I was sad that day
August 27, 2012
It was about four weeks ago. A beautiful day. I camped with my son at a high mountain lake, after a hike the day before that tested my knees and stamina. The morning brought glittering spider webs, round and symmetric, new as the first rays of sun that illuminated their wonder. Why did a spider make them so beautiful, their rungs so perfectly even, the concentric circles almost exact enough to have required a compass to trace them? An osprey glided over the lake, its chirping call common to most Americans, except in this mountain haven. An osprey at 9500 feet. Cool!
Golden fish with blood red lower jaws cruised the shallows, searching for breakfast—greenback cutthroat trout, nervous at any moving shadow, instinctively aware of osprey, or other predators. That would be me, a fly fisherman. I caught a few, hungry gulpers that pounced on the fly the instant it hit the water. Quick release and back they cruised, wiser to subsequent flies, but still strong, vibrant in color, an integral part of the beauty. High mountain peaks surrounded me, a few white valleys only small remnants of glaciers of old, before the world warmed. Glacier melt cascaded in rivulets down the mountain cliffs, filling the lake, gaining in strength down the valley, and finally quenching our thirst in the Front Range. 85% of the water we get comes from the mountain runoff.
At that thought, I was sad. The Cache la Poudre River was clean until the High Park Fire seared and glazed the earth so that water no longer seeped in, but flooded into the Cache la Poudre River, making it as black as soot. What caused the fires? Maybe it was too hot with too little rain for too long. Ya think?
Up here, miles from the High Park Fire, half the pine trees are rust-colored, dead to a beetle that is another harbinger of warming; not cold enough in winter now to kill them, so they kill the forest.
I was sad because my son who loves this wilderness as much as any, may never have his own children see these things. If the globe keeps warming, the snow will melt sooner, more fires will engulf the beetle-killed forests and the beauty, the world I’ve known, will be gone. Another fire may make all the biggest ones in the past piddling things. We could lose the fish, the moose and the coyotes.
All because humans, that would be us, must have energy to build, to drive, to heat, to seemingly survive in this twenty-first century. Yet, my son and I camped without electricity, without heat or AC, and still lived, though much more simply for a few days.
It was beautiful but I could not wait to drive my car as quickly as possible down the valley next to that glacier-fed river to get back to my comfortable bed, to be cooled by AC and enthralled by a movie on TV. That weekend I cut my lawn with a power mower. This winter I will stay comfortable, heating my home enough to roam the rooms in shirt sleeves.
Can we actually live well for more than a few days without all these things we deem necessary?
For my sons, daughters, and grandson’s sake I hope so. All those working on solar power, wind power, cars that run on natural gas or anything that leaves little carbon dioxide behind, keep trying. It’s worth it. I don’t really want a terrorist to make it happen like in Dan’s War. But if we keep it up, it could.
July 31, 2012
So here we are, summer winding down on the Front Range, cone flowers peaked,
wildflowers in the mountains a memory, and I’m coming to our 40-year Arapahoe High School reunion. Back then we’d come off a state championship in football in 1970. Unfortunately, we were far from state in the ’71 season—don’t I know. The summer of ’72 cruised in. Mark Spitz won a record seven gold medals at the summer Olympics. Then he was asked to leave the Olympics early because he was Jewish, after our first big taste of terrorism, the Munich massacre, overshadowed the games with Israeli athletes kidnapped. It only took thirty-six years for Michael Phelps to beat that record. I got fat, got white hair, my football knee doesn’t bend, and my ear hairs are out of control. Okay, not quite that bad, though it feels that way at times.
In 1972 we worried about a scholarship to college, or would we get drafted to Vietnam. Some already had a scholarship: football to Colorado University or Colorado State University; academic to Notre Dame. Some knew they would not graduate from high school. But the rest of our lives would be on us soon. We had to make plans.
What has happened to the rest of your life? Do you want to share that with others? This reunion is a way of reconnecting, completing at least one circle of life. Funny how things come around. I remember a guy, who I fist-fought in grade school, then later he was a friend and a revered teammate in high school basketball. He passed the ball to me; I passed the ball to him. Maybe I’ll see him.
Do you remember your concerns in high school? Who would go to prom with? Would your zits ever go away? Would you pass the course in history? How could you ever finish that English term paper before the end of the week?
