Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Far from the Crowd's Madness -- Briefly

The traveler welcomes his brief enislement from the marvelous modern tools of communication, his not having to face the morning diet of news reports and story lists for news aggregators.  His companion sagely says that reading them these days is "like peering into Hell."

Here on Horseshoe Bend of the Bighorn River, where rugged northeast Wyoming kisses tough old southeastern Montana, you can't access the Internet, pulling in an audible radio station isn't worth the effort, and who ever heard of television?

So like most of our countrymen, even those with the dubious blessing of total access, we turn our backs on Israel's genocide in Gaza, ignore the "lakes of blood" one newsman saw in Bibi's relentless war on nunneries, hospitals, mosques,schools and civilian homes. We are deaf to the unbelievable idiocy of Washington's buffoons, whores, half-wits and criminals.

We look instead for the great stallion Cloud and his herd of wild mustangs, somewhere in the wilderness of the Pryor Mountains. The legendary beast is getting old, but still roams his domain, still commands his mares, yearlings and colts. Recently a younger stallion challenged him for leadership of his herd and Cloud suffered severe wounds.  But, a BLM ranger assured us, he has recovered. 

Even here in this high, lush country a worldly thought intrudes: how like the stallion who challenged Cloud are the arrogant governments led by our own seeking to destroy Vladimir Putin's rule of the Russian herd. Rational thought does not provoke these intrusions on sovereignty; just animal power-lust, a raw and unbridled force of primitive nature. Man was thought to have risen above this.  What hubris!

There! Off less than a hundred yards from the rough, tortuous jeep track we are ascending! A bachelor stallion of the Pryor mustangs, grazing a grassy swale! As we aim our cameras, he obliges with a regal rearing on his hind legs, forelegs kicking high,deep black mane shaking. Then he vanishes behind a rocky crag.

Mission accomplished. We abandon the search for Cloud, turn around and head back toward Horseshoe Bend.

Going downhill, the reservoir behind Yellowtail Dam is an oval emerald, glistening in the hot mid-afternoon sun. Across the road we can see the rooftops of the fish hatchery. Because the day is clear, we can make out the settlement of Lovell, 14 miles distant.  Even here, in the domain of the wild horses, or at our campsite, where the sun paints the cliffs of Bighorn Canyon blood red every dead-silent dawn, the ugly truth of the real world is never far away.

We know that even as we thirstily drink in the beauty that surrounds us, wars that we instigated, whether overtly or indirectly by stealth, are sapping precious resources and snuffing innocent lives. We know that those who lavish our treasury on these wars callously refuse the pittances to feed hungry children in our own country. We know these things but are grateful for the diversions nature provides in this precious place.

From a high cliff above the river we can see Devil Canyon. The fickle river gorged this canyon millennia ago, then altered its meander leaving the old gouge high and dry. Now, 900 feet below, the Bighorn churns -- a rich green as viewed from above -- on its new course called Bighorn Canyon. No apologies offered, none requested.

This place is home to raptors. Cruising broad wing hawks drift brazenly overhead, so close it seems that we could reach up and grasp their razor-sharp claws. Brandi, our usually intrepid Rhodesian ridgeback, instinctively ducks behind a boulder.

We scan a circle, trying to spot a peregrine falcon on the hunt. These swift raptors nearly disappeared from the Bighorn high country, their eggs rendered infertile by the DDT they absorbed from consuming their prey. Along came Rachel Carson's disclosures in "Silent Spring" and the banning of the pesticide. The peregrine are back and thriving, although none chose to show themselves to us today. Never mind, it's comforting just to know they're there, somewhere, filling their appointed niche in Nature's scheme of things.

These days it's trendy for our elected clods and dunces to denigrate Carson and her research in clouds of revisionist non-science that suit their denial of climate change. A pox on them.

A pox, too, on the extractor oligarchs who would frack, drill, pillage, loot and destroy the very ground we're walking on, and the politicians who would allow them to do so. The fossil fuel lords have fooled too many people in these parts. They link their own prosperity, poor fools, to the fortunes of the drillers and diggers and despoilers.

Bighorn Lake is emerald, again, in the setting sun. What a beautiful planet this is, site of the spectacular accident that enabled life to form. How fortunate we humans are to have risen to our present place in the hierarchy of that life.  How little we have done to deserve such fortune. So little that one day all too soon we will have forfeited it.

