“There must be some way outta here, said the Joker to the Thief…” -Bob Dylan
We knew it would be bad back in 2016, sitting there watching the election returns as the worst imaginable person in America was elected without a majority to the presidency. “This is verrry bad…” , murmured Cherie, as the rest of us stared at the screen in shocked silence. The Supreme Court was only in the background of our concerns that night.
Fast forward to June, 2022: three new hyper-conservative and radically partisan Supreme Court appointees, in concert with three other Republican appointees, are wreaking havoc on the nation.
In one week the high court:
Has have discarded a century of precedent in New York State, of requiring a carry permit for handguns.
Has discarded fifty-plus years of precedent for a woman’s right to bodily autonomy.
Has mandated a right for teachers and coaches to openly force religious indoctrination on their students and athletes.
Has mandated the use of public funds for parochial schools.
And has severely weakened the Environmental Protection Agency’s ability to reduce carbon emissions in our fight to save the planet.
There was no national majority consensus behind the election of the hideous canker who shifted the balance of the court, just as there was no national consensus behind the Republican-controlled Senate which denied an appointment to President Obama, who WAS elected with a national majority consensus.
The Republican electorate, it’s fair to say, has been radicalized to an extent where a majority of them nationwide no longer believe in democracy. At least, they don’t seem to believe in the democracy I was raised to revere.
They do NOT constitute a majority of our citizens, And yet, they have transformed the Republican party into a malignant organism which is now dominating the course of our nation’s culture and history.
The Supreme Court IS the existential crisis causing me angst this morning.
The guitar I found in the dream was as round as a jug, and wielding it for play was awkward, as tho you had an obese dwarf in you arms, but it was stringed, and fretted, and and ready to play. It wasn’t mine. I found it in a dorm room that had once been mine, but I’d been away for many years, and so had an improper sense of entitlement as to what I found there. I may have awoken there, or I may have made my way there, dreamily, on foot, ascending the sole escalator, which was set to go down. It wasn’t so fast as to make climbing impossible, but it was narrow enough to complicate traffic had I encountered anyone going down.
The rotund guitar was resting on an armchair in the corner of the room, and I picked it up intending to strum her, but thought better of it, as I suspected there were sleepers in other rooms nearby. I wasn’t trying to be sneaky, but was honestly concerned for the peace of the place. The bottom of the instrument was a deep, wooden green, and patterned like a melon. Her strings were gut. And I was very curious as to how she would sound when played, so I lifted her from the padding of the chair, and took her with me.
Indeed, as I made my way from the small cluster of sleeping alcoves, I did see at least two occupants stretched out on pallets, lost in dreams of their own. I balanced the guitar on my shoulder (or was it actually a mandolin?), and made for the narrow escalator. The descent was considerably more relaxing.
Ann stirred beside me, and I woke up. She said good morning, and gave me a kiss before arising and gathering herself for the day. “Sleep in.”, she told me, as she knew I’d been up for quite a while in the middle of the night, unable to sleep.
The art of finding your way back into good dreams is something I wonder about.
She closed the bedroom door, and I stretched across the now capacious mattress, and thought about my dream. Details came to me that I’d passed over: The guitar, as I considered forming a chord, proved unplayable for me, for while it seemed to have a fret board for fingering and chords, the strumming neck was missing. (There is, of course, no such thing, but that didn’t occur to me in the dream.) I looked for the strumming neck, and saw where it might have once been, jutting away from the fret board at about a 30 degree angle for just an inch or two, and beyond that nothing. Alas, I thought, this isn’t for human hands, or, at least not for mine.
(By the time my head was getting into sorting these details out, I was back in the dream itself, deep asleep again, the whole bed to myself.)
The dormitory, I was now realizing, was part and parcel of my working life, which included two actual things I’ve done; two big things: I was in the military long, long ago, and much later, as a civilian, I practiced eye doctoring on an army post. This dreamscape was a military dormitory. As I reached the lobby, there were residents in uniform, lounging here and there. I seemed to belong in the place, but knew that even if I had , it was in another time, and my presence, although in rhythm, was a trespass.
