Sunday, February 4, 2018


When I moved from New York City to the Western United States, what became clear very quickly, at least from one standpoint, is that weather is the main news, the main story, here.  It makes me miss New York sometimes, where weather can light the city's stage but isn't the backdrop for every scene. In New York, you dress for dinner; here you dress for the weather. Here is strong, strong sun. Also fires and droughts.

Due to climactic changes, countless trees have been invaded by beetles. I have a day dream of sorts about the great beetle devastation and What To Do.

It goes something like this:

First, various scientists gather in a large room with a giant black board (because chalk is a cousin of wood; white board marker is not) and scribble all kinds of truly basic information about trees, the kind of observations that perceptive sixth-graders might come up with.

The scientists would be joined by others—entomologists, dendrologists, foresters, paper millers, musicologists, soil conservation technicians, bird watchers, wildlife experts, environmental historians, philosophers, Proustians, bark beetle–nightmares sufferers, physicists, geologists, physicians, herbalists, meteorologists, chefs, novelists, non-specialized sixth graders, poets, painters—the list goes on.  All of these people would have spent a good deal of time walking in forests or among trees.

A large list of basics would be drawn up.

Someone would say, Remember Seth Brundle in the The Fly? What if Seth Brundle had been, say, a round-headed pine beetle?  

From Moviefone, Retrieved Saturday, February 3, 2018, 6:38 p.m.
Note: The Fly had a cinematic life before Geoff Goldblum came along. 

Another would ask about ways to connect the dots from today's infestations to the shimmering clouds of late–19th century grasshoppers that blotted out the sun over the Great Plains. As Caroline Fraser discusses in her Prairie Fires: The American Dreams of Laura Ingalls Wilder, the removal of top soil by scores of homesteaders brought disaster upon themselves.

Another participant at this gathering would wonder aloud if weather modification and geoengineering, all kinds of tampering with Mother Nature, has been enabling these beetles to flourish. [Photos, below, by me.]  Legions of people will attest to the harmlessness of weather modification, usually set off with the words "just" or "all it does is . . . ." Also, weather modificationists point out that the systems of the Rockies differ from systems elsewhere on the North American Continent.


Questions would continue.  Does the soundscape surrounding a tree come into play, as it were? What sounds support or inhibit the beetles' motions?

Someone would bring up David Dunn, an acoustic ecologist and faculty member in the Digital Arts and New Media Graduate Program at UC Santa Cruz. Dunn is quoted on the Santa Cruz Newscenter Web page, saying, "It is the balance between the rational and imaginative that will ultimately solve the most serious problems that threaten us."  Along with his collaborating researchers, Dunn has received a patent for a device that turns beetles' (which kinds of beetles? good question) own sounds against them, as he puts it. It's been many years coming; here is Dunn on NPR ten years ago). 

From the video "David Dunn’s Bark Beetle Patent,"
by writer, producer, and multimedia artist Dennis DeVries

A lover of epistolaries would cite a 1957 letter from Patrick Leigh Fermor to Deborah Devonshire, about hunting dogs in ancient Sicily losing the scent of their quarry because "the smell of the flowers was so strong." What about surrounding pine forests with wild flowers, this person would say, so that the flowers' fragrance would eclipse or somehow scramble the pheromones that attract the beetles? Like the confused hunting dogs who Fermor describes as"wander[ing] about for hours at a loss," the beetles might be confounded and then rerouted to a place where their munching services might prove useful, such as a Superfund site in the West.

More:  Which creatures are beetles' natural predators or competitors?

What about the color of tree bark; how does that matter? If it's camouflaged, shaded just so, or Christo-ed, what happens? 

