Month: June 2015

A SYMBOL OF HOPE? OR A REMINDER OF SHAME?

My wife and I were in the mountains a couple weekends ago.  On Saturday, we drove to Sylvan Lake State Park, just south of I-70 at the Eagle exit and one of the crown jewels of our state park system.  The trail around the lake is an easy walk and I enjoyed asking the many fisher folk along the banks and in their canoes “How many have you caught?”  The usual answer was “None”, despite the lake being generously stocked with trout.

As we neared the end of our circuit, I asked a Dad who was patiently helping his little kids with their fishing tackle, how many they had.  “None,” he replied, “but I have three little kids.”  Enough said.

I moved on to talk with the mother who was helping another of the children.

But just as I began, something caught my eye.  Not more than a 100 yards away, two Bald Eagles were slowly descending to the surface of the lake.  Almost before I could blurt out, “Hey, there are some Bald Eagles!”, one of them had landed on the lake for the briefest moment and then taken off again.  As they did so, they turned 180 degrees and flew right over us, low and clear.  Just visible behind the bird’s magnificent white head, was a fish, still struggling to get free.

I guess not all of Sylvan Lake’s anglers got skunked that day.

What more can one add to what has already been said about the Bald Eagles as our nation’s emblem, a symbol of hope and pride?  Probably not much.  Except, perhaps, to take issue with what Benjamin Franklin said when told that the Bald Eagle was going to be on the nation’s Great Seal.  He disapproved because the great bird, allegedly, “does not get his living honestly” and steals his food from other birds that do.

I hesitate to argue with the “sage of America“.  But Ben Franklin didn’t see what I saw the other day at Sylvan Lake.

And, in fact, the more pertinent issue may be just the reverse: has America so lost her way that she is no longer worthy of her grand national emblem? Consider:

  • Ignoring George Washington’s warning in his Farewell Address,  we are bogged down in endless, costly and bloody foreign wars.   That have earned us the enmity of much of the world-without adding materially to our national security.
  • Despite spending more on defense than the combined expenditures of the next seven countries, we haven’t won a war since WWII.
  • We have done a great job of enriching the Military Industrial Complex that President Eisenhower cautioned us against.  And, in the process, done a no less admirable job of causing the national debt to explode.
  • According to a listing of the US State Department, we have promised to go to war to defend more than 54 countries in remote corners of the globe:  Iraq, the Ukraine, South Korea, Yemen, Israel, Japan, etcetera, ad nauseum, and ad infinitum.
  • Which nations, in most cases, are perfectly content to play the part of defense Welfare Queens to America’s defense Sugar Daddy.  And, unsurprisingly, when the chips are down, seem just as likely to cut and run as defend their own countries.

And, to make matters worse, when it comes to our own national interests and borders, we act like there’s a Sugar Daddy out there who will bail us out.  There isn’t.  Instead, paralyzed by the fear of offending the political correctness and diversity gods, we don’t have the nerve to defend our own southern border from a relentless invasion.  Which, as Ann Coulter unflinchingly points out in her book, Adios, America!, will turn our country into a “Third World Hellhole” unless halted.

In the world of “legal eagles,” a common compensation system is know as “Eat What You Kill.”  In other words, each partner keeps the revenue he is responsible for generating, after subtracting shared expenses.  While I don’t claim to be an ornithologist, from what I saw of our national emblem the other day, Benjamin Franklin was wrong.  The Bald Eagles I saw were engaged in a form of “Eat What You Kill.”  They swooped down and snatched their own meal from Sylvan Lake.

But the fact that they were stealthy, skillful and aggressive, doesn’t mean that they were meddling in what didn’t concern them.  And picking fights, spilling American blood and treasure, to satisfy ancient and outmoded treaty obligations.  The Bald Eagles I saw were tending to their own knitting, protecting what was rightfully theirs.  Not picking fights where they were neither wanted or needed.

America could take a lesson from its national emblem.

 

 

Oxymorons

Jumbo shrimp.  Sweet sorrow.  Open secret.  Seriously funny.  Liquid gas.  Recreation industry.

My wife and I were in Vail over the weekend.  Something called the “GoPro Mountain Games” was packing them in.  “GoPro Heros” are those small video cameras that some folks attach to their ski helmets, four wheelers, or kayaks to record in, numbing and disorienting detail their self-proclaimed “heroic” antics and exploits.

The modern version, in other words, of those equally numbing and jittery 16 mm home movies that our folks used to make about summer vacations.  And then punish friends and family by making them watch them.  Before, mercifully, consigning them to some dusty box in the attic.  Where they stayed until they were rooted out decades later and shown to howling family members as they recovered from a turkey induced coma after Thanksgiving dinner.

At least, that’s how we sometimes do things at our house.

The GoPro Mountain Games or, for that matter almost any other aspect of the “recreation industry” is, when you think about it, a seriously funny notion.  As if there were such a thing as “industrialized recreation”.