The weight of the guitar on my shoulder made me feel conspicuous. It was wrong that I had taken it. My curiosity as to how sweet it might sound with a B7 chord was misplaced. I couldn’t even find it’s strumming board! It was time to return it.
So, I made my way back to the escalator, and trod against the downward flow of the steps with enough effort to climb back to the suite of rooms where the dream began. Again, it was lucky no one was descending, as it could only have made for slapstick in trying to get ’round one another.
In the common room of the suite, two of my neighbors were now awake, and one guy was fixed upon the guitar across my shoulder, so I asked the other one, “Whose is this? I need to return it.” His eyes crinkled, as tho’ to say, “Oh, this will be fun.”, and he pointed at my staring neighbor. So, I turned back to him. His face relaxed a bit, and he raised his eyebrows, which asked, “So?”.
“Yes. Well. I don’t seem to belong here. When I woke up, I saw this in the armchair, over there, and the beauty of the thing seized me, and I just had to hear how she sounded, so I picked her up. But it seemed too early to play her, and I really didn’t want to disturb anyone, so I headed downstairs with your guitar, just to hear how she plays. But, it seems that I can’t do any more than form chords with my left hand, and I’m unable to actually play, or even hear her if I hold her…”
“So, I owe you an apology. I hope you understand, and accept my words as sincere… Here…” , and I returned his guitar.
“Thank you,” he said, “It’s not a problem.” I chose to believe him, but his expression was unreadable.
So, who was he? And who was the fellow watching us. Or is all that unimportant? Are the themes of being displaced, or the importance of courtesy and forgiveness the point here? Is the guitar a symbol, or just some weird failed mandolin design? In Hitchcock films, sometimes the hat is a clue, and sometimes it’s only there to drive the action: It’s a MacGuffin, they say.
And as to the matter of navigating the dreamscape: I know a fellow: He’s a psychologist and a sailor, and he has created a teaching project concerned with just that; navigating dreams. I’ve not taken his courses, nor talked with him much about his work with dreams. We live on opposite sides of this small planet. I do think I might send him this essay, as he’d find it interesting.
However, I’ve not had much luck before last night in completing a meaningful cycle in a dream. I well know how, as you are waking from a powerful dream, your mind is rich with ideas attached to the action you’ve just experienced: Such a story! It needs to be retold! This place was full of other stories, with lessons to be learned, an entire cycle of stories: An anthology of stories! But the longer you lie there, waking up, the substance of the place, and all that meaning boils away. It’s evanescent.
This is one time I can at least recall having closed a story, despite that damned escalator, and found a lesson or two to ruminate on with my coffee in the light of the day after.
Five years ago, a man who faced no consequences while being reared, faced no consequences for business failures, his domestic failures, his admitted sexual misbehavior, and, especially, his many malicious public lies…. this man decided to run for the highest office in our nation. He won, despite his well-known flaws, failures, and dishonesty.
He won, it seems to me, because in our nation’s public discourse, we have not learned how to discern between objective journalism and politically sponsored propaganda. This storm of propaganda is paid for by both domestic conservatives with economic and societal policy interests, alongside foreign nations who have geopolitical aims. The former style themselves as patriots, the latter deny their actions. Either way, the information they inject into the flow around us is not objective. It is purpose designed to achieve goals apart from the nation’s best interests.
That we have permitted this to be without fact-checking in real time has warped our lives, and our nation. It’s led to the election of the worst president this nation has seen, and a flagrant attempt to destroy the democracy introduced to the world almost 250 years ago. There’s a direct line between this president, the Republican congressmen, their spokesmen, lawyers, and press secretaries lying to the masses about the outcome of the election, and the death and destruction in Washington last week.
What should be the consequences of those lies? For this monstrous failed president? For the house and senate members and paid pols echoing the falsehood that the election was somehow rigged? What should be done about the “talking heads” who now propound new lies about the assault on Congress, falsely reporting mysterious “others” were the “real” culprits; plainly propaganda. How do we permit this?
