glacier national park maintains a number of live webcams, one of which is new. my friend lou in tucson turned me on to this. if you click on this link, scroll down to "st. mary visitor center osprey nest webcam", and click on it. very cool.
my thanks to old friend bill in chicago for this link to an article that puts military service and remembrance in a whole new light. on those days when we formally honor veterans, most of us think of conflicts in our lifetimes -- WWII (1939-1945), korea (1950-1953), vietnam (1959-1975), the persian gulf war (1990-1991), iraq and afghanistan (2003-present). yet in the memory of much older family members live the events of WWI (1914-1918), the "war to end all wars". just as many participants in earlier wars are disappearing through attrition and old age, so vets of WWI have nearly vanished completely.
yet, since each conflict helped shape who we as a society are today, it is worth pausing to regard the history in which our parents, grand-parents and great-grandparents lived. war is not some remote, abstract event. it is personal, harrowing, and changes you forever. ask any vet.
i hope that all the links i include in my articles are informative or illuminating for my readers. please check out the link from bill. it tells a story that is timeless.
i want to take a moment, amid the glitz of (i HATE this aspect of capitalism) predatory store sales, as well as relaxing picnics, to note the original, oft-forgotten intent of setting aside memorial day -- as a token of remembrance for those who have died in the militaary service of our country. there remain those among us who visit a cemetary to spend a few moments with the fallen, or who fly american flags at half-mast. most of us take the day for granted as a paid holiday.
but for many of us, memorial day, like veterans day, carries a deep, sorrowful, personal meaning. quietly and in private, military veterans who've been to war and the families of service men and women who've been struck down, remember their loved ones. i've described in past entries my own time in vietnam, and the men i knew who died there, or who returned home to a hostile nation, unthanked, unappreciated, in terrible lifelong pain. just as with physical wounds or the carcinogenic effects of exposure to agent orange, PTSD is no joke.
so i ask you, please, take a few moments to think about those who are no longer with us, and if you see a vet, please say "thank you." it will mean a lot.
it seems fitting to follow up the previous entry's description of a motorcycle accident with Son of Motorcycle Accident. and guess what -- different city, but nearly the identical scenario. recall that the first time, i was on my silver wing, obeying all laws on a busy traffic artery, and a little old lady in a big ol' cadillac made an illegal left turn across my path, striking my bike. that was in september, 1985.
my bike was damaged but latter repaired, minus the shattered saddlebags, alas. time passed, i met my third life partner, and followed her career around the country. from tucson, arizona, we spent a year in charleston, south carolina (just in time for hurricane hugo), then moved to philadelphia in the summer of 1990. on 30 october (i recall the date because i was looking forward to greeting trick-or-treaters the next night), i was riding my bike to a job interview. and wouldn't you know, a little old lady in a big ol' oldsmobile made an illegal left turn across my path. only this time she beat me to the point of impact, so my front wheel struck her front bumper. it was deja vu all over again. my bike was sent skidding to the curb by the force of impact (across two lanes), and i was sent somersaulting through the air, landing on the sidewalk twenty feet beyond my bike, again on my back. this time i was unconscious longer. when i came to, i couldn't move my neck, and thought "oh sh--, it's broken." at long last an ambulance arrived, and they strapped me to a wooden backboard, thence onto a gurney, thence into the waiting vehicle. the ride was agony.
i spent eight eternal hours on that backboard in the ER, still with my full-face helmet on. the pain all along my spine from the weight of my body on the backboard had me nearly screaming. meds were forbidden until they knew what was up with the spinal cord. xrays, MRI, and at last, sweet blessed morphine. heaven.
long story short, i had a fractured left clavicle (collarbone), a separated left shoulder, and another concussion. my medical care was quite incompetent. the clavicle was left to mend on its own, rather than insert pins to align it properly. i wore my left arm in a sling 24/7 (except in the shower) to support the left shoulder while it healed. astonishingly, while still in the sling, i was hired as a teacher and counselor at a small private residential school whose students were all SED (severely emotionally disturbed) adolescents, removed from their families by the courts for reasons of physical, emotional and sexual abuse. visually i was a sorry picture, so i'm grateful to the school's director for looking past that to my education and experience, and deciding i was a good hire.
