Barry Clark's Blog 

Barry Clark's home page

Resquiscat in pace canem amatem December 7, 2007
Poor old Artemis is no more.

She had a very bad night last night, and I decided enough was enough. She cried in the night, something she has never done - she was never a complainer. It seemed to me that there wasn't much room left for her to be a dog any more.

She was 14, which is pretty old for a dog of her size. She aged very quickly. We spent labor day in the Magdalenas, and she did OK, though not the ball of fire she once was. By halloween she could hardly walk across the street. This morning she couldn't walk at all, even if I helped her stand up.

I'll miss her.

Christmas - December, 2007
What a lovely Christmas. Everybody came. People started dribbling in on the 23rd, and the flow continued through Christmas day.

Christmas Eve we had a smallish party built around an enormous pot of posole.

A small deficit in the very young. The two smallest grandchildren are 7 year old girls, who are pretty sophisticated these days. But still we had a nice Christmas morning tear-through-the-wrapping, gorge-on-the-chocolate frenzy. Traditionally we've always had turkey for Christmas, but I was a bit daunted by the thought of a turkey, since I've not cooked one for more than a decade, so I just bought a ham. Good enough.

The high point of the holiday (about 6400 feet) was walking the Chupadera Wilderness trail. There were three children, two sons-in-law, two grandchildren, and two canines. And, you know what - this demonstrated that these people are, physiologically as well as chronometrically, younger than I am. While that lot was chugging along the trail, an alternate grandma rounded up a good collection of girls and went to the mall in Albuquerque. De gustibus non est disputandum. Anyway, a good time was had by all.

The visit to the VLA site was unfortunately rather too chilly and windy for a proper walking tour, but we tried. Managed to scare up one table of the bridge group that night - I had been hoping that with a few people available to be pressed into service that we could have two tables, but it didn't come to pass.

When we went to take one lot back to the train, My co-grandma I stayed over and played at the Duke City Bridge Club, so we managed to get a bit of a bridege fix anyway. Pretty much all the non-maniacs were staying home for the holidays, so Judy and I were pretty much at the bottom of the heap. But that's OK too.

For a birthday celebration after Christmas, we went out and overate at a Brasilian grill in Albuquerque. Now, unfortunately, I need to continue to overeat to dispose of all the Christmas leftovers before they spoil. (Leftovers from up to 18 people, though a pretty small percentage, make a lot of meals for one.

Walking and Church - January, 2008
I walked the Water Canyon Mesa Loop Trail today. It's something I do when I feel like getting outdoors but haven't the energy or the imagination to do something more creative. There was a little snow, not enough to bother -- I guess 30% of the trail was covered by an inch or two, but less than 1% by five or six inches.

I read the children's story yesterday at Unitarians. Pastor says you need to have a children's story, even if there aren't any children. The adults in the congregation are happy to have something they can understand without working too hard. Anyway, I read the Ugly Duckling, and said the moral was that just because somebody looks different, or talks different, we shouldn't be mean to them or call them ugly, because they might turn out to be the most beautiful of all. One of the adults came up to me afterwards, and said, tongue in cheek, I think, that the morals it seemed to him to have were, "Physical beauty is the most important of all," and "Stick to your own sort."

Trip Report - January, 2008
Pun intended

Ah, the perils of winter travel.

Headed off to Manchester for a committee meeting. (Ten people around a table, each with a laptop in front of him. Somebody asked why we bothered traveling.) ABQ->Denver went OK. Plane for next leg late getting to Denver, so Denver->Chicago was a couple hours late. When I got off, I had five minutes before next flight. Asked United if it was possible to make it. They said to go to the gate and see if the plane was still there. Neglected to mention that the gate was three terminals away. So of course it wasn't. Asked lady at BMI desk what to do. She said I was United's reponsibility. So, three terminals back. United said, "OK, we'll put you on the same flight tomorrow." After I waved my arms for a while, they admitted they had a flight to London yet to leave that night. So off to London, followed by four hours sitting around Heathrow, followed by flight to Manchester. Went to bed.

Attended committee meeting. Out to dinner at a very nice Thai restaurent. Went to bed.

Attended committee meeting. Out to dinner at a pub type restaurant. Had smoked Haddock with egg pie, fried black pudding, grated beetroot. (OK, that was a little different.) Went to bed.

Set off for railway station in the rain. Store had nice cast aluminum gratings into the storm sewer to catch water running down the face of the building. Turns out these were slippery when wet. Went aflying. Thought nothing was much damaged by the incident, and continued toward railay station. By the time I got there (five or six blocks), I was limping considerably. Just to be obnoxious, the rain stopped the minute I got to the train station. I mean, within fifteen seconds after I stepped under the station platform roof, the rain stopped like turning off a faucet.

Took train to airport. Managed to get through airport by virtue of the fact that from the train station to the gate was less than half a mile.

Flew to Chicago. As we approached, they announced, "Big snowstorm heading for Chicago. But we're going to slip in just ahead of it, no problem." Uh oh. Set off through O'Hare. After about a quarter mile, I thought, "This is not working". Asked a passing aircrew about getting a wheelchair. They arranged for an electric cart to meet me at the bottom of the next escalator, another hundred yards ahead. That delivered me to Immigration and Customs. From which a wheel chair took me to my gate, where I was to wait a couple of hours.

As might have been expected, the flight to ABQ was cancelled due to snow. They were able to re-route me through Denver. Again, due to snow, the Denver flight was delayed for an hour taking off. Arrived in Denver expecting wheelchair to take me to next gate. Wheelchair paperwork was lost. When the flight crew passed me still creeping wheelchairless, they voluteered to investigate, and eventually managed to collar a passing skycap with a wheelchair (who had been headed off to see her boss to ask what next), who drove me to next gate, arriving approximately 60 seconds before departure time. Doors were closed.

At this time, I screamed "enough", borrowed a phone from the agent, and called my daughter Doree, who lives in Denver, telling her to come get me. When she arrived, I had a walking range of about 50 feet before a major rest, and was beyond irritable and cranky to boot. So Doree took me home and gave me a bed. And three days later, I had at least improved enough to navigate through airports without a wheelchair, and so to home.

Still operating at about half speed, or maybe a little slower. But doesn't appear to be anything permament.

Healing - February, 2008
Sue Simkin, to bystander, after having issued complete treatment instructions for my wounded knee: "Well, somebody has to look after Barry. Marie looks after him a little bit too, but she isn't tough enough. She had only girls, I had boys." None the less, I think my knee is doing OK on its own. The probability that a doctor could do it some good is, to within the uncertainty, about equal to the probability that he would damage it further.

Went to ABQ yesterday (mild attack of cabin fevor). Big excursion was Coronado Mall end-to-end. Found myself looking for a bench at midpoint, both going and coming. (If I'd known Macy's didn't stock suspenders, I could have stayed out of the west end of the mall and saved myself some effort.)

Decided today to see if my knee was well enough for swimming. Answer was yes, but, it seems, the arms had decided to slough off during the enforced downtime. I was happy enough to get out after only 500 yards. But I was amazed how much better I felt afterward.

White Sands - March, 2008
Went to White sands for no very good reason. My memory was a bit hazy since my last visit was half a century ago. Chief thing I remembered was the amazingly sharp line between white dunes on one side and brown desert floor on the other.

Walked the Alkali Flats trail, because of the curious conception I have that you haven't really been somewhere until you've taken a walk there. An amazing trail - I recommend it. Around practically every corner was a "Wow, gee whiz". I've never walked a trail over sand dunes before. I suspect maintaining the trail markers is a much bigger job than for most trails. I like their attitude, too. Sort of "If you want to walk off trail, please try not to get lost." Walking off trail is both self limiting (walking up the front side of a dune gets old very quickly) and self correcting (even a moderate breeze quickly erases all trace of your passage). I was the first walker that day on the Alkali Flats trail, and the whole two hour walk down the main drag I saw exactly two footprints other than my own. (Not two sets - two footprints.) Anyway, I like their attitude better than that of most parks, which, if they don't have a sign saying "If you leave the parking lot, you will die, and it won't be our fault because we warned you," have one saying "Stay on the trail or else."

Gypsum (the white sand) is not nearly as hard as silica. If you have a taste, you can sort of munch on it. It feels like it is competing on a more or less equal basis with your tooth enamel, instead of eroding it away, like regular sand.

Alamogordo itself is more of a metropolis than I remebered - they have a Chili's, a Golden Grill, and a Long John Silver's.

Italy - April, 2008
We were considering how to celebrate my 70th birthday. Everything I suggested was rejected as not spectacular enough. I finally suggested a family reunion in Rome. I'd never been to Italy, so why not. Rini came up with a set of bargain tickets, leaving from Rochester, NY, near Ithaca. So I flew to Rochester and joined her and her kids, and away we went.

First stop was Toronto (why not). We had a longish layover, so we headed off to the Royal Ontario Museum. Spent a few hours wandering around. They have a big Darwin exhibit. Part of the evolution wars, I guess. But whatever. Then back to the airport for the usual evening departure for Europe.

We flew into Rome. Much to our surprise, Bill and Ann met us in the airport, at the baggage claim. So we hopped the train to Roma Termini, which, it turns out, was just a few blocks from our hotel. The hotel was in a great location. The historic parts of Rome are in a rather compact area, and our hotel was pretty well in the middle. We arrived at the hotel before check-in time, so we stashed the bags, and went out to lunch (at a place called "Danny's"). Back to the hotel after lunch, we found Ted there, just planning to retrieve the rest of his family from the airport. We left him to it and went wandering. We headed in the general direction of the Colosseum. Arrived at something labeled as the Tomb of the Unknowns. Soldiers, I guess of the wars of unification. Monumental statue of Garibaldi out front. A totally impressive building. Had it been constructed a century before it actually was (in the 1930's), one would have labeled it a monument to somebody's colossal ego. But, I guess, republics can be excused excesses repugnant in individuals. At least il Duce did not have the gall to put himself on the horse out front. We chose not to wander the extra block and a half over to the Colosseum at that time, but instead found a beautiful little park tucked into a corner (or rather tucked up on a hilltop, sealing itself from the bustle of the streets around by floating twenty meters above them). There was a lovely view of a Church, and of the Monument, from the park, nice walking paths, orange trees, and several sorts of flowers. Rini's kids had a great time climbing the orange trees to retrieve a couple of ripe oranges. A bit sour though. Back to the hotel to find that the rest of the crew had arrived. Seems that the travel agency had messed up a little - we had prepaid vouchers for six rooms, but they had told the hotel to reserve only four. But the people at the hotel were very nice about it, and worked hard and effectively for us to get things straightened out. That night we had our first experience with going out to dinner in Italy. We made a reservation for seven thirty, after being informed that there was not a decent restaurant in Rome that would accept a reservation at seven. Reservation at seven thirty, finishing dinner at 10 o'clock was our pattern for the rest of the stay.

