Saturday, April 30, 2011

Springtime on the Tonto

The morning we left Kohl's Ranch and the area where Zane Grey had built his ranch, the question became-- is there anywhere we can buy breakfast? That kind of country really isn't one that provides snacks or restaurants every so many miles although we had hard boiled eggs, bread, butter, cheese; so we would not have starved.

At Christopher Creek, we turned off the new four lane expressway (which will connect more of Phoenix to the casinos in Showlow and Pinetop) where we had been told we'd find a cafe. There it was, one of the delightful, old-fashioned structures, run by friendly people. If I never appreciated places like that years ago, I sure do now, as they are dwindling in numbers.

As we ate and drank our coffee, we debated what to do about going south. What we wanted was take a gravel road we saw on the map that led to Young, south of where we were, the site of one of the worst family feuds in the United States. We had been there before, but it'd been years, and the question always has to be, especially after winter has barely left the land, how good will that kind of road be.

Two turkey hunters were eating at the table across from us. They assured us the road was passable even if it often was a 10 mph road or less. *chuckle chuckle* The waitress didn't agree. She thought the snow had only left it two weeks earlier and expected it to need 4-wheel drive. Of course, we had that, and it had cost us a pretty penny to get it through California as well as carrying it well-loaded, which would be to its good if it was a really bad road.

We kind of went back and forth about whether it'd be worth it but neither of us wanted to go to Showlow as it had been a disappointment several years earlier with how little of its original spirit was there. So we took the gravel road with the added advantage of it leading to Haigler Creek, another one about the size of Tonto Creek.

Well the road was as rough as the two hunters had joked and the waitress had warned although it didn't require 4-wheel, there were many places it made the going easier. The difficulty was worth it to see Haigler Creek although next time we want to go, I think we would come the five miles up from Young and skip the rough part.

We had passed the lonely grave of the first person killed in the Tonto Basin War, a Navajo shepherd who had been part of a plan to bring sheep into the basin which had always been exclusively cattle country with an unwritten rule, no sheep south of the Rim. He was shot from ambush by the Grahams or so goes the legend.

The story of any feud like the one between the Tewksburys and Grahams is full of he said-he said. The gist though of what triggered the war was when the [Daggs] brought in the sheep and hired (or otherwise co-opted) the Tewksburys, who had been before that time small cattlemen, but more gunmen, to protect them. With the shooting of the shepherd, the feud was on between them and the Grahams.

The feud and the danger to the area, known ironically as Pleasant Valley, lasted about ten years with it being said 29 men died in the ensuing violence, most of the deaths occurring between 1886-87. All but one of the men in the two families was murdered which led to Zane Grey using it as a plot device in his book, To the Last Man. This kind of a war is not particularly heroic, with gunfights in streets, but more shots from ambush.

Grey was researching it not that many years from it happening and talked to those who still remembered a lot of it first hand. It wasn't easy back then, maybe not now either, to get people to talk about it. Revenge has a long reach. Most likely it's like the Tombstone, Arizona stories with it depending on which side you were on as to who you saw as the villains in the events. Besides Grey's fictionalized story, there are other books about it.

The land is still beautiful; but it has an edge to it, as far as I am concerned, even today. The community lies in a basin with high hills all around it. People who live there had better be pretty self-sufficient, or they won't last there as it's a long drive to anything else.

When we drove out the south side, heading generally southeasterly, we didn't expect it to be quite as rough a road as the one coming in. It was every bit and to add to it the road had a few miles of something I tend to equate mostly with Arizona backroads-- single lane in the steepest stretches, no way to see too far ahead, and guardrails? What are those? They just wreck the view, right? The drop off on a road like that always makes me tense (Oregon has some too but not sure anywhere near as many) as if your vehicle got over too far, it'd start to roll and be a long time before it quit-- probably longer before anybody found the rolled vehicle and your body. Not surprisingly, Farm Boss likes those kind of roads and hence I have been on more than a few of them in my lifetime...

It had gorgeous views though, and a lot of wildflowers. It was worth the longer and rougher drive but not sure I'll be wanting to do it again anytime soon.

The photos are from Tonto Creek, Haigler Creek, looking down on Young, and the other direction toward the Salt River country. It's a tough land, one that doesn't suffer fools gladly-- even today. It requires tough people to live there. Traveling through, people should use good judgment, carry water, as there is a consequence for the alternative.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Zane Grey country

Between trying to get things done down here, restoring personal energy spent on the trip (made tougher by an interesting detour through Arizona backcountry), and writing on that manuscript, I earlier mentioned, I have had a hard time getting anything here. It's not that I don't have desert photos to share but more what gets in the way of sitting down with them.

First of all there are the immediate household tasks which means to take all the furniture out of the three bedrooms
(made easier by their small dimensions) before the carpet layers arrive Wednesday morning. Farm Boss has been trimming back freeze damaged plans to determine what is salvageable, and I have chosen the replacement plants for those we lost. I am thinking next time not only will I make sure the plants are freeze resistant (as well as unpopular with bunnies) but also that we have some protection available to put around them when the temperature drops.

Despite not personally liking to spend time in malls, this trip necessitated some of that since I managed to forget my sandals. This is strange because I wear sandals a lot but most of this year, with our Oregon winter being wet and cold, I've pretty much lived in boots, Uggs and tennis shoes. I was wearing the tennis shoes when we left; so they weren't possible to forget. I decided if I had to buy some, they'd have to be ones I didn't already have waiting at home; so that meant mall time. Sandals for me have to be comfortable first, easy on the feet, moderately attractive, and not the kind to sprain an ankle.

Despite my desire to finish typing in, along with some editing, one my manuscripts (with which I am making progress), I do have a couple of things I especially wanted to share about Arizona's backcountry.

I love high pine country anywhere and everywhere. Arizona has prime pine country in the middle of the state to the NW corner and the Grand Canyon as well as on many of what are called mountain islands throughout the state. Love it? Yes, I do.

We really hadn't planned we'd even get there this trip until we changed our plans driving toward Needles. Instead of going directly south from there, we turned east into Arizona and spent that night in Will
iams, which definitely qualifies as Arizona high pine country. It also is less than a hundred miles south of the Grand Canyon but going that direction didn't have the appeal this trip-- gorgeous though it is.

