Sunday, January 7, 2018

Why I Love Libraries

First, a Yellowstone aside. I saw an ad last week which momentarily made me fantasize about working in Yellowstone again. Not for either of the large companies I worked for, but in a small building in the center of the park renting bear spray. I thought it would be fun to be there talking about bears all day instead of credit cards and hotel rooms as I did in the past, but it isn’t an option for a non-driver. Meanwhile, my former roommate who has worked there the past eight years, loves the place at least as much as I did, and is one of the nicest people I’ve met, had such a miserable experience with the company last year that he hasn’t applied to return. It’s a shame the way the company treats its employees.

I always have a list of upcoming books on hold at the library but I don’t think the list has ever gotten this long. 

I just finished Bliss(ters): How I Walked from Mexico to Canada One Summer by Gail Francis. This hiker from northern Wisconsin leans socialist, needs solitude, has a sense of humor, and wrote a much more enjoyable book after hiking the entire trail unlike that more famous woman who hiked the Pacific Crest Trail. 

I’m 3/4 through Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI by David Grann. This reporting of how the government pushed Indians to Oklahoma where they got rich from oil and therefore were killed is a quick read with lots of photos, but I don’t understand why it has become so popular and highly praised.

I’ve barely started Twilight of American Sanity: A Psychiatrist Analyzes the Age of Trump by Allen Frances which was started before the election and focuses more on the country’s values and delusions than on Trump himself who the dedication refers to as a blowhard (and a Mencken epigraph mentions a downright moron in the White House thanks to the plain folks of the land).

I also have Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi, the first book of a young adult sci-fi trilogy about our near-future ecologically destroyed country.

There’s a long list of books I’m on the hold list for.

Robicheaux by James Lee Burke is the 21st in the series featuring the title character which I’ve been reading from its beginning in the late 80s. The series was originally set in New Orleans, which is what caused me to start reading, and then moved to more rural Louisiana. At this point the plots are often repetitive and irrelevant as this most literary of mystery series focuses on the character’s morality, alcoholism, and sense of loss, and the country’s racism and decay.

Additional novels include The Music Shop by Rachel Joyce, a highly praised tale of music and love, Heart Spring Mountain by Robin MacArthur, whose book of short stories I read earlier, drew my attention with its Vermont setting and interesting women, Lullaby Road by James Anderson continues the story of a truck driver in rural Utah, Green Sun by Kent Anderson features a Viet vet turned cop in 1983 Oakland, and The Largesse of the Sea Maiden by Denis Johnson is the final collection of stories from a praised author I’ve never read.

Visionary Women: How Rachel Carson, Jane Jacobs, Jane Goodall, and Alice Waters Have Changed Our World by Andrea Barnet needs no further explanation; nor does Reckless Daughter: A Portrait of Joni Mitchell by David Yaffe. Silence: In the Age of Noise comes from Norwegian Erling Kagge who spent fifty days on a solo hike across Antarctica. I may not actually read Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House by Michael Wolff since I don’t need insiders to confirm my opinion but I was the 9th person to put a hold on it when it hit the news; at this writing, there are 41 people in line. I think Playing with Fire: The 1968 Election and the Transformation of American Politics by Lawrence O’Donnell will be more interesting and one of many books about the fiftieth anniversary of another tumultuous year.

The list of ecological books includes The Death and Life of the Great Lakes by Dan Egan, The Water Will Come: Rising Seas, Sinking Cities, and the Remaking of the Civilized World by Jeff Goodell, Megafire: The Race to Extinguish a Deadly Epidemic of Flame by Michael Kodas, Sustaining Lake Superior: An Extraordinary Lake in a Changing World by Nancy Langston, and Himalaya Bound by Michael Benanav.

Back to fantasy fiction for Beasts of Extraordinary Circumstance by Ruth Emmie Lang, and La Belle Sauvage (The Book of Dust I) by Philip Pullman, first of a trilogy set in the world of his famous previous His Dark Materials trilogy.

There are some books I’m going to have to get through interlibrary loan: Bosstown by Adam Abramowitz is a novel featuring a Boston bike messenger, and The Living Forest: A Visual Journey into the Heart of the Woods is a coffee table book by Llewellyn and Maloof. A couple more music biographies: Lightfoot by Nicholas Jennings (I’m surprised our library didn’t order this one given our proximity to Canada and that shipwreck and that he’s played here many times) and Soul Survivor: A Biography of Al Green by Jimmy McDonough—whenever I play Green’s music, I wind up playing it repeatedly for days.

There are another dozen which I’m not sure yet if the library is ordering. Highlights are The Promise and the Dream by David Margolick about RFK and MLK, This Radical Land: A Natural History of American Dissent by Daegan Miller which sounds like it could be one of my favorites on this list, and Hippie Food: How Back-to-the-Landers, Longhairs, and Revolutionaries Changed the Way We Eat by Jonathan Kauffman.

Not to mention the library’s cds and dvds; I recently watched Westworld which was very good, and the latest season of Game of Thrones (2019 is a long time away, but these books will help me get there).

