A lot happened before I could determine with something close to certainty that the season had changed from Arctic winter to Saharan summer the other morning (otherwise known as 9:00 a.m. in February in the Land of Enchantment). When this daily Climate Change unfolds, I know it’s safe (from a sandal-wearing blood circulation standpoint) to begin the morning chores. I identify this as the time when the mercury encased by the porch swing is about halfway along its 60 degree migration.
At this stage I still need to employ the primate family’s oldest tool (the rock) to liquefy the chicken, duck and goat water buckets, but when the sun peeks over the nearest mountaintop, I know I’m good to go, at least vis a vis personal safety if not comfort in the extremities. In the odd normal of this winter, I can actually make the determination that it’s morning milking time with my eyes closed, because the sunlight sets off the wren chorus, as reliably as any alarm clock. The symphony, counterpoint provided by courting pairs echoing from one side of the ranch meadow to the other, is audible through adobe walls. The songbirds in general seem like they’re back way early this year, not that I’m complaining about the serenade.
My kids (the human ones), by this point, have been at it for an hour. They just don’t feel cold. Or cold’s messages to the brain are superseded on the same track by an under-cataloged emotion called “fun.” Make no mistake: this is a lesson and a fine way to go through life, at any age. Before I even pulled the hay out of the barn on the morning under discussion, my oldest and I had conducted an experiment about covalent bonds, since he pointed out when I emerged from the house zipping my coat that the overnight ice in his turtle-themed outside pond had proved stronger than the plastic in one his toys (a former camping water bottle, now in thirds).
I probably don’t need to emphasize that to my mind this all was a good start to the outside portion of the day. And it was about to get better. Our new batch of chickens had started laying! Five nectarine-colored eggs were waiting for me in a little dug-out circle of a nest in the coop. I sighed with the kind of primeval satisfaction that’s getting increasingly (and hopefully temporarily) rare in the Digital Age. One less item to get at (and transport bumpily via vegetable oil power from) the grocery store.
I’m one of those people who’s always working on appreciation. I feel I need to because if 99 things go right, too often I’ll spend an hour wondering what I could have been done better with the remaining one. Which is another way of saying I wish I had let the reality of ranch-fresh cholesterol sink in. Because by mid-milking itself, my mind had wandered in another direction. I could tell by the fact that it was one of those mornings where I splattered as much milk on my shirt as in the milk jug. The “problem” (if there can be such a thing amidst the miracle of conscious existence as a problem) was, the one in 100 (or maybe it’s more like 10,000) troubling thing I realized (or thought I finally acknowledged) was right in front of my face: evidence that goat society apparently holds together through a hierarchy enforced with otherwise meaningless acts of unkindness (the occasional horn butt to the gut when there’s plenty of grain for everybody, for instance).
I guess there’s dwelling and then there’s over-dwelling. By which I mean I think it’s fine to let the yang wander into your yin as long as it doesn’t take over and become the yin. So in my psychic defense I’ll report that by the time I was barefoot in the already sun-warmed sand of the Funky Butte Ranch creek bed doing my sun salutations, I was back on what it feels safe to call the Route to the Yin. Specifically, the thought that the canyon wren chorus was now allowing to reach me was to that the previous line of thought — the whole thing about the sweet caprine members of my family possibly not attaining enlightenment through pure joy and kindness, only mostly these — might have come about because of the trouble I’d been having over the past, I dunno, not too long spate of time, fully accepting the spiritual explanation of the situation as the true one.
I give a lot of lip service to this overall philosophical M.O. And I believe in it. That is to say, I believe in all this belief. There’s clearly no certainty, so I largely equate bravery as the willingness to live alongside belief. I try, especially when it’s easy to, to act as though I’m wearing a magic “The Thoughts In the Heart of the Best Me Represent Reality” anorak. I was mid-Tree Pose in the creek bed, wondering how to continue the journey back to what I consider this equilibrium spiritual state when I again got extremely lucky. If lucky means “continuing to be steered back into believing that the best possible interpretation of any moment or experience is simply the accurate interpretation.” Lucky because advertising executives tell us that lessons (or, as they call them, marketing strategies) are lastingly imbued in the primate brain only through repetition. The actual lucky thing was the next sound to reach my ears: that of my one-and-a-half-year-old son’s voice, singing.
He was too far back up the hill (having joined his brother’s covalent bond experiment back by No Name the Turtle) for me to pick up the tune (though he’s been really into Farmer in the Dell and Twinkle Twinkle/ABCs lately), but the cadence itself, against perfectly in-tune and in-rhythm songbird harmony, ended the discussion about whether I was on my way back. I hope and believe that song solidified my re-steered course for whatever one means by a long while in a universe that recently celebrated its 14 billionth birthday.
I guess I’m trying to convey that I like to think I got the message. But I also remembered even at the intensely fantastic moment that those ad execs say it takes at least three informational bombardments, ideally across many media/senses, to really learn a lesson. So my eyes, ears, and heart are open. Even my taste buds. Unless that openness itself is the third approach. Read more…
For one thing, it’s an ethical matter: it the universe is going to make life easy, if the very set dressing is going to cause endorphins to flow, I feel an obligation to go along for the ride. In yesterday’s case, literally: I was about to embark on a road trip.
For another thing, I’ve learned that a fine day is likely to flow from such a beginning, according to probably the most important lesson I learned from my fairly rigorous six week training as an Alaskan river guide. The lesson is this: set yourself up for success. Look not only at the 34 degree glacial river directly under your boat, filled with 1,200 pounds of cruise ship buffet graduates, bur rather three turns ahead.
Even outside of early morning atmospheric gymnastics, I’ve been in River Mind lately, not least because of the amazingly snowy winter we’re having here in my canyons, which bodes well for spring runoff. Finally! Dang Climate Change. Though when the atmosphere does decide to precipitate, it sure does swing to the other extreme. Not that I’m complaining. I’m already buffing my boat and trying to leave space between speaking events.
Point is, every Alaskan river guide trainee knew, by two weeks in the pre-season, that if you wanted a smooth, safe run, the long term “read” mattered as much as the immediate situation. For whatever reason, this pre-dawn memory yesterday in turn reminded me about a rule of thumb for the trainee “check-off run.” This was the final exam during training that allowed you, if successful, to graduate to guide status. To earn your hipster life jacket, complete with sheathed knife.
The rule of thumb was this: you must “stick” your Swift Water Stop. This was the maneuver whereby, laden with that half-ton of passenger weight (in the case of your check-off run, this was friends and fellow putative river guides), you leaped out of the 16-foot inflatable raft at the command of your trainer, wrapped the bowline around your waist, planted your rubber-booted feet, and allowed all your guests to disembark safely (to snap that moose or empty that bladder). You can see why this was an important part of the check-off run: in the case of an emergency in your boat (post-buffet passenger heart attack) or another boat (post-buffet passenger overboard in fast-moving glacial runoff), you needed to be able to stop at any time, in any part of the river. Read more…
It was while I was describing the Funky Butte winter orchard watering M.O. to a friend who was watching the ranch for me while I was on the road a short while back that I realized there was a new time of day to celebrate.