From Williams we headed for Flagstaff and then took a back road out of it to the southeast and heading toward Strawberry,
Pine and Payson. Our destination was Zane Grey country with no specific idea exactly where.

We stopped to view the Tonto Natural Bridge which is now a state park. It's not the kind of bridge seen in Utah but more like one in Montana where not wind but water has formed a hole under a land bridge.

For anyone who didn't grow up reading Zane Grey stories, the land below the Mogollon Rim probably wouldn't be so meaningful. The rim is a tall escarpment that separates Arizona into one of its many sections. Below that rim used to be Zane Grey's hunting, fishing and writing cabin before it was destroyed by the dry lightning caused Dude Fire of 1990. Not only did it destroy his cabin but a lot of other buildings and killed six firefighters. [YouTube Tribute to the Alpine Hotshot Crew].

Twenty years later, you only see traces of the damage that fire did to the region.

I am lucky enough to have been to his cabin twice when it was still there. The first was when our children were small. We were camped with a small vacation trailer down along Tonto Creek. My desire was to get up to the cabin I knew should be on the mountain. We expected to be able to drive to it from the campground (couple of miles on a gravel road), but the road was closed due to storm damage.

There was no way I'd let that stop me and we all started walking. I was wearing sandals, a backless halter top, and bright pink stretch pants. What an outfit for a hike up a gravel road in warm, May weather. It turned out to be a fine choice as two young rangers came along and when they found out where we were heading, offered us a ride to the cabin in the back of their pickup.

That visit the caretaker was there, and we were able to go inside, to get the feel of the wood on the walls, the big stone fireplace and even a possible writing desk which he may or may not have used but would have been the right sort. I also purchased a couple of his books in paperback, not because I didn't have them, as I had them all, but because I wanted them to be from there.

Grey, who preferred tents, rarely if ever slept in his hunting and fishing cabins (he had one on Oregon's Rogue River also). They were big rooms made for gatherings of friends,hunting partners, or shelter from particularly bad storms. They also would have provided good places to safely write and keep his handwritten manuscripts which was how all of his stories were written-- before being edited by his wife.

The second time I was there, we were able to drive up, but the caretaker wasn't home which meant we only could look in through the windows and stand on the porch. Our kids were teens, and we all enjoyed the pristine setting.

Our third trip back we could still drive to the cabin's location, but it had been totally destroyed by the Dude Fire with only the chimney standing if I remember right. Fortunately the ranch below, not as much in the tall pines, had been saved.

This trip, we spent the night at Kohls Ranch, situated along Tonto Creek and below the road up to the cabin site. It is typical of the old style of Arizona for motels, built of logs, a main building in a chalet style with a nice lobby. It may not stay as it was this time as it was purchased by a major Arizona land developer and who knows what he'll do with it. Will he see its value as it is? It was lost by the family who had owned it during the downturn and construction of a four lane highway above leaving it on an off road. Seeing those parts of Arizona lose their unique personality is really heartbreaking but it's how life goes, I guess everywhere.

The next morning we drove up toward the cabin for what would have been the fourth time. We found the general area, but the last hundred feet to the burned out cabin had been dozed to make it no longer show up as a road. The road to the old ranch had a big gate on it and a lot of no trespassing signs compliments of the Zane Grey's Homeowner's Association, whatever that is. They even blocked parking at the turn around under threat of being towed. Friendly not, but we did at least get to the land near the cabin.

A replica of the cabin has been built in Payson on a city park with a lake behind it. From the outside, it looks exactly as I remembered the original. It's now part of a museum honoring him and the pioneers of the region. I had no interest in taking a tour as I'd seen the real thing and the setting mattered more to him and to me than the building itself.

Zane Grey was a youthful inspiration to me about values and character. He wrote about strong men and women. He was the first real romantic western writer and a big influence on both those who love nature and romantic adventure stories. A lot of women romance authors have talked about the influence his stories had on their own creativity. Those stories and the films spawned from them helped create the mythology of the old West.

His books aren't timeless in that the stories could not be set in today; but, you know, some stories really are meant for their time. They often have an attitude that might not be called politically correct for today. In the case of Grey, the language is almost poetic as it describes its era and the people as they were then. Because Grey was an outdoorsman, he knew the country and wrote about it as lovingly as he did the characters. Really, I think the stories were just vehicles for him so he could write about what he truly loved-- the land of the West.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Driving south

South of Bakersfield, going over Tehachapi Pass looking toward Bear Mountain.

Still unwinding (back-wise) from the drive down from Oregon as we settle into our Tucson house and get used to 89°F.

When driving between our farm in Oregon and Tucson, we have alternate routes we can take. The decision this time to take I-5 through the big valley of California was made the morning we left for no particular reason. Weather was great for traveling whichever way we had chosen. California though did offer split pea soup at Anderson's in Santa Nella which is where we spent our first night.

I love the drive through the Siskiyous. Mt. Shasta is below, pretty mountain country with red soil from its volcanic past and especially at this time of the year, redbud blooming all over the hills.

Once we got south of Sacramento, it was interesting to see all the crops being raised but also irritating that the whining signs from past drought years were still up. Congress is turning this into a dust bowl. Excuse me but that's a lot of fields under irrigation for a dust bowl. I'd guess more like 3/4 of what can be seen from the freeway is in fruit, nut trees, and other crops. Not enough apparently and it's all Boxer and Pelosi's fault-- that is the few pieces of non-irrigated land but the crops that are planted and producing, not to their credit.

It gives me a bit of a smile to think how frustrated those sign producers must've been that both won their races. This area produces almonds, pistachios, citrus, rice, olives, and not sure what all else.

The whining signs popped up the whole route during the drought years when interests concerned about northern California rivers and farmers came into conflict. Irrigate or fill those big canals? The Klamath River went to such low levels that the salmon runs still haven't recovered as millions of fish died in water with insufficient oxygen. That didn't matter much to the farmers but fishermen get their living from that water also.

