9/9/05-Fri.-It amazes me that so many days have elapsed since my just prior entry. Yet, even more than loss of energy, libido, robust appearance, or mental acuity, the way I most mark my decline with old age is in an increasing inability to efficiently use time.
Here I am, now retired, with seemingly an extra 45-55 hours a week available (when commute hours are factored in), yet I feel as if less is accomplished in the average day or week than while I was still working.
Partly the difficulty is medical, or at least physiological. Even before I left regular employment, the number trips I'd have to make to the restroom, and how long it would require for effective activity once there, had at least doubled from when my career had begun. And both the body and mind seem, after the medication I was given and which I must still take, to slow down as if everything now is performed through molasses. Without the pills, the visits to the WC would need to average once every 25-30 minutes during the day and another 3-4 times at night.
When one adds in the back's vulnerability, plantar fasciitis in my feet, a little arthritis, at least mild depression, a tendency to insomnia, asthma, and susceptibility to just a few extra minutes of intense sunlight (new skin cancer lesions), I am a mess and much reduced from my youthful self.
As I had first retired, nearly four years ago, I was optimistic that I could now meditate several hours daily, perhaps finally thereby attaining one of the first stages of enlightenment. I planned to take non-credit community courses, as in ceramics, developing artistic talents, or in creative writing, and contemplated perhaps going for a concentrated regular curriculum of interest, as in literature or film. I figured I'd either work part-time or as a volunteer, likely with kids and/or in counseling, take Fran out for frequent cultural events, and go with her on two or three major vacation trips annually.
But, due to a combination of limited finances, Fran's expectations for retirement not consistent with mine, or the significant constraints age has forced on my ideal agenda, little of this has occurred.
Despite the above, things are not actually so pathetic as this sounds. I still get up every morning and carry on. Our investments are in the best shape ever. I'm making friends through special interest groups. I am interested in what I do, whether reading, walks, occasional writing, stock research, entertaining conversation during our meals out, amateur photography efforts, etc.
The right fit for me of a meaningful volunteer occupation as yet eludes, though, and about all I have done so far is answer phones for a radio station, help Fran put out our monthly family and investing newsletter, and process digital photos for relatives.
A pen pal suggested the Caregivers of Austin network. There I might drive older or disabled folks to appointments, assist them on shopping trips, etc.
But, as I explained to her, I'm a bit of an absent-minded professor when in a car, sometimes even just as a passenger. If I get distracted, as by simply chatting with someone or being lost, my one-tracked brain can get me into trouble. Once, I was making some point in a discussion with Fran and my body went on automatic pilot. (This time I was in the passenger seat.) It apparently "thought" we had gotten home and were stopped already, though in fact we were driving about 35 MPH in a residential area. I released my seatbelt, opened the car door and started to get out. Frances calmly reached over and pulled me back in.
When I am the one driving and yet am talking, I have been known to go through red lights, miss exits, etc.
I tried working for a taxi company once, briefly, in much younger days, and both I and my dispatcher quickly realized it was not my type of brew. For the safety of both passengers and pedestrians, it is just as well that soon afterward I got another job.
Fran is playing in The Austin Symphony concerts this week. I attended tonight's performance and, thanks to my comp ticket, got a seat in the upper balcony. The acoustics are so good at the Bass Concert Hall that even the nosebleeds from such thin air heights were worth it. Besides, I now have an advance on acclimating to the CO peaks we'll be negotiating in two or three days. Anne Akido Meyers was the violin soloist tonight, and, to my tin ear, she sounded quite good, particularly in the "Tzigane" by Ravel. I understand Austin's Convention Center evacuees from LA will be offered comp tickets for tomorrow's performance. It's a nice gesture, certainly a fine way of breaking the routine of life in a shelter, and those who accept are in for a treat.
The last few days have been busy ones, as we put out yet another newsletter (early this time, since we'll be away during the usual preparation and publication time), got many wedding pictures ready for viewing, and prepared for the vacation trip to the mountainous Durango-Silverton area. Doubtless there will be several more entries, written while I'm away, but they'll not be posted until after our return, about 9/20 or 9/21.
9/11/05-Sun.-Today, of course, is the four-year anniversary of the 9/11 terrorism. It commenced our "war on terrorism," with a consequent invasion of Afghanistan a few months later. Osama bin Laden is still at large. 2003 saw the in many ways costly invasion of Iraq, following the administration's highly questionable claims of Sadam's WMD and links to terrorism as justifications for a non-essential conflict, about which much else (like the planning for peace) was as poorly connected with reality.
In 2004 four hurricanes hit the southeast US in only a few weeks. Some, including home owners' insurance companies, were still reeling from their destruction when this year there has been a record number of named tropical storms or hurricanes for early in the season, climaxed by Katrina. What the storm did not do, massive governmental and bureaucratic failures, before and after the storm, did.
All in all, between natural and manmade disasters, it has been a terribly expensive four years, with, on balance, little positive to show for them.
Meanwhile, North Korea has acquired nuclear weapons and Iran has begun a nuclear weapons program. Iraq is now a motivating and rallying point for terrorists who were not there before. The country is on the verge of civil war and/or appears likely to become a tenuously cohesive Islamist state under neighboring Iran's influence. Afghanistan is so poor, nearly a failed state, that its principal exports are drugs. Our great ally in the terrorism war, Pakistan, belies our rhetoric of support for democracy, is probably harboring Osama bin Laden, and, with or without official sanction, has been selling atomic secrets and technology. Hardly any progress seems to be made in protecting the former Soviet Union's plutonium, uranium, or "suitcase bombs" from sale to terrorists who have vowed to further attack our cities or other vulnerable targets.
One wonders if a more or less constant state of crisis is now in the cards for the US.
We got underway on our vacation trip this morning about 8:30 in the midst of a welcome thunderstorm. The temperature was pleasant. We took Hwy. 71 west past lots of open land and under an interesting sky. We stopped briefly in Llano, then continued on roughly west and north. Above us the sky remained overcast. Past Llano we began seeing a few picturesque rock formations and, as Fran noted, "more cemeteries than houses."
Through this morning, we still had no word on New Orleans relatives affected by Katrina. Recently, though, my LA aunt and uncle had admitted that they'd had a falling out with their offspring there, so the latter might not have been inclined to get in touch. But they had also tried to call them, with no success.
