Sunday, May 21, 2017

And now for something different: Gila Box Riparian National Conservation Area

Over the years the S.O. and I have been to a lot of National Park sites, National Forests, US Corps of Engineers campgrounds, state forests, state parks, county parks, even township parks, but until we spent the winter in Arizona we'd never knowinglyh gone near anything managed by the Bureau of Land Management. BLM oversees huge swaths of land out West -- big chunks of Arizona, New Mexico, Utah, Colorado, and other states. But you know what I think when I hear "BLM?" I think grazing leases. Or mineral leases. Or truly barren ugly wastelands beloved by boondockers who are so anxious to camp for free that they're happy to ignore the fact the location that's free looks depressingly similar to the surface of the moon. You know, basically places that only starving cows and hard core rockhounds are willing to go.
Gila River. It's the longest river in Arizona and at various points has a fair amount of water in it. Every time I saw it, it looked  muddy and disgusting even though it is supposedly a trout stream.

I did not know BLM also does recreation, as in actual developed recreation. Day use areas with scenic vistas and picnic tables and the cleanest comfort stations I have ever seen. Real campgrounds with fire rings, ramadas over the picnic tables, and potable water available. Hiking trails, including hiking trails that are so developed they're handicapped accessible. Live and learn.
Paved accessible trail to "wildlife viewing area." The pavilion in the distance has several benches so you can sit, relax, and hope something other than a squirrel shows up. There are supposed to be bighorn sheep. We never saw any.

It turned out there was a fair amount of BLM land in the Safford area. There were areas that were open to dispersed camping (aka boondocking), and there were developed recreation areas like Hot Wells (an area south of Safford popular with people who have ORVs) and Gila Box Riparian National Conservation Area on the Gila River northeast of town. We went out to Gila Box a couple times. You can canoe or kayak on the river, although I'm not real sure why anyone would want to (but maybe I just saw it at the wrong time of year), you can hike, you can picnic, and there are actual campgrounds. Dispersed camping is permitted, too, but when the daily use fee for a nice site within easy walking distance of a super clean privy is only $5 ($2.50 for those us with geezer passes) I don't much see the point of true boondocking.
Historic cabin restored (sort of) by the BLM.

On one of our trips to Gila Box, we visited the sites close to Safford: a day use area on Bonita Creek that includes a picnic area right down by the creek where it joins the river and a wildlife viewing area that's up higher overlooking the Bonita Creek canyon, and the Riverview Campground, which perches on a bluff overlooking the Gila River. I will confess the drive out to Bonita Creek made me a tad nervous. It was the first time I'd ever seen a steep hill warning sign informing me that the drop ahead was a 20% grade. Fortunately, it wasn't a particularly long hill.

Roads within Gila Box overall were in good condition, but were definitely narrow, winding, and with a lot of up and down. There were sections where you do keep your fingers crossed you won't meet any oncoming traffic. We did meet other vehicles a couple times, but in each case visibility was good enough that one car was able to pull over to the side and allow the other to get past the tight curve or steepest part of the grade before passing each other.
Old Safford Highway bridge. It's a really nice Luten concrete double arch built in 1918 and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It does feel a bit odd -- the bridge looks great, but the road on either side of it is one lane dirt.

The old Clifton to Safford highway goes through Gila Box. It parallels the river, more or less, and has a nifty concrete bridge on the Clifton end. That road is now known as the Black Hills Back Country Scenic Byway. It's also one where drivers are warned not to take it unless they're in an ORV or have a vehicle with high ground clearance. When we visited the Clifton end to check out the day use areas and the Owl Creek campground, we did not go beyond the bridge. We were in my Focus, and I had no desire to try rock climbing with it.

Both campgrounds at Gila Box struck me as being pretty nice. Neither is very big -- according to the BLM web site, Riverview has 13 sites, Owl Creek has 7 -- but they're nicely designed. They're spaced far enough apart that even totally full it would not feel crowded, each site has a ramada over the picnic table, and there's both a fire ring and a grill at each site. I was surprised they weren't busier. If I recall correctly, Granville had one camper at the far end of the campground while Riverview had maybe 2 or 3 plus a campground host. The host's site struck me as being pretty nice. It was tucked off to one side instead of being the first thing you saw when you pulled into the campground, which means the host doesn't end up feeling like he or she is living in a fishbowl. That's a real positive when BLM hosts (just like NPS, Forest Service, and Corps of Engineers) are expected to sign up for longer stays than the hosts at state parks.
Camp site at Owl Creek campground