“If it stays this cold, you might have to limit yourself to sunny days between 3 and 3:45 p.m.,” I explained in a draft email of my winter irrigation philosophy. “That’s when even the most exposed hose lines usually have unfrozen enough to flow.”
That’s what I wrote, on account of the regular 70 degree temperature swings we see at this time of year here in the high desert transitional zone that seems to have more endemic species than some places have species. The fluctuation of season can be deeply confusing to someone who comes from a place where a season lasts three months, not six hours. I’m not kidding. To wake up to a frightening porch thermometer reading of “7” (and the associated goat bucket skating rinks), and then to evolve into a river-dipping humanoid under 70 degree skies by siesta time is not uncommon.
But what I meant was, “Here’s a great way to spend that magical afternoon time slot when the low-angled winter desert light has re-liquefied the world into a daytime landscape as seen through a sand sculpture; everything some version of purpling Cambrian sandstone. It has the added advantage of being beneficial to multiple species. Probably thousands, actually, if you open your mind and give the microbial critters the credit they deserve for the health of an overall fruit orchard ecosystem.”
Why, I wonder now, is this time of day not recorded to the point of rote meme since ancient song as a sacred sweet spot? We’re all from the same Star Stuff, the same Big Bang — don’t we all come to the eventual cosmic conclusions? I dunno. I guess ticks come from the same Big Bang, too.
OK, perhaps at this point you’re asking a fair question in an ultimately relative universe: how would I define those conclusions at which I expect all right thinking conscious beings will arrive? It was while I was realizing that, if done right (and after enough verses), “Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes” is in fact interpretive dance, that I came to that answer myself: if only the history course I teach to my toddlers was fully accurate.
Holy Gazoley, this is what I heard coming out of my mouth last week when asked by one of my offspring to explain the Liberty Bell stamp we were affixing to a bill envelope: “we used to be ruled by self-declaring monarchs, but now we’re free and kings are rare.”
What I didn’t say was, “Holy, shit, American civil liberties are so precious. Are they still intact? Am I doing enough to work on that? Ya know, the freedoms that supposedly all Americans of all parties and incomes and places of origin are ultimately all fighting for.”
I know from whence my ambivalence about my unfailingly optimistic message to my kids derives. In our pop music diet alone these days, we’re exposed to what I think of as both essential worldviews: an ultimately-benevolent-because-love-powered universe on the one hand (Bob Marley, Carl Sagan, Mr. Rogers) and a strike-first-to-survive-in-this-dog-eat-dog-world on the other (Fugees, Corporate Politics, Virtually All International Diplomacy).
Do we choose in which school we dwell? If so, should we self-identify? Today the Rastaman Vibration was the easy, obvious choice for me. It was the kind of day I love most. One that involves at once drysuit, laptop and wildflowers. Also adventure, creation and love. Maybe the answer is to just have a lot of days like this. The carpet of caramel colored cottonwood leaves on the river-crossing plank this morning looked to me like offerings in hope of such a result.
If I believe it, maybe it is. I wrote in an earlier Dispatch about choosing to remember the many affirming messages and overall sublimity of a week-long river trip rather than, ya know, the few little bits of near-death carnage and hypothermia. Seems to work in the field.
I sure hope it’s a choice. I’ll pretty much always consciously choose the skankin’ beat. Motivation wise I’d rather live in sync with the universe than in defiance of some imagined nemesis. In fact, under this lens a nemesis is just another motivating friend — a catalyst if you must think like a laboratory — on his or her own journey, who interacts with you in a particular way at a particular time. Someone who provides a lesson you needed but didn’t necessarily expect.
And I’m thinking that true inner peace may dwell within this model. That is to say, once you come to a relatively egoless, at-least-broaching-humility acceptance of your essentially divinely oriented self, all you have to do is find the ecosystem in which you best thrive. Call it home and care for it.
Not only do you win when you’ve decided you’ve won, and not only does no one else have to lose, but you’re prepared to react with an appreciative smile to just about whatever life throws your way. Or not. But it’s pleasurable to imagine such is the way the universe operates while it lasts. Maybe it’ll last.
I was as surprised as anyone that I had a discussion with my Sweetheart the other day that surrounded fashion. The word itself never came up. On the surface, I was recording what used to be called a Kodak Moment in our family’s main room. The term referred to a once-prominent company that helped people use chemicals to render physical photographs.
I had stumbled out of a writing session, bashing the usual toe on the usual toy train, to see that the denim and bamboo teepee that my Sweetheart had made (from local bamboo) was being sheepskin-carpeted by my 3-and-a-half-year-old, while his younger brother, my one-and-a-halfer, waited I thought fairly patiently to go inside and make himself comfortable as their game of “Chillin’ Hunter/Gatherer” got underway.
My Sweetheart tried at first to back out of the photo frame, protesting that she looked frumpy. As if she ever could. In her mind’s mirror, though, she saw: ripped Ragg wool sweater, tights, and hair knotted above head. I, of course, thought she looked beautiful. Telling her so made her reluctantly reconsider. Everyone’s now glad she did.
In addition to how she looked, I considered a key component of the Kodak Moment to be what she was doing: she was knitting me a hat on a Monday morning at 10:23 a.m. The “Surburbs of Goa” station from soma.fm was the soundtrack. The two psyched, giggling kids were of course contributing to the vibe.
Looked at from a higher altitude, even at the time, I saw where she was coming from: a photo, if saved and forwarded to the digital projector, is forever(-ish). It’s with us, at least, until today’s technology becomes unusable in a decade. I didn’t want her praying for our camera to go the way of the floppy disk, simply because of a fairly aged sweater.
But today, I was really arguing in insisting that she let me snap a couple of shots, we are the camera shop. We not just process but have final cut. For the first time in a long time, I remembered when I used to be bound by those 24 photos per roll. When I returned from the Burmas and the Alaskas of the world, I saved every glossy print, even the blurry or thumb-invading ones, because who knows? Maybe I’d see something in them later. An image was a document too precious to discard. Today I’m sometimes uploading upwards of five hundred per month.
I realize now, a week after the teepee photo shoot, that the essence of the discussion wasn’t only the democratization of image processing, but acceptance of the Normal Life Photo Era. No longer does the family dress up to go to Sears for the annual portrait. Instead we’ve got a documentarian (usually me) recording the situation.
Furthermore, journalistically speaking, the trend I see — and I think it’s a positive trend — is our family wardrobe moving toward a sort of Digital Age silk and bear skin situation. Maybe “progressing” is an even more apt verb. The more Neolithic the better. Functional and attractive from whatever’s out there in our ecosystem, like the Flintstones. Only with Internet zipper and buckle delivery. What my Sweetheart was today considering frumpy, in the locavore future, will be thought of as well-maintained and super stylin’.
