Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Ladder-style Bookshelves.

Fred wanted different bookshelves for this new house. Ever up to a challenge, I chose ladder shelves. I'd concluded the plans I found online were more equipment-intensive than I could muster. I have a circular saw, a jigsaw, a power drill, a router and hand sanders, files, saw-horses and a variety of clamps. Unafraid of imperfection, I figured I could design and build something that would stand up.

So I drew my plans then went to the local specialty-lumber yard where I bought many board-feet of red oak, different sizes. Came home and marked, measured, cut, drilled etc.

Tapered the 1 x 4's for the back legs, so the 1 x 2 front legs could be continuous to the top.
Lowest shelf 1 x 12, then 1 x 10, 1 x 9, 1 x 8, 1 x 7, 1 x 6, 1 x 4.

Broke several drill bits on the (hard) oak - I've mostly worked in knotty pine before.
Got heavier screws for the second shelf - much better.

I finished the wood with tung oil before assembly - used that on the headboard unit I built two dozen years ago, and the finish still looks good with zero maintenance (my kind of finish!).

Not going to win any prizes, but these shelves look interesting and they hold a lot.
Two down, two to go with my current supply of wood. At this point my biggest challenge is working in the cold - the last few days have been pleasant but we have snow & sub-zero weather coming - in an unheated garage that's a show-stopper.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

City Park Christmas - a photo-essay

Denver Skyline

Long's Peak


Oh look!

And did I mention, there are geese...

Well, a few...

Grazing away.

What's that yammering? Here they come --

Cloud of the day.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Street Art, Denver Style

Recently a series of images appeared
on posts at intersections, above the
Walk button.

Someone has a sense of humor...

Yes, if everyone is doing it, you should too!

It's fun, it's a creative moment on East Colfax, not Denver's most beautiful street.

The drunks of Larimer Street (back in the day when Neal Cassidy and his father subsisted there) have been displaced by gentrification - but East Colfax has no gentry, so anyone can hang out.

And, in good populist fashion, low-rent artists find canvases for their creative notions.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Cloud watching...

Front-range Colorado has the best clouds I've ever seen - not only the big dramatic thunderheads in summer, but piles of heavy dense snow-clouds against the peaks when it's snowing up there, and the long-distance spectacle of fast-moving storms. Last month I watched a snowstorm sweep down from the foothills across Denver - driving north up Broadway I could see miles to the tall buildings of downtown, in the yellowish light of intervening sun and cloud and a whirl of flakes vanishing on contact.

But my favorites are the lenticular (lens-shaped) formations, which look like UFO's - some are small, others (like today's) span the sky, with clean sharp edges and sculpted sides, like great wings or water-carved rocks.

In a place with such sights on display, it's a loss not to look up - what's in the sky today?

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

One of the standout moments in life is reaching an educational milestone.
It doesn't even have to be your own -

Today Ernesto completed his undergrad college work, and in February will receive the piece of paper (as long as he doesn't have any library fines!). As a parent, I look forward to the ceremony as I didn't when it was my own diploma being awarded. Back then, having to buy a one-use gown then sit in the swelter, without ever having my name actually called, wasn't very enticing - I think I went hiking that day.

However, when my sons are being honored, you better believe I'm attending! Temple University's mid-year commencement exercises are much smaller than their May event, so his name might be announced. Even if it's not, Fred and I will be there, proud and happy.

We don't know where his Anthropology degree will take him, but the process of earning it has already carried him far: to Philadelphia, where he's figured out the housing and work challenges many students face; to Rome for a semester; to rural western India for a month.

The world awaits -- Bon Voyage, Ernesto!

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Furniture Serendipity

Now that we have acquired a house, Fred and I face the prospect of unpacking all those boxes we've paid to store. Since we got rid of most of our furniture when we moved, the search is on: time to shop.

I find new-furniture stores mostly depressing - shoddy stuff sure to fall apart in a short time, in styles that are minor variations on a dull theme. Want a couch that doesn't fill your whole room, but is still long enough to sleep on? Forget it. How about one that a mid-sized person can sit on without having feet dangle above the floor while your back rests against the cushions? Nope.