Free speech, the old saying goes, does not permit capriciously shouting “FIRE!” in a crowded theater. There are stiff penalties for that wrong-doing.
This failed president must face impeachment, even if conviction occurs after he’s evicted from office. His attempt to undo a national election absolutely requires it. He deserves no pension, no travel allowance, no Secret Service detail as a past president. He must be barred from holding any future office.
Senators Hawley and Cruz should face removal from office, or censure at the least.
Rudy Giuliani and other lawyers in service of the disinformation campaign should be disbarred.
And we clearly need legislative checks on propaganda presented as news. Perhaps a separation of objective reporting outlets from opinion outlets, so that outrageous opinions won’t fly under the cover of a “news banner”.
Mom and Dad never used the word ‘consequences’ while raising my sibs and me, but it made no difference. My upbringing had consequences aplenty to steer my course to adulthood. When it became the fashionable parenting buzz-word at the turn of this century, we were teaching consequences to our daughters daily. They turned out just fine.
Now it is our nation that needs to be the tough parent, to mete out consequences for the lies that wrought last week’s havoc.
The sale of our big country house has opened the planned transition to a life of sailing alternating with city life. The country home was clearly one mode too many, and was driving us a bit batty. Oh, yes, we did love the place, and some tears were shed after the closing. The memories are to be cherished, but, bottom line: It was just getting in the way of more important things we wanted to experience.
We got a sailboat about three and a half years ago, and while we’ve taken good care of her, we haven’t fulfilled her potential. The same could be said of the big country house, in that it was a home for aviators, with a hangar, and runway, and a community of like-minded fliers. I’ve loved having a plane, but when I was working I never seemed to have time to plan trips. And after retirement, well, we got a sailboat and we were just spread too thin.
The city place, up in NC, we’ve had for much longer than the boat, but when I moved my career to coastal Georgia, it had settled into a role of hosting family gatherings. It mostly served as a weekend getaway from Georgia’s heat. We didn’t really “live” there, we just popped in and out, or loaned the use of it to the kids or to our friends. Our city place served us the way some people’s beach houses serve them; like a bed and breakfast that happens to have a few drawers with your socks and jammies waiting for you, right there!
So, what’s to come? An emphasis on boat life, which entails a regimen of day and weekend sailing to burnish our skills and learn new ones. And, too, sweat equity in the boat’s systems and solidity, which are already quite good. However, if you know sailboats, they’re never entirely “finished”, and the project lists are unending. When she (and we) are ready, and as the pandemic becomes controlled, we will journey in her to the islands!
The city place will see more use, too. When the boat gets too small, or if one or both of us needs a rest, we will retreat to Charlotte and the apartment. After COVID vaccines are commonplace, we will gather there with our kids and friends, and celebrate life’s diversity. There are seasons that suit boating better; winter into spring. And city life in NC makes more sense in summer and fall than cruising the islands in hurricane season.
I think we’ve found a better balance with these changes. Not a bad plan, eh?
I’ve been residing in a big city again for the past week and some, and it’s been good, even in the context of COVID and 2020. The charms of city life in a pandemic do suit me better at this age, in my sixties, than they would if I were half that.
For one thing, the city is dialed back enough to lessen the stresses. The streets, while by no means vacant, are quieter. Enough of the citizenry are being conscientious about the pandemic (using masks, and making room for one another), that it’s restored a bit of my faith in humanity. Down on the Georgia coast, there’s much less concern shown for one another.
We walk almost everywhere here. Out on the streets, the elders are the best about masking. The younger and more privileged people seem far less concerned about spreading the plague than the older and less well-to-do. But, overall, it appears that more than half the people walking around are at least trying to suppress the spread.
The young and the restless seem to pose the greatest viral threat. On my walk yesterday, an open-air tour bus blew past me, packed to the gills with partiers, all twenty and thirty-somethings, drinking and listening to a comedian’s guide to The Uptown. Not a mask among them, so, I guess the back of the bus was The Hot Zone for the whole ride.