Onward to Canada's Kootenay Valley.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Thoughts Where the Wind and the Bighorn Marry

THERMOPOLIS, WY--This is the first time we have visited the beautiful Wind River canyon without seeing bighorn sheep. What else would you expect when it’s 104 degrees on the rocky slopes where they liked to frolic?

Weather extremes, a symptom of man-driven climate change, seem to be everywhere these days. Even in this hotbed of climate change deniers, Jesus freaks and Dick Cheney, 104 degrees is a little much.

In Mac's bar and package goods store, every stool and table was occupied at mid-afternoon the other day.  Most of the patrons would otherwise have been fishing for trout or gunning down wolves from low-flying helicopters.  It was just too damned hot for such manly pursuits. Nobody paid attention to the ball game on the wide screen TV -- who cared about the Pittsburgh friggin' Pirates? -- but the beer was flowing fast and some of the good ol' boys were heating up an argument about whether the water was a little cooler upstream in the Bighorn above where it merges with the Wind to roar through the canyon.

Over at Hot Springs state park, Dan'l's normally tireless border collie, Max, spurned her game of fetch and flopped down in the cool, green grass.  Our ridgeback, Brandi, took a sip of the Wind down in the canyon, then headed back to the truck to beg for some of the cold stuff he knew was there.

The north campground at Boyson Lake state park was virtually deserted despite the abundant shade.

All over the West, creatures are migrating from their traditional habitats because they have become inhospitable. Cooper's hawks no longer hunt from my back gate in New Mexico in the winter time; they've moved the southern limits of their range to higher, cooler ground. The very existence of some species is threatened now by the rapidity of climate change. The polar bear is the most famous example but far from the only one. Sea turtles,pikas, frogs, pandas,bees - these are just a few of the species that are vanishing all too quickly.

Down at Mac's the prevailing wisdom held that the trout of the Bighorn were simply to be too damned lazy with the heat to take bait these days, but don't try to sell that line to fishermen off the coast of Wales, who have seen some of their most profitable catch move hook, line and habitat to cooler North Sea waters.

Arrogantly proud of our ignorance, we humans have been turning our natural world inside-out and upside-down for far too long now. Maybe the day isn't that far off when we'll have to got to a zoo just to see a robin.

Yesterday, on the banks of the Wind, our macho lion-hunter Brandi was frightened away from a choice piece of shade by a hostile butterfly! Really.  They were all over the place.  Down south of where we live that used to the case with the regal monarch, too.  Now it's endangered.

Perhaps some day the human race will vanish, victim of its own follies,leaving the planet to the insects.  Lord knows there's plenty of those flittin' around in this heat!

There remain somewhat unspoiled a few magnificent places in the North American west, places I want to explore before I die.  We're headed for some of them -- Bighorn Canyon up the river where perhaps the water's a bit cooler; Kootenay lake, river and national park in Canada, where perhaps there's still an unmelted ice cave or bit of glacier.

At least Brandi will be safe from hostile butterflies up there.  But is that good? That could even be tomorrow's argument at Mac's bar.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Our Legacy of Dead and Maimed Children

How deeply this country has sunk into depravity! It is now one of the world’s most egregious jailers, abusers and murderers of children.

Israel, with American military hardware, is raining terror upon the deprived, under-nourished, ill-housed, blockaded, sick and suffering Palestinians in the Gaza.  Nearly 200 have been killed, 30 to 50 of them children.  The kids who survive are not “fortunate;” they suffer the world’s highest rate of childhood post traumatic stress disorder.  Nightmares, attention deficit,  dysfunctional bowels, incoherent thought patterns, intense depression — these are our gifts to the children who survive.

We protect the Israelis with our technology,  with the super power of the most expensive killing machine in history.  The so-called “iron dome” that deflects 90% of the rockets fired at Israel from Gaza is 100% U.S. technology paid for 100% with American tax dollars. The air strike that tore off the arms of a three-year-old Palestinian girl in Khan Younis was conducted by an American plane given to Israel as “foreign aid”, dropping American bombs using sophisticated American guidance systems. So the bomb that killed two invalids in a nursing home, or the one that destroyed a home next to a mosque, may not have been accidents.

In the Americas, Honduras has become a murderous hell-hole in the bloody chaos that followed the American-backed coup d’etat that ousted a democratically-elected head of state.  Most of the children flooding across our border are fleeing the violence in Honduras.  We have incarcerated them in conditions unfit for animals and cannot wait to throw them back to the hell from which they fled — a hell that we created. They are refugees but we call them illegal immigrants. 

