Saturday, July 19, 2014

family vacation - took the kids southwest of lubbock, through brownfield & plains, up through roswell new mexico, and up to ruidoso, a mountain resort area, for about ten days. high up in the mountains, the pines smelled so good, and it was cool, and it rained, and i thought, it's nice to be only four hours from the rockies - but, it would be nicer to just be there all the time. high up there, we rested, walked around in the mountains, swam a lot, put our feet in the mountain river (ruidoso means noisy as in rio ruidoso), went to white sands & las cruces to visit the folks, and attended a country-western music performance which was of course the high point of my trip.

i was aware that roswell was a town famous for an alien event in the 1940's, so i peered out the window as we drove through; it was sunny, and it looked like san angelo, very well taken-care-of, not ashamed of its high-plains sunny bright character, prosperous, concerned about its appearance. we saw a few aliens on the billboards and saw a museum devoted to aliens. it was near the pecos river so i noticed that whereas artesia, also on the pecos, is only halfway to the mountains, roswell was actually much closer, and in fact the mountain swimming pool got a roswell radio station. the town was surrounded by that vast plain, where it looks like it goes a hundred miles, and once you get out of the city, there's nothing. and city? it's only got 40,000 or so; there aren't many cities in new mexico.

as a faithful license plate watcher, i was happy to catch a few right away, but noticed that, on these backroads, you don't see much besides NM & TX - after we got to ruidoso, it was pretty easy to pick up OK, AZ, UT (life elevated) and CA. Before the trip was over I'd got most of the west - WA, OR, ID, MT, even AK, which is the triple-word-score of license plate watching. but way out here, in the folds of the sacramento mountains, south of the main rockies and not on any cross-country interstates, it was hard to pick up any of the new england or southern states, and i only ended up with about 28. got TN, OH, NY, CT, FL & LA, but there were tons i never got. they just don't come out here all that much.

high up in the pines my wife got a lot of anxiety about coming back to work, but we had to roll off the mountain and down the hill anyway. i'd looked up a little about the roswell incident - how five different books were written about it - how there was no controversy that some aircraft fell from the sky and landed out there in the middle of nowhere - about controversy over the 'alien autopsies' and about all the secrecy surrounding the case, etc. - it was impressive. the car dealerships had alien statues out there - i saw them this time more clearly, even though i was driving. we stopped at a dairy queen in roswell, and dairy queens, it seems to me, are always somewhat otherworldly, no matter where they are.

sometimes, it seemed like the bleakest, emptiest environment a person could possibly drive through, brick streets in a town that turn into dirt less than two blocks from the courthouse, little more than a dairy queen in some towns, miles of flat red-clay soil in every direction. i thought sadly of coming down out of the beautiful mountains into a flat, dry, hot, sunny, arid plain and i got a little depressed. but i did run into one character, in a convenience store, who had moved from ruidoso to lubbock and was glad of it, because he had access to more stuff he needed and didn't feel as isolated; obviously he didn't care so much for the high mountain beautiful air.

right on the intersection of main street in roswell i saw it: the true triple-word-score of all license plates, hawaii. it had a rainbow on it. i always wonder about those - what did they do, ship the truck over here somehow? seemed like it came from outer space or something. i have no idea.

back at home now, and i promise you pictures, of the mountains, of white sands, whatever. i notice that i've completely failed to get them on here, and must rectify that situation. the sooner the better. chou

Wednesday, July 09, 2014

the hippies in this town look vaguely familiar. of course the hippie era is what, forty or fifty years past, and back then, i didn't even pass through here, really, though it was all the same people, and some were bound to end up down here, in a remote mountain outpost, the southern part of the rockies, the sacramentos of south-eastern new mexico where we happen to be vacationing for ten days. we are yuppies now, to some degree, with a new car, a "chalet" with wrap-around porch looking out at the mountains, enough money to eat at the restaurants. and they, fifty years on, have houses, or businesses, or some kind of gig, if not retirement and way to hang around, living in the high mountain pines and shopping at the same places i do.

to us new mexico is a welcome break from the flat hot sunny lubbock that we left behind. i'm dying to advertise it all over facebook but i consider it unwise to tell 700 friends that i'm out of town, somebody is bound to tell the wrong person. my friends are all over the world, following the holande-argentina match, traveling themselves, sending in pictures from whatever outpost they've chosen to spend july in. but i just figure, with my fiddle locked up in lubbock, even though most of our computers are here in new mexico with us, oh well, it's just time to spend some private time, not even share what the family is doing, resting and breathing in high mountain pine air.

riudoso is a kind of tourist town, but, four days into vacation, and i've only got about sixteen license plates, the vast majority that i've seen were texas with a handful of oklahoma, arizona, colorado. people don't know about ruidoso unless they ski, in which case they come here from places like lubbock a lot. the high mountain dryness makes a good kind of snow, but most people don't know about it, and that makes it a good place. in the summer it's best for just getting out of a hot flat dry place like west texas, and getting some perspective on the world, at about sixty-six hundred feet.