A Leopoldian would wave a copy of A Sand County ALMANAC, and Sketches Here and There, stating, Of pines and birches, Aldo Leopold writes in "If I Were the Wind":
If the birch stands south of the pine, and is taller, it will shade the pine's leader in the spring, and thus discourage the pine weevil from laying her eggs there. Birch competition is a minor affliction compared with this weevil, whose progeny kill the pine's leader and thus deform the tree.  It is interesting to meditate that this insect's preference for squatting in the sun determines not only her own continuity as a species, but also the future of my pine, and my own success as a wielder of axe and shovel.
Again, if a drouthy summer follows my removal of the birch's shade, the hotter soil may offset the lesser competition for water, and my pine be none the better for my bias.  
Lastly, if the birch's limbs rub the pine's terminal buds during a wind, the pine will surely be deformed, and the birch must either be removed regardless of other considerations, or else it must be pruned of limbs each winter to a height greater than the pine's prospective summer growth.
Then, writing about pine weevils boring into white pines, in "Pines above the snow," Leopold comments:
It is a curious circumstance that only pines in full sunlight are bitten by weevils; shaded pines are ignored. Such are the hidden uses of adversity.
Back and around they would go, discussing what gives rise to this phenomenon and what might redirect it (even though any treatments would likely cause some other kind of phenomenon).

Then everybody would take a break by singing show tunes and giving foot rubs. Okay, no.  But they would take a break.

If it's too depressing to dip into the never-ending end of evergreens, there's always the pronunciation buttons on the OED online to lift the spirit. The Scottish rendition of drouthy, as shown in Leopold's prose, above, is sure to delight, once heard aloud.  

And, if that doesn't work, I suggest the 1972 edition of James and the Giant Peach.

James and the insects, within the pit of Roald Dahl's giant peach.
Illustration copyright Nancy Eckholm Burkert (Alfred A. Knopf, 1972).

** One of the OED citations for the first definition of droughty is this: 1848   J. C. Hare & A. W. Hare Guesses at Truth ii. (1874) 561   Men of drowthy hearts and torpid imaginations.

[All photographs of trees taken by Yours Truly, along Wolf Creek pass, in Colorado, February 2018.]

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Potencie, a proto–Y Word

Both consolatory and cheffy came close to being today's posted word.

Consolatory appears in an essay by Hannah Arendt, in a 2017 collection titled Tough Enough: Arbus, Arendt, Didion, McCarthy, Sontag, Weil, edited by Deborah Nelson. This is one of those words that belongs to the days when recipes contained casual measurements (think of Elizabeth David's), and American schools taught students how to form the subjunctive tense.

Cheffy appears in a New York Times "best restaurants of 2017" articlette by Pete Wells about the Flushing, Queens, restaurant Guan Fu Sichuan—"[it's] probably the most cheffy Sichuan place in town . . . ." (See page D6, Wednesday, December 13.)  Like puppy, cheffy is an adorable word.  Cheffy has floppy ears. I'm ready to give it a loving home life.


Readers: A word more suitable, I believe, for your consideration, lives in an argument formulated by John Milton, in his Areopagitica.  In the year 1644, books, according to Milton,
contain a potencie of life in them to be as active as that soule was whose progeny they are; nay they do preserve as in a violl the purest efficacie and extraction of that living intellect that bred them.
Although this quotation appears in the Oxford English Dictionary (under the fourth definition for potency), I found it in The Reader in the Book: A Study of Spaces and Traces, by Stephen Orgel (Oxford University Press, 2015). Apparently there is now quite a lot of work in the field concerning everyday readers of books in early modern culture.

(Flashback: Twenty-five years ago, a professor of English teaching a graduate level course on Shelley and his circle at New York University brought to class a triple-decker novel so students could see for themselves how readers "spoke" to one another in the margins of the book.  It was fascinating.)

Orgel's book quotes from a 2005 Cambridge University Press title by Heidi Brayman Hackel, who makes the obvious and yet profound point that the book in early modern England filled a role "as available paper."

Think on this, even on the fact of paper's availability in those years.

Marginalia represent such an appealing aspect of print culture. I like to imagine fleets of individuals making margin notes, exercising their status as free-thinking agents.

