Sunday, May 5, 2019

Mum's the word

Song battle at our house when the (nearly grown) boys are told they have to do the dishes:









BOYS: .... Aww. That's not fair! We can't even do our next song now:

 ... I'd say Mom still wins ... Besides what the lyrics really say anyway is "It's fine by me if you don't leave" so yeah Mom wins.  

And the dishes are done by young manly hands until the only song playing is the plates singing in the dishwasher.

Saturday, January 12, 2019

Afghanistan: the reading list

Of all the books I read on Afghanistan, Jason Elliot's An Unexpected Light: travels in Afghanistan was the most worthwhile.  Unlike so many other books written by Westerners, Elliot writes without an agenda.  The result is more a window than a weighted scale.  Though I read it first, hungrily, just for some flavor of this far-off, yet strangely closely impinging land, I will read it again to savor descriptions and interactions and just to immerse myself again in the clear-eyed observation, thorough education, and gracious compassion of this ideal traveler.

I think what won me second (first was the simple, limpid voice, attuned to beauty however spare, but never overweighted with sentimentality or overwrought with literary striving) was Elliot's willingness to show himself frightened or confused, a willingness to just listen and learn from the people he encountered rather than sitting in judgement upon them, a willingness to be drawn in.  He writes of wondering how the people of Kabul carry on without signs of trauma under the regular bombings and describes himself walking back from witnessing one blast that killed two children fearfully hugging the wall along the road:  "Then up ahead, a hundred yards away, I saw a man waving.

"It was the young fighter who stood guard at the house opposite.  Rifle over his shoulder, he was gesturing furiously at me.  I stopped, puzzled.  Then I saw his white teeth beaming from a broad smile, and realized: he was imploring me to step out from the shadows and walk in the road, back straight and shoulders squared . . .

"Later, emboldened by his show of defiance, I left the protection of the garden and sat on the upstairs balcony to write my diary in the sunshine  He saw me from the street, lifted his upturned hands to the sun in a celebratory gesture, then to me, and to the sky above us, and gave me a double thumbs up, as if to say: 'That's it, you've got it now!'"

Another thought-provoking book was The Wasted Vigil by Pakistani British author Nadeem Aslam.  Elegantly written with such beauty and tenderness that the brutality of the war becomes something you must sit down with rather than rush through like the required pyrotechnics of a thriller.  This novel set in Afghanistan follows a grieving Russian woman trying to find what happened to her brother who deserted years ago during the Soviet conflict and never returned, an elderly Briton doctor who had married an outspoken Afghan woman doctor and with her lost a brilliant daughter, an American gem-dealer with a past in the CIA and former lover of the doctors' daughter, as well as two young Afghans, one an orphaned mujahadeen and the other a young school teacher driven from her school by traditionalists.  No one, not even the reader, escapes from questioning themselves and their underlying truths in this exquisite book, as vividly detailed as a Mughal miniature.

Intriguing and challenging account of Afghan girls who are dressed as boys.  The author worked over several years building rapport until girls and women whose families negotiate the harsh gender divide and role expectations of Afghan culture by disguising their daughters as boys opened up and shared their stories.  Jenny Nordberg, Swedish journalist, broke the story of bacha posh in the New Yorker in 2010 and then wrote her book The Underground Girls of Kabul: the hidden life of Afghan girls disguised as boys.  She has a definite opinion and is quick to connect the harsh plight of Afghan women to worldwide oppression by the patriarchy. On one hand I found her connections to and reflections on patriarchy in my own Western culture useful and salutary, but I was sometimes a little weary of the self-righteous certitude of the author that traditional women's roles were degrading by definition.  At the same time, her conversations with Afghan women drew me in deeply and her insight into the corruption caused by foreign aid money earmarked as "just for women." The first half, focusing on the experiences of the Afghan women rather than the later discussions of sexual psychology and speculations on the influence of bygone religions is the most interesting, but the concluding chapters and afterword are challenging in the best sense.

