You Can’t Stop Progress

1. Another week, another need to make a couple of “in memoriam” observations. I guess that comes with getting older, huh? First, I note with deep respect and awe the passing of author and artist Brian Catling, who emerged late in his life as an incredible and prolific novelist, creating a strange and wondrous canon that I devoured in its entirety. His official website (which has not been updated to note his passing as I am typing this) is a treasure trove of weirdness, touching on the host of creative and transgressive activities in which he has engaged for many decades; I recommend giving it a look-see. Closer to home, on this website, I’ve twice written essays about his works, and I link to those pages below, encouraging you to explore his work, if you can, and if you dare:

2. I also note the passing of the amazing jazz saxophonist Pharoah Sanders this week, at the age of 81. After struggling to find an audience for his work in the early 1960s, Sanders joined John Coltrane’s live group in 1964, and played with that legend until Trane’s death in 1967, crafting an extraordinarily influential and powerful body of work together. Sanders then emerged as a band-leader in his own right, and also as a key collaborator with Alice Coltrane (John’s widow) on a series of albums that shaped the form of what’s come to be known as spiritual jazz. After a long quiet phase, Sanders re-emerged last year with a beautiful, haunting, and critically-acclaimed new album called Promises, which was a collaborative effort featuring electronic artist Floating Points and the London Symphony Orchestra. It will prove to be a most worthy musical epitaph, for sure. My own personal favorite from Pharoah’s catalog sits at the heart of his long collaboration with vocalist Leon Thomas, the 1969 album Karma, and its cornerstone cut, “The Creator Has A Master Plan.” I consider that (long) song to be one of the most incredible works in the history of jazz, an epic suite with a beautiful and accessible melody that’s torn to shreds and rebuilt multiple times over the work’s run, creating senses of tension and relief that feel like life itself feels, glorious and harrowing in equal measure. At its sweetest points, it can move you like the most gracious gospel music ever recorded, then in its hardest breakdowns, it feels as intense and atonal and chaotic as the most abrasive things in my industrial and death metal catalogs. But it all works and flows flawlessly, a piece so much larger than the sum of its parts, truly. In the LP’s original format, “Creator” was split across two sides of the record, so I do appreciate that in our modern digital era, we can get the whole thing as a single track. Do yourself a solid sometime this week: carve out a half-hour of time and crank this jam in your fave listening zone, and feel the world change a little bit, just because you did:

3. We spent three days last week in Prescott, Arizona (our county seat) where Marcia had been selected to serve jury duty. Fortunately, her case was not as long and painful as the one that I got pulled into last year, which ran for nearly three weeks. As I wrote about in item #2 here, Arizona has a very small number of very large counties, meaning that getting to our local seat of power is a long drive. We elected to stay over in Prescott accordingly, and I figured I could get some good hikes in while Marcia was doing her civic duty. Alas, the weather did not cooperate and it rained almost the entire time we were there, meaning I spent a lot of time reading in our hotel room. But I was able to get one decent schlep up onto Thumb Butte during a brief sunny window one day, for a nice view back down over Prescott:

I had another brief window of opportunity to be out and about the next day, so decided (as one does)(when one is weird) to check out a little cemetery nearby that I’d spotted on the map. There’s almost always something interesting to see in any out-of-the-way burial site. This one proved to quite weird indeed, a semi-abandoned (I think) Independent Order of Odd Fellows graveyard that seemed to have peaked in terms of burials between the 1930s and 1970s, but is largely overgrown and disheveled looking now. But, oddly enough (no pun intended) there were interesting clusters of graves that were clearly receiving regular love, attention and visitation, even though none of them were anything close to current or recent burials. The odd vibe was enhanced by the presence of various vehicles tucked away in various corners with various people sitting in them for no obvious reasons, which tends to imply that this location is either a good place to score drugs or a good place for sexual adventuring. Or both. And neither of those propositions were the least bit appealing to me, so I made my rounds, snapped some snaps, and beat a discreet retreat, keeping a cautious eye out as I worked my way back down the muddy trail toward town. Here’s a peek at what it looked like, minus the creepers in their cars:

4. Between the Anno Virum and our moves from the cultural hub of Chicago to the less culturally endowed Des Moines and Sedona, getting to see good live music has mostly become a memory for us, not a current-day regular activity. But we did catch a nice al fresco show this weekend at a block party thrown by one of the regulars in the group with which I hike each Monday. The featured group was called Black Forest Society, and they offered a really engaging collection of original songs from within an interesting voice, guitar, cello, and percussion line-up. Their music is ostensibly folk-based, but it features a lot of open tunings and drones and wordless ululations that give it an interesting cross-cultural vibe evoking both traditional (Asian) Indian and Celtic motifs and moods. I particularly enjoyed their songs that featured 12-string guitar work, some of which reminded me of the late, great Robbie Basho and his yeoman efforts to bring steel-stringed guitars into the classical traditions of Indian music, establishing a western raga system in the process. Toss in the fact that we were sitting outdoors with friends, noshing tasty snacks, surrounded by our wondrous red rocks, and it made for a really lovely Sunday outing; you can click on the photo below to visit Black Forest Society’s website and hear some samples of their music:

5. Speaking of my Monday hiking group, we did another fantastic backwoods trek yesterday, (way) up to four native ruins, two with impressive rock art formations, all of them located on precipitous overhangs with challenging approaches. Click the pic below, at the first ruin we visited, to see the mini-photo-album for this trek:

6. And to close on another happy note, we wished Katelin and John a most happy first anniversary this week, all of us noting that it seems hard to believe that it’s been a year since we traveled to their home in Las Vegas for their wedding. We’re heading out for a little road trip tomorrow up to Arches National Park in Moab, Utah, then over to Zion National Park in the southwestern part of the Beehive State. Katelin and John will be driving over from Vegas to join us while we are in Zion, so we’ll celebrate their anniversary properly in person then. We love them dearly, and are proud of them always.

Nail on the Head

1. My prior post noted the anniversary of a moment of great private mourning for my family, just as the very public mourning for Queen Elizabeth II was beginning. That was a lot of heavy matter spilling out of the Interweb Pipes all at once here, as I don’t enjoy feeling like a ghoul picking over the remains of the dearly departed. That said, I do want to note two other recent passings of personal import to me, then will move on to some less death-centric material.

Firstly, astrophysicist Frank Drake passed away earlier in September. He spent much of his career engaged in the Search for Extraterrestrial Life (SETI) from a macro hard science standpoint, not from the fringes of the micro bug-eyed men with anal probes standpoint. He was involved in Project Ozma in 1960, which was one of the first technologically sophisticated attempts to discern communications signals from the stars. Dr. Drake later went on to play key roles in developing the Pioneer Plaque, the Voyager Golden Record and the Arecibo Message. But his achievement that resonates most closely for me was his Drake Equation, developed in 1961. Marcia, Katelin and I all have that equation tattooed on our right forearms. Here’s two-thirds of the family collection, freshly inked:

The Drake Equation is a probabilistic calculation designed to estimate the number of active, communicative extraterrestrial civilizations in the Milky Way. Here’s an explainer of its various elements. We know a lot more about some of its variables today than we did when Dr. Drake postulated his argument, but for most of the variables related to potential intelligent life forms, we’re obviously still operating with an observable set of but one species on one planet with the ability to cast electromagnetic signals outward to the stars, and we haven’t been doing it for very long, at all. The equation resonates with us as a family in a variety of ways, and has framed a variety of discussions and digressions among us over the years. But at bottom line, I think Marcia summed up what we love about it best, when she noted: “It reminds me that we are small, but special.” Amen. Thanks for that, Dr. Drake.

A second memorial nod must be tipped toward the late great jazz-man Ramsey Lewis, who died this week after an incredibly long career as a composer, performer, radio host, educator, and philanthropist. His best known works were recorded around the time that I was born, yet they still sound vibrant and joyful to modern ears, or at least my modern ears anyway. Lewis’ trio was also where the equally late and equally lamented Maurice White cut his performing teeth, before departing to launch Earth, Wind and Fire to massive creative, commercial, and critical acclaim. While we were living in Chicago, we got to catch a special performance by Ramsey as part of the Chicago Jazz Festival, a gig billed as his retirement performance, which turned out to be a passionate, warm, emotional experience of great heft to the creative community in the city where Ramsey spent the vast majority of his life. Here are a pair of Ramsey Lewis’ most beloved performances, offered with immense respect for his life and work:

2. A couple of posts ago, I wrote about respectfully visiting a variety of hard-to-find, hard-to-see native historic sites in and around our area. The group I hike with have since done two more excursions up into the highlands at the northern edge of our local red rocks region, and we did find some interesting ruins, if not any dramatic rock art. For these hikes, for me, the highlights were actually the views from on high. While archaeological assessments of native sites obviously focus on the practical reasons why people would have lived there (e.g. access to food and water, shelter from the elements, safety from other humans, etc.), I do deeply believe that our ancestors also must have shared some version of our own appreciation for “location, location, location,” especially for locations with utterly exquisite views. Here are a pair of snaps from each of those past two hikes. Wouldn’t you have loved to live here too? (Note: at the tip of the central promontory on which I am standing in the second photo, you may just be able to see one of the ruins we visited; I’d wager it was a sentry or guard post, based on the panoramic views of all approach routes from within its confines; you can click either photo to see a larger version).

