Coming Upon Winter

The green of summer is gone, the reds and yellows of autumn faded. All that remains above the Poudre River are brittle brown leaves that await their final fall into the flow. Seventeen inches of snow fell one week ago, but the only the bones of the storm remain in gray piles along the roadside, like roadkill wanting to disappear.

‘Tis the season of change――in the air, on the ground, in our lives.

In Colorado, Hell erupted to the surface of the Earth in more ways than several. The entire West is burned to char, and still burns. Violence among people still boils over the rim of the “melting pot,” and the POTUS proliferates violence and ideas of civil war.

Guns in public, aimed at the buses of a presidential candidate opposed to the maniacal, insane antics coming from our “sanctified”: White House.
Who could have imagined that, one hundred fifty-five years after the War Between the States, the modern United States would relive one of the worst catastrophes in its history, a catastrophe indicative of Hitler’s rise, Mussilini’s rise, Kaddahfi’s rise… .

Rome burned and lost its foothold on the world because of Nero’s insanity. My hope is that history can repeat itself so many times before people wake up.

My wife and I rode our bikes alongside the Poudre this afternoon, and at the bridge just before the intersection leading into Old Town Fort Collins we heard a steel tongue drum, beautiful and so much attuned to the slow rythym of the river. I stopped on the bridge to listen, and to watch the fella who sat beneath gray trees and played the music. I stood longer, bowed my appreciation to the player as he bowed his appreciation that I listened. He restarted the melodic enchantment for my enjoyment. At the end, I waved good-bye. He waved good-bye. No sound; only the music.
It could have been an eternity. Maybe just a few minutes. He shared his music, I shared my enjoyment, and together, in silence, we shared our appreciation of one another.

I can only hope the U.S. election a week ago brings our country closer to an appreciation of one another, more appreciation of itself, and more appreciation of other countries.

Inferno

Dante wrote his famous epic poem, Inferno, in the early 1300's. It tells the story of the narrator (Dante) on a journey through nine concentric circles (worlds) which comprise Hell. The poem begins in March. Dante steps through the gate of Hell, over which is inscribed "Abandon all hope, ye who enter here." Immediately upon passing through the Gate of Hell, Dante recognizes a man of considerable political power whose selfish thirst for his own welfare serves as the metaphor for the door through which too many have entered into delusional salvation. For the next 190 pages or so, all hell breaks loose.

The poem is religious, but times, attitudes, beliefs, perspectives, and scientific revelations change. What a great plot for a modern story.

Oh wait. It's not a story. It's happening right now, seven hundred years after the original version, and because after so many centuries the poem is no longer protected by copywrite, my version of Inferno differs.

My main character could be any man, woman or child who walks out their front door, and who discovers their once-familiar portal to the outside world is now the gateway to Hell, in all its flame and fury.

The Inferno is here. Pick a calamity, any of which is a massive story by itself:

1) An inland hurricane in Iowa, which destroyed 43% of the state's corn and soybean crops.

2) Tornadoes in Massachusetts, not unheard of, yet rare.

3) Fires in California, Washington, Oregon, and Colorado which have scorched the West to ash and cinder.

4) Unconstitutional civic behavior and violence condoned by the White House.

5) Racist murders on our city streets and within our homes, justified by the White House under a mandate of "law and order."

6) Corruption and international meddling in the upcoming election.

7) Social media so loaded with lies and altered photographs one cannot decipher what is or is not true.

8) A dangerous person in the White House, and too many misguided souls who want to extend his residency.

9) COVID-19.

... and now an additional level: 10) the death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

My story begins in March, just like Dante's tale, yet this updated Inferno is not a story I can write. This series of unfortunate events writes itself daily, sometimes hourly, and each new plot twist becomes so surreal I could never conceive such madness; this story reaches beyond my understanding and creativity. Even if I could, my writing is dark; the ending would be extremely bleak...

... and I don' want this new Inferno to end that way.

Ignorance

The profoundness of ignorance becomes a devastating tsunami when we look around — to the front, to the sides, then over our shoulders — and realize without having to think about it we did not know. Ignorance pervades, because, after looking around, we do not recognize where we are and have no clear recollection of how we arrived. It is our own fault for always moving. We know that, we admit that (“back in the good old days”), then we “keep on truckin’.’