There seem to be two schools of furniture design these days: oversized squishy pieces that dwarf fat people, and therapeutic units without a handsome line in them anywhere. A back-saver couch we saw was nothing but three back-saver chairs mounted side by side - not a piece you'd want to nap on! Suitable for a chiropractor's office, but in our living room? Please!

So we ordered Amish furniture. Not cheap, but well-made in this country (imagine!). In February we'll have our dining room table and chairs, and the sofa and armchair we finally bought after rejecting hundreds across the city as ugly or uncomfortable or both.

Building bookshelves is one thing, but I'm not trained or equipped for cabinetry. Fortunately, there's Craigslist. Some pieces are pretty sad - the hutch with the bullet-hole decals, the chipped pressed-sawdust entertainment center - and some are funny - the Grateful Dead bear end table (really!), Bean Bag that turns into a Bed! and Little Tykes Race Car Bed. Then there are spelling attempts - an Automan, an Armiour and an Armwar. I found oxymorons: Danish Modern Vintage Furniture, Lifetime Plastic Table, modern contemporary art deco chair; and redundancies: one-of-a-kind unique wing-back chair, awesome vintage tall retro blue lamps...
Some things are mysteries: Large Wood Slabs (which is just what they are). Rustic Vintage 7 foot Door is considerably the worse for wear - for the $35 this seller is asking, you could buy an oak credenza or "three almost new chairs" or a handmade Kiva Ladder.

Sellers enthuse about their things: beautiful, gorgeous, very nice, very fine, wow, cool, excellent, beatifull, and Guaranteed Bed Bug Free!
Some people think their stuff is really valuable, and others just want it gone.

I could've bought a huge buffet/hutch for $100 - it would cost more than that to transport it to my house, but no amount of money would remove the soaked-in cigarette stench of decades. Had to pass. And the buffet/hutch in OK shape I could've fit in my car? No drawers. Another pass.

This is what makes the corner china cabinet I bought tonight so special: it was hand-made by the seller's father - beautiful solid oak piece with glass-fronted top half, in excellent condition, with adjustable shelves and locking doors. At any furniture store you would pay 3 or 4 times what this couple was asking, but you wouldn't get a piece as well made. I've never been happier to part with $125.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Recycling Orphan No More!

In the morning we take possession of our new (to us - built in 1927) home - and its big purple recycling bin!
Since April we've been recycling orphans, lugging along our bags of newspapers, junk mail, bottles & cans to such diverse locations as Boulder's Eco-Cycle (the pinnacle of recycling), Allenspark's drop-off, the bins of Heinz and other friends, and Denver's waste & recycling facility.
I've been told "Just throw it in the dumpster!" - but I can't. It's wrong.
Yes, Denver offers curbside recycling. However, for buildings with more than 2 units, such as ours, different rules apply. The property management company rep said they're forbidden to offer recycling. I doubt that, but they certainly aren't giving us the option. After being caught red-handed dropping my stuff next door (and yelled at, and threatened with a $500 fine) I ranged further afield. Denver's recycling referral website has many obsolete drop-off places listed. The only one nearby still operating is the neighborhood Whole Foods - but clearly those bins are for a newspaper here, a soda can there - not my weekly accumulation.
So one of the aesthetic points of our new abode is that big purple bin - tomorrow I'm taking my overflowing bags and buckets over there - an orphan no more!

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Thoughts on Five Tons of Stuff

When I go see my sewing machine
Languishing in dust and grit
I don't dare ask it "How've you been?"
I'd never hear the end of it.
But pretty soon I'll bring my crew
and go down to the Storage Zone
and rescue books and dishes too
to join us in our Cherry home.

When we unpack five tons of things
What will we find worth hauling here?
We're hoping that the effort brings
A fine finale to this year -
We'll lug stuff home and put it away
And celebrate - it's home to stay!