Call me overly-cautious, but I don’t even drive with my vents left open. Behind that party bus, I think I’d just turn to take a different route.
Late last evening we were startled when what sounded like gunfire from an armed skirmish rattled our windows. It built in fury for several minutes before we realized it was fireworks over the baseball stadium perhaps a half mile from us. We learned that the Charlotte Symphony had hosted a concert for first line health care providers. The stadium seating was limited to 750 attendees for the event. It’s normally 10,000+.
How hard is it to downsize? And what can help you get through it?
After a month of merging the contents of our now-sold house in Georgia into our already-furnished condo in Charlotte, NC, I can report that it is possible, but not easy. Questions arise, like, dear God in heaven, do I REALLY possess 30-plus tee shirts, dating as far back as 1976? Or, ok, I remember buying one recliner, but how did we ever end up with FOUR? And, What does it say about us that we possess no fewer than eleven devices intended to open a wine bottle? …Although, admittedly, those did see a lot of use over the past four weeks.
It’s worth noting, too, that this wasn’t just the contents of a 3300 square foot house that needed shifting. It was also the accumulated stuff you might gather over 25 years in a 2500 square foot hangar. Two riding mowers, three work benches, four bicycles, rakes, shovels, implements of destruction, automotive tools, old batteries, cinder blocks, lumber, plumbing supplies, and on, and on…
Yes, it was a gargantuan task, but what did we learn?
What’s the take-away?
Well, for one, emotional attachments to “stuff” are pretty much toxic. While I do love the sentimental rush I get by going through old drawers and bookcases, it bears reflection that those old mementos have been marinating for decades in darkness. And only now to elicit that murmured “aww”. After trashing about three cubic feet of fuzzy photos of inexplicable locales and strangers, I felt light as a feather. Likewise for a closet full of old theater tickets, gimme hats, business cards, and mix tapes.
For another, no human being should ever have a favorite pillow, towel, or pair of sneakers. Such objects, if so favored, have undoubtedly worn out long before the bond was formed. And, oh, by the way: Take a look around, and you’ll realize that you possess no fewer than six pairs of worn sneakers, another four of bedroom slippers, and two of hiking boots, alongside a linen closet with dozens of towels, and a gaggle of lovely new-ish pillows. It’s time for change! Out with the old, in with the new!
Finally, what’s the most important thing?
Giving things away is much more satisfying than boxing, shifting, and keeping them.
I had an old piano; an upright Baldwin from the 1930’s, with yellowed ivories and worn ebony flats and sharps. I’d rescued it from the basement rec-room of a friend long ago, and lovingly refinished it. I took lessons, but never quite learned to play with any facility. When my daughter expressed a desire for it, I was very happy.
When her crew of friends who came to help move it were done with loading, I encouraged each of them to choose a piece of art from the house to take as a thank you. It gave me peace and joy to know that those objects would be kept in the light, and viewed with pleasure by these people and their friends. The alternative was storage in darkness.
Take those superfluous cork pullers, and all the whatever else… take it straight to Goodwill Industries, and help others to uncork some wine.
2020 is not my year. I realize it’s really not anybody’s favorite year, except maybe the makers of N95 masks. But as far as my life goes, this year really sucks. I had 68 really great years so I shouldn’t be complaining. Many people—my own parents included—don’t make it that far, healthy or not.
Let me sum up.
In March I had abdominal pain which led to surgery for a 14-cm kidney cyst removal in April. I have scars from belly button to around my side. It meant no running for a while—hell, I couldn’t do a single sit-up for weeks. I admit to much greater empathy for anyone undergoing major surgery now. Said cyst might have been prenatal and simply not bothered me till it got so big it started squeezing other bits of me out of the way. I don’t know how many stitches there were on the inside, but there were a heck of a lot of staples on the outside. (Normal kidney cysts, by the way, are 5-10 mm.) I’m released from care now and all is well on that front.