life slows to a crawl as i get my wife to watch the kids half the time and i actually get to read, rest, keep up on the world cup; it's a vacation, and the last one i'll get for a while probably. the holande-argentina match was a good example. so many of my facebook friends who are from latin america got wrapped up in the cup, particularly colombian friends, that i couldn't help but get wrapped up in the results and see it from their point of view. i didn't really have a dog in the fight - though i knew people from argentina, and know people in the netherlands as well, in the end i wanted argentina only because i thought all of south america should have someone in there, once brazil was so dramatically ousted. but really i kept track of the match mostly because the moon was rising on a high mountain valley, and i was out on the porch outside breathing high mountain pines, and i'd scrolled pretty much completely through my facebook, having read virtually everything of interest.

i have two books, one about the dust bowl in the depression and another a murder mystery, and i'm almost done with the dust-bowl one, but the other one was kind of disturbing so i shied away from it a little. rather read about dust coming in the cracks, in the windows, piled up at the fencerows, and six years of drought corresponding to economic hardship that meant there was no money, no jobs, no where to go. it gives a person something to compare the modern high plains to - where there's plenty of work in some places, but whole swaths of the country are hurting for work or meaningful economic activity, and everyone slipping further and further into the quicksand of slow economy. i can't imagine sitting around a dust-surrounded mud hut, for six years, waiting for it to rain, but, since we've found a way to tap the aquifer dry and we've hit our own six years, we'll soon be left with no aquifer, and a somewhat similar situation. except that a whole plains full of cotton fields is surely different from a whole plains full of tilled grassland, where wheat was supposed to be planted but in fact never was. that plains blew away, millions of square feet of topsoil, but the one we've got now, well, it's got tenuous soil but at least cotton is growing on it. not that i'd know a dustbowl, it could probably hit me in the face before i'd even know what i was looking at.

i've put much more of my spirit into music today, what's left of my writing is right here. my novel, almost done but put aside. e pluribus haiku - published, but not even advertised on my template here. my other books - shelved for the moment. writing doesn't go with the intensive childcare i've been doing, nearly as well as crazy-making fiddle. i'm trying to learn the fiddler's role of calling the songs, and knowing how they start - maybe even singing a few, and i will get started on this though it may take a while. meanwhile, i sit on the mountain porch - a moment in time, a deer placidly watching me, this deer lives nearby i'm sure, and is somehow convinced i'll feed it. i will not feed is not supposed to do that, i believe. they've declared thistle illegal in town, but i found some of it and even took its picture. why is it so bad? i'm not sure, i know very little about it, i don't even know if i found the kind that's illegal. it was quite bright in the morning sunlight though, so, i got it. whatever it symbolizes, i'll figure it out, as soon as possible. and maybe learn that song about wildflowers being free, and not having to care about our cultivating efforts.

in two days, off to white sands, and las cruces, to visit my parents. the license plates, they'll pick up down there at white sands, as it's a national monument visited widely by many tourists. this on the other hand is a remote, isolated outpost, and i like it that way.

Saturday, July 05, 2014


it's kind of a wild scene to go across the highway to the city park and watch the fireworks, but we managed to do it, i and three children, and actually found a friend of the smallest and had an enjoyable fireworks show. after many years, many cities, many fireworks shows, i can say that i enjoy every one, though i'm wary, and i appreciate the effort a city puts into it to make it happen. a good fireworks show allows me to say to my children: i won't buy them, and shoot them into the street, or into the neighbor's yard, or anywhere else. i'm keeping my hands off this stuff, and letting the city handle it.

a neighbor brought over a kind of anti-fundamentalist passage that tried to argue against using the bible to support every war the country gets into. it's true that i've been opposed to every war that happened in my lifetime, as i haven't been given a good reason for any of them, but i consider this patriotic, since it's our duty as citizens to think critically and let our government know how we feel. this might be different for soldiers, who must follow the government way no matter whether there's a good reason or not, but we citizens are free to criticize and in fact must - if we'd done that a little more we might not be in the pickle we're in. in fact unlike many of my friends, i've come to the realization that one should not reject patriotism, since practiced in its pure form it's doing right by the nation and the culture under whose protection you live - one should redefine patriotism and live it out as you feel it should be lived out. i for example do not consider it patriotic to arm myself to the teeth and dare everyone to come and try to break into my home. patriotism can be shouting for team usa in the world cup, which i'm all for, or going down on the border to try to make signs that show people they aren't welcome on this side of it. but i define patriotism as doing the right thing for this nation and its people, and i take that patriotism seriously. if the nation didn't have an economy, a military, border police, etc., it would be like syria or iraq, and i'm glad it's not. so i like and support this government structure, even now, even though i disagree with so much of what they do with our tax money and foreign policy.