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

The Russians invented editing because they lacked film stock - they had to splice pieces together after they'd been shot, and a new way of storytelling was born. Eisenstein's famous scene of the killing of a bull intercut with the slaughter of peasants, revolutionized film-making.
But there was more to the Russian sensibility - an improvised survival and dignity versus murderous odds. Imaginative directors found symbols useful when straightforward dissatisfaction could end their careers. Andrei Tarkovski's great films - Andrei Rublev, The Mirror, Stalker - told stories that both dodged the censors and celebrated the Russian feat of survival. Sergei Bondarchuk's magnificent four-part War and Peace, released in 1969 after 8 years of filming, was the most costly film ever made (over $100 million then, around $700 million today), with a running time just over 8 hours. The first two parts are as beautiful as Tolstoy's language. The third and fourth parts bow to Soviet triumphalism - but make a magnificent work nonetheless.
And along the way there are humble films - The Ascent by Larisa Shepiko follows a group of WWII partisans hiding in the forest. When two are captured (one robust and cheery, the other weak and moody), we think we know which will betray his fellows under torture. But the story plays past the ending we expect, searing our spirits.
This year's How I Ended This Summer by Alexei Popogrebski is another gem in the rough-cut Russian style. A seasoned man (Sergei) tends a coastal Arctic weather station, assisted in the summer by a bored youth (Pavel/Pasha). While Sergei meticulously records and transmits weather data, Pavel amuses himself in childish fashion: stalking a rabbit, leaping from one empty fuel barrel to the next, playing video games on the station's computer, listening to rock on his headphones. He seems like any happy-go-lucky youth making the best of a dull situation. But when the moment arises to give Sergei some bad news, he lets every circumstance deflect him. As the secret looms larger between them, Pavel fearing the older man's wrath cannot bring himself to reveal it. The burden unbalances Pavel's restless mind, tilting the pair toward violence. Dwarfing their human troubles are the vast tundra, icy sea and immense sky. While our sympathies start with the young man enduring desolation, as the story progresses we realize the true hero is Sergei, who tends this weather station as his life's purpose. Even his contempt for Pavel's sloppy work is subsumed in his love of the place - he cannot hold a grudge.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

A Modest Proposal (with apologies to Jonathan Swift) -

In today's New York Times, Nicholas Kristof laments the precarious situation of women in Afghanistan, and worries what will happen to them when US forces leave. And suddenly the solution hit me:

Take the women and children when we leave!

Let's see how long the Taliban (any government) will last with NO FEMALES to do the grunt work and be the whipping-post. A century from now there would be no Taliban to worry about - they will find out the hard way how thoroughly they need women.

Women trapped in domestic abuse are advised to leave their abusers, but usually outside assistance is needed. Let us provide that assistance to a whole society suffering from domestic abuse.

Let the men do what they will - shoot each other till no one is left? Pillory anyone less devout than the one in charge? Whatever they want to do - it's a system with a limit: a time limit. Since not every man is disrespectful of women, let any man petition individually to reunite with his family, but before he can rejoin them, he must make a solemn oath to respect all persons - and having experienced the absence of women, he will have a better understanding of how important they are.

And imagine how much we'll save - we won't need to send young Americans over there to be damaged physically and psychically, we won't need to spend money we don't have on weapons - the Afghan women won't be the only ones better off!

Thursday, October 21, 2010

New pair of Jeans

In which Marigold rhapsodizes about her new pair of Levi's Shrink-to-fit jeans - yes, they still make them! What's so great about them? They're snug without being tight.

The trick is to buy a pair the size that would fit you, of regular (preshrunk) jeans. Try them on, they'll feel almost a size too big. Perfect! Take them home, remove the tags, and before wearing them (who wants to wear oversized stiff jeans anyway?), wash them in HOT water, then throw them in a dryer on the hottest setting, and pull them out when they're ALMOST dry.

Put them on and marvel at how they FIT.

They're button-fly jeans, per the originals - but not just any button-fly jeans will work. You can buy them online or at a store, but make sure the label says Shrink-to-fit. Otherwise, you'll just have a pair of jeans you wish you'd bought a size smaller.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

The Things They Carried, by Tim O'Brien
reviewed by NC Weil

This book has won many accolades, as short pieces and as a whole. It deserves them all. But I'm afraid to recommend it to my sons, who are in their twenties. Its juxtapositions of life and death, of ghoul humor and matter-of-fact insanity, are so raw, I fear my young men will fall in love with war.