The several-times-lately-worked-on tooth, supposed to receive its second crown soon after we get back, is becoming more symptomatic, indicating a possible abscess. Too bad the dentist chose not to do a root canal when it was most convenient. I'd wanted him to do everything then, but he said it was best to be conservative. Maybe he was right. Yet, if a root canal is required now, it will likely afterward require yet another crown prep, mold, etc., meaning greater hassle and expense. Meanwhile, in case it may help, I'll be taking plenty of supplements to augment the immune system response to infection. The sharp aching only began last night, too late to see my dentist before the trip. I've brought along the pain meds left from recent back prescriptions.
On "Prairie Home Companion" yesterday, Garrison Keillor did a droll skit making fun of personal diary bloggers. And in fact I suppose there is something rather ridiculous about millions of people jotting down and displaying online their mundane innermost thoughts and feelings, each, like me, hoping his or hers would have appeal to anyone but themselves. Ha! Yet this foolishness seems not to dissuade or even embarrass us. Navel gazing is at least a less harmful hobby than some things, making wars without good cause, for instance. I'm just a compulsive diarist. I did and would keep journals even if there seemed no possibility of others reading them.
We reached San Angelo by noon and stopped for lunch.
Next we took a break in Lamesa, shortly before 3 PM (central time).
Now we've passed through Lubbock, with about 100 more miles till our Amarillo stop for the night. We've seen many vultures, dead deer, and other road kill, the most unusual for the area being an adult porcupine. I wonder if its quills punctured a tire of the vehicle that killed it, but would suppose not. Chances are at most the driver noticed a curious bump, nothing more, hesitated momentarily, and then obliviously sped on down the "river of highway."
Intermittently through the day, we've enjoyed cloudy or even stormy weather, relieving the otherwise hot and boring west Texas expanses.
As during my to and from journeys last year on a Yellowstone trip, my back and left hip have been giving me fits, apparently just from the cramped front seat positions. It matters not whether I am a driver or passenger. Fran, though, is so far handling the early arduousness of our transit well.
As so often, the last hour of the day's driving felt like the longest, going on interminably while the sun set.
Tonight was quite pleasant: a walk with the dog down near a lake (complete with turtles and ducks) while enjoying windy, cool weather (easily 10-15 degrees more comfortable than in Austin); a delicious dinner for Frances and me at an Indian restaurant next to the motel; and a new Foyle's War series' first episode watched in our room.
Our motel accommodation is especially nice. We both indulged in sauna-like hot tub experiences before retiring for the night.
9/12/05-Mon.-We checked out of our Amarillo motel room at 8 AM and soon were on our way again. One of the tires was 12 pounds PSI low last night, so I got it back to normal with the foot pump. The car's motor oil was two quarts low (!) even though I had topped it off before we left yesterday. The dip stick did not show any oil level at all. Thus the vehicle was over half-empty of lubricant and had been using a quart about every 250 miles. Not good. I'd known the vehicle was more vulnerable after Fran had used it on some long trips without monitoring the oil level well, so that it apparently had gotten quite close to empty once or twice earlier. We'll need to check the oil and add far more often from now on. I suspect too this car will not pass the new Austin pollution controls being enforced at annual inspections starting this month. Then we'll need to choose between expensive repairs and a low trade-in value toward purchasing another sedan.
Once again, on our drive this morning, the sky is largely overcast, with appealing cloud formations. Temperatures are relatively cool. Surprisingly, we have yet to see any interesting wildlife. The landscape has attractive features, with low hills, washes, and small, flat, higher areas, like mini-mesas. The plants are an intriguing diversity, many different grasses and prairie shrubs as well as a few trees, also a few succulents.
We passed a field of giant sunflowers, all facing east.
Stopped briefly in Dumas. Leaving town, we saw our first hawk of the trip, from about 30-40 feet away.
Soon afterward, we passed many huge corn crop circles, not the flattening of plants work of aliens or pranksters, but great growing circular swaths created where watered by slowly rotating irrigation system machines, each "radius" machine about a football field long or more.
The geography was now almost totally flat, the cropland interspersed with operating oil pumps, a half-dozen or more of them visible in almost any 360 degree view. Railroad tracks parallel the highway off to the horizon. The fields alternate colorfully like a huge quilt, with great patches in greens, browns, or tans.
About mid-morning, shortly before crossing from Texas into New Mexico, the terrain began to get more three-dimensional with the appearance of the first mountains seen this trip. About then too, we began to see dozens of pronghorns. An owl, a harrier hawk, a great blue heron, several less notable hawks, a couple ravens, and some prairie dogs were also spotted. A dead coyote lay on the road shoulder.
We stopped for lunch in Raton, NM. I added a little oil, and then we took the I-25 pass through the mountains and into CO. The sky over the rocky crags or buttes was a deep blue, with scattered white cloud puffs, overlaid with feathery high cirrus formations.
By 2:30 PM, mountain time, we had about 175 miles left to reach our reserved (off season) ski resort inn. So we were making good time.
A cool front was blowing through with a great, gusty breeze all afternoon in the CO mountains, the torrent of air shoving our car this way and that, dust billowing up in places, and flags tearing at their tethers. At South Fork, where we saw our first mountain stream of this trip, we got out at a rest stop. I hurried across a grassy field against the wind and noticed a little difficulty catching my breath. The elevation was 8000-9000 feet.
A little farther along, we had a bit of bad luck, running into a traffic jam on the two-lane road through another pass: a 40 minute delay. However, unlike getting stuck in such blockages on I-35 or similar main thoroughfares in or near Austin, here we were graced with a sign telling about how long we'd have to wait, a port-a-potty easily accessible, a cheerful and lively nearby creek to watch, tree-covered mountains on either side of the road, Stellar's jays and other CO birds to serenade our break, and even chipmunks frolicking within 2-3 yards to keep our terrier highly entertained. Plus, the draft was pleasant, and the sun had dropped enough behind the peaks that we were in shade the whole time.
At 6 PM, on the outskirts east of Durango, we saw several antlered elk in a field close to the road.
Arriving in Durango itself, we were disappointed by how much more populated, air polluted, and traffic congested the area has become. Fran also was frustrated with various travel hassles, in a bad mood, and when driving tended to act out her feelings by going faster than the speed limit (20-25 MPH faster at times) and slightly more aggressively otherwise, ignoring my protests. Our differences of opinion regarding driving behavior did nothing to improve either her disposition or regard for safety when behind the wheel.