A bound book can be such a beautifully private, giving space.

Potencie, instead of potency, strikes me as open-ended. The -ie is as a dance step, or a liquid trickle; it suggests movement that may continue along its path, as long as nothing intervenes; whereas the terminal y in today's version of the word says That's that.

To me there is more hope in potencie than in potency.

Your snow, ice, and seedling wishes, here.
[Obverse of "Electra Lake, near Silverton," in Volume I: Early Durango, Nina Heald Webber postcard

collection, at the Center of Southwest Studies, Fort Lewis College, Durango, Colorado.
The physical postcards are housed in the Center's archives.

Monday, July 3, 2017


The people in Laurie Colwin's writings read, take walks, soak in bath tubs, fly kites, listen to vinyl records with scratches in them, and actively pursue one another.  They do this despite having awkward or uncomfortable feelings.  They sally forth, come what may.  Conse-
quently they wind up feeling many, many emotions, sometimes simultaneously. Her Manhattan is intimate.

What has driven me to re-enter this blog, on the eve of Independence Day, is the "Repulsive Dinners: A Memoir" chapter in Colwin's nonfiction collection Home Cooking: A Writer in the Kitchen.

At a dinner party in London, Colwin and other unwitting guests are served a casserole "contain[ing] a layer of partially cooked rice, a layer of pineapple rings and a layer of breakfast sausages, all of which was cooked in a liquid of some sort or other."

She writes:  "We ate in perfect silence, first in shock, then in amazement, and then in gratitude that not only was there not enough to go around, but that nothing else was forthcoming. That was the entire meal."

To the friend who invited her to join the party, she asks afterwards, over pizza pies, " 'Is that some sort of Scottish dish we had tonight?', to which he replies, 'No, it is a genius dish.' "

Colwin's first impression of the man who had cooked the meal? He was "a glum, geniusy-looking person."

Geniusy touched off several words in me: génial, genuine, gentian, genoise.  Also pleurisy, sinus, and dusy.

My guess is that geniusy stood as an abstract noun for many decades, possibly even centuries, before morphing (usage-wise) into an adjective.

A photograph from the Gottscho-Schleisner Collection at the Library of Congress.
The Library of Congress is an agency of the legislative branch of the U.S. government.
Shown above is a Schrafft's at the Parke-Bernet Building, 980 Madison Avenue.
Photographer: Either Samuel H. Gottscho or William H Schleisner (?).
Publication date: Friday, December 22, 1950.

Thursday, February 11, 2016


Usen Castle Tower B-Phil Lacombe/flickr
Usen Castle, the oldest dormitory on the Brandeis University campus, has been in a state of disrepair for many years. Now most of the structure is to be razed. The castle, which predates the founding of Brandeis in 1948, was added to the National Register of Historic Places on April 9, 1979.   Photo credit: Phil LaCombe/flickr.

Every household has some ground rules.  One of them is Thou Shalt Not Read Thy Beloved's Diary, ever.  Not a smart idea.  Journal-snoopers risk being cornered in the eighth circle of Hell with a tray of rotting food and irritatingly improper use of the preposition around.  If you have an itch to invade private territory, may I suggest you turn to published journals and letters.

These days, I'm liking letters that were written by either Charles Darwin or John Muir (aside: consider his dog story in light of the Fool Card—not this one, the one farther down).

You may want to settle in with a brownie, because (fair warning) this is a Rosenbaum-esque entry; and, truth be told, it is meant to be my last.  The sands of time are calling.

To you, surfing page-viewers of this lit-up stuff: Thank you for stopping by and possibly seeking meaning-making.   To Mr. NB of Maine: Thank you for your time years ago and for the statistics book I still hope to use for the someday (some day?) data-mining y study. 