In today's paper in 2010 there's a story about the 5th Stryker Brigade in Afghanistan - five soldiers are being tried for murder-for-sport and corpse desecration. In their cruelty I see the young men of this story - nineteen years old, just been drafted and dropped into Hell. They do callous things to survive, to differentiate themselves from the slaughter they must daily encounter. They do them to push back the fear that stalks every waking second and hunts them in their fitful sleep. They distance themselves from the meat they want not to be. By pushing each other to shows of indifference, and joking about what would otherwise make them incapable of what they are required to do, they survive - or die.

What is the worst death: to be flung in shreds into the treetops so your mates have to climb up and gather your fragments? To be sucked down in a flooded field of mud and shit in the driving rain, so your buddies have to foul themselves finding you, digging you out to send your corpse home? To be shot taking a piss on a lovely morning?

Or is it the death of your own self, your civilian carelessness and ease? Is it the pretty girl smuggled in by her boyfriend, who takes to war with an addict's intensity, joining the Green Berets so she can melt into the jungle and come back with human-body-part trophies, dead to ordinary life? Every story in this book could be made up. Every story is too real to be disbelieved.

It's about how we look at the world, how we draw the lines between ourselves and the emptiness surrounding our little sparks. By layering fact and experience, it's about how we can force death to a draw, play the game out longer, relish another morning of not being dead yet. Heartbeats and friends are all we have.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

House Hunting Blues

Will you hear traffic, or noise from a park?
Will you be safe walking home after daark?
They say it's location - you know that's true,
But other things are also going to matter to you:

To escape the stuff-trap, it's got to be small
Which means: be selective of what's on the wall.
But which will it be: forced air or steam heat?
Windows painted shut or a fresh air treat?

Is there garage space for a project or two,
Is that a working fireplace or only a flue?
Is there a patio? Garden space? Lawn?
How will it look when the flowers are gone?
Why is the landscaping concrete and rocks?
This house has character; that one's a box!

Monday, September 27, 2010

Trumpet-blowing Time!

A high point for every writer is getting published. Maybe nobody's buying the novel, and the short stories languish between magazine submissions - but if you read periodicals, you have perpetual opportunities to see your name in print.

Previously I've scored with the Washington Post:
A letter (co-written with Fred) about the renaming of National Airport to honor Ronald Reagan.

One about the real value of a machine that chews up tumbleweeds - the article's tone was derisive, compelling me to observe that a flaming tumbleweed is the fastest way for a prairie fire to spread.

Another in response to DC Police incarcerating a woman whose blood alcohol level was well below the legal threshold. Arresting her, they cited "zero tolerance" for alcohol. Apply this principle to other situations: should we arrest drivers for going 20 in a 25 mph zone?

This February I scored a coup: two letters in the Washington Post in the same week:
One was on the editorial page, regarding the discomfort suffered on airplanes by oversized passengers and their seatmates. I suggested that airlines replace three-seat configurations with two-seaters, and charge whatever premium they find appropriate.

In the Health section my letter described the technique that helped me stop biting my fingernails.

I moved to Denver this spring, and subscribed to the Denver Post.

My letter in that paper about Christo's "Over the River" proposed project pointed out that I'd seen fabric samples at an exhibit in Washington DC. Far from being opaque, the translucent material on display invited the eye to see beyond its shimmering surface.

Then this Sunday Sept. 26th, I scored! Twice! --

1. My letter published in the Denver Post, "Making a difference with a bicycle | eLetters" was in response to Nicholas Kristof's column on World Bicycle Relief. I mentioned several similar organizations which have been operating for years in different parts of the US. These groups collect and ship bicycles to Third World countries, turning those extra bikes gathering dust, into much-needed low-cost durable transportation.

2. My letter showed up at the top of the column of letters in the Sunday New York Times' Week in Review section: Letters: A Drug Trial, and a Wrenching Choice I suggested revamping drug trials in situations where the control group's treatment has been well established as painful and ineffective: Use data from previous trials for the control group, and give all participants the new treatment.