I don't know if we'd ever try camping at Gila Box. I know we wouldn't have any trouble getting the Guppy in to the Owl Creek campground, but can't think of a reason why I'd want to be closer to Clifton than to Safford. And the Riverview campground is nice, but there were one or two sections of road that come down a steep hill and almost immediately start climbing another steep grade. The Guppy is only 27 feet long, but there's quite a bit behind the back axle. I saw a school bus get hung up trying to climb a steep driveway into an apartment complex on Buford Highway. The back end of the bus hit the pavement before the whole vehicle was far enough up to keep moving. Not a pleasant situation for the bus driver -- if he tried backing up, he'd damage the bus, but he couldn't go forward. I had visions of something similar, or worse, happening if we tried bringing the Guppy out to Riverview. It's a bit odd -- it's one of the few situations I can think of where a Leviathan might be able to go where the Guppy couldn't simply because the typical Class A has a longer wheel base/less overhang on the back end..
View from one of the campsites at Owl Creek campground.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

What's the point?

I have noticed that following the firing of James Comey that talk about impeaching The Donald has migrated from the wishful thinking of the left-wing fringe to the main stream media. It's a tad bizarre.

Okay, I get why it's quite possible that in his blundering naiveté and insecurity The Donald managed to commit a high crime or two -- obstructing justice, providing aid to a foreign power, whatever. The man is impulsive and stupid, a definitely dangerously self-destructive combination. He's been a nightmare for White House staff to deal with because the man has spent his entire life surrounded by yes men (and women) so tends to ignore anything that contradicts whatever he happens to be thinking at any given moment. What I don't get is why anyone would think his impeachment, even if it did result in his removal from office, would lead to some dramatic change in the political climate in Washington.

First, and most obvious, if The Donald leaves he'll be succeeded by Mike Pence, an extremely conservative Republican. The biggest difference between Pence and Trump is that Pence has enough experience in government to know how things actually work. He won't waste his time on photo ops of him signing meaningless executive orders; he'll put minions to work crafting legislation that could actually pass in the majority-Republican House and Senate. There would be no drama or 3 a.m. tweets with Pence; he'd just be quietly competent at implementing an extremely conservative agenda grounded in Christian Dominion beliefs.

In the highly unlikely event that Pence also got swept up by the colluding with the Russians charges, who comes next? Well, that would depend a great deal on whether or not a successor to Pence had been appointed before Pence's theoretical departure. Given the current levels of chaos and noncooperation prevalent inside the Beltway, it's quite possible the baton would get passed to the current Speaker of the House, Paul Ryan. Not exactly an improvement over either Pence or Trump.

In any case, speculating about which way the dominos are going to fall is kind of pointless. Whatever does happen, it won't be what the pundits might predict. All the so-called experts have been spectacularly wrong so many times in the past few years I'm amazed they still get paid to bloviate and/or write opinion columns.

Here's what I think is a likely scenario in the unlikely event the House does decide to pursue impeachment. The pundits are saying it would disastrous for the Republicans, that a Trump fiasco would hurt the party's chances in 2018 and 2020. I say pshaw.

If the Republicans were to vote to impeach the titular head of their party, they would then be in the perfect position to claim the mantle of true reformers. After all, they could brag that they recognized -- a little late, granted -- that The Donald was unfit for office. They'd cleaned house. They'd started at the top with draining the swamp.

Alternatively, they could turn him into a martyr: look what the evil, evil Democrats did. The leftist socialist godless Commies lied, they cheated, they fabricated evidence, they drove a good man out of office. They'd blame it all on Obama, Hillary, and the minority party -- and the rubes would believe every word of it.

Either way, it becomes a win-win for the Republicans. Which route they'd take would depend a great deal on how worried they were about incumbents getting primaried by die-hard Trump supporters.

As for The Donald, at this point I think the best historical comparison is with Warren G. Harding, another pussy-grabbing President who kind of personified the Peter Principle in action, except Harding was self-aware enough to recognize his limitations. . .and Harding was a better golfer.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Intimations of mortality

Opened the paper recently and learned the woman who taught a belly dancing class in L'Anse back in the '70s is dead.

