It’s On!

Well, technically that should be “They’re On” since I actually have two things to go on about.

Thing the first. We’re having a Fall Festival in our neighborhood tomorrow in the form of a chili and soup cook-off. And guess who’s entering?

Here they are–raw ingredients waiting to be formed into a (hopefully) delicious chili.

You’ve got it. Yours truly. I’m not a great cook, but I can follow directions. So if I lose it’s the recipe’s fault.

Thing the second. Yesterday as luck would have it, I finished a pretty detailed outline of Prospector’s Choice the working title for the third book in the Artifact series. Perusing the internet last night I stumbled across the fact that November is NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month). If you accept the challenge you’re supposed to produce 50,000 words during the month thus completing a short novel. That’s 1,667 words a day. Am I up for the challenge? I asked myself. Of course! So, that’s on too. I wrote 300 words before I started cooking my chili and now I’m off to complete the remaining 1,337 for the day.

Which reminds me, if you haven’t checked out my books, you should do so immediately. Click on the little arrow in the upper right hand corner then on my books.

Lost in the Woods

Okay, the title is an exaggeration. My daughter Catherine has always had a flair for the dramatic. We were never really lost. We just didn’t know where we were–for a while. Yeah, there’s a story. Let me tell it. Catherine’s version is too sensationalist.

On the first day backpacking in to the Uintas two years ago, we hiked in through the Grandaddy peaks over the colorfully named Hades pass.

I know I look like Hell even if the Pass doesn’t.

On we went down into the Granddaddy basin.

Granddaddy Lake

Our goal that day was ambitious–at least for us. We were headed toward a little lake called Allen Lake. By all accounts it was a nine and a half mile hike some of which was cross country. Catherine had never been backpacking before and was nervous. I had been a number of times and assured her there was nothing to worry about. (I was practicing the knowledgeable, competent Father routine. I thought it was going swimmingly.) I had my trusty map and compass. The route was simple we head to Rainbow Lake, take a right to Bedground Lake and then follow the bearings I’d taken from my trusty map with my trusty compass cross country to Allen Lake. What could be simpler? (In case you haven’t yet learned this lesson, those are magic words of stupendous power. Uttering them unleashes the unspeakable forces of the entire universe. You stand at the focal point as all creation’s prodigious might unites to thwart your simple goal. Say these words and you will be obstructed at every turn until you collapse to your knees and amid anguished tears admit that you know nothing and are nothing. Take heed. Speak those words at your peril).

Blithely unaware that I had cursed our journey, I kept track of our progress as we passed by several lakes. We reached a lake at two in the afternoon that Catherine called the pretty lake. If I had been paying attention and actually, you know, reading my map, I would have identified it as Rainbow Lake.

Unbeknownst to me, the true state of things.

She suggested we stop. But it was only two and I thought we could still reach our goal. And, as you can see from the above picture, we could have. At my urging, she agreed to press on. A few minutes after we resumed hiking we came to a fork in the path. There was a sign, but I can’t recall what it said now only that I convinced myself we were at the position noted above and therefore we should head off to the right. As you can plainly see, that was heading away from our intended destination. But I was sure we were on the right track.

A mile or so later, we agreed to camp for the night.

Preparing for Dinner–First night’s camp.
Another View

It was not the most picturesque camping spot, but hey, we were tired. Notice we’re on the crown of a little slope. The location turned out to be fortuitous as that evening a wicked thunderstorm rolled through–and believe me unless you’ve lived through the monstrous thunder exploding near you and reverberating amplified from the peaks you haven’t lived. We stayed nice and dry–not something we were able to say for the entire trip–but that’s another story.

Anyway, the next day we arose dried the tents out a bit and were on our way. A few minutes into our renewed journey Catherine questioned the direction we were heading, but confident mountain man that I was pretending to be I assured her we were headed right.

After hiking for an hour or so we arrived at a stream.

Trust me–it looked much more formidable IRL than in this picture.

As you can see from the picture, we saw no way across without simply wading through the water, getting our feet soaked then hiking in two wet boots and socks for the rest of the day (a joy I reserved for this last summer’s hike–but that’s another story). Plus the idea of losing my balance (not as hard as it sounds with a forty pound pack on your back) smashing onto rocks and soaking more than my feet (again a thrill I reserved for this last summer’s hike–but that’s another story) did not make me flush with anticipation. But we had to cross. Catherine was hesitant; I was confident. Since we were having difficulty finding a dry way across, I determined to provide motivation. Okay, take a moment now and imagine how you might provide said motivation–a short convincing speech perhaps or maybe a demonstration of how it might be done?.