Thursday, December 7, 2017


An interesting quote from our mayor on the newspaper's website tonight:

"Really, I do believe that he made the right decision for Minnesota, because it's clear that regardless of whether Sen. Franken wants to own those allegations or deny them, they are there. And when they are there, we must believe until there is reason to not believe. That is how our system should work," Larson said.
That's a strange take on the whole innocent til proven guilty theory, but right in line with one of the manias sweeping the country lately. Certainly there are men who are scum who deserve the worst, but anyone who doesn't also acknowledge that some women, like some men, also lie, and that every human interaction has at least two different interpretations, is willfully foolish and or politically correct. Is that redundant? Perhaps they've never quit a job because of the behavior of a woman who told lies.

I don't really care about Franken, but it's simultaneously amusing and pathetic to see the Democrats expressing the need to be moral and righteous, thus proving that they learned absolutely nothing from the last presidential election. Republicans are laughing, not resigning.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Nostalgia and Connections

Post-clots, admitting mortality, not expecting to do any more cross-country trips, I’ve been feeling nostalgic for New England lately. 

It started with creating a folder of New England nature websites of the many places and events which had been important to me: Walden Pond and the trails of Concord and Lincoln, Arnold Arboretum, Mass Audubon’s Moose Hill Wildlife Sanctuary, New England Aquarium’s whale watches and the Boston Harbor Islands, Halibut Point State Park and Dogtown, Cape Cod and Woods Hole where I once imagined becoming an oceanographer.

I also looked at the websites of clubs and theaters I frequented, and all the adult education centers (Boston, Brookline, Cambridge, and Harvard Extension) where I took classes. There is a good education program here for seniors where I hope to spend a lot of time after I start collecting Social Security in a year or so and can work less.

I got excited recently about the chance to relive some aspects of a whale watch when there was a plan to stream one live but it was canceled due to ocean conditions. A recent snowy owl sighting here reminded me of the one I photographed while I was taking a pre-terrorism tour of the Boston airport grounds. 

The library here gets Yankee magazine which I grew up reading, and I’ve been looking through past issues and found articles about Christmas in Boston, oceanside walks (and the Atlantic sinking of El Faro which for me made a connection with shipping here and the recent anniversary of the Edmund Fitzgerald sinking on Superior), and Brattleboro and Portland which I visited often. Long ago, I submitted a story to Yankee—it was about a hitchhiker and lost love and Kent State, and I have no idea why I thought they’d be interested in it.

I’ve looked up a few people I knew in Massachusetts, trading emails or finding Facebook pages. Between library books, I’m rereading Sierra Club Naturalist’s Guide to Southern New England, and remembering the Boston bookstore where I bought that entire series. A recent episode of Marc Maron’s WTF podcast included stories of Boston neighborhoods told with a Boston accent. And I still follow a couple Boston sports teams as the Red Sox try to find a big bat for next year and the Celtics get off to a great start despite one of their stars breaking his leg in the first game. Spare me news of the pro-Trump Patriots though. I’m even considering subscribing to the online Boston Globe (well, for the $4 first month only).

All my nostalgia and memories aren’t a thousand miles away though. It was pleasant in the mid-40s this afternoon with no ice on the sidewalks yet, so I strolled around the neighborhood and enjoyed the views of the Lake and thought of all the walking I’ve done in this town since first moving here in 2001. And in a couple weeks I’ll be making a trip over to Marquette where memories go back even further.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Voting is a Fraud and the Country is a Failure

Going to vote in yesterday’s city elections, I had low expectations and thought my votes would go to two winners and four losers. I discovered that moving five blocks had changed my district so I didn’t get to vote for what would have been my only winner and wound up with no wins and five losses. The city’s highest winning percentage went to increasing the sales tax to improve roads and the lowest percentage went to a candidate who pledged to protect Lake Superior—so there are the community’s values, which are certainly not mine. 

In the most recent presidential election, even voting for the candidate who received the highest percentage of votes didn’t get your values any representation. The two party system needs to be replaced by the system common in Europe where multiple parties and their voters are represented, which gives the voters a higher sense of involvement (the Scandinavian countries, which I’ve always felt was where I belonged socially, are near the top in population percentage who vote) and forces coalitions and compromises to govern. In the US, those elected force through their own agendas and the disaffected citizens simply become more ignored. But at least they have easy access to guns.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

If a Clot Forms in the Forest

Friday was my last day on the blood thinner I've been taking since I developed a large superficial blood clot in my leg at the end of August. It got close to the point where it could have entered the deeper vein system. 

A couple weeks ago while I was on the drug, I started having pains in my other leg similar to those I'd had in the leg with the clot. But leg pains can be one of the many side effects (I had several) of the drug so it's a mystery whether the pains were signs of a problem or a cure, and getting off the drug was both a relief and scary. After two days off the drug, I haven't noticed any significant change, so it remains a wait and see game hoping to avoid a more serious complication. It's possible I'll always have some pain in the leg which had the clot, but if nothing's wrong with the other leg, those pains should disappear.