Times were different. I took the bus to school or walked a mile through the cemetery unconcerned that a madman would hijack the bus or a pervert would kidnap me. I could even take in the latest movie, The Godfather, or Jeremiah Johnson, and not worry that a guy dressed as a mobster would come in the theater and open up with his tommy gun.
Did you need thick leather gloves to come to grips with your life then; maybe now; or the in between spots? Can you remember? Do you care to? I have a medical school classmate who does not even know his son, and will soon die of Alzheimer’s. Remembering can be a good thing.
I knew a girl in junior high, but only tangentially as the pretty locker partner of my girlfriend. In high school I dated that pretty locker partner. Then, she became my locker partner for life, my wife. We’ve been married for 36 years, had children and now a grandson. My grandson will not likely go to Arapaho High School, but, if I live another thirteen years, I will reconnect with high school ways, through him. I will see him grow through things I did, or didn’t. I hope to have more time with my grandson than with my own children. I was too busy to really enjoy their high school experience. Friends, work, make money, all those things vacuumed my time away forever.
Now we have different worries. Will the fracking going on in what used to be a free space behind my house contaminate the best-tasting water in the world? Will my daughter ever be able to buy a home since the average price of homes has gone up ten times—$27,500 in1972 to $275,000 now—and the average salary of a elementary teacher has only gone up four times from $12,200 to $50,000 a year. Will my grandson see the mountains as my son and I did when we camped in Rocky Mountain National Park?
Now beetle-kill trees, almost beautiful in the fall with their rust-colored hews offsetting the apple-green and yellow aspen, and what’s left of dark green pine trees, are ninety percent of the forest on the Western Slope. Here, just north of Fort Collins, the High Park Fire consumed over 25,000 acres, racing through beetle-killed trees and drought-crisp forests. Subsequent rains flooded the hillsides and turned the Poudre River black with soot, killed thousands of fish and destroyed entire mountains. Is there global warming?
High Park Fire made for beautiful sunsets.
What the heck am I going to do about those darn aspen trees coming up through my lawn?
But, hey, some things don’t change. We still have wars that take our children’s arm, or eye, or even worse, their mind so they can never enjoy the world in any form for the rest of their lives. Vietnam just changed names.
And, if my fourteen-year-old Labrador retriever poops in the house again . . .
Awh. Look at that face! She won’t do it again. Honest.
So, I’m going to the reunion to escape the current worries, have a great meal, get drunk and . . . okay, not really. I want to reconnect to a time of less intensity, when you had time to think without a tweet or cellphone bleep interrupting your thoughts. Or, maybe I want to at least put those times in perspective. They were different, and in some ways much more joyful, easier, simpler. Though, at the time, those pimples and getting that certain girl to notice me seemed pretty damn serious. For God’s sake I might have never had a family. I could have been a lonely bachelor and lived as a hermit in a time machine like Dr. Who. Hmm.
I’d like to see you, talk with you, find out where your life has gone, what has happened with you, discuss and laugh at the old times and perhaps share your current hopes and dreams over a pint of Easy Street beer, or a wee dram of Glen Morangie Scotch, or maybe just a Diet Coke. All these things are what make life interesting and what make us human beings. Our social nature cannot be denied. We learn lessons from others, and who knows, others might learn from us. The collective will grow.
So give in. Have fun. Reconnect.
The summer of our life, just like the cone flowers, will eventually wilt and turn brown; the stems weaken, the petals fall. At the 50-year reunion things will look much different, if I’m even around. I might be sucking Ensure through a straw wondering when the next morphine dose will come.
But for now, the flowers are still blooming and my grandson is a joy.
I hope you have joy. I also hope to see you at the reunion.
July 9, 2012
Woke up, beer was stale, coffee cold and weak, it’s still 2012, and then I looked at last week’s blog–What is an American Patriot?
Damn. What a rant. All about freedom, too. Blek!
But, today is so much better. Forget patriots. Just look at Twitter or Facebook, or listen to the news—everyone’s a patriot. I have to move on.
There’s really nothing I can do to prevent war. Since about 3000 B.C., war has been a continuous human event. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_wars_before_1000 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lists_of_wars
Find out how to make shields and arrows out of bronze and look out baby, I’m gonna take over your pissant little Stone Age community. Gunpowder—oh hell. Nuclear bombs, computer-assisted, laser-guided bombs—one touch and I get my gold, my water, my oil, and you’re toast.