With the signs, I get that these folks are not happy because they are red state folks living in a state where most of the population is on the coast and that's blue state country. I feel their pain (actually not) except when I see all the land under usage. Lot of the ones that are not are so rough that it would take a lot of work to change their usage from cattle to crops.

To put land into production, to level, plow and put in the watering system is often subsidized by the USDA, which means those evil taxes. It's one of those instances of where government is bad except when it's doing something directly for them-- and a lot of people have no idea all it is doing directly for them.

Doubtless they were also unhappy (no signs yet on this one) about the price of gasoline. Wow, that was quite the travel expense. I heard one right wing radio type trying to blame that on Obama due to insufficient new drilling in the Gulf after the big spill. Amazing what they will come up with as a reason that somehow ties to him. Vote in Trump. He'll conquer countries to take the oil he wants.

The high cost of fuel (I think the most we paid was $4.29 for diesel) also though contributed to far less traffic on the freeway. It has been many years since I had seen so little traffic on I-5. Lots of semis but ordinary drivers seemed to be cutting back or taking that high cost into consideration before going somewhere.

Road work was everywhere in the northern part of the state. It seemed some team was working on a road project every so many miles. At least those jobs are doing well unfortunately everyone doesn't have the skill or strength to do them.

Those freeways, with all the heavy truck traffic, would be potholes from end to end without government. The motto of the right has been government stay out of our business-- until we personally need something and that often is something they don't even know they are using.

Try individually arranging for canals that can deliver and manage the kind of water it takes to run all these agricultural projects going on in the central valley. In California they were mostly paid for through bonds voted on by the people, which the users will repay fully. In Arizona the canal was a federal project begun under Carter.

The problem with canals has always been not always taking into account droughts. In California, the northern part doesn't have uniform, guaranteed rainfall (which is why some looked greedily toward Oregon who glared back.

This year it appears there has been plenty to keep the canals flowing. Lake Shasta was as full as I've seen it recently; but whenever there hasn't been enough flowing into the dams from the rivers, a new motto appears-- blame government. What matters is all about us. That's what the right wing should admit they stand for these days. This is all happening in a region that naturally would only produce beef (they still have those big feed lots that turn the stomach of anybody who loves cattle).

The first time I was on I-5 was not long after it opened and there was nothing along that road except grass and once in awhile an exit with some food and gasoline-- and I do mean once in awhile.

Today acre after acre are full of orchards with only a few blank spots for the signs to whine. I thought maybe they'd take them down in the rich water years and reapply them next time there isn't enough water but no. There was no end to the complaining, and it lasted until Wasco area when agriculture was replaced by industry (the prison one is booming).

So the orchards are beautiful to see as we drove south. I wondered where all the produce was sent. I was amazed at the evidences of different agricultural methods (they trim the top of orange trees evidently so they can be picked mechanically, we guessed). It is a very productive region due to that water and most in the hands of corporate farms which doesn't mean they aren't family owned but does mean they are big.

The plan for driving to Tucson changed at Needles, well a few miles outside of it. Photos and more on that coming.

Monday, April 18, 2011

what I'm doing

Everybody who writes blogs goes through times where it simply seems there is nothing to say. Although I have been writing in my political blog, Rainy Day Things, it's all 'political' which means controversial.

Rainy Day Thoughts has become, in my mind, like a refuge more than a battle zone. While I believe it's important, for those of us who can, to stay informed and believe our country is basically in a struggle to determine its soul (which is why I have Rainy Day Things), I also feel our daily lives must be led without thinking of that all the time. It's unhealthy to be bombarded or bombard ourselves with negatives. If a person can read the news, do what is possible about upsetting events, which might mean phone calls or writing something, and then let it go, that's the key. Letting it go can be hard but is easier with interesting distractions.

The thing is a person should want those distractions to be positive and helpful to improving their lives. It looks like too many people are choosing things that are shallow and not bringing out the best in those doing the shows or those viewing them. It's almost as though we are becoming the ancient Roman empire in its decline and that's not a very encouraging thought.

The most positive distraction of all is exercising our personal creativity which can be in many different ways. For me, the best of those have been painting and writing. Beginning in March and extending now into April I've done a LOT of writing as I have edited four out of fourteen of my earlier (80-140,000 word) manuscripts. I have a desire to upgrade those stories with the skills and life knowledge that I believe I have today but didn't when I wrote them. You'd think I would have but boy what I have learned in the last twenty years has been a whole different realm from what I had learned in the twenty before that.

So I have been rereading these stories, plan to redo them all and change what is required. Doing this takes me totally away from my own life for the time at least that I am working on them. To update contemporaries involves inserting the place computers and cell phones have come to take in our lives-- especially that of younger people. Can you believe that at one time when you needed to call home when you were out on the road, you had to find a pay phone? It's hard to believe it today.

Besides the ones I had felt were complete but now don't see it quite that way, I had another from the very beginning of writing book length manuscripts. The last time I had looked at it, I put it aside as although I liked the basic plot, felt the characters had potential, I saw the story as shallow not fleshed out, more like a juvenile story than one written by an adult. I wasn't sure it could be brought into anything I'd be proud of writing.

This week it has seemed a little more possible, maybe because of having spent all those hours upgrading three others. I have a powerful urge to see it completed and on my hard drive with its sisters and brothers. I did though decide to base it in the year 1974, which was only a few years after I wrote it, as that was a different time for the influences on our culture. I don't think it'd be the same story today. One good thing about stories based in a historic period, you don't have that problem

Writing really does tell a person where they are in so many ways. My first historical manuscript was begun when I was the age of the female protagonist. When I edited it and improved it (the only manuscript that I paid a consulting writer to help me edit and I learned soooo much from her), I was the age of her mother. Next month when I will likely be looking at it again, I'd be the age of her grandmother. The person I am has changed a lot during those years and it probably has influenced some of how I see her even though she stays young.

When I began this work, it was just with the desire to see the stories in one place and written as well as I could do it today. As I worked on them, I began to consider different ideas. Submit again to publishing houses was, of course one. The thing is publishing houses mostly have niche publishing. Books have to fit into that. Although mine are kind of like one genre, I don't think they totally are.

Publishers operate on a margin and must make money. They figure out where that money is and look for books to fit in. The buyer is the decider although buyers aren't always given all the options they might want either.