there is no question that this nation and government is about to experience some hard times. dragged into war in the south china sea, dragged into war in the ukraine, already mired in occupation in afghanistan, korea, and various other places, we are stretched very thin, and china is getting tired of paying the bill. why should they pay our retirees and our healthcare, when they don't pay their own retirees, and they have no healthcare? but our government needs guidance. who is around to tell them that it's an enormous waste of money and resources to park our tanks over in the middle east? six trillion, seven trillion, all wrapped up in gas and supplies and soldiers' lives, and hoping we can take care of these boys when they come home in the future is some kind of faraway, future dream that maybe we'll have money for when the time comes, kind of like my social security and retirement. we've had signs of trouble, signs of its caving in. fiscal responsibility should lead us to this conclusion: stop putting billions of dollars into setting up a multi-cultural state in iraq, palestine or any other place. stop supporting shiites, israelis, or anyone else who uses the money for aggressive suppression of a people. start letting countries that have their own economies - korea, japan, germany, etc. - provide for their own defense. give our support to peoples who deserve independence and who rightfully won't be happy until they have some; this would include the kurds and the palestinians.

we get the kind of nation that we collectively settle for, and if that is a powerful, swaggering, drone-dropping bully, that's what we've got. but when we the people say that we want a government that is not so quick to kill, no longer concerned about catching a bin laden who is dead anyway, and eager to build a non-competitive, non-hostile world, then that's what we will begin to see around us. i have no problem with fireworks, the red, blue, white, swirly kind, the pretty pinwheels, exploding things in the sky. some people say that they reflect our nation's violent past, and its obsession with explosives, and its tendency to turn to violence whenever there's a problem somewhere in the world - all this is true. but the act of sitting out on the grass in front of a city park, watching the city dudes make colorful explosions in the sky, is not itself violent. they do it all the time, and it hurts fewer people than when you let people buy them and blow them up in their own yards.

people don't take anything the quakers say about foreign policy seriously, and that's because we oppose all wars on moral grounds. true, i also wouldn't fight in a war, because i believe it's wrong to kill even for a just reason, and as a result i'd make a terrible soldier even though i'd be willing to help my country in any way it wanted. but perhaps because of my perspective i can ask: has violence ever truly worked, or not led to more violence? all these times we commit american lives, has this led to a more peaceful world? now we could look back to world war two, which was before my time, or the revolution itself, and say, yes, this was justifiable violence. you can kill somebody because they killed your uncle or because their taxman is causing you unspeakable pain, but my religion would still tell me that that's wrong and i shouldn't do it, and it's partly rational: because, no matter how cool revenge feels, violence begets more violence, and it has always been this way. to transfer this logic to the international stage, would it be a surprise if we were mired in more wars in the near future? no. the violence, export of arms, drones etc. have set the stage to the point where we are now expected to keep these arms coming: the bully is forced to prove and renew his status regularly. of course i don't expect foreign policy makers in this country to listen to me. i would just ask though: do you have a reason that we're occupying afghanistan? a reason that we're drone-bombing random wedding parties in yemen or pakistan? i thought not. we are reduced to supporting violent, random acts of aggression, and apparently we've become accustomed to not even being given a reason.

enough of this rant. my family, down by the lone river that snakes through lubbock, enjoyed the fireworks immensely. our earlier town was smaller, thus, the fireworks were smaller. this particular river, the only one for hundreds of miles on the caprock, high southern plains, was the site of the ruination of the comanche when white folk chased them down and cornered them, what maybe only a hundred and fifty years ago or so. maybe, as the mostly conservative texans around me say, i should shut up and be grateful for what i have, and hoist an american flag outside my house alongside theirs. i say, if a flag means blind obedience to a number of wars, i'll pass, but of course, it means what you want it to mean. obviously i'd make a better canadian than american, but that ship has sailed, and i'm here, no texas flag, no american flag, even the flagpole itself is beginning to bend a little. i can tell you that the idea that these poor soldiers are "fighting for our freedom" is beginning to sound a little hollow - in the revolutionary war, they were fighting for our freedom; in the civil war they were fighting for some people's freedom; but in afghanistan? in iraq?

this country has a number of internal problems - race relations, economic justice, etc. i say, if you are working to better these problems, every day, you're a patriot. so i count myself a patriot. i celebrate the wild and diverse beauty of a fantastic country with a volume of poetry, i do my best to help the place, and i speak out when i feel its foreign policy is misguided. i realize that working for peace has, at times, been labeled as terrorism. that's bullsh-t. terrorism is killing people in order to instill fear and get people to do irrational things, like start unnecessary six-trillion-dollar haliburton wars. that ship, too, has sailed. they would be wasting their time calling me a terrorist, unless someone were to listen to me, in which case i suppose i'd undermine the whole tenuous card castle.