So what are my chances of getting rid of war? Rat’s ass chance in a box full of cats.
Back to business. All I have to do today is get up, have some coffee, edit a novel or two, drive to the store for beer, and watch Wimbledon. Of course there will be the smattering of Graham Norton, perhaps Preditor for the 1213th time(that’s a prime by-the-by), and finishing up Dashiell Hammit’s The Maltese Falcon (It’s old, but damn!). Maybe cut the grass, but only if it’s not raining and it’s green. I do enjoy the color green, don’t you? And when the grass is cut it’s so neat looking and even greener. Then again, I can still see the dog when she pees. She has to work to get through the taller grass and she needs to struggle a little to keep her legs strong. A fourteen-year-old lab needs all the help she can get.
Also, the mower uses oil and gas. Pity.
I would like to ride my bike thirty or forty miles, but since I’m not quite as young as I used to be (I did mention it was 2012, right?), maybe cut that in half. Actually, I did that, and the damn Poudre river is as black as soot—exactly as black as soot. How the hell am I gonna catch any fish in a river full of soot this summer? Probably not. Well, there’s plenty of other rivers I can drive the camper trailer to and have a jolly old time. A forest fire is such a hassle.
There is a damn good movie coming on tonight, and I gotta get a new blog out, so I’ll need electricity until about 10pm. That only uses coal, so I’m okay there—if only coal were a bit cleaner. That pizza and beer was damn good. A man has to assuage his sufferings somehow. Am I right?
Okay, so the day wasn’t so bad. We’re still at war and I didn’t have to give up a damn thing. Imagine that.
I wonder what it would be like to be eating a protein bar and humpin a seventy pounder (that’s a ground pounder term for hiking with a 70lb pack) over Afghan mountains wondering if that next step could trigger an IED and blow my leg off?
All to keep Big Oil flowing and to allow millions of strangers to enjoy freedom.
No thank you. Not for me. Glad someone else is giving up their life. I don’t even have to give up my movie. Why should I?
Let’s see. Tomorrow I’ll fly a gas-guzzling plane to visit my mom and brother. I hope the plane isn’t late.
What is an American Patriot?
July 3, 2012
Are you flying your flag? Are you planning hot dogs, hamburgers and apple pie on the 4th? Did you fill your SUV with $100 worth of gas and pull your camp trailer to Rocky Mountain National Park, wade with your grandson in an ice-cold, gin-clear mountain river, hike with your daughter to a high mountain waterfall and catch a few cutthroat trout?
Okay, yeah, I did that. Been there. It was fun, too. And I’m ready for the next tee shirt.
Maybe you did much more. You believe so much in your constituent’s cause that you allowed their lobbyist to pay for a guided trip for superb bone fishing in the Bahamas, dinner at Café Matisse and after-dinner cocktails watching the sunset over the Nassau. So what if that constituent is Big Oil, who despite making billions of dollars of profits every quarter wants you to continue their government subsidies? After all, without oil, how would we ever defeat all those terrorists? Those pack of jackals waiting to take over the USA.
Or maybe you decided to give up something that no one else has, or ever will, something so dear that there have been debates for centuries about its price, something you are willing to sacrifice for all those who want to enjoy a walk around the block without a bullet creasing their hair, or a night of rest without worrying about being whisked to a concentration camp because they didn’t agree with a clause in the constitution, allowing them to sit with family and enjoy fireworks over a lake whose black mirror reflects deaths of millions and a celebration as old as our country, and something your wife and son may never understand—you were willing to give up your own life.
There are patriots, and there are those who call themselves patriots. If you call yourself a patriot, examine your reasons. Is it to get a pat on the back at a veteran’s pancake breakfast? Do you want to be handed thousands of dollars from our government for twisting your back in boot camp? Do you think because you have lots of friends in Big Oil that you must have the government give them more money so we can fight a better war?
I suggest that if you want to be called a patriot, you are not one. A true patriot gives up without asking for thanks, gives up for those he’s never met, gives up for an ideal most of us have never really thought about.
What are you willing to give up for the freedoms that we all enjoy?