So when you think you can't stand another rejection letter, try another venue:
If you know something an article writer didn't, your information may be welcome.
If your perspective is original, share it.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Christo's "Over the River" Project

It's been more than a decade since Christo and Jeanne-Claude (who passed this summer) first selected a stretch of the Arkansas River Canyon in central Colorado for their project. The plan?
To suspend sections of translucent silvery fabric over portions of the river within a thirty-mile section.
The obstacles? Chiefly the Bureau of Land Management, which has demanded study after study of the installation and its impacts. It was easier to get permission to wrap the Reichstag!

As we see anytime someone wants to step beyond usual expectations, there's been a lot of uninformed opposition -

Oh, the traffic will be terrible! (maybe traffic will be slowed down, so people will take a look at something they've never seen)

Oh, it will be like putting a lid on the river! (the translucent fabric invites the eye through its shimmer, to the canyon walls, clouds and sky)

Oh, it will be ugly! (the proposed material is beautiful)

Oh, it will be destructive! (Christo has placed his art in the midst of nature for decades - his creations and the natural world enhance one another)

Oh, it's a gimmick to make him rich! (all his projects are self-supporting)

These objections all add up to: Oh, it won't be like anything we've ever seen - yikes! (true, except the fear part)

There's also been support, from artists, and from people who agree that works of art open our beings in ways we cannot calculate ahead of time. In an era when much of what we do has predictable outcomes, we need these surprises.
Christo's not proposing a re-hash of something he already did, or that anyone else ever has done.

The essence of art is that it gives us a new look at something we think we know, and by seeing it in a changed way, understanding it differently.

I hope Over the River wins approval, and if/when it does, I plan to be one of the many volunteers who put the structures in place.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

10 Steps to a Great Critique Group

I've recently joined Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers, and found a critique group to work with. If you're a writer, you'll benefit from belonging to one. An avid reader is not the same as a critical reader - we enrich our thinking and experience by reading for pleasure, but critical reading can make us better writers.

So what's useful feedback, and what's "noise"?

1. Be positive. Slamming someone's style, story, characters etc is not productive.

2. Do your homework. Read the material beforehand, twice if you can (mark it up on the second reading).

3. Layer your feedback. Discuss story structure & characters, language, grammar, etc. Dig deeper than just correcting punctuation & trimming sentences.

4. Highlight what shines. Be sure to note every well-turned line/phrase/sentence - we all want to know that our writing's not a total loss.

5. Write up your comments. Then edit them. Organizing your thoughts will give you more insight into the piece's strengths & weaknesses.

6. Humor can soften the sting of "this doesn't work."

7. Participate fully. Don't just attend when your material is being critiqued - give your fellow writers the benefit of your insight. It's only fair.

8. Offer your significant observations during the group meeting. Save your sentence-by-sentence dissection for the marked-up excerpt, for the writer to review later.

9. SHARE. Know about a good resource (a book, an organization, a website)? A writer's conference you thought was good? An agent or publisher in a group member's genre? Making connections helps everyone improve.

10. You're the writer. Your critique group isn't "writing by committee", they're offering perspective on your work. Consider all suggestions, but remember: ultimately, it's your story. Do right by your characters.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

John Prine

Fred and I went to the Rocky
Mountain Folks Festival in
Lyons CO over the weekend.
The festival grounds are great -
the North St. Vrain River
coming along between cliffs
and the field - bring your kids,
and they can exhaust themselves
while soaking up some music,
splashing in the wide shallow river,
down among the cottonwoods.
Good food, lots of cooperation on reducing waste, a gorgeous sunny weekend
under lapis Colorado skies - some spectacular sunburns!

The headliner was John Prine, who played last - Sunday night. We went Saturday, and heard Dala, Marc Cohn, Jenny Lewis, and then left for the eve.

Sunday, wristbands in place, we walked in with chairs for the opening set: Abby and Bela - Bela Fleck and Abigail Washburn. When they finished, we left, chairs holding our spot, for a brief hike. We returned during Michelle Shocked's set, followed by
Richard Thompson (think that's him onstage)
and The Waifs.

Storm Clouds danced around us but unlike our 2007 Rocky Grass experience (same venue), we never got more than a dash - while towns to the east got clobbered with heavy rain, wind, etc.

I guess the sky gods knew John Prine doesn't need that kind of stuff going on - he's paid his dues.