and i was. i taught basic math, algebra, geometry, biology, and environmental studies (the last was a course which they allowed me to create from scratch, which was nothing short of grand). the student population was coed, 20 boys and 40 girls, all living in cottages on campus. the grounds had once been a posh estate, so we had large expanses of lawn and trees, a swimming pool, an infirmary, a gym, cafeteria, and a staff of six master's level therapists. there were seven teachers and a varying number of aides in the school, so the average class size was 12-15, a ratio which public school teachers would kill for. but we had our hands full, since our kids were all struggling mightily with intense emotional issues, and many of them were on psychotropic meds. i didn't even bother with lesson plans, since any given class was guaranteed to be disrupted by arguments or violence. passive physical restraints and isolated counseling were a daily occurrence.
and it was one of the most rewarding jobs i've ever had. we had our students for an average of one to two years each, lots of time to develop trust, rapport, and make a positive difference in many (not all) young lives. i miss working there.
so not all accident or disability stories have tragic endings. but i will say this -- my left shoulder rides lower than my right to this day, and gives me occasional pain. and remember that full-face helmet? the chin portion was cracked clear through. if i hadn't been wearing it, imagine what would have happened to my face.
oh yeah. after i'd begun healing, my partner laid down the law -- "the motorcycle goes, or i do." she was so afraid when she got the call from the ER, and (legitimately) never wanted to go through that panic again. i know a number of hard-core bikers who, at this point in the story, would say, "you know, i'll really miss that woman." not me. i knew what a treasure i had in her, and later sold the bike for scrap.
eventually our travels took us to vancouver, washington, and johnson city, tennessee, where after five years the relationship came apart, for reasons which are between her and me. i'm now back in montana. would i buy a motorcycle again? yes. probably a BMW touring bike. doesn't mean that i take two-wheeled safety for granted. car and truck drivers plain do not see (because they fail to train themselves to see) smaller objects on the road like motorcycles and bicycles. i'm in no hurry to reenter that danger zone.
but i do miss the freedom, the transcendent open-to-the-sky freedom, of motorcycles. perhaps that's why i'm more focused on becoming a pilot, where safety is much more manageable. but that's another story for another time.
in a previous entry, i described my experience being blind. a few years after that, i learned what life is like for those bound to a wheelchair.
in 1984 i bought a brand new, '82 honda silver wing -- a touring bike, complete with full fairing, hard saddlebags, and a hard trunk that was interchangeable with a passenger seat. it was the last year in which silver wings were made with a 500cc engine -- after that they stepped up to a 650. more recently the bike has been redesigned to resemble the body style of an overgrown vespa scooter, which is just a crime.
but back in the day, i loved that bike. i was a university student at the time, and had no car. but in tucson, arizona, a motorcycle is usable year round, so i didn't need four wheels. i could go anywhere in town and be guaranteed of finding a space small enough to park my bike. and out of town, what a dream to go swooping and gliding on the curving desert highways around and through the mountains surrounding the city, with no metal envelope barring my senses from the sky, the air, the desert. and on a motorcycle, as on a bicycle, you lean into turns, making riding a three-dimensional experience. sweet.
however, a year later on my way to an evening class on campus, as i approached a busy intersection, a little old lady in a big ol' cadillac in the oncoming lane made a left turn, directly into my path. with no time to stop, i tried to get past the impact point first. another tenth of a second and i would have made it. but her front bumper clipped my bike's rear, sending me careening toward the opposite curb. when my front wheel struck the curb, the bike came to an instant halt and i was sent flying forward, somehow sommersaulting through the air, threading neatly between power poles and sign posts, and landing on my back with my head toward the street. i was knocked unconscious for a minute or so. when i came to, i couldn't move my legs. a passerby stopped and knelt beside me, told me she was a nurse, and she would stay with me until the ambulance arrived. an angel. the other driver just kept going, oblivious until someone stopped her and told her she'd hit someone. she was cited for failure to yield to oncoming traffic.
