Heaven is the Dust Beneath My Shoes

Bear with me, this post rambles. Literally and figuratively . . .

Marcia and I arrived in Arizona to begin our retirement era (we’re still in the go-go phase) just over four months ago. Since that time, we have generally hiked at least five miles every day, beneficiaries of both a benevolent climate and a more-than-ample local trail system. Our daily walks are, for me, personal highlights: we amble, we ramble, we walk, we talk, and we share a deep appreciation for the history of the region we’ve chosen as our current home, loving both its geological and human-historical scaled facets.

On a geological front, we routinely see from our home and hike through a region that’s about 320 million years old, formed deep in the heart of the Carboniferous Era, when much of the modern world’s climate-altering coal and oil beds were laid down. It looks like this, and it’s all around us:

The most marvelous thing about this region, though, is somewhat defined by the fact that you can travel a very short distance (in modern, human scales) and move from ancient landscapes to ones that are in their geological infancy. Case in point: the Sunset Crater region, about a 90-minute drive from our house, and where the youngest prominent landscape features are less than 1,000 years old. That area looks like this:

As interesting as the geological aspects of our new home turf may be, the human-scaled history of our home region is equally fascinating. Near the aforementioned Sunset Crater region, one can visit the Wupatki National Monument, where the ruins of Native American civilizations may be walked and considered, close to the homelands of the modern Navajo and Hopi people. Wupatki is an extraordinary site, featuring vistas like these:

The first photo above shows what was once a three-story urban edifice. The second shows a ceremonial ball court, something of an historical anomaly hereabouts, as such sites are generally associated with Central American or Hohokam sites well south of Wupatki. These particular human relics date from around 1,000 AD, and the local civilizations of that era came and went as the neighboring volcanic eruptions allowed, blessed in some ways by cinders that held moisture in the arid soil, and cursed in other ways by the sulfurous vapors that would have shrouded the area in its most tumultuous geological eras.

The net effect of being regularly, easily confronted with such examples of geological and human history is that we routinely find ourselves discussing time and its scales. I considered some facets of the ways in which we small humans exist and thrive (or not) within the vast time sphere of the world and universe surrounding us when I wrote my Credidero series in 2019, most especially in my articles about Eternity and Mortality. Being confronted daily with deep geological history, and with evidence of the transient nature of human history, often leads to small conversations about big topics, oftentimes while we are out walking the trails and paths that present such evidence of pasts short and long to our senses and our minds. It creates an interesting blend of physical activity (e.g. we have to climb this 1,000-foot face to get a great view of some ancient rocks) and mental activity (e.g. considering why those particular rocks are still standing all these millennia on, when those around them have long since washed away), and that holistic sense of full, deep experience greatly adds to the joys associated with walking and talking around our current home.

A couple of months ago, I wrote an article called Red Is The Color, where I posted the following photo, of my green hiking shoes:

Those green shoes are coated with our region’s signature red dust. The big local rocks decay into red powder over time, and that hard evidence of deep time and deep history sticks to us as we trek through it, on our boots, on our skin, in our hair, in our house. In that prior article, I made reference to a favorite song called “Red” by a favorite artist named Jarboe, though it has occurred to me since that post that I probably could have even better captured the spirit of what I wanted to communicate through another of her songs, called “Panasonic in Red Dirt,” which sounds like this:

I love the red dirt around us. On one plane, it reminds me of the red clay of my father’s native Piedmont region in North Carolina, evoking many fond childhood memories. On another plane, it’s both humbling and heroic to walk through visible dust relics of the magnificent ancient rocks around us, making new memories today. There are many things that I adore about our new home, but I have to say that our daily walks may be the best of the best things hereabouts, for reasons obvious and intangible, good for the body, good for the mind, good for the soul.