Meanwhile, the dog got sick, perhaps due to noxious fumes from so many poorly tuned vehicles near us on the roads. She threw up in the rear car seat.
Later. Despite a few "knock down drag out" conflicts and rather significant irritations this afternoon and early evening, plus yet more of both once we reached our inn, the late evening finally was fairly pleasant. (I'll spare the reader the "too much information" details.)
9/13/05-Tues.-Up in the dark about 6:15 (7:15 Austin time). Frances and Puff were "bright-eyed and bushy-tailed." I'm not a morning person, and I had gotten only about 3 hours' sleep, the extreme dryness of the air and the elevation here affecting me badly. Fran and the beast were ready to hit the road by 6:30. It took me till 8, and I still had not shaved or showered.
We drove to the South Mineral Campground and hiking area, arriving about 8:35. The scenery, even with the snow largely melted, was gorgeous. Some of the fall colors were out, and the blend of sky, rock, trees, mountains, valleys, and streams was fantastic. We headed to a trailhead, gathered a few bits of clothing, cameras, and gear, and set off on foot.
Later. We started hiking together a bit before 9 AM, enjoying the magnificent surroundings, laughing at Puff's excitement and antics, and taking plenty of pictures.
However, before the morning was half over, my system was not cooperating. I had a more or less emergency call of nature and needed to return to less natural facilities. Indeed, it was the closest call I've had, the nearest to a terrible bodily accident, since I was very young. I apologized to Frances about leaving early. She was disappointed but elected to carry on alone, but for the dog, with her proposed all-day hike. I hurried back to a campground outhouse proximate to the car. Relief, perhaps mini-satori-like, after such intense concentration not to lose control on the long walk back, was explosive.
Afterward, still in a "meditation high," I drove over to Silverton. There seemed little reasonable chance to find Fran again in her afternoon's meanderings between the peaks. So we had agreed to meet back at the car in the late afternoon. I worry that she might on one of these solo explorations meet with an accident, but she considers my misgivings over her safety of less consequence than the pleasure of going where and when she wants, alone whenever it is inconvenient to have company.
I took several autumn-in-the-mountains pictures, Silverton touristy shots, or photos back in the South Mineral area. I also filled the car up with gasoline, added more oil, window-shopped around Silverton awhile, and indulged in a leisurely lunch there, then returned to the campground in plenty of time to pick up my better half after her latest adventures.
Reflecting on our different approaches to getting started each day or to things in general, and on some disappointment that Frances had made up her mind to do today's long hike without consulting me at all, a not atypical decision making style when we are vacationing, I can see how life might be simpler were we better at cooperating, coordinating, etc. She does her things. I do mine. We live together more or less amicably. If that's "all there is," perhaps it's enough. There are few if any perfect mates or marriages, and getting all bent out of shape over discontents that probably affect 20% or less of a relationship would hardly seem to be worthwhile. No doubt a couples' counselor could find as much in me as in her that could stand some change, to make the arrangement more pleasant. It is, though, not always easy to be so philosophical, particularly when we are both tired or feeling under stress.
This evening, I checked our e-mail messages at a public access internet computer in one of our ski resort motel company's lodges. There was an offer to Frances to play in a good gig just after our return to Austin. When I told her about it, she hurried over and sent an affirmative reply.
Another was an e-mail from my mom, with news from my aunt and uncle in Vinton, LA. Someone had called them on our New Orleans' relatives behalf as, for some reason, they could not call themselves, to say they had all survived and were in good health. No word yet on the details of their escapes, their current situations, or the conditions of their properties.
9/14/05-Wed.-The sleep situation is improving. We got to bed before 11 PM, local time, last night and were up about 6:15 this morning. Despite waking up 2-3 times from sinus dryness, Puff very cold and shivering next to me, etc., I got between 5-6 hours of good rest. (Warmed the beast up against me, under the covers.) Fran got even better sleep, though she did wake up about 4 AM when a small pack of coyotes were serenading us from a wooded pond area just across the street from our room, in the front part of the inn. It had been too warm our first night there, so we'd left a window partly open when we went to bed this time. Usually a light sleeper, I never heard the coyotes. This morning there was a sheet of ice covering the pond and frost as well on our windshield, the top of our car, and the grass adjacent to the inn's asphalt parking apron. We'd guess the temperatures are now about 10°F cooler than the day before.
After a more efficient routine than while getting started yesterday, we began driving toward the Little Molas Lake and hiking area about 7:45. Saw some ducks and a coot there and took abundant scenic pictures.
We stopped next at a couple interesting lookouts. Then at East Lime Creek and hiked back from a rest area. Here we saw plenty of neat mushrooms, small pine trees, flowers, etc. We also saw a mule deer. While we were there, the bright blue sky was replaced with dark clouds, we saw a nearby mountain enclosed in storm, heard its thunder, and then had sleet where we were. This continued for a good stretch as we drove back toward the inn, except that the sleet changed to snow, which, however, was not sticking but melting immediately. Then it did begin to stick a little, except on the pavement. As we continued our descent, though, the precipitation changed to rain.
We went down to Durango and bought a bunch of groceries, including several delicious deli items, then had a picnic at a grassy city park next to the Animas River. There, as well as back at our inn, we had seen and taken close-up pictures of ground squirrels.
Later, we went into the (formerly Purgatory) Hermosa Park or Durango Mountain Ski Resort area. Almost at once we saw some magpies. Next a chipmunk. Then a marmot.
We stopped for awhile at "Elk Valley" and saw some new beaver dams and ponds. We drove on and saw chipmunks. Went to our old picnic area and hiked around a creek awhile. We saw a flicker there.
Then we headed for the 2nd (or lesser) "Elk Valley." But it was overrun with campers, hunters, squatters, cows, ranchers, and off-the-road vehicles. Pretty grim.
We went back to the original "Elk Valley," walked over to the historical landmark log cabin and to the creek, let Puff explore and wade, and took lots of photos. We saw numerous flickers but no other wildlife.
9/15/05-Thurs.-We slept fairly well last night, except for ongoing reactions to the elevation and/or dryness here. Both Frances and I are experiencing sinus and throat problems, no doubt from the aridity.