When I uploaded the month’s photos a few days later, I gently informed the lady of the house that she had something new to learn if she wanted to. I had proof. Not that I needed it, of course. To me, she is most stunning with the expression she’s wearing. The clothes I don’t even notice. I have hardly any use for the clothes. Read more…
Photos by Carole Huber
Even if you’ve arrived blindfolded, there are several ways to know you’re in Colorado. First (and this is obvious to most observers and already an old joke), the bikes represent more recent technological advances than the cars. And second (more specific to a visiting performer), the organizers of a live event are likely to (correctly) deduce that scheduling a guided morning hike up the nearest spine of the Rockies is a solid, inexpensive way to ensure an A Game (or at least a completely honest) performance in the evening. It’s what I’d ask of the Cosmic Cab Driver in most situations.
When my long planned visit to the University of Colorado, Colorado Springs finally unfolded recently, the shrewd organizers enlisted the terrific energy of several professors and students to take me on a morning hike to a pre-Columbian (or at least a Ute) Vision Quest spot. That was what was on the agenda they emailed me before my flight. Good thing, too. I packed different footwear than I otherwise would have.
How could they have known I love a good Vision Quest before lunch? Geography and Environmental Studies Professor Tom Huber filled me in on the archaeological and anthropological details as we scaled a ridge above campus on our way to enlightenment. I sat for a few minutes amidst the stone circle with the gazillion-dollar Rockies view, jazzed beyond words at the idea of people half a Millennium ago having enough time on their hands to, ya know, meditate for a few hours or days.
“It’s only once we stopped hunter/gathering that we lost our free time,” Huber pointed out. I noted that I didn’t have much of it this day. But then it was a paid work day, and I was having a Vision Quest.
On my ride back to the airport the next day (following a terrific event), one of the organizers, Marissa, was telling me about the “riders” that performers at the school sometimes write into their event contracts. The famously extreme example of the phenomenon is the “five pounds of M&Ms in a silver bowl with all the brown ones taken out” that Van Halen or Guns N’ Roses or someone used to demand. I find such riders fun reading — look online for ”Weird Al” Yankovic’s. It’s great. The demands all surround recycling and Veganism.
So thank you Tom, Linda and Nate, especially, for showing me what my own rider might at some point very soon read: “Organizer will provide performer with EITHER a one (1) hour hike to traditional Vision Quest spot OR transport performer to one (1) of the nearest wild hot springs, OR both.
If I really wanted to get demanding, I could add a section about always getting the lovingly prepared, locally derived lunch with a view of the Rockies (from soup to salad to pie to ice cream) that some of the UCCS geography and sustainability students and faculty provided me at 6,000 feet. But that might be asking too much of a university event organizer in Duluth in January.
Still, those UCCS folks got me at my most relaxed that evening. My mind on the Cosmic during the performance, I said what was in my heart more than I kept to my normal Sustainability Era Cheerleading program. So much so that an attendee not at her first show approached me at the book signing and asked if anything was wrong.
“Everything is right,” I said. “Except that the biggest scandal in the New York Times right now is about a solar power company. When the scandal should be that there are still coal mines.”
It was that kind of evening. During the Q&A session following the event, an audience member had asked me what I’d say to Rupert Murdoch if given the opportunity. And for some reason my reply was along the lines of, “He’s a pretty old guy. Is he in charge of anything? Is Fox News really the same entity for which Mr. Murdoch achieved U.S. citizenship? I just don’t know who’s really in charge. So of late I’ve been thinking of Kurt Vonnegut’s Bokononist faith from Cat’s Cradle. Don’t render unto Caesar, the faith’s founding saint advises. Rather “pay no attention to Caesar. Caesar has no idea what’s really going on.” Read more…
I’m trying to learn to react with something other than awe whenever a brave Freshman Orientation Committee deep in Texas decides a pungent hircine odor during the normally dignified, be-gowned Convocation ceremonies is worth braving in the name of a Carbon-Neutral Message. That is to say, last week I was fortunate enough (and not just because of the stellar local barbecue technique) to give my second straight convocation address to 7,000 incoming freshmen and faculty at the University of Texas, Sam Antonio.
Last year I spoke of birthing goat kids and human ones. This time, the good folks down in Texas hill country asked me to offer a goat herder’s take on the almost certainly life-defining “Journey” (this year’s orientation theme for the UTSA Roadrunners) the incoming students would be taking, if in parking alone, as they began their college careers. What a way for a basketball arena full of teenagers to start their college career: listening to a goat herder expound passionately on the joys of meditation with ruminants.
Just a few days later, with woodpecker morse code closely mirroring my own Smartphone typing of these words mid-trail run this morning, I still have trouble believing that I’m allowed to say the things I generally say in my live events even once in a given venue. I mean, to me, they’re patriotic. So I guess that’s how I should look at it. Let me know what you think.
Below is that address, which was followed in the afternoon by my more conventional live event, and then enough local food to have me feeling what any sensible primate feels when in Texas: “Ya know, if Ann Richards just came out of retirement, this wouldn’t be such a bad State.”
Indeed, I think it worth noting that, even though the villain coyote in Farewell, My Subaru is named Dick Cheney, venues in Texas have booked my live event saga of carbon-neutral misadventures more than any other single state. And not just in Austin -â€“ I’ve performed at Texas Christian, Texas Tech and the University of Texas at Arlington, as well, this last on the same night that George W. Bush was giving a speech. And they always provide the barbecue. It’s not even on my rider. Here’s this year’s UTSA speech.
President Romo, Distinguished Educators, and Future Leaders of the World (Note: this sentence, my cowboy hat and my sole blazer are the only elements of the speech repeated from last year):
It’s such a distinct honor to be back here in Roadrunner country today that I’ve been talking about it for weeks. I think the San Antonio Chamber of Commerce needs to put me on retainer â€“ ever since my incredibly fun and educational visit here last year, I’ve progressively got the whole world believing San Antonio is our nation’s friendliest and most erudite city, and that UTSA is essentially the reason for that.
Before I continue, can I just get a quick update â€“ are all the freshman I spoke with last year leaders of the world yet? (examining audience, hand shading eyes). Ultimate Frisbee victories don’t count. No, really, c’mon people, hurry up, the country is going bankrupt. OK, all right, I’ll give those sophomores and your freshmen a couple more years. But I’ll be checking in. Pop quiz in 2015. (Oh, and that includes you, Undeclareds â€“ let me shout out to you guys up there in the nosebleeds, in particular â€“ I was one of you until I got a menacing letter from the Registrar late in my junior year. In many ways, I still am.)
The first thing you must keep in mind today is that the advice coming at you for the next few minutes derives from the beliefs of a goat herder who powers his Netflix on a few solar panels. Mark my words, people â€“ one day the Roadrunner Creed will mandate this. Yes, more on that questionable career decision at my talk later today. But I did graduate from college with honors and I am paying my mortgage. That is to say, I chose this level of smelliness and embarrassment when I put “shepherd” on my tax return and openly admit here to 7,000 people that I meditate with livestock.