3. Closer to home, and while I’m sorting photos, we have fine views from our windows and yard, though not quite as grand as the ones above. We also have an incredible variety of visitors who make their homes in our yard, or at least pass through on a regular basis. I’ve posted a lot of photos of various yard critters here over the past two years, but here are three guests who came to see us since last I posted. Note that the mule deer is reacting to one of the very few yard guests that I don’t like: the mosquitoes that swarm here after the monsoon leaves plentiful pools of water for them to breed in, ugh.

4. I’ve long used arcane titling conventions for posts like this one, which offer a variety of short pieces rather than a single conceptual article. Back in 2017, I tried to recreate the roster of those conventions in a post called So Many Ways To Say Some Stuff. For a variety of reasons, it seemed that after I compiled that list, I didn’t find myself writing many such posts anymore, favoring instead a variety of more series-based articles like Favorite Songs by Favorite Artists, or 10,000 Words, or Best of the Archives, or With Which I Am Well Pleased. By early 2022, I was feeling a bit burnt-out by all of those various series, and by the pace that I’d kept up here throughout the Anno Virum, and by the time being consumed by a not-yet-ready-for-public-announcement writing project away from the web. I whithered a bit on what to do, and have cut back the frequency of posting here since then, but that seemed to open up the window to more compendium posts again, like this one. I only state that publicly here to note that my naming convention for such posts through 2022 has been based on song titles by the great Uriah Heep, and that after fourteen such posts, I think it’s time to move on to a new rubric. I know that virtually no one reading this piffle and tripe will note such arcane conventions, nor necessarily pick up on the new paradigm, but it pleases me to have structure, and to have little tricks and hooks that help me sort the immense volume of stuff here, even if nobody notices but me.

Twenty Years

My father died twenty years ago today, shortly after he was critically injured by an elderly driver who blacked out behind the wheel of his car, leading to a head-on auto accident. Dad died in the same hospital in Beaufort, South Carolina, where I had been born some four decades earlier. He was not conscious when I arrived at the hospital, and he never regained consciousness, though my mother and sister and I (plus a close family friend) were there with him when he left the troubles of this world behind and flew away.

In the brief period after the accident while he was still able to communicate with us, Dad watched from his hospital bed while his beloved North Carolina State Wolfpack stomped my own alma mater Navy’s football team by a score of 65 to 19. The last time that we spoke, by phone, we talked about that game, despite his morphine fog. I’m glad he got to see it. The last words he heard from me on that phone call were “I love you.” We’re one of those families that ends pretty much every phone conversation or written communication with those words, because you never know what tomorrow might bring. In this case, tomorrow brought something awful, so having said that was important to me.

We ran this memorial on the 10th anniversary of my Dad’s death. Time flies, and it doesn’t ever move backward.

The day after my father’s death, we were all engaged in the sad business associated with funeral arrangements and announcements and such, precisely as the one-year anniversary of the September 11 attacks were being marked around the country, adding a surreal extra layer of national grief and loss to our own personal mourning experiences. I delivered the eulogy at my Dad’s funeral a couple of days later, having crafted it quickly on his old computer in his old office, reading from a printed hard copy that, alas, I did not save after the service. But I believe I’ve recreated and summarized the gist of my remarks a few times over the years, and they went something like this . . .

Colonel Charles R. Smith, Jr., (July 29, 1939 – September 10, 2002) was born and raised in the small Piedmont mill town of Albemarle, North Carolina. He attended and graduated from North Carolina State University before being commissioned in the United States Marine Corps in 1961. He served on active duty for 28 years, retiring as Chief of Staff at Marine Corps Recruit Depot, Parris Island, South Carolina, then going on to career in ministry as the station manager and on-air personality for the largest Christian radio station in South Carolina’s Low Country.

My father was a combat veteran of both Vietnam and Lebanon, and was handsomely decorated for his service over the years, earning The Legion of Merit, The Bronze Star (with combat V), The Meritorious Service Medal (three awards), The Navy Commendation Medal (with Silver Star), The Marine Corps Expeditionary Medal (two awards), The National Defense Service Medal, The Vietnam Service Medal (with four stars), The Humanitarian Service Medal, The Vietnam Cross of Gallantry (two awards, with Silver Star and Palm and Frame), The Presidential Unit Commendation (one star), The Combat Action Ribbon (one star), The Republic of Vietnam Campaign Medal, and The Lebanese Order of the Cedar. He’s one of a very small number of non-Lebanese citizens to receive that last honor, granted to him for his peace-making work as Marine liaison to Ambassador Philip Habib, a crucial and meaningful side duty while he was serving as Executive Officer of the 32nd Marine Amphibious Unit in Beirut in 1982-83.