I read Full Tilt: Ireland to India with a Bicycle by intrepid, down-to-earth Irishwoman Dervla Murphy several years ago.  Her descriptions of the generosity and chivalry of Muslims she meets and the beauty of gardens and orchards in Afghanistan was the first to open my mind up to the possibility that my picture of the Middle East might be seriously lacking.  She cycled through these war-torn regions in the early 1960s before many of today's upheavals.

Other books I read:

I know, I know.  But I wanted an
overview at first, just to locate
myself geographically.  Caravans,
though stale with 1960 cliche at
least gave me mental hooks to
hang later, more nuanced and
corrective readings.
Based, I believe, largely on the original
research in Underground Girls of Kabul. 
This is a YA novel, competently written,
 alternating between past and present accounts
 of bacha posh (daughters dressed as boys
to save their families from hardship).
The female characters, at least,
are believable and likable.

I truly wanted to love this book,
but the writing was so clunky
I could hardly bear to read it
and the approach was so much
White Savior and self-approval.
I've since seen a TED talk by
the author and she appears
more likable in that medium
than on the written page.

My son happened to have had
this book assigned in school
and we've been reading it
aloud.  YA novel, interesting plot.
All the usual suspects, however.

The lovely watercolors of this
children's picture book are matched
by gentle words that evoke
a heart-wounding reality.
I feel I ought to go back
and read Kite Runner again
now that I have a better grasp
of where Afghanistan is and some
sense of its stretch of history.
I read it years ago and thought
it capably written and likely
an accurate representation of
a harsh and unappealing reality.
I may have been too hasty and

Another book I wanted to love,
but this felt slight and rushed
as if the author wanted to
cash in on world attention
before it turned from Afghanistan.
Some of the photographs are
striking, some of the poems arresting.
A more insightful book about
a similar tradition of women's
reciting poetry as an allowed
outlet of expression:
Veiled Sentiments:Honor and Poetry
in a Bedouin Society
by Lila Abu-Lughod.
Couldn't finish this classic,
though it came
highly recommended.
Perhaps I just couldn't
get past the Eurocentric
and sometimes arrogant
commentary on the
"interesting" natives.
Perhaps I'll read it later.

Thursday, January 10, 2019

all around the world : Afghanistan

What was it again that I thought I would do here in this Afghanistan week?

Report the languages spoken?  Dari (a dialect of Persian) and Pashto, which like Persian is an Indo-European cousin of my own English.

But those are only the two official languages.  There is also Uzbek, Turkmen, Balochi, Pashayi and Nuristani; Hindi-Urdu, Punjabi, Ashkunu, Kamkata-viri, Vasi-vari, Tregami and Kalasha-ala.  And also Pamiri (which apparently breaks down into Shughni, Munji, Ishkashimi and Wakhi) and Brahui, Arabic, Qizilbash, Aimaq, and Pashai.

Oh, and Kyrgyz.

But wait, that's not all.  Linguists estimates there are 40 languages, at least, spoken in this nation the size of  Texas, though with about 9 million more people than the Lone Star State.  Make that 40 languages and around 200 dialects.  How do I wrap my stubbornly monolingual mind around that?

So we'll leave language alone.  What about the main industries?  Lately, that would seem to be war.  But being more serious, even the tangible principal exports are problematic as opium leads off the list, followed by fruits and nuts, handwoven carpets, wool, cotton, hides and pelts, precious and semi-precious gems -- emeralds, rubies, and lapis lazuli. Which sounds so exotic at first but then tragic when you hear that the imports seem to be all the basic necessities: machinery, food, clothing, petroleum products.

As for bikability? I found one extreme biking site that's set up just to encourage trekking along the Silk Road, but of cycling in Afghanistan even they say  Are you out of your mind? Please don’t do that!   And for back up they share the report of one enthusiast who had more gears spinning in his tires than in his head who was arrested and jailed as a spy before being (luckily) deported to Tajikistan.  Even if the political situation were more secure, this is dusty, dry and windy country with heart-stopping mountain passes.  Though one of my long-time heroes, Irishwoman Dervla Murphy biked those unwelcoming mountain heights in the 1960s with decided glee.  And more recently, an American peace activist, Shannon Galpin became the first woman to mountain bike in Afghanistan, though she stayed mostly in the safer northeastern panhandle of the Wakhan corridor.