I recently spun another favorite song by another favorite band called NoMeansNo, and the lyrics of its final chorus perfectly expressed the way I feel about our daily rambles hereabouts, why they make me feel so very, very good, and how they fit within the belief structure I explored and elucidated in my Credidero series. Here are the most relevant lyrics:

Heaven’s not a kingdom
Not a land on which to roam
Heaven’s not a palace
Where God sits upon a throne
Heaven has no treasure
There is nothing there to lose
Heaven has no choices
There is nothing there to choose
Heaven’s not in heaven
Heaven’s in the dust beneath my shoes

 

Yes, that. Exactly. Getting dusty while walking makes me feel good, in just about every way that I am programmed for pleasure. If that’s not heaven, then I don’t know what might be. With that, I’m off to ramble here (literally, not figuratively), but I leave a copy of that brilliant NoMeansNo song for you to spin below, and I thank them for giving me the title of this particular post, and for so brilliantly laying out the sentiments I wished to express here today, and to live and experience in the days that remain before me:

10,000 Words (Sedona #1)

Introductory Note: It has been exactly three months today since we left Iowa. The time has gone quickly in some ways, though in other ways, it seems like ages ago when we stopped at the Missouri-Iowa State Line for a final relieved photo under glowering skies, with a sunbeam lighting our path onward. We’re thrilled to have been able to find, buy, and move into a dream home in the Village of Oak Creek as quickly as we did, and we’ve been deeply enjoying living in a climate that allows us to hike almost every day, pleasantly. I would estimate that we’ve covered at least 600 miles on foot since we got here, and that’s a conservative reckoning. As I am wont to do, I take lots of photos while we’re out and about. Sometimes I have posted photos from our rambles here with explanatory narrative, but other times, the imagery just sort of speaks for itself, I think. When we were in Chicago from 2015 to 2019, I found that great city to be incredibly photogenic, so I created a series here at the website called 10,000 Words. Riffing on the “A picture is worth a thousand words” paradigm, I just posted ten images of things I’d seen and experienced around and about town, without explanation. As we get more deeply settled here and work to establish new routines, I figure a similar approach is warranted to sharing imagery of the places we’ve been and things we’ve seen, and so I post this piece today as an introduction to a new photo series. I hope it pleases from an audience end. It certainly does from a photographer’s end. (Click on any image to see the full-sized version, if you’d like).

21 Wishes for ’21

Pete Townsend’s song “1921” from The Who’s epic Tommy album opens with the line “I’ve got a feeling ’21 is going to be a good year.” I’m a little surprised that I haven’t heard or seen many music media folks mention or riff on that fact, given how awful ’20 has been, and given humanity’s generally hopeful nature. Of course, given that the rest of the song details a murder witnessed by a child who is rendered deaf, dumb and blind by that emotional trauma, maybe it’s not the best anthem for our Second Anno Virum. Though I suppose there are likely some accurate metaphors in that narrative for what 2021 may bring, if it doesn’t turn out to be as good as we might feel and wish it may be.

I tend to function within a worldview built on pessimism, because pessimists are never disappointed. But while I expect things to be rotten much of the time on a macro basis, I do believe in the importance of acting optimistically and positively on a personal front, making changes for the better within the circles of my own influence, limited as they may be. I also believe in the importance of hope, seeing a future within which big things and little things align and fall into place in pleasing fashions, for me, for those close to me, for those less fortunate than me, and for those in positions of power with the ability to legislate, litigate, create, govern, mediate and manage actions and activities that create social and civic good for the greatest number of people.

So on the cusp of that conflicted personal dialectic, there are some big picture things I’d like to see happen in the twelve months before us, and some specific things that would give me particular pleasure, should they come to pass. I’m not generally much of a prognosticator and futurist, but as a first post here on the blog in the new year, I’m moved to offer the following 21 wishes for ’21. That may be a greedy number, but hey, we all likely under-performed on our wish lists for ’20, so I think we’re entitled to swing big at the plate this time around. I’ll circle back in December and we’ll see how I did. And I’ll welcome your own wish lists, if you choose to share them. That’s what the comment section is for, yo.

1. The obvious one first: that everyone near and dear to me remains happy, healthy, and hearty, hopefully as we’re able to come out of our COVID shells and gather again to mark important events, little victories, and whatever other excuses we can muster for hugs, love and laughs.

2. That the Democratic Party candidates win the two special Senate elections in Georgia, giving our new President the opportunity to govern effectively, even if just for two years. That will be such a refreshing change of pace.

3. That any and all of the traitorous creeps who vote to overturn the results of the Electoral College this week, facilitating and/or placating an authoritarian clown in the process, are somehow held accountable for their malfeasance. This year would be fine for that, but if it takes longer in this case, that’s okay too. Patience is a virtue when it comes to grudges and vindication.

