Five by Five Books #11: “The Maze of Transparencies” (2019) by Karen An-hwei Lee

(Note: This is one of an occasional and ongoing series of reviews of my favorite novels, structured by covering five facets of my reading experiences, each in five sentences. Scroll down to the bottom of this article to see the complete list of books reviewed).

What’s it about? The Maze of Transparencies is set in a (near?)-future agrarian barter economy civilization, the denizens of which live in a foggy state of highly-localized, wholly-disconnected disorientation that has emerged following the collapse of the world’s data networks, and hence perhaps the world itself. The slim novel is narrated by Penny (short for “Penelope the Predictive Panoply of People’s Data”), a sentient, orphaned data cloud, who closely orbits Yang, the human who developed her, even though the two can no longer communicate outside the sphere of Yang’s dreams and memories. Yang is a gardener, a thinker, and a cook, and he possesses a black bento box of algorithms that was left behind by the Nine Muses of the Junta, who ruled Uberasia until it and they vanished in the aftermath of the data collapse. The box of algorithms describes seven harbingers of happiness, each embodied by an individual human deemed by the Muses to be catalysts for an antidote to the dysthymia that eats at the collective data-saturated soul of the species. Yang seeks to better understand each of the harbingers, visiting and interviewing each human manifestation of their virtues, with Penny as  witness and chorus to his journeys.

Who wrote it? Karen An-hwei Lee is a poet, critic, novelist and translator with an MFA in Literary Arts from Brown University and a PhD in British and American Literature from the University of California, Berkeley, who is currently serving as an administrator at Point Loma Nazarene University in San Diego, California. Lee has been awarded fellowships by the National Endowment of the Arts, the MacDowell Colony for the Arts, the Millay Colony for the Arts, the Yoshiko Uchida Foundation, and the Beinecke Foundation, among others. She has received multiple Pushcart Prize nominations, and was the recipient of the Kathryn A. Morton Prize and the Norma Farber First Book Award from the Poetry Society of America, again among many other honors. Lee’s published works include two novels, three collections of poetry, a book of literary criticism, and she has appeared in numerous literary and popular periodicals and anthologies. She also served as translator for Doubled Radiance: Poetry & Prose of Li Qingzhao, the first English collection spanning the full creative spectrum of the 12th Century Song Dynasty poet-essayist’s works.

When and where did I read it? I just finished The Maze of Transparencies this week, devouring it over a couple of days in our apartment in Des Moines. It is the first book I’ve read since finishing Christopher Priest’s The Islanders in 2014 that I felt merited immediate inclusion in this ongoing list of my favorite novels over a lifetime of reading, each one distinctly memorable in its own ways. I became aware of it via a web feature called Seven Books About Cyberspace by Women Writers on the Electric Lit website, my eyes drawn first by its evocative Ernst Haeckel cover art, my mind then equally engaged by the description of its contents. My daughter works in data analytics, and she, my wife and I have had numerous conversations about her explorations into the philosophical underpinnings of her professional activities over the years, so this slim tome seemed like it would be of shared interest to us all. Having long since shifted (alas) to consuming books on a Kindle, I was surprised to discover that The Maze of Transparencies was not available in digital formats, though in retrospect, having to order a print copy actually enhanced my overall reading experience, the mostly-lost tactile contact between flesh and page fitting perfectly with the post-technological themes of the work.