which didn't help me -- after several hours in the ER, xrays, a sadistic nurse's aide with a brillo pad scrubbing the embedded tar from my knees, and being mostly ignored, it was determined that i had multiple abrasions (road rash) and two severely sprained ankles (also probably a mild concussion, though that wasn't spelled out). two dear friends helped me home, and i spent the next two months progressing from being bed-ridden, to being in a wheelchair, to crutches, to a cane, and finally to being ambulatory again.
it was the wheelchair experience that was most enlightening. just learning to maneuver around one's own home, from bed to bathroom to kitchen, takes some doing. but many people have mastered that, and so did i. what came as a shock was getting around out in public. the first obvious issue is physical access to buildings via ramps and elevators. okay, a pain but not insuperable. the schock came when i realized that people were deliberately avoiding looking at me. i was still me, but they were seeing a cripple in a wheelchair, and their shallow discomfort wouldn't allow them to interact with me as one human to another. they looked over my head as though i wasn't there, even in cramped quarters. i'd become invisible.
this has a deeply demoralizing, dehumanizing effect, especially when you already feel isolated, your normal mobility disrupted, every routine translated to an act of will.
i was lucky, on so many levels. i could have been killed. i could have been permanently paralyzed, or brain damaged (though some might argue that in fact i was). my time as a disabled person lasted only two months. but it was a window into the lives of all the unseen people around us who live their lives in wheelchairs. my own experience, and becoming friends with passengers in wheelchairs during a job driving paratransit vans, taught me that people with disabilities are among the most resourceful and resilient on the planet.
now when i meet someone in a chair, i make eye contact and greet them with understanding. i hope that you, gentle reader, will do the same. i've been there, and know what a difference it makes when someone reaches out.
today marks the birthday in 1925 (the same year my dad was born) of malcolm little in omaha, nebraska. he would later in life be known to the world as malcolm x, an outspoken human rights activist and muslim minister. malcolm was assassinated in 1965 by thugs working for elijah muhammad, founder of the nation of islam, the organization malcolm repudiated after being one of its shining lights for years.
malcolm's life could easily have been unremarkable. in his youth, he was drawn into the only life available to so many young black men, crime. but his was a questing intellect, and while in prison he converted to islam, eventually becoming a leader who was perceived by the white establishment as being radical and dangerous. in truth, as described in alexander haley's The Autobiography of Malcolm X, and also in spike lee's film Malcolm X, malcolm went through a dramatic evolution in his thinking. once thought to be the antithesis of pacifist civil rights leader dr. martin luther king, jr., the two men grew to be two sides of the same coin -- impassioned advocates for recognition of the rights and inherent human dignity of all people, including those of color.
it is tragic that both men were assassinated in their prime, before even reaching their full potential as thinkers and leaders. dr. king would have turned 80 this year, and malcolm x would have turned 84.
one fine day, when my son was three, he and i were wrestling and tickling on the bed. there came a moment when his arm swept past my face, and one of his fingernails happened to slash across the cornea of my left eye. INSTANT blinding pain. for several hours i was in denial, during which time it felt like there was red-hot sand beneath my eyelid. [i should mention that my left eye is the one with the best corrected vision -- i'm nearsighted in it, and farsighted in my right eye.] at last, we decided to get me to an ophthamologist, 30 miles away over rocky, rutted country roads, every bump a stab of searing pain.
it turned out that the cornea was lacerated. i had to keep it medicated with a thick, gooey ointment, and keep both eyes covered for a month, to immobilize them as much as possible. so i spent that time functionally blind.
it was, metaphorically, an eye-opening experience. i learned to navigate around the house and the yard by feel and sound and even smell. it is true that one's other senses become sharpened to compensate for the impairment. over time, i was able to feel the subtle changes in air currents across my skin, when i slowly drew close to a wall. i noticed distant bird calls, the movement of small animals through the grass, the breathing of the wind. listening to classical music, i heard the interweaving of orchestral voices with a complexity and fullness i'd missed before.