I had the usual mixed reaction that hits once you get to be a certain age (i.e., older than dirt). First there's the "holy wah, she wasn't that old" that hits when you realize someone who's more or less a contemporary just died. Then there's the vague sense of relief and rationalization: "but, hey, she was at least three years older than I am."(Translation: those aren't actually buzzards I see circling overhead.)

I hadn't thought about the woman in years. She taught a belly dancing class offered through the local Community Schools program. Forty-plus years ago the local school districts had actual money for community enrichment classes and offered a pretty wide variety: cooking, crafts, dance classes, photography, woodworking, you name the hobby and at some point there was probably a class. I took a few. There was a needle crafts sampler: we tried several different things like bargello (a type of needlepoint) and specialized quilting (yo-yos, cathedral window). My friend Cindy had enough ambition to complete several of the suggested projects. I think I did a bargello pillow and that was that. I tried a cooking class and acquired a few recipes I still use. I learned how to develop my own black and white photos, a hobby I enjoyed for a couple years but gave up when we moved out to the Seattle area in 1979.

And then there was the belly dancing class. One of the neighbors talked me into trying that. I was hesitant, but what the heck. It was an excuse to get out of the house one evening a week for a month or two. I have absolutely no sense of rhythm, never have been able to dance at all (not even that most ubiquitous form on non-dancing for white people, line dancing and the Texas two-step), but I made the unexpected discovery that I liked the music. So I went to belly dancing. (Side note: belly dancing was a brief fad 40 years ago. I'm not sure why. It is not the route to thinness -- in order to be a successful belly dancer, you need to have a belly. It can, however, be really good for your back as it tones your core muscles.)

It was an interesting mix of students. Don't really remember much about any of them now other than the instructor and one or two others, like the wife of a local businessman who confessed to the group that the reason she was taking the class was to spice up her love life. Her husband couldn't get it up unless they did role playing. I guess she decided she'd rather be a harem girl with sequins than a French maid with a skimpy apron. I haven't seen the dude in question in probably 30 years, but you better believe I still start laughing when I hear his name. 

As for the instructor. . . that was the only class I ever took with her, and, despite the fact we were both living in what is a fairly small town off and on for several decades, I don't think our paths ever crossed again. And now they never will. Vita brevis.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

The Lost City of the Monkey God

Okay, I know I just did a book review, but Douglas Preston's The Lost City of the Monkey God: A True Story was so good I can't help pushing it. It's Indiana Jones in the real world.

Preston is a writer and journalist (the two are not necessarily synonymous) whose work includes both nonfiction and fiction. He's had a lot of nonfiction published in National Geographic, New Yorker, and other major magazines, and he's written or co-authored quite a few books. His fiction falls into the techno-thriller or horror categories. The latter tend to have an anthropological or archeological connection: an expedition to explore a mysterious region of Amazonia meets with misfortune, people die mysteriously, crates get shoved into storage and are forgotten for decades, and then weirdness emerges. You know, the usual improbabilities that always result in lots of gore and general creepiness. Fun to read but not exactly Great Literature.

I had read several books Preston co-authored with Lincoln Child that definitely fall into the horror category. They were entertaining, but they had the effect of making me a bit skeptical about The Lost City of the Monkey God. One of my favorite authors, John Sandford, recommended it in a Facebook post a couple months ago, but I had a hard time believing it was actually nonfiction. Let's face it: The Lost City of the Monkey God is a cheesy title. It sounds like something you'd see on the cover of cheap pulp fiction back in the 1930s displayed on a rack next to some Edgar Rice Burroughs' Tarzan novels. Tacking "A True Story" on to the title doesn't help much.

Then on a recent trip to the local public library there it was sitting on the New Books shelf. I couldn't resist. After all, Sandford had recommended it. Back before Sandford became a best-selling novelist, he was a Pulitzer-prize winning journalist. He should know what good nonfiction looks like.
Photo from The Lost City of the Monkey God

As it turned out, good is an understatement. The Lost City of the Monkey God was fascinating. It has it all: a multi-year search to find a "lost city" that's been featured in local folklore and legends for several centuries, a remote tropical rainforest location that's considered so isolated and dangerous that it is one of the few totally uninhabited regions in Central America, horrendous working conditions (seas of mud, humongous poisonous snakes everywhere, clouds of sand flies and hordes of chiggers devouring expedition members in their sleep), a government in turmoil, mysterious diseases striking expedition members months after their return to civilization. It does read like the plot line for The Lost World or an Indiana Jones movie. Except it's all true.