So there’s today’s first piece of sage wisdom as you begin your college careers: Aristotle reminds us, when receiving advice, to always consider the source. Your source, today, ladies and gentleman, smells like Nubian goats. I try to wash it off, but I’m like Lady Macbeth: I show up to parties and the butler announces, “a Mr. Pan has arrived, Madam. Can I take your horns, sir?” Ah, well, like my roommate said to me when he woke well after a midterm of his had started. “I suppose there’s a price to be this happy.” (Don’t be late for your midterms people.) And one more thing about considering a source: please don’t believe what you hear in hate shouters on cable and in the Internet. Dig deeper and look for the truth in the information you consume. Read more…
“More berry picking.” Just as Ford Prefect’s nine year-researched travel posting about planet Earth gets reduced by a sub-editor’s secretary to “mostly harmless” in the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, so these three words can reasonably be used to sum up both the setting and the meaning of today’s Dispatch.
In the fifth installment of that same Hitchhiker’s series, an important galaxy-wide lesson that alternatively-employed astrophysicist Tricia McMillan learns is that in life, “sometimes you go back for your bag, and sometimes you don’t.” For those unfortunate enough not to be familiar with the multidimensional plot of Douglas Adams (the 20th Century Shakespeare)’s storyline, let me state the mantra as it’s been dancing into my head during recent (and increasing) Frisbee and especially berry picking “work” breaks:
“Apply the lessons across which time allows you to stumble in exchange for oxidizing,” I’ve heard myself telling myself, often, lately. “And indeed even the lessons in the lessons. But, vitally, learn when to. When you do that, not only does what feels like an enlightenment plateau appear hazily in the bike lights, but every hike and indeed organic interaction becomes tax deductible.”
For whatever reason, this is an easier lesson to remember when, to describe the very common recent state of things, various berry juices are staining my nose, clothes, and now laptop keyboard, than when, say, I’m stuck on hold with a company’s evidently Jupiter-based customer service outsourcing unit whose employees can’t seem to grasp the concept of “new credit card number.”
Fortunately, the general berry ripening is coming on with the Malthusian rush of popcorn hitting its stove top stride. I don’t even resent other berry pickers in my patch (human or otherwise). There’s enough to go around.
In fact, the berries are ripening almost visibly, not by the day but by the hour. So intensely, in fact, in multiple vitamin-packed species, that I’m ecstatic to report that, following some sort of holistic blogger maintaining that fresh strawberry pulp, applied for ten minutes, is a teeth whitener, I, yesterday, was able to use wild ones from a patch mid-morning run.
Results? Um. Sure. Call this evaluation “holistic license” or maybe “premature.” Let’s put it this way. It was the tastiest treatment of any kind I’d ever self-administered, and it didn’t make my teeth any less white. Furthermore, it’s difficult to overstate my pleasure in realizing that I can now officially call my wild strawberry habit “medicinal use.” Not covered by insurance, true, but at least free, unless you count the tea tree oil applied as a result of second-degree berry scratches.
Indeed, ripening, in general, feels like a profoundly valuable concept, if you have a large enough cycle in mind. It’s comforting to have a sense of visualizing “all the spokes” of experience’s wheel. But here I feel caution seeping in. What moment of clarity has not faded, leaving me feeling that revelation is “almost gone,” like the streak that remains for a long second following the most intense shooting star?
Those chronologically challenged humanoids, kids, as usual, seem to perceive the Big Lessons without any kind of static. I took joy in noticing yesterday (a philosophical-eureka-an-hour kind of day) that my three-year-old groks (indeed reminded me) that our tomato plants need water, and that the now-faded irises will return next year. Again, the juice promise of wild blackberries and strawberries mitigate any sense of tristesse surrounding the suddenly absent irises.
In other words, I’m being taught by the people I’m supposed to teach, let us not forget the “to head or not to head back for the left-behind bag?” mantra that begins this Dispatch. Is the steadiness that comes with planning and perspective always the goal? Or is periodic reliance on the giddiness of the Now (the actual moment when you realize you’re incontrovertibly in the midst of a killer berry patch or meteor shower, which by the way we are — both — as I post this Dispatch) sometimes a good way to refuel faith in the operation of the very same cycles of the universe? I had the pleasure of wondering exactly this when I noticed I had berry-picked so long yesterday that the morning had misted over. I jogged home, my head literally in the clouds, wondering if there was, at least periodically, not just the usual psychic but an actual practical advantage to right brain fogginess over left brain clarity.
Reflecting on the experience a day later, I think yes, if the conclusion drawn is that the Universe is Kind and knows what it’s doing. To give a prime, semi-competent neo-Rugged Individualist example, readers of these Dispatches and associated books will know all-too-well that the Houdini-esque escapades of the goats I protect from coyotes and GMO hay like a Digital Age Elmer Fudd can send me into a stressful state more commonly experienced by urban cubicle dwellersâ€¦um, pretty much always.
So therefore today it feels like yet another vital life lesson (Act Now and Get Your Degree In One Concentrated Berry Picking Session!), like a cosmic sigh, to recognize once again, against my will and following my usual carbon-neutral tantrum, that my goats’ rose bush raids have invariably resulted in, if not manicured, than at least botanically functional and perfectly timed pruning.
The lesson is clear: worrying less is progressive, healing and contagious. But requires some faith.
So, for instance, any time I decide to head off on a river trip I’m striking what I hope is a balance between valuable adventure lessons and caution (with the role of Adams’ breakthrough Infinite Improbability Drive played in this case by elements like rain, carabiner integrity and the universe in general. Such is my aim when I, a taxpaying father of two, aim to balance spiritual and physical risk and reward.
These past six months and counting have given me a lot of reason to store copious reserves of faith in the workings of the universe, which I hope the work I’ll be releasing in various media in the next year or so will bear out. In short, it’s been feeling easier and easier to just “go with it” in my daily life, since the results seem to be positive on personal, spiritual, creative, health, family and professional levels.
This “in sync” momentum reminds me of a the feeling of catching a wave on a surfboard (specifically when you realize how much stronger the ocean is than you are, and how OK this is), and the resulting confidence resulting from yesterday’s berry overindulgence emboldened me not to get nervous when a Western astrology-inclined friend warned all in earshot, later in the day, to be careful throughout this Gregorian month because “Mercury is in retrograde.”
Assuming this is indeed something about which to be careful, I’m feeling like having faith in recent decisions and current direction is the way to go. And this, my friends, in turn feels like a yet another immeasurable blessing. I think I’m up to three recognized already in this half-finished Dispatch.
Did you ever take a moment to sigh and realize, “Absolutely nothing is wrong-everything is as it should be”?