4. That the new administration is able to quickly deploy skilled professionals in non-political ways to address the virus, quickly, thoroughly, with scientific rigor and military precision on the logistics front of vaccinations and protective measures. Let’s have the grownups handle this for a year, and get the partisan amateurs out of the way. Please.

5. That having a smart career public servant in the White House, instead of a dim-bulb reality television celebrity, will reduce the volume of “news as entertainment” noise that has made the words we read and the air we breathe (metaphorically speaking) so very noxious for the past four years. I’m ready to be bored by my elected leaders again. Seriously. When I worked at Naval Reactors, we used to say that our public relations policy was “Put the sum’bitches in and don’t talk about it.” I’d like that approach to governance. Do the jobs you were elected or appointed to do. Do them well. And don’t freakin’ tweet about them all the goddamn time.

6. That Butthole Surfers release a new album this year. My long-time favorite band were reportedly back in the studio in 2018 for the first time in decades, but since then, it’s been radio silence. Let’s get that new rekkid out, Gibby, Paul, King and Jeffrey. We need it. Pass me some of that dumbass over there, yeah buddy!

7. That First Cow, Da Five Bloods, I’m Thinking of Ending Things and Soul win all the major Oscars for 2020, whenever the Academy gets around to awarding them.

8. That the overdue new films from Wes Anderson (The French Dispatch) and Taika Waititi (Next Goal Wins) are as good as those they made before them, becoming early clear contenders for the next year’s Oscars.

9. That film studios and distributors recognize that the quick streaming markets that emerged from necessity during COVID time are a perfectly fine new normal, as I’ve been happier watching films at home as I ever have been going to theaters to see them. I’ve also watched more movies this year than I normally do, in large part because they were readily available, and the cost was lower. There’s a good supply-demand lesson in there somewhere, greedheads.

10. That I get to see at least one live music event in 2021. Ideally featuring King Crimson, Napalm Death, or The Who. (The last show we saw pre-COVID was the Crim, and we had tickets for Napalm and The Who in hand in 2020, only to see the shows cancelled).

11. That the Super Bowl is played between Tampa Bay and Baltimore, as we made preseason bets in Las Vegas on those two teams. It’s nice to know you’re a winner, no matter which team wins. Absent that impetus, I’m down for the Chiefs to take it all again. Otherwise, mostly meh.

12. That the NCAA learns from the COVID year that academics are more important than athletics in the grand scheme of things, perhaps shortening seasons on a permanent basis and otherwise allowing unpaid student athletes to supplement their educations with sports, and not the other way around.

13. That international travel becomes safe again. As much as I love our new home in Arizona, I’d gladly welcome 2022 in Europe.

14. That our local internet provider delivers promised system upgrades in the months ahead, as this small town rural network was not built for students and workers doing all-day video calls from home. Slooooooooooowwwwwww . . . .

15. That my Naval Academy class is able to mark our 35th reunion in person this year. Whether I’m there or not, it’s an important part of our collective culture. Our 15th was largely undone as it fell immediately after 9/11. It’d be nice to not lose another major one two decades later.

16. That the charitable sector bounces back in 2021; it’s bothersome to see corporate stock levels (and related IRA’s and 401k’s and such) maintaining robust balances through the plague, while giving to nonprofits evaporated.

17. That Facebook, Twitter and their ilk are disemboweled and disempowered, removing a vast source of malefic and ugly social evil from our ever-more-connected world. Oh, what the heck, let’s try to get rid of FOX News this year too, while we’re at it. Imagine an information spectrum where truth and facts prevailed, neutrally. Glory be! Such larks! (Yeah, I know, this one’s probably the biggest fantasia on the list).

18. That we’re able to do some sort of endurance physical event this year, like a hike/camp trip into the Grand Canyon, or a multi-day walkabout pilgrimage, or a long bike trek. It’s good physically, mentally, and spiritually to have days on end dedicated to exerting the body, without constant connection to the world beyond one’s next foot-fall.

19. That Thoughts on the Dead keeps on keeping on, despite his formidable recent health challenges. He makes the world a brighter, smarter, and much funnier place. Every day he posts is a little better than every day when he doesn’t.