Yet along the Oregon coast, islands of rock, so steadfast in their defiance of the never-ending surge of a rough sea, have stood against the loneliness of midnight for more ages than man has memory. Still, we cannot sit still in one place for more than a passing thought. Each new idea that seeps into our collective consciousness, or that strikes us like a bolt from a heavy sky, sets us again in motion, embarks us once again upon our mortal pilgrimage toward unknown destinations we hope will ease our loneliness, or will be spectacular enough to ease our pain.

How long has it been since humanity stopped to hear the song of the trees? There was a time when the people of the land understood the language of the forests and of the brooks.

It was common — long ago — to walk through the forest and experience things that can never happen again, or to see things that will remain eternally hidden, and for which we cannot piece together a rough recollection. Some things about the forest could never happen, though we were there and saw it, because we stood motionless in awe and wonder.

But we no longer sit to breathe, we try to authenticate our existence only with movement — leaps and bounds — which we justify as progress. Still, we ain’t goin’ nowhere.

Old to New

Then none were for the party,
Then all were for the State,
Then the great man helped the poor,
And the poor man loved the great:
Then lands were fairly portioned,
Then spoils were fairly sold… .
――Thomas McCauley, “Horatius”

At a point in time a homeowner decides a certain room or other living space no longer suits the needs of the day, and contacts my boss and his wife. They all congregate to devise a new plan: an updated kitchen, a finished basement, a bathroom that, since the original construction of the house, has never quite been as easily accessible as it could be. A style is chosen, plans are drawn, colors are picked… and then it’s showtime.

My boss and I walk cocked and loaded into the particular living space we’re contracted to remodel. We rip away the walls, leaving only the bare bones of framing. If necessary, we tear up the flooring and lay down a new subfloor for whatever change is to come. We use crowbars, hammers, electric saws, drills, the heels of our boots… whatever it takes to empty the space to its essential, original nakedness. Sometime we eliminate entire walls. It’s laborious work; lots of sweat and a couple of “owies” are always involved. When our demolition is complete, it’s showtime.

Updated electrical systems have been installed, plumbing may or may not be rerouted, a new floor is laid, new cabinets are hung, a stove and range may have been relocated from a dark corner against a wall to an open island we built between the cooking and dining areas, and all appliances are updated. When we’re finished, the place looks like a brand new house.

The biggest deal: the remodel functions better than what the homeowner lived in previously.

The House, the Senate… good gosh the entire country: Democracy in the United States is dead. We need a constitution not written by candlelight. The Bill of Rights has been ignored since the day it was ratified (1791). Three branches of government to “ensure” checks and balances so a dictatorship could not raise its evil head above the banner of democracy――lately that doesn’t seem to be working as planned. In plain sight, mailboxes are being removed so the current government can remove our basic right to vote. Racisim runs rampid in murderous numbers.

Just my opinion, but I think it’s time for a complete remodel of the United States, because the house in which we now live no longer suits the needs of the day.

――Alfred Lord Tennyson,
“The Idylls of the King: The Passing of Arthur.”

Time to Replant the Garden

To Her Lost Breath

My wife made a good run of it, but then was done. A month after the second anniversary of her yoga studio, the world shut down to acquiesce the COVID-19 virus. The government mandated "temporary" closure of her studio, along with every other business not deemed "essential." A damned shame, because her studio had just begun to take off: five teachers, twenty-one classes of various techniques―with plans to add more―and a membership that began to grow weekly.

People in the area had begun to realize the benefits of yoga in their hectic, Silicon Valley lives. My wife was excited; her dream was coming true.

Then... nope... the virus... doors closed... indefinitely.

I continued to manage an office supply store. My work selling plastic crap that did not work long enough to invoke an extended warranty was deemed essential. Seven of us worked ten to twelve hours a day, while nine of my employees opted to use their accumulated sick and vacation time to remain at home until the end of the "Shelter-in-Place" (SIP) mandate issued by the State of California, and vehemently enforced by Santa Clara County, where my wife and I lived and worked... or rather, where she had once worked.

The end of March, the mandate was extend to June. My wife made a decision: her studio could not last four months without income. She closed her studio permanently. We cried endlessly for several weeks. For awhile my wife wondered if she had closed prematurely, particularly when the State said it would do an an early re-assessment of the restrictions on businesses. May 1st it did, though business owners were stunned by the restrictive restrictions that remained in place. Gym and yoga studios were not included in the re-assessment; were to remain closed until the next re-assessment the following month.