Next day was the Colosseum, the forum, and the Circus Maximus. Again, the amazing thing was the scale of things. The Colosseum was a 50,000 seat stadium, employing a staff of many hundreds of stage hands, physical plant people, performers, and trainers. And the stadium was designed to get its audience in and out in just a few minutes - it is thoroughly up-to-date in its people handling methods. The Circus Maximus, next door, was even bigger - it could seat 250,000, a quarter of the population of Rome. The Circus Maximus was for chariot races. And the movie "Ben Hur" had it right. The track was narrow and the turns at the ends very sharp. The skill of the drivers was tested on those turns, and not unusually found wanting. The crowd went as much to see the crashes as to admire the skill of the drivers. Unlike NASCAR, there was little safety equipment, so crashes were at least as frequent as at NASCAR races, and a lot more bloody. The crowd of the times apparently loved it. The forum also has its megascale structures. The great arches (or basilica) of Constantine, constructed to provide a bit of shelter for commerce on rainy days, are awesome. The palaces of various important families lined the forum, and above the whole thing towered the Palatine Hill, with the house of the emperor (from Augustus to Nero, anyway). But all this is in an area of just a few square blocks. The two triumphal arches, I think named for Titus and Dominitan, bounded the forum at either end, but they are only four or five blocks apart. The great triumphal marches went from one arch to the other - no Rose Parade for Cleopatra in chains. All the talk about seven hills of Rome had deceived me of the scale of things. If you had seven hills in New Mexico, they would occupy quite a spread. But strolling from the top of the Palatine to the Quirinal takes a few minutes and little energy. Circling the seven hills would have been a pleasant evening's walk.

Next day was spent at the Vatican, again a pleasant walk from the hotel, albeit in the opposite direction. Morning in St. Peter's square and in the Church itself. Very big. How big is emphasized by the fact that the tomb of St. Peter is fifty feet high, and stops well short of the ceiling. The Church houses Michelangelo's Pieta. I had seen it many years ago when it made a visit to the US. I had remembered a snowy white marble, but it's actually rather cream colored. Due to the attack by a nut with a hammer a few years ago, it is kept behind glass, and the view we had of it was not as good as I had seen in the US. A shameful aspect of that attack that I had not been aware of was that bystanders had scarfed up the pieces of marble knocked off, and taken them home for souvenirs Shameful. Afternoon was the Vatican museums, ending up in the Sistine Chapel. I was stunned by the sheer volume of art masterpieces - room after room of pious paintings by medieval and renaissance masters. Too much to take in. Almost to the point that the Sistine Chapel was anticlimactic - its paintings are for the most part familiar friends, and being in their presence didn't add that much.

Then off to Florence. The train was a modern, efficient high-speed electric. From Rome to Fierenze in just over an hour and a half, despite dropping to something like 100 km/hr in the urban areas. Really booking along in the countryside. Still early spring. Lots of green everywhere. A few vineyards were in leaf, but most were not. Poppies bloomed at trackside. The redbud trees were in spectacular blossom. (As Chaucer says, "Then longen folk to goon on pilgrimages.", and pilgrimage we did.) As soon as we got in, we headed off to take a quick look at the Duomo. An incredible building in white and green marble, it looks like it has been rather flashily painted, until you get close enough to see that it is all stone masonry with different colored marble. Then it started to rain on us. We had an appointment to meet Ted in front of the Duomo. But after getting rained upon standing across the street from the front of the Duomo for half an hour, looking for Ted, we gave it up and headed for the hotel. Meanwhile, he hung out on the other side of the street for an hour, looking for us. Not easy to recognize people across a crowded street filled with umbrellas.

Next morning off to the Academy of Fine Arts to see Michaelangelo's David. A giant, just short of four meters tall. He has a great body and a smooth and rather angelic looking face, though perhaps a bit arrogant. His hands, especially the right hand, though, are rough and cruel, and perhaps a bit larger than proportionate, the hands of a conquering emperor. Then to the Duomo, to see the inside. There is a rather amazing clock on the wall opposite the Dome. It is a 24 hour clock, and its hand (there is only one) turns anticlockwise. So the Duomo was built before all the conventions about such things got straightened out. Then, of course, we had to ascend the dome, or at least some of us. Doree sort of chickened out when the sign said 454 steps. Rini decided enough was enough when the route led us around a little balcony inside the dome, sixty meters or so above the floor, so she and Thea took a short cut home. But Kevin, Jasper and I continued up to the cupola. A truly magnificent view. And the route is a very nice one too - very medieval. For much of the way, it was indistinguishable from the stairs up the towers at Notre Dame. It was somewhat less nice on the descent. I pretty much blew out my knees. After the Duomo we went to the Piazza dei Segnorini and the Palazzio Vecchio, where stands the Donatello copy of David, perhaps just a hair shorter, but still the same guy. (We later saw a bronze casting; I guess you could infer that the Florentines are fond of their David.) Having softened up my knees with the Duomo, Rini led us on a death march across the Arno, up a steep hill, beside Fort Belvedere, and into Boboli Gardens, which we walked from one end to the other and back again, a couple of kilometers. I must admit, the Boboli Gardens are well worth it, though. They are a well planned and carefully executed horticultural tour de force, but so constructed as to look very wild and rustic. The trees were all pollards; that is, the main stem was cut twenty feet above the ground, and a thick growth of several branches spreads out from that point. Rini said they looked like the sort of trees that would reach out and grab little children who stayed out after sunset. (But the children didn't look very impressed.) Despite the earliness of the season, the gardens were in full leaf, and the various flower beds were colorful, though perhaps not yet at their summer prime. We didn't get much into the art museums in the palace itself, though we did visit the Grotto of Brunelleschi (or somebody like that), which was all done in a coral theme, with the usual gods kicking around. "These are pearls that were his eyes, and everything has suffered a sea change into something rich and strange."

Next day, catering to my knees, we went on a bus tour of Florence. First stop was Fiesole, a small town three or four kilometers away, up on a hill overlooking Florence. Besides the view, the attraction was ruins. There was an Etruscan temple, with a Roman temple built in front of it, and a large Roman bath complex. There was a little museum with various recovered artifacts, mostly Roman but some Etruscan. A delightful place. Then back on the bus to the Piazzale Michaelangelo, where the bronze casting of David is. (I like the marble ones better.) Across the street was a very impressive working church and monastery, San Miniato al Monte. We wandered about a small corner of their vast cemetery for a while. The guidebook says that's where the author of "Pinocchio" is buried. Seems a small enough claim to fame.

And so, back to the hotel, up in the morning, back on the very nice train to Roma Termini, to the airport, through the numerous formalities at the airport, onto the airplane, fly to Toronto, clear customs (they had to dispatch an airline guy to find my bag when it didn't show up after all the others from our flight), on to the puddle jumper to Rochester, where I caught a train back to Albuquerque, completing the whole gig with three days of planes, trains and automobiles.

Colorado - June, 2008
Just a little trip near home to pick up a couple of those things you never go see, just because, well, they're always there, aren't they.

Went to Bandalier, which I've never gotten around to visiting, despite having spent a few days working at the VLBA-LA radio telescope, which is practically within walking distance. Cliffside Pueblo dwellings. The Canyon has a steam which flows year-round, so a pretty good place to live. In the Monument, there were a couple of nice ruins, on a walking tour. Abandoned about 600 years ago, as much of the area seems to have been, with no obvious reason why. But Bandalier is not all that far from their descendents, the Pueblos of new Mexico. Not as strange as the abandonment of Colorado which occurred at about the same time.

The walking tour designer was rather fond of Pueblo style ladders. Jasper and Matthew and Thea would have loved this - adult sized playground equipment. Rini might have elected to take a pass, especially for the house that required climbing three of the things.

Northern New Mexico, southern Colorado is just plain beautiful, fantastically so. On the drive north from Espanola to Chama, mile after mile of lovely grassland, decorated with healthy sage, and pinyon and juniper forest covering the hills. In the background, the snow-streaked peaks of the Sangre de Cristos to the northeast, and the virga painting fringes around the sky to the northwest.

And that's only the dull part of the trip. In the morning, I took the narrow gauge Cumbres and Toltec railroad out of Chama, to Antonito. The first part of the ride is gorgeous, as the Pinyon and Juniper forest gives way to spruce, Douglas fir, and ponderosa pine. Much of the way it follows the valley of a nice little creek, or, elsewhere, working its way out of the valley to climb the pass at the 4% slope tolerable - just - for trains. I bought a first class ticket, and was glad I did. The benefit is the same as for airlines - lots of space and a hostess offering drinks and snacks - but being able to hop up and go to the open car on whim, without having to crawl over people, greatly increased the pleasure.

Stopped midway, at Osier CO, for lunch, then down to Antonito, CO, and back by bus. Train ride is six hours, less an hour for lunch. Bus return trip was about an hour and a quarter. Train mostly went about twelve miles an hour, which is really quite nice; it gives you time to see things - not as much time as hiking, but lots better than driving. The ride down to Antonito was not nearly as nice as up from Chams, and I'd recommend doing that part twice instead of proceeding to Antonito, except for one item. The glimpse of the Toltec Gorge only lasts a few seconds, but makes up for the mundane nature of the rest of that half of the trip. The Toltec Gorge is a narrow, steep, slot canyon cut in solid granite, set among pine forests and waterfalls. Wow.