Mr. Prine's setlist:
Blow up the TV
Crooked Piece of Time
Common Sense
Souvenirs - Steve Goodman song
Far From Me
Glory of True Love
Angel from Montgomery
The Sins of Memphisto

That last song has some Prine Gems in it - give a listen!

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Lindy Sunday

Neighborhood thrift stores have run through their wares

so these wild Lindy dancers can put on some airs,

Swinging in hi-tops and dance flats and sneaks,

Tight jeans and dresses that look like antiques.

A blue checkered skirt and a pair of red shoes,

Hawaiian-print birds and cool graceful moves.

Big green diagonals swirl as she flies,

Her partner's in cargo shorts - flair in disguise.

Panama hat over t-shirt and jeans,

fast-moving shoes as a couple careens,

Coiling together and stepping in time,

Flashing their hips as they turn on a dime.

Ascot in double knot sets off short sleeves,

bell-bottom jeans with dance shoes I believe -

Whatever works so their movement's carefree

While big band sounds lilt in a suave melody.

Here in the park as the evening descends,

they fill the pavilion, laughing with friends,

The floor is terrazzo, it's smooth and it's wide,

And under this roof they are dancing outside.

I hear Jimmy Rushing and Count Basie horns,

behind them the thunder from receding storms -

what we get's a rainbow, blazing up bright,

to set off this sliding high-kicking delight.


Saturday, August 7, 2010

Writing: Good Endings

Coming up with a good ending for a short story or novel is either a fluid mindless process, when the subconscious provides one, or just about impossible, if the writer has to think it through then frame it in words that don't seem labored.

A great ending elevates the story - it's worth the effort to get it right. My current favorite is Samuel Beckett's "Dante and the Lobster" (in the collections "More Pricks than Kicks" and "I Can't Go On, I'll Go On") - read it! The story provides hilarious and vivid imagery as the reader makes the rounds of his day with the protagonist. All seems in keeping with the grim view he takes of life and his techniques for prolonging it with agonized ritual, including the funniest bit about toast I've ever read.
Then, the final sentence: "It is not."
In three words Beckett demolishes the reader's comfort and amusement.
It's shocking, it's profound. It makes you wonder "How did he do that?" and "Can I ever possibly do that?"

The best endings I've written have showed up in the wee hours, when part of my brain is conscious but the rest zoned out, and my subconscious has free rein to neatly wrap things up. But if I have to do more than tweak that final image, I'm doomed. It won't cooperate. Writing ten or twenty alternate endings doesn't seem to get me any closer.

Some people write from an outline, so they know going in, more-or-less how a story will end. Do they feel an inspirational thrill when they get there? Does the ending write itself, or was it already there, and the function of the story is to reach the point where it comes next?

I enjoy being amazed by my characters - their resilience, their senses of humor, their understanding in the face of disaster that there is a Next. And when we get to the end of a story, they help me bring all the loose ends together - there's something magical about it. I type but they dictate.

Part of an effective ending is keeping the reader on the hook. In "Ladder of Years", Anne Tyler doesn't resolve her protagonist's dilemma until the final page - you can't put down the novel if you care about her at all. But when a book fizzles and you don't get there, it's frustrating. Brian Hall's "I Should Be Extremely Happy in Your Company" about Lewis and Clark's expedition, goes on and on after the leaders return from westward exploration. I stopped reading with about fifty pages left - whether they lived happy or miserable lives afterwards didn't matter to me.

A good ending is the height of aesthetics, providing a summation of the story's conflicts and a direction the protagonist will go. When well done, this shifts the reader from the circumstances at hand to the universals beneath. When we're given a good ending we feel we've gained by reading the story - and when it's unsatisfying, we have that urge to hurl the book across the room - "I read all those pages for THAT!?"

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Ernesto in the Rockies

Once the offspring are out of your house, you can look forward to visits. Ernesto traveled West last week to pay a call on us in our e-partment, and to see his brother Heinz. Ernesto's girlfriend Ruby came too, her first trip to Colorado.

Ernesto, Ruby and I went hiking in the Rockies.
Above timberline it was windy but a fine day for hiking. When we stopped for lunch in the shelter of some rocks we tried to attract the curious pikas with tortilla chips - but they were too skittish.