For the next two weeks, my wife and I could not count on our four hands the number of yoga studios that closed their doors permanently. A husband and wife, who I knew, closed their gym and left town. June came, and "fitness" businesses were allowed to reopen, but only at a third their capacity. Once again, my wife and I could not keep track of all the yoga studios that decided to close permanently. The yoga studio owners group she belonged to online dwindled from thousands to hundreds.

My wife and I felt sorry for how much it cost the other studio owners who thought they could hold out. By closing down when she did, my wife saved herself a heavy financial loss. The yoga studios that remain open in California offer classes outside. It has cost them a ton to do so. Unfortunately, the smaller memberships they now experience will dwindle even more when the winds and rains of October and November remind people that yoga and working out ain't all that and a bag of chips when the temperature outside drops to 46 degrees Farenheit.

Will the restrictions on yoga studios be fully lifted by then? My wife and I don't think so.

Vikings and their Historical Footprint

Vikings — the first images that come to mind are of barbaric marauders ravaging, looting, and terrorizing the coasts of northern Europe. That may be accurate, to some degree, but not entirely. The Vikings gave the world sagas, collections of stories and poems that shaped the way modern fantasy and science fiction are written today. Without the old literature of Iceland, there probably would not have been J.R.R. Tolkien’s Hobbit.

The Vikings also gave the world the enduring legacy of the Alþingi , the world’s first parliamentary government. What we know of Norse mythology and Scandinavian history was written in Iceland.

To sustain themselves with food crops and livestock, they would have needed a calendar, and therefore a knowledge of the stars. To know the cosmos is to also understand mathematics.

Beyond literacy, political savvy, and agriculture, the Vikings were also a people who traveled the globe far and wide, in boats, which could only have been done with their knowledge of the stars and planets, and mathematics. In other words, the Vikings also knew science. To cross the ocean for global exploration and trade, in boats that could also serve as warships in shallow tides, the Vikings had to know more than just thumping people on the head.

And they did.

Fierce warriors, to be sure, they were feared opponents, but they were also sought after for trade, and for imparting their technological advancements. Kings in Scandinavia and other parts of Europe commissioned Viking longships, because in the years between 900 and 1100AD, no one could craft a sea-going vessel to match the Viking longship.

Their art, delicately crafted and intricately tooled, has been unearthed in archaeological sites across the globe. Their literature paved the way for current best-selling books and blockbuster movies. They gave the world a government which serves as foundation for governance in countries all over the current world.

In truth, the Vikings gave to and educated the world as much as the Greeks and Romans.

As you discover Iceland, with its hard, finicky weather, its rumbling mountains and tectonic activity, blue ice glaciers, and its isolation from the rest of the world, you have to image that the people who could settle in such a land, and who could be successful, must have been a bit smarter than the average polar bear.

From any Icelandair Hotel, you can easily tour and explore a world that marries fire with ice, and you can visit museums and landmarks to learn more of Viking history. If you stay long enough, you might even become a Viking yourself!

Hi-Ball on a Roll-by

—I don’t mind hanging lonesome, ‘cause I’m a hobo myself sometimes, and it’s easier to hit the grit alone than to feel accountability for others, and jumpin’ from a cannonball ain’t no fun.—

12:00 a.m.

The tracks in Fort Collins, Colorado, paralleled the main street, divided the town equally between east and west. My three band mates and I lived on Mason Street, one block west of the main drag. The rails ran through the center of our street. We always knew the time because the 2:30 northbound to Laramie, Wyoming, passed us every afternoon but Sunday’s. Funny, the whistle sounded so lonesome when the train made the city limit, four miles south of where we lived, but then sounded like a hell-chained dragon right outside the front door.

We spent a lot of time on our front porch, jamming and practicing for any gig we could scrape together. We got few, so we spent more time on the porch than anywhere else. We often hankered to be somewhere different, and so at 2:30 p.m. we’d step to the curb, wave to the hogger as he rolled by, and would then watch down the line for the first vacant flat, always on the lookout for the rare open boxcar.

The slowest man went first. If he stepped steady onto the stirrup, caught the grabiron, and made the flip, the next fastest guy would go. I went last. Two hours later, we’d be in Laramie, killing time until the 7:30 southbound came rolling. Being young, we never thought much about greasing the track.