While the biography that can be gleaned from my father’s list of medals and ribbons was an important part of who and what he was, there was obviously more to his life than the details of his military accomplishments. Dad was well educated with a pair of Masters Degrees, and he spent much of his life as an educator, either directly (as a school teacher, later in his life) or indirectly (as a mentor, storyteller, sage, and church elder). He was a man of great, deep faith, who touched countless lives through his ministries. He was also a “foodie” without pretense, who could just as easily appreciate a good chili dog as he could a fine meal at one of the world’s great restaurants. He was a loving husband to my mom, a great dad to my sister and I, and a doting grandfather to my daughter, niece and nephew.

But I think what I miss the most, when all’s said and done, is the fact that he was really quite the goofball much of the time, and was a lot of fun to spend time with. He had an infectious laugh, and loved to tell tall tales and stories; the truth was malleable for him, and did not necessarily have to correspond to reality. (The excellent Tim Burton movie, Big Fish, could have been his biography). He also found humor in all sorts of places where most folks didn’t look for it. I remember one time when my sister and I were young and our Mom was away for some reason, so Dad was left with the responsibility of making dinner for us. He spent a long time in the kitchen that night making a very special dinner for us: A Spam Lamb (for my sister) and a Spam Ram (for me). Both of them were anatomically correct, ahem.

We laughed and laughed and laughed through our dinner, and meat from a can never tasted as good as it did that night. Later, I watched him make his grandchildren laugh just as hard as he did his children, which was lovely, and powerful, and memorable. I will miss that, a lot. I know I’m not alone in that regard.

Groovy Early ’70s Summertime Family Photo, taken in my grandparents’ backyard in Albemarle, North Carolina.

It’s hard to believe that it’s been twenty years since I first wrote and delivered some version of those words. Some days, it seems like a lifetime ago, since so much has changed since then — but other times, it feels like yesterday, since I remember it all so vividly, down to the tiniest details that usually fade with time. A couple of years after my father died, I was asked to contribute an article for a “summer special” edition of the alternative newsweekly for which I wrote, describing unique or lasting memories of the year’s balmiest season. I think that was the first time that I formally put pen to paper (proverbially speaking) after the funeral to try to capture the experience of time spent with my Dad, and then the experience of the days after, without him. Here’s a link to that article, if you’d like to read it.

We were in Santa Barbara this summer on what would have been my Dad’s 83rd birthday. I got a good beach hot dog in his honor, though my Mom correctly pointed out that it should have had greasy chili sauce and mustard and way too many onions on it to properly replicate his preferences. Urp.

I miss my Dad, at bottom line, all these years on, and I rue the fact that he was not with us in the flesh to share in so many amazing experiences over the past two decades. And, thus, I must make the public service announcement that I offer pretty much anytime I mention my father online: if you know an elderly or infirm driver who is no longer capable of safely operating a motor vehicle, you really need to graciously, yet firmly, facilitate and support that person’s transition to a non-driving state. The man who killed my father walked away with a sprained wrist, while our lives were irrevocably changed, forever, for the worse. You don’t want your own loved ones to be responsible for doing that to somebody else’s family. So take the keys when it’s time to do so, please and thanks.

One final closing memory: I think I inherited a strong penchant for taking dubious shortcuts when driving or hiking or biking from my Dad, as part of both of our penchants for wanting to see how things connect, even if the shortest path between Points A and B is a dirty and dangerous and stupid one. I remember one time when I was a kid, probably of the age shown in that family photo above, and my Dad and I hiked up Morrow Mountain in the Uwharries of Central North Carolina. You could drive to the top of the mountain by car, or walk up along the road, taking advantage of the many switchbacks. Or you could just clamber straight up the steep faces between the switchbacks, although the park rangers probably wouldn’t have much cared for the third choice. So, of course, that was the one we chose. We made it to the top, so all’s well that ends well, but it wasn’t one of our brighter father-son outings together. Oh well . . . I guess if we’d just walked up the road or driven to the top, I wouldn’t have written this sonnet about that day, some 30 years after it happened:

The serpent switchbacks cut the mountain’s side,
each hairpin turn just higher than the last.
Straight up, between the curves, a gravel slide,
where trees were felled by avalanches past.
Both slide and road went to the mountain’s peak,
one paved and winding, one more steep, but straight.
We stood there at the bottom, by the creek,
and chose the rock slide without much debate.
We scrambled up the loose slate, crossed the road,
and climbed the next pile, careful of sharp shale,
bypassing slippery spots where moisture showed,
ignoring man-made paths for nature’s trail.
Exhausted when we finally reached the top,
amazed, on looking back, how steep the drop.