The trains probably could run quite a lot faster, and probably did in the freight hauling days - they run the trains at twelve miles an hour for the benefit of us tourists. They said that westbound from Antonito to Cumbres Pass, the ruling grade is 1.4%, and that an engine of the sort that pulled our train could haul 36 loaded freight cars. I'm guessing that a 36 car train would weigh about three million pounds, or maybe a little more. The locomotive boiler runs at about 200 pounds pressure (I asked), and it looked to me like the pistons were about 250 square inches in area, eyeball estimate, so about 50,000 pounds of force at the cylinder, cut to maybe 40,000 at the wheel because the crank attaches about three quarters the way out. So 40,000 pounds is about 1.4 percent of three million pounds; it all works out - isn't engineering wonderful. Thing I wonder, though, is that eastbound from Chama, the ruling grade is 4%, so they could get only about 12 cars per locomotive. Sounds like a difficult pitch.

Next day, went up to Wolf Creek Pass, because I can remember crossing it as a small child, and stopping the car and being allowed to run around at the 11,000 foot altitude. I loved it. I still do. At the top of the pass, there was one of those Forest Service structures which usually hold information about trails, but it was completely empty. There was a nice trail heading off across the meadow, though, so I followed it a couple of hundred yards up to the mountain side. At which point it appeared to stop. I'm guessing it vanished under one of the snow drifts there, and proceeded up the mountainside. Usually when that happens you can trace the course of the trail by where the rangers have nipped back the branches to make more room for the hikers, but there was no hint here - the trail just vanished. So I followed a guy's irrigation ditch maybe a quarter mile up to his headworks, and then walked up the stream bed for a couple hundred more yards, when I encountered a little back country road, and followed it through the forest for a couple of miles. It was very peaceful and isolated. There were vehicle tracks on the road, but I think from last summer, not this; there were a couple of snow drifts that didn't look like they had had a vehicle over them, and a eight inch diameter spruce log, ditto. The road wound, more or less on a level, through a wonderful ponderosa forest, then out onto the mountain side with great views of the peaks. But then the road decided it wanted to plunge down a canyon, and I had no desire to go downhill, so back to the car.

Had a nice visit with my niece Donna. She is talking about maybe getting a job in Michigan. Told her I didn't see why she wanted to move out of paradise. She was much into food and other alternative medicine stuff, as usual. I thought I best decline her offer to feed me, and instead to throw myself on the mercy of the local Durango eateries. Just a couple of blocks from her house, there was something called "Serious Texas Barbecue". It was an interesting example of an anti-chic establishment. I went in to their serving counter. "What would you like?" "A pulled pork sandwich." The servitor plunked down a plastic tray, added a square of butcher paper, opened a large roll on it (an extra cost option, by the way), pulled on a transparent plastic glove, reached into a large vat of meat and grabbed a handful, which he arranged on top of the bun. "You want sides?" "Yes, potato salad." "In the cooler behind you, second shelf." I pulled a Shiner Bock out of a tub of ice (no beer opener in sight, so use your fist), grabbed a plastic fork, and headed to a table outside. Napkins were a roll of paper towels in the middle of the table. Barbecue sauce in reused one liter booze bottles (probably illegal), with labeling intact, including the warning to lay off the sauce if pregnant. A fairly good meal, and very filling, but chic, no.

Spent the entire day at Mesa Verde, and still didn't cover everything. Lots of cliff dwellings here, all over the place. Toured Balcony House, because, of all the tours, that one lets you get most up close and personal with the ruin. More adult playground equipment.

Walked out to Pictograph Point, actually a petroglyph site. (Yeah I get confused by the two terms too; at least I know they aren't lithographs.) It was rather unlike, say, Inscription Rock. There, the pre Spanish inscriptions, like the post Spanish inscriptions, were pretty much "I was here," with maybe a clan symbol to qualify "I". But the Mesa Verde petroglyph seemed to be a continuous whole, telling a story. The interpretation is that it is the story of the migration from Sipapu, the umbilicus of the earth, to the dwelling places of the various clans. Thee were hand symbols, which I guess said "I did this", and possibly a few kachina, but mostly a linear story with clan symbols spaced along the track.

Nearly as I can remember from my last visit 30 years ago, they didn't then have an excavated pit house, the dwelling of the ancestors of the ancestral pueblos, from over a thousand years ago. Now they have several, and they are quite interesting. They are buried a few feet, with their upper walls and roof of logs and, on the outside, wattle and daub. They are really sophisticated and comfortable looking dwellings. Not at all clear to me why they chose to move out into apartment house style pueblos. The guides were flogging a theory that the pit houses were the origin of the kiva concept. As people moved out of the pit houses into above ground apartments, out of sheer conservatism, they kept a few pit houses n which to perform the traditional ceremonies. Over the years, the pit house sank further into the ground, and became first hexagonal and then circular, but remained the proper place for ritual. At least in Mesa Verde, the Kivas seemed not to be communal, but belonged to a family or extended family; the ratio of kivas to bedrooms was only a few to one.

I had been thinking that my car didn't get as much milage as when it was new, but I guess that it was just that I haven't been doing as much rural, non-interstate driving. About three quarters of the trip was on one tank of gas, 544 miles at 42 miles per gallon, which is OK by me.

Billy Budd, July 2008
Billy Budd is set on an English battleship in the Napoleonic Wars. Billy Budd was pressed into service, but seems to thrive on it. He is cheerful, patriotic, hardworking, and, generally good. This annoys the hell out of John Claggart, the ship's Master at Arms (read police chief). He is a nasty bit of work who prefers that everybody else be primarily motivated by fear of him and his minions. He finds this much more satisfactory than all this junk about patriotism, friendship, and loyalty. Billy Budd's increasing popularity among the crew throws a spanner in his works, and he conspires to do him in.

(The singer portraying Claggart did a really excellent job. Somewhat overblown, of course, as is all opera, but still a believably nasty guy. Ever notice how the villains make much better drama than somebody who is all sweetness and light? Richard II is much more dramatic than Henry V, and Iago trumps them both.)

So Claggart frames Billy on the charge of fomenting a mutiny. Captain Vere is not much inclined to believe him, and has the two of them to his cabin to have it out. Claggart makes his charges, and Captain Vere asks Billy to answer them. In moments of stress Billy is susceptible to stuttering, and is unable to get a word out. In his frustration at being unable to defend himself, Billy strikes Claggart on the forehead with his fist, killing him.

Both striking a superior and murder are capital crimes, under the articles of war, and Captain Vere feels he must convene a Court Martial. The court martial is bound by the facts of the case, and cannot consider extenuating circumstances. Billy pleads to the captain to intervene and save him, but the captain, though he recognizes the right of the case, feels duty bound to let it proceed. Billy is sentenced to hang. It is only at this point that Billy's essential goodness becomes apparent to the listener. He understands that he has broken the rules in a time of war, and begs his friends not to try to rescue him or to demonstrate in his favor. When the time comes, his last words are "God bless Captain Vere." Here, as in the book of Job, the way of God with the world transcends human understanding, and both Billy and Captain Vere (in an epilogue) look forward to a future life, in which it will all make sense.

The opera, by Benjamin Britten, is, of course, based on the book by Herman Melville. It is, I think, an improvement (I read the book several decades ago, so I could be a little wrong there.) Billy's goodness in the first act is not as well transmitted by dialogue as by the description in the book, but the drama from the court martial on is really intensified by the music, and the opera, unlike the book makes Captain Vere into somebody who is completely conscious of what he is doing.

Melville's book is based, very, very loosely on an actual incident. This incident is really quite different, but also very, very sad. It occurred on the brig Somers in the American navy, not an English battleship. The Billy Budd character was an ensign, not an able seaman, and was seventeen years old, or thereabouts. He was drawn in by a couple of hard bitten and reprehensible old sea dogs, who where plotting a mutiny. They were interested in the young ensign because of his ability to read maps, which they lacked. The three were overheard plotting, and the captain, quite rightly, had them cast in irons stapled to the after rail. The rest of the crew rather thought he had gone overboard in the treatment of the ensign, who was, after all, just a kid. When the captain overheard the crew muttering, he lost it. In a panic that a full-scale mutiny might be imminent, He convened a court martial, and beat on them until they found the three guilty of mutiny, and hung them from the yard arm, with the officers standing with drawn swords to cut down any crew member who objected, sympathized, or even failed to lend a hand on the whiplines that raised them. A sad and unnecessary set of deaths; there is little question that they ship could have safely returned to Baltimore and handed the conspirators to the proper tribunal. "Billy Budd's" life would have been scarred by his criminality. but not over. (Actually, I'm strongly in favor of the juvenile justice code of today, wherein a single misstep is forgotten if the threshold to adulthood is otherwise successfully crossed.)

My sympathies go out to Captain Bligh, who was the object of a major mutiny, but one in which no lives were lost. A good mariner, but perhaps a rather strict disciplinarian.

So that is the way a major novelist works, converting a sad, tawdry and very human affair into a confrontation between good and evil, taking place in the miniature world of a warship. Each art form has its own conventions. Opera is not a novel, and a novel is not historiography. Each can be accepted on its own terms. The fact that I prefer documentaries and opera to most novels and movies is a personal quirk, not a claim that one form of conventions is better than another.

China, October 2008
The Templeton Foundation was founded by Sir John Templeton, an English financier and businessman who died last summer at the age of 95. It's mission is to explore, by sponsoring conferences and fellowships, large questions on the edges of science. In conjunction with the Chinese Academy of Science and Peking University, they sponsored a conference in Beijing commemorating the 400th anniversary of the invention of the telescope. (In 1608, one Hans Lippershey (or Lipperhey) attempted to patent a telescope. The patent was denied. So a couple of years later, one Galileo Galilei built one for astronomy, without paying royalties.) Just for kicks, they invited along about a dozen technologists who do things for telescopes, including me.

The conference was billed as interdisciplinary, which made it quite different from the usual stuff I attend. It was about half astronomy, a third history, and a couple of presentations that could be termed philosophy, or maybe even religion.