Feel free to do it right now. Read more…
I had just been emailed a link to the video that begins this Dispatch by the organizers of an upcoming live event when, not an hour later and pretty much when I Least Expected It, my Berry Brain Receptor Gene kicked in (I have very little doubt this will be identified when the Genome Parsers get down to the important stuff.) It became, to be explicit, Berry O’clock. For a long time.
Perhaps it already had been, pre-consciously. I recall I was thinking about items I still needed for the upcoming jam-making season while watching that video, which I enjoyed, because it sums up a lot of what drives me, sustainably speaking, in under three minutes.
A friend of mine in college liked to remind we less frequent imbibers that “it’s always Happy Hour Somewhere.” I’m not sure what exactly I’m confessing when I report that now I’m the one frequently repeating an analog, namely, “It’s always Berry O’clock somewhere.”
Oh, who am I kidding? I know exactly what I’m confessing. I’m openly addicted to the pace at which the universe expands during Berry Picking Time, and not very interested in quitting. I would give up seven of my favorite ten things to have been the first mammal (or maybe it was a bird) to discover wild berries.
I certainly can’t carry this wish as far forward as human beings, evolutionarily, because I learned from bumping belly to belly with a similarly berry-neurotransmitter-activated (or connected, or however it is our electrochemical bridges are lowered) 350-pound brown bear in Alaska almost ten Berry Picking seasons ago that the effect is far more than species-specific. We grunted “Good morning” to each other, the ursine and I, both completely sincerely and neither anything like afraid or aggressive, and then each continued berry-gorging -â€“ wild blueberries in this case, if I remember correctly (first sign of Berry Time addiction: selective berry batch location blackouts, as a means of “protecting” the stash).
If one must parse it academically, it’s the meditative motion as much as the juicy vitaminsâ€¨ that hooks one. Berry Picking (and, let’s not kid ourselves, to qualify as “gorging,” a Berry Picking session must entail at least an “eat 70%, bring home 30% for jam and whatnot” ratio) is a total, involuntary dwelling in the Now. In other words, the Berry Activation Gene is a direct route, probably not the only one and all-too-often only a temporary one, to Enlightenment. That bonding with the brown bear was as enduringly valuable for me as a life lesson as was meeting Aung San Suu Kyi in Burma.â€¨ They’re both freedom-fighter heroes, as far as I’m concerned. Internal and external world freedom being equally important. Read more…
“It’s…the only life.” â€“-Water Rat, Wind in the Willows
I’ve just — nanoseconds ago — snapped back into the kind of awareness that allows one to, for example, express thoughts in written language. The movie let out. That is, my innertube has jarringly scraped free of its recent gravel bed emergency brake and I’ve spun as slowly as possible to still call it “movement” (but still a human centrifuge) past the house-sized concave riverbank rock that has (perhaps forever) been showing the silent feature called, “Reflection Of and Maybe For Underwater Life.”
Now I’m nearly at the next curve, and I have to decide, even as I notice I’m composing the lead to my next Dispatch, into which channel the most water is spilling. It’s a subtle but important decision (involving both anterior and dorsal seal imitation), since I’d prefer to spill down that channel, too, and not get stuck yet again with a parting gift of more lower back gravel lacerations.
Even if the crucial but pre-Monsoon-parched river is barely deep enough to float a man and his tube, it’s generally a very solid sign when you’re participating in an activity which would have been included, no matter how forced the rhyme, had you been the lyricist for “My Favorite Things.” Not much rhymes with “innertubing” but plenty does with “bliss.” Now that I think about it, I welcome the offering in the comments section of this Dispatch of anyone who wishes to write a verse of their own personal “My Favorite Things.” Consider it a remix. I’m a wholehearted participant in the Remix Era.
As a result of this (nearly finished) day and a half of Very Very Likely (I don’t ever like to imply “Guaranteed”) Bliss, this return to Now Equilibrium, I am emerging as well-rested as I can remember being, at least since becoming a father for the second time. I’ve been rocked to sleep the past couple of nights by the kind of organic music that some folks pay to listen to on ambient bedside compilations: river current strings, sunset sandpiper glockenspiel, that kind of symphony. I feel like a farmer whose strength comes from the knowledge that he’s responsible for his own food. I’m growing my own contentment.
In an effort at concentration to find a more appropriate-feeling synonym for “growing” than “cultivating,” I just tried very hard to close my ears for a few moments, but the loud quiet in this wilderness (formerly “our entire planet as given”) keeps working its way back in. Its white noise is a synonym for sanity. For what I believe (and often note in these Dispatches) is one of life’s crucial health maintenance reminders: that the best interpretation of anything, anyone, any situation, is the true one. If I (or anyone else) says it is. The best in every way. Every.
I’ve crunched to the bank in a world smelling of pennyroyal, reminding myself to strengthen those who feel to me as though they operate from a place of good. I’ve lingered over (actually, mostly under) one final swimming hole before stuffing my dry bag for the half mile squish-hike back to the road. As I prepare to load the R.O.A.T. and try to remember what an ignition key is for, I see that my dry bag is aging. Its less-than-impervious seams are reminding me that this is maintenance. This river trip. It is re-sealing my own seams. Ah, there’s the synonym for “growing.”
Ah. I also, in the same stick-my-hand-in-and-see-what-items-and-ideas-I-come-up-with motion, notice that a critter of some kind has taken a fancy to my granola. There are clear teeth marks (raccoon? Beaver?) in the oft-reused co-op bulk bag. Am I angry? Hardly. I lean toward the harvesters (farmers, fishers) who accept and even welcome many of the other species that allegedly pose a threat to their “bottom-line.”
In New Mexico, I have a neighbor who devotes an entire ten-acre field to nitrogen-fixing alfalfa “for the deer.” In Alaska, I and my friends yelled playfully at (rather than bombed) the seals who tried to treat my salmon net like a free take-out sushi buffet (you see this process mimicked in actual sushi bars: the kind where you pull each order of hamachi, et al. off the boats drifting past). In fact, I first moved to the Last Frontier in large part because, stretching outside my tent one morning, I saw a wolf raiding my freeze-dried food stash during a trip just like this one â€“- it my first week in-State. I figured, “Any place with a healthy predator/prey balance at the dawn of the Twenty-First Century has a lot going for it.”
Just as I slam the truck bed closed, I hear my old friend Wren in a cottonwood above me. Three like notes followed by a final, vibrating diminished third or so. If I looked in the Blissed-Out-English/Wren dictionary, I’m pretty sure I’d see the translation, “Now now now NOW!”
But in this Now my cell phone is back on, struggling with satellites banging off mountains and nearly picking up a signal, though admittedly it’s being used at the moment to play some very Now Shpongle through the R.O.A.T’s speakers. Soon, I know and am feeling re-sealed enough to admit, time as I experience it will have factors like “society” and “deadlines” and “clothes” factored upon it. Like smudges on sunglasses lenses. No idea why that metaphor is in my head, I think as I nearly veer off this remote road trying to wipe my own lenses clean.
