in August, and it is undoubtedly monsoon season. I haven’t experienced so much rain since Costa Rica. And when it doesn’t rain and the Sun emerges, god forbid, the heat and humidity rejoice in each other’s company and it’s summer in Ohio again. I feel like a boiling lobster.
The storms are awesome, however, the constant strobe of lightning all across the sky, the booming thunder, the aroma of wet desert as the torrential downpour approaches. One storm had the temerity to hail on us with ferocity. The sunflowers suffered for it.
But April showers bring May flowers, and summer monsoons do it too. There has been an unexpected (by me) profusion of desert wildflowers. They are obscenely beautiful.
As a wildflower enthusiast no hyperbole is up to describing my joy. And like birders with their life lists, I have a life list of North American wildflowers. This sudden glut of blossoms pushed me over 2,500 wildflowers.
Monsoon season and meteor shower season, on the other hand, are just bad timing.
I long lusted after a desert life because of those infinitely clear nights, where the stars sparkle like snow in sunshine. Where meteor showers are a spectacle. This year I counted a measly thirty-seven Perseids in nearly three hours of staying awake.
By the time the monsoons abate, the Perseids will likewise be finished. Sunlight will beat down on the botanical rainbow and in no time at all, they will be a brown, crinkly, memory.
If you’re prone to Magical Thinking, this year’s Winter Solstice will bubble your bath into a frothy paradise. Not only do we celebrate the darkness with light, there is a planetary conjunction that has astrologers holding revivals. Jupiter and Saturn, which are in conjunction but once every twenty years, pass so near each other a collision seems imminent. They haven’t achieved such flirtatious proximity since 1623, nor will they again until 2080.
Such a rare conjunction falling on the Winter Solstice is the kind of thing astrologers will remember where they were when it happened. They perhaps hang more significance on this than any of our more pedestrian religions, living, as they claim, according to the whims and desires of the night sky (as opposed to the whims and desires of a hairy thunderer, for example). Faiths around the Northern Hemisphere celebrate the Winter Solstice with a Festival of Lights in one form or another, each one a metaphoric rekindling of the Sun. Christmas and Hanukkah included. Those who subscribe to the mysterious and arcane truths of Science view the conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn in 7 BCE as being the “Star of Bethlehem.”
And poets and dreamers. They shall be touched by this event in a fashion to which more pragmatic people are not privy. That would be most of us.
As for this conjunction, Jupiter will pass within the faintest of whispers of Saturn, one-tenth of a degree. This is equivalent to a 1/5th slice of the Full Moon. They will be able to smell each other’s breath.
With all of this, the Winter Solstice and the conjunction of the two largest planets in our Solar System and all the luggage we’ve attached to it, it is incumbent upon us to understand that this is strictly from our point of view on Earth. This means absolutely nothing to the rest of the Universe. How’s that for self-involved?
The Winter Solstice falls on December 21st joined by this gorgeous conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn. You don’t need Magical Thinking or Science to appreciate it, just eyes and a heart.
When you go to dinner you peruse restaurants and menus before deciding.
If you’re going to a movie you check theaters for what’s showing and you go from there.
Groceries – you cut coupons and look for bargains.
We shop around for everything. Except religion. We put on blinders, stick in ear plugs, hold our nose and our breath, and in we go, demonstrating the power of (misplaced) faith.
I was raised Southern Baptist, a notoriously conservative and guilt tripping religion. Most of my friends were Catholic (which seemed sinfully permissive to me). And none of us questioned our weekly dose of our parents’ god.
As we grow up we begin to rebel, to challenge our parents’ authority in most things. Religion doesn’t seem to be one of them. Some of us (most of us?) keep going to the church of our parents, if not literally, then carrying on at another location.
I hung with Christianity as long as I could but eventually found it impossible in the face of common sense and science. In the face of reality.
Religion common to a group is no longer an essential survival strategy. We’re free to find our own way, yet we don’t. We subscribe to a religion, typically without shopping around. That suggests a real lack of commitment. We spend more time pondering what kind of bread to have with dinner than we do choosing a god and how to worship it.
My dad, who was very involved in the church, once asked me about religion. I responded that nature was my religion and the night sky was my church. He replied, “I thought that’s what you’d say.” and left it at that.
Had I an actual, manufactured, religion rather than simply celebrating the universe as god intended, I would have been a Pagan.
One night in August back in 1972 a couple of friends and I went to the Academy Drive-In north of Cincinnati for a rock and roll double feature: The Rolling Stones’ Gimme Shelter and Joe Cocker in Mad Dogs and Englishmen. We made it through the Stones’ film, but by the time Joe Cocker lapsed into his first spastic tune, David, Jeff, and I were lying on the hood of Jeff’s Dodge Dart, puffing on blueberry cigars, gazing up at the stars, and pondering life from the perspective of seventeen-year-olds. While such thoughts typically involved girlfriends, ex-girlfriends, and girls we really wanted to date but were too shy to ask out, our thoughts were marginally less corporeal that night.
We were two and a half weeks away from our senior year of high school. Our lives were changing in a fashion we couldn’t begin to comprehend or had very little control over. Had we been more precocious, or perhaps somewhat more philosophical, we might have recognized the night sky for the timeless metaphor that it was – gorgeous and boundless and full of possibilities. But we saw none of that, simply a night sky dusty with stars. But that was enough.
As we lie there musing to the hoarse cacophony of Joe Cocker and nasal harmony of Leon Russell, we saw dozens of swift, bright meteors streaking through the powdery haze of the Milky Way.
“Wow! Didja see that?”
“Look! There goes another one!”
Each of us felt as if he had been granted a peek behind the curtain, witness to some rare cosmic conflagration meant, perhaps, only for us as nobody else at the drive-in seemed even remotely aware of the cosmic goings-on overhead. Of course, they were probably preoccupied.
A year later, a scant few weeks out of high school, I found myself in rural New York, at the end of a long Greyhound bus ride during which I completely failed to score with the hippy chick in skintight hip huggers who sat next to me. This trip, this bus ride to northwestern New York, was my embarrassing attempt at a restless Jack Kerouac road trip; an Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test without the acid and many fewer hippies. Of course, Kerouac himself was often reduced to Greyhound bus rides. I shouldn’t have felt so badly about what I saw as my own shortcomings as a fledgling beatnik.
But I digress…
What I mean to say is, the night I arrived the constellations were again a flurry of luminescent activity, with bright, fiery meteors streaking across the sky like interstellar gun play.
Once again, I thought I was witnessing some rare cosmic event, and having been left somewhat paranoid by years of Sunday School and the Wrath of God, I wondered if there wasn’t something a little end-of-the-world-ish about it. I was both enthralled and just a little bit nervous.
I returned to Ohio in the fall to start my freshman year at the University of Cincinnati, full of myself and my shiny new adult life as a college student.