The conference started with a public event held in the Great Hall of the People (where the governing committees meet). This is a ten thousand seat auditorium, with a connection for simultaneous translation provided for each seat. The conference organizers handed out six thousand invitations (plus tickets), mostly to local college students. There were lectures by three distinguished scientists: T.D. Lee on the connection between astronomy and particle physics; Ricardo Giaconni on the contributions of X-Ray astronomy; and Geoff Marcy on extrasolar planets (which number about three hundred, if you haven't been keeping up with the news). (Only the first two are Nobel Laureates (yet).)

That afternoon we went along to the Forbidden City. This is the Imperial Palace built by the Ming Dynasty. It is a pretty big palace; they said it ran to about 70 hectares (170 acres). Three audience halls of varying formality, and lots of special purpose buildings, living quarters for the servants, walks, gardens, and artworks. I got separated from my group, and although I showed up at what I claim was the proper meeting place at the proper time, I didn't see anybody I recognized. Half an hour later, I connected with another guy in the same situation, and we tried to snag a taxi back to the hotel. It being rush hour, and a fairly small street, taxis were sort of hard to come by. However, we were besieged by a collection of motorized rickshaws. The guy I was with didn't consider them safe, and considered the price they were asking (100 yuan) outrageous (they were willing to bargain, though), and continued to try for a taxi. Finally, we gave up and hired a rickshaw to take us back to the entrance to the Forbidden City, where we thought there might be more taxis. Nope. We then walked to the edge of Tienanmen Square, on a major street, and managed to land a taxi. Fare back to the hotel: 40 yuan.

Then three days of meetings. I didn't even get out to see the Great Wall. Pity that, but the day of the wives tour to the Wall (which a fair number of attendees chose also), had some of the most interesting talks of the meeting.

After the meeting, there were a set of guided tours organized by the meeting local organizing committee. I signed up for one of these. Even a free airplane trip to Asia needs more justification than a three day meeting. Surprisingly few people signed up for them. (I guess these people all have jobs they have to go to.) There were originally nine who signed up. Three canceled at the last moment, leaving six, and three split off before the end of the tour to go to Shanghai, so much of the time there were three of us. The day after the meeting, we went west to Xi'an, the ancient capital. Yes, that ugly apostrophe is apparently needed. The lady at the airport asked me where I was going, and I replied "Xian", and was rewarded with an utterly blank look on her face for about a second before she said "Xi'an", and found my flight.

First day at Xi'an, we visited a brick pagoda (most are made of wood) that was built in the 8th century AD to house Buddhist scriptures. We then went for a brief walk on the restored City Wall of Xi'an (which dates from Ming times, 17th century). Very interesting; a nice level roadway on top, maybe 10 meters wide. People ride bicycles on it. A golf cart full of tourists went by, though it was far from obvious how you would get a golf cart up there (it's about 15 meters, with stairs). Second day was the real "Wow" time. First emperor of China was Qin Shi Wang, in third century BC. His capital was Xi'an. (Wikipedia says "Shi" is pronounced differently than "Xi", and that "Huang" is better than Wang; I can't hear the difference myself.) His father had seized control of the region of Xi'an, and installed himself as king, displacing the previous Zhou regime. His father died before he was ten, and a regent ruled the kingdom until he was 22. He then took over, and immediately began wars of conquest against the five neighboring kingdoms, subduing them all in about a decade, and becoming the first emperor. The country is named China (Qina in pinyin) after him. He erected a vast mausoleum for himself and then had it buried in a hundred meter high mound, which is only partially excavated, after his death. About a kilometer away, he had constructed an army of lifesized terracotta warriors. It was housed in an underground camp with a wooden roof, in battle array, facing away from the mausoleum, toward any invader. In the troubles at the end of the dynasty, this roof was burned, and collapsed burying (and saving) the warriors. The army was rediscovered in the 1970s by farmers digging a well. The estimate is that the army is between seven and eight thousand strong, each warrior individually detailed, with different faces sizes and postures, carved into the clay before firing. They have about about 1000 of them restored and on display. The sight is stunning and overwhelming.

Qin Shi Wang died in his early 50s. He had designated a successor, but the courtiers liked another son better, and concealed Qin's death until their favorite seized the reins of power. The successor was as cruel as his father, but a great deal less competent, and he lost his life in a peasant revolt a decade later. The Qin dynasty was a short one.

Xi'an had really bad air the two days we were there, reminiscent of Pasadena of fifty years ago. Beijing had a bit of haze, but Xi'an was really bad. I worry about the health of our guide - she had a persistent hacking cough. (One reason I left Pasadena was that I saw the tires on my car were cracking, and I figured that air that could crack half an inch of rubber was likely doing something equally undesirable to my lungs.)

Then to Guilin, in the karst country, with fantastically shaped limestone mountains and steep cliffs, covered in jungle. (In the early 1990s a crashed B29 from the Flying Tigers was found in the mountains. Anyplace you can lose a large airplane for half a century is pretty rugged.)

We went to Reed Flute Cave. Being from New Mexico, I have pretty high standards in caves. The public tour in Reed Flute Cave is not as long as that in Carlsbad, I think, but the profusion of formations is perhaps greater. I think the ones in Carlsbad are prettier, though, because the Carlsbad flowstone is rather finer grained than that in Reed Flute Cave.

Then we took a riverboat cruise on the Lijaing River. The river is pretty flat and slow-flowing, but we cruised among the , providing amazing scenery the whole way. Along the river, we passed the view that was photographed and adorns the back of the 20 yuan bill.

Then we went to Guangzhou (old name Canton). Just one day there. the itinerary called for visits to two temples. The first was the Chen Clan temple, originally a private affair of the Chens, a prominent family of the region. We asked the guide if it was a Buddhist temple. She replied, "It's not really a temple. It's more a school, where the descendants of the Chens learn about their heritage." When we got there, she said "The part we will see is not really a school, it is a folk art museum." So we went through the temple/school/museum. Best items were the pottery figurines on the roof (in fantastic profusion), the lions guarding the entrance, and the elaborately carved wooden screens separating the inner courtyard from the outside.

The other temple was a genuine
Buddhist temple , in working order.

That evening, we took a high speed ferry (maybe 30 knots, I'd guess) to Hong Kong, where the tour ended and I was met by Catherine and the kids.

Some general remarks about China. Beijing and Xi'an are great modern cities, with real traffic problems. There were few bicycles and no drays on the streets of either. (Exception - Peking University has multi-acre bicycle parking lots.) There were more motorcycles and scooters than in the US. Very modern traffic, with the occasional anomaly - the motorcycle with four people aboard, the motorcycle with what looked like three forty kilo sacks of rice tied behind the driver, the bicycle with a couple of bundles of reinforcing rod tied alongside (re-rod is always heavier than it looks - I wouldn't be surprised if that were a hundred kilos of steel).

China is very populous. Beijing is about the size of New York. Xi'an, which I had only heard of as the ancient capital, not as a modern city, is almost the size of Los Angeles. The Chongqing metropolitan area has about the population of Canada. The auto traffic is at least as heavy as anywhere else. There is an art to crossing streets in China, but I'm not sure I'd live long enough to learn it. The prime rule seems to be: Don't let them see you flinch. As in running from a grizzly bear, once you've lost the moral ascendancy, it's all up for you.

China is a great place for shopping. Variety is pretty wide, and prices are low. The thing that really had me drooling was the lacquer furniture with jade inlays. There was a gorgeous cabinet for about $1000. I'd have sprung for it, except a) it would be totally at odds with the rest of the house; I'd have to get three or four other pieces to match, and b) I'm trying to get rid of stuff, not accumulate it.

English is encountered reasonably often. One of my more memorable events was when a boy of maybe nine or ten years barged up to me on the street and said "Hello". I stopped to chat, but he had apparently exhausted his English vocabulary with that, and besides his mother was looking at us with an "Uh oh" look on her face. Unlike Hong Kong, you cannot expect taxi drivers to know any english. There are fairly frequent english signs, but don't count on them. There is not a strong english presence, so the signs may not be idiomatic. This ranges from simple misspellings (road sign: "Kepp right") to rather picturesque and fun (On airport terminal: "Guilin Civilized Airport") to enigmatic (sign in park in Guilin: "Hold a hand, leave a niche").

Chinese internal airlines seem to work about as efficiently as US ones, and they still serve in-flight meals.

I was really, really glad to have had a guide for this. I would have been totally lost without one. I maybe learned enough that I could now operate independently, or maybe not.

Spent a couple of days with Ted, Catherine, and the kids. Ted has bought a small apartment, small because they do not expect to be there long. Three tiny bedrooms, kitchen, living area. Maybe 1000 square feet in all. And of course, the problem with that is, as usual, they have stuff.

Spent one day just sort of wandering around the village. Emerald challenged me to a game of go, but soon gave it over to Matthew. Even he does not quite have the necessary attention span yet. I introduced them to go moku, which I haven't played in forty years, which took off spectacularly - just right for the ages.

Next day spent at Ocean Park, an amusement park with a big chunk of Sea World and four pandas thrown in.

Return trip, door-to-door, was 25 hours, with longest leg 13.5 hours in the air, Hong Kong to Chicago.

Poll, December 2008
The other night I responded to a telephone poll. I don't usually do that, but this was a poll by the New Mexico State Health Department, and I figured they likely need all the help they can get. They wanted to know if I had glaucoma, cataracts, hypertension, depression, or diabetes, and, if so, what was I doing about it. Anyhow, they started me thinking. We who live on the edge of the demographic grid seem to me to have a little extra power. Once they have their poll in hand and start to slice and dice their data, I'm going to end up in a corner square. Any curves they draw will have to go through our data - there is no square to the older side of us and none to the richer side. Squares that are surrounded face the possibility that the artful demographer will connect the points on either side, and cleanly miss our own proper datum. We in the corner square, and I'm guessing there are only a dozen or so here, really do dictate what the report will say about our little corner, and because we are so few, my own personal opinion will have a noticeable weight in the analysis.