Or it was till June 13 when I started running again. And then fell. So now I have memory loss—I still don’t know where it happened or how I got back to the condo in Charlotte. Thankfully, a friend was there to make sure I didn’t do anything really stupid, like ordering 100 pairs of my favorite running shoes on a shopping binge. Which is just as well because now I’m walking and of course running shoes aren’t suitable for walking long distances.
Then along came August. I went for medical checkups not suspecting anything at all was wrong. But it turns out I have polyps in unmentionable places—wait, I’m a grown-up, I can say it—anal polyps, that have to be surgically removed because they’re painfully close to nerves in said unmentionable places. Painful being the operative word. Surgery—painful, embarrassing, and most definitely necessary—is scheduled for right smack in the middle of when we intended to be moving from one house to another, two states away. I’m confused—is that a good thing or a bad thing? “Honey, I can’t lift this box of tissues. Can you get it for me?” is sort of a good thing. “Honey, I can’t poop. Help!” is not so good.
The next day I found out I’m 1.5 inches shorter than I used to be. I was in denial—how can I be that much shorter and not notice? I mean, I don’t go around kissing Elliott that often anymore, but surely I would have noticed if I’d bussed his chin instead. But no. I can only conclude he’s 1.5 inches shorter as well. Alas, I have osteoporosis. I’m not believing it until I stand next to my daughter, who was excited some years ago when she magically ended up a slight bit taller than I. But with covid-19, it might be a while before I can check that one out. Also, because of said kidney issues (see above), I need to see an endocrinologist to make sure I get the right medicine for the osteoporosis. Sigh.
And today I found out I have melanoma. Granted, it was caught early—I do go for yearly skin checkups. And I get points because I’m the one who called attention to it. But it’s on my arm, and there will be surgery involved. And stitches, more stitches. Soon, I’ll be looking like FrankenAnn. How did I go from 68 years with no stitches to a gazillion stitches in one year?
I eat healthy—mostly vegetarian, but occasional steak and BBQ lapses. I exercise regularly and I’m training for my sixteenth marathon. I don’t smoke, and I don’t drink to excess. Usually.
I’m kind of afraid to go to another doctor this year.
A long time ago (in a galaxy far away), when I was still living in Michigan with six younger siblings, once in a while my father would insist on a poetry night. Each one of us kids would have to recite a poem before dinner, and the younger you were the easier it was. The flip side of that was, I always had the hardest. Usually I would choose something flippant, like The Spider and the Fly. But the last one I remember doing was Oliver Wendell Holmes’s The Last Leaf on the Tree. For some reason, it seems appropriate now. I think my brain is the last leaf on my body’s tree, I guess. Of course, if that’s not true, I’d probably be the last to know.
The Last Leaf
By Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr.
I saw him once before,
As he passed by the door,
The pavement stones resound,
As he totters o’er the ground
With his cane.
They say that in his prime,
Ere the pruning-knife of Time
Cut him down,
Not a better man was found
By the Crier on his round
Through the town.
But now he walks the streets,
And looks at all he meets
Sad and wan,
And he shakes his feeble head,
That it seems as if he said,
“They are gone.”
The mossy marbles rest
On the lips that he has prest
In their bloom,
And the names he loved to hear
Have been carved for many a year
On the tomb.
My grandmamma has said—
Poor old lady, she is dead
That he had a Roman nose,
And his cheek was like a rose
In the snow;
But now his nose is thin,
And it rests upon his chin
Like a staff,
And a crook is in his back,
And a melancholy crack
In his laugh.
I know it is a sin
For me to sit and grin
At him here;
But the old three-cornered hat,
And the breeches, and all that,
Are so queer!
And if I should live to be
The last leaf upon the tree
In the spring,
Let them smile, as I do now,
At the old forsaken bough
Where I cling.
I think I must be feeling a bit self-centered today, so excuse this mess. Somehow, it helps to put this all out there, knowing there’s only a half-dozen people (if that) who read our blog anymore.
Maybe my lesson in all this is “Empathy.” Having been blessed with good health for so long, I tended to lose patience with those who focused on their own health, even if I never (I hope) showed it. So if you’re losing patience with me today, I totally understand. I’ll get over this. It’s just a bit much today.