Now on to Muir.  Some students this semester are learning about him in a history class about the National Park Service taught by public historian Andy Gulliford at Colorado's [still] liberal arts college, Fort Lewis. (Full disclosure: I taught at Fort Lewis this past semester, in the English Department.)

advanced madolin chords
Advanced mandolin chords, via (via Yahoo)

What is so appealing about Muir's and Darwin's letters is their vitality, Muir's especially (a bit of Morris dancing in there, almost). The beauties of his prose bring to mind a book I've just begun re-reading: The Well-Trained Mind: A Guide to Classical Education at Home.  The book is about providing a language-focused education that, among other things, grounds children in memorization, organization, and expression at specific intervals.

As somebody lucky to have been born in the era before parents began over-exposing themselves and their children to the importance-conferring-conditioning toy tool known as the Inter-Nets, I spent much of my childhood reading books made of paper.

During my teen years, my favorite part of any book was the dedication page. I would stand in a shop or library, sometimes for hours, reading the dedications.  To my eyes, each short message transformed an entire book into a long letter of sorts, and for years it seemed to me that the best reason, really, for writing a book—possibly the only reason—would be so that it could be dedicated to somebody. Arranging a dedication page, I felt at the time, must be a very intimate act.  To plainly announce one's heart for people to see at a glance.

The Well-Trained Mind does not take up such matter.  The authors explain the value of their educational approach: "Language requires the mind to work harder; in reading, the brain is forced to translate a symbol (words on the page) into a concept. Images, such as those on videos and television, allow the mind to be passive. In front of a video screen, the brain can "sit back" and relax; faced with the written page, the mind is required to roll its sleeves up and get to work" (page 44). 

Many people are indeed wondering what is driving the world's eyeballs, brains, and hands to seek out electronically lit screens.  Consider what is being lost alongside the gains.  For example, people who can actually hold letters in their hands can notice details that cannot be detected by eye alone using a remote screen. Scanned documents can never tell of all the markings, the erasures, the fineness of the watermarks, or the pages stuck together by mistake, or the thickness of the papers, and so forth.

Who account$ for the survival of . . .  a medium ? Of a language? Of a variant spelling?

Maybe it's a matter of Use It Or Lose It.

After Figure 1, The formation of vegetable mould, by Charles Darwin. Credit: Biodiversity Heritage Library/University of Toronto

Today's word is selected from a letter written by Charles Darwin (Letter No. 274 on the Darwin Correspondence Project website).  It is dated "April 18th.—1835—."
The Sandstone consists of many layers & is marked by the concentric lines of the bark (I have specimens) f5  11 are perfectly silicified, & resemble the dicotyledonous wood which I have found at Chiloe & Concepciòn: the others 30--40 I only know to be trees from the analogy of form & position; they consist of snow white columns Like Lots wife of coarsely crystall.
Why an adverb, if indeed it rated as an adverb in 1835, would be placed before a noun is a mystery to me.  Language historians could probably explain this.  My uneducated guess is that it may be because adjectives of the day could yet display the -ly suffix before -ly became staunchly adverbial.

Any information junkie would love Muir's or Darwin's letters, with their clarity, their linguistic ecologies, their wiredrawn strengths.   Letters like these would make excellent training grounds.

As we know, there will not be mailed letters much longer.  Supposedly this is in the service of "global" connectivity and convenience, though for whom I do not know.  Certainly it is convenient for the companies that run the new electrified message-ways but for connecting humanity to the party line that features markings on tactile materials, it it quite inconvenient—or worse.  How often do people consider that various nations came into existence by virtue of the tools and conditions of Old Literacy.  To break with printed matter and the words imprinted there—could that be a little like breaking into a new kind of law (or lawless-ness?) altogether?  Benjamin Franklin (much quoted by the media scholar James Carey) said that America is a republic if we can keep it.  Hmm.

The most meaningful letters I own are letters on tape (not this tape, though I couldn't help hotlinking it).  They are like listening to music. What is startling is to hear the speaker's voice in real life, after years of hearing it on tape.  The letters I like so much, they re-mind me both of the person the speaker was (he had the cutest darkroom), and, equally, of the person I was in his presence (a librarian who could take off her glasses).