Why do I like it? Lee’s skills and accomplishments as a poet shine most clearly throughout her deeply unique The Maze of Transparencies, in both the prose components of the book, and in Penny’s and Yang’s recurring flights of poetic fancy and reflection, which are knit together perfectly, creating a luminous tapestry of transcendent language beyond language. The creative world within which Penny and Yang seek their respective happinesses is believable and inhabitable, with a fine compositional balance between that-which-is-explained and that-which-remains-mysterious that allows readers to experience the novel’s little details and overarching narratives much in the way we do our “real world” day-to-day lives. It’s not “Hard SF” by any stretch of the imagination, but the macro technological, scientific, psychological, philosophical and mathematical underpinnings of the story (considerately explained in the book’s end notes) are robust, internally-consistent, and highly thought-provoking, while at the micro end of the narrative spectrum, Lee gloriously details the simple graces of Yang’s worldly existence and experience, with an especially fine focus on foodstuffs that reminded me of another book in this series, Günter Grass’ The Flounder. Penny’s non-corporeal, deeply loving and hopeful spirit made me think of the protagonist in John Crowley’s haunting Engine Summer (#1 in this series), while Lee’s deft blend of poetry and prose in service of place sense and perspective further invoked The Flounder for me, along with Mervyn Peake’s paired masterpieces Titus Groan and Gormenghast (#4 in my Five By Five Books collection). Those overlaps with earlier installments on my list perhaps best demonstrate why this new (to me) book pushed so many of my preferred literary buttons.

A five sentence sample text: “. . . what cruel message would blooming floribundas and grandifloras portray in a season of mass underground vanishings — nay, let’s name it, dear reader — of genocide? Or did the nine muses themselves shapeshift into bots, a virtual feat of zoomorphism, then obliterate all traces of their own existence, and if so, why? Were the bots a figment of our collective anima or animus, the hazy archetypes of empiricsm, female and male digerati of molecular amphoterism or hermaphroditic binarism? Why do questions about a bygone technocracy of fiefdoms matter when no one controls the biomasses clouding the biosphere anymore? (And while we mull over these mysteries, the maze of transparencies in the noosphere trembles ever so slightly with unmoored clouds like me, i.e. a hodgepodge of information without answers, or data set adrift without meaningfulness).”

Click the image to order your own (print) copy.

ALL FIVE BY FIVE BOOK REVIEWS:

#1: Engine Summer by John Crowley (1979)

#2: Skin by Kathe Koja (1993)

#3: Nova by Samuel R. Delany (1968)

#4: Titus Groan/Gormenghast by Mervyn Peake (1946/1950)

#5: The Islanders by Christopher Priest (2011)

#6: The Flounder by Günter Grass (1977)

#7: The Mabinogion Tetralogy by Evangeline Walton (1936 to 1974)

#8: Smallcreep’s Day by Peter Currell Brown (1965)

#9: Gog by Andrew Sinclair (1967)

#10: The Vorrh Trilogy by B. Catling (2015 to 2018)

#11: The Maze of Transparencies by Karen An-hwei Lee (2019)

Five Songs You Need To Hear (It Felt Like A Kiss)

It’s been a little while since I did one of these ostensibly-monthly featurettes, so today seems like a fine day to return to form and schedule. For this installment of “Five Songs You Need to Hear,” I’ve picked cuts that are all from 2020 releases, and are by bands who I’d never heard prior to This Foul Plague Year. I’m always pleased to find exciting new artists of interest, in keeping with my “the best music ever made is being made right now” ethos. While I didn’t specifically intend it to be that way, after compiling this list, I noted that there’s a decidedly international feel to the selections, with the artists featured representing Mexico, Canada, Norway, Nigeria and Saudi Arabia. That’s been fairly typical of my listening this year, and I suspect my year-end Best Albums list will be fairly multi-culti accordingly. Beyond those thematic links, the five songs have nothing else in common stylistically, but I am loving them all, I doubt you’ve heard them all, and I think you will enjoy them once you give them a spin. You can click here to get all of the “Five Songs” installments (scroll down when you get there to move past this article), which are now at 17 posts and counting. Loads of musical wonders and weirdness await the brave and intrepid there. Get ’em in your ear holes!