The question for the writer is can I fit what they need and still be doing what I need? When a writer fakes what they believe to sell books, I think it shows. I want to be proud of what I write and don't think my stories fit current niches-- which, of course, might mean they are not actually marketable.

That's when I began to think about doing it myself through eBooks. It has the advantage of not being as expensive as printing the books through a vanity publisher. It would let me put out books I have enjoyed writing and think others might like to read but without my making a big investment or having to charge a big price. It has the drawback of no big publishing house behind them, not being in bookstores, and wondering how I get the books seen. It might also limit my chances of ever seeing future books published on paper.

As I researched eBooks, I discovered you have to put together covers for each book. This was both an uh oh moment and an ah ha one. There are ways to get a cover, for anybody who doesn't feel they can do it themselves, but I am assuming that'd be pretty generic (which many are coming out of the publishers also). I'd also have to put more money into books that might not even bring back even the cost of getting them the ISBNs or into the format required for eBooks.

Since I have spent the last couple of years learning how to do digital painting, the creating of a cover soon became an enjoyable activity. I read some tips on requirements. One writer said it should tell the potential reader, within 2 seconds, what the book is about. 2 second is all you get when someone is perusing the covers. It must look good in thumbnail as that is all most readers will ever see if it doesn't attract them further. From a writer that they don't know, they will have to have something draw them to find more about the book even when the price is less than $2. Frankly free wouldn't convince me to download something either. It has to have curb appeal in a computer sense.

Creating covers has been interesting on a level besides the logistics. Basically, although I have written many character descriptions, I have, with only one exception, never visualized these people. They existed only in my imagination, dreamlike images. Creating covers has meant digitally giving them a more physical dimension. In some ways I didn't like that and in others, I did.

The covers I have been creating are different than most I have seen as they are brightly colored and painterly which might or might not be a plus. For some books, it seemed an icon was more apropos, something that represented the soul of the story such as the above rose of sharon.

For any of you who might be interested in creating eBooks also, there is a lot of information online. There are many companies that do the conversion for providers like Google, Amazon, etc. As it stands, if I go the eBook route, I will do the conversions-- actually Farm Boss will-- as it looks like it's not necessary to find a company for that part. The bigger question for me is how does one promote the book, get it seen when it's just one of several million. That's the one I haven't yet figured out and why I haven't decided for sure I want to go this route.

So that's what I've been doing and will be doing. Blogs here will come less frequently for the next month; or if they come, they're going to be photos more than ideas. Usually I have several blogs or more written ahead of where I am publishing. This time, drafts are as blank as my mind. Of course, an idea might come to me as soon as I finish this one up.

We have to make a trip to Arizona for work on the vacation rental property there. Other than some hiking in between jobs at the house, getting inspections done, possibly changing our wireless provider and the telephone set up, I hope to get in a visit with a Tucson blogger(Darlene), but it's not a pleasure trip. It is to get that house up to snuff for future renters which means replacing plants that got frozen and having new carpeting installed in the bedrooms and den. I will try to post when I can but it will likely be more photos than ideas. Someone is looking after the farm and really it's that which has delayed our getting down there. The farm... don't get me started on the farm.

If I decide to put my my stories online, I will let readers here know what I learn about the process-- although I have been thinking of using a new blog that will just be about that so it doesn't bore those who don't have that interest. Blog readers though are often writers which means some might find the process of this all interesting .

Publishing ourselves online is a whole new world for writers with possibilities we never had before. I read that this winter more eBooks were sold than paperbacks. That's where the world is going but the question is how to go along if you are not part of a publishing conglomerate or don't have a famous name already?

In the midst of those questions, I also have to figure out what eBook reader to buy for myself. I am leaning toward either a Nook or getting an ePad kind of device which can read books and do other things. I have reluctance for it to be an iPad as I don't want another monthly bill; but my daughter-in-law has one and it sure is nifty. I definitely need something that can let me read books but would like it to also let me check email and read the news. Kindle is out as I want color.

So don't worry if there's some time between posts. I'll be back to it... sometime.

Friday, April 15, 2011

The Basis of Astrology

Okay, I know how many skeptics there are on what astrology does. Most of this, I think, comes out of not knowing much about it and basing what they do know on horoscopes in the newspapers.

So I thought, hey I'll give a whack at discussing it even though I am not an astrologer. I look at it from the outside as one who has had horoscopes done by others, bought quite a few books on astrology, done natal charts for friends using a computer program (which was more about my ability to create characters than understanding the star combinations), and had an interest in what it all might mean and why. I especially think that when I see my own life reflecting big changes without anyway for me to explain it.

Here's the first personal opinion. I don't think much of horoscopes either especially not those in newspapers. That's simply too general to have much meaning for anybody. I have had a horoscope that was specific to my birth time and it still didn't seem to hit on what happened to me on those dates. I think there are too many variables in our lives to have the planets explain any given day.

Natal charts, now those are closer to having meaning. That means on the date you were born, here are the general characteristics of people born at that exact time, place and date. That turns out to be surprisingly close if you have ever had one done. The question would be why is it close, and why would I believe astrology has value in a general sense for trends that are impacting humans as a whole, not each individual sign specifically?

First of all, here is what astrology actually is in the sense of that age old method of looking at the stars and planets to determine some trends. The planets move around the sun as does the earth and all orbit in a mostly predictable way. In the sky, way out there, the constellations, they are on a different pattern. So as our universe moves, those constellations don't have the same apparent movement. They move too but so far out that it's not like our rotations that form more regular cycles. Same way with the planets that are closer to us changing more often in our sky than the ones farther out.

Let's take Neptune, which is being much discussed right now because it is moving into what is considered its own sign-- Pisces. This is not some arbitrary imaginary thing. Neptune, if you looked up into the sky, you would see it in the constellation Pisces. You could measure where it is there. You could also measure where it was compared to other planets.
"From now until 2026 with only a brief retrograde back to Aquarius from September until Feb 2012, Neptune will be a strong influence for basic escapism from the uncomfortable, fearful aspects pressuring our shared reality, and at the same time, the arts and creative imagination and expression will flourish as artists tap into the inspiration of the muse, and the vast, dry spiritual emptiness of our cultures open themselves to direct experience of Spirit." Patricia A.Liles
If you get an astrology reading from one who really is good at it, they will have the degrees of these planets which is measurable. Astrology is more about mathematics than mysticism. The theory on astrology is that these combinations, as they naturally occur in the skies, coincide with certain trends on earth. They repeat themselves over generations. Some birth signs might feel some of these impacts more than others but the overall impact is universal.