 

A Year or a Day

1. September? It’s September already? Only three weeks until the equinox? Yeesh. That snuck up on me. We’re greeting the month here in Northern Arizona (and most of the American Southwest) with some extremely hot temperatures again, and they feel even hotter than usual after a month of good monsoon, as discussed (with photo and video support) in my last post.  Hopefully everybody’s 2022 is going better than most of our 2021’s and 2020’s went, but if not, take heart: September 1 marks the “twice as far behind as yet to go” point for the year. Which reminds me of a poem I wrote a decade and a half ago, during a year when I was publicly committed to writing a poem a day for a year:

I’m very tired of pushing words like snow,
then slipping on the forms that lie below.
I think I might just stop here now, although
I’ve twice as far behind as yet to go.
The words that used to pour out, now don’t come,
I often feel as though I’m stricken dumb.
But looking back, I see how far I’ve come:
there’s twice as far behind as yet to come.
Off in the distance, maybe, I can see
an ending to my self-imposed decree.
I guess I can be proud, to some degree
with twice as much behind as yet to be.
So here I sit, and write, at this plateau
with twice as far behind as yet to go.

2. Through a series of fortuitous connections, I’ve fallen in with a group of serious hikers who go out every Monday morning on the types of treks that I really like, typically involving beautiful (but obscure) destinations, frequent bushwhacking in the back country, and fairly strenuous climbs and descents. The group also has a great appreciation for the proliferation of Native American rock art and ruins scattered throughout this region, most of them left behind by the people dubbed The Sinagua by Europeans and Americans who later settled the region. The Sinagua left this area en masse around 1425 AD, so whenever you find their remains, you know you’re looking at something that’s at least 600 years old. I’ve posted a variety of images in my various photo series over the past two years sharing some of the public and obscure sites that I’ve visited, but on this past Monday’s hike, our group went to one of the most amazing Sinagua art sites that I’ve yet seen. I posted some shots from that hike over at my Flickr site, and you can click on the image below to see the remainder of them.

3. You may note that I do not disclose the location of the site in that photo album, and that’s generally been the case for any native sites that I find or visit hereabouts, excluding the ones that are readily open to the public under Forest or Park Service administration. I have increasingly come to believe that over-sharing on the Internet is destroying the experience of visiting sites like these, or high-profile natural locations, and I’m routinely annoyed at finding sites online with detailed descriptions making it relatively easy to find things that would be better-to-best experienced by having a knowledgeable and respectful local help you to see. (This applies to lots of things, actually. I’m equally bemused/appalled to see long lines at restaurants in towns where I have lived that locals consider marginal at best, but which for some reason have incorrectly convinced Tripadvisor or Yelp or whoever of their supposed excellence). That sense of annoyance about disrespectful visitors is even more exacerbated when I encounter people near or at these sites who are fundamentally unprepared to get there and be there, stereotypical case in point the time when I met a female “hiker” wearing yoga clothes and ballet slippers, dragging an out-of-shape photographer behind her carrying a massive equipment bag, but not much water. It was clear that her top priority was getting a fabulous Instagram-type influencer photo with professional assistance, and while I was going the other way and did not see the actual photo shoot, I can easily imagine her standing on or laying hands on things that should not be climbed nor touched. Now, don’t get me wrong, I love taking pictures (duh) pretty much everywhere I go, but the focus of the pictures is not on me looking fabulous, nor is it to provide a roadmap for strangers to follow, only a documentation of what I’ve done, because I’m a list-making, documentarian kind of guy. Be clear: I would be thrilled to take any friends or anybody who reads this site regularly up to these sorts of Native sites to see (but not touch) them, just as I was thrilled when others took me there for the first time. But I’m not going to use my website to make it possible for strangers with questionable intentions (to my views, anyway) to get there.

4. You might have noticed the owl in that photo album, if you visited it. I was leading the way in trying to find a path up to mesa we wanted to summit, and dropped down into a mostly dry wash to get some easier walking space. I came upon a small pool of water, and as I was looking for a way around it, what I thought was a rock turned its head and stared at me. Ye Gods! I figured I’d be lucky to get a single photo of this handsome fellow before he flew off, but he (using that gender neutrally, as I can’t bring myself to refer to sentient animals as “it”) was oddly calm and let me and my group (once they caught up to me) admire him. We were a bit worried that he might be bit under the weather given that odd behavior, and had we found him somewhere less remote with phone service, we might have called Animal Control to see if he needed rescue and rehab. But I’m cautiously hopeful that he was, perhaps, just a juvenile who had not yet encountered humans and so did not know to be frightened of us, if we made no threatening moves toward him. We walked on after a while, and I’m telling myself that Mr Owl had a nice rest, got a good sip of water, and then has continued on with his business, living his best possible owl life. As for us, the remainder of our hike got strenuous even by our standards, as we ended up in a blind wash and had to climb our way out through a dense half-mile, filled with cat’s claw acacia, agave, prickly pears, and other pokey, bitey, spiny flora. I looked like something out of a serial killer movie by the time I got home, every bit of exposed skin scratched to pieces. And I didn’t get the worst of it among our crew. Here’s hoping we find a cleaner path next week.