mealtime was an adventure. it's tricky figuring out where the food is, without feeling for it with your fingers, much less getting bite-size portions into your mouth.
on the day the pads and blindfold came off, once my eyes learned to focus again, i marvelled at the wash of colors and visual textures in our world, things we take for granted.
once i was a blind man. and while blind, i learned to see.
on 18 may 1980 i was caretaker at Canelo Hills Cienega, a nature preserve owned by The Nature Conservancy. "canelo" is spanish for cinnamon, the color of the soil in the juniper-oak woodland, and "cienega" is spanish for marsh. permanent streams and upland marshes were historically common in the grasslands bordering the sonoran desert, until overgrazing by spanish cattle, later mexican cattle, later american cattle, removed the ground cover sufficiently to allow soil erosion and a lowering of the water table. Canelo Hills is a relict habitat, an oasis for scores of migratory bird species, and home to many rare or endangered plants, reptiles, fish and animals.
we (my then-wife, my toddler son and i) lived in the historic two-story adobe ranchhouse on the property. the adobe walls were two feet thick, affording fine insulation in all seasons. there was also an adobe bunkhouse (which we restored to include a visitor center, guest room, storeroom, and stained glass studio), and an adobe barn nearby.
in may, morning in southern arizona is already a scorcher, even though our temps were ten degrees farenheit lower than tucson, 65 miles to the northwest. i was in the small kitchen when the news came over the tv -- mt. st. helens in southwest washington had erupted. st. helens was one of dozens of usually-dormant volcanos in the pacific ring of fire. the spectacle of its eruption, triggered by a 5.1 earthquake, was caught by chance on film, and replayed for days. the blast cause a massive landslide down the north face of the mountain, preceded by hurricane-force winds which leveled the surrounding forest. the ensuing, monumental ash cloud disrupted life across much of the pacific northwest and the northern great plains.
many thanks to my old friend lou in tucson for the following links. lou is an instrument fabricator at the prestigious national observatory complex at kitt peak. he thoughtfully provided links to a set of real-time webcams at the observatory, 55 miles southwest of tucson.
here is a link to the webcam page, and here is a link to the live weather readouts on site.
recently i wrote a somewhat lengthy entry recommending craig m. mullaney's book "The Unforgiving Minute", describing his army training at west point, airborne school, ranger school, his education at oxford, and his deployment to afghanistan as a platoon leader. in an article in vanity fair, craig describes attending his younger brother's graduation from ranger school, and a core lesson that he took from that experience -- something that applies to military officers, political leaders, parents, and anyone else in a position of power or influence.
in a nutshell, when things get tougher than you think you can survive, F*** SELF-PITY, IT'S NOT ABOUT YOU. you are there to serve, educate, nurture and protect your soldiers, your constituents, your children, your employees, not the other way around. the office of the president of the united states, for example, should not be occupied by someone who feels the need to be worshipped and obeyed at all costs. he/she is, above all else, merely the first citizen. he/she leads from the front, not from the rear. harry truman got it. jimmy carter got it. i believe that barack obama gets it. time will tell.
specifically, the debate over waterboarding -- is it torture, or is it simply scaring prisoners into talking? according to malcolm nance, who trained soldiers and marines to withstand waterboarding and other hostile interrogation techniques, waterboarding is indisputably torture. he testified to that effect in congressional hearings. yet right wing pundits like rush limbaugh and sean hannity persist in defending the practice. recently hannity made the mistake of volunteering to be waterboarded, which rival commentor keith olbermann pounced upon, offering hannity $1000 to be donated to the families of u.s. troops for every MINUTE that hannity withstood the torture. to date, hannity has been ear-splitting in his silence.
i regard hannity, limbaugh and former vice president dick cheney to be black-hearted cowards, fomenting terror among the american public in place of rational discourse. they appeal to fear, racism and hatred, and are paid handsomely for doing so -- hundreds of millions of dollars each. this is a scandal from which we will be a long time healing.