A small concern is that I'm still at times having shortness of breath even when not associated with any exertion. Several times during the night (when just lying in bed) as well as through the day, I have this difficulty. Since by now I should be better acclimated and an exercise treadmill test not too long ago was normal, I suspect the culprit is my asthma. I have no current prescriptions for that condition and so am hoping my usual first aid for breathing problems, coffee, will continue to keep the condition under control.
Puff wore one of her sweaters last night and had no more noted shivering episodes.
We got underway about 8:30, after packing the car and adding air to one of the slowly leaking tires.
We soon spotted a couple more magpies.
We had freezing temperatures again last night. This morning the sky is blue and quite sunny, no clouds visible at all. Nor is there any residual evidence of yesterday's light snowfall.
Today we are tackling a long hike, starting at the Andrew Lake trailhead, intending to reach Crater Lake before heading back, hopefully reaching our car before dark. If we are wrong in our estimate, a cold night with insufficient outerwear could result. Of course, we don't really think that likely.
Later. We began the hike at 9:10 and completed the roundtrip at 6:10. For my old muscles, it seemed rather arduous. And Frances was having aerobic difficulties on the uphill parts, her heart beating greatly till she would take frequent rests for awhile. It was very satisfying to finish this time despite the challenging conditions. In 1998, we had made the attempt as well, but felt we should not go on after getting two-thirds of the way. On that occasion, though, in contrast to this, we had to walk over and through a lot of snow patches.
We saw little wildlife on the hike itself, "just" chipmunks, flickers, marmots, ravens, magpies, and gray jays. There were also shrews, mice, or voles near Crater Lake. But, ironically, the most interesting fauna sighting of the day was once we were almost on the main #550 thoroughfare again and heading back to the inn: a group of about four mule deer together.
9/16/05-Fri.-This day has not gone as earlier expected. Last night, exhausted and sore from Thursday's hike, we'd talked of taking it easy, but this morning Fran announced that, instead, today she would do an even more strenuous trail, knowing I was not interested in this one. Thinking it might be nice, in the spirit of accomplishing things together, to sacrifice and go on this Ice Lakes Trail anyway, as another shared experience, I offered to give it a try too. I pointed out that, just as yesterday she had a harder time going uphill, while I, due to the soreness of my shin muscles and slipping badly, even falling three times, had trouble with the downhill parts, so I could stick with her on the breaks going up and she could stick with me on those going down.
However, she pointed out, more practically perhaps, that while our being together on the way up was fine, rather than staying with me on the return trip, she would just go down at her own, faster pace, thus giving herself a chance to take in a neat, shorter hike nearby, while I would be taking extra time to be sure of my footing coming back. Her attitude proved firm and exposed my "companionship" notion (as a reason for accompanying her even though I was not keen on the hike for its own sake) as merely idealistic. So, I went up with her about one-third of the way, giving myself a workout yet getting back after a couple hours, but she and Puff went on the rest of the way alone, as, indeed, she had apparently expected when telling me of her plan for the day.
Of course, from her point of view, the idea of her going down faster just seemed a logical way to fit in the second hike, one she already knew I was not interested in doing in addition to the Ice Lakes Trail, as I figured one arduous hike was all (or more than) I could reasonably handle per day.
My feelings were hurt and I was sad, though, that we did not both care enough about doing at least all of one hike or the other together. Nor it seemed could we both understand the reciprocal benefits of the approach I'd suggested. I came closer this time than ever before recently to wondering if Fran and I are really right for each other. Maybe, even after all this time, it would be better for us to start anew, going our separate ways not merely in the mountains but completely. Oh well. The idea is not the reality, and we go on, even if with misgivings.
Once back at the car, parked once more at the South Mineral Campground, without enthusiasm I drove into Silverton, got more gasoline, had lunch, and shopped for a paperback book, planning to simply get through the time when our disparate activities would cease, and to meet her afterward again.
As it turned out, though, I decided to forego my moodiness and spent the extra time enjoying the scenery and stream around the campsites, resting, and meditating. Life's too short to stay bent out of shape over people just doing what comes naturally, insisting that they somehow be different than they are.
I must never again allow my happiness to so depend on people, things, or circumstances being a certain way.
I was on my way back to the South Mineral Campground this afternoon and was near the parking area when I came upon a dark, three-foot snake, sunning itself in the dirt road. I stopped to avoid running over it, then thought to take its picture, but suddenly it raced away out of sight into the grasses and shrubs of a ditch beside the road. It freezes here at these 10,000 foot+ elevations about every night now. To see an active snake was a surprise!
A few moments later and farther along the road, I saw a marmot frolicking in the same ditch.
Later. About mid-afternoon Fran and I did get together for checking out an amazingly beautiful series of waterfalls and the clear mountain stream which, cutting gorges through the rock, creates those falls. Amid the still pools between them, and shining in the sunlit clear waters, there were several trout. After taking a number of pictures in that area, we drove back to our room at the inn for a relaxed evening of supper, processing pictures, PBS "Nature" watching, and misc. end-of-week public television viewing, looking after Puff, and showering or bathing.
9/17/05-Sat.-We drove over to the (Purgatory) Durango Mountain (or Hermosa Park) Ski Resort area and took dirt or gravel back roads for several miles, hoping to see "big game" wildlife, but did not get started till 8:25, which may have been too late. We saw magpies, a Stellar's jay, ravens, flickers, other birds, and ground squirrels, yet, after an hour's travel through pine or aspen forests and meadows, had seen no mountain lions, bears, bighorn sheep, mule deer, or elk. Oh well.
My shortness of breath, presumably from asthma, was a little worse last night, keeping me awake at times. Frances was more concerned, though, with my snoring. Despite these factors, we got plenty of rest, having retired for the night by about 11 PM and not getting up till after 7 AM.
About mid-morning, we stopped and walked briefly at the Cascade Creek area, but found it had too few attractions for the large amount of foot or vehicular traffic, housing, and camping in the vicinity. One amusing thing, as we were heading into the Cascade Creek environs, was a large ground squirrel in the road. It was watching and standing on hind legs, like a prairie dog, as our car approached, and we expected it to dash off to the left or right, but, once we were almost up to it, instead it dove into a hole right in the middle of the road. It repeated this behavior as we were on our way back out.