5. On the topic of hiking destinations filled with obnoxious “hikers” around here, the worst is absolutely Devil’s Bridge, a natural arch that’s relatively accessible, and is extremely highly documented on the web. I generally avoid it at all costs, because I’m averse to having to park a mile away from a trailhead, walk along the side of a busy road, and then embark upon a hike that culminates in a point on a trail where there’s a long line and a half-hour wait as people take turns walking the arch and posing for the “perfect” photo, that looks exactly like every other “perfect” photo taken there. That’s just not my idea of a good commune with nature. But a couple of weeks back, my hiking group was in the general vicinity of Devil’s Bridge, and our planned hike turned out to be a little shorter and easier than is our norm, so we decided to take a back route up to Devil’s Bridge just to add some steps to our schlep. We got up to the point where you can walk across the formation, and there was the usual throng of posing folks there. Meh. I had no desire to have the stereotypical Devil’s Bridge photo of me taken, but I did have a desire to document my explorations, so I elected to get what I think is a better shot of the formation anyway, climbing down to snap it from the underside:

Pretty cool, huh? From that vantage point, it was impossible to see the assholery going on up top, and that was a nice win from my perspective.

On The Rebound/Waters Flowin’

1. This past Sunday afternoon, I started to feel very crummy, very quickly. By the time I went to bed that night, I had extreme body aches and was running about a 102º fever. Obviously, given the times we’re living in, I presumed that COVID had finally caught up with me, so I took a home test. Negative. Did another on Monday night. Also negative. And one this morning, negative yet again. Today is the first time that my temperature has returned to its usual lizard-like 97º, and nothing’s hurting much at the moment, so I think whatever it has been, it has hopefully run its course. I never had any other symptoms besides fever, muscle pain, and the fatigue that both of those things bring. It occurred to me that I had been outside quite a bit on Friday and Saturday, and had gotten chewed up pretty good by the mosquitoes that swarm here as the monsoon kicks into high gear. So I’m kind of thinking now that I’ve had something like West Nile Virus, which is endemic here in Arizona, with case numbers typically peaking right around this time of year. Hopefully no long-term impact from it, whatever it is. Or was, fingers crossed.

2. Speaking of monsoon, as evidenced by all of the photos I post here, we’ve got incredible views hereabouts, but they get even more spectacular when you add an active atmosphere to the mix. Here’s a few snaps taken over the past week when light, water, and landscape combine to evoke “wow” moments:

3. And speaking of “wow,” as if on cue, just as I posted those pictures, a huge thunderclap sounded and the heavens opened up. Here’s what it looks like out the front door right now. The plants are loving the wet season, as you can see:

4. Okay, this wasn’t really intended to be a weather-centric article, but after I posted the prior photo, the hail started falling. It didn’t seem wise to go out into it, but here’s how it looked from inside blowing up against our back door:

5. We have “barrancas” (small gorges, which are normally dry) running along two sides of our property. As the intense storm began to abate, I went out to check on the yard, and the barrancas were most decidedly not dry, per the following video:

6. Ummm . . . I had some other tidbits I was going to share in this omnibus post, but y’know what? I think I’ll save ’em for next time. There’s yard work to be done and gutters to be cleared, right now . . .

Caving to Streaming

In October 2018, I wrote an article here called A Lifetime of Listening, which explored all the ways that I had physically experienced music since my earliest sentient days. The article ended by explaining my then-current listening paradigm, as follows:

[This is] the status quo as of autumn 2018: I have an iTunes account on my computer with about 14,000 songs available to me, all backed up on an external 1.0 terabyte hard drive. I manage six iPods for myself and Marcia, making new mixes as new things come in for all of the various players. Apple recently ended their own “gadget era” (e.g. no more standalone music players, since you are supposed to get music on your phone or tablet), so these great little players are on their way out, and I have acquired a stockpile of Nanos and Shuffles to rage against the dying of this paradigm as long as I can. Yeah, I could play stuff on my phone, but I don’t like carrying it around, since I have a big phone, while a Shuffle fits nicely in my pants pocket.

I still purchase all of my music online, album by album and song by song, though more often than not I actually pay for it with points that I can get from my credit cards (rather than getting airplane miles or whatever). I have not yet made the leap to Spotify or any of the other similar subscription streaming music services as I still like “owning” and not “renting” my music — even though the physical embodiment of my ownership is just a bunch of data in a little little six-inch by six-inch by two-inch black box, not the glorious milk crates of musty smelling cardboard and plastic of yesteryear.

At some point, yeah, I know I will have to jump forward again, and Marcia will probably deploy the cattle prod to make it happen at some point. But for now, I’m fighting it, knowing that I will ultimately lose this battle, as I always do.