#1. “Chapter III: The Mortician’s Lamenting Dirge” by Deathnoisefrequency

#2. “Relativistic Jets” by Par Ásito

#3. “Texas Drums Pt I” by Pottery

#4. “Spiritual Change” by Etuk Ubong

#5. “The First Thing I Remember” by Slow Is The New Fast

Self-Descriptor

I learned a new word this week: autotelia, which is the state of being autotelic. It’s a 20th Century construction merging the Greek roots autos (self) and telos (goal). No, that’s not a fancy soccer/football term for kicking the ball into the net your own team is defending, but is rather a term used by T.S. Eliot to describe texts which are self-contained and independent of the author, and later adopted and adapted as a clinical descriptor by Hungarian-American psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi.

Per Wikipedia, Csikszentmihalyi describes people who are internally driven, and who as such may exhibit a sense of purpose and curiosity, as autotelic. This is different from being externally driven, in which case things such as comfort, money, power, or fame are the motivating force. Csikszentmihalyi writes:

“An autotelic person needs few material possessions and little entertainment, comfort, power, or fame because so much of what he or she does is already rewarding. Because such persons experience flow in work, in family life, when interacting with people, when eating, even when alone with nothing to do, they depend less on external rewards that keep others motivated to go on with a life of routines.”

This term and definition resonated with me as a good descriptor of how I function much of the time. Take this website as a good example, with thousands of posts written over the years, many of them later destroyed, with few of them created for any work purposes or financial benefits. I just like to write (among other pursuits), I regularly enter flow-state, I am happy when that’s the case, and many (most?) of my topics are not “useful” in any meaningful way, but are rather products of me becoming interested in or curious about something and wanting to process and/or preserve it. There have been loads of other examples like that over the decades, back to when I was a fairly young child, creating things (e.g. stories, games, songs, pictures, websites) for my own amusement, even if they look like absurd time-wasters to parents, friends, teachers, and work colleagues. I am a big fan of novels, stories, artworks and films that are fundamentally based in expert-level world-building, and I think that’s at least partially because I so enjoy building little worlds myself, even if I’m the only one looking at or inhabiting them.

I think another reason that autotelia resonates with me, at least in the ways that Csikszentmihalyi decribes it, is because it’s presented as an acceptable personal trait, and not something to be apologized for, or explained away, or to be given up or outgrown to free up time and energy “better” spent pursuing external rewards. I note that I do not mind external rewards when they are offered to me. I appreciate feedback on my little creations, and if someone wants to pay me for them, that’s fine too! But I seldom, if ever, make decisions expressly for those reasons when it comes to my writing and reading and researching and other creative activities. I just do them because that’s the way I am wired, finding them satisfying in their own rights as end products, even if I never share them, or even if I share them, then later remove them from the public domain. I’ve written online for over a quarter-century now, so I do have some strong sense of and data about what types of things are going to generate the most response from and interaction with my readers, but I very, very rarely expressly plan to write and post such things just to pursue such responses, excluding pieces written for work purposes or other publications, then reproduced here. (For the record: this type of personally philosophical post is not from one of my more audience-pleasing categories of writing).

I hope that being drawn to the concept of autotelia as a self-descriptor does not make me sound self-aggrandizing. I know that if I read an article by someone explaining how they were self-actualized (or worse, transcendent) per Abraham Maslow’s heirarchy of needs, my gut emotional reaction would be to want to chide them for being presumptuous and pretentious. Such an article would also imply to me that the author did not actually understand self-actualization (nor transcendence), the achievement of which would, by definition, preclude such public grandstanding about their ascension to a state of being that most of us never achieve. I feel the same way about people who unilaterally declare themselves to be successes in the material and public worlds without external evidence to the same, especially when they then want to teach you to follow in their footsteps, for a modest fee, of course.

