Sunday, December 29, 2013

Christmas Cheer

I want to wish my blog readership - you tiny but distinguished group of far flung individuals - a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

The Christmas cards on my mantel are a reminder of the blessings of having family and friends.  For the sake of enjoyment, the cards will probably linger until mid-January.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Wisest Words of 2013

Apart from readings in the Bible and biblical commentary, the wisest words I read this year were from George Vaillant's Triumphs of Experience (2012), a book about the current research findings of the Harvard Grant Study.  These words are highlighted in bold below.

To begin, here's an excerpt from the book jacket summary of the book:

"Begun in 1938, the Grant Study of Adult Development charted the physical and emotional health of over 200 men, starting with their undergraduate days.  The now-classic Adaptions to Life reported on the men's lives up to age 55 and helped us understand adult maturation.  Now George Vaillant follows the men into their nineties, documenting for the first time what it is like to flourish far beyond conventional retirement.

Reporting on all aspects of male life, including relationships, politics and religion, coping strategies, and alcohol use (its abuse being by far the greatest disruptor of health and happiness for the study's subjects), Triumphs of Experience shares a number of surprising findings.   For example, the people who do well in old age did not necessarily do so well in midlife, and vice versa.  While the study confirms that recovery from a miserable childhood is possible, memories of a happy childhood are a lifelong source of strength.  Marriages bring much more contentment after age 70, and physical aging after 80 is determined less by heredity than by habits formed prior to age 50.  The credit for growing old with grace and vitality, it seems, goes more to ourselves than to our stellar genetic makeup."

One striking story from the book was the biography of a man named Godfrey Minot Camille, who was a wreck in early adulthood -- perpetually stressed, essentially friendless, hospitalized for 14 months at age 35 with pulmonary tuberculosis -- but finished life a joyous man.

From p. 51:

"At eighty, Camille threw himself a potluck supper birthday party.  Three hundred people from his church came.  He provided the jazz band.

At eighty-two, Godfrey Minot Camille had a fatal heart attack while climbing in the Alps, which he dearly loved.  His church was packed for the memorial service.  "There was a deep and holy authenticity about the man," said the bishop in his eulogy.  His son said, "He lived a very simple life, but it was rich in relationships."  Yet prior to age thirty, Camille's life had been essentially barren of relationship.  Folks change.  But they stay the same, too.  Camille had also spent his years before the hospital looking for love.  It just took him a while to let himself find it.

By the time Godfrey Minot Camille was eighty, even Aristotle would have conceded that he was leading a good life.  But who could have foreseen, when he was twenty-nine and the Study staff ranked him in the bottom 3 percent of the cohort in personality stability, that he would die a happy, giving, and beloved man?  Only those who understand that happiness is only the cart; love is the horse.  And perhaps those who recognize that our so-called defense mechanisms, our involuntary ways of coping with life, are very important indeed -- the missing piece I mentioned above.  Before age thirty, Camille depended on narcissistic hypochondriasis to cope with his life and feelings; after fifty he used empathic altruism and a pragmatic stoicism about taking what comes.  There are two pillars of happiness revealed by the seventy-five-year-old Grant Study (and exemplified by Dr. Godfrey Minot Camille).  One is love.  The other is finding a way of coping with life that does not push love away."

Resolutions for 2014

I have been too occupied to blog during the past month or so.  Early on, I was working through psychology books by Karen Horney to discover the psychological origins of my various failings (regarding money, romance, prestige, etc.)  This dreary pastime, producing no more than some sad insights ('To thine own self be true' makes a classy bumper sticker but a lousy organizing principle for living), was soon pushed aside by my year-end responsibilities to write performance reviews for about fifty people at work.  More dreariness.