We were now out of good trail ideas and so drove up toward Ouray. We stopped for a short while near a couple pretty lakes, next to a "Trucks Use Lower Gear" sign.
Next, we checked out the picturesque Red Mountain mining community, once the most profitable source of silver in the country. A vertical silver ore vein had gone straight down 1200 feet. It was eventually developed at a dozen levels.
A couple of formerly favorite waterfall overlooks were disappointing this time. Each had virtually no residual moisture. The mountains during the afternoon now seem about as dry and warm as the Grand Canyon.
At Ouray, we split our labors: Fran picked up a few high-priced groceries for the rest of our suppers here, while I spent awhile at a deli shop and got a couple great, but expensive, avocado sandwiches with chips, peppers, and pickles, which we ate with gusto for lunch in a shady spot.
Our next photo shoot, on the way back from Ouray, was at the Hayden Trailhead and Red Mountain Creek, where, from either side of the highway, we each took dozens of pictures, most showing mountains with a lake or stream and magnificent autumn coloration. This took us into mid-afternoon. The wind was blowing too hard for me to keep my sun-blocking umbrella open easily, so, after a half-hour or so, I waited and rested in the car while Frances and Puff, with less concern over skin cancer, went around the lake at leisure.
In a wide stretch of the way back toward our inn, we passed several places with 4-wheel-drive and off-the-road vehicles galore. At one of these, there was even an obscene caravan of noisy, life crushing, and erosion creating all-terrain-vehicles heading off into what used to be natural wilderness. For just an instant, I could sympathize with environmental terrorists and wished a sniper might have taken out those ATV drivers, one by one.
Early this evening, we explored a little in the area right near our inn and found a beaver pond and other, smaller water bodies. We even found a new, apparently unused tennis court. Once closed inside it with Frances, Puff enjoyed idiotically running about there without her leash. She had gotten so filthy on our hikes recently that Fran gave her a bath back at our room.
Tonight, on "Bravo," we watched the AFI selection of top 100 memorable movie quotes.
9/18/05-Sun.-Our last full day in CO for this vacation. I woke up about 5 AM with more breathing problems. These persisted so that I did not get back to sleep. I took a shower and had some coffee. The symptoms decreased but did not go away completely. While packing up the car for the day, I felt a sharp pain in the lower back. I did one of the physical therapy exercises for it, but there was still increased sensitivity to spine movements.
While waiting for the inn to belatedly provide their continental breakfast, I took my camera and hiked over to the nearby beaver pond that we'd found yesterday. No luck with actual sightings of the animals. There were fresh trails in the water, where plant material had been pushed out of the way apparently by their swimming bodies, but there was no other sign of them. Maybe they, like Fran, thought it too early or cold to be getting up yet. I did get some pictures, such as of frost in the weeds, mirror-like reflections in the total stillness of the pond surfaces, etc.
About 8:00, we drove over to the first (and best) of the places we long ago called "Elk Valley," because of the previously reliable appearance of these animals there twice daily, morning and evening, for water or grazing. But, as usual this trip, there was no sign of them.
So, we drove over to another part of the ski resort area, where we'd seen bear and elk tracks during our last vacation here, seven years past. That long ago, however, is literally a lifetime for these creatures. For any number of reasons, the habitat here may no longer be as appealing for their kinds.
But this area this morning led to a quite pleasant, easy, 3-4 mile (roundtrip) hike in mixed pine and aspen woodlands. Once again we saw elk prints, but they were neither fresh nor frequent. We did see smaller wildlife, including a grouse pair, not flying away too fast to be seen clearly, as is usually the case, but walking slowly, the male displaying, the female following, looking similar to a wild turkey couple. I also saw something dark and larger than a squirrel but low to the ground run across our path a little ahead along the way we were walking, perhaps a raccoon or mink. We were entertained as well by a couple charcoal-hued squirrels, one chasing the other below and then up a nearby pine tree. There were numerous small birds and an interesting variety of thumpings, chatterings, and even whistles, for which we could not determine definite origins, coming from the forest. The morning light through the aspens made for great photography. And the temperature was just right.
We got back to our room (already made up) a little before noon and had lunch before heading off for more hiking (in the Little Molas Lake vicinity again).
There we walked up a different trail than we've done before. It was short, but moderately difficult, just connecting the Little Molas Campground with the greater elevation and much longer CO trail. From the highest elevation we went today, we had excellent views almost 360 degrees around and took a number of photos.
The hike was enlivened by several incidents which seemed bizarre, but apparently are consistent with the federal policy of fostering multiple use of the national forests. First, two grouse hunters were shooting their shotguns a few times from just a few feet off the path(!). Next, a couple military aircraft were practicing maneuvers and loudly flying low and directly over us. Then other hikers approached, coming down as we were going up, accompanied by both noisy kids and large aggressive unleashed dogs. The latter were not even staying close to their owners, instead rushing toward us while those supposedly responsible for them were still 100-200 feet away. After we insisted they control the animals, it took minutes more before the encounter had safely ended. Then, just as they had left, another big loose dog appeared. There were also horses, bicyclists, and other recreational hikers. All in all, it was a carnival or circus-like atmosphere, complete with air show. After this afternoon's experience, it is easy to see why large wildlife has made itself scarce. And those few that don't escape when shooting starts or big dogs are set free probably have much lower odds of survival.
The only wildlife noticed on today's last excursion was another charcoal-hued squirrel with light underside, such as we'd seen chasing each other on the morning hike. Fran says this is "the black phase of the red squirrel." This evening, I did some physical therapy exercises and took a hot bath to help my aching back, processed pictures taken today, packed up for our departure early tomorrow, and watched the next episode of "Foyle's War, Series III."
My difficulties with breathing dysfunction are continuing. Certainly hope they cease once I'm out of this area!
9/19/05-Mon.-We got underway, heading for Amarillo by this evening, about 8 AM. At checkout from the inn, we were promised a 10% lodging discount because their continental breakfasts had been late several days in a row.
Near Durango, we saw both a large flock (about a dozen each) of magpies and of Canada geese.
We stopped briefly in Pagosa Springs around mid-morning. About 10 miles out of that city, we saw a large V of low-flying Canada geese, traveling southward.
At noon, mountain time, we picked up gasoline at Del Norte, CO. We had around 410 miles left to reach Amarillo. There had been another delay, for nearly an hour, as we went through a mountain pass construction area. With luck, we may still get to our motel destination tonight by about 8:30 PM, central time. We have more mountains and many small towns yet to go through.