20. That I’m able to hike every formally marked trail within 20 miles of our house (that’s a lot of trails), and that I’m able to find and explore every unmarked “social trail” that’s hidden between the official bits. Some of the best things I’ve found here have been on paths known only to the locals. I’m doing my part to be one of them on that front.

21. That we’re able to occasionally dine out, indoors. I’ve gotten used to picnics and carryout and masked patio food, but I’d be okay with celebrating some important event or another over white linen and good china in 2021, and there’s loads of interesting places hereabouts that we’ve not felt comfortable entering. Yet. But we will. Hopefully this year. Hopefully hopefully hopefully . . .

Mysterious abandoned dam on a “social trail” less than half a mile from our house. What other coolness awaits on the unmarked and unheralded spaces between the spaces here? We’ll soon find out, hopefully . . .

2020: Year in Review

Remember 2016? There was a lot of “Worst Year Ever” chatter as it wound to its close, four years ago this month. We lost David Bowie, Prince, Gene Wilder, Maurice White, Muhammad Ali, Bernie Worrell, Greg Lake, Keith Emerson, George Michael, Carrie Fisher and so many other “big” names that year. We also elected President Bonespurs Tinyhands, made Brexit a sick and sad reality, watched global climate change unfold in tragic ways in real time, experienced a devastating number and impact of mass shootings, and suffered the extreme right-wing media giddily expanding its reach and impact in the aftermath of international fellow-traveler efforts to sabotage our already-sickened democracy through the infectious cesspools of social media.

It all seemed utterly dreadful at the time, and it certainly felt wonderful to wish it all good riddance come January 1, 2017. But then 2020 arrived, said “Hold My Beer,” and made 2016 look like a veritable paradise of goodness and justice and equity in comparison to the horrors that the past 12 months have heaped upon us, domestically and around the globe. If you want or need concise hot takes on why 2020 was such an ass-end of a year, I’m sure you can find plenty of them in the newspapers, magazines, websites, blogs, televisions shows or social media feeds of your choice. I generally try to avoid such wallows, and I doubt that I can add anything worthwhile to that bewildering stream of chatter, so I’m not even going to bother to try. Suffice to say that 2020 was a truly shitty year on a truly macro basis for an immense number of people, and that my normal website year-end report (which follows) is offered as a diversion for the record, not as a summary of recent horrors.

ON THE BLOG:

In 2019, I posted 70 articles on this website, noting 12 months ago that “as satisfying as that is, given my own goals for the upcoming year, I doubt that I will hit the same high post mark in 2020.” Well, surprise, surprise, 2020 didn’t quite go the way I planned it, and I ended up writing 147 posts, the most I’ve done since the Poem-A-Day Project in 2004. Retiring from full-time work certainly gave me more time to write, as did the cancellation of planned travel, and the need to fill socially isolated time in some satisfying and/or productive fashions. Interestingly, other folks being similarly isolated seemed to have an impact on readership here, per the following trend analysis of 2014-2020 website hits and visitors (actual numbers edited out, as it’s tacky to share them; the trend line is what matters):

I’ve owned this domain since the mid-1990s, but prior to 2015, I split my writing between a variety of sites with a variety of hosts. Since consolidating everything here in 2015, our Anno Virum has clearly been the most successful year in terms of readership numbers. It is nice to think that perhaps I helped some folks distract themselves, even if just briefly, from the day-to-day awfulness that 2020 has inflicted upon us. I suppose at some point I should consider trying to monetize that. Though I know from experience that turning fun/hobby undertakings into work/income ones that way usually never plays out as happily as one might expect it to.

As I report each year, here are the dozen most-read articles among the 147 new posts here in 2020:

And then here are the dozen posts written in prior years that received the most reads in 2020. It always fascinates me which of the 1,000+ articles on my website interest people (or search engines) the most, all these years on since the first 1995 post on an early version of this blog. (Note that I exclude things like the “About Me” page or the generic front page from the list, even though they generate a lot of my traffic). And once again, here’s hoping that people realize that the perennially-popular “Iowa Pick-Up Lines” post is a joke . . .

ELSEWHERE ON THE WEB:

See this earlier post: Best of My Web 2020.