So how about the flag then?

That's straightforward enough.  Like many Islamic countries, they've chosen black (the dark troubles of the past), red (the blood of heroes), and green (hope and growth in the future) -- but since Dari and Pashto both read right to left it seems the flag is making more of an environmental report -- first there were green hills covered with apple, walnut, and pistachio orchards then years of bloodshed then a lifeless wasteland in place of former lushness?  The seal in the center is Afghanistan's national emblem -- sheaves of wheat for abundance wrapped in a ribbon bearing the Islamic creed and within a mosque.

So maybe we just focus on the capital?  Kabul at 1,790 metres (5,873 ft) is one of the highest capitals in the world and almost a thousand feet higher than my snowbound mountain town.  There.

The ground shifts under me, though, even in something so simple.  Because Kandahar was the capital before Kabul.  Except that  Kabul had been even earlier than that the military headquarters of Babur, founder of the Mughal dynasty over all the Indian subcontinent, as well as an important stop for caravans on the Silk Road.

Kandahar is one of the oldest known human settlements and the traditional seat of power of the Pashtun tribesmen who are the largest ethnic group of Afghanistan.  Kandahar proper was established by Alexander the Great (and is probably named for him) in the 6th century BC, but was built on the foundations of an earlier (1000 - 750 BC) fortified city in a region with archaeological finds from 1500 BC.  That is simply too far back for my mind to make sense of.  Seventy years before the father of my young country refused to be king after leading troops against an oppressive King George III, Afghanistan's Mirwais Baba (Mirwais the father) refused to be king after leading his troops against an oppressive George XI, aka Gurgin Khan from Georgia (the country on the Black Sea, not that state in the USA famous for peaches -- you see how the mind already begins to reel?).  Mirwais entered Kandahar and proclaimed words any of my founding fathers could have said,
"If there are any amongst you, who have not the courage to enjoy this precious gift of liberty now dropped down to you from Heaven, let him declare himself; no harm shall be done to him: he shall be permitted to go in search of some new tyrant beyond the frontier of this happy state."

— Mirwais Hotak, April 1709
the mausoleum of Mirwais Hotak in the Kokaran section of Kandahar

But the Hotaki dynasty (Mirwais' descendants weren't so set against kingship as their founder and Afghan "liberty" wasn't quite the same system of checks and balances and rule of law that colonials of the North American Atlantic seaboard engineered) was not anything like a beginning for this land.  To begin a tour of the world in Afghanistan is to founder on a history more vast than my small New World perspective can take in.

Afghanistan is a world.  

Mountains and winters of extreme cold.  Deserts and summers of extreme heat.  A people famous for poetry and hospitality and gardens.  A people notorious for poverty and violence and destruction -- or depending on the point of view, famous again for indomitable courage and hardiness.  Its history reaches past my grasp of European history, let alone American history, past the Roman republic, past the democracy of Athens.  Kabul itself is as old as dirt -- under its former name of Kubha it's praised in the ancient Hindu hymnal, the Rig Veda (1500 - 1200 BC), as pattern of paradise set in the mountains. 