If you want to give up driving that SUV for six months of the year, lighting your home for 2 hours a night, or keeping the AC at 70 instead of 74 all summer, then maybe you can do something to keep more soldiers from sacrificing their lives in war.
The wars we have experienced in the last two decades have mostly been about oil and energy. We want to drive our cars to work, without anyone else inside carpooling. We want to never sweat a drop in our own home in summer. We want to watch our TV, run our computers, listen to our stereos into the wee hours of the morning.
We want, we want, we want.
When will we start giving, giving as much as a true patriot? Probably never. But we can try to prevent them from giving their lives for us by giving at least something that causes us some pain. Every day.
Or, then again. Maybe not. Fly your flag, eat your hot dogs, have a little more ice cream on that apple pie, and drive your SUV. Patriot.
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Fire, Wind, Water. Can Disaster Change Your Life for the Better?
June 25, 2012
In the midst of what will likely be the worst forest fire in the history of Colorado, The High Park Fire, I think of Hurricane Ivan in Pensacola, the disaster that brought us here, and my first post on this blog.
Those suffering from this fire: These are times that will not only test you, but can break you.
Don’t let it.
Can disaster change your life for the better?
September 16, 2004 I awoke at two a.m. to pitch black, wind howling outside, and a curious sound in the bedroom: my dog lapping water. But our wonderful blond lab, Maggie, lay at our feet, sleeping. The sound was swamp water percolating under the baseboards. Rolling off the mattress, my wife and I waded into stinky water, floating Purina Dog Chow and paper shredder confetti–welcome to the parade.
I’d had a great year: both daughters got married, I caught a 150 lb. tarpon on a fly rod, started a promising practice with great docs, and my son had orchestrated a surprise fiftieth birthday party. I was writing my first novel, a horror, techno-thriller about fictional events after 9/11, sure to outsell Steven King.
The day before the water came, the news said it was a monster: Hurricane Ivan, Cat 5 in the Gulf. I smashed one thumb and nearly fell off the ladder boarding up the second story windows. This made the inside a tomb of darkness, the garage door the only exit. Lynn and I discussed leaving the state. We filled the bathtubs, organized canned food and peanut butter (I could live off peanut butter and honey sandwiches for weeks), then moved the computer upstairs along with the important papers, dog food, fresh batteries in flashlights, etc.
At 7 p.m., in purple-olive twilight and paltry wind and misty rain, I played fetch outside with Maggie. No big deal. The news announced Ivan would weaken to Cat 3 at landfall. We decided to stay. Yes! No waiting for a week after the storm to get back over the bridge while looters had a field day, or water leaks went from tiny to disastrous.
We hunkered down—that’s hurricane talk—in our upstairs bedroom. The wind howled, trying to tear off the roof … right over our heads. No thank you. We trundled everything back downstairs, including a mattress, to the bedroom our son vacated last week. After all, our neighborhood had never flooded in recorded history. Who needed flood insurance? Our house had survived two other Cat 3’s with piddling damage. No prob.
Right. We’d never been in the northeast quadrant. Apparently we forgot.
For weeks afterwards we survived in a post-flood environment that reminded me of Sarajevo: feral dogs, fetid piles of rubbish, no water or AC, roving, camouflaged National Guard Humvees, and Red Cross water and food tents. I nearly lopped off a leg chain-sawing shattered trees, screwed up a knee replacing wallboard, and continued to work forty-hour weeks, sitting in rubbish-removal traffic jams for hours.
It shook our hearts and souls like a dirty rug. But we couldn’t get clean. The neighbors had the first, and last, Tiger Point trailer-trash party in their camper on their driveway next to the POD that held all their worldly goods. Their home was unlivable.
We sang, we drank, but we all knew: Never again.
The biggest lessons we learned? Things can be replaced. Loved ones cannot. Go after your dreams. Now.
My wife and I moved to Colorado, closer to roots and family. I wrote and guided fly fishing. She became a hooker—wool art hooking, okay. We camped in Yellowstone with Maggie. Then I realized I was not Steven King; gas prices skyrocketed; the adult kids moved back; guiding fly fishing made no money.
Time to go back to what I knew best, doctoring. I went to work for the VA.
Hurricanes and fire are nothing compared to war. War crippled our best, their bodies and minds. But not their souls.
Veterans taught me disaster can change your life for the better.