Here's where the skeptic goes-- ridiculous. But wait. Supposing that this is all based on observations of human life as it is with say the Vedic school of astrology which goes back thousands of years. Supposing that it's not so much that the planets make this happen as it is that these naturally occurring combinations are part of the trends of human nature. Suppose some observed this and kept records of the impacts, and over generations, the patterns were repeated.

I have a book on life in the United States since its beginning. Generations The History of America's Future 1584-2069 by William Strauss & Neil Howe. Their theory, which has nothing to do with astrology, is that each generation impacts the next and we have had in the US eighteen American generations. Within the generations are four repeated types with certain characteristics.

In each cycle, there will be Idealist, Reactive, Civic, and Adaptive. One impacts the next. It is a cycle that continually impacts who the next generation will be based on the one ahead of it.

For example, my parents were of the Civic generation while (they calculate the start of this differently for the year) I am of the Idealist (which other social engineers call Boom and say starts a few years later than this book has it).

Understanding this was of particular interest to me as a writer who wanted my historic characters to seem real, but I can see another implication to it.

Supposing that astrology, rather than some mystical set of numbers with no meaning, actually is using what has happened over and over again, patterns that are repeated. We can, when we look at the skies, take measurements, then look at the likely trends to come, how they are impacting our lives, and use the information. This isn't going to tell us when an earthquake will come but more how humans will likely react to it.

To me, that's what astrology is about. And if you find a good astrologer, follow what they are saying, observe what the patterns have been and are likely to be, it serves a purpose. It helps you understand why friends or family member might be acting seemingly irrational, why the world seems to be going loopy. You don't have to be fearful about a time that seems particularly upsetting to you because you know that cycles come and go. This too will pass. If you are a sensitive person, you probably already were feeling some of those vibes.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Two very different men

Every moment and every event of every man's life on earth plants something in his soul. Thomas Merton

Last week I had ordered two different documentaries to come one after another. The first was the story of Frank Lloyd Wright. I had been in his home, Taliesin West in Arizona, many years ago and found it quite interesting in terms of its connection to the land. So I thought it'd be good to learn more about his life-- of which I had known little. Creativity sounded good to me as one subject to explore. It was a Ken Burns special, which normally means good.

Farm Boss and I were tired that night. The farm has had more than a few upsetting hassles recently due to weather and who knows what all. So we turned it off after maybe 40 minutes with the intention of watching the rest the next night.

The next night, I asked him, do you really want to see the rest? He felt as I did. No. Wright was such an obnoxious person, even in that 40 minutes, that it was hard to separate that user of a personality from his work. To us, it was nearly disgusting at how he had gone into his career, used people, demanded his way. It was simply not bearable to spend more time with him

The next video to arrive was Merton: A Film Biography, which was the polar opposite from Wright. Thomas Merton, a prolific writer, philosopher, spiritualist, and humanitarian was as opposite from Wright as I think it's possible for two men to be which makes it rather interesting that I had chosen them to be watched so closely together.

If you have read any of Merton's writings (70 books, numerous essays), you know that as a Trappist monk, he had a dedication to first the monastic life which spread out into a love for mankind and a desire to speak out on what he thought it took to live life fully.

He moved on though in his thinking and that's part of what makes him so profound. He was willing to grow, to challenge even his old ways of thinking. He was a mystic but not religiously bound to any one system even as he remained a Catholic. If he had not died prematurely, one wonders where he might have gone on this lifelong hunt for spiritual truth.

His concern went beyond the Spirit to how this all impacted human life. It was flesh and spirit. Basically he believed it was impossible to have such a life without standing on your own feet, without having a certain sense of liberty. When others rule your life, and most frequently in our country, that could be corporate rulers, you cannot have a true openness to the spiritual truth of life. You are bound up in what you must do. He spoke out about that, against war, and for an understanding that religious similarities of beliefs that he found in a deep study of Buddhism and Christianity, as practiced by Christ, were very similar.

The documentary is by necessity cursory about a lot of Merton's life, but it really is inspiring. I felt, especially in our day and age where it's easy to become very disillusioned with life and all that is going on in the world, it was worth watching and spending some time thinking about.

'In the last analysis, the individual person is responsible for living his own life and for "finding himself." If he persists in shifting his responsibility to somebody else, he fails to find out the meaning of his own existence.' Thomas Merton

Image from Joy of Propaganda

Sunday, April 10, 2011

What is justice? II

My thinking about what is justice comes from a combination of many things. There is what justice means, whether it is possible to find in life, and should it be fought to attain? The questions go behind legal systems to all of life. It also recognizes that people see what it is very differently often based on their culture but maybe other things.

One example that leaps to my mind was the Koran burning and its aftermath. That had human injustice written all over it at every possible end. An American freaky pastor decides burning a Koran is what he must do. That alone is filled with injustice as why attempt to desecrate what is holy to someone else? It makes no sense, does it? His personal sense of justice requires him desecrating that of others?

Then you get the president of Afghanistan discussing it when American media had deliberately not covered it for obvious reasons-- it wasn't news. What possible justice was the leader of Afghanistan hoping to provoke?

Well he proved that not only were some Americans savages, and frankly that is how I define what that pastor and anyone who supports him did, but also some Afghanis. They attacked the UN compound, killed twelve people there who had absolutely nothing to do with burning their holy book and I guess called that justice.

Then there is our legal system. What Obama ordered done by saying we cannot try Khalid Shaikh Mohammed in a civil court says something important about our whole justice system and for once the Republican leaders and our Democratic president are in agreement-- except it's the wrong thing they agree on. If we cannot try accused terrorists in our public courts, who can we try fairly? Does it mean our system is faulty? Ask yourself what that means about justice in this country.