Balkh ruins

And there are cities in Afghanistan even older -- Balkh, for one, known to the ancient Greeks as Bactra (as in Bactrian cames) was the first city of the Indo-Aryans settled in when they crossed south  - between 2000 and 1500 BC - into what is now Afghanistan over the river the Romans called the Oxus and the Vedas called in Sanskrit the Vakṣu and the Sassanid Persians called the Wehrōd ("good river") and medieval Arabs called Jayḥūn  or, as it's spelled in the Bible, Gihon, one of the four rivers bordering Eden (we are talking that kind of stretch of history).  In the 19th century western travelers said the river was called Gozan, though they felt it necessary as I do to wade through a history of nomenclature:
the Gozan River is the River Balkh, i.e. the Oxus or the Amu Darya  
the river Gozan (which is the Ammoo, also called Jehoon)
citing Greek, Mongol, Chinese, Persian, Jewish, and Afghan historians (we are talking that kind of wide-flung geography of interest).  Nowadays the river is called Amu Darya (Darya being Persian for "river" and Amu the name of a city it ran past, long since gone through a series of name changes of its own).  Balkh lies 74 km south of the Amu Darya, a small village now on the edge of large ruins, the birthplace of Zoroaster and a Zoroastrian center before it became Buddhist before it became Muslim. The Mother of Cities the Arabs called it, Umm Al-Belaad, and though the climate has changed turning Balkh into desert, it was once a very fertile region.

Kabul, too, has endured its cycle of changes.  A mountain paradise 4000 years ago.  Favored by the emperor Babur for its clean air and pure water.

Babur overseeing the changing of a watercourse in his garden
Babur, in fact, built a huge garden complex in Kabul to commemorate his son's birth and at his request was later buried there.  This garden has been destroyed but is being restored, replanted, renewed.

Destruction, reconstruction -- hopeful?  despairing?  or just exhausting?  Like the Darul Aman Palace, "abode of peace" built in 1920, burnt in 1968, restored in the 1970s, damaged by fire in the communist Russian attack of 1978, again by tank fire in another coup in the 1980s, again by heavy shelling of rival mujahadin groups in the 1990s, used as a refugee camp in the 2000s, then taken over as headquarters for the Afghan National Army and now being renovated to celebrate this year a centenary of full independence since 1919.

Kabul and the Darul Aman Palace
And today's headlines?  Six Security Force Members Killed In Balkh Clash with Taliban.  Balkh Art Exhibition Portrays Women's Empowerment. Taliban shadow district chief killed with his 11 fighters in Balkh province. Many girls in Balkh districts forced to quit school early. Seven Afghan Border Guards Killed In Militant Attack In Kandahar. Work on Kandahar solar power projects at snail's pace. 145 Taliban Killed In Kandahar And Faryab Ongoing Operations. People in Kandahar try to seek development in Afghanistan.  At least 4 killed, 113 wounded in Kabul vehicle bombing.  Kabul's air pollution kills more people than war. Devastating Drought Dries Up Kabul.

Kabul - January 2019
All I know is I don't want Afghanistan's story to end there . . .

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

2018: a year in books

Memed My Hawk
Yashar Kemal, 392 pages

I began the year with this classic book from Turkish writer and Kurdish activist at the suggestion of a friend living in the Middle East. Like the hero, a Robin Hood of the thistle-clad Taurus mountains, Kemal was left to care for his mother after his father was killed, but the adult Memed is more a reflection of Kemal's maternal uncle, a famous good-hearted outlaw memorialized in many songs and tales of the Anatolian region.  This austere adventure tale flirts with tragedy and it would be giving away too much to say what consummation awaits at the conclusion.

Martin Marten
Brian Doyle, 320 pages

It is possible that a portion of my delight in this book, which I listened to during lengthy commutes in a more arid climate, comes from the way its pages return me to the land of my heart, the Oregon Cascades and in particular the wooded slopes of Mt. Hood, though Martin's human counterpart Dave quite rightly prefers to call it Wy-east, as the peak was named by the Multnomah people who preceded him.  A braided coming-of-age tale of a very martenly marten and a believably human boy, both with a circle of lovable quirky companions both human and more broadly mammalian.

Empires of the World: A Language History of the World
Nicholas Ostler, 640 pages

The Unfolding of Language: An Evolutionary Tour of Mankind's Greatest Invention
Guy Deutscher, 368 pages

Fascinating for the self-taught linguist (one assumes, ahem). Both highly readable: the first a grand overview of a wildly unruly linguistic geography, the second a nimble articulation of how change happens randomly and yet with a certain linguistic order.