The lost city in the title was supposedly located in the La Mosquitia region of Honduras. It's a mountainous, treacherous region that is so isolated and inhospitable (snakes, chiggers, heavy rains, thick vegetation, you name it) that humans simply do not live there. There are indigenous groups living on the fringes -- the Miskito, Pech, and several other native peoples have villages and farms on the edges of La Mosquitia but the interior is basically devoid of humans. Logging and cattle ranching are nibbling at the edges and drug smugglers have carved out a few landing strips, but there are no land routes into the interior. Anyone going into La Mosquitia does it either by air or by boat. Vegetation is reportedly so thick and the threat of snakes (primarily fer de lance, a species known for its nasty attitude and aggressive behavior) so bad that it can easily take a full day to travel less than a mile over land.

Photo from The Lost City of the Monkey God
The region had been the subject of speculation since the time of the Spanish conquest. When Spaniards entered what is now Honduras, they heard stories of cities back in the mountains that had fabulous riches. Depending on who was telling the story, it was either referred to as La Cuidad Blanca (the White City) or the City of the Monkey God, reportedly because there were numerous statues (idols) of a monkey-faced god. The Spanish conquistadors never got around to looking for the White City, and if it existed its location got lost in time.

Stories about the White City surfaced again in the 19th and early 20th century. Discovery of Mayan ruins loaded with artifacts fired up treasure hunting impulses. Several would-be looters claimed to have found the Lost City of the Monkey God, but serious archeologists who tried to follow the clues the looters left never found anything that qualified as a "city." Most never made it very far into La Mosquitia -- conditions were simply too rough.

Then filmmaker Steve Elkins became intrigued by the legends. Elkins produces documentary films, and has been quite successful. In the mid-1990s he thought the White City would be a good subject and mounted an expedition to find it. His approach at the time was to try going up a river, which was how most previous expeditions had tried to get into the interior. He didn't find any trace of something that could be called a city, but he did experience an epiphany: seeing a petroglyph depicting what appeared to be a farmer made him realize that what is impenetrable rain forest today might not have been dense rain forest a thousand years ago.

It strikes me as being one of those "no shit, Sherlock" moments. Anyone who knows even a smidgeon of history is aware that when the first Europeans arrived in the Americas there were a lot more people around before those Europeans introduced smallpox, measles, influenza, and a host of other diseases to the Native Americans. The pathogens spread faster than the Europeans could explore; the English, French, and Spanish all documented finding villages and towns completely deserted, empty except for corpses of the victims of disease. Even in temperate climates it doesn't take long for vegetation to rewild farm fields. In the tropics even a large city could go from obvious to totally covered with vines and trees in less than a decade.

Still, even though Elkins realized that the stories about the lost city were probably based on fact, he walked away from the search in the 1990s. He worked on other projects for a decade, and then he learned that the LIDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) system that had been used to find the lost city of Ubar on the Arabian Peninsula had progressed from being satellite-based to being used in aircraft for mapping and exploration.

You know where this is going. Elkins managed to arrange for a LIDAR survey of four sites in La Mosquitia that had a strong probability of being the location of a lost city. Skeptics said that LIDAR won't work, the rain forest canopy was too thick. LIDAR uses lasers so anything that can block light is going to reduce its efficacy. The skeptics were wrong. Results from the LIDAR scans clearly showed an extensive complex of man-made structures. Elkins then spent a couple years putting together a team and getting the various permits required by the Honduran government. The government proved to be extremely cooperative. Not only did it issue the required permits, the government arranged for members of the military to accompany the expedition to help with logistical issues (setting up a base camp, for example, and bringing in supplies) and provide security against drug cartels and wildlife. The site selected for an on-the-ground survey turns out to be so untouched that animals, including jaguars, have no fear of humans.

Preston documents it all, from Elkins's initial interest to the aftermath of the expedition. He untangles the documented history of past search, finding both serious scholars and con men in the mix, and provides a context for the turbulent Honduran political climate. Rather than giving in to the temptation to wrap the book up triumphantly when Elkins successfully ground truths the LIDAR scans, Preston details the aftermath: health problems expedition members experience, the strange backbiting highly politicized world of Mesoamerican archeology, and what the Honduran government was doing to try to protect the site.