At the time of the tapes I was going by two names, a childhood nickname and my given game.  With this letter-speaker, in his presence, I was my given name on the outside and my nickname on the inside.  I experienced this as a profound sense of acceptance and integration.

If you have any old audiotape letters of your own, try taking them for a spin.  See what it's like to listen somebody who is speaking for your ears only.  See if it sounds like music (and if there is music in the background).  See if the vocabulary and phrasing, the cadence and rhythm, sound like they belong to the voice of a distinctive individual, as opposed to, say, an echoer or a parroter.

I cannot help but think again of Edward Abbey.

In "How It Was," he writes:
. . . Most of the formerly primitive road from Blanding west has been improved beyond recognition.  All of this, the engineers and politicians and bankers will tell you, makes the region easily accessible to everyone, no matter how fat, feeble or flaccid.  That is a lie.

It is a lie.  For those who go there now, smooth, comfortable, quick and easy, sliding through as slick as grease, will never be able to see what we saw.  They will never feel what we felt. They will never know what we knew, or understand what we cannot forget.
The repetition and the paragraph break . . . sigh. 

If somebody were to ask Who are the John Muirs of today? the Edward Abbeys of today? the real answer, even if supplied, would have to be: There are no more of them.  Muir and Abbey were of their time and geographies, places, and the media they were raised upon was primarily printed matter.  Theirs were well-trained minds.  The generation in front of mine is, to my ears, the last one worth listening to very hard.  In my generation, things begin to deteriorate, language-wise.  That "things" appears the way it does in the previous sentence is proof of this. Precision is an extinct habitat.

After all, languages die off with the communications conditions that support their speakers and their writers.  It seems increasingly difficult to come across English speakers, for example, who have enormous vocabularies or who have an intense relationship with words.

Beyond this, how many people do you know who can speak or listen or write for lengthy periods of time (and without interrupting the other speaker)? What of handwriting? Cursive, that wonderful left brain–right brain linking activity, is being tossed out, blindly, in favor of keyboard strokes.  People take photographs instead of copying down words.

My question to most people who are not interested in the benefits of handwriting or who knee-jerkily want to Google (v.) information instead of reaching for, say, a phone book, is Are you sure about this? Are you in permanent love with an . . . indexing algorithm?  And if your hand-held device disappeared tomorrow how many phone numbers would you be able to recall?

Darwin's birthday is tomorrow, February twelfth.

This week also marks another man's birthday.  I believe it was yesterday, the tenth.  He was an editor who spoke on telephones.  His voice was timeless.  In New York especially there are many people who mourn his absence and continue to celebrate his life.

Beginner's Mind. (Based upon the Fool card in a Rider-Waite Tarot deck)

In her one-woman show Blown Sideways Through Life, Claudia Shear, after relating the hypothetical wilderness expedition team–selection anecdote in which the group leader selects her for his team solely on the basis of her sense of humor (in a rough situation, humor is deemed more important than skill), the writer-actor delivers this short speech:
There are very few moments in life where someone shows you a portrait of yourself: clean, clear, and totally unexpected.  Never mind the sword pulling from the stone.  This is the adventure.  If for a moment, you see someone differently, their portrait changes. It comes to life. The eyes follow you.  They see you.
To Claudia's idea I add: If you see someone differently, it's likely you will want to dance to them.  (By the way, at the risk of sounding like Chris in the morning, it's worth keeping in mind that the Romantic poets would say If you can give a reason for an attachment, then it is no longer a preference.)

The actor John Corbett howling as Chris Stevens in the 1990s hit TV series Northern Exposure. Tilt your head to the right to see how his lips are shaped like a heart.  