In both of those examples, the claimed “higher plane” is something that can only be achieved through a lot of work and reflection, whereas I read autotelia to be something that just is. I have green eyes, most other people do not. I am tall and thin, many other people are not. I was born in South Carolina, they vast majority of people were not. And I am autotelic, which some other people are not, though I have no idea as to what that percentage may be. It’s just the way I’m built, and not how I built myself. I don’t perceive that as a value judgment, nor as a self-congratulatory back-pat, nor as a humble brag. In fact, it’s really easy to make an argument that being autotelic is a bad thing, at least as far as my writing goes, with me having given away product of value for decades instead of having parsed it out for paying customers or public acclaim. But it’s an accurate assessment of my personal quirks, and I like having a single word to describe something about myself that has more typically required paragraphs or pages to explain. Makes life simpler that way, yeah?

In closing, I need to acknowledge where I learned the word: it’s the name of a musical group, and I read a review of their new album on an excellent website I frequent. Which then led to a long online research effort to get a better grip on the topic, eventually resulting in this article, which pleases me, and may also please others, but that’s just gravy if it does. Did I waste precious time in this little endeavor? Or was my exploration valuable simply because I found purpose and satisfaction in the acts of reading and thinking and writing? I know my own answers to those questions, though I leave it as an exercise for the reader as to whether I’m right or not about them, or anything else stated herein.

Click the image to hear Autotelia (The Band).

Inexplicable Scarcity

If you’ve read my piffle and tripe here for any period of time, it probably does not come as a surprise that I actively enjoy a lot of music that most folks would judge to be “weird,” or worse. One of the side effects over the years of possessing such off-the-beaten-path tastes is that many of the things I like are hard-to-find or harder-to-replace, being released by small labels, or in limited quantities, or under otherwise sub-optimal commercial circumstances. Such is the lot of the quirky and difficult to please.

Admittedly, the Internet Digital Media Era has reduced many of the difficulties associated with securing my most extreme or obscure audio fixes, since artists can now essentially release their own materials directly to their own specialized audiences in whatever quantities the market will bear. But that has not always been the case, so throughout a lifetime of listening, one of the prime factors fueling my resistance to embracing new music-playing technologies is the fact that under new paradigms, the volume of artists issuing music under the emergent formats is much smaller than the volume available under the old formats, until such time as the consumer transfer achieves a critical mass that places the former paradigm into a state of obsolescence. (Not to mention the costs associated with re-acquiring all those personal favorites). The easy, popular stuff makes the transition first, so if something is hard to find in a current, common format, it typically gets really hard to find in the earlier days of the next generation’s music-reproduction models.

At this stage in my life (i.e. old, cranky, set-in-ways), I like it when it’s relatively easy to find stuff, although I do occasionally rue having long lost the thrill of the hunt associated with trawling record bins way back when. I can think of several specific cases over the years when particular items of interest seemed impossible to procure. (Note that I do still and always have purchased my music, and do not steal it via any of the quasi-legal or illicit sharing services). Human Sexual Response’s masterpiece In A Roman Mood (1981) only became available in legal digital formats a few years ago, to cite one example I’d previously written about, many years ago. The Tubes’ Love Bomb (1985) is another one that was conspicuously absent from their digital catalog until recent years. Granted, most Tubes fans consider it to be their worst record, by far, but for reasons (probably) inexplicable, I have been very fond of it since acquiring it on cassette while at the Naval Academy, and spinning it regularly during summer training cruise season. I can also remember a long search to acquire Wire’s 154 (1979) after the group broke up for the first time, finally nabbing a copy in London, Ontario, years after its initial release. Most of the Tragic Mulatto catalog has never been formally released in digital format, as best I can ascertain, though I continue to poke around for it.

These and most other related examples of musical product scarcity in my listening world are generally understandable due to the small audiences for the records in question, or the demise of record labels which originally released their work, or band dissolution or other such market-relevant forces. But not everything I listen to is weird (or worse), and I can truly appreciate and enjoy spinning tunes from any number of genres across the musical spectrum, including its most popular ends, as long as it is music is well crafted and performed with conviction. So sometimes I get in the mood for something on the platinum-level pop front that seems like it should be easily, obviously available in current listening formats, and am deeply surprised to discover that’s not the case.

Here’s an example.