When National Geographic published a short piece describing the discovery of the lost city, for example, several prominent archeologists who specialized in Mesoamerican cultures basically flipped out, denounced the so-called find as a fraud, ranted about the terminology used, and claimed that the expedition was an illegal treasure-hunting scheme bent on looting. The phrase "lost city" came in for a lot of carping, although as Preston notes how else would you describe a place that for almost 400 years existed primarily in rumors? No one knew where it was, so was it really a misnomer to call finding it a "discovery"? And was it really being sensationalist to call it "the lost city of the monkey god" when that's how it had been described for decades? From the perspective of this reader, the complaints of the archeologists seemed to fall pretty squarely into the "I'm really pissed you guys didn't ask me to be part of this" category, i.e., major professional jealousy.and a bad case of annoyance that a non-archeologist (Elkins) was the person who put the pieces together.

In any case. the book is well worth reading, but if you don't think you'll ever bother looking for it, National Geographic Explorer did the Readers' Digest Condensed version last fall. If for some reason the video doesn't want to play, a quick search on YouTube will find it for you.: 

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Pest control

We have mice in the Guppy. It's been parked for less than a month, and mice are already turning it into a condo.

I discovered that yesterday when I finally got around to stripping the bed. Between the top sheet and the bottom, smack dab in the middle of the bed, I discovered a stash of seeds of some sort. Tucked between two pillows was another stash. I'm reasonably sure neither cache was there the last time the S.O. and I slept in that bed. I thought I'd spotted mouse droppings on a counter; the seeds were confirmation the little bastards have indeed found a way in.

Now the big questions are where and how -- where is the gap they've found and are exploiting, and how do we plug it?

Until we do that, I guess I'll set a mousetrap or two. I'm not too happy about the idea because in an abstract way I like mice -- one of the kids had pet mice years ago -- but I don't want to have to live with their droppings or their annoying habit of chewing on fabric to get material for nest building.

We do have to stop the mice before they gain too much of a foothold in the Guppy. Mice are social critters. There is no such thing as one mouse. If there's one mouse, there's another one (or a whole herd of them) lurking in the wings. Mice are so social that they'll die of loneliness. All that sociability means mice have big families. You see evidence of one or two mice one week; the next week it's pretty clear they've multiplied. A lot.

Which means that later today it's going to be time to double check the Guppy, make sure nothing that's remotely edible is in a container mice can get into (although they're apparently not real picky in what they eat, considering that Lava hand soap is on their list of comestibles), do a thorough cleaning, and set the traps. Not how I had planned to spend the afternoon, but the alternatives (multiple mouse nests hiding in various corners) are a lot worse.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Saguaro National Park

Or, another installment in how I spent my winter vacation.

Saguaro National Park is located on two sides of Tucson, Arizona. The unit on the west side is supposedly mostly desert and a gazillion cacti; the east side includes the Rincon Mountains so has areas with higher elevations and a forested environment. Most of the Rincon unit is wilderness accessible only by hiking, which we didn't do.

Well, we did get out of the car and do some walking, but not much. When Saguaro was added to the National Parks system it came in as a monument and, like a bunch of others from the 1930's, was set up to encourage windshield tourists.

We visited the unit on the east side of Tucson. A road loops through a section of that unit that stops at various overlooks where you can get good views of the desert and the mountains. You also get an eyeful of just how far out the city has sprawled in the past 30 years. Suburban development is right up against the boundaries now; when we lived in Tucson in the early 80s both units of the park felt pretty far out from everything else.

In any case, the loop road is obviously popular with local cyclists -- there were a lot of people biking, and it was easy to see why. Because the loop was designed to provide variety in what people saw out the windshield, it packs a fair amount of up and down and winding around into not very many miles. It would definitely more fun to bike that road than to just get pedaling along the typical urban area bike paths, which tend to be pretty flat and boring. On that loop road cyclists might be sharing space with cars, but the speed limit is only 10 mph and the road's design ensures people don't go much faster than that.

There are stops at a couple of short trails where you can amble through the cacti, getting up close views of the teddy bear cholla and the giant saguaro, and read various wayside signs explaining to you just what it is you're seeing. We stopped at a handicapped accessible trail to check it out.

It's nicely designed. Does the usual switchbacking and weaving around the vegetation so it feels a little longer than it actually is and provides a variety of hostile shrubbery and cacti to admire from a safe distance. Arizona definitely has unfriendly vegetation.