And as Seth Myers says in closing, “Stay safe. Wash your hands. Wear your mask. We love you.”
Revisiting the habit of writing is like trying to resume any exhausting activity that’s good for you, like aerobic exercise, or stretching. So easy to abandon, and difficult to pick up once more. However, the exhaustion is a false impression (one hopes), and the benefits for health, mental and physical, assert themselves in time. It only feels like heavy lifting at first.
Were there good reasons to have neglected this blog? No. And yes.
No, in that I’ve had access to ample time. Since my last post I’ve retired. The nature of time has changed remarkably for me. My days are full of it.
But yes, too, in that the trickle of passing time has become a rushing torrent; a veritable fire hose blasting past me. I brew my morning coffee, blink, and watch the sun setting.
A friend resumed writing after a long hiatus just today, and inspired me to do so, too. He spent a few words reflecting on why he’d stopped, but concluded saying, “I will end the excuses here. I simply did not write, which is also ok.”
Retirement is as full of needful and wasteful actions as working life, except one gets to chose them. That, and choosing the proportion of necessary to capricious effort falls to me. I’ve not been a good steward of those choices consistently. While it’s fine to review a news-page in the morning, do I really need to read WaPo, the New York Times, and The Guardian, all three? Do I absolutely need to hear what Stephen Colbert said last night? AND Seth Meyers, too?
Maybe I should clear the pine straw off the roof first.
And, certainly, I should resume the practice of writing, and maybe sharing that with the winds of the internet. More content to follow!
Elliott and I have long been searching for something we can do together once he retires. At one point–a long time ago–I thought that might be flying, but the older I’ve gotten, the more frightened of that I’ve become, much to Elliott’s disappointment. Quilting isn’t really Elliott’s style, nor is running. Well, he runs–but he much prefers to do so by himself or just the two of us; races aren’t his thing. For me, however, the energy of a race and all of its people give me added energy. So, running’s out. Although we both like to read, that’s more of a solitary pleasure. Kayaking’s okay, but limited by weather and tides. We both vetoed golf, hunting, and a whole host of other ideas, for one reason or another.
Then we got invited to visit our friends Beth and Eric on their sailboat. I’d never been sailing before, and it was a perfect weekend. Slowly, the idea of getting our own boat took root. In June 2016, Elliott and I both attended the Windward School in Fernandina Beach for a weeklong sailing school, where both of us earned our ASA 104 certificates. (School isn’t nearly as easy as it used to be, let me tell you! Engine mechanics requires a bigger brain and a heftier vocabulary than I have, I’m afraid.)
We started visiting marinas wherever we went, drooling over sailboats, learning what we could about what we wanted and didn’t want. A well-maintained and gorgeous boat, Integrity, was just 25 feet long and we theoretically could step the mast ourselves if we wanted to join friends Cherie and Chris on the Great Loop–but sleeping would have been cramped and there was no kitchen. The Sneaky Tiki was gorgeous and everything we wanted, but a bit out of our price range. A 45-foot Bruce Roberts gave us a lot of room–but was probably more than two novices could easily handle. While Elliott searched and queried, I waited for the boat that would shout, “Pick me! Pick me!”
Sailing friends Kate and Fabio tied up in Jacksonville, just across the pier from Kathryn. Elliott visited the two of them, and it turned out the owner was getting ready to put Kathryn on the market. She’s a Tartan 37, and has had only the one owner since her manufacture up in Ohio in about 1980. We indicated our interest, and set up a sea trial a couple weeks later. She sails like a dream. Smooth, gorgeous, and definitely worth waiting for. I heard her say “Pick me!” loud and clear.
Like any good prospective boat owner, we’re having a survey done, in mid April. Boat surveyors act like home inspectors, checking into and under all the nooks and crannies that newbies like us wouldn’t think twice about. “See these bubbles here? That might indicate a bit of rot under the paint.” “Compression check shows one of your cylinders isn’t…doing its cylinder thing.” (Have I mentioned how I don’t understand engine mechanics…yet?)