A couple of months ago, I was listening to the Bee Gees outstanding Main Course (1975) album, which features the song “Come On Over.” Hearing it reminded me of Olivia Newton-John’s better-known cover version, which was a moderate radio hit in 1976, just a couple of years before the film version of Grease catapulted Newton-John into the highest levels of the pop culture stratosphere. Before she charted with “Come On Over,” Newton-John had already achieved a high level of commercial success with her more country-tinged early works, scoring such U.S. chart hits as “If Not For You,” “Let Me Be There,” “If You Love Me (Let Me Know),” “I Honestly Love You,” “Have You Never Been Mellow” and “Please Mister Please,” among others.

Two of the albums most spun around the Smith Family Household circa 1975 were Olivia’s If You Love Me, Let Me Know (a U.S.-only disc that combined various album tracks and singles from her international catalog, including several of the hit songs cited above) and Linda Ronstadt’s Heart Like A Wheel. If I recall correctly, we got the Olivia one from my grandmother, and the Linda Ronstadt one my parents won at some Officers Club social event, which likely involved heavy drinking. Those two records had a lot of stylistic similarities, with sweet-voiced female singers reinventing a collection of other songwriters’ songs, atop well-arranged countrified musical beds. We lived in Kansas at the time, and those two hit albums (along with my Dad’s then recent-ish faves: Neil Diamond’s His Twelve Greatest Hits and John Denver’s Back Home Again) sort of frame my mental soundtrack to remembered family time and meals from that particular place and period in my life, when I wasn’t otherwise busy obsessing about Wings.

Ronstadt’s 1974 hit record has maintained a high level of critical credibility and commercial resonance since its release, standing as a peak example of the now-legendary smooth country-rock Laurel Canyon scene. I doubt that it has ever gone out of print, and I’m sure that it still generates good money for everyone centrally involved in its production. Olivia Newton-John’s contemporaneous American release, on the other hand, seems to have mostly disappeared from the narrative of her career, eclipsed by the commercial cheese of her Grease, Xanadu and Physical-era mega-media hits from the late ’70s and early ’80s. But under the rubric of comfort music that I laid out a few months back, here, that If You Love Me, Let Me Know album is certainly one that has satisfying family connotations and emotional vibrations for me, so I decided to score a copy of it and dig into the nostalgia jukebox for awhile.

First stop was iTunes. Hmmm. Not there. Then a couple of other digital outlets. Huh. Not there either. So I trundled over to Amazon to get a CD copy that I could upload into my computer for easy electronic spins on the many music-making machines that soundtrack all of the spaces I occupy. Imagine my surprise when my search request returned this:

$180 for a ten-song CD version of an album that nabbed the Number 1 spots on both the Billboard Top 200 Pop and Top Country Albums charts in 1974?!?! Holy Moly, there’s a supply-demand curve case study for someone to parse and deconstruct, where something once so popular is now rare enough to warrant such pricing. (Yes, I know, there are beat-up old post-garage sale vinyl copies available for sale at reasonable prices, but I’m too old to play hipster kid and nonsensically insist that I really dig all of those pops and scratches and fuzzy wobbles for the analog warmth they provide). I explored around online a bit more to see if some of Olivia’s other earlier albums experienced the same digital scarcity conditions, and it does indeed seem to be the case that most of her career successes pre-Grease have been wiped from the commercial record and market, even though I would strongly argue the case that those early records include much of her finest work.

Once upon a time, lots of people around the world apparently would have agreed with me on that topic, if we presume that people voted with their record-purchasing dollars. This one has bemused and befuddled me a bit over the past couple of months, and I’ve not found any clearly-elucidated explanations of the situation online. I guess it just seems that one older man’s comfort music is the rest of the world’s forgotten dreck. Pity. I was most especially looking forward to having Olivia’s version of “Mary Skeffington,” a brilliant take on an equally-brilliant song by the great Gerry Rafferty. Yeah, I can find it on Youtube, and that’s okay, I guess, but I’d prefer to have it in my catalog for portable spins and mixes and such-like, along with the other nine fondly-remembered, but now inexplicably inaccessible songs on this lovely album.