Cholla cactus

Prickly pear

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Pulitzer Project: The Optimist's Daughter

I have never cared much for Eudora Welty's writing. The Optimist's Daughter did notthing to change my mind. I'll concede the book was readable -- I zipped through it pretty quickly -- but then it's so thin that I'm not sure it even qualifies as a novel. It's too long to be a short story, though, so I guess the publisher figured it could stand on its own.

Of course, considering my antipathy toward Welty, maybe brevity was a good thing. Welty was a Southern writer, her novels and short stories are all set in the deep South, and I've never been able to understand why so many critics loved her work. To me it smacks of a bizarre type of elitism: nonSoutherners gushing over a regional writer more because they're blown away by the fact someone from Mississippi is actually literate than by a true assessment of that writer's talent or skills. You know, it's like that old joke about a dancing bear: the wonderful thing isn't so much that the bear dances really well, it's that it can dance at all. In any case, over the years, various friends and acquaintances have recommended Welty's work, and over those same years I've looked at that work, muttered "This really sucks," and walked away. I always had the feeling people were reading a lot more into her work than was actually there. To me it seemed like she was trying to channel William Faulkner and failing.

The Optimist's Daughter was no exception. The book got Welty the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1973 so obviously the prize committee liked it, although as usual I'm wondering why. To me it reads a lot like a first draft and not a final product.

The book has a pretty bare bones plot: the primary character is a woman originally from a small town in Mississippi who has been living in Chicago for many years. Her father, a retired judge, phones her and something about the conversation bothers her enough that she flies down from Chicago to go with him and his much younger second wife to the family doctor for a consultation regarding a vision problem her father is having. The doctor diagnoses a condition that requires surgery. For no obvious reason, this surgery leads to her father dying in the hospital. As far I could tell, the man dies from apathy. He comes through the surgery just fine, but then loses all interest in life. Doesn't want to talk, doesn't want to be read to, and isn't particularly interested in food. He becomes more and more inert and detached.

His current wife, the second wife, a flibbertigibbet (and there's a word I thought I'd never have a use for, but it fits) with all the emotional maturity and intelligence of an adolescent squirrel, finally flips out and physically attacks the old dude in his hospital bed. She claims later she was trying to drag him back into wanting to live. If that was her goal, it didn't work because he responds by dropping dead.

We then get to witness the funeral and its immediate aftermath. The daughter wants it to be closed coffin; the wife wants it open. Even worse, she's picked a casket with a vivid pink silk lining, one that matches the curtain and bedspread in the master bedroom. If Welty were a little better as a writer, that could come across as weirdly creepy, almost Faulkneresque. As it is, all it does is confirm that Fay (the widow) is definitely no class white trash. All the old family friends rally around the daughter while making pitying noises about the wife ("She's like a child"); the wife has her mother, sister, and assorted other relatives unexpectedly descend on the proceedings. Laurel (the daughter) is thoroughly startled because the wife had told her that she had no family, her mother, father, and siblings were all dead. Among her other charms, it appears that Fay is a chronic liar.

Following the funeral, the widow takes off for the weekend with her family. Under the terms of the dead guy's will, she gets the house so before she leaves she makes it clear to Laurel that she expects her to be gone by the time she gets back on Monday. Laurel goes back to the house and spends the weekend going through her parents' desks and burning every personal paper (letters from her father to her mother, letters from her grandmother to her mother, her mother's journals) she finds. Each piece of furniture she touches evokes memories, but, with one exception, apparently none of those memories are strong enough for her to want to argue with Fay about any of it. And, in the end, even the one exception is something she decides she can leave behind. When she gets on the plane to Chicago, you know she's not coming back.

So where does The Optimist's Daughter fit on the scale for the Pulitzer winners? Well, it's not terrible, but it's also not particularly good. I'd give it a 5; it qualifies as neatly mediocre. At the time it came out, Welty was in her early 60s; maybe the prize was actually more of a lifetime achievement award. After all, a few decades ago, once you hit your 60s, everyone assumed you weren't going to be around much longer. (Welty actually made it into her 90s; if it was a lifetime achievement award, she got it a little early.)

Would I recommend it other readers? Probably not. Life is too short to read bad books.