The Little Book of Hygge: Danish Secrets to Happy Living
Meik Wiking, 240 pages

Am I going to find a way to live happily in this harsher place?  Yes, I am.  Especially if I get to listen to the charming Danish accent of the author reading his snug little book on my way there. I also listened with enjoyment to an Englishwoman's account of trying hygge on in The Year of Living Danishly: Uncovering the Secrets of the World's Happiest Country, Helen Russell, 354 pages

My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She's Sorry
Fredrik Backman, 400 pages

Each time I'm all set to scorn these charming novels by Swedish author Backman: they always threaten to crumble into sugary sentimentality.  But each time before I'm a quarter in, I'm eating out of the novel's hands.  The curmudgeons just curmudgeonly enough, the realizations just rueful enough, the human sorrow tuned just as painfully as it needs to be to keep these stories from becoming too sickeningly sweet.  Maybe this is an example of that Swedish lagom, that "just enough"? And what can I say? I'm in a position now to appreciate the message of forgiving one's difficult mothers for being less or more than one may have wanted them to be.  And grateful it was my own grown and generous-hearted daughter who suggested this book to me.

Jo Baker, 331 pages

Belowstairs from the Bennett sisters is every bit as enthralling, if a sight more gritty than the beloved drawing room drama of Pride and Prejudice.  Reading this is like those dreams when you open a door and suddenly have a whole new wing to your familiar house.  Jo Baker creates an almost entirely independent storyline that detracts nothing while fitting satisfyingly with the original even as it goes beyond it.  I cared deeply for each of the characters and wished every bit as much for things to turn right for them as for Elizabeth and Darcy, Jane and Bingley -- with fresh realization that things going wrong for the servant class was quite a bit more drastic than for the gentry.

Getting to Know JESUS
George MacDonald, 176 pages

Yes, that George MacDonald, the Scottish preacher turned fairytale writer who gave us The Princess & the Goblin, The Golden Key, and The Light Princess.  And also these 12 sermons, written in the 19th century but electrifyingly accessible still in the 21st.  

Re-reading Job: Understanding the Ancient World's Greatest Poem
Michael Austin, 194 pages

To prepare for a lesson I was teaching the adults of my congregation, I happened upon a book written by a former classmate.  Beautifully and wittily insightful built on a solid framework of careful scholarship and a bedrock of faith.  Well done!

Married to Distraction: How to Restore Intimacy and Strengthen Your Partnership in an Age of Interruption
Edward M. Hallowell, M.D., and Sue George Hallowell, LICSW, 240 pages

Husband and wife (psychiatrist and couples' therapist) have written a refreshingly real, clinically effective, and energetically humorous book about getting past the white noise of all our devices to connect with the flesh-and-blood person we love.  I loved the ringingly real examples, the concrete and manageable suggestions for change, and the insights based in years of experience as spouses, partners, and therpists.  Their ideas work.

Big Little Lies
Liane Moriarty, 460 pages

A fluff read that turned out to be more satisfying than I had expected.  Wonderful characters, both women and men, each with their own deftly articulated burden.  And I always like it when solidarity overcomes isolation and justice prevails against all odds.

You Don't Have to Say You Love Me: A Memoir
Sherman Alexie, 464 pages

An unsentimental, humorous, compassionate, movingly raw remembrance in alternating verse and proses of a remarkable mother by her remarkable son growing up in the Spokane Indian Reservation.

The Heavy: a mother, a daughter, a diet
Dara-Lynn Weiss, 256 pages

For a week or two, the Vogue article about the New York socialite mother who starved her daughter into slimness was all the rage.  As in actual outrage.  I was curious to hear the woman speak for herself.  Do I think she's a little harsh, a little too concerned about exteriors?  Perhaps.  But I also found her unapologetic and downright approach to life's weightier problems rather refreshing and wonder if there may not be something to it.

This was also a year for a rereading of Tolstoy (Anna Karenina and War & Peace) and all of Dorothy Sayers I could get my hands on.