Hopefully, Kathryn will pass her survey with flying colors. We’ll be down there that day, shadowing the inspector. If all goes well, she’ll get a new coat (or two!) of bottom paint, as long as she’s out of the water. And the next step will be moving her closer to us…and that means sailing!
After Oregon and Ann’s sisters, we made our way south and east. Our route was very fluid, which is the way I like it best. I’m happiest when the plan is largely unplanned, and chance has a chance to work. In a word, serendipity is permitted to be the guide.
A circle of long-ago friends had converged on Palo Alto, California in the salad days of the tech and dot-com boom. They’ve been mostly out of touch, but through facebook we’d reconnected in that pleasant, vague way the social nets work. Doug Kalish had graciously invited us to “drop in” when he’d noticed we were hosting up in Oregon, and so, arriving in California, we did.
Doug was a good friend of my brother (seniors when I was a sophomore in high school), and his wife, Donna, a classmate of mine, and the best friend of a girl I dated back then. That girl, Vicky Reich, lives in Palo Alto, too, and hearing that we were visiting, stopped by with her husband, David Rosenthal, to say hello after the zesty fish tacos Doug and Donna had whipped up for our dinner. Meeting Donna’s sister, Debbie, added to the party. It was great fun to re-connect! ; to see how much and how little life has changed us all; to see the achievements of truly good people leading fine lives.
The next morning after a breakfast frittata and a bracing walk with Doug, we packed back up and drove north and east to Yosemite National Park. Yosemite proved to be a difficult park to enjoy that day, in part because of its size, and because it was a “free day”( very crowded!), but also because we got a late start on our way, and had scant time to explore. The dryness of the season, and five years of California drought made for a parched view of Yosemite’s splendors. Feeling frustrated, we climbed out of the valley taking the eastern route at dusk into nightfall, and found a room at Bishop, CA. In the dark, we’d blown on past several points of interest Doug had recommended. The obvious remedy to those omissions and the poor job we made of seeing Yosemite is to return and hike them properly some day soon.
From Bishop, we took Hwy 266, a back road route up and over the mountains that define the western boundary of Death Valley. This was a twisty and challenging two lane road, and every other car we saw seemed to be a jeep. The landscape was dry, but not barren, and certainly not without bright colors. The road was lined with yellow blossoms of what looked like eastern ragweed to me, but is probably something else. The geology was volcanic, with magma cores, and lots of basalt and obsidian formations. In the distance were bands of rich reds interspersed with white and sand shades.
Driving along we read to each other from ‘Little Heathens’ by Mildred Armstrong Kalish, a gift from Doug written by “Millie”, his mom. It’s rather wonderful; a memoir of growing up on an Iowa farm during the depression. It’s full of details so very similar to my own mother’s stories of childhood in Oklahoma in the same years.
On our way, we took special note of a small cluster of stone block ruins that flashed by on our left as we descended into the heat of Death Valley, itself. Traffic and a sharp curve prevented us from stopping, but we were able to identify the place as Palmetto, Nevada, a twice-failed ghost town from the silver rush days of the territory. Started in the 1860’s, the town was stripped away and moved as the silver ran out. With new silver claims discovered in 1903, the town was rebuilt, but failed again in a few short years.
Our route carried us south, through Las Vegas, where I idly wished for a ‘Museum of Fear and Loathing: A strange and savage commemoration of Hunter S. Thompson’. Alas, there is no such place. We stopped briefly on the shore of Lake Mead, but never caught as much as a glimpse of the Boulder Dam. We finally pulled off of I-40 and on to Route 66 at the town of Seligman, Arizona. Seligman’s special charm derives entirely from the famous road it clings to.
We found an inexpensive room at the Romney Motel. It was clean, and provided everything we required, and offered a discount at Lilo’s Grill, a wonderful family dining experience just five minutes by foot from our digs. After supper, as we started our walk back, we found the “blood moon eclipse” rising on the horizon directly in front of our path. It was a fine dessert to top our day crossing the desert.