Between Raton and Clayton, NM, we saw scores of pronghorns. Clearly they are neither an endangered species nor intimidated by human activity.
At 6:05 PM, central time, we reentered TX, familiar, conservative, right-wing, religious, anti-intellectual, conformist, conventional, Republican TX where, ironically, the "Whites" are now in the minority, likely to be more and more so as this state, which our ancestors stole from Mexico, becomes now, like our favorite ethnic dishes, a unique blend of both cultures, TexMex.
9/20/05-Tues.-If circumstances cooperate, this will be the last day of our vacation trip.
Last night, we arrived in Amarillo and checked into our motel room by a little after 8 PM, then went for another delicious dinner to Delhi Palace, likely the best Indian cuisine in the Texas panhandle. We were not disappointed.
We got underway, Austin bound, by 9:00 this morning.
Frances and I stopped for breakfast in Plainview, then had another brief stop, about noon, in Lamesa, TX. We still had around 300 miles or so to go.
By 1 PM, then in Big Spring, it appeared we had about to 5-6 more hours of driving ahead of us today.
We made it to Brady about 4 PM. A bank's time and temperature sign said "100 degrees F." Welcome back to central TX! Had a Dairy Queen late lunch.
A few miles out of town, we crossed the San Saba Creek, on Hwy. 71, and saw three small white-tailed deer drinking from the middle of the shallow stream.
We arrived home at 6:15 this evening. We lucked out again: no indication of break-in or damage in our absence.
9/21/05-Wed.-Last night, Frances suggested we let our sister-in-law, Mary, who lives in Houston, know she could stay with us if threatened by Hurricane Rita. It was a good idea, so I sent her an e-mail to that effect. Then I checked our incoming e-mails and discovered one from Mary, by coincidence asking if she could stay with us if, as she now thought likely, Houston would be at least a voluntary evacuation area due to the latest storm. So, it appears we'll have a guest by the weekend.
This is a kind of volunteerism with which I feel very comfortable, putting up interesting folks we already know who need a friendly haven.
Unfortunately, with the effects of global warming becoming greater, there likely will be more powerful hurricanes or dangerous tropical storms affecting our coastal areas, and so plenty of opportunities to do this type volunteer work in future.
I had another dental appointment this morning, receiving a new crown, in place of the one that had cracked while it was being installed several weeks ago. The procedure went smoothly. The current arrangement feels strange when I chew on it, but I cannot yet tell if it warrants an adjustment by the dentist or is something to which I'll just need to get familiar in time. The nerve in the tooth itself is still quite raw, giving me painful messages in response to heat, cold, and pressure.
Fran and I both noted today how bright and intense the sun seems, back at our usual latitude. The heat is remarkable too: predicted to be 102 degrees F later this afternoon. I, for one, will be welcoming the clouds and cooler weather Hurricane Rita will probably bring, just hope the tempest does not cause others great hardship or do much damage.
I went to pick up the mail. I'd told the post office we'd pick it up after our vacation. But it was not at the postal station. Later I found a bunch of it crammed into the small box they have given us (no home box deliveries permitted in our neighborhood anymore), with the excess thrown into a bin for packages. At least we received it. I hate the think what has happened to much of the mail for Gulf Coast residents over the past few weeks. In our mail was a notice from our dentist. He never mentioned it when I saw him this morning, but he's leaving the practice, so we must find another dental professional, and, if anything adverse happens again with the tooth just worked on, he will not be responsible after 9/30.
This evening I have the regular monthly meeting for discussing modern literature. I'd expected to miss it, but the vacation ended just in time.
9/22/05-The main roads out of Houston toward Austin having clogged already by yesterday afternoon, but her workplace being shut down, as a hurricane precaution, till early next week, Mary decided to evacuate last night, but by what she hopes would be a less used route, though this will take her to Waco and my mom's place rather than here.
So, if all goes well, she and Mother, the latter freshly arrived back by air from vacationing in CA with Alice and Ed, will have a pleasant, long weekend together waiting out Rita's fury. The storm is likely, it seems, even to affect that relatively inland city. My aunt and uncle from western LA, Hazel and Jack, have also been invited to stay there with Mom, in case they feel the need to leave their Vinton home, but as yet I do not know what arrangements they may have made.
Meanwhile, Mom has sent word of my sister Alice's medical condition. One reason for Mother's being out in CA this month was to attend my sister's doctor visit, where the results of recent testing would be explained. Alice has a tumor on her pituitary and had asked Mom to be present. Mom, at nearly 83, is a real trooper to drop things and fly out so she could hold Alice's hand through the medical visit. Still, it is natural that Alice would be extremely anxious over the possibilities she might need to have brain surgery for the tumor's removal or that there simply would be nothing the doctors could do about it.
The news is not a complete reprieve, but at least is not as bad as my sister's worst fears. The professionals think it is not cancer, but that, through its effect on the key gland, it is causing a variety of side-effects including significant weight gain. They feel that it must be treated but are hopeful therapy short of surgery will be effective. The regimen they advise is, first, a shot every six weeks for several months, followed by more diagnostics, and then either a continuation of this approach, a switch to chemical treatments in the form of oral supplements, or, as a last resort in a year or so, an operation.
Poor Alice is worse than I am about things left in limbo, and she also is phobic about needles that need to be actually put into her, reacting to them since she was an infant with hysteria. She apparently required a needle insertion not just into an arm but somewhere far inside her to get some dyes where they needed to be for the just completed diagnostics. Then there was another needle for her first phase of therapy. Knowing her, I expect she would almost prefer to have the brain surgery and be done with it, even if she might die on the operating table, to this more lengthy period of uncertainty punctuated by a succession of sharp objects intruding into her physical space.
It will be a time for my being a more than usually sensitive and caring older brother. I'm afraid that, till now, Alice's long-term tendencies toward both narcissism and histrionics have put me off and made me a bit less than completely sympathetic.
I start my current period of volunteer work at KMFA the day after tomorrow, just in time perhaps for Hurricane Rita's arrival. As the forecasters are presently projecting the storm track and local weather, we may be having intensely heavy rains and wild winds of from 40-70 MPH on Saturday, along with possible tornadoes. Fran is scheduled to begin rehearsing Saturday for the upcoming Austin Ballet concert series. While she and I may be out and about, Puff will need to be taking what comfort she can alone in her carrying kennel during Rita's likely noisy thrashings of our residence.