Next up on the list? The Killer Angels by Michael Shaara, which amazingly enough the L'Anse Public Library actually has in its collection. I will be able to continue plugging away at the Pulitzer Project for awhile yet even though the cut-off day for Interlibrary Loan has passed. ILL goes on hiatus when it gets close to the end of the school year.

Friday, May 5, 2017

Procrastination

Image result for procrastination meme

I should be working on banners for an exhibit the museum is supposed to setting up in time for the upcoming summer season. I have supposedly been working on the banners for the past six months. There are supposed to be a total of 5. So far I've managed to get the layout done for one. I'm not exactly setting speed records on this project. It's a bit odd -- I can visualize them. I just can't manage to get much of anything down on the figurative equivalent of paper. Oh well. . . there will be something up on the walls at the museum by the end of the month. How good it will be is debatable, but it will be there.

I had thought I could manage to get a lot done today because the S.O. isn't around to distract me. He's busy playing chauffeur driving an older cousin down to the VA Medical Center in Iron Mountain. He had to leave around 10 a.m.; I actually went out the door almost an hour earlier than that to run a few errands, planned to stop by the museum to put in an hour or so cataloging a few things, and then I was going to spend the afternoon back home on the computer working on the banners. Iron Mountain is far enough away that I figured it would be after 5 before he got home. The drive is something like 100 miles one way so it's never a fast trip. For sure I'd have a quiet afternoon with no distractions, no interruptions.

It didn't happen. The one hour at the museum turned into four. Granted, it was stuff that needed to get done -- there's a stack of stuff that came out of the attic that needs to get cataloged before it can go back into storage -- but it was a lower priority than the banners. On the other hand, it didn't require much thinking, just take a picture, assign a number, take a photo, attach an ID tag, and move on.

I did finish the last of the hats. Or at least the last of the hats that were in the attic. I know there's at least one more container, a large Rubbermaid tote, out in the storage building that's stuffed full of hats but I'm going to ignore it for awhile. Most of today was spent going through a tote that was labeled World War II but had the usual mix of weirdness in it: several crumbling newspapers with front page stories about "the Great War" (World War I) ending, some military stuff from the Vietnam era, a bunch of unlabeled photographs that were pretty much a complete mystery, a sheet of paper that identified people who were in a group photograph. . .  No group photo, of course. There never is when the ID was done on a separate piece of paper. It was apparently some sort of unwritten rule that the identification for anything had to be irretrievably separated from whatever it identified. It's been one of the big frustrations in sorting through stuff: lots of nifty labels and nothing that matches up with them.

Sorting through stacks of stuff like that always has me looking wistfully at the trash can. How much can I pitch? How many crumbling newspapers should we keep on the off chance they'd be good for including in an exhibit a few years down the road? They're not needed for research -- anyone interested in World War II can find plenty of copies of those same newspapers elsewhere -- so their only function would be as part of an exhibit, assuming they don't crumble to dust before then. Newsprint dry rots fast. Saving old newspapers is inevitably an exercise in futility. How many unidentified photos should go in the trash? Do we need dozens of photos of men in uniform when we don't know who any of them are?

I don't mean to imply there was nothing good in the tote. There were items of local interest: the flyer announcing when the Village of L'Anse was going to sound the siren as part of the celebration the war was over; a really nice stash of ration books, coupons, and posters; a stationery set that belonged to someone in the military (he or she must not have written home much because it didn't look like much was missing); and some other goodies. But most of it was, to be blunt, more trash than treasure.

 And now back to focusing on the provisions of the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, debunking myths about Native Americans and casino profits, and trying to explain tribal sovereignty in terms a 10-year-old could understand. . . . .

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Geology tip

I'm going to remember this tip for the next time we visit the Grand Canyon.


Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Pima Air and Space Museum

 Or, How I spent my winter vacation, part whatever.

We're back on the tundra, I should be writing about more current events -- what's going on down at the museum (not much at the moment), what's happening politically, exciting local news (two moose died in a vehicle/moose collision, someone wants to open a Dollar General store in L'Anse), you name it -- but after reading excerpts from The Donald's Associated Press interview the past is looking much better than the present. (I keep waiting for some little kid to yell "but he's not wearing any clothes!!" loud enough for it to finally sink in that there's a lunatic in the Oval Office, but apparently sane children are in short supply inside the Beltway.) So instead I'll revisit some of the highlights of snowbirding in the desert.