I’m not worried. About holding fast in the Now even in the asteroid belt of non-river life. As long as the Monsoon comes on soon, I have no complaints. In fact, in what I take as a good sign, I see on the passenger seat that before I left “civilization,” I received my author copy of the latest New Mexico Magazine issue (August, of course, showing once again that print media deadlines are one of those regions of the universe that are pretty much by definition not able to live in the Now), in which I spell out in my column just how vital is the annual atmospheric re-hydration that I hope is about to complement, perhaps complete, my spiritual one. Here it is, in slightly fuller, more vintage form: Read more…
This time is whatever I want it to mean
Everything and nothing is as sacred
As we’d want it to be
When it’s real
Make it real
–Beth Orton, Central Reservation
Yesterday, in the midst of regretfully goatless (and therefore goat-yogurt and goat-cheese-deficient) travel, my exercise routine proved, spontaneously, to be both physical and spiritual. What I did was (accidentally at first, then “on purpose”), I ran a couple of miles with one music earphone touching my tympanic membrane and the other ear exposed to the river, the hawks, and the breeze along the redwood forest trail outside where I’m staying.
The two-tiered, hour-long plan was (or became, once I noticed one of my Hearing Impairment Buds bouncing rhythmically onto my chest for the third time) to get the blood flowing and to make sure my cosmic radio station was tuned. The other senses (thankfully, for early June) were left fully devoted to the woods. Especially smell. The wild roses were half-blooming, invisibly melting me into nostalgia as always.
With a one-year old on my back and a smart phone on my hip, I was in every mitochondria in every molecule the solar-powered Digital Age Dad catalyzing some Vitamin D. And evidently lucky to be, after what locals tell me has been days upon days of blessed but annoying rain.
I saw plenty of evidence this was true. I could drive the vegetable oil-powered Ridiculously Oversized American Truck off whatever was growing on one restaurant’s insufficiently nonporous restroom walls. Though I should add in the name of interspecies understanding that the blackberry buds bursting everywhere I strode didn’t seem to mind.
Part One: The Dyea Plinko Incident
Early one morning while I was living in the spongy, fertile remnant of glacial recession known as Southeast Alaska at the beginning of this Millennium, a massive hunk of (former) glacier, aided by Climate Change, liquefied, sluffed out of its resting place of the previous 12,000 years, landed in the lake below, and (in what might possibly be the largest Cannonball in recorded history) nearly washed away the downstream village of Dyea. At its peak, the flood was gushing at more than 16,000 cubic feet per second over a sleepy town best known, at that hour of the day for, well, sleeping.
As the only daily journalist for an area five times the size of Rhode Island, I was responsible for covering the flood. While I toured the mangled Taiya riverbank and remnants of old cabins in the aftermath of what geologists were calling The Glacial Lake Outwash Event, what struck me was not the wrath of destruction, but the remnants of survival. Some cabins were still standing — untouched by the massive swath of liquid carnage. Others, more predictably, looked like Godzilla, or perhaps a Republican Administration’s Interior Department, had just moved through.
The Big Splash moved a city-sized, life-changing chunk of wet ice, water and earth in a way that reminded me of the old Plinko game on the “Price is Right” game show. The point of Plinko is that the contestant doesn’t know where the disk he drops at the top will end up at the bottom: goose egg or NEW CAR! The Glacial Lake Outwash Event was thus a lesson not about how fragile merry life is from a current geological perspective, but how astoundingly, numbingly, odds-defyingly lucky it is that we’re here living it at all. And some people complain about having a bad day. How about No Day At All? That’s much more likely, cosmologically-speaking.
We get a livable atmosphere here on Earth in return for all the churning and tectonic mucking about that gives us the floods, earthquakes and volcanic eruptions about which so many folks seem always to be whining. Live with it. Our moon doesn’t have a livable ambiance, nor do Venus or Mars, largely because they lack the dynamic recycling effort that’s continual on our immensely fortunate planet. And it ain’t just exotic places like Indonesia, Bangladesh and California where these things happen. One minute there was a Dyea, Alaska. The next, well, there was about half of one. The fact is, dig far enough anywhere on this ball of ocean and dirt, and you’ll find we’re conducting all of our business on a molten core of fire. As if personal intimate relationships weren’t difficult enough: now I learn I’m conducting them while surfing? Read more…
The Jerry Garcia Farm System
I have now witnessed two people become Jerry,
The first was John Kadlecik, former guitarist
For Dark Star Orchestra
And now guitarist for the Dead.
The second was Bob Weir.
One day he had shed his Bob-ness,
Acquired the walrus mustache,
He was no longer the Youth Brigade representative.
These were both strange ascendancies to experience.
But the second one far more so
Because of its suddenness.
There seemed to me
(Though I admittedly wasn’t paying close attention for a few years)
Very little warning for the transformation (think Bob Barker’s),
Particularly after watching the concerned humans age
According to a certain (I didn’t realize how comforting) trajectory
For four decades
The conclusion I draw, though, is
That whoever is in charge of the Garcia
Minor League Development Program
Is doing a top notch job.
From the perspective of the listener.
From both a sonic and experiential/parking lot angle,
I don’t feel the kids comin’ up today are missing
An essential part of their musical and life lesson.
Postscript: This Dispatch brought to you by a 1979 performance of the Grateful Dead tune “Estimated Prophet”, chosen by my phone’s “random” shuffle on a Very Remote Mountain Drive via vegetable oil power.
Post-Postscript: So if we all yearn to express The Message in a manner similar to the one via which our heroes discovered their voice, I guess I’m Singing Freedom Through Interstellar Travel via the written word and performance. Because my heroes are Aung San Suu Kyi for living without fear, Jerry Garcia for continuing to evolve and continuing to try, Joseph Heller for Catch-22 and Douglas Adams for The Hitchhiker’s Trilogy.
Pay no attention to what Caesar is doing. Caesar has no idea what’s really going on. –Bokonon, quoted in Kurt Vonnegut’s Cat’s Cradle
When I dip back into society these days, usually while being amazingly warmly hosted for a live event, what nearly always comes away astounding me is folks’ enduring confidence in the morality and durability of the anonymous commons — that is to say, of their critical societal institutions.
The assertions I hear usually go something like this: “OK, sure, most of the continent’s drinking water has pharmaceutical residue in it, we have a Supreme Court Justice openly flaunting basic judicial ethics, and some 90% of corn comes from genetic modification, but don’t worry, you can drink the tap water here on the podium before your event: the state environment department just won a lawsuit forcing the local pig feed lot’s owners to reveal how much antibiotic laden manure their operation leaches into the water table. It’s being appealed, but still, isn’t that great?”
This core faith is not only probably necessary for mental stability, it’s heartening in a way: maybe innocence isn’t dead. In the Bay Area on an important Frisbee break recently, I was told by a member of my putative Ultimate squad that the beach we were on, within two miles of San Francisco and frequented by perhaps a thousand people per day, was a safe one on which to trot around barefoot. Heck, though I had to make some last minute dodges around dog poop and syringes, it’s true that I emerged none the worse for wear. And the beach did afford a beautiful view of Alcatraz.