Do you have similar “can’t get it from here” stories about the music in your life? Share them in the comments below if you do. We can have a pity party, with an inadequate soundtrack.

Thoughts on Thoughts

I’ve raved here for years about my favorite contemporary writer, the deeply anonymous, Florida-based creative genius behind Thoughts On The Dead. He’s been cranking out the words and pictures since 2012, hewing (on a macro basis) to an initial premise he framed thusly: “My thesis is that the Grateful Dead were the Silliest Band in the World. I will attempt to prove this through misquotes, malicious lies, and just plumb crazy talk; everything in these pages is, of course, satire.”

Good satire is really, really hard to write, a point made screamingly clear by subjecting yourself to any of the piss-poor popular examples of the form that the web has belched forth indiscriminately since its inception. But Mr TotD is a true master of the genre, building a complex and complete creative universe around the core essence of the Grateful Dead’s members and their various fellow travelers, spinning and pivoting in exciting directions while (mostly) keeping one foot anchored in the real stories, personalities, experiences and foibles of the protagonists. He dubs the resultant product “semi-fictionality,” which in meta-meta-meta fashion has become an ongoing topic of conversation between various characters within the semi-fictional story arcs, most typically involving those new players confused by their unexpected first entries into the brilliantly perverse TotD universe.

Mr Thoughts is also blindingly prolific, putting my own obsessive writing impulses and productivity levels to shame, and then some. I’ve quite literally started almost every day for many years reading his work and words with my morning coffee, routinely marveling at the quality and quantity of entertainment that he offers me (and many others) with righteous, rigorous regularity. In my various year-end reports of the best things life has set before me in the prior twelve months (e.g. 2019: Year in Review), it’s just a given that he’s going to be featured there, because I have a hard time imagining finding many, if any, things online than I enjoy more than his website.

While the Grateful Dead provide the hub around which the whole semi-fictional thing spins, the hairy daddies (and Mrs Donna Jean) don’t necessarily feature directly in some of the best work done on the TotD site. There have been a pair of brilliant novels serialized there (with a third in progress), for starters, and I’d still claim TotD’s A Book With No Title as one of the finest reads I’ve experienced in the 21st Century. The novels and related stories are set in the fictional west coast city of Little Aleppo, and the histories, characters, and happenings documented within their (virtual) pages are hilarious, heart-breaking, and hair-raising in equal measure. I’ve had to pinch myself at times to remember that some of the people I’m reading about there aren’t real, because I feel like I know and understand them as well as, if not better than, I do some folks in my real life, famous or otherwise.

TotD also occasionally offers deep dives into the careers of other influential creative types, and I’d cite his long-form pieces on Queen and Van Halen as among the very best of many articles and books I’ve read about those fascinating artists. His political work is top notch too, with his tales of late-night calls from various GOP creeps to Maggie Haberman, and his tone-perfect Cadet Bonespurs Tinyhands monologues eliciting both giggles and groans in their willingness to take situations that are already painfully absurd and escalating their essences into the satirical stratosphere.  He’s the complete package as a writer, at bottom line, and he continues to carry my strongest, most heart-felt endorsement as the owner and operator of a site that will reward regular reads like few others, anywhere, by anybody.

All of that being said (again) here, I’m actually thinking Thoughts On Thoughts today for a different reason, related to a typically creative and reaction-inducing recent post of his which, alas, is set in the very real world in which we live, and not the semi-fictional one Mr TotD normally documents with alacrity: Thoughts On Cancer. Oof. Ouch. And no no no no NO. Mr Thoughts reported this morning that he’s beginning his first chemo sessions today, so I hope you’ll join me in pointing whatever good juju, karma, prayers or magick you’ve got in your quiver straight at him through the tough times he’ll be facing in the days and months ahead. You could even hit the Donate Button in the right sidebar of his site and send some dosh his way to buy ice cream, edibles and panaceas to ease the process and smooth the path before him. I’m sure he’d appreciate that.