The Pima Air and Space Museum is located on the outskirts of Tucson, Arizona. When we lived in Tucson almost 35 years ago, the museum felt like it was way out in the middle of nowhere. Urban sprawl has since caught up with it. There's still a fair amount of visually vacant land around it because it's adjacent to Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, but suburban development has filled in what used to be a whole lot of nothing to the east of the museum.
The S/O/ taking one of a zillion photos he'll probably never look at again after downloading them to the computer. .

The last time we'd been to the museum was probably in 1981. Long, long ago in what now feels like a galaxy far, far away. At the time I think the museum had one building, maybe two, but there were a gazillion aircraft, mostly military but a few civilian, on static display. Somewhere in our photo albums there is page after page of snapshots of various nifty looking pieces of aeronautical engineering. I was definitely fascinated back then by the fighters the Blue Angels flew.
SR-71
So what's changed in the intervening decades? Well, they've got more buildings now, which means the museum can do more interesting exhibits. If you've got a B-29 sitting outside exposed to the elements, i.e. desert winds and scorching sun, you're doing good to keep the paint job intact. You really can't do an exhibit that provides any sort of a context or includes much besides the plane. Stick it in a protected environment and you're able to provide interpretive signage that doesn't have to be as weather-resistant as outside signage would be, you can dress mannequins in flight suits or ground crew uniforms, you can do an exhibit that includes ancillary pieces of equipment. You can even stick a flying boat in fake water, which they've done. You can tell a much more complete story and know that whatever is in the exhibit is going to last for awhile.

I'm always intrigued (and more than a little envious) by the various methods that museums with money use for protecting the objects in their collections. Having heavy items (or even light ones) sitting directly on their suspension and wheels is never a good idea. Sooner or later the weight of the object causes things to break down. Springs get flattened, and wheels go out of round. We have two carts at the museum that have bad wheels now because they sat in the same position for too long. In any case, I was impressed by the stands for the aircraft. (I was also jealous of the chains and acrylic that kept the public from running its greasy hands over many exhibits, but that's true of just about every museum we visit.)

The S.O. and I had a good time wandering around the museum. Once again he pointed out the type of aircraft he fell off back in his Air Force days -- the fall resulted in a broken leg -- and once again I promptly forgot just what it was. When it comes to model numbers and airplanes, there are maybe 5 I can remember without having to think real hard: B-52 (aka BUFF), F-117 (Stealth fighter), SR-71 (aka Blackbird), U-2, and the Vought F4U (Corsair). I have an irrational love for Corsairs. Appropriately enough, the museum keeps its Corsair in a hanger. The boring piece of Vietnam era flying junk the S.O. fell off gets to sit outside and bake in the Arizona sun.
F101, aka Vietnam era junk
We decided to do the bus tour of the Air Force "bone yard," too. The military stashes old aircraft at Davis-Monthan. It's where they come to be parted out when their useful life is over. Anything salvageable gets salvaged and whatever is left turns into scrap metal. Aircraft that have had particularly interesting careers may end up sitting on static display for decades providing fodder for the tour bus guide. After all, a tour that consisted primarily of saying "And on your left are 50 C-131s" with no colorful anecdotes about how a particular aircraft was used would turn dull pretty quickly.
BUFF
I did learn the Air Force gives old aircraft away to museums and other nonprofits. They strip out all the electronics, of course, and anything else that could either make the aircraft operational or compromise military security, but if we wanted an airplane to just sit around taking up space and looking thoroughly out of place next to Lake Superior all the Baraga County Historical Society would have to do is figure out a way to transport it. Too bad we don't have the space to park a B-52. I could argue they fit our mission to preserve local history. B-52s used to practice flying under radar locally. They'd go over L'Anse at about 1,000 feet above sea level, which didn't thrill anyone in town (L'Anse is at about 600 feet above sea level), and they'd have to climb to get over us (we're at 1700 feet). Seeing a B-52 at treetop height is kind of a thrill the first time you see one, but it gets old fast.
Yard art?
I could see revisiting the Pima Air and Space Museum. We didn't see everything there thanks to taking the bone yard tour (it eats up a couple hours)  and both the S.O. and I do like looking at airplanes. It's one of those places that can easily turn into an all-day experience, especially when there is an on-site restaurant that serves pretty decent food at not-outrageous prices.
I love cutaways -- it is always cool to see the internal structure of technological devices.