Coalitions of religious, civil liberties, human rights, medical, legal and labor organizations have documented these horrors and demanded an end to them, but our government simply growls at these frightened kids and the many others who might follow them across the border, “We will send you back.”

We slaughtered a million and a half Iraqis bringing “freedom and democracy” to that benighted land.  How many of them were children?  Far, far too many in the view of any but the most barbarian of cultures. Not to mention the maimed and traumatized and parentless children who huddle in the rubble of their devastated country, lacking potable water, adequate medical treatment or proper nutrition.  This is their “gift of freedom” from the United States of Endless War. Unindicted war criminals like Cheney and Rumsfeld and Perle still boast about “achievements” there, just as Netanyahu’s  toadies boast of their “achievements” in Palestine. How many dead and maimed children constitute an “achievement?”

We financed and trained the neo-Nazis who drove another democratically-elected head of state  out of office in Ukraine, where our foreign policy has created a new hell-hole of civil war, death and destruction.  Of course children are among the victims.  We don’t know how many.  We don’t care.

How many dead and crippled children did we leave in Libya?  How many children have our drones killed? 

In our own country, more than 16 million children live in poverty, lacking adequate food, housing, medical care and education.  We cannot afford government programs to feed them, to improve their schools, to give them a ray of hope, but we can afford trillions for the war machine that turns children into collateral damage.

A majority of United States citizens purport to be Christians.  Perhaps they follow some Christ , but not the one who said, “Suffer the little children to come unto me . . . .”

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

This Is MY Country . . .

The United States of America: one nation, under surveillance, with libertine injustice for all, especially women.

To be deemed a patriot, rather than a terrorist (there are no other designations) in this new United States, one must worship a Christian god and play by the rules of the old, male theocrats who interpret god's directives for the rest of us, and make them into the law of the land. No Buddhists, Muslims,atheists or Hottentots need apply.

Our wars are just wars; we must wage war unrelentingly because there is so much evil in the world, especially in places with lots of crude petroleum beneath the surface. Such places tend to teem with non-Christians who are worthy only of becoming collateral damage in our just wars.

The most important beings in our new United States are called corporations. They are people, like us, only richer and more powerful, with many more rights than we have.

Our masters, the theocrats and deeply religious corporations, have been forced to move heavy-handedly against a rampant new sin of the modern world: the enjoyment of sex by women. God invented sex for the making of babies and only for the making of babies. Doing it for fun is a crime against church and state -- and certain closely-held or faith-based corporations.

There are three branches of government in the new United States.  The legislative branch consists of two chambers, the House of Representatives and the Senate. Some members of both houses are called Republicans and some are called Democrats.  They are largely indistinguishable from one another. Each of them is owned by corporations and the only legislation that ever passes these houses is made of the corporations, by the corporations and for the corporations.

The judicial branch of government consists of courts of various kinds.  Some make sure that our jails are kept full of people of color.  But the most important court of all is the U.S. Supreme Court, which is run by five, old Roman Catholic males. Their job is to make rulings that enable the people called corporations to become ever richer and more powerful. They also monitor the subservience of women and suppress seditious ideas like equal pay for equal work.

The third branch of government, the executive, embraces the president, his cabinet and an enormous bureaucracy. The president's main job is to decide who's a terrorist. Terrorists can be arrested for no reason at all, tortured, incarcerated forever without charges, and killed at the discretion of the president, who, in fact, is the sole custodian of the official kill list. The kill list is like an insurance policy on our fleet of drones, to make certain they're working properly. The cabinet advises the president on important matters like foreign policy. Iraq is their handiwork. The vast federal bureaucracy exists mainly to give the Tea Party something to wax wroth about. The Tea Party is a loose alliance of gun nuts, libertarian fruitcakes, religious kooks and anti-tax crazies who want to keep government's hands off "their" Medicare.

To one degree or another, each branch of government has a role in managing something called "the economy." The economy is about money. Government sees to it that the richest one per cent of us get more and more money.  That leaves less and less money for the rest of us. This is the way god wants it to be.  God, it seems, is just another oligarch.