former minnesota governor jesse ventura, a vietnam-era navy SEAL who underwent waterboarding as part of his training, shares my view. in his words, "it's a good thing i'm not president because i would prosecute every person that was involved in that torture. i would prosecute the people that did it. i would prosecute the people that ordered it. it is against the law....waterboarding is drowning. it gives you the complete sensation that you are drowning. it is not good, because you -- i'll put it to you this way, give me a water board, dick cheney and one hour, and i'll have him confess to the sharon tate murders....if it's done wrong, you could certainly drown. you could swallow your tongue. you could do a whole bunch of stuff....it's torture."
on a lighter note, here is a link to the pointed, controversial and mostly hilarious comments of comedian/actress wanda sykes, at the white house correspondents' association dinner last saturday night. the event is a roast, with speakers poking fun at those in the public eye. whether or not you agree with all of her views, she has a first amendment right to free speech, and she's telling it like she sees it. (be sure to click on the video clip.) just like eartha kitt got in trouble for doing, during the LBJ years. some people just can't take having a light shone on their hypocrisy, i guess.
this morning on NPR, i heard an interview with the son of a man who served in WWII. the father was captured by the japanese in the philippines, and as a POW was tortured mercilessly. the experience left emotional scars which the father bore for many years. yet, according to his son, the father always expressed pride and honor in being an american, since "in this country, we would never torture prisoners". the son said he was glad that his father did not survive to witness the brutal and illegal excesses of the bush-cheney years, in particular the establishment of abu grahib and guantanamo as centers for torture.
thank goodness we now have a president, barack obama, who is a constitutional scholar and understands that laws are in place to protect and serve, not merely to persecute and imprison. so far i do have a handful of things i would do differently from obama, the head of the list being to indict and bring to trial ALL those people (whether in government, on wall street, in corporate offices, or in the military) who participated in the financial excesses and political malfeasances of the bush-cheney administration. the possession of wealth and power bring responsibility, not entitlement to lie, steal, wage an insupportable war, and then cover up the evidence.
more on my few (so far) additional differences from obama in a future entry. but on balance, i think he is the best thing to happen to this country in many decades. he has been remarkably consistent with the ideals expressed in his book, The Audacity of Hope. and has revived cautious hope among the citizenry as a result. given the train wreck that his presidency inherited from bush, that in itself is a small miracle.
traditionally, a totem animal is an entity which watches over or assists a group of people, such as a clan, family or tribe. although i am non-religious, a part of me resonates to the concept of animism, in which spirits or souls reside not only in humans, but also in animals, plants, rivers, mountains, and other entities in the natural world.
more recently, individuals have adopted one or more totem creatures as their own spirit guides. a disclaimer -- i do not subscribe to most new age "spirituality", finding it to be mostly smoke and mirrors designed to enrich a few individuals at the expense of the gullible or emotionally needy. even so, i pay attention to those people, animals and plants which draw me to them, for whatever reason -- aesthetics, perceived positive qualities, or personal values. here is a representative sampling of my totem creatures.
at the brilliant webcomic xkcd, last week we saw a heart-stopping (sorta), clever send-up of captain mal reynolds, aka actor nathan fillion, from the tv series "firefly" and the movie "serenity". you'll pick up on character and dialogue references if you've seen either. if you have seen neither, you are missing out.here are the links to each installment:
if there are no atheists in foxholes, does that mean there are no foxes in atheist holes, as well? or does it simply imply that foxes are intolerant? perhaps foxes are buddhists, and extremely private about their religion? the debate rages on at "get fuzzy".....see the 10 may 2009 installment. Ommmmmm.
speaking of debates, here's where i stand vis-a-vis the second amendment -- support your right to arm bears! and all other animals that humans shoot at. it seems only sporting.
a most happy mothers day to all who are mothers, to all who will become mothers, to all who have mothers, to all who are the partners of mothers, and most especially to my mother. she taught me, by word and by example, the meaning of integrity, of discretion, of honesty, of rigorous discipline, of racial tolerance, of sentimentality, of selfless love, and of generous laughter. thanks, mom. you are my shining star.