Such half measures aren’t good enough for me. I took my map and GPS device (the only things capable of telling us where we were in the wilderness) and, yelling something about Cortez and burning ships, hurled them across the stream into the underbrush on the other side.

To say Catherine was rather more dismayed than motivated would be an understatement of incalculable proportions. I don’t remember hearing any muttered curses about insane old men, but that’s probably only because my hearing isn’t what it used to be.

Anyway, still wearing my pack I tramped off up stream through thick underbrush to find a way across. After about a hundred yards, I discovered to my delight that I wasn’t traversing solid ground but a marshy margin along the creek littered with brush covered (meaning invisible to me) water filled holes. After plunging a foot into one of said holes half way up my shin I tread with greater care. Eventually, unable to find a dry way across, I returned to my starting point where Catherine was drying off her feet.

She had shed her pack, boots and socks and waded the stream in search of the discarded map and GPS. She said she’d been lucky to find them. Once again, she urged me to consider whether we were indeed travelling in the right direction. I grudgingly agreed to her request. Dropping my pack I took the map and GPS from her and with the help of my trusty compass, I set about trying to find out where we were.

The great explorer at work.

After a period of intense study, I decided Catherine was right.

Just a bit chagrined and a whole lot more humble, I threw on my pack and we trekked back up (yes, we had to walk uphill to retrace our steps) to where I’d led us astray. Now you can see why Catherine’s description of our adventure is wrong though–we were never “lost”.

We never did make it to Allen Lake because later that day on our cross country hike, we encountered another high running stream with no visible way over. So, we retreated to Bedground Lake.

That first trip, Catherine said the trip would be a success if she camped by a pristine mountain lake. This qualifies, don’t you think?

There we spent a pleasant evening until it got dark and we heard the sound. But that’s another story.

Goodies On My Porch

Everytime I see the UPS truck pull up in front of my house, I feel like bursting into song.

Everything Old Is New Again

And oh, what goodies the magical van of cornicopia delivered to my porch today! (Well, not to my porch per se since I was so excited I ran down my front steps to greet the bringer of gifts.) It was my new backpack!

You see, for the third year in a row my daughter, Catherine and I will spend a week in the High Unitas.

Lower Red Castle Lake–As Seen A Few Steps From My Tent Last Summer

This time we will be traveling with Rick, the Lovely Marianne’s brother. I decided (at my daughter’s urging) to retire the backpack that has served me well lo these many years (I think about 30!) And today my new shiney lighter, ergonomically optimized backpack arrived.

Compare And Be Amazed
Wow, That’s Pretty!

As you can see from the photos, my new pack (on the left, you can tell it’s new because I haven’t removed the tags yet) has all sorts of pockets and zippers and pouches where you can squirrel stuff away. Inside it has a removable hydration sleve (and yes, that really is the marketing language. Who comes up with this stuff anyway? A sleve, okay that’s something that slides over something else to enclose it. But what is a hydration and how do you fit a hydration inside a sleve?) that doubles as a daypack when its not busy sleving hydration. It even has a little “weather proof” pouch on the hip strap where you can keep your phone. (When I bought my (used) Vortex pack thirty years ago a cell phone would’ve filled the whole pack). And the shoulder and hip straps are a marvel of design. What you can’t see is that they are much more comfortable.

Out with the old and in with the new. I bid my old Vortex a fond and loving farewell. We had some good times, but it’s time to part ways and yes, it’s not me–it’s you.

Book Club Announcement

In our Book Club (named Thanatopsis as you will recall), I am responsible for assembling the book lists each six months and distributing them to the members. Generally, those emails are vanilla. But last year I decided to add a Christmas theme.