I continued to fight the good fight after that point in time, working stubbornly to not update my listening paradigms just for the sake of updating them. But as of yesterday, I must confess with chagrin that I have thrown in the towel, and have formally resigned myself to the fact that we live in a streaming era now, and that I have to play along, if I want to play.

It’s been a slow erosion arriving at this point, and Marcia, being less change averse, led the charge as she usually does in such matters. In 2019, when she was taking a yoga instructor class, she needed to create class playlists using Spotify (her instructors’ choice), so she set up an account and got a little Bluetooth speaker so that she could play her mixes from her phone. Then we found that, as we were traveling, hotels and rental homes and rental cars stopped offering music playing devices that could be connected to the iPods that I traveled with, so we started using Marcia’s Spotify account and travel speaker to make trip-specific playlists.

Within the past year, I beefed up our main home television with a really good sound system. Since the TV was a smart one, we could also play Spotify playlists through it, and the quality of the sound experienced there was certainly greater than what we were getting from my 12+ year old iPod docking stereo. So we began listening to various playlists that way, and I began actively curating Spotify playlists in real time, to add new release albums, typically mirroring whatever I was downloading on my computer to play with iTunes. (My catalog of songs hosted on my computer is now at 17,522 tracks, totally about 48 days of total listening time).

While we were in California last week, I went to a local coffee shop one morning, and was most pleasantly surprised to hear Fairport Convention’s sublime take on the traditional tune “Matty Groves” playing over the shop’s stereo. When I got back to our rental house, I made a really, really good (if I say so myself) 100+ song Folk-Rock mix on the Spotify account, and it pretty much soundtracked the remainder of our time on vacation. When I got home, I sat down at my computer and considered recreating it on iTunes, but I found that a lot of the songs I had selected were not available, and it seemed wasteful to spend money on downloading things that I’d already gotten on the Spotify account. This was the straw that broke the camel’s back, and I caved, folded, collapsed and surrendered to the inevitable. Meet the new paradigm. Better (?) late than never.

I formalized this transition yesterday, when I bought a new Bose smart speaker for our house and set it up with an Echo Dot that we’d been given some years ago and never used, so now we can just to talk to She Who Will Not Be Named Out Loud Lest She Order Us Twenty Pounds of Cat Litter (hint: Exa-Alay) and She will play our music for us. I must admit, it sounds good, and it’s easy. Well, it got easy after I renamed all of our playlists to make them simpler to remember and call up, anyway.  And now we don’t have to have the television on to play our Spotify music. Here’s what our home jukebox set up looks like now:

I must admit I found it a bit giggle-inducing to realize how much it evokes my home jukebox from nearly half-a-century ago:

With that new system set up and running, I had to unplug my trusty old Tivoli Audio iPod player that I’ve been using daily since we lived in Latham, New York, well over a decade ago. We certainly got more than our money’s worth out of that modest tech investment, and it’s certainly had a good and productive run. It’s still working fine, actually, though its speakers sound thin compared to more modern ones, and it obviously doesn’t work with contemporary streaming technology. But still . . . I feel inordinately sad seeing it sitting here on my office floor like this, its service complete, ready to be relegated to the big box of wires and cables and adaptors and old tech that sits in my closet, gathering dust:

Poor Old Music Box. You were good to us, and I will miss you, while humming this excellently weird favorite song to myself in your honor and memory, wistfully:

I do note that I am not totally giving up on iTunes/iPod technology, as we still use it in our car, and I’m disinclined to have to be connecting and disconnecting various accounts and phones when we get in and out the Mazda every time. So my 17,522 purchased song library will still have some value, though I don’t expect I’ll add much to it anymore, so that means that car driving time will eventually become more of a nostalgia listening experience that a what’s new and fresh experience. Oh well. I’ll endure, I suppose. And I know that sometime in the future, something new will come along, and everybody will adopt it, and I will cling to my Bose and Spotify and Lexa-Alay system, raging, raging against the dying of that paradigm. Here’s hoping that time is in the long distant future though. I’m just not sure how many more beloved inanimate objects I can euthanize while remaining emotionally healthy and functional . . .

Completing the Coast (Santa Barbara to San Anselmo)

Marcia and I are back home in Sedona tonight after a two-week vacation that took us from Los Angeles to Marin County, with a variety of stops along the way. With this trip behind us, we’ve now traveled the American Pacific Coast by car from the Mexican border to within a stone’s throw of the Canadian one, over the course of three separate vacations. It’s been a great experience for us, as our lives have generally revolved around the East Coast and the Midwest, so it’s been good to spend so much time in the setting sun quadrant of the country from our home base in Arizona.

