Grand Junction

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I’m racing against time; everyone is. I will not win; no one will. I recognize this struggle; many do not. When recognized, more can be done: remember and record.

It is hard to fathom, but sometimes I have nothing to say and don’t even try to speak: nothng is going on in my head. And then – WHAM! – out of the blue something crosses my path and there is a avalanche of recollections and new connections. It’s peculiar and sort of amazing how the train gets rolling from there.

This time the initial WHAM started with an article in The New Yorker about water problems in the western United States. A segment of the story produced a vivid recollection of a travel experience I had twenty years ago. [1] I had also been thinking about the derailment of an Amtrak train from Washington, D.C., outside of Philadelphia, another rail trip I had taken and my son takes periodically. [2]

When not at a stand still, or busy with a day’s practical matters, I am sucked into the vortex of past or future.

As with practically anyone’s vacation, I go about family travel just taking in what comes along, and then – WHAM! – I am completely euphoric: the moment seems monumental, significant, glorious. And it is all neither required nor expected. I confess that a single glass of red wine near sunset tends to magnify, prolong, and vaporize these revelations.

That is what happened outside of Grand Junction one June evening in 1995, as my wife and son and I sat down in the dining car on Amtrak’s California Zephyr.

FOOTNOTE:

1. David Owen’s article “Where the River Runs Dry” in The New Yorker on May 25, 2015.

Owen’s describes the Colorado’s headwaters:

“If you drive west on Interstate 70 from Denver, you pick up the Colorado at Dotsero, about a hundred miles east of the Utah border, and follow it west through canyons so deep and narrow that some stretches are engineered like double-decker bridges: one lane on top of the other. The railroad goes that way, too, on the opposite bank. Tunnels punch through buttresses of rock that the road builders couldn’t go around, and there are sections where the view above is so transfixing that you have to remind yourself to look back at the road….”

2. Wikipedia, “2015 Philadelphia train derailment”; URL: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2015_Philadelphia_train_derailment (Updated: September 6, 2015).

3. Three days after publishing this story, I heard this on NPR’s Morning Edition about Amtrak’s Southwest Chief. Kirk Siegler’s report is entitled “Las Vegas, N.M., Needs Amtrak To Help It Draw More Tourists”; URL: http://www.npr.org/2015/09/17/441063247/las-vegas-n-m-needs-amtrak-to-help-it-become-a-bigger-tourist-destination (September 17, 2015).

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Lady With A Weather Station

MY BEAUTIFUL COCOON

I suppose I should claim to have left the child in me behind. In truth, I cannot do so. While some my age feel like dancing, I often feel like napping.

A cold winter cuts deep with age. I dread walking out of doors on particularly cold days. My wife and I study weather signs and predictions assiduously – my wife much more than I.

But there is a flip side to the dread of cold air. I confess adoration of my cocoon – or my many cocoons. First and foremost is my lovely bed. In winter I wear a white cotton skull cap or, my current favorite, I loosely wrap my head in an empty pillowcase, lightly binding my ears and covering my forehead as if wearing an Egyptian headdress. My heavy gray wool blanket lies folded but tightly pressed against the left length of my body. My top sheet and blankets rest upon me, tucked tightly at the edges around my chest. A large fluffy pillow is wedged to the right of my head to keep it from moving, to give me the sensation of sleeping on my right side when in fact I am flat on my back, lying diagonally across a double bed that I built of yellow pine forty years ago. My head rests softly embedded in between two small down travel pillows put inside a cotton pillowcase. My jury-rigged pillow puts me very close to lying flat with no pillow at all; this aids nighttime breathing, protects my back, and prevents reflux from unsettling my nighttime wanders.

This is but one place where I spend a blissful eternity in imaginary adventure. There is my Walmart leather recliner, which is neither from Walmart nor made of true leather. There are numerous oddly shaped homemade pillows upholstered in faux leather fabric found at Walmart; a homemade foam-filled headrest extension, loosely fixed in the same material; and a full-length fake-leather-weave kitchen floor mat that supports my pliable body and keeps it from sliding around. All this is topped with a forest-green fleece throw blanket. Here, invariably, my eyes flutter in periodic submission during familiar or dull moments of nighttime movies.

My car seats, the firm gray cloth ones in my Honda Civic rather than the slick tan leather ones in my Accord, offer similar delight and comfort. The heat of my car is a blessing after a brisk walk to and from work.

All these places are my work stations – or rather my think stations. I would have few creative thoughts otherwise, except for the muted quiet afforded on my four-mile walks each morning, bundled up in so many layers that I look like a nomadic tribesman on the tundra.

All relates to the weather, the all-important condition that envelops each day and makes it different and uncertain. Knowledge of the weather connects science with practical and sensitive awareness of surroundings and change.

I offer a story related to the fundamentals of weather and its importance in our everyday lives. It is very brief but long enough. It is akin to a children’s tale about the culture of science and teaching, and the presence and palpable consequences of nature.

Please follow this trail to my reading room and sit warmly by the hearth.

The Two-Thirds Party

A couple of easy-going Princeton grads put forward the idea that a new political coalition is in order. Seeing as two-thirds of Americans agree on solutions to several key political problems in the United States, they wonder if there ought to be a third party with a platform that concentrates on accomplishing only those agreed-upon goals. At least then something significant gets done. And the two main parties can be left to their perpetual food fight in the media about everything else.

I have often ridiculed (without regret) the dumb and dumber business of the radical right. However, occasionally I am reminded that there is a tincture of wacky libertarianism, a sniff of lazy rot, in both the left and right among us – and in all their most pernicious political posturings. A recent article in The New Yorker is one such reminder. The writer begins with a recitation of a long list of accolades bestowed on a particular ecology activist; then he presents her positions and tactics in a raw and condensed manner. The longest part of his essay is spent ripping her positions to shreds, exposing the dangers behind radical speech, and examining the distorted thinking such illiberal obsessions too breezily propagate.

In my mind, that wacky other fraction of this country is a faction whose adherents are de facto members of the paranoia and conspiracy party. It is the educated among them who are chiefly to blame for the failings of the two main parties. Were they to seek balance and reason, there would be little need for the two-thirds party.

But please do not take my word for it. Perhaps I am sometimes in error. Please read it and judge for yourself.

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FOOTNOTE:

1. Michael Specter’s article “Seeds of Doubt” in The New Yorker on August 25, 2014.

My Katrina

by Mary Dodson (& her daughter, Gail)

Pummeled People Persevere or Perish

Or so I am told.

It’s been said a million times in countless ways: The lot of humanity is for each to be dealt a different hand with varying degrees of suffering and joy, adversity and advantage. It is not the hand we draw that reveals who we are or our significance but how we play our cards that counts. These stories are our lifeblood. I want – I need – to hear these stories and think about them over and over as I look down from the hole in my attic at the torrent sloshing below.

Read it here.