If you look at life, pretty much any aspect of it, finding justice can be in short supply. Is there justice in nature? It might be biological, but is it just? Nature, unless you are as nutty as the Koran burning pastor, just does what it does, which is usually reacting to balancing something else. You could have spent your whole life doing all the right things, following all the rules, but that earthquake, tsunami, or the cougar waiting in a tree, none of it cares. It might be balance but the word justice doesn't fit with it. There is no negotiating with nature. Justice, unless you want to think everything nature does is necessarily just because it doesn't have a personality behind it, doesn't apply to nature. I know there are those who want to force it into that mold-- god did it-- but that thinking simply doesn't work for me (with one possible exception which I'll get to later).

In a lot of life, justice seems in short supply. Yes, sometimes we do reap what we sow. Some diseases are like that. Some relationships, but we are born into a particular family. We maybe have certain genetic weaknesses built into us-- how does justice fit into that? It simply is what it is.

That's what my friend and I discussed the other day without using the word justice. We both talked of our knowing we had been born into nurturing, protective families. It's not like that meant we never had problems, nor that our families were perfect, but it means we understood our luck as it's not that way with all babies. We don't really deserve our families when we are born, do we?

That day, she and I talked of many things that had happened in our lives, in our community through the years. We could see that yes, some people had reaped what they had sown. For others, it was just the luck of the draw. The rain falls on the just and unjust.

The one exception to all of this would be if there is reincarnation, which I can't say is true or not. Reincarnation and karma would mean there is cosmic justice and eventually what goes around, comes around. It is, in my opinion, the only way there could be justice in life. It's not so much that I'd like to think we live again as it is I'd like to think there was cosmic justice of the real sort. In a lot of ways it would mean what happens to us makes sense and has purpose.

If there is not reincarnation, if this is a heaven-or-hell earth or a dust-to-dust one, then justice is not part of what happens here. The very idea that saying some words that give a get out of jail card for doing the things some humans do to others, well it will only be seen as justice by someone desperate to twist it into that form and fearful of saying that religion's god wasn't always just.

Now this all doesn't depress me (other than what my government does) as some might think I am heading toward saying. It's just a fact. We live with what is and getting all upset at the idea of there being justice, worried when we see it's not working out, well to me that's a waste of energy.

However, as individuals, we still try to live our own lives justly. We can do what we can to make sure our own culture is just in how it treats people. We do that all for many reasons which go beyond hoping to get a payback for it. We try for it because it's a better way to live and maybe that's the only way the world at large (excluding nature) will be a place of human justice at least.

Living that way though has a complexity built into it. What if someone decides that to be just means they burn someone else's holy book? What if their idea of living justly is to kill strangers because someone, thousands of miles away, burned a book holy to them?

There needs to be a lot more teaching about what real human justice is, what a country should have in the way of laws and enforcing of them, a legal code that means they can and will try any accused criminal in an open courtroom. If we can't do that, what exactly do we have in a sense of communal justice?

I have said I am not religious but there is an idea, taught in many religions that fits a way of living that would come as close as I think is possible to yielding justice-- treat others as we would like to be treated. It's at least a start.

Friday, April 08, 2011

What is justice?

Sometimes I wake up thinking about something and the above question was on my mind one morning. The thinking probably came out of many individual events strung together with no particular thread connecting them.

One was a delightful morning and afternoon with a dear, old friend, where we hadn't met for years when we ran into each other at a December funeral. My friend and I had drifted apart due to her remarrying (she was a widow), having babies again, and moving from this rural valley. Actually, my own life changed quite a bit about that time also. We always though cared for each other and her coming out to the farm on Monday was a wonderful, deep time of renewing and reconnecting. I always knew strong friendships endure through long separations and this was one of those.

As we sat and talked, had a lunch of soup and half a sandwich, we shared our lives through the intervening years, told our stories, and those of the people we had in common from many years earlier. We talked of how life so often works out, the consequences of actions, and even the luck of how some are born into nurturing families as both she and I had been. She grew up out in this rural community, had been in my home as a guest before I was here and even had been in the original house on the property before it was torn down. Her roots in this country community go deep as her father was born on the land her family still owns. She didn't move that far away; so she's still here and yet not quite the same as it once was.

I talked of my own family roots as we also shared what is going on right now in our lives. We caught up on 15 years in that morning/afternoon. I told her some of how this winter/spring has been on our farm. Frankly it's been a (pardon my language but there's no better word for it) hell of a season where it comes to animal problems. We have lost more new or recently born calves than ever happens even in a year let alone a two-month period. Some were due to first time mothers but most we think were a result of the unusual stormy and cold spring where the weather changed so fast and pneumonia was more common that usual. Heck, we normally have no pneumonia in our calves or lambs.

To add to this, we have also experienced some of the weirdest sheep behaviors (and you’d think after having done this over 30 years, there wouldn’t be much new to us).

Example: Farm Boss and I were sitting down to eat dinner one evening and a neighbor came to the door-- your lamb is on the road. We weren't totally shocked to hear that as the smallest lambs had been maneuvering their way through the wire panels. Farm Boss had hoped he had finally stopped their escapes, but it's easy to miss a place.

We weren’t shocked that is until he said it’s on the highway and we looked out the door to see the lamb on the shoulder of that highway and on the other side of the creek from the farm. Without trying to figure out how it happened, we ran, Farm Boss to get in the car and me to head up the road on foot. When I got to the highway, waving my arms to attempt to slow down rapidly approaching cars didn't work. Maybe they thought I was trying to hitch a ride.

Then I saw on the bridge a small black and white lamb in total panic as our neighbor was closing in on it from behind. Farm Boss had driven on past to find a safe place to park, I assumed. The lamb jumped onto the cement rail of the bridge which panicked me as I visualized it losing its balance and falling to its death or worse into the creek where I am not sure what we could have done to save it as it's bank full or rushing water and more like a river these days.

Instead of falling, it immediately jumped right back onto the highway; then recognized me, ran straight for me, saw the familiar gravel road and ran down it, through the open gate and to its own pasture acting as though nothin' had happened. Yep, absolutely nothing. Farm Boss drove back shortly after with a second lamb in his lap which the neighbor kids had run down over there.