Though our trail ran mostly through National
Forest Land, we did cross briefly into Rocky
Mountain National Park
- whether by design or
chance, that short portion of our hike offered the best views of the high peaks. Here you can see the south side of Long's Peak - not Colorado's highest peak by any means, but one of the most spectacular - Long's has the large flat summit.

Its false summit Mt. Meeker stands to its right (southeast). From this vantage we're right at timberline where the vegetation changes from limber and bristlecone pines to alpine tundra and lots of rocks.

On our hike down, we paused by a stream to
admire the wildflowers, including Indian paintbrush - in this picture the eight-inch-high flowers dwarf a baby blue spruce tree.

We also saw tiny birds, a hunting hawk and a great many other wildflowers - it's been a wet late spring (snow through the end of May in the mountains) which has kept the high country green unusually late into the summer. We saw a couple of snowbanks but most have melted by now, feeding the small streams.

No Ernesto visit would be complete without Scrabble -

here's our aesthetic point for the post:

Ernesto played his final tray with DROLLER, making 3 additional words in the process and coming from behind to win.

He didn't like my triple word score bingo REARGUES so I suppose his word was revenge.

Monday, July 12, 2010


Fred and I like Low Pressure Zones, so we spent Independence Day weekend unplugged and off the grid in a friend's mountain cabin. Car full of provisions and gear, we headed west on the sunny Saturday, our first stop to fill water bottles (cabin though well-appointed lacks plumbing, electricity, gas) - but our approach to the spring coincided with the Allenspark parade. We hadn't planned to attend any festivities but there it was, so we did.
Highlights for us were the pack llamas, horses with flags and stars painted on their flanks, and fire trucks spraying water on the audience. A band on a wagon played Stars and Stripes Forever, a teenager balanced his bike on its rear wheel as he pedaled slowly down the road, and a front-end loader saluted the crowd, raising and lowering its scoop as it went.

At the cabin we rigged and went fishing in the nearby creek's occasional small fishing holes where a rock or log-jam would create a backwater no more than two feet across.
My nine foot fly-rod was perfect for reaching through brush and trees, to hover a fly in an eddy.
I caught two brookies for dinner. Fresh wild trout are incomparable - we had a sundown feast, gazing west on the cabin's deck.

And there we were treated to a sunbow - a rainbow of ice crystals in a thin cloud, lighting up with a spectrum of colors: our Aesthetic Point to cap off a fine day.

The next day was misty - I caught and threw back a small pair, further refutation to the neighbor who informed us there were no fish in that creek.

Walking back to the cabin, we saw a western tanager, a spectacular mid-sized bird with yellow breast and back, orange head and black wings. He's actually the Cover Bird of Roger Tory Peterson's Field Guide to Western Birds.

On Monday we drove to a nearby lake for a short hike, then into town to dine. At the bar we had front-row seats for a boiling dispute between waitri, one accusing the other of poaching tables. Fred offered a joke, the waitress countered with another, and she concluded it wasn't necessary to kill her co-worker, proving once again:
Levity is the highest form of gravity.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

In which we Launch


For a long time, Fred and I have awarded one another an extra point for an outstanding play in Cribbage or Scrabble.

This Aesthetic Point showcases the game's finest possibilities.

In Cribbage, a good hand which is also just plain gorgeous (a straight that's also a flush, for example), earns one more point an "aesthetic point" along with the count determined by the rules.

In Scrabble, a particularly fine word fitting perfectly amid the ranks and files of letters already placed, deserves an aesthetic point.

It's the opponent's decision to award one, not based on scoring but because the play reveals the game at its best.

Aesthetic points occur in daily life too when the fish are biting, the editor likes your story, the pun just floats to the tongue...

At my nephew's recent outdoor wedding the forecast was for mid-nineties, but clouds and a breeze softened the afternoon. After guests had migrated to the open-air pavilion for the reception, sun and shade alternated until rain fell. The rainbow that followed was an aesthetic point a finishing touch courtesy of the cosmos.

Fred and I have reached an aesthetic point in our union after raising Heinz and Ernesto and sending them on their way, we emptied the big house and moved to Denver to a one-bedroom e-partment where life is simplified.