Late breaking news. Both my mom and sister-in-law, Mary, made it to Mother's place safely. Mary had left her Houston place at 7:30 PM yesterday and arrived in Waco, at Mom's, at 2:30 AM today. The noon storm-related coverage indicates folks who waited till early this morning to get out from Galveston/Houston are stuck so badly it takes 6-7 hours just to go 30 miles. Many are resorting to pushing their cars instead of running the motors, knowing that otherwise they'll be out of gas before they could reach reasonably safe areas.
There's an interesting article from the "Wall Street Journal" about the spending for Katrina's damage and evacuees: "Welcome to the GOP's New New Deal."
Though it now appears Rita will largely miss Austin, the KMFA staff, to be on the safe side, have decided not to hold the pledge drive this weekend, but probably will extend it into the next Saturday and Sunday, 10/1 and 10/2. So, I'm off the hook on the 24th.
My brother, Ernie, accidentally dropped something heavy on one of his feet on a construction job recently, fracturing it badly in two places, and he is in a cast and yet again on the job, now mainly using a wheelchair for mobility.
Frustratingly for us here in hot (over 100°F again today) dry central TX, Rita is now not expected to significantly affect us. We may wind up with a little cloud cover, no rain, and only light winds. Meanwhile, somewhere between hundreds of thousands and over a million TX residents have been trying to leave the coastal region but are stranded on the highways two days (!) before expected landfall of the storm. The latest info is that all major highways out of southeast TX are completely clogged with bumper-to-bumper traffic, the jam in places about 100 miles deep! This is simply not satisfactory. Essentially, evacuation is not possible under these conditions. Nor is the accuracy of weather forecasting adequate to better pin down where people are really at risk. What a mess!
9/23/05-Fri.-There's a fly buzzing 'round my table. Funky music's playing on the speaker. A waiter is feeling up my waitress, over in a corner by the computer. I'm sipping coffee, still waking up, and waiting here at Kerbey Lane South for my breakfast tacos to arrive and my car to be ready. I took it in about 8 AM for the new, expanded (including an air pollution check) inspection required in Austin, starting this month. Don't know what to expect, but assume that, on average, the process will take longer and be more expensive. Also that certain vehicles (SUVs, trucks?) will have an unfair advantage, with less stringent standards, even though they're responsible for more of the yucky stuff in the atmosphere than the sedans. A small kid is loudly, hyperactively using much of the available restaurant floor space as her personal playground.
The evacuation of southeast TX is still proceeding and seems likely to involve for most a greater crisis and hardship than the storm (Rita) from which it was intended to provide escape. Hundreds of thousands apparently, some of them also evacuees from Katrina, are still stuck in traffic a day after starting out, many running out of gasoline on the way. Who knows how people have handled their restroom needs!? The temperatures both days in the affected area have been in the high 90s to low 100s. A bus bearing nursing home residents northward burned up this morning, killing a couple dozen. Officials speculate the brakes got too hot while the vehicle was in the midst of hour on hour of stop and go traffic (that still today stretched for scores of miles). Once flames appeared, medically necessary oxygen for the patients/passengers caught fire as well, and then it was way too late to save the victims. They, at least, would have been better off not being "rescued." The grid-lock has been about as close to total as possible in peacetime. Could the governor perhaps have suggested folks leave in a staggered schedule or using preplanned routes applicable for different areas? Why did the authorities wait till so late to open all lanes of the major highways for egress?
My wife, Fran, for a modest fee, offers in future to manage such situations as Katrina and Rita and promises to do the job far better than the folks in charge now. Heck, I could do it better, and they would not even have to pay me.
Later. The inspection could not have been easier for me, and my car passed. The service station folks said older vehicles are more likely to fail the air quality testing and that, if they do, while each case is different on average the maintenance/repair charges are about $300-400, to upgrade each car enough to pass its pollution check.
I've spent a lot of time in and around Port Arthur, TX, both professionally, as a vocational rehab. counselor for that area, and recreationally, as a place for favorite seafood restaurants, dating, watching ships going up and down the channel, or enjoying nearby Sea Rim State Park (swimming, canoeing, hiking, nature observing, photography, beachcombing, or camping, usually with Fran and with a succession of dogs). The latest forecasts sound rather horrendous for this part of the TX coast. I fear that much that I knew there will be gone after the weekend.
As we are learning, those who warned that our coastal areas would be terribly vulnerable under likely global warming scenarios, involving more and bigger tempests, were tragically correct. We can talk of rebuilding from FL through TX, at enormous expense, but can we truly make these areas safe from such storms in future? And how often can we rebuild before it is seen as not worth the repeated costs? And yet what choice have we? Just as Amsterdam for hundreds of years has had to wage a relentless battle with the sea, so too now for our entire Gulf Coast. We must hold off as long as possible the ocean's final victory. Whatever the price, too much and too many depend on the area's viability for us to just give it up to the elements yet.
Meanwhile, by a circuitous, less traveled route, my aunt and uncle from Vinton, LA, having first thought to "ride out" Rita, though right in its likely most direct path, are now on their way to my mom's place in Waco too, expected to arrive by this afternoon.
Mom is always offering her hospitality. She is in many ways a generous lady. She's far from being perfect, but as she gets older, more and more it is as if she lives by the old maxim: "The only things that come back to you in life are those you give away."
9/24/05-Sat.-For awhile, I've been looking for an appropriate volunteer opportunity, to take up where my phone answering (9/26-10/1) for KMFA's fund drive leaves off in about a week. This afternoon, I registered with Volunteer Match, checked their local list, and then offered to do filing, phone answering, and client contact, up to four hours a day, through the state's Health and Human Services south Austin location. I'm not at all sure they'll want me, having had mixed results from job and volunteer position applications back in 2001-2002, but hope this will work out. It certainly would be convenient and involve productive social interaction.
Frances and I got started a little after 7:00 this morning. We went to Tien Jin for great Chinese food lunches. I picked up a rental movie, "A Bridge Too Far," which we watched as background entertainment during a long massage I gave Fran this afternoon, her turn having been put off several days due to the CO vacation.