So here is what we surmise they did. First, the two got out, ate some tall grass alongside the gravel road, meandered down that road possibly eating grass and then comes what reason cannot possibly explain. When they got to the highway, they continued on it to cross that cement bridge which is about 100 feet long, with no grass to tempt them as they couldn't see grass on the other side while on it, nor with the solid cement sides could they have seen anything to make them thinking going forward would do anything good for them. They then went down the other side of the road, continuing to move further away from their home but seemingly to them, since the farm is just across the creek, maybe they didn’t think that was the case. They were calling to their mothers on the other side of the creek. Like that was going to do them a lot of good!

Was there any logic to that behavior? None that we can come up with. There is a bit of an echo in our valley and maybe at some point they couldn't tell from where their mothers' maas were coming.

That doesn't explain crossing a cement bridge that should have appeared very foreign and even scary to small lambs. Logic does not apply to the world of raising livestock (often not of people either).

Well, in discussing how I got to thinking about justice, I got distracted, but will get to it in the next blog.

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger

After having written about psychics and seeing other films about the 'other' side... or not, I found the next title to be intriguing when I saw it listed on Netflix. To add to its appeal, it seemed to be about complex relationships.

Although I am not a huge Woody Allen fan, he does explore complex relationships as well as controversial topics and I would say 'You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger' fits his pattern. The cast is excellent with Anthony Hopkins, Antonio Banderas, Naomi Watts, Gemma Jones, Pauline Collins, and Josh Brolin. The story is a mix of characters that are all at a critical point in their lives.

An older man, unable to face growing old decides he can stay young if he leaves his wife. He finds a much younger lover although does she love him or what he can give her? Is her youthful world what he wants for himself?

His wife is left to make the most of her life when what she counted on is gone. Their daughter is no more settled in her choices. She married a man who is unwilling to take on adult responsibilities. Affairs, mistakes, how another person's choices impact yours, and dreams of something more than what they have are all part of this film.

I liked it particularly for the feeling of 'reality' to what happened. People make choices that often have consequences that they can no longer control. Life has a way of finding a way. I read a review that complained the characters weren't well cast which surprised me as I had thought they were very well cast.

Something that also intrigued me was the question of what makes one person sexually attractive to another or to others. It's not physical beauty per se. Something else is involved and although the film doesn't answer what it is, it does illustrate that it happens through various characters and relationships. Recently I read an article saying better to use the word attractive than beautiful and I think maybe that explains more of why some people can have perfect features but not appear attractive. Woody Allen doesn't really explore this as much as illustrates how it is-- and likewise how someone without perfect features can be very attractive.

Oh and about that psychic... never mind. If it sounds interesting, rent the movie :)

Monday, April 04, 2011

Elizabeth Taylor the woman

Beings I was born in 1943, I grew up in the era where there were still movie star magazines. They were called things like Photoplay and confidential something or other. They ran the gamut from scandal sheets to publicity stills the studios wanted out. My aunt subscribed to some of them which were handed off to me when she'd finish them. I absolutely loved the stories, the photos, the glamor even if it was posed. Some of the magazines sought the star missteps (if the studios couldn't buy off the reporters) but this was before hoards of paparazzi became so much a factor in revealing every misstep or suggestion of cellulite.

Those were the days when most of the movies on television were late night fare and began after the late evening news-- before Jack Parr and then Johnny Carson changed nighttime network television forever. I saw so many movies that way-- many with Elizabeth Taylor. One of my favorites from when she was young was Elephant Walk which isn't really all that talked about when considering her big films. I liked her character in that film and the complexity it revealed about life and our choices. She was so beautiful but then she always was for her whole life and frankly I don't think she had surgeries to do it. It didn't look like she had.

My experience with glamor was not in my personal life, growing up on a farm, but from stories from my parents' lives (they did have more 'glamorous lives before children and farms), old movies, and those magazines. Elizabeth Taylor was a part of the last two. I grew up knowing about her life on a movie star magazine level. She seemed much older than me and only later did I realize she was only 12 years older which seems like nothing now.

Except it was a lot given the differences between our life experiences-- mine being very sheltered and hers out in the world where she was a movie star from childhood. Everything about her was bigger than life. She was, however, a prime example of those to whom much is given much will be asked.

There were marriages that didn't work out. One that seemed it had; then her husband was killed and the public grieved with the young widow who would birth his child only after his death. Then came the first scandal. How could she take that innocent young woman's husband? Oh wait, Elizabeth nearly died, all is forgiven. Oh wait, another husband into her snare or was it her into his? Not forgive. Forgiven. Interest through it all never died.

Personally I found her more interesting as her life appeared more complex. It didn't make me angry that she took another woman's husband. First I wasn't that sure a woman could do that without the man being in on the deal. Second, I was high on the idea of the kind of love that broke all the rules.

Most of what fascinated me weren't the stories about a movie star. They weren't about her extreme wealth and all that jewelry. They were about a life and how it was being lived to the hilt on every level. And that is the appeal of it today. The fancy photos around a swimming pool, pfffft, but a woman who lives life fully, with no apologies, now that's a story worth following and many of us did right to the end.

A line from that article, one said by Taylor, probably puts best what I felt about her and that love affair with Burton, a love affair that never ended even though they really couldn't work out the happily ever after part. Capote was tying it together from an earlier time before she had met Burton where she had told him she wondered what she would find, what was waiting out there that would change her whole life.

This meeting with Capote came after she had been married to Burton about five or six years. She knew how it was with him, the good and the bad. She also knew he had fulfilled that question she had asked. She said--
“Well, what do you think?” But it was a question with an answer already prepared. “What do you suppose will become of us? I guess, when you find what you’ve always wanted, that’s not where the beginning begins, that’s where the end starts.”
Great love affairs are often not really happy ones, at least not of the happily ever after sort. I can think of many such examples, but Burton and Taylor, well it's the one that fascinates still.