Most of the richest among us, especially the people called corporations, pay no taxes, so it remains for the poorest among us to pay for our wars.  Our budget for military stuff is bigger than China's budget for rice plus Russia's budget for vodka plus the U.K.'s budget for kinky sex. You could probably even throw in France's budget for pâté de fois gras, and still have room for John Boehner's tanning salons. We can't afford to waste our tax money on food for poor kids or medical care for veterans of our wars or fixing our decrepit infrastructure or improving our public schools or reducing pollution or slowing the pace of the climate change that is destroying our planet.

The most important task of our government is called national security. Keeping us secure requires the government to listen to everything we say and watch everything we do -- even in our bedrooms ("Better not be having FUN in there!")

Our tax dollars maintain a very special government outfit called the CIA. Its job is top secret.  So is its budget. So are its agents, unless they've been outed by Dick Cheney.  The CIA sees to it that dictators we don't like get violently overthrown and replaced by dictators we do like.  Sometimes after liking a dictator for a decade or so, we decide not to like him. That's called Saddam Hussein. Except in Ukraine where it's called Svoboda.

Is this a great country or what?

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Shootout on the Greensward

For most of the fortnight, the Young Guns were in the saddle. Nick Tyrgios, a sprite of 19 playing out of Australia, went eyeball-to-eyeball with Rafael Nadal, the best player in the universe, and sent him packing. Grigor Dimitrov of Bulgaria, who'd have to show i.d. to get a pint at the pub on the corner, played up to his "Little Fed" nickname and ousted the defending champion, Andy Murray. Milos Raonic, a fuzzy-cheeked Canadian seeded No. 8 in the tournament, littered Wimbledon with ace-riddled corpses en route to the semifinals.

Now it was High Noon in London. Novak Djokovic, already with six Grand Slam notches on his pistol grip, dodged Dimitrov's best bullets, ever upright to fire one more round of his own. It wasn't easy, but the veteran prevailed.

Out of the shadows came the Old Man, ready for one more showdown at the Grand Corral of tennis, Wimbledon's Centre Court. Raonic had never played there. For a decade, Roger Federer owned it. Now 32, father of two sets of twins, he's ancient in tennis terms. But his straight-set dissection of the kid was almost boring in its clinical efficiency.

The Young Guns were gone. The Big Four  of tennis -- Nadal, Djokovic, Federer and Murray -- had won 35 of the last 37 Grand Slam championships.  One of them was about to claim a 36th. Could it be the Old Man? Could Federer, who with 17 holds more Grand Slam titles than any man in history, win an 18th, and a record eighth at Wimbledon?

Appropriately, in his twilight, this most elegant of tennis champions is now coached by Stefan Edberg, who introduced elegance to the sport, and once ruled supreme at Wimbledon. Under his influence, Federer had reached the final showing more and more of the attack-and-volley style that had marked his early career -- back when HE was the Young Gun, taking it to Pete Sampras, the reigning king of Wimbledon.

Djokovic was on a mission of his own: beat the legend here, on his best surface, and the svelte Serb would regain the No. 1 ranking in the world. The rivalry between him and Nadal for that encomium is the most compelling narrative in tennis today.

And so began what would be the tone for much of the match: Djokovic seemed to dominate, holding serve effortlessly, while Federer struggled but somehow stayed even until it was 6-all. Throughout, we saw occasional flashes of the old, ascendant Federer. "Balletic," my companion aptly described one masterly backhand volley winner.

Federer's serve became the most fearsome weapon in the match.  He would finish with 29 aces, more than twice his opponent's total. But Djokovic's steel will, his incomparable all-court game, his savage returns of all but Federer's very best serves, won the next two hotly contested sets.

The worm had turned for the younger player, who forged ahead 5-2 in the fourth set. But writers of Federer's obituary had to erase their pages. The Old Man fended off a championship point, then won five games in a row to square the match. Once again he was Wimbledon's will o' the wisp, maker of shots that only he can make, that leave his opponent shaking his head in wonder.

Four-all, fifth set: Whoever broke serve next would win this thrilling thing.  Djokovic, he of the iron resolve, held. Roger's serve, his best weapon all day, deserted him. Two feeble offerings and he's down love-30. The end was mercilessly abrupt after all the day's heroics. Federer would not make history.  Djokovic would rule the tennis world, a gracious champion who actually thanked Federer "for letting me win today."

It had been, thanks especially to the Young Guns, one of the most exciting Wimbledons of recent years. The Old Man did not ride off into the sunset. "See you next year," he said.

Federer, even in defeat,  had added to his legacy yet another five-set classic for the ages.

But of course.  This is Wimbledon after all.