To be safe in my world, though, I take care of my own water supply, adopt the above epigrammed Bokononist attitude toward the current Supreme Court, and eat only organic, local or homegrown food. I still strongly favor voting and otherwise participating in this best-there-is representative democracy. I just don’t like the prospect of being a statistic who suffered from a periodic batch poisoning for which a company legal department is budgeted for up to a certain number of payments to next of kin. I prefer to look my food provider in the eye and have her tell me how the broccoli is this week.
Of course (I start with this slightly disclaiming phrase for the putative cynics who might already have made this leap), I’m not as insulated as I’d like to be. Because as I’ve reported about before in the New York Times and elsewhere, I’m about one Climate Change-induced “hundred year” hail storm away from an abrupt return to mainstream consumer/box store dependence. (We seem to get hundred year events every three years these days here on the Funky Butte Ranch.) Read more…
“Well, I pay you a little less.” –Jack Donaghy, to Liz Lemon, when the latter asks if, as a woman, she’s treated any differently from the former’s male employees, on the television program 30 Rock
As soon as some Collegese jargon-pusher taught me the terms â€˜We’ and â€˜Other,’ no doubt at some astonishingly oversimplified and in fact probably anger-based â€˜tolerance’ program during orientation, I was grateful. It gave me the terms to express how easy it’d always seemed to me, even as a kid, to solve the world’s problems: simply expand the planetary ‘We’ to include everyone and everything except for a possible genetically-necessary but this time harmless scapegoat (say, scorpions, or documentably hypocritical politicians).
Twenty years of exposure to neighbors and other difficult humans down the line, that sentiment still sounds nice, but, of course, as any of the non-comatose among us discover within moments of being set loose among other members of our own species, it’s hard enough including one’s own self in the â€˜We’ group, let alone not regarding even our closest loved ones as occasional members of some fantastically alien â€˜Other.’
At a live event the other day, just as I was about to be introduced to a group of four hundred college students, I noticed that one of the event’s organizers, sitting beside me on the dais, was wearing a bracelet which read, “Love has no gender.” Willing to accept that at face value but having no idea what the point of making it a billboard was, my puzzlement nonetheless triggered a thirteen-year-old memory there in the auditorium: in the middle of the Alaskan wilderness, someone on a sunny but biting day had observed to me in a voice so maladjusted to the glacial canyon in which we were hiking that it echoed several times off ancient aqua-colored ice before it reached my ears, “you know, following conception, as zygotes, the genders are exactly the same.”
For once I felt, that shivery morning late in Clinton’s second term, confident that I was too far from an electrical outlet to be the possible subject of a Candid Camera-style television prank. It was a moment of my life I hadn’t thought about in more than a decade. But I still left last week’s event, which was a terrific one (thank you, North Essex Community College), not really needing to analyze chromosomal issues much further.
As a likely result of this dismissal, of course (this next occurrence reflects a key facet of how the universe works, and if it could be charted, mathematically, it would no doubt advance our ability to travel in space in time), when I heaved my road-weary, vegetable oil exhaust-be-munchied self back into the Funky Butte Ranch house three thousand miles later, my kids were streaming a PBS Nature documentary entitled, “What Females Want.”
“Any good?” I asked my Sweetheart warily, after the multi-generational embraces were finished and the green chile enchiladas inhaled.
“Just started,” she said. “I have my doubts.”
I was afraid to look at the screen. “Me too,” I said. “If they oversimplify what is possibly conscious life’s most essential debate by telling us we’re just better-dressed baboons in troops fighting to spread our DNA, I’m going to switch to an episode of Family Guy.” Read more…
If there isn’t yet a dime store psycho-babble term for it, there should be (my agent is nudging me to begin work on the bestselling survivor’s account), but I recognize that we self-justify our life decisions. For purposes of mental health. For me, the phenomenon (shall we babble-dub it. “RIGHT Syndrome,” for Rationalization of Inherently Gratuitous Health-related Thoughts?) often manifests in the cherry-picking of those of the trendy research papers the popular media pick up on that are already in sync with my behavior. Among my recent favorites are “chocolate has anti-carcinogenic properties” and “giving even an instant of attention to Sarah Palin has carcinogenic properties.”
Living gladly with the awareness that I “suffer” from RIGHT, it’s perhaps not the surprise of the day that I’ve come to think it a compliment to my host when I show up smelly, in a dirty, also, though differently-scented, truck. What’s surprising is that it took me so long to shed this vestige of stress in my life. (RIGHT Syndrome is one of those disorders which is not in the least unpleasant to the sufferer, like Asperger’s.) Indeed, as I’ve detailed effervescently earlier in these Dispatches, I used to disparagingly call the “dilemma” my Lady Macbeth Syndrome. This because I find it impossible to fully wash off the goat smell, even when I’m primping for a party or a live event.
The tipping point for me, on my journey toward embracing my RIGHT Syndrome, came early in my goat husbandry career when, after not merely showering but pulling on an ensemble of desert air-dried clothes fresh off the line, I showed up at a local pot luck, hugged the hostess, and heard her say, “Phew! Were you just meditating with the goats?”
If you walk like a goat herder and talk like a goat herder (indeed I spend a lot of time talking about my maddening, endearing goats, as a sort of therapy), maybe you have to accept that you are going to smell like a goat herder. Read more…
Hands-free, thanks to my new solar-powered smart phone that penetrates the R.O.A.T.’s vegetable oil haze, I’d spent a good part of the morning on the phone with my beleaguered insurance agent, Roberta. Nearly in tears, she kept bouncing in a kind of insane modern shuttle diplomacy between me (on my way to an important post-goat milking riverside Frisbee engagement), the Funky Butte Ranch’s mortgage company’s Wall Street accountants, and the Customer Enraging department of my new homeowner’s “insurance” company, presumably in Bangalore, if not Neptune.
Despite the fact that I had, as she knew all too well, since she was dealing with them pretty much full time ever since she made the no doubt regretted decision to handle my account, my own problems, I had a hard time feeling anything but sympathy for Roberta. Today’s international nightmare was just another chapter in my Trying To Keep A Remote, Off-Grid Property Insured As Required Nonsensically By Law saga.
The previous three months alone had included no fewer than four policy cancellations, one insurance inspector trapped trying to cross my river, and some sort of disagreement in a thousands-of-miles-distant actuarial office about how far away the ancient Funky Butte Ranch wood stove is or is not from the nonflammable adobe wall. In one memorable exchange a few weeks earlier, Roberta had called me and said, “That inspector I told you was on her way? She can’t find the Ranch.”
“Oh, that’s no problem,” I reassured her (I already knew to treat the overworked rural agent, who really tries her best, with delicacy). “Tell her to follow the FedEx driver — he usually makes it at least to the top of the driveway, and he’s on his way.”