 T’was the night before Christmas and all through the land
Thanatopsi were resting, a book close to hand.
My wife with her kindle and I with my nook
Each was absorbed in an electronic book.
As she with her romance and I with sci fi
Closed our devices to catch some shut eye
A noise from the living room lanced us with fear,
The house was quite empty; it was only us here.
Retrieving in silence a trusty ball bat,
We crept down the hall and almost fell flat.
There in our living room close by the tree
A most curious being knelt on one knee.
Its limbs were too long, its torso not right
That thing isn’t human, came the thought with a fright.
Thin as a rail, it was dressed all in green.
Then it turned and presented an incredible mien.
On its face bloomed emotions one after the other
Fear followed joy which anger did smother.
Excitement, rage, sorrow, love and remorse
Flowed on its face in an unending course.
Spotting us, it stood and turned fully around.
Though trembling in fear, I refused to give ground.
While its terrible visage and height gave me pause,
I bravely commanded “Begone! You’re no Claus.”
“I hope not!” it proclaimed. “He’s a consummate fraud!”
“Those toys and trinkets he fashions and scatters abroad
Are all useless garbage that will rust and decay
While my gifts are permanent, a much better way
To enlightenment, pleasure and knowledge of self.
Gaze upon my magnificence for I’m The Book Elf.”
It exulted. Then its face stopped, became stern.
“What will you do the next six months to learn?”
Trembling, I handed it (copy attached)
Our next six month book list. “Oh, this is unmatched!”
It said, its face shifting quickly to joy.
“Thanatopsis, you say? Well, you’ve been a good boy.”
It waved at the tree and there were books of all kinds
 First editions, old manuscripts-incredible finds!
Mystery, Romance, True Crime, Science Fiction,
Non Fiction, Biography, one was even on diction.
Gratitude filling us, we knew not what to say.
We turned to give thanks, but it had vanished away.
Yet echoing gently, I heard its soft voice:
“Remember to read when you’re given the choice!”

Fun With Winshield Wipers

Several weeks ago in preparation for our trip to Yellowstone (which I’ll say more about soon) I purchased a new wiper blade for my driver’s side windshield wiper. The old one was coming apart and rain was predicted for our trip.

Broken Wiper Blade

A trivial task you say? Nothing is too simple that I can’t screw it up.

At Walmart I perused the options and went with a premium blade–guaranteed for two million wipes!–because, hey, nothing but the best for my 2012 Camry. The packaging touted its new blade material. So when I removed the blade from its packaging and saw that the wiper part was blue and felt hard, I thought cool, that’s the new advanced material. My windshield will be spotless.

But when after installing the blade I tested it with washer fluid, the results were disappointing. Instead of wiping the fluid away it just spread it around. Being somewhat slow on the uptake, I thought it probably just needed to be broken in. Heh.

Two weeks later in Yellowstone it started to rain. After a few minutes of smearing water over the windshield it became obvious the breaking in wasn’t happening. I stopped the car and examined the wiper. Thinking maybe I had installed it going the wrong way, I removed it and discovered it would only go on the way I had first put it on. In the process I noticed that the actual (blue advanced composite) blade seemed to be coming loose from the arm that held it. It stopped raining.

Twenty minutes later as we were parked, it started raining again, this time pretty hard. My wiper was useless; I didn’t think I could drive with the darned thing. My complaints were loud and bitter. The rain stopped once more. I drove off not a little worried that if it started to rain again we’d be in trouble. I couldn’t let the problem go and thought about the loose blade I had noticed. Stopping once more I decided I’d better make sure the blade was secure. When I lifted the wiper from the windshield and grabbed the blade this is what I found.

Blue Plastic Wiper Sheath

Surprise! The smart folks who manufactured the wiper had enclosed the actual blade in a hard plastic sheath that was not in fact an “advanced composite.” Chagrined is not a strong enough word to describe how I felt upon re-entering the car after my discovery. Humiliated may be better. The wiper of course worked perfectly once I actually, you know, installed the wiper. I was gratified, though, to be able to provide the lovely Marianne with hours of entertainment for the remainder of the trip as she pointed out each time a rain drop hit the windshield how well the wiper was working.

The moral of the story is…I don’t know. Don’t be stupid, I suppose.

Facebook Messages

In my last post I mentioned joining Facebook for marketing my book Crossing the Border which you really should purchase and read immediately (available at Amazon and other etc, etc. and, oh, look! he’s dropped the price!).

Since joining Facebook I have struggled to maintain a presence there. I receive countless emails (my settings are wrong or so I gather from friends who know), but I have to force myself to check in. BTW is all social media like that? I thought these things were designed to draw you into the Hotel California.

Anyway, I checked in this afternoon and saw a message from an acquaintance (in point of fact, the lovely Marianne’s old boyfriend who had plans to wed her and who authored a hysterical preview of their married lives together which my children when younger found stashed away in a corner of our house. They teased her without mercy and still bring it up on occasion).