To brighten my mood today, I am looking ahead to 2014 and setting down my New Year's resolutions. Now I recognize that making resolutions can sometimes be a troublesome and disappointing exercise, as indicated by Ashley Sterne's rococo observations from Pan Magazine (January 1920):

"To-night (New Year’s Eve), over the wassail-bowl flowing with milk and honey, whisky punch, copying-ink, or whatever our favorite inebriating fluid may be, we shall go through the annual formula of making our Good Resolutions.  To-morrow we shall put our hands to the plough and start a clean sheet.  But, Hei mihi!  Eheu jugaces!   Hic, Hoec, hoc!  (For further suitable ejaculations see “Lamentations of Jeremiah.”)  The same evening or, in extreme cases, the following morning, back to the fold will come those good resolutions, their feathers ruffled, their tails between their legs, their ties behind their ears, their native hue sicklied o’er with the pale cast of thought.  Gone is our “glad morning face” (Stevenson); hushed “the late lark singing in our hearts” (Henley).  Instead, a sad, morning face (myself), “and no birds sing” (Keats, The Lovely Lady who never said ‘Thank You’”)  Thus shall we realize that history is made up of revolutions, not resolutions."

Nevertheless, despite the usual danger of making a fool of myself, here I go resolving!

My first resolution is a bit of unfinished business from 2013.  Back then I resolved to climb four Colorado fourteeners.  In fact, in 2013 I only attempted one fourteener, Quandry Peak.  I did not distinguish myself in this attempt.  Shameful to admit, I threw in the towel at about 13,000 feet and wobbled back down the mountain exhausted.

For six months I have nursed a grudge against this mountain for mistreating me so badly.  Therefore, for 2014 I have resolved to conquer Quandry, do or die.  (Preferably do)

My second resolution is to rehabilitate my general physical fitness. This will involve regaining my college weight, plus ten pounds.  (Some concession to my mature years seems fair and reasonable.)  Also, I am setting exercise targets of performing 40 pushups and 40 situps.  I expect that the achievement of this second resolution will invigorate me greatly and will also have the salutary side effect of easing my blood pressure into a healthy range.


Saturday, November 16, 2013

Fake Clouds

I was driving to the foothills to take a short hike this afternoon when I saw some peculiar clouds to the north. 

If a landscape artist had put such clouds in a painting, I would have called it a shoddy job: the clouds look blotchy and unconvincing.  Nature must have been having an off-day.

Saturday, November 2, 2013


Today I took a hike up Lookout Mountain.  I ran out of energy at the Windy Saddle overlook and headed back down the trail, reaching the bottom just in time to see the paragliders landing. 

A paraglider consists of a harness for the pilot to sit on, a set of thin but immensely strong suspension lines, and a fabric canopy.  Here is a paraglider I saw at close range today.

The canopy is rather like a down sleeping bag that is thirty feet long.  (Children, do not get ideas.)  The paraglider is the offspring of the parachute and has no fixed structure, in contrast with the hang glider, which is the offspring of an aircraft and has a fixed wing.  Here is a hang glider picture stolen from the internet.

One after another the paragliders came in for a landing.  The pilot's goal was to touch down close to the orange cone in the middle of the landing area.

One paraglider gave me a start.  It appeared to be coming right at me as it made its final approach.  But then the pilot pulled on the reins and veered away from me.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Blue and Orange

Blue Skies by Irving Berlin (1926)

Blue skies smiling on me
Nothing but blue skies do I see
Blue birds singing a song
Nothing but blue skies from now on

I never saw the sun shining so bright
When you're in love, every thing's right

Watching all the days hurrying by
When you're in love, my how they fly
Those blue days, all of them gone
Nothing but blue skies from now on

No skies are bluer than October skies in Colorado.  Here is a photograph taken of the sky directly overhead this afternoon. 

Sadly, the rest of the song didn't apply today.  I didn't hear any blue birds or fall in love.

I was hiking along the Hogback and stopped to see the fossilized sandstone remains of an ancient seabed on the side of the hill.  The wiggly lines were purportedly made by water currents on the sea floor.

The sign says:  "Ripple marks are one of the most graphic features in the Dakota sandstones.  The ripples were mad by gentle currents and waves in the quiet intertidal zone along the Western Interior Seaway.  The ripple marks may have been preserved by filamentous algal mats that grew over the rippled surface."