And just to remind myself, three gems of books I had to return to the library before I could finish (you lovely things, I'll see you again later in 2019!):

Saturday, December 8, 2018

all around the world | 2019 | Afghanistan to Colorado River Indian Tribes

The first thing we need is an itinerary. And already the plans shift as I discover nations with nations, even within my own. I don't dare commit to a plan for more than one year and even this may become travel-worn before we get too far.

In general the plan will be a Saturday / Sunday focused on that week's nation : a meal cooked, a song, a short film, a poem, a work of art.  The Thursday before an overview of the basics: map, flag, languages, capital & other principal cities, main industries,  bikability (because someday the hope is this Imaginary Cycling leads to two wheels on the ground under international skies).  Throughout the week:  post cards of discovery (books, notables, recipes, whatever we find along the way).



1. Afghanistan
2. Albania
3. Algeria
4. =Allegany =Cattaraugus =Shinnecock =St Regis Mohawk =Tonawanda =Tuscarora


5. Angola
6. *Antarctica *French Southern Territories
7. Antigua and Barbuda || Saint Kitts and Nevis
8. Argentina | *Falkland Islands


9. Armenia
10. Australia | *Christmas (Keeling) Island
11. Austria | ×Tyrol-Trentino
12. Azerbaijan | ÷Nakhchivan
13. Azores, Madeira, Canary Islands


14. Bahamas | *Turks and Caicos Islands
15. Bahrain
16. *Balearic Islands
17. Bangladesh


18. Barbados
19. ÷Basque Country
20. =Bay Mills =Isabella =L'Anse =Grand Traverse =Hannahville =Sault Ste. Marie
21. Belarus


22. Belgium
23. Belize
24. Benin
25. *Bermuda
*America the Undiscovered


26. Bhutan
27. =Big Cypress =Brighton =Mississippi Choctaw =Houma =Chitimacha
28. Bolivia
29. Bosnia&Herzegovina | ÷Srpska


30. Botswana
31. Brazil
32. Brunei Darussalam
33. Bulgaria


34. Burkina Faso
35. Burundi
36. Cambodia
37. Cameroon
38. Canada | *Saint Pierre et Miquelon


39. Cape Verde
40. ÷Catalonia
41. =Catawba =Lumbee =Eastern Cherokee
42. ×Caucasus :(÷Adygea ÷Karachay-Cherkessia ÷Kabardino-Balkaria ÷North Ossetia-Alania ÷Chechnya ÷Ingushetia ÷Dagestan)


43. CAR (Central African Republic)
44. Chad
45. *Channel Islands : Jersey, Guernsey, Sark, Alderney
46. =Cherokee =Muscogee/Creek =Osage =Choctaw =Chickasaw =Kiowa-Comanche-Apache =Cheyenne-Arapahoe =Potawatami =Shawnee


47. Chile
48. China
49. Colombia
*Place of Peace
50. =Colorado River =Cocopah =Fort Yuma =Fort Mojave =Elko 

Sunday, December 2, 2018

natural wonder

Is love the feeling or the choices? Is love a moment, an ecstasy? or a habit of accumulated words and acts and thoughts?  and how many are enough?   Can love happen in less than a day, or does it only seem that way retroactively?

With my firstborn I expected a wash of all-enveloping mother-love. Instead I felt vigilant. Bemused. A little terrified at the hurt my body was capable of feeling. Tired.  But mostly complete, 24-hour, constant high-alert vigilance.

Even in my dreams I suddenly could go nowhere -- long corridors, strange cities, romantic dinner dates with men I didn't know (even the dream me knew something wasn't quite right about that) -- nowhere without carrying my new baby with me.  My body curled around her as she slept and bent over her throughout the day.   My plans now and ever after were skewed to contain her requirements. I realized when I slipped off the icy back step,  seven steps off ground, and fell flat on my back with no instinct of self-preservation, still holding my baby's carseat safely upright with this firstborn still snugly strapped within that I had been taken over, willingly, gladly, by an alien life force. That seemed close enough to the miracle of mother-love and even a better aid to keeping her alive than all the soft and fuzzies in the world.