As I said this acquaintance sent me a message in the form of a poem by Franklin Waldheim.

Help Wanted
by Franklin Waldheim

A LAW FIRM commanding
Position of standing                                                                                                                         Requires a general clerk —
A man who’s admitted                                                                                                                              To practice, and fitted
To handle diversified work;
Must know the proceedings
Relating to pleadings,
The ways of preparing a brief;
Must argue with unction                                                                                                                              For writs of injunction
As well as for legal relief.
Must form corporations
And hold consultations,
Assuming a dignified mien;
Should read each decision
And legal provision
Wherever the same may be seen.
Must analyze cases
And get at their basis,
Should never be idle or slow;
Must manifest learning
In all things concerning
The matters referred to below:
Attachments and trials,
Specific denials,
Demurrers, replies and complaints,
Disbursements, expenses And partial defenses,
Ejectments, replevins, distraints;
Estoppels, restrictions,
Constructive evictions,
Agreements implied and express,
Accountings, partitions,
Estates and commissions,
Encumbrances, fraud and duress.
Above are essentials,
The best of credentials
Required — and handsome physique;
Make prompt application,
Will pay compensation
Of seventeen dollars a week.

Amusing, I thought and since my mind had been on verse from this morning’s post, I composed a reply.

Of the matters you mention
(including contention)
I’m well versed and fit nicely your bill.
But such skills many and varied
Have traditionally carried
A price that will not give you a thrill
I will, therefore, agree
To perform for a fee
And focus my considerable power
On all your complaints
Without any restraints
For 300 dollars per hour

Verse

I recently joined Facebook mostly as a means of promoting my first novel Crossing the Border (available at Amazon in Kindle and Paperback and electronically at other fine book sellers). Immediately I started posting things I had written over the years on different occasions and I expressed excitement at having finally found a home of material that had been sitting forlorn and unloved in my filing cabinet. The lovely Marianne suggested that Facebook was probably not the place where I should grace the world with my unpublished genius. I forget the reasoning, but I considered it sound at the time. As I think about it, she might have said something like “maybe you shouldn’t inflict your doggerel on your friends.”

But now I have a blog! The perfect answer. Visitors will visit if my doggerel and other assorted musings entertains them; I won’t be foisting my stuff on anyone.

Herewith then the inaugural post of verse. I wrote this on the occasion of friend turning 40. At the celebration, I prefaced the reading by noting that the phrase “life begins at 40” was actually the first line of a poem, but that for reasons soon to be apparent the rest of the verse has been lost in the mists of time and only that lone first verse has remained in popular use.

Life begins at forty
A steady slow decline
And even though the day before
You think you feel just fine,
You will soon notice
The ravages of age.
Fading eyesight,
Creaking joints,
A sudden shortness of breath–
Because life begins at forty
The relentless march toward death.

Science Fiction v. Magic

A neighbor of mine recently asked me to review a manuscript of a mid grade science fiction novel with an eye toward the world building in the story. I’m not an expert by any means, but I have read a lot of science fiction over the course of my life and I’m always willing to offer my opinions regardless of how well or ill founded they may be. My wife saw part of what I wrote and thought it might make a good blog post. It was on the difference between magic and science fiction.

One of the things I included in my ramblings was a favorite aphorism coined by Arthur C. Clarke a famous science fiction author and scientist in his own right: “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” So the difference between a fairy tale and science fiction is changing the label from “magic” to “science.”

In the fairy tale Cinderella’s fairy godmother sprinkles fairy dust on her dress that magically transforms it into a beautiful gown. In the science fiction the female scientist dispenses nano machines that gather atoms from the surrounding environment (including Cinderella’s dress) and build them into molecules then assemble the molecules according to a pattern encoded into the spin state of their electrons into a beautiful gown.

The scientific mumbo jumbo is meaningless but serves as a tag that lets the reader know the story she is reading is science fiction not a fairy tale with magic.

An Explanation

I owe you an apology. I should not have thrown that first post out into the void without some explanation of its origin and significance. So, here goes.

I belong to a neighborhood book club. Thanatopsis, (yes, the club has a name–it also has T-Shirts, but that’s another story) was formed in 1984 and in the thirty-four years since has met once a month to discuss books. From the beginning Thanatopsis has operated on a six month calendar. Each six months a schedule of books to be read is put together and members of the club volunteer to host meetings and to lead discussions. That obviously requires some coordination and the person charged with that coordination has, for reasons lost in the mists of time, been referred to as “The Girl.” The Girl is also tasked with reminding members of upcoming meetings.