i just finished watching a WWII movie like none i've ever seen. based on the book by james mcbride, "Miracle At St. Anna" tells the story of four black american soldiers (from the all-black 92nd infantry division, a unit descended from the buffalo soldiers of the 1800s) caught behind german lines in italy. they seek refuge in an italian village which supports anti-fascist partisans.
on one level, the movie captures what it was like to be a black man in the then-segregated army of WWII. it is a valuable window, alongside movies such as "The Tuskegee Airmen" and "A Soldier's Story". but beyond race, beyond war, the film reveals complex layers dealing with cruelty, heroism, passion, betrayal and love.
under the sure hand of one of my all-time favorite directors, spike lee, this movie siezed both my imagination and my heart. at the end, i cried and cried....
i just returned from seeing the 2009 version of the venerable tv series and movie franchise -- and if i had ten thumbs, they would all be pointed up. the new film is the most engaging of the lot. the screenplay is quick and grounded in real science. the cast play their roles not just as copycats of the original characters, but with their own distinctive imprint. it is a revelation to see characters we knew to be adults, introduced as much younger characters. like meeting the youth who was you. the plot is original and compelling, aided by top-notch special effects and fearless directing. my recommendation -- do not miss this movie on the big screen. the spectacle is well worth the price of admission, with plot twists and revelations which cannot be antipated, alongside clever references to the signature dialogue and relationships in earlier presentations. hopefully this film, far from being the 11th in a tiring series, will be the flagship of an entirely new generation of adventures...here's to the USS Enterprise and her crew...long may they sail.
yes it's true, the venerable, ofttimes creaking film franchise based on the 60s cult classic tv series which brought us the over-acting of william shatner as captain kirk, and the pitch-perfect restraint of leonard nimoy as the vulcan spock, has returned. the latest film opens today, and it promises to recapture the originality and gee-whiz factor that have been so sporadic. i'll be there....
this particular wave won't drown you, so much as enchant you. the wind-and-water-eroded sandstone layers of paria canyon, laid down over geologic time as successive seas deposited silt, dried up, and then reformed, ultimately leaving behind an arid chronostratigraphic wonderland. just please, do not get caught down there during the monsoon season. flash floods come ripping down faster than a horse can run, and when that moving wall of roiling water hits you, you will perish. [note size of people in photo below, and you'll see what i mean.]
no, gentle reader, the fifth of may is not mexico's independence day -- that falls on 16 september. cinco de mayo commemorates the mexican army's unlikely defeat of the much larger and better-equipped french army at the battle of puebla on this date in 1862. in mexico it is more a regional than a national holiday. however, both in mexico and in other countries, the date has become a celebration of mexican heritage and pride.
i lived for twenty years in southern arizona, and very much miss the latino flavor of language there. each time i return, i love hearing spanish spoken casually (though to my discredit my own fluency is mediocre at best), and i love the blending of cultures. this has been my experience each time i've moved to a different part of the country -- new traditions, new regional dialects, new friends, and if i'm lucky, new lovers as well. the world is rich and varied, and the more we travel, the more complete we become. it is analogous to the notion that complex ideas require a complex vocabulary. in this case, the complex vocabulary of human contact, the exchange of ideas and beliefs, can only enrich our lives, que no? feliz cinco de mayo!!
i noticed on the 27 april post at schott's vocabulary a reference to "climigration", i.e. migration forced by climate change. this forced relocation could be occasioned by a rise in sea level in coastal or riparian regions, by draught in the desert, by the loss of permafrost in the sub-arctic, by any number of environmental shifts which are breathing down our necks.
it got me thinking about where i might move if i had to, or chose to. there are lots of places i've lived and visited, and many to which i would love to return. tucson, arizona. santa fe, new mexico. portland, oregon. charleston, south carolina. monterey, california. anchorage, alaska. to name a few. each has its inherent attractions, and each has its disadvantages.
well, to avoid flooding, one would have to be living at an elevation safe from rising river or sea levels. to avoid drought, one would choose a place with a balance between rainfall and sun. and then we throw in my life-long quest for the perfect balance between access to culture, and access to nature. still looking for that one.
i am open to -- and encourage -- suggestions......