After my hike I returned to town and came across this striking orange tree. As blue and orange are the team colors for the Denver Broncos football team, this is truly a Broncos weekend.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

At the Reservoir

Today I needed a break from transcribing Karen Horney's The Neurotic Personality of Our Time (there's no better way to get an inside look at neurotic behavior than by compulsively typing passages from a 1937 neo-Freudian psychology book) and took a brief stroll to the nearby reservoir.

By the time I arrived in late afternoon most of the sailors were wrapping up their boating for the day.  Two men were rolling up the sail for their Hobie Cat.  To avoid appearing nosy, I took this photograph from a secluded spot under a tree.

I viewed some dinosaur footprints on my last Hogback hike.  Today I saw geese footprints along the beach.  What would future archeologists make of these?

Sunday, October 13, 2013

October Thoughts

This afternoon I took photographs of my neighborhood trees. 

Now that I am in the October of my life, the beautiful autumn scenery is a reminder to be cheerful and show my true colors in the days left to me. The time will come when I fade and shrivel.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Universal Trail Sign

I was hiking on my favorite trail, the Mount Galbraith loop, today.  Halfway around the mountain, beside an especially rocky and indistinct section of the trail, I saw several small rocks stacked on each other.  I assumed that this was the universal sign marking the correct way to go.

However, in retrospect, I have begun to distrust my assumption.  After all, my knowledge of trail craft is skimpy. The stacked rocks could have signified any number of things, such as:
  • Beware of moose!
  • Wrong way!
  • Pick up after your dog!
Shortly after seeing this sign, I ran into a middle-aged couple who warned me that they had spotted a rattlesnake beside the trail ahead.  Perhaps the stacked rocks are the universal sign for Rattlesnake Crossing.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Red Rocks hike

I took a morning hike along the Red Rock trail and took a side trip to the famous Red Rocks concert venue.

Here is the back side of the venue, as seen from the trail.  The geology is interesting with all the big, reddish boulders; but you wouldn't suspect a world-class amphitheatre is on the other side.

I followed the trail up to the entry road and passed through the tunnel.

A sign pointed the way to the sidewalk leading to the amphitheatre.

I made my way to the front of the stage, which was being configured for the day's event, a sold-out concert by Big Gigantic (never heard of them) called Rowdytown 2.

The amphitheatre seating was currently in use by young athletes who wanted to be observed exercising by other young athletes.  Being neither fit nor young, I did not join them in scampering up and down the rows of seats.

I departed the amphitheatre via a ramp that appeared surprisingly delicate when I photographed it from the safety of the ground.

I capped my visit by visiting the Red Rocks Trading Post and purchasing a strawberry fruit-cicle, a delicacy so surpassingly satisfying that I completely forgot about my tired feet.

I hope that this modest travelogue piques your interest in visiting the Red Rocks amphitheatre.

[Disclaimer:  this blog entry should not be taken as an express or implied recommendation or warranty for the abilities of Big Gigantic, whoever they may be, or the entertainment value of their Rowdytown 2, whatever it may be.]

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

A Humbling Experience

I needed four one-dollar bills to pay my bus fare tomorrow, so late this evening I walked to the nearby supermarket to break a five dollar bill.

All of the cashier stations are deserted after ten o'clock.  There are no helpful cashiers available to make change.  One must resort to the self-service barcode reader stations off to the side.

My mission was to find some foodstuff or household object costing less than one dollar.  This is no cinch in the modern supermarket.  Even the candy bars are 99 cents or $1.06 after sales tax.  Eventually I found a small container of mango lemonade for 88 cents or 94 cents after sales tax.

I scanned the mango lemonade at the self-service station, fed the five dollar bill into the slot, and received four crisp ones and six cents in change.  My mission was a success.

I walked outside and found a seat in the shadowy outdoor cafe area, lit at night only by oblique light through the supermarket windows.  I slouched back in a wire chair under the shelter of a canvas cafe umbrella and sipped my mango lemonade.