“It’s just that, well, she’s on the other line in, er, your riverbank, citing some kind of, hold on, let me find itâ€¦â€˜irremediably inaccessible’ clause and is canceling your policy effective immediately via satellite phone. It’s on page 1,463 of your policy.”
(Choked up) “I’ll make some calls.”
At issue is the confounding reality (depending on your depth of understanding of the lobbying process) that I can’t have a mortgage without homeowner’s insurance, despite the fact I possess little that will burn and almost nothing anyone would want to steal, unless you count three productive if maddening goats.
The upshot of all this is that I’m now down to the homeowner’s insurance equivalent of the guy whispering in the alley to sell you a watch. Forget about offshore — I don’t even recognize their Internet suffix. And yet clearly they have an effective lobbyist on retainer. Read more…
Calling Down Thunder And Speaking The Same (Photo Courtesy Rocky Mountain Sustainable Living Association)
Ever since I found it out, on a hike through a scientifically-important Neolithic caribou dung field in the Yukon a decade ago, it’s amazed me that, if the archaeologists are to be believed, nearly the entire New World human population migrated from the atlatl to the bow-and-arrow at pretty close to the same moment (geologically-speaking) a few Millennia ago. And yet today we can’t even agree on an energy policy. Let alone spread the amazing low-tech water-gathering and erosion control methods that as I write are restoring portions of the abused and drought-plagued landscape in Zimbabwe. Every time I see bad decision-making (say, GMO alfalfa approval) that could be solved with a sort of wise whisper in the ear, I think, “What of the atlatl?”
Putting aside the plausible theory that the spacemen who appear fairly obviously and prominently in the glyphs of pyramid cultures from Egypt to Guatemala might have been offering telepathy lessons back in the good ol’ days, the fact remains: somehow or other the ancients could clearly not just converse, but make decisions, in near-unison, from (and I’ll be conservative here) Alaska to South America.
Another fact keeps dancing in front of me (you know how that happens — the same piece of information refuses not to let you see it?), and I think it’s connected. It has to do with the comparative durability of civilizations. Most recently it manifested when I was showing my son the classic PBS Cosmos series. I heard Carl Sagan singing Alexandria’s praises (the amazing library, figuring out our distance from the sun, etc.), and I thought, “Yeah, they had everything figured out except how to keep their civilization alive.”
Indeed, the history books tell me unintentionally that no historic societies seem to make it longer than a Millennium or two, if they’ve got their hearts set on being expanding empires. Not Greece, Not Rome. Not too long in the Cosmic scheme of things. Compound interest doesn’t even work so well over the span of time that’s covered in those “height of expansion” maps that are supposed to impress me (oh, Holy Roman Empire, I’m so bowled over that you were so vast for that blink).
In fact, it occurred to me even as a kid perusing Time/Life histories that you rarely hear of two kings in a row who were wise, just, and strong leaders. Usually the kid of your basic Alexander is a loafer. Baby Doc Syndrome. Just this morning I read of an Israeli discovery of a 1,500-year-old Byzantine church whose members could paint intricate and durable altar mosaics (they’re still stunning in pattern and color) but who couldn’t keep the church itself unburied by desert for even a few centuries. I mean, I know how difficult it is to find a good contractor, but still.
Even at the famous departed Egyptian library, nearly every book was burned within a century or three of its having being scratched on to papyrus. And the mighty learned city’s namesake, Alexander, saw his pan-European and -Asiatic empire dissolve in incompetence and infighting before his body was cold.
And yet that’s not what has me reeling. For that we need to go back to the atlatl days. In fact, even though I very much want this noblest of experiments (the U.S. laboratory of freedom) to endure, the lack of staying power in any empire should really not be so surprising. If we examine how our own society is being governed at the moment (I’m talking to you, secret hold-placing Congress), it’s amazing that we’ve made it two centuries.
No, what blows my mind — the Big News — to me, is that we learned recently that the cave-painting Paleolithic cultures of Europe — they of Lascaux and Altamira — appeared to have endured without conflagration or dissolution for a long as 20,000 years. Are you kidding me? Twenty times as long as Rome? A hundred times as long at the U.S. so far? What were these guys doing right? Other than not having invented reality television. Read more…
The Easiness of Warm Season In the Desert ended, as it does later and later every year, with the explosion of both my garden and my orchard drip irrigation filters. And yet the hand-watering poor man’s drip method I employ (five-gallon buckets set next to every tree and vine with three small holes drilled near the bottom) has proved to be not just not less time-consuming than I annually dread, but beautiful and inspiring and even salivatingly fragrant (thank you rosemary stalks and pinion sap), except for the tedious process of beating paths through the “pokeys” — as we here on the Funky Butte Ranch call the Chinese star wildflower seed burrs, through which I had to bust the first couple of times, and really until some snow beat down the copious and durable Monsoon season vegetation.
Yes, this is supposed to be the Vincent Van Gogh time of year — burrs and decaying sunflower stalks everywhere, making open-toed shoes during goat milking simply not a viable, scream-free possibility — but I feel as energetic as a child in spring. Possibly because I’m surrounded at nearly all times by two small children for whom every waking moment is simply a series of new and almost inevitably joyful discoveries.
Which, if they studied the right things, researchers would conclude is virulently contagious. Take cleaning the goat corral. The dusty hour-long task seemed done in an instant today. A large part of this is that my toddler work crew seems to be aware from the start that, Big Picture, it’s all pretty funny — both my sons just seem to laugh and laugh. Often at me. It’s one of the realities about which I’m most excited as a parent.
Another is the constant question-asking by my two-year-old. His not-taking-anything-for-granted. To give a sense of the day-to-day philosophy that results from our goat-filled Socratic classroom, today as we danced through our ranch chores my oldest wore the new cape my Sweetheart had just sewn for him. Unsurprisingly (again, in an ideal society I would be able to cite studies on this), he loves being a superhero, running around with the ducks, and asking for high-speed rides in the wheelbarrow. Read more…
The human body, of course, is normally comprised of 60% water, but at my recent physical, my amazed doctor told me mine was only “30% water, and, um 30% (here she checked my chart again in disbelief), evidently cocoa.”
“Oh, yes,” I said carelessly, pulling up my Carhartts, ”That’s just because of Nico giving so much milk combined with my being too busy to make cheese out of it lately.
“Yogurt, sure,” I said, involuntarily drooling a little bit. “But we’re talking nearly a gallon of local, organic protein a day flowing from the nanny I named after the Velvet Underground singer who I think actually might be part goat.”
And for all of that culinary scrumptiousness, as this new video on the Funky Butte Channel shows, what delights me most about forcing myself to head outside every nippy winter morning at 5,700 feet is indeed a health issue, but not a nutritional one: it’s the continuing study into the benefits of interspecies collaboration, partnership, and maybe even that strongest kind of friendship: familyhood. Judging, at least, by how often the Funky Butte Ranch goats try to crawl in through the dog door and chew their cud on my bed.