One of the questions was "Are you satisfied with your life?" It was part of a short series to see if I suffered from depression - they apparently felt that a single direct question (with, of course, the subtext "Are you nuts?") would not do. Anyway, I answered their question with "very". I therefore suspect there will be a report circulating through the state government, saying something like "Although general satisfaction with life seems to decrease after the onset of middle age, this trend does not extend to the most affluent, who continue to register a general contentment.

Sermonette, December 21, 2008
Forgive me father, for I have sinned.
I was packing to go to Philadelphia for Christmas, and first got all the obvious stuff in the suitcase. Then I started looking for the less obvious stuff. I couldn't find the camera. When you can't find something as significant as the camera, it is a sign that you have too much "stuff". I have too much stuff. This is a sin. I have sinned. True, I make fairly regular trips to the Thrift Store with donations, but comparing what I take in with what I see around me, it is clear that I need to continue this for several years yet.

I am remembering a piece by a columnist of a few years ago, saying he concluded he had too much "stuff" when he lost the swimming pool. It was a plastic, above ground model, and he rather thought he might have lent it to somebody, but still, losing a swimming pool is very clearly a sign of too much "stuff". Losing a camera is perhaps a little less so, but still, I have sinned.

Don't get me wrong - I am not a saintly type who is giving away possessions to mortify the flesh. Aging does a sufficient job of mortifying my flesh - it doesn't need any help. And any puritan who tries to convince me that LazyBoy is a sin is going to have a pretty hard sell. I don't regard it a sin that I have stuff that I really enjoy. I do regard it as a sin that I have so much stuff that I don't use and don't care about. The nature of my sin is not yielding to fleshly pleasures, but of falling short of King Lear's insight, "Expose thyself to feel what wretches fill, That thou mayest shake the superflux to them."

More proof. When I went to get the Shakespeare to look up the quote, I couldn't find it. I remember changing its decades old place to put it with other dramas, but I could find no plays at all for many minutes of searching. Loathe though I am to admit it, I may actually have too many books.

Maya ruins, January, 2009
Elderhostel. The "hostel" is a bit misleading, conjuring images of sleeping in dorms on a pallet with the bathroom down the hall. Somebody said "Think ElderBestWestern." But the first part of the name is right. I was distinctly on the young side of median in the group. But all in all, a fairly fit, or at least game, lot - People pretty much did what the guides suggested, in the way of traipsing through the ruins. I presume this is self-selection. Amanda Wingfield would not have signed up. The group was quite cosmopolitan; most had lived in a non-English speaking country at some time in their lives. They seemed pretty well educated, with one amusing exception - having passed through school before the fad of teaching positional notation with different bases in elementary school math classes, some were a bit thrown by the Mayan vigesimal system. They did, however, have what I considered a prurient interest in human sacrifice. A little human sacrifice occurs now and again, as Iphigenia at Aulis, or the practice of sutee. It only gets interesting when the practice becomes an industry. I think only the Aztecs did that, despite the Roman slurs on the Carthaginians. The group took the educational aspects of the tour very seriously, and would have done as well on a test as undergraduates with an eye to their GPA.

Our lecturer was a history professor, who, as history professors are wont to do, spent a good deal of time looking at the big picture, including Mayans today. Mexico has real problems. This includes the problems that we so much beat ourselves up about - the great disparity between the richest and the poorest, and lingering racism, with the indios puros at the bottom of the heap. The latter surprised me. After all, Mexico had its first Indian president (and a venerated one) a century and a half ago, whereas we are this instant installing our first black one. Mexico is also currently crushed by the drug wars generated by the overwhelming demand generated in el Coloseo del Norte. It seems to me clear that if we legalized drugs, the few additional casualties we would incur from overdose, incapacitation, and psychosis would fall far short of the 5000 murders per year that would probably be eliminated in Mexico among those driven by the fantastic profit margins of the illegal industry. Mexico is hampered in dealing with all of these problems, and especially the disparity of income, by long traditions of government corruption, patronismo, and 70 years of single party rule.

The tour essentially went up the Gulf coast of Mexico, onto the Yucatan peninsula, from Villahermosa in the south to Cancun in the north. These are, to be technical, in the tropics - Villahermosa has latitude 18 degrees and Cancun about 20.5 degrees. Elevations are low. Temperatures ranged from pleasant, in Villahermosa and Cancun, to much too hot. The country is pretty flat, though the ruins at Palenque and Edzna are set among hills. North of Campeche, there are no hills at all. This was very striking when we went over a freeway interchange near Cancun; we were clearly on the highest point in miles. All this way, 300 km or so, anything that looks like a hill is an unexcavated ruin. In the southern part of the trip, especially around Palenque, the hydrology is complicated. The land is so flat as to make it rather poorly drained. Many swales end in swamps, rather than making their ways to the lazy rivers. The bedrock is limestone, I think, the whole way. North of Merida, the limestone becomes so porous that there is no surface water at all. The Mayans had to rely on cisterns (fortunately there is a lot of rain to fill them) or on cenotes, the natural wells leading down to underground water. Near the coast, the wells could be as shallow as 5 meters, leading to (usually) fresh water. But inland, they could be as much as 30 meters deep.

Since we were going along the coast, we ate a lot of fish, which ranged from so-so to very good. There was a fair amount of garlic used for seasoning, but very little chile. What chile there was was mostly habanero, which I regard as pretty worthless - it is just hot, without much taste at all. (As soon as I set foot back in New Mexico, I had to go get a small plate of nachos with Jalapenos.) We visited a Mayan homestead, much more prosperous than the usual, I wager, and there the lady, Sra. Maria, made for us tortillas. Having tried to make tortillas myself, I was amazed that she just took a lump of masa and went pat-pat-pat, and out came a perfect circle of uniform thickness. This she cooked on a flat piece of sheet metal dusted lightly with powered limestone. She then put on a filling of powdered pumpkin seeds (with, I think, other spices which I couldn't identify), and rolled them up, soft taquitos, which were very good, and perhaps our most unfamiliar dish.

The south to north progression is also more a less an age progression. The first place we went to was a zoo (?!) in Villahermosa. There I learned that there are crocodiles there - I had been thinking that the North American critters were all alligators. But these crocodiles looked to me more like alligators than they did like Nile crocodiles, which have much longer snouts. But the reason we went to this zoo was that local civic leaders, hearing that Pemex was going to be drilling for oil at the site called La Venta, had had the Olmec artifacts there relocated to this zoo and park in Villahermosa. The Olmecs were the people with square faces and a fondness for square hats that made their whole head look square. The La Venta site dated to about 400 BC. Being wholly hyped on Mayans, I didn't pay much attention.

Next place was Palenque. This is my favorite of all the places we visited, because it is associated with a recognizable individual, King Pacal, who ruled about 700 AD. This guy had it all together. He built himself a palace that compares, favorably I think, with the palace of Augustus in Rome. He built a great temple, even larger than the palace, to cover his grave, and his sarcophagus rivals the best of the pharaohs. There are well preserved inscriptions telling his whole story. (First century Jews took great pride in being able to trace their genealogy back to Adam. Pacal did them one better - his genealogy extends well before the creation of the earth.) His dynasty appears to have ruled Palenque through most of the Classical period. Such was the stability of the place that it supported not only his enormous constructions, but his son was able to construct a resplendent quadrangle of temples next door.

Next place we visited was Edzna, which flourished from middle pre-classic to late post-classic, and thus furnishes a textbook on the evolution of architectural styles. Our guide was very learned on the matter and took care to point out all the differences, citing Peten here and Puuc there and so forth. I remember nothing. I remember only that the buildings did look noticeably different, and that somebody taking the care to study the matter could learn to classify the different architectural genres.

On to Uxmal. Lengthy digression: at least in Yucatan, 'x' is softened to be something close to 'sh'. My Spanish teacher claimed it was a soft 'kh' (like the German 'ich'). A soft 'x' not only makes Uxmal a great deal more euphonious, but resolves how other things (like the Chicxulub Crater) are pronounceable at all. A ubiquitous convenience store in the area is called Oxxo, which I think cannot be pronounced with the classical 'x' without injuring yourself. (They sell snacks made by Bimbo.) End of digression. Uxmal is a place without streams or cenotes, and therefore has hundreds of the cisterns called chiltuns. To me, the most interesting aspect of the site is that it nicely illustrated how a site can grow. It started with a little ground-level temple, to which a couple of additions were made. Then somebody with more grandiose ideas filled it in, and used the old temple as a base for building a larger and grander temple. Finally, the same thing happened again, resulting in a structure 35 meters high, with a vast monumental staircase on either side, with four buried temples in two levels within its base. The palace was similarly built over a period of time, with somewhat different styles for its various halls. Uxmal also nicely illustrates several very common characteristic of Maya constructions. The face of Chaac, the rain god, is everywhere. The numerology is also ubiquitous - everything with levels or panels has either 9 (the number of the lords of the underworld) or 13 (the number of the levels of the heavens). The belief is, that with some exceptions, on death the soul goes to the bottom of the underworld, and works its way upward. The symbol of the passage from underworld up is the kapok tree, which sounds hollow when rapped. The kapok tree also has the characteristic that the branches take off perpendicular to the trunk, so the representation of the kapok tree looks quite like a cross, which rather blew the minds of the Spanish Padres.