Not that those softer emotions didn't come. I doted. I cherished. I stood in awe.  My heart broke when she flew off to claim her place in the world at the same time that I rejoiced for her.

And now my child is another child's mother.

I am a grandmother.  You look happy, says Fritz, now Grandpa Fritz.

I am content, I tell him. Glad to be here. Grateful. Tired. Working all the time not to be more jealous of the other (charming, gracious, gifted, generous) grandparents who will be the resplendent daily embodiment of our generation for this daughter of my daughter. Trying not to feel like an interloper here in their stronghold. Afraid I, in my more faraway place, won't know how to matter, in my quieter, quirkier way,  in this first granddaughter's life. Shame in all its varieties for all this self-regarding angst.  I don't want this stir and boil, all these tugs in opposing directions. I want only a wash of awe, heart-swellings, gratitude, and tenderness.

I want to be filled with the wonder natural to a witness of this oldest miracle.

I want to lose myself, shake off my self-doubting self and all these wayward thoughts and feelings. For me, every minute is too expensive to waste. There's no time for me to muse and wonder: I can't afford the luxury of mistaken choices and wasted chances.

But the only way I know to love is just exactly my old winding way of error and overly vigilant attention.

I shake myself.  All I can choose to do right now is leave this wondering and worrying and go hold this little one once more, not just so my beloved firstborn can get some dearly needed sleep, but for the sake of wonder itself, or in this case, in this new exquisite bundle,  for the sake of Wonder herself.

Thursday, November 29, 2018

all around the world : Traveller, Traveller

Let us say a certain woman finds herself, or has lost herself, as the case may be, in the same predicament as Ishmael.  She mutters behind the icy steering wheel, "Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth," or mouths the phrase, "a damp, drizzly November in my soul," while standing in line at the dim-lit Walmart, or wordlessly stares out at a barren town lot that matches her inner landscape.   Ahead, only frozen monotone winter, followed by the parched bleached grass of summer, and then again the icy drizzle of Novembers yet to come.

The Melville protocol has always appealed as an effective treatment ~
whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet; and especially whenever my hypos get such an upper hand of me, that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically knocking people's hats off - then, I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can.
An appealing treatment, even with its clearly stated risk for catastrophic side effects: monomania, shipwreck . . .

But how to get to sea?  I'm landlocked now. I cannot even ride along the river here because my road these days is narrow, rocky, twisting blindly, twinned to a high dry mountain river's precipitous trickle or snowmelt fury snaking to empty itself out into a salty puddle. The promised plan for a canyon bike path evaporated like hope's meager dew soon after our first November morning waking in these arid valleys as displaced Northwesterners.  And then the snow fell like judgement and ice swallowed up the key.  And even if the road were wide enough to allow a rideable shoulder, the cliffbound track is regularly rubbled with falling rocks -- 150 lbs. just last week through the windshield of an unlucky car reported the local paper -- and always crammed with crowded individualists driving impatient trucks.

What escape can there be? Whaling's out.
But isn't the Imaginary Bicycle just the vehicle I need to go around the world, alphabetically, of course, and week by week.

It should take me five years of Thursdays with so far to go.
If I don't fail along the way.

Traveller, Traveler, all around the world,
If you can guess this, you're the Traveller of the World . . . 

Saturday, November 10, 2018

My Father Sings . . . Rocky Mountain Water

This version is way more 70s-psychedelic than the song my dad sang.  Dad's version is acoustic and mellow, pitched a key or two lower, a little more yearny.  And Dad's words, as always, were cheekily non-alcoholic. I don't know if Frishberg's jazz version (he's the original composer) was my dad's primary source, but I do know this has been a perennial favorite at our house.

* * *

Well, since I left Montana, covered lots of ground.
Been from Corsicana up to Puget Sound
Been from Santa Clara down to Santa Fe
Drinkin'  beer and whiskey (milk and root beer) all along the way.
Now my rollin's over and you know I'm Rocky Mountain bound.