I posted the first week’s worth of photos mid-vacation, here. Highlights of the second week included Solvang, Hearst Castle, Big Sur, Monterey, Point Reyes, The Albany Bulb, San Francisco (including a Grateful Dead pilgrimage stop outside of their famous 710 Ashbury digs) and a pretty incredible rental home atop a vertiginous hill in San Anselmo with a formidably steep, mostly one-lane approach drive. After a few times doing it in a larger-than-optimal rental car, our white knuckles dissipated enough for us to film it. Want to see? Click here. And while you’re over at Youtube, you might also enjoy our video of some deliciously disgusting elephant seals we saw on the coast just north of San Simeon, who look like over-stuffed sausages and sound like a pile of farts. Here’s them. Glorious!

At each of our four overnight stop sites, we had what we’d consider to be a signature dinner. First up, The Lark in Santa Barbara. Then The Sardine Factory in Monterey and MADCAP in San Anselmo. The last dinner of our vacation was spent at the lovely Acquerello in San Francisco, an elegant experience with some sublime tastes as part of their four-course prix fixe offering. (We did a ten-course tasting dinner at MADCAP, which was also a wealth of wonderfulness and pleasures to the palate).

We really have gotten to enjoy the general vibe found in most of the cities we’ve visited in Coastal California, as the politics typically match our own, the climate is pleasant, and there are ample cultural and dining opportunities that align with our tastes and preferences, so I expect we’ll be going back in the years ahead. Right now, fresh off of our most recent trip, we’d probably pick Santa Barbara and its environs as our favorite California region where we’ve spent more than a single night. I mean, I’ve been happily singing Camper Van Beethoven’s song about not going to nearby Goleta for 35+ years, but I still went there and enjoyed it a lot. Sorry about that, CVB Dudes. All of that being said, we were a bit bemused-to-annoyed when we had lunch in equally nearby Montecito, the emergent hot real estate community for the Hollywood fabulous set, and we had to listen to a creepy conversation at the next table between a “casting director” older than me, and a cute-ish, young-ish actress from Brazil looking to make her mark in American cinema, apparently by spewing the most vapid narratives about her party time life to impress the old man. Ewww.

Also ewww, and the one thing we experienced in several places that we really didn’t like: the California dogs-go-everywhere fetish. We had lunch in Carmel-by-the-Sea, which is known for being extravagantly pet friendly (apparently Doris Day is to blame), and I was flat out grossed out to be sitting at table in an otherwise nice restaurant with a nervous little rat dog at my feet, eating a bowl of boiled chicken available on the menu for a cool $18. Of course, dogs are sloppy eaters, so the chicken ended up all over the floor, where it was ground underfoot by the oblivious and entitled humans at the table next to us, while I tried to eat my Pasta Bolognese. Blecch! Perhaps a controversial position on my part, but I will never consider any restaurant that welcomes dogs (excluding legit service animals, obviously) to be a “fine dining” experience. (And before you feel enraged enough to comment about me not understanding dogs and how they add value to your lives and yadda yadda yadda, please know that I do understand those things, as I was raised in a household that always had dogs in it as valued family members. We just didn’t take them to restaurants with us, or deprive them of their dignity by dressing them in expensive doggy costumes).

Oh, and I think another side light to the dogs-go-everywhere thing that was amusing to me on this trip was seeing a variety of horrified and hyperbolic signs all over San Francisco about the perils associated with coyotes being sighted in the city. Ye Gods! Fetch the smelling salts, Scooby! This bemuses me because we see coyotes here all the time, including in our yard, and on our golf course, and when we hike. And I like seeing coyotes all the time. Smart and handsome animals. But I suppose I might feel differently if I was dragging a coyote snack dressed as a giant bumble bee around town on a string. Apparently many urban Californians do. Different strokes, I suppose.

Anyway . . . that bit of snark aside, it was a truly great vacation, and I snapped lots of photos as I always do. You can click on the picture of me and Marcia and San Francisco’s famous “Painted Ladies” row houses, below, to see the full album. Our next adventure will be in a couple of months, headed up to Zion and Arches National Parks in Utah. You know where the photos will be posted. Stay tuned!

Pretty Lady, Painted Ladies, and Some Lucky Guy.

Bye Bye, Beautiful Santa Barbara

Today is our last day in Santa Barbara, California, and we have been most impressed with our week spent here. Good walks, good food, good lodgings, good views, good times, all around. Tomorrow, we begin our trip up the coast, with stops planned at Hearst Castle, Big Sur and then a two-day stay in Monterey. After that, onward to San Anselmo, in Marin County. We’re very much looking forward to our second week on the California Coast. I’ve published a photo album of our first week at my usual Flickr site. I’ll write more when home, but if you want to see what it looked like, without my narrative, you can click on the photo of Marcia in the clock tower of the Santa Barbara Courthouse to get a peek at all of things we’ve been gawking at through the past week. More to come, stay tuned . . .