Chichen Itza is an enormous site. Unfortunately, it is also visited with an enormous number of people. Authorities have had to put a bit of a lid on visitor activities, for the safety of both the tourists and the ruins, so unlike other sites, where we had the amazing privilege of wandering freely up and down thousand year old staircases and into rooms, we were confined to the straight and level paths. Chichen Itza is a late classical to early post-classical site. The iconic building is called The Castle, because the conquistadores set up a defense there once. It is a nine- level (note the numerology) pyramid, with a temple on top. There are a lot of other temples on the site. Perhaps most interesting, from my point of view, was one which was apparently an observatory, or at least astronomically related. It is aligned north-south, or rather east-west, as the main entrance is on the east. So the sun at the equinox would illuminate the front face on. But the door to the temple at the top is misaligned by about five degrees. It is suggested this is a lunar alignment. Every 18 years (saros), when the sun was at equinox, the moon would rise into the main door. In its late years, Chichen Itza accumulated influences from the burgeoning Toltec and Aztec empires to the north. These include the story of Quetzalcoatl, called Cuculcan in Mayan. It is hypothesized that this was a real person, bred in Tula in the Toltec region, who moved as a young man to Chichen Itza, and spent the remainder of his life there. He was revered as a saint or god by both the Toltecs and the Maya of the day. His device was the feathered serpent, hitherto unknown in Mayan art. One picture in Chichen Itza purports to show him with a full beard as well (I have my doubts - after all, official portraits of Hatsheput show her with a beard when she was king of Egypt.) When the bearded Cortes showed up from the east, the Aztecs thought he might well be the return of Quetzalcoatl. Also from the Toltecs the people of Chichen Itza imported the rite of human sacrifice, both in the Castle, and as part of the ritual ball games. But even so, they didn't make an industry of it like the Aztecs did. One of the sacrifice sites is the Cenote Sagrado, which we didn't have time to go see. Divers have recovered human bones as well as precious objects offered to the gods of water, including a lovely little golden frog from Honduras.

The last site we visited was Tulum. This is a late post-classical site. It was founded shortly before Chichen Itza was abandoned. It was still occupied when Cortes sailed by in 1519, though abandoned shortly thereafter. It is on the east coast of Yucatan, right on the coast. It was evidently a trading center, with good canoe routes behind a line of reefs stretching to Honduras. The temple there is a temple to the sun god. It is the only Mayan site we visited that was not stamped over with images of Chaac, the rain god. He got his revenge by raining all over us.

In the same general area we visited a cenote, and actually went swimming in it. This close to the coast, the water surface is only about five meters below the surface. This particular cenote is a part of an extensive system of wet caves, totaling over sixty kilometers explored by divers. There were fish in the water. The water was a little cloudy, because of the rain, but they say it is normally perfectly pellucid. I didn't think to rent a face mask before I got in, so it was a little hard to see the bottom, but there were normal looking cave formations on the walls, both above and below the water level. There was a sandbank, with, I think, limestone based sand. There were a fair number of fish; one of our group said three different kinds.

I quite liked the city of Campeche. It was at one time a walled city. The wall was constructed at an extraordinarily late date, in the 1750's. It was built when the populace grew tired being plundered by pirates (mostly English). The wall was effective - they were no more plundered. The Spanish colonial style within the wall was to build houses side- by-side, with only a single door and no windows facing the street. This is a defensive measure antedating the wall. If the pirates are in a hurry, they may not take time to break down the door, and they have no way around to the more vulnerable patio side of the houses. Much of the inner city preserves this style. Most of the houses there are now shops of one sort or another. It is interesting to walk along; you never know what you will see when you look in the door. It may be a tiny hole-in-the-wall shop, an elegant boutique in the front room of the house, or a busy market that runs all the way back to, sometimes into, the patio at the back.

On the other hand, I did not like Cancun. It combines the worst advertizing signs of Las Vegas with the traffic of Boston and the souvenir shops of Miami. It is not a real city - it is a magnified Potemkin village, an illusion. Somewhere there is a control room, where if you press the red button, the holograms dissipate and the scraggly jungle rushes back in.

This was my first trip to Mexico south of the border areas as well as my first Elderhostel tour. I found it a nice way to explore in pleasant company. Indeed, some people make Elderhostel a way of life - one couple estimated they spend half their time on Elderhostel tours or on associated extensions before or after. Another said she estimated that this was perhaps her sixtieth tour. I don't think I'll go quite that far, but I shall start inspecting the website for possibilities for my next tour.

Sermonette, April 19, 2009
It seems to me that there were several news items last week with moral implications. I heard on NPR this morning that Monday is the tenth anniversary of the Columbine High School shootings. I find it very hard to understand these things. Yes, I can understand depression that leads to wanting to kill oneself. Yes, I can understand unreasoning anger that becomes so overwhelming that murder of the focus of the anger becomes an option. I cannot understand depression to the extent of wanting to kill oneself accompanied by the wish to kill as many other people as possible before killing oneself, just because they are people who do not wish to die. Looking back ten years, I find I have few fears for the fellow students at Columbine. Nature has given the young a marvelous capacity to accept, to denature the toxins, and to move on. The ones I worry about are the parents, of all who died there, shooters and victims alike. Do those people have the capability to accept and move on, or are their lives forever blighted. But the moreal question is, if we can't understand this, how can we hope to prevent it?

Second news item was another in an all too familiar series, a Catholic priest accused of sexual improprieties with a young boy. This happened a quarter of a century ago. Things were hushed up at the time, permitting the priest to plead guilty to a lesser charge, of contributing to the delinquency of a minor by providing him with alcohol. The boy is now dead. An insulin dependent diabetic with an alcohol problem, an often fatal combination. Citing the resilience of youth, as I did above, it seems to me that the 'lesser charge' is really the greater offense.

Third news item concerned a couple of African born men appointed to Episcopal sees in England. They are calling for a 'reevangelization' of Britain, citing its history as a Christian nation with an established church, that in fact appears about as secular as you can get. They would reverse this trend. This worries me because lest it would relegate the Islamic immigrants to second class citizenship. Even in a country descended from the tradition that all citizens should automatically have the religion of the monarch, my ideal remains that all people, and all religions, should be treated equally. (But those who know me may be conscious of a bit of automatic bristling when the word 'evangelical' is mentioned.)

Rescued, May, 2009
I have been obsessing since last week about the Hughes trail, where the map in my trail guide shows the trail heading east by north, but the bit I walked last week seemed to be heading southeast. In fact, the trail goes pretty much due south for half a mile (down a particularly nasty little canyon where the trail is washed out and the canyon floor is pretty rugged), then turns back north most of a mile (down a pleasant wooded valley) before heading northeast and east. This misconception may be the reason that the trail guide says the trail is 4.5 miles, whereas the sign at the middle of the trail sums to 5.3 miles (the sign at the top is uninformative, and the sign at the bottom was eaten by bears). If I had been thinking 11 miles instead of nine, I would have gotten an earlier start.

Anyway, I chugged on up the trail with no problems. Except maybe that the wind was blowing a gale up on the ridge, so I didn't have a proper summit party. Problem came on the way down. I fell down. A fairly spectacular fall, sliding a couple of feet along the trail and whacking a dead tree trunk with my head to come to a stop. My first thought was "better get out the 911 caller now in case I start feeling woozy." But I didn't feel woozy, and there are only a couple of relatively minor bruises on my forehead, hardly noticeable among the age spots. It did affect my vision, though. I can't get my glasses frames bent back right. Anyhow, a quick census of body parts seemed to indicate all present and reasonably happy, so I got up and went on my way.

I had gone a couple of hundred yards down the trail before taking census of my pockets. My GPS was missing. So I walked back up and looked for it. I was unable to identify the particular log I collided with, and was unable to find the GPS by the side of the trail along the way. Gulp. That would make finding to last bit of trail sort of hard, as I expected to arrive there about sunset.

So I wandered on down, reaching the part of the trail that occupies an old logging road. I then soft of relaxed, as I firmly believed that there were only two such, and I would follow this one to the T intersection with the other, and shortly thereafter find the cutoff that goes back to the trailhead. It seemed to be taking an unexpectedly long time to reach the T intersection, but without a GPS, I didn't really have a handle on that. So about 7:30, I reached a totally unfamiliar intersection, a full crossroad, with Forest service road signs on two of the roads (with the tell-tale 'A' designation they give to roads, meaning "not for real"). None of the three possibilities looked familiar. Hmmm. So I walked a quarter mile or so down each of the contenders to see if they would assume a good direction. I walked a half mile or more down the best chance before deciding that I was totally lost, out of water, and a bit chilly, at about 9:45. I pushed the panic button, Literally. I have a widget that sends preprogrammed E-Mails by satellite. One of them says "Call 911" I expected to be picked up by somebody in a four wheel rig in two or three hours.

At first I wandered around a bit just to keep warm. Fell down a couple of times then, too. One does in night walking, but one goes slowly, and is pretty prepared, so those falls are just sort of gentle collapses which don't damage anything. I was happy to see them working as well as they always did.

The moon set about 1:00, which pretty well put a stop to keeping warm by wandering around. After that I could only lie and shiver. Won't swear there wasn't a nap in there, but I doubt it. The sheriffs arrived about 3:30. Turns out that the place I picked to get lost in is not very easy to reach by auto. What I thought was a good 10 MPH road had quite a lot of slow spots in it. Took an hour and a half to get me back to my car (six miles as the crow flies, they said), and an hour from there back to highway 60. I got home at 6AM.

I'm happy to see I can still worry people by hiking. Thought I might have gotten beyond that.

Four City Tour, May, 2009
1. Reno. I went to Reno for a high school Science Fair. A high school Science Fair?!! Well, I like high school science fairs. Talking to a few bright and hard working high school kids makes me feel better about the future of the whole human race.

A couple of vignettes that stick. A high school senior, carefully simplifying his spiel to tailor it to the understanding of his audience, which consisted of three Special Awards judges, who a) were probably PhDs, b) were probably not working physicists, and c) were possibly idiots.

A student who built a fast neutron beam generator. This barely made honorable mention, because he essentially just followed recipes, without a great deal of creativity. The student noted that this project had taken him four years to complete. This was partly due to little side paths he took, such as learning enough chemistry to refine, from ore, the uranium for his flux multiplier stage; partly from various minor setbacks, the most recent when he had to find a new place to keep his apparatus (at a local university) because his parents objected to his making the garage radioactive. He had a little trouble with his oral presentation because his voice kept breaking; he is now a high school freshman.

Of course, there were some disappointments too, mostly from rather out of the way places, which makes you wonder what the local standards are like. There was a perpetual motion machine from Nigeria (which was not currently perpetually motioning, he didn't know why), and a kid with a photodetector that turned on a light bulb when it was dark, from Jordan.