Which, in reality, there is.  It’s called skiing.  Think about it; I did the last time I sat on a lift contemplating the scene in my curmudgeonly way.  The skier “bolts” on his equipment-skiis, boots, poles, helmet, goggles, etc.  The “product”-the skier-is then put on the “assembly line”-the lift (for which privilege you pay a pretty penny).  Which deposits the product at the other end of the assembly line-the top of the run.  Where, if you are like the great majority of us skiers, you pay even more over a period of years to have assembly line workers-ski instructors-make the product fit to go down ever steeper assembly lines, the ski run, at ever higher rates of speed.

Call me crazy, but I don’t think the comparison with Henry Ford’s assembly line and Detroit-before that now benighted city became the Mogadishu of the West-is entirely inapt.

“Extreme sports” are even more bizarre-and scarcely less industrialized.  Base jumping, solo free climbing, motocross. The deaths and maimings these “recreational” activities generate remind one of the scene in “Gone with the Wind” where Southerners are bemoaning the casualty lists from a “little town in Pensylvania called Gettysburg.”  At least in war you can occasionally, even if not often, plausibly claim that the sacrifice is for a higher purpose.   But where’s the “higher purpose” in a sport where, if you slip up, the almost certain consequence is death?  It seems more like another oxymoron to me:  self-destructive narcissism.

So what should recreation look like?  A good question. And not one susceptible to a glib answer.  Especially in an age where work  has, in so many cases, become so utterly deracinated from its historic connection to physical activity.   Rodeos were a natural recreational outgrowth of ranching.  But what is the recreational corollary of sitting in front of a computer screen all day?  Computer games? I suppose so.  But a virtual reality seems a pale substitute for the real thing.  At least to this old curmudgeon.

Perhaps it would be helpful to go back to basics.  The Latin root meaning of “recreation” suggests rest and renewal: “to create anew, restore, refresh.”  The virtual polar opposite of “industry“: “the habit of working hard and steadily”.  And, even more alien still to the notion of renewal and restoration, is the industrial ideal of how many people can you pay the least amount possible to make your particular segment of the recreation industry as profitable as possible to you and your shareholders.  A notion that most, I hope, would find entirely foreign and offensive to the idea of “recreation”.

But, that being said, my real issue is not so much that we may have to “work” at our recreation.  It does, after all, require a concerted effort to shut out all the distractions of our hyper active lives.  On a regular basis, I participate in silent weekend retreats at the Sacred Heart Retreat House in Sedalia.  A wonderful place to get away and refresh-I highly recommend it.  But is does take an effort.  And the Jesuit retreat masters there, like the ski instructors in Vail, turn out a “product”:  in one case satisfied retreatants and, in the other, satisfied skiers.

In the end, however, while I am willing to concede that there are similarities between the types of “re-creation” that goes on in Vail and that which occurs at the Retreat House, they aren’t the same.  Recreation, rightly conceived, is not an industry.  And it has every right to claim a special, more sacred place in our lives.

 

 

 

 

Creating my own blog site

For a guy nearly eligible for Social Security, this is pretty techie stuff! At least my daughter was impressed-who, for this kind of thing, relies almost entirely on her VERY techie husband.

Why “Formerly Honorable”?

I was at the dentist’s getting my teeth cleaned today.  As is the customary practice in such circumstances, the pleasant young hygienist asked me a question that I couldn’t answer til I had finished swishing out my mouth and she had sucked the fluid away with the little straw.

“Are you still in the legislature?”

“No,” I replied, flat on my back, peering through the protective dark glasses, “I was term limited out of office last January.” Before she plunged her hands back in my mouth, I managed to get out, “You can now call me the ‘formerly honorable'”.

She chuckled.  “So you haven’t done anything wrong? But what did you think of your time down at the Capital?  Was there anything in particular you were able to accomplish?”

My answer, while necessarily abbreviated, was the one I usually give:  it was a great 8 year run. I wouldn’t have missed it.  But I was also ready to move on; I’ve gone back to my insurance business and we have a wonderful new grand daughter (our first) who lives just down the road.  Did I achieve anything of particular note?  I bobbed and weaved:  I was only one of 100 Colorado legislators.  But I met a bunch of wonderful people; it’s almost impossible not to when you have spent countless hours during four campaigns knocking on countless doors talking to countless constituents.

So the plan is that this blog will play some part in the next stage of this “formerly honorable” politician’s life.  Give me a platform to comment, occasionally, on those things that I think need commenting on.  Maybe even on the hygienist herself; a bright, lovely young woman three years married who, when I ventured that her parents would probably like to see grandkids of their own replied, “We like our life as it is.  And we like our dogs.”

Go figure.  And stay tuned.