TRAVEL:

See this earlier post: The Roads Not Taken.

RECORDINGS:

See these two earlier posts: Best Albums of 2020 and Most Played Songs of 2020.

LIVE PERFORMANCES AND ART EXHIBITIONS:

Yeah, right. That didn’t happen, for obvious reasons.

BOOKS:

See this earlier post: Best Books of 2020.

FILMS:

See this earlier post: Best Films of 2020.

AND  THEN . . . .

. . . onward to our brave post-Trumpian world, hopefully one that is anchored in science, justice and truth, all of which we will enjoy from our new homestead in Arizona. At least until travel is safe(r) again, anyway. I assume that I will be back here at my desk in December 2021 with a similar report (as has become my habit), marveling at that which was, and eagerly anticipating that which is yet to come. See you then?

Ho Ho Humbug Us, Every One!

(Si Si) Je Suis Un Cultist

A childhood friend of mine, Rob Heinsoo, has had a long and successful career as a game designer, including serving as lead designer for the Fourth Edition of Dungeons and Dragons, and as co-designer of the acclaimed 13th Age series. Rob and I were next-door neighbors when I was in sixth grade in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, and he and his brother (another Eric) had a stellar collection of board games at the time, which we played regularly. I still have fond memories of playing a particular race car game and a war game based on the historic Battle of Jena-Auerstedt with Rob and Eric. And I was actually among Rob’s first victims when he designed his first dungeon using the famed First Edition Brown Box of D&D, per this interview. I still smile without guile about the school for dragons when reminded of that particular experience.

More recently, Rob has designed a newly-released card game called Wrestlenomicon. Old Gods, kicking ass. What’s not to love? The game’s production was crowd-funded via Kickstarter, and I did my part to support its release. I received my copy in the mail today, and am most pleased to find that I am actually a small part of the game itself, appearing as a Cultist in the card pack, per the photo below (me in the center):

I know I’m somewhat cadaverous looking, but hadn’t realized that could be an asset from a graphic design standpoint when it comes to designing a game like this one. Mad props to brilliant artist Kurt Komoda for his work on the deck. I love my own card, of course, but there are dozens of deliciously, exquisitely, entertainingly horrific images to be found on every other card, making them fascinating as little works of art, independent of the game-play roles and values. I recommend you visit Kurt’s website, here. It’s a dark delight, well worth a trawl, and I’ll be keeping an eye out for new work from him.

If you love gaming (and who doesn’t, really?), I do hope that you’ll click the image above and follow the links to order your own copy of Wrestlenomicon. Be sure to grab the expansion pack of bonus cards, if you’d like to have my not-smiling visage as part of your game nights, once they’re safe to hold again!

Later Edit: Huh! I’m also on the header of the official Wrestlenomicon Facebook Page, here and here. What a hoot!

Me and Sweetman’s Christmas

Me and my friend Sweetman, we was deep in dismal thought,
late at night over whiskey (straight) down at Grumpy’s Drinkin’ Spot.
It was Christmas Eve, yes sir, and our wives, they had done and left,
(though that had been many years ago, we was still a bit bereft).

We was chewin’ on pig feets, the kind you pull out of the jar
that sits next to the pickled eggs and the calves brains behind the bar.
Sweetman burped as we finished, then mumbled “Man, this just ain’t right,
we oughta get us some better grub, for to eat tomorrow night.”

Right then, at that moment, we heard some sleigh bells overhead,
so we stumbled out, looked up, and saw a bright red flyin’ sled,
it was headin’ off southward, behind a dozen head of deer,
so I grabbed me my gun real quick before that meat could disappear.

Like an ace, well, I drew a bead upon the twelve point buck up front,
while my good partner Sweetman, he shut up, like when we hunt.
Then I pulled me the trigger, and saw that buck come tumbling down,
me and Sweetman we walked a bit, and found our dinner on the ground.

Man, I tell you, that Christmas night, we had the best damned supper yet
’cause that deer made a lot of steaks, plus some sausage I can’t forget.
So me and Sweetman we sat there, feelin’ bloated and pleased as swine,
gettin’ drunk on the black-tar hooch, that we’d made from turpentine.

Note: Copyright 2004, JES. It’s the reason for the season . . .