2. Pasadena. College class 50th reunion. Interesting. I am used to being elderly and distinguished. At a class reunion, everybody is the same age, and, it being CalTech, I was only about mid-level in the distinguished category. (The guy who was presidential science adviser to Ronald Reagan put in a cameo appearance.) Even guys I thought were total screw-ups seemed to have had reasonably successful careers.

The usual phenomenon for recognizing people was that I would see a familiar name on a name tag, and then I would stare at the face, and slowly the familiar features that I knew would emerge from the mists of the faces I was looking at. (This is quite in contrast to my experience at high school reunions, where I sort of know what a lot of people look like now, but I would have had no chance of recognizing them based on their highschool yearbook pictures.) Perhaps the most dissonant example of recognition was a fellow whom I always thought of as just a skinny little guy, and there was this man nearly as tall as I am and about as portly as the rest of us, but with a familiar face rising out of the mists. I think the explanation is that he says he continued growing all through college, I must have been remembering him as he was when he was a freshman.

CalTech undergrad classes are sufficiently small that almost all names were familiar, and most, though certainly not all, faces.

Although there were various overlapping circles, there were seven of us who palled around together a lot of the time. One is now deceased, of cancer. The others were all there for part or all of the occasion. One felt we had seen each other fairly recently, but when we got to calculating, it was about thirty years ago. Another had been by for a brief visit after that, but still more than a quarter century ago, I think. The other three I had not seen for fifty years, and I was very happy to touch base with them again. All good people. I compliment myself on my choice of friends.

Best memory reawakening moment was when I attended a seminar in Arms 155, a large lecture hall. The first time I was in that room, in the winter of 1955, was to take the final examination in freshman calculus. I still remember the elated feeling of turning in my blue book and walking out of the room, thinking, "I've just had a CalTech final exam, in calculus no less, and I'm still alive."

I stayed with Betty's sister Bobbie and her husband Henry in Altadena. Bobbie has a fabric store ("New Moon Fabrics"), which is, I must say, colorful. It appears to be surviving. I don't know how the recession affects fabric stores. I guess the unemployed with sewing skills are exercising them more than in good times. On the other hand, they may be more disposed to shades of gray and navy than Bobbie's colorful collection.

Henry is a volunteer with the Natural History Museum, currently helping restore and mount a baby blue whale fossil from ten million years ago.

For Sunday dinner they had over Richard and Junie and the grandchild (of course), and Bob Moon, whom I was happy to see was still looking pretty good. He has just remarried, after being widowed for a couple of years. I admire that sanguinity. I figure I got married once, successfully, out of dumb luck. Now that I'm older, I've heard too many tales of the terrible things that can happen inside marriages to leap for the companionship and never mind the risk. Richard and Junie are trying to break into the independent film producer business. Again, the risk would not be attractive to me. Me for good old safe academe.

3. Portland. To see Charlotte. She seems to be getting along, though with some breathing problems. She says her daughters have forbidden her to drive to visit Donna in Michigan, and is trying to decide between flying and taking the train. She lectured me that I shouldn't put off having my eye lenses replaced, that advanced cataracts are a nasty, insidious hindrance, especially to your sense of color. I told her that even with good vision I felt I skirted disaster if I wore any clothes other than black and white. But I'll add her strictures to those of my friend who keeps telling me to have my knees replaced, and the other friend who keeps telling me to replace my dog.

We decided on a driving tour, reprising the year Rini go married. We drove up the Columbia River Gorge to Hood River, but didn't go look at the hotel where Rini's wedding took place. We then drove south to Mt. Hood, and up to the Timberline Lodge. There were clouds, fog, rain, and snow, just to make it interesting. But the restaurant at Timberline Lodge was closed (whether for the season or permanently wasn't clear). The parking lot was muddy and nasty and marked "Hotel guests only", do we didn't even get out to see if we could get inside the place. And turns out that all the good places to stop and look around were between Hood River and Mt. Hood, so we just drove back to Portland. Very disappointing.

We went over and had dinner with Dena and Greg and their two girls (third girl at college). Every family seems to have its thing - we had competitive swimming, Doree has border collies, etc. Their thing seems to be county fair. Missy had a set of just hatched chickens, to be raised to be shown at the county fair in conjunction with a family down the street, who also has a farm. This family was away, so Missy had just gotten back from feeding their ducks. Then there were quilts and tomatoes and recipes and all sorts of other things in such profusion I cannot remember them all.

4. Salt Lake City. Visited Bill. He, too, seems to be getting along OK. Says his irregular heartbeat seems to be more or less in remission, and that his diabetes is under control. I am rather grateful to him for sticking around to the age of eighty. Dad died at the age of seventy four, and without Bill's example, I'd worry that male Clarks were doomed at that rapidly approaching milestone.

He uses a wheelchair as a regular convenience to avoid getting up. But once up, he could perambulate pretty well, though if I felt as shaky doing it as he looks, I would use a cane. I suggested that he get himself a handicap placard. He said he didn't know what the procedure was. I said he needed a note from his doctor, and that in New Mexico, the criterion was whether you could walk a hundred yards without resting or assistance from a cane or crutch. He said he thought he could walk a hundred yards, he just didn't want to.

Of course I had to go for a walk. Went on the Timpanogos Cave tour. Spectacular walk, though on an asphalt trail, about a mile and a half (and a thousand feet of elevation) each way. As part of protecting the public, while crossing rock slide areas they painted a red stripe on the asphalt, and designated this a no stopping zone. Actually, the red stripes indicated "a terrific view is available from here". The cave itself is not particularly spectacular, though it contains a couple of very nice things. One is a room full of thousands of helictites, stalactites that, instead of just growing down, grow higgly piggly in any direction. The guide claimed that there is no accepted theory for why they do that. The other is a lovely heart-shaped drapery of translucent, almost transparent calcite called "The Heart of Timpanogos". I was also amused by a low hanging formation that the guide said was named, with the aid of a visitor, "Thirteen Stitches".

That little stroll was not enough to satisfy me, so I went on to the Tibble Reservoir trail, which I had walked before, when we were in Salt Lake for Emily's wedding. About three quarters of the way up, when the slope started to flatten out, the trail became insufferably muddy. Since I was in street shoes, and since it was starting to get late anyhow, I turned back.

Met the Utah Clark grandkids for dinner, Emily, Michael, and Eliza. (Elizabeth is off on a visit to her parents prior to becoming a Mormon missionary.) I had a very good time at that. Emily is still doggedly pursuing her dream of becoming a fantasy writer, as is her husband Ben. If they offer prizes for persistence, she will win handsomely. Michael is working as a programmer designing a web site, and he says his bosses appear happy with him, an important consideration in these parlous economic times. Eliza is going to BYU and looking for a summer job. She complains that in college, unlike high school, she actually has to work at her classes. (I missed that phase; before I left for college, several people, Charlotte among them, abjured me saying, "Ha! CalTech will soon take you down a peg or two." so I was happy and relieved when I found out that with a little midnight oil I could do the work as well as the next guy.)

And so back home again. After two weeks away, I'm very happy to be home and in my usual well worn rut again.

Meeting in Rio, August, 2009
I find that the stress of traveling is greatly reduced if I can arrange things so that I don't particularly care where I am. Since I am a single unit with few responsibilities, I can often arrange that. It stood me in good stead this trip. Delta was an hour and a half late leaving because they had about a third of their passengers coming on a flight which had weather delays, and Delta does not believe in flying an airplane only 2/3 full. So I missed my connection at the other end. (It was close, though - if I had known the airport better, and had really hustled, I think I could have made it.) But, not particularly caring where I was, and having a decent bookstore nearby, I was content to sit around for three hours reading until the next flight. (Which, incidentally, was only about half full - apparently TAM is not as penny-conscious as Delta.)

So I got to my destination just in time to relax a bit and go to bed. Next morning I went out to the waterfalls, which are one of the great waterfalls of the world - twice the height and twice the flow volume of Niagara. The day was overcast, and I'm not quite sure if it was raining or not. My wetness could be explained entirely by the spray from the falls.

There is quite a nice national park there. If I had known what I was getting into, I would have arranged to take the 9 km hike through the jungle to a raft that takes you to the base of the falls.

The first coatimundi I saw in the park caused me to think "Oh, gee, how nice; how rare." But then I discovered that the park is absolutely full of them. Due to the numerous "Do not feed the animals" signs, they didn't come flocking to humans, but neither did they show any concern. I was pretty much ignored.

So that evening I left Foz do Iguassu on a plane for Rio de Janiero. My hotel in Rio was on Copacabana beach, which made pretty scenery, but it's real practicality was that it was only four blocks from the Metro station. It was a half hour Metro ride to the conference venue. A poster in the Metro station proclaims it the most beautiful metro in the world, and I wouldn't really gainsay that - it is very nice indeed. I did go down to the beach one day to splash around in the surf for a few minutes, but mostly I only benefited from the Metro and the view.

The conference was the General Assembly of the International Astronomical Union, and lasted a full two weeks. By the end the "information overload" circuit breakers in my brain were popping with great regularity.

It is surely one of the most surreal moments of my life, when I was sitting quietly at home on a Saturday evening, when somebody I didn't know rang me on the telephone from Hobart, Tasmania, and asked to meet me in Rio de Janiero to present me with a medal I had never heard of. And a very pretty medal it is.

Weekend between the conference halves, I did the usual tourist things: take the teleferique to Sugar Loaf, and the cog railway to Christo Redentor on Corcovado mountain. Near as I can remember, this is the first time I've been on a cog railway since I rode the one up Pike's Peak as a teanager. This one is electric, and a very smooth ride; I can't remember about the one up Pike's Peak, which google tells me is still running. Looks like it might be diesel (no third rail or trolley), but I can't remember what powered it in the 50's, might even have been steam. (At the time I guess I hadn't developed the fine curiosity about what makes things go.) The railroad ride was very nice, chugging through the jungle on the side of the very steep peak. But the teleferique on Sugar Loaf I thought was less impressive than the one across the amusement park in Hong Kong, mainly because here the car was big and crowded. There is a nature trail on the far side of Sugar Loaf which was sort of interesting, because the terrain is so steep. The trail includes perhaps half a dozen staircases. Only very interesting nature item, though, was some sort of small monkey, which I couldn't offhand put a name to.