My wife was invited to join Thanatopsis shortly after we moved into the neighborhood in 1986. A few years later I expressed interest in attending and was invited to participate as the token male because while no rule exists regarding the sex of the members and men have been invited to become part of the club from time to time I am the only man foolish or brave enough to join the group. My involvement over the years has been spotty owing to work and other commitments; my wife has been a faithful attendee. Since my retirement four and a half years ago (ah, maybe the subject of another post) I have attended regularly. A year or so after my retirement, the member who was acting as The Girl expressed a desire to move on from that position. As I was retired and secure in my masculinity (toxic though it may be), I volunteered to become The Girl.

So every month I send out reminders of upcoming meetings and occasionally provide other information. I try to amuse myself when writing the reminders. I’m gratified when I’m able to amuse others as well.

My first post was the most recent reminder. It was more involved than most.

Book Club Announcement–A Gentleman In Sandy

For my inaugural post I thought I’d post my most recent announcement for Thanatopsis. We recently read A Gentleman in Moscow. It was thoroughly enjoyable and I wish I had written it. Herewith the announcement for our meeting of May 29.

 

Bounding up the stairs two at a time with an alacrity and energy belying his sixty two years, he cleared the last three with a leap, alighting with feline grace in the dining room inches from the table. Years ago and half a continent away, that table had adorned his childhood home and even now evoked piquant recollections of convivial meals—ricotta cheese pancakes, veal parmesan, tuna casseroles, original joe’s. The table’s craftsman, cunningly working in teak and eschewing a pedestrian round, square or oblong configuration had instead, employing the golden ratios, wrought it in a simple, stunning oval. At first blush appearing to comfortably accommodate six, the table, reflecting the craftsman’s exquisite skill, was fashioned in two separate halves that when slid apart along cleverly placed hidden rails parted to reveal an adroitly disguised extension that, upon unfolding, expanded the table’s capacity from six to ten. Tracing his fingers across the table’s surface stained with the memories of half a thousand festive gatherings of family and friends, Kevin Bates glided through the dining room only to be brought up short. In the living room before him curled into a corner of the loveseat glowed the beauty that had first mesmerized him forty years before. A softly shining computer screen limned her face, drew his eye to fetching silver highlights in her casually mussed hair and reflected from her glasses. Intently peering at the screen with pursed lips, Marianne appeared in the throws of intense mental focus.

Unwilling to disturb such beauty in concentration, Kevin waited until Marianne’s attention wavered and she glanced up from her task. “Bonsoir, ma cherie,” he said, because even after forty years of wedded felicity these small affectionate expressions were not rote repetition but distilled declarations of adoration. (In truth their domestic delight’s forty year mark was still six months in the future, but in matters of the heart a certain gauziness in memory and vision is devoutly to be pursued in place of unwarranted precision.)

“Oh, hey Kev. Don’t forget to send out the book club reminder.”

Apparently forty years sufficed to erode at least one person’s desire to nourish a relationship even with rote repetition. But, zut alors! How could he have forgotten? Tasks lay at hand to be completed with exactness and punctuality. Taking up his computer, Kevin threw himself on the living room settee. Composed of a material that called forth in memory the inimitable Ricardo Montalban purring the praises of “fine Corinthian leather” in automobile upholstery, they had acquired the settee while on holiday in Murray—a Utah paesino where he and his wife had been celebrating their wedding anniversary—from a small, exclusive purveyor of luxury furnishings known as RC Willey.

Accessing the email program, Kevin wracked his brain seeking les mots justes for the Thanatopsis missive, after all he had admirers to please and skeptics to confound.  However, unable to compose an appropriately witty and thoughtful message, he decided ultimately to offer a simple précis because pith is always très élégante.

What:                    Thanatopsis discussing A Gentleman In Moscow by Amor Towles

Where:                Debbie’s home

Who:                     Kevin Bates, leading the discussion.

The essentials having been communicated with admirable concision, he contemplated with furrowed brow an appropriate conclusion, one that was not overly ornate, but yet exhibited the flourish he modestly considered to be his calling card. Ah! He had it.

“Exhausted, yet also strangely exhilarated from the effort of feigning gentility even in the small matter of a notification, I remain,

your humble and decidedly ungentle servant,

the Girl