An elderly man -- a white-haired gent about seventy-five attired in a dress shirt and black pants -- made his way through the cafe area. 

"You're not staying here tonight, are you?" he asked.

"No, I plan to finish my lemonade and then walk home," I said.

"Good for you," he replied heartily and walked on.

Evidently, in dim light I more resemble a bum than a corporate middle manager.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Dinosaur Ridge and Muddy Comments

I decided to hike the Hogback trail (Dakota Ridge) today, because this particular trail is quite rocky and probably less susceptible to damage from the recent floods than other foothills trails.  I only noticed damage as I climbed the first hundred yards, where the trail was an ascending dirt path.  Fast water had made a mess of the path, cutting a foot-deep channel down the middle.

Instead of hiking out to the scenic overlook as usual and then retracing my steps back over the Hogback to the parking lot, I arrived at the overlook and then walked down the asphalt road running along the base of the Hogback hills.  This is a tourist area called Dinosaur Ridge.

I strolled down the road to the famous patch of dinosaur footprints on the side of the hill.  A colorful sign caught my eye.

Here is the text, with my comments in brackets: 

Tracks, trails, and other traces of animal activity are referred to as "trace fossils."  Paleontologists recognize three different types of dinosaurs and a crocodile from their tracks at this site.  The most common trackways are from ornithopods, possibly by Eolambia [the yellow mother and child]. The second most common trackways are from a small theropod, like an orthinomimid [the tan dinosaur on the right, who looks like a plucked ostrich accessorized with a whippy tail].  A few tracks suggest a larger theropod, perhaps an acrocanthosaur [the red dinosaur with a nasty expression], was also present. 

The tracks, marked lightly with charcoal by park volunteers for easier viewing, were fascinating. 

The big tracks were about sixteen inches wide.

 The smallest tracks were three-toed prints about six inches wide that looked like bird tracks.

 The next sign explained the habitat in which these dinosaurs were gadding about.

Here is the text:

Tidal flats are muddy or marshy areas near the beach.  Beach sand here was covered by a muddy marsh.  The muddy layers became mudstone and were later removed by erosion and excavation, leaving the sandy surface (the ancient beach) that you see here.

Detailed tracks excavated from the mudstone layer here suggest that the dinosaurs were walking in the mud, pressing it down and depressing the sandy layers below.  The upper layer where the original tracks were made is now gone and the underprints on the sandstone layer have been exposed.

Speaking of mud:  As I made my way back to the parking lot I saw a mud slide area.  A section of a Hogback hill sloughed off during the heavy rains last week.

The sight reminded me of one of my favorite lyrics by Warren Zevon, from his 1976 song Desperados Under the Eaves:

And if California slides into the ocean
Like the mystics and statistics say it will

I predict this hotel will be standing until I pay my bill.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Summer Storm

I was walking the mile and a half to the library to return a sack of three books.  The sky was partly cloudy overhead, but there was a dark patch of clouds to the southeast.  However, as the wind was coming from the west, I felt relatively safe. 

By the halfway point in my walk, the wind shifted and was blowing from the south.  Dark clouds filled the eastern sky.  Here is a photograph I took looking north.

El Greco captured a similar skyscape in his famous painting of Toledo.

The wind quickly shifted again and now blew from the east.  The wall of dark clouds began moving my way. 

Gray clouds at the bottom of the cloud bank sped over me and began to swirl. Cold gusts of wind hit me, knocking my baseball cap off my head.  Distant tornado sirens blared.  I hoofed it with all haste and reached Wal-Mart as fat raindrops began to fall.

Taking refuge in the Wal-Mart parking garage, I determined to wait out the storm.  I had an hour and a half until the library closed at 5:00 p.m.; the rain would surely let up well before then, I thought.  I was mistaken.  The rain came down hard and steady until shortly after 5:00 p.m. when my son drove up to give me and my sack of library books a ride home.    