Also went to the zoo. The zoo is not terribly special, though they have a nice pool of caymans and a large herd of turtles. But the prime experience at the zoo was that, for one real, I got a really superior grape popsicle. The National Museum is at the same place. Again, sort of par for the course for museums, though their prime exhibit, right at the entrance is a seven tonne iron meteorite that somebody had trucked in a century and a half ago. But the park these are set in is really special. It was originally the Imperial Gardens of Emperor Pedro II. It is sort of like a Reader's Digest condensed version of Central Park. Not nearly as big, but really beautiful lawns and flowers, and, on a Sunday afternoon, filled to the gills with all sorts of activities. Kids (and young men) playing soccer, kids flying kites, families picnicking, etc. The popular item de jour was a pedal car, with two benches capable of seating six, and two sets of pedals. I was mildly terrified while walking down a path and seeing two of the things driven by drag racing teenagers barreling side by side toward me. I tried to dodge to one side, but that provoked screams from one of the carts - they had been planning to dodge to that side; so I returned to center and let them dodge me.

People tend to dine late in latin countries, taking their cue from the gentry, whose progenitors, unlike mine, didn't have to get up in the morning to milk the cows. The conference banquet a case in point. I showed up at 8:00 PM as specified in the invitation. At that time there were drinks and hors d'oevres. But the buffet lines didn't open until 10:30. And, although we suspected that there were desserts in the offing, my friends and I gave up and went home at 11:15. The banquet was held at the Morro de Urca, the halfway point on the Sugar Loaf teleferique.

I am very fond of the local sausage, called calabesa. Every three or four days I dined on a pizza calabesa, a dish I would estimate gets about 85% of its calories from fat. (If that bothers you you can adjust that to taste by reaching for the can of olive oil that they bring with the pizza. The slightly fancier restaurant down the block had their olive oil in bottles.) The moment I got home, I headed for Sofia's Kitchen and a smothered green chile burrito - not exactly a winner in the calories from fat category either, but after two weeks without any green chile, I really needed my fix. I've been busy since I got back and haven't really got back into the routine again. There was nothing in the fridge except a few containers of slimy green stuff, so Sunday I dashed out and bought a loaf of bread, a jar of mayonnaise, and a packet of pastrami, and I've been living on pastrami sandwiches ever since. Maybe next week I'll eat healthier.

Cerillos de Coyote, November, 2009
Well, I lost the little Coyote Peaks. You might think it careless of me to mislay the three high points for several miles in any direction, out in the Quebradas, as indeed I did myself. It had been a couple of years since my last visit; I was inhibited last year with knee problems. So a few weeks ago, I headed out to revisit them. Everything started out well, all the arroyos were just as I remembered them, even the cow trails seemed familiar. Then, suddenly, everything was wrong - the rocks were the wrong color, the arroyo on the wrong hand, nothing familiar. After wandering around a bit, I ascended the highest hill thereabout, and had a look around. Nothing seemed familiar. I confessed myself "locationally challenged", and headed back to the car.

Next time out, I thought I'd take the "for certain" way up. You follow the road from the flagstone quarry until it circles at the base of a high hill, which is one of the Coyotes. I duly did. And as I crested the ridge of the hill, I kept expecting the other two cerillos to leap into view. They didn't. I was on a pleasant, high, but isolated hill.

Today, I headed up the only arroyo in the area I hadn't been in on the other two days. I swept past the hill I had gone up on the first day, and proceeded up the (rather steep) hill beyond it. I got to the top, and still nothing looked familiar, no other hills in easy walking distance except the two I'd already been up. So, thoroughly confused, I headed down the other side. On the way down, I saw a pile of rocks - "Hmm, that cairn looks familiar." And the scales fell from my eyes.

I had remembered the three cerillos incorrectly. I was picturing two steep hills a quarter mile apart, facing each other across a broad saddle, with the third peak attached to the second with a symmetrical, almost U shaped col. In actuality, the saddle is quite narrow, and a good half mile long, and the col has several bumps in its profile.

I had been knocking off the Coyotes one-by-one, while remaining totally clueless.

Socorro is doing its best at the fall color business. The cottonwoods in the Rio bosque are all bright yellow today. There are a few very nice, rust colored, Salt Cedars, though many seem to have managed to go from their drab green to drab brown, without passing through anything interesting.

Christmas with an ouch, December, 2009
On my way to a community orchestra concert, on December 7, I fell and broke my hip. There were a number of people standing around, and I wasn't quite sure whether I was seriously injured or not, so I requested them to help me to my car. By the time they poured me into the car, I pretty well knew I was hurt, so I drove myself to the ER. Socorro hospital kept me just long enough to take an X-ray, and then sent me by ambulance to Albuquerque. (Ambulances ride like the truck on whose chassis they are constructed. They should keep a hearse or two around to transport stabilized patients in more comfort.) They tucked me in in Presbyterian Hospital about one AM. The orthopedic surgeon drifted by to see me about eight the next morning, and explained they would put in a couple of large nails and a lag bolt, with they promptly did an hour later. (They offered spinal anesthesia, but I said I had no interest whatsoever in watching the procedure. I haven't even look at the incision sites yet; the various nurses always said "It looks good; of course with any surgery you have to expect some bruising." I ain't looking.)

A couple of days later they booted me out of Pres, and sent me off to a rehabilitation hospital. There, they boasted that they gave everybody three hours of therapy a day (of which an hour was actually useful). There I went from needing help to get out of bed and being able to walk ten feet with a walker to being able to get in and out of bed and to do walks around the indoor exercise area (which they call a gym - Gold's it isn't). They can take the credit for what was, I believe, mostly the natural process of healing.

When I had been there a few days, they told me they had set my release date for December 29. I wailed "Not after Christmas", and my case manager said "OK, let's make it the 22nd". She then scratched out the 29 on the note on the wall, and wrote in 22. Apparently this was sufficient. Everybody thereafter happily went with the 22. Clearly they were just making up numbers, and had no real guide for what they should be. (And I had to sign a release, saying I had been informeed that I could appeal to Medicare if I thought I was being discharged prematurely.)

In order to understand what follows, I must engage in a digression on what constitutes the modern version of an extended family, rather different from the definition of a century ago, or even half a century ago. Judy is my wife's first husband's second ex-wife, and a very dear friend. The children of the next generation consider themselves part of a family, despite having two mothers (Ted, Doree, Bill, and Rini from Betty; Pam from Judy), and two fathers (Ted, Doree, Pam by Tom, Bill and Rini by me). And the generation after that has more or less the normal cousin relationship.

So, the family rallied round to maintain me in the hospital and early days of release. Bill arrived on the 16th, Doree on the night of the 17th, Ted on the 18th, so I had a good deal on company in hospital, as well as a variety of Socorroans who came up to see me.

Ted and Catherine and four of their kids came up on the 21st, and that evening, to avoid disturbing my roommate, we when up to the lounge in the front of the hospital and sang Christmas carols. Bill and Doree were there too. (Of course we only sang the first verse of each - who knows the second verse of Christmas carols. But there are a lot of carols that we do know the first verse.) This was one of the high points of my Christmastide.

So Bill and Doree extracted me from the clutches of the hospital about one o'clock on the 22nd. We then went off to the Lodge we had rented for a family Christmas near Colorado Springs. (While not exactly keeping it a secret, I just never happened to mention this intention to the medical people at tbs hospital.) We were a couple of days early for our rental, so we made a leisurely trip of it, spending a night in Trinidad (and me a Unitarian) and a night in Colorado Springs.

The place we rented was an old summer cabin built by a rich guy in the 20s, greatly modernized and updated to serve as a vacation retreat or, much of the time, as a bed and breakfast place. It had four bedrooms upstairs and one downstairs, for me. We checked in on the 24th, with a crew of fourteen or fifteen. Doree's family assembled from various Colorado locations; Kevin and Kelsey drove down from Denver; Megan and Jason from Ft. Collins. Karen and Chad decided that the mob scene at the Lodge was a bit much, and stayed in a hotel in Colorado Springs, and came out as she felt able.

Rini and her family arrived by train that morning. Bill picked up Bawi, the fifteen year old refugee from Burma that he and Ann are fostering.

So the kids that first couple of days were Thea (9), Jasper (14), Bawi (15), and Kelsey (16). Rather an elderly lot for maximal Christmas festivities, but a very good lot withal. Bawi (pronounced Booey), is an interesting case. His English is still very minimal, and obviously, his background is very different. So his presentation comes across as anywhere from a little kid to a totally responsible adult. Basically a very good kid who wants to be helpful. I rather suspect that he is in the process of diffusing across the teenager stage. Teenagers are, after all, merely an American cultural phenomenon, in which children are permitted to be surly and destructive for a few years, merely because they are, well, teenagers. People from other cultures do not necessarily have to pass through the stage.

We did the tourist things - Pikes Peak railway (but not to the top; too windy for the snowplow to keep the rails clear enough), Garden of the Gods, Cliff dwellings. The first two I had visited more or less sixty years ago. The conductor of the Pikes Peak train rather thought it might have been still steam at that time - I can't really remember. Garden of the Gods was about as I remembered it, except, I think, the road was rather wider and straighter than it used to be.

Then a changing of the guard. Megan and Jason had to get back and go to work, and Kelsey went with them to spend a few days with them. (I was very encouraged by what I heard from Megan - she is still working to get into veterinary school, and regards current circumstances as strictly temporary.) Bill and Bawi were off back to Boston. And Judy, Pam, Brad, and their two kids arrived. Sidney (6) and Quin (4) were regarded as great entertainment by Thea and Jasper, respectively.

We then went up to Parker, and spend a couple of days with Judy, Brad, Pam and kids, visiting with Doree. Big deal there was "Wildlife Experience", apparently a for profit museum and ecological promotion.

So now they have transported me back home again. Doree will stay with me next week, as I learn the necessary skills to survive at home again.

Barry Clark's Home Page