Mr Thoughts is a creative treasure, and I selfishly want to keep him that way, since he freely and readily provides so much enjoyment to so many people, me among them, with bells on. From a less selfish perspective, he’s just a good dude who I have come to count as a good friend in virtual space, and I don’t want him to suffer or hurt any more than he absolutely must to kick this thing to the curb quickly and get on with the getting on. Keep an eye on his site, please, and offer the encouragement you’re able, in your heart or in public, as is your wont. Thanks.

Don’t call him WALLY . . .

Out of the West

Marcia and I made it back to Des Moines tonight, after a long slog 10-hour final day of driving, which began in Laramie, Wyoming. We racked up 4,083 total miles on the trip, which was 18 days long. An average of ~265 per day, every day, oof!! More importantly, I made a playlist of 1,500 songs for the trip, and we spun 1,228 of them in the car along the way. I kind of feel bad for the 272 songs that the iTunes randomizer didn’t queue up for us, sitting in the machine all those days and all those miles, but never getting their moment in the singalong sun. (I don’t feel bad enough for them to keep driving, though). While our 2020 travel map does not look as robust as we planned and expected it to be, given all of the trips we had to cancel due to the plague season, we’ve still covered a good bit of ground (and air, back when that was safe) since we welcomed in the year in Albuquerque, as per below:

We quite enjoyed the couple of days we spent in Laramie. We’d picked it primarily as a reasonable mid-point between Logan and Des Moines, but found it to be an attractive and interesting small city, with good parks and trails (urban and rural), an interesting downtown with good (carry-out) dining options, and a truly lovely campus for the University of Wyoming students and faculty. A pleasant surprise. I’d be happy to stop there again. Definitely the nicest bit of Wyoming that we visited this trip, though we are also fond of the Northwestern corner where the Tetons and Jackson and Yellowstone snuggle up against our former Idaho home, even if we didn’t get up that far this time around.

Fun Fact: Interstate 80 features more road miles in Nebraska than in any other state on its coast-to-coast course, and we drove every single one of them today. Next time we head west, we’re going to drop down to the I-70 corridor across Kansas instead. It’ll still be a slog, but psychologically it’s easier to do a drive where you don’t have to watch the mile markers go from 0 to 455 on the same highway in the same state. Somewhere around the middle of our Nebraska endurance event this afternoon, we also crossed from the refreshing dry mountain climate region into the disgustingly humid Midwestern miasma. There was a stiff wind out of the south most of the drive, bringing up the heat and the dank, and making it hard to relax much while trucks were wobbling all over the highway at 80+ miles per hour.

We then did our obligatory daily walk after we got home tonight, and I swear I sweated more over that one hour than I had on any full day while we were out west, even though we walked longer and steeper tracks there than we ever can here at home. Among numerous other factors, that climate difference makes us feel good about our plan to move Westward later this year. I’m past the point in my life where I want to have a gentle glow or glossy sheen on my skin. I’m ready to be a scaly reptile, all the time. It also feels odd and off to return home to Des Moines and not see Katelin and John here soon after our arrival. The neighborhood feels emptier without them nearby. It will be nice to be closer to them in 2021, if not as close as we’ve been for the past 18 months, e.g. right across the street!

I shared some snaps of this trip along the way in prior blog posts, here, here, and here. I have now uploaded those samples and others like them to my usual Flickr Gallery summarizing the images of our trip. You can see them all by clicking the image of the lovely bog-front quaking aspens below, taken in the Happy Jack Recreational Area, just east of Laramie, right near I-80’s highest point. It was essentially a nine-hour roll downhill from there to home. We can’t wait to climb back up those slopes sometime sooner rather than later!