Corvallis, Oregon
(2009-2017)

I’ve forgotten how many runs we made in my alma mater–been over thirty years since I’ve hopped a train. But every morning and every night here in the heart of the Willamette Valley, the train runs through town at irregular intervals. I hear the whine just a mile away in Corvallis, and when the train hollers that close to my house I start feeling like a hobo.

Yet, all I want is to settle down, once and for all. In the seven years since moving back to Oregon, Corvallis has never really felt like home, even though I own one. I still feel as though I’m only passing through, mainly because I’ve yet to find a job that suits me well enough to stick around for more than a few years, and because I’ve yet to meet people who can fill the shoes of the friends I left behind in California.

I’m on my fourth means of employment, and am hoping to find permanent employment in the Golden State before summer. (Jobs do not define a person or create friends, but they do provide a solid rail that allows one a chance to concentrate on the journey, instead of how much coal gets shoveled into the boiler.)

I don’t think I’ve burned any local bridges. My visits to the stations I left behind here have been enjoyable, cooperative, and productive. I was consistently upfront about my intended goal to be more than what they could offer.

And at this moment, as I listen to the whine of a midnight train, I’m hoping my hobo thoughts go away in another week. I’ve got my fingers crossed that I get this new job, and that it turns out to be the steady track to  a destination more suited to where I thought I would end up…

… ’cause I’m gettin’ older, and it’s getting harder to hop trains, though I can still shovel coal with the best of ’em.

Morgan Hill, California
(2017-2020)

Ten years after first writing of this blog post–thirty years since my years in Fort Collins)–I am still reminded of my days hopping trains in Fort Collins, Colorado. The whistle of the speeding train last night reminded me of my past “rail days,” and reminded me that at the end of this month, July 2020, I will return to the town where I learned to hitch an empty boxcar. I am going full-circle.

Of the seven times I have moved since leaving Fort Collins in 1991, I have always said, in every town, “This is finally where I will bury my bones.” I could have been satisfied to leave my bones here in Morgan Hill, but it just can’t happen. This return leg across the Great Divide… I hope my wish will someday come true. I will be happy to leave my bones in Colorado dirt.

Upon returning to Fort Collins, I will stand beside the tracks that run down the middle of Mason Street, and I will wonder if I am too old now to hop a train headed to Laramie or Cheyenne, Wyoming. I suspect I am, only in the sense that I no longer run as fast as in my youth, and it would be more than possible to grease the tracks at my age.

But I will dream as the trains through Fort Collins pass beside me, just inches away from where I linger beside the rail. Who knows, maybe on one of those days I will catch solid hold of the grip, will secure my foot in the stirrup, and I’ll toss my skinny ass into a rare empty boxcar, just because I want to test my youth. I want to set my pace alongside the train to find the right car at the right moment, to re;live the thrill of hopping a train. Who knows, maybe some day in the near future I will get a free ride to Laramie.

_____

Highball: all clear ahead, proceed at full speed.

Roll-by: means just that (and it’s a might friendly if you wave while the train rolls on by).

Hobo: someone willing to work, but only enough to get what he needs or wants, always moving down the road, looking for the next thing. Most hobos are honest and trustworthy.

Hitting the grit – to be thrown from a fast moving train.

Cannonball: a fast train.

Hogger: engineer.

Stirrup: first step on a freight car, under the lowest grab iron.

Grabirons: handholds on all railroad cars for ascending onto or descending from the car.

Flip: the motion used to hop a moving train.

Grease the track: fall beneath the train and die.

Put in the hole: when a train is stored on a side track to keep the main track clear.

Boomer: someone who drifts from one job to another, staying only a short time.

Crossover: switching from one track to a parallel track.

Ditch: jump from a moving train.

Mileposts: markers along the line (at regular or irregular intervals) to indicate where the train is at different places on the line.

Big Rock Candy Mountain: hobo heaven.

Currents

Do not judge these words with spouts of anger. Vizualize these sentences and paragraphs in the way you see water, in all its forms. Go with the flow, immerse yourself in the currents and eddies, linger upon the shore… but do not cast stones, for they cause only ripples, which is karma.

We are not all in the same boat. We are in the same storm, on the same journey toward whatever individual conclusions we want to believe.

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