Little Britches

Ralph Moody, the author of the Little Britches series of memoirs/novels, is Colorado’s memoirist/novelist laureate.  Think I’m  exaggerating?  Check him out.  In a Colorado that seems increasingly like a state seized with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, Moody’s gently riveting stories come from a different time.  But not a different place-even though Moody might have a hard time recognizing them after the passage of more than a 100 years.  Moody’s south Denver environs was ranches, small farms, narrow gauge railroads, and cattle drives.  Not housing developments, mega-malls, and golf courses.

I first read the books growing up as a kid living in south-east Denver in the 1950’s.  It was a time when on a summer afternoon my friends and I could walk the few blocks from home at 1st and Holly to the gravel road on the north bank of the Cherry Creek-and know that we had gone from the city to the country.  And, a few years later, drive to just east of Cherry Creek Reservoir with my Dad and brother and go dove hunting with out bothering a soul.

So picking up the first book in the series as a grade schooler and reading about the hard scrabble life of dry land farmer near Littleton regularly sparked satisfying flashes of recognition of names and places I knew. But, more importantly, the sometimes hilarious, sometimes harrowing adventures of an ingenious, hard working boy about my own age was more than enough- to keep me turning the pages.  That the book was beautifully written as well probably went right over my head.  But taken together, it went down like a frosty glass of lemonade on a blazing summer afternoon when I had only half finished cutting the lawn with our balky push mower.

With titles like, “Little Britches”, (who remembers the Little Britches rodeo?) “Man of the Family”, and “The Fields of Home”, the series goes on for a total of eight books.  I read most of them when I was a kid.  But not all.  That may  have been because Moody hadn’t finished writing them at that time (he would have been about 60 in the late ’50’s) or because (I hope not) I had put “childish things behind me.”  While children can, and should, delight in a writer of Moody’s caliber, adults should as well.  Unless their tastes have been so corrupted that if they “didn’t have bad taste, they wouldn’t have no taste at all.”

I never forgot Little Britches.  But I didn’t come back to it until I had three children of my own-all boys except two girls.  I remember the night distinctly.  I gathered Byron, about 12 or 13, Lauren, a couple of years younger, and Jocelyn, two years younger still, in Lauren’s room.  And began reading.  Within the first few pages, this lyrical passage, redolent with memories of my Denver childhood appeared:

“We could see our new house from a couple of miles away.  We knew it must be ours because, cousin Phil had told us it was three and a half miles west of Fort Logan-the first house on the Morrison wagon road.  From the hill beyond the Fort, it looked like a little doll house sitting on the edge of a great big table, with a brown table cloth smoothed out flat all around it. . . Away toward the south there were brown rolling hills, as though the table cloth had been wrinkled a little.  And not far beyond it, toward the west, the hogbacks rose like big golden-brown loaves of bread sitting on the table.  High above them the snowcaps of the Rockies glistened in the afternoon sunlight.”

To my dismay, only Lauren stuck with it after that first night.  I suppose that Byron, already a voracious speed reader with eclectic tastes even then bending toward sic-fi, found that the pace was too slow.  Not quite sure about Jocelyn, but a story about ranch life at a 100 year remove-even a ranch no more than a dozen miles from our home-was probably a bridge too far for a third grade girl.  (I am pleased, however, to be able to report that Jocelyn and I read other stories together.)

Lauren and I, however, spent bedtimes for the next two to three years, heads propped on pillows, making our way through the Moody canon.  Many nights, she was asleep by the time I finished reading, gave her a kiss, turned out the light, and shut the door.  Occasionally, but not often, I had to work to persuade her to stick with it.  Her greatest fear, as we drew near the end of the series, was that I would tell her friends that her father was still reading bedtime stories to a seventh or eighth grade girl.  I had to swear myself to secrecy.  I trust that even if I have now violated that oath, the daughter who has now made me a doting grandfather, will be easy on me.

Within the last year, I went back and read the Little Britches books yet again.  They still went down easy.  Are they literary masterpieces?  You be the judge.  But I challenge anyone to show me something by a Colorado author that’s in the same league.  And don’t give me any non-sense that these are “kids books”.  So is “Tom Sawyer” and “Huckleberry Finn”.

Also within the last year, I read George Elliot’s “Middlemarch”.  Considered perhaps the greatest Victorian novel, Middlemarch is a story of English country life.  Somewhere along the way I also came across “My Life in Middlemarch” by Rebecca Mead, an English transplant who now lives in New York and writes for the New York Times.   Mead so admires Elliot’s book, that she produced what is termed a bibliomemoire-which Joyce Carol Oates defines as “a subspecies of literature combining criticism and biography with the intimate, confessional tone of autobiography.”

Is a bibliomemoire based on “Little Britches” in store for me?  Who knows.  My daughter Lauren already thinks I’m obsessed with the books.  But maybe obsession is precisely what is required for such an undertaking.