The end of their physical relationship wasn't the end of their love nor of her passionate approach to life. Not for Elizabeth would be sitting in shrouds and waiting for the end. She went on with a continued desire to practice her art, nurture her children, her pets, work on causes that mattered to the world, like recognition of AIDS, take risks in life and love, and continue to love him to the end as he apparently would her. Perhaps that love affair, those fiery years with him, perhaps those were the fuel for the rest.

To me, above all the rest, was that woman who gave it all up for love but didn't let it ruin her life and was willing to walk away when it wasn't healthy. That is such a life example. She was capable of risking it all to reach out but also to know when to let it go. That's the woman I find most fascinating.

Saturday, April 02, 2011

Catfish and some thoughts that came from it

Once again, warning, if you have not seen Catfish, the documentary, but intend to do so, skip reading this blog because although it doesn't go into the plot, the ideas do come out of it. Catfish spoiler ahead on the other side of the ocean photo which has absolutely no relationship to the movie but serves to save someone from reading something they wouldn't want to see before the film.

One of the big questions I sometimes have when watching any film is how they came up with that title. Where in this case, I knew the story because of Angela, the woman who lied, being on 20/20 and the film being shown at Sundance last year. Also I had read of the younger woman whose photos had been misused because she had them posted somewhere online. What I didn't know is how the filmmakers came up with the title.

The title is important to the meaning of this film. It goes way beyond deception on the internet, or watching out where you post your photos (in fact one sexy photo online is too many if you don't want it showing up elsewhere). The title is why this film has so much life meaning. You find out how it came to be at the end of the film in one of the last scenes filmed at Angela's home and with her husband, Vince. At this point, the three young men know the whole story of what Angela did and maybe Vince, her husband, only partly grasps it but he's sympathetic to the wife who has so lovingly tended her stepsons. He himself seems a little mentally challenged right up until this moment.

He tells them a story of how years ago they used to ship cod alive in big tanks to Japan from the United States. There was a problem. By the time the cod arrived, they were mushy and not the quality of meat that would have been desired. Then the shippers discovered if they put catfish in the tank, it kept the cod challenged and active. They arrived in good shape for eating.

He said that some people are like catfish in our lives. They might not seem beneficial, but they are the ones that challenge us, that make us more than we might've been otherwise.

The easy people in our lives don't do that. It's the others-- the ones who are difficult in various ways. Those aren't the ones we think we want. We like the atta-boys but which ones help us grow? that was his point.

I really like how this fits into that word I got in a dream-- entropy. Entropy is what seems to have gone astray, been not helping us do what we want but entropy might be like the catfish for how beneficial it can be. The unintended accidents take us directions we'd never have gone but that lead us to becoming someone we'd never have been. We don't ask for such but we can use it.

When the filmmakers got close to showing the film at Sundance, they were still undecided on a title as they didn't want one that gave it all away. A filmmaker who had seen it told them there could only be one title-- Catfish which eventually they saw also. It tells it all but it doesn't give away anything.

The interaction between Angela and Nev pretty well says it all for the complexity of relationships-- on both sides. She was looking for a different life that she couldn’t have and wouldn’t have gone to if she could have with her responsibilities and love for her family, but she wasn’t the only one in that situation.

Nev also wanted something more. As daring as she was to create this life that was so complex to please him, he also did whatever it took, once he got into it, to reveal the truth of who she was. He didn't stop with the lie but he wanted to show the real Angela, who he knew so well but as many different people, not the one extremely complex person she was. Behind a smiling sweet facade was another woman, the one she was inside but would never be outside.

For Angela, although her being revealed as a liar was humiliating, it also was a door that opened to her changing her own life, being more who she wanted to be and promoting the paintings as her own.

Part of the reason Angela had created Abby as being the artist was that her work wasn't respected when it was hers but when it was a child protege, she thought it would be seen as of more interest.

Getting art (and art means all of them including writing) out to the public, finding a market for it is one of the problems of anyone who does it hoping for it to at least pay for itself if not go further and provide a living. There is no logic to why one painter/writer can sell and another is sneered at. You go into any art gallery and you will see work there that you can see just as good in someone's attic gathering dust.

Selling art is complicated as they are not just selling the painting but the artist behind it. It's not as though everyone buys a painting with the idea of having a big investment to grow in value, but after a certain dollar figure, I think that does play into purchases. Angela had found she couldn't meet the criteria as herself. Should her work have been able to stand on its own merits if it wasn't being done by a child protege?

The truth is there would not be those openings where the artists schmooze the potential buyers if the artist wasn't part of the sale. Angela as herself had nothing to offer at least she didn't until after this documentary came out.

In a lot of ways she was a strong woman. She faced her problems and chose unorthodox methods to find solutions. We don't like that because we don't like being fooled and yet I think the viewer finds an understanding that comes as she discusses what she did. The viewer sees it as the wrong way to go at it but sympathizes with the why.

Angela had a gift but where she lived and looking like she did, it was going nowhere fast. If she had had someone marketing her work, maybe she could have done it without fitting the image, but she didn't. She knew the ropes though which is why she had sent the painting to Nev with the hope it would open a door. Her lie, of having bought an old Penney's building as a gallery for Abby's painting, was part of a dream that was beyond her reach.

So the film makes the viewer think about their own dreams, about the impact of lies, and most of all about fooling ourselves. It also illustrates the ease with which the Internet can defraud and steal from us. It also shows it for the powerful tool it is. It can create a world.

If there is ever a place entropy can go off many unexpected directions, I'd say the internet would be a biggie, not only the radiation that we get from all those wireless devices, but the information/misinformation that does things to our mind and life that we might find very surprising if we looked at it analytically.

As a side note, it is also a lesson to any who have their photos, especially family ones, online anywhere. They can be so easily taken and put under another name. When I first read about the film last fall, it was from the end of the young woman who Nev thought was Megan but in reality only existed in that little internet world Angela had created. The photos were of a model with two children who wanted to promote herself online and ended up being part of other people's stories. They did say she received some compensation for using her images in the film. Hard to say if that was enough given the invasion of privacy that was involved. On the other hand, she apparently had some near nude photos online which Angela used to entice Nev further into her world. If people put nude photos online, maybe publicity is exactly what they want. Who knows. (Incidentally, for anyone who thinks those might be in the film, they were not."