A little later, I mowed our backyard, meditated, processed pictures from the trip, and then updated management of the investments.
I'd been concerned about shortness of breath while on our holiday. Fortunately, this difficulty ceased soon after our getting back to TX.
9/25/05-Sun.-A record high temperature this afternoon in Austin, compared with the same day of the year previously, and probably with our entire earlier autumn season record: 108°F (41.7°C). Puff went out briefly to take a whiz, saw a couple squirrels lying in some shade on the dusty ground, and made only half-hearted attempts to give chase. The squirrels also expended a bare minimum of energy casually escaping a few feet off the ground to nearby tree trunks. I'm resuming emergency watering of the yard this evening.
My plantar fasciitis is acting up again. I have my left foot in an Ace bandage and am limiting walking to slow, fairly short excursions in the neighborhood. Must have overdone it a bit with the combination of recent mountain hikes, walks near our house, and cutting the grass last night.
Fran's busy today with rehearsals for upcoming Ballet Austin and Austin Lyric Opera performances.
My hurricane escapee relatives, staying with Mom, are anxiously awaiting official word that they can return to homes in LA and TX, wondering about how difficult the drives will be and what they'll find once back.
Looking forward to viewing later tonight the next in the "Foyle's War III" series.
9/26/05-Mon-What is going on? Again in Austin on this fall day we have had a record high temperature, 107°F. In several places quite near us, for instance the Eanes School District, just west of our city, the temperatures were even higher (111°F in Eanes). Meanwhile, on our vacation, in the highest peaks of CO, the Alps of North America, virtually no snow could be found. And on our Gulf Coast we have already had three severely damaging storms this year. The hurricane season has another couple months to go. Last year, four hurricanes hit FL alone. A couple summers ago, a massive heat wave hit Europe, and tens of thousands died. I for one am convinced we have been experiencing the first severe effects of global warming. There will likely be many more.
My far less dramatic day to day life goes on. Began the latest volunteer work this morning. It went well, and I met several affable folks. Also enjoyed some delicious food contributed for the station's fund drive.
9/28/05-Wed-Another day, another scorcher here in central TX. Our official high today was 105°F. I believe we have now had temperatures of 102-108°F each day for at least a week. This weather is bizarre.
Did my volunteer work this morning. The most amusing thing was when a contributor called in saying she likes the station because her hens lay 4% more eggs if they are listening to classical music.
Met a gentleman there in his eighties who has been doing volunteer work every fund drive for over 20 years. Said his wife "roped him into it," and he has not missed an opportunity since. He is now too hard of hearing to answer the phones but still goes most days and picks up the food local eateries are contributing to the drive, as snacks for volunteers or for contributors who drop by the studio.
Researched some stocks online once back. Then took a short nap. While Frances was at a rehearsal this evening, I worked through a routine of back and foot exercises.
I have my annual physical exam and blood work tomorrow. For the first time I can recall, I am nervous about it. Have no idea why. Definitely having a case of the "butterflies." Maybe it is the combination of things that have bothered me recently: back; foot; shortness of breath; etc. There could be a doubt whether these things are all isolated, concern that they are instead symptoms of a larger, overall problem. If so, perhaps the anxiety is of the "ignorance is bliss" variety, with some notion that it is better to worry about a vague possibility, without really knowing, than to have tragedy confirmed. After Dad died of a stroke, my brother, Ralph, died of an aggressive cancer in his head, and now my sister, Alice, has been diagnosed with a brain tumor as well, there is no uncertainty that bad things can happen. Of course, chances are, all that is horse fecal material. Objectively, there is no basis for assuming other than a variety of mild unrelated difficulties.
Who knows? The human psyche is so convoluted and ironic that it is as likely the willies are due to guilt, that things are going so well for me relative to many others, it "must" be my time for disaster soon.
9/29/05-Thurs.-We woke up this morning to find that a cold front had come through during the night. Temperatures today were 20-25°F cooler than over the previous week or more. Needless to say, it felt great.
All was straightforward at my medical appointment this morning. No significant problems were noted, though my primary care physician is referring me to a podiatrist for help with the recurrent plantar fasciitis.
Again tonight, as in CO, I have been having trouble breathing. But there is no associated coughing or wheezing, and when I check my lung capacity with a flow meter it shows I'm taking in and breathing out 10% above a normal volume of air for my age. So, pulmonary function appears to be good. Chances are the symptoms are just related to anxiety.
There is a small chance my heart is failing, but nothing remotely like that showed up in today's exam or the exercise treadmill test I took a year or two ago. Still, I have had disability claims from people who got an odd cardiac infection and in only a few weeks or even days sustained major loss of heart efficiency, then suffered such shortness of breath symptoms. If they did not receive new hearts, many of them would soon be dead. I guess the best course here, though, is just to ignore the problem. If psychosomatic, the worst thing would be to fixate on it.
Again tonight, Frances is away at rehearsal. She is quite enthused about the upcoming Ballet Austin performances of "Carmina Burana."
I received a response to my query about volunteer work for the TX Commission for Health and Human Services, but it was couched in terms so replete with cumbersome bureaucracy, with formal written application procedures and several levels of people or offices I'd need to go through before even finding out what local options were available, I was almost as disheartened as if I had suddenly had my old job back.
At the radio station, folks act like they really appreciate their volunteers! And it is immediately on a very personal level. I'll not submit myself to doing something that I already know I won't like or for which the "vibes" are just wrong from the outset.
So, I am still in the market for a good longer-term opportunity for meaningful volunteerism. One thing I've discovered from letting people know I'm seeking a good "place" for my time and services is that there is no shortage of such potential volunteer work or other fulfilling activities, and also no lack of people eager to share their suggestions along these lines. As with my research into stocks in which to invest, though, I find it is sometimes better not to jump into the first things that come along. I sense it may be better, for the success of my participation in the venture, to get a good feel for the offerings and see which turn out to be for me the very best picks available, before I take the plunge.
Meanwhile, I think now I want to get my brother, Ron's, 50th birthday bash (coming up the weekend of 10/8-10/9) as well as the upcoming podiatry appointments out of the way before seriously looking into some of the ideas for volunteering that currently appeal. But then I'll definitely be checking out some. One option, for instance, is devoting a few hours a week to helping at a nearby food and clothing outlet, The Storehouse. We'll see.