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Looking up

I was hiking on Mount Galbraith today.  The trail -- a well-maintained path about as wide as a sidewalk -- rises from the parking lot next to the highway, circles the mountain about half way up, and then retraces back to the parking lot.  Easy as pie.  Except that today I lost track of the actual trail about half way around the mountain and took a narrow, twisty semblance of a trail (possibly just a path through the weeds trampled down by deer) up to the rounded summit.  I was clearly off the beaten track.  No other hikers were in sight.  If I broke an ankle here, it would be a case of "That's all she wrote" and "Goodnight, Irene."  Fortunately, before I had a chance to get too panicky, I spotted a continuation of the narrow trail.  Descending gingerly on the loose rocks, I made my way down the mountain and rejoined the real trail.

In all the anxiety of the descent I forgot to look around for something interesting to photograph.  Finally, I looked up.  Nine hang gliders were gracefully swooping in the sky overhead.  Here is the nearest one.


Saturday, August 31, 2013

Polly the Painted Grasshopper

This morning I hiked the Hogback Trail and then crossed the highway to the Red Rocks Trail.  I was walking along patches of dry grass when a strange grasshopper caught my eye.

This tiger-striped beauty is formally called Dactylotum Bicolor by the bug scientists (or Polly the Painted Grasshopper by her friends).  The bug scientists claim that this is the typical range of the DB. 

I have no wish to be disputatious with the bug scientists; however, I lived in Austin, Texas for several years and never saw a single DB.

Here are some additional DB photos from the Internet, taken by more competent grasshopper photographers.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Coors Brewing Tour

Yesterday I took a brief hike in the foothills until dense clouds rolled in.  Not willing to risk becoming Sparky the Human Lightning Rod, I aborted the hike. Now having unexpected time on my hands, I decided to take in the brewing tour at the nearby Coors brewery.

I drove into Golden and followed a series of street signs showing the way to the brewing tour.  A water tower in the shape of a giant Coors can and an antique copper kettle marked the tour entrance.  The exteriors of the Coors plant buildings were purely functional -- drab concrete walls reminiscent of old Soviet-style apartment buildings in Eastern Europe.

I went inside.  The lady at the counter gave me a phone-like apparatus for the self-paced audio tour.  The audio descriptions were well crafted, but I missed having a human tour guide available to answer oddball questions, such as:  If a batch of beer goes bad, where do you dump it?

Here is a photo of the farm of huge copper kettles in the brewing area.  Some are used for heating the mash; some for boiling the wort; and some for fermenting the beer.  Steps in the brewing process are described on the Coors web site:

A big filter press takes the cooked mash and separates the mash solids from the sweet liquid wort.

At the three-quarter point in the tour, one is invited to try two ounces of either regular Coors or Coors Lite.  The beer is served at nearly freezing temperature, which made it refreshing but did little to accentuate its flavor. 

At the end of the tour, one may partake of up to three glasses of any of the Coors beers on draft in the hospitality area.  In the interest of experiencing beverage history from the time of the Great War, I drank about half a glass of their Batch 19 beer, which is based on a pre-Prohibition formula.  To my untrained palate, Batch 19 seemed a lot like regular Coors, except with a little hoppy jolt at the end of the swallow.

All in all, this is a tour worth considering.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Iowa Garden Pictures

I have been visiting relatives in Iowa for the past five days. 

As a respite from nursing home visits, I would frequently take a few minutes to enjoy my mother's flowers and my father's vegetable garden, which persist as a reminder of better times.

Tall violet flowers and short red flowers adorn the side of the garage.  (Sadly, my knowledge of botany does not extend past vague descriptions of tall versus short and simplistic guesses at colors.)  Also, it appears that a brazen, yellow-blossomed zucchini plant has crashed the party.

Green beans, beloved by the local rabbit population, are protected by wire fencing.  My father also planted most of the tomatoes inside the fencing, perhaps as a defense against larcenous neighbors.

Zucchini, white squash, and cucumbers are planted outside the fence and apparently are viewed with disdain by herbaceous predators, cotton-tailed or otherwise.