Rocky Mountain water tastes so fresh and fine.
Rocky Mountain water tastes so fresh and fine.
If I don't get some of that Rocky Mountain water
I declare I'm gonna lose my mind.
Rocky Mountain water tastes so fresh and fine.
Yes, it tastes like champagne wine.

Now I've done some cruisin'.
I've been everywhere.
Seen some heavy losin'.
And I done my share.
Now I'm tired of ramblin' like a rollin' stone,
Keepin' dry and lonesome as a buffalo bone.
Wanta wet my whistle in that good ol' Rocky Mountain air.

Rocky Mountain water tastes so fresh and fine.
Rocky Mountain water tastes so fresh and fine.
If I don't get some of that Rocky Mountain water
I declare I'm gonna lose my mind.
Rocky Mountain water tastes so fresh and fine.
Yes, it tastes like champagne wine.

* * *
(additional original verse)

Whiskey tastes my money
Everywhere I roam. 
Even took my honey
From my honeycomb. 
Now I don't want no brandy, I don't want no rum.
Makes my mouth all cotton and my nose all numb. 
Guess I best be headin' for my good ol' Rocky Mountain home. 

Rocky Mountain water tastes so fresh and fine.
Rocky Mountain water tastes so fresh and fine.
If I don't get some of that Rocky Mountain water
I declare I'm gonna lose my mind.
Rocky Mountain water tastes so fresh and fine.
Yes, it tastes like champagne wine. 
I mean it tastes so fresh and fine. 

Friday, November 9, 2018

My Father Sings . . . The John B. Sails

Before the Beach Boys made "Sloop John B" their own in 1966,  the Kingston Trio recorded "The John B. Sails" in 1958, from an old Bahamaian song, collected at least as early as 1927 by Carl Sandberg in his American Songbag.  At my house growing up, I heard the song referred to both ways interchangeably and the version we sang somewhere between the two.

After all the excitement of yesterday, happily resolved . . . Dad said, "In all my wildest dreams, I never imagined my response to a doctor telling me I had a blood clot from armpit to elbow would be, YES!" and pumped his arm in victory . . . this just seems appropriate to celebrate my Dad's coming home as planned, at last, to his own home where he hasn't spent a night for six long weeks and sitting down in his own kitchen,  at the little table across from Mom, to a promised breakfast of scrambled eggs and green onions . . . Or if a celebration is still too beforehand, my parents still sitting around in Dad's hospital room last I heard, cooling their heels, waiting this morning to be cleared for takeoff, I'm offering it as theme song and heartfelt hope in their behalf,  Let me go home! Let me go home! I just wanna go home!   I feel so break up, I wanna go home!

* * *

We come on the sloop John B
My grandfather and me
'Round Nassau town we did roam
Drinking all night
Got into a fight
Well, I feel so break up
I wanna go home

So hoist up the John B's sails
See how the mainsail sets
Send for the Captain ashore
Let me go home, let me go home
I wanna go home
Well, I feel so break up
I wanna go home

Well, the first mate he got drunk
Broke into the people's trunk
Constable had to come and take him away
Sheriff John Stone
Won't you leave me alone
Well, this this is the worst trip
I've ever been on

So hoist up the John B's sail
See how the mainsail sets
Send for the Captain ashore
Let me go home, let me go home
I wanna go home
Well, I feel so break up
I wanna go home

Well, the poor cook he caught the fits
And threw away all my grits
Then he took and he ate up all of my corn
Sheriff John Stone
Why don't you leave me alone?
Well, I feel so break up
I wanna go home

So hoist up the John B's sail
See how the mainsail sets
Send for the Captain ashore
Let me go home, let me go home
I wanna go home
Well, I feel so break up
I wanna go home

Well, I feel so break up
I wanna go home...

[There's also a verse Dad sometimes sang that goes something like: 

The steward he got stewed
Ran 'round the poop deck nude
Constable had to come and take him away . . . ]

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