Northern Exposure, if you haven't viewed it lately, was one of the more creative shows of its time.  I'm making my way through the entire series.  So far its early episodes show off its excellent writers, excellent editorial judgment, a baseline sweetness, and no punches pulled.  Rude, sensitive, sparky.  The characters of Cicely, Alaska, demonstrate the kinds of behaviors and mindsets that populate a true come-as-you-are kind of town—and surveillance free!

Northern Exposure also supports an idea offered in a book about the sculptor Gonzalo Fonseca: "To become universal, cosmopolitan, one needs to be more a resident and less a patriot." The idea of residency is worth discussing, especially for a writer (since writing allows for transpersonal experience).  Residency has a nice local ring to it.  My withdrawl from this blog might just change my idea of residency in the state of Colorado.

I'll continue to hear and see words with a terminal y, and will want to put them into this blog.  Today in the Delaney Library at the Center of Southwest Studies, I did pass limy and hummocky, for example, but the mystery of coarsely should do just fine.

Once upon a time, there was an editor and a writer, maybe.  Maybe not, but true readers both they were; or so some had wished, or imagined.

The swimming pool at Phantom Ranch in the Grand Cañon, with water from Bright Angel Creek. From a souvenir booklet "published exclusively for Fred Harvey."

Alvy Singer
Y-you look like a very happy couple. Um, are you?

Female street stranger

Alvy Singer
Yeah? So, so, h-how do you account for it?

Female street stranger
Uh, I'm very shallow and empty, and I have no ideas and nothing interesting to say.

Male street stranger
And I'm exactly the same way.

Alvy Singer
I see. Wow. That's very interesting. So you've managed to work out something, huh?

Male street stranger

Alvy Singer
Oh. Well, thanks very much for talking to me.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016


These days, a road trip requires several books to satisfy several moods. In Gunnison, with a towel stopping up the wind under the door, I took in some of The Elements of Grammar (steadying, rational, soporific) before bypassing Edward Abbey's journals and settling upon Mooomintroll and his clan in my edition titled The Happy Moomins, copyright 1952 by The Bobbs-Merrill Company, Inc., Library of Congress Catalog Card Number 52-5817.

The bookmark for this book is a July 9, 2001, obituary excised from page 6 of Section B of ye olde hometown paper, The New York Times.  A photograph shows Finnish author and illustrator Tove Jansson (who wrote in Swedish) surrounded by stuffed Moomin dolls.  Jansson is holding Moominmamma, and Moominmamma is holding—what else?—her handbag.

The third paragraph of the Times article describes the Moomins as "tubby, torpid, lazy and fond of sleep."  I would describe them firstly as gentle and lightly eccentric.

Alison Lurie's 1992 New York Review of Books piece about Jansson tells that the creatures live "in a remote and peaceful rural world."

Rotundity is a word that comes to my mind when thinking about the Moomins.  Theirs is a world of soft landings, gentlefolkitude, light hearts.

The cloth stamping underneath the dust jacket

In Chapter III of the book, the Moomin group is stranded on an island due to "the great thunderstorm." They each go exploring.  Sniff, one of Moomintroll's friends, hauls in some treasure but wants to make a deal for something Moomintroll finds:  He says . . . "Listen!  What do you say to a swap?  The raffia mat, the dipper and the shoe for that old buoy?"

"Never in your life!" said Moomintroll.  "But perhaps the life belt for this rarey object that must have drifted here from a distant land."

And held up a glass ball and shook it.  Then up whirled a mass of snowflakes inside, settling gradually to rest on a little house with windows of silver paper.

Charming conversation about the snow globe follows (the reader noticing how satisfying it must be for a small Moomin to control a snow storm in one's hand, and so soon after its cousin, a rain storm, has unloosed such furious power upon the entire family), and then:

. . . "Dear Moomintroll, couldn't we share the little snowstorm?"

"Hm," said Moomintroll.

"Couldn't I just hold it sometimes?" begged Sniff.  "On Sundays?"

Moomintroll thought for a bit, and then he said, "Well, all right!  You can have it on Sundays and Wednesdays."