The pains are insignificant compared to pain I've endured from kidney stones and stent, but those had a definite end in sight--this has been an open-ended, higher anxiety situation for the past six weeks. The drug caused some minor bleeding in my mouth and given that people have bled to death from the drug, I took to leaving the light on while I fell asleep reading so I'd know right away if I woke up in a pool of blood. 

Ever the good tenant, I also stopped putting the chain on the door so it would be easier to retrieve my corpse. But in a burst of optimism today, I ordered a 2018 planner, and hope to make this month's postponed trip to the UP in December. On the other hand, if I never post again, I guess you can assume the worst.  

Alcohol could have caused complications while on the drug so I gave away the beer I had and haven't had any since. I used to spend a fair amount of time keeping up on news of new beers and kept records of beers I tried. I gave all that up also and find that I miss that more than the actual drinking. To help lose weight and take pressure off my leg veins, I also improved my diet and have lost almost twenty pounds so far. I'd gladly lose another thirty and hope I'll have the chance to do so. Though it's been a long time since I really loved life, I'd just as soon not leave it quite yet either.

Saturday, September 9, 2017

Welcome to the 'bers

The four month stretch starting with September is probably my favorite time of year. The end of summer heat, the refreshing chill in the air, in the past often a relocation to college or a job change, the changing colors, the gales of November, the first snow.  For most people it would also be a time for important family holidays but that was never my lot.

This year I started the ‘bers in the emergency room for the second time in less than year. This time it was a blood clot in my leg, superficial but large, so I’m on a blood thinner.  My doctor doubled the dosage the emergency doctor had put me on and I’m scheduled to see him again in three weeks. The leg has improved as far as the most obvious symptoms, but I’m still nervous about some other achiness and what might be going on inside.  I’ve always known getting old was not going to be easy for me and this is certainly proving it.  Most nights I leave the light on until I finally fall asleep reading.  Just before the clot happened, I had started making plans for and looking forward to a mid-October trip which is now up in the air because of the eight hour bus trip.

I’ve given away the beer I had in the refrigerator due to alcohol increasing the risk of bleeding while on the drug, and am looking at this as a good time to improve my diet and lose some weight—five pounds so far.  I don’t have much appetite and would probably be eating even less if I didn’t need to take the drug with food.

A couple months ago I rebought some favorite songs from long ago in my life and was struck by a theme in the lyrics.  I made a few notes then for a post I was going to call The Sounds of Solitude which I’ll include here.

Most of the songs predated my college time by a few years, but the memories I associate most strongly with them occurred while I was at college.  I think my first exploration into soul, jazz, funk, came with the music of War, and one of my favorite songs of theirs was Gypsy Man.  A couple bits of lyrics:

They call me a gypsy man
'Cause I don't stay in one place too long
I'm searchin' for a brand new world
To make and call my home

A gypsy man ain't got no home
But sometimes I wonder is it best that way

During my freshman year in college, our dorm or floor ordered t-shirts with individually chosen names on the back.  My Virginian roommate wore Southern Man, and I was Gypsy Man.  I later lost that shirt in a canoeing spill.

By my junior year, the music of the Marshall Tucker Band was blasting as people skateboarded down the hallway.  A prominent flute and some jazz-like creativity raised them above the average southern rock band.  I bought half a dozen songs by them; some lyric samples from several songs:

And the time has finally come
For me to pack my bags and walk away

Gonna take a freight train
Down at the station, Lord
I don't care where it goes

Can't you see, can't you see
What that woman, she been doin' to me

So I don't want you to think
That you're the first one
To leave me out here on my own
Cause this ain't gonna be the first time
This ol' cowboy spent the night alone

And from their biggest hit:

If I ever settled down
You'd be my kind
And that's a good time for me
To head on down the line

I'm the kinda man likes to get away
Likes to start dreaming about
Tomorrow, today
Never said that I loved you
even though it's so
Pack that duffle bag of mine
It's time to go

I'm gonna be leaving
At the break of dawn
Wish you could come
But I don't need no woman tagging along
Gonna sneak out that door
Couldn't stand to see you cry
I'd stay another year if I saw teardrops in your eyes

I guess the recurring themes there are pretty obvious.  I’ve never thought of myself as a big traveler and don’t really like it, but a couple years ago I learned of a grade school classmate who still lived in the small town we’d grown up in, and thought of the many people here who’ve never lived anywhere else. But rather than physically, my wanderlust has always been a more emotional and intellectual restlessness.  And though I’ve longed for love and on the rare occasions I let it happen, often tried to hold onto it too hard (while pushing it away at the same time), deep down I’ve never really believed in it as a long lasting thing.

Listening to all these songs again, and thinking of many other favorites from that period which showed the same longing, I wondered about my own version of the chicken and egg question.  Was I already naturally a romanticized loner in my teens drawn to music which reinforced that attitude, or did the music I listened to help to create that persona?