Perfect for snowstorm reading. (For my part, I don't mind snow days.)

Rarey enough

Saturday, December 5, 2015


Says the voice of Edward Abbey playing on a compact disk yesterday evening:  Perhaps the severest test of a marriage is to assign a man and a woman to a fire lookout.  

It's an interesting enough idea, two people, alone and together, day in, day out, accepting and welcoming of each other, a nation of two.

The writer tells about living alone in a 60-foot fire lookout tower deep in a forest on the remote North Rim of the Grand Canyon,* far from "the traveling American public."

It would seem unlikely that the eminently permissive Ed Abbey would find any snuggle-worthy warm body in the vicinity of his lookout-keeper's cabin; but, improbably enough, the unreasonable universe brought the self-proclaimed sexual pervert an educated, high-spirited woman with a sense of humor.  His Bonnie H. was a park ranger who made sweet summers together with him before "the deepest grief of [his] life" set in.  Abbey and his nervous system fell in love with her.

Who knows what Bonnie H. actually kept of Ed Abbey in her own heart-mind after moving back to her home state of California, far from the wood smoke and the calls of the hermit thrush.**  Abbey writes that she married a man with all the fixings, a man who was "not a fire lookout, not by a long shot."  Stating this, his voice sounds perhaps a note of contempt and stubbornness.  

A "fingernail moon"
Writer-persons, go the wisdom, can be difficult candidates for intimate pair bonding.  The North Rim lookout and its keeper (or "operator"), I'd like to imagine, did not make the necessary impression upon Bonnie at that moment in time.  If she had then possessed a greater amount of Inner Ed, she may have carried his Utopian heart with her for a while longer, and possibly until her or his expiration somewhere in the canyon country. Bonnie may have not been ripe for that attachment.

It would have to be a story on a different CD set which tells the tale of a different Bonnie—call her Bonnie the Second—whose sea change begins while she mentally replays her years as a young city girl afraid of fires and spending many childhood night minutes arranging her bathroom and slippers (to facilitate escape).  

The different story would tell of Bonnie's many-years endurance of her gross error in lifetime judgment and her awakening.  It would tell of how she loves her own version of Ed Abbey—his name is James Walsh—and then sets out to find him again years later, believing that it is her fate to stake her claim to him. By this time Walsh is married with children.

Bonnie is unswerving.  For an unreasonable number of years, she played her California role impeccably, all the while knowingly and unknowingly carrying (eecummingsly) James deep in her under-mind and mind-heart.  Then she realized that she was stubborn as a Utopian writer-person, after all.

Driving along Highway 145 and listening to KSUT announcers deliver the blood-soaked news in soothing professional tones, Bonnie thinks about how she married the man with all the fixings because he and his family supported her false selves; in his presence she felt secure.  She was secure; he had money.  He was practical and she was not.  However, she rarely felt alive; mostly she was dying a life, day by day. Driving in the car, she wishes James were in the front seat with her to discuss the so-called news. 

Is it worth it to feel alive once again? she wonders. Travelling solo in all senses of the word, she feels vulnerable and threatened, but it's not an entirely unwelcome feeling.  [Cliché Alert] The heart wants what it wants. 

There came a moment in California when there was simply no where else to go.  Getting a purchase on reality meant acknowledging that there were only two nations remaining in the world:  where James Walsh lived and everywhere else.  She needed to be next to him, to talk with him.  She packed her belongings and left.

When Bonnie locates Walsh in a volunteer fire department in the West, a thousand fears bloom anew.  She feels as if the traveling American public can see, at a clicking glance, thoughts broadcast on the screen of her forehead, about how her husband made her feel secure and how James Walsh made her feel capable, adequate, and her Best Self.


She is also irrationally afraid that a bear or a mountain lion will eat her before she can speak alone with James.

Yes, her quest is foolhardy; but hey: so is storming a castle gate guarded by sixty men.  Movie logic wins the day.

Walsh does not know Bonnie is trying to make contact with him, but seemingly everybody else does. His wife, their children, his wife's family, his fellow fire fighters, the small-town neighbors intercept Bonnie's letters and phone calls. To them Bonnie is a city strumpet, a growth maniac, cold to the bone, and much too pretty. She also seems far too expensive to be worth the man's time.

The story takes its final turn when the unreasonable universe brings James and Bonnie together again. They spend their first two hours holding hands and listening to songs spun on an old record player from James's father's house.  Bonnie allows herself to smile but no longer to laugh (the years of falseness have exacted their price). 

Walsh is a bit flattered and a bit skeptical she has come back to him, since this is something that happens mainly in film treatments and sappy pop songs.

He is amused she still subscribes to what they shared. They talk and talk and drink whiskey flavored with juniper syrup.  The words they recall saying to each other from summers past are considered as music selections, not verbal weapons.  Bonnie the Second tells James Walsh the falsehood stories, which alleviate some of his grief over losing her.  He tells her his stories. They talk about their spouses, his family.  They publish none of it on social media.

Bonnie's small ears hear James Walsh say, "I see who you are," and because Walsh actually means what he says, his trust in her uncovers once and for all her almost-suffocated Best Self.  It is still whole and readable, a codex that can be cracked, after all.

Schmaltzy but true.

Paradox Valley

And now: to re-enter reality.

I'm reading the Harriet Fish Backus memoir Tomboy Bride, and so must consider whether a greater test than the fire lookout wouldn't perhaps be a year-round life in a mining manager's cabin above Telluride, Colorado, in the year 1906.

What sports these mining people were.  Gales, slides, ice, frostbite, lack of roughage, few neighbors, overworked horses and mules, many miners, and snow, snow, snow.  Also: explosives.

Newlywed Backus self-reportedly takes in stride everything about her mountain redoubt except perhaps the altitude problems.  She cannot cook properly, since heat at 11,800 feet has a mind of its own.  For example, the boiled eggs remain frozen.  Backus also serves a business dinner disaster involving rancid turkey.  Cakes, too, confound. 

She writes:  At home in California I had made delicious cakes and decided to use one of my mother's recipes.  I mixed the batter with great care and put it in the oven for the required time to bake. The result—it remained battery!

Until now, I've not read or heard of battery being used as an adjective.  How strange for the word to simultaneously conjure thoughts of assault, electricity, and uncooked baked goods.  How odd its spelling is not batter-y.

Bridal Veil Falls, in Telluride

*   [Author's note: Originally this post situated the North Rim Lookout on the rim of the Colorado Plateau, not the rim of Grand Canyon. This may make some sense but not really.  After a tutorial at Outdoor Pursuits, I have corrected the error.]

** [Author's second note:  Beyond Abbey's story on the CD, which is titled "Fire Lookout" (from Abbey's Road), I have no idea about the relation between him and Bonnie H.   Obviously.]

Monday, October 5, 2015


[from the website of Chicago's independent research library, The Newberry]

On Sunday, during an NPR radio segment about interspecies communication with dolphins, the narrator tossed up a y word so sweet, I now must tip-type back into this supposedly defunct blog. Such is life (or SIL, as friends of my youth once said).

Dolphin-y, which I wanted to hear in my mind's eye as dolphinny, was the word.  As in Phineas, or finny.

Dolphins.  Intelligent creatures who swim and click and whirr-squeak.  They queak, or queek (spellers?....).  Asks a dolphin expert, What are they thinking while going about their days and nights; and what do they and their long-term memories recall, resift, replay?

Said expert has long studied dolphins and has, with help from a tech whiz, rigged up a device that hopes to be an interspecies translator and essentially operates as an emitter and receiver of whistles.  What I wonder is how much of a difference it would make to a dolphin for the whistles to be emitted by a human being rather than by a machine.

Train, STOP (festina lente)
 (out of frame and up "the hill," Fort Lewis College )