Monthly Archives: August 2013

american nile.

River Notes: A Natural and Human History of the Colorado by Wade Davis, Island Press (October 17, 2012)


“There is a lot in the 148 pages of text of RIVER NOTES. First, the book is an overview of the natural history of the Colorado River, a better overview or introduction than any other I know of. The relatively short discussion of the geological formation of the Colorado Plateau and the Colorado River is particularly fine. Second, it summarizes human occupation of the River, from the Anasazi to early European-American exploration and John Wesley Powell, to the Mormon settlers, to the dam-builders and canyon-destroyers.

This segues into the principle theme of the book, which is one of conservation, as is to be expected for something published by Island Press. Davis begins and ends his book with Aldo Leopold, and at times he gets a wee bit strident and arrogant, at least for my taste. (And he fails to discuss the biggest problem facing environmentalists and conservationists – namely, our exploding population.) In keeping with his characterization of the Colorado River as the “American Nile”, Davis concentrates his discussion of conservation to issues concerning the use of water in a desert. As he summarizes it, “we are living with nineteenth-century laws and values, twentieth-century infrastructure, and twenty-first-century water needs.” The core of the problem, however, is not so much Phoenix and Las Vegas and the like; rather, it is the sacred cow of American agricultural politics – namely, the cattle industry. “Indeed the entire water crisis in the American West essentially comes down to cows eating alfalfa in a landscape where neither really belongs.” (If you see the book in the bookstore, take a minute and read the two paragraphs on pages 142 and 143.)

Along the way there are occasional digressions from the central theme of the Colorado River, one of which struck me so forcefully that I quote it in full: “A native elder [of an American Indian tribe] once told me that there are only three questions in life. Who am I? Where do I come from? And where am I going? The clash of cultures in the wake of European settlement, he suggested, was devastating for native people not only because of the terrible impact of diseases, the violence of the frontier wars, but also because the dominance and religious certainty of the newcomers allowed them to tell Indian peoples of every nation that their answers to these fundamental questions were wrong and had been wrong for all of their histories.”

RIVER NOTES is written well and organized well. It is sprinkled with quotations from historical sources and conservation literature. There are three useful maps. A large part of the book consists of an account of rafting down the Colorado in 2006, interspersed with anecdotes drawn from John Wesley Powell’s pioneering trip down the river in 1869. At the end of the volume there is a well-conceived reading list for further reading about the Colorado River, conservation, and water problems in the American West. RIVER NOTES should appear on any similar reading lists over the next twenty or so years.” – R.M. Peterson

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Dances with Wolves Farewell Scene

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John Barry Orchestra Dances with Wolves

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August 24, 2013

I’m Thinking. Please. Be Quiet.


SLAMMING doors, banging walls, bellowing strangers and whistling
neighbors were the bane of the philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer’s
existence. But it was only in later middle age, after he had moved
with his beloved poodle to the commercial hub of Frankfurt, that his
sense of being tortured by loud, often superfluous blasts of sound
ripened into a philosophical diatribe. Then, around 1850, Schopenhauer
pronounced noise to be the supreme archenemy of any serious thinker.

His argument against noise was simple: A great mind can have great
thoughts only if all its powers of concentration are brought to bear
on one subject, in the same way that a concave mirror focuses light on
one point. Just as a mighty army becomes useless if its soldiers are
scattered helter-skelter, a great mind becomes ordinary the moment its
energies are dispersed.

And nothing disrupts thought the way noise does, Schopenhauer
declared, adding that even people who are not philosophers lose
whatever ideas their brains can carry in consequence of brutish jolts
of sound.

From the vantage point of our own auditory world, with its jets,
jackhammers, HVAC systems, truck traffic, cellphones, horns,
decibel-bloated restaurants and gyms on acoustical steroids,
Schopenhauer’s mid-19th century complaints sound almost quaint. His
biggest gripe of all was the “infernal cracking” of coachmen’s whips.
(If you think a snapping line of rawhide’s a problem, buddy, try the
Rumbler Siren.) But if noise did shatter thought in the past, has more
noise in more places further diffused our cognitive activity?

Schopenhauer made a kind of plea for mono-tasking. Environmental noise
calls attention to itself — splits our own attention, regardless of
willpower. We jerk to the tug of noise like sonic marionettes. There’s
good reason for this. Among mammals, hearing developed as an early
warning system; the human ear derived from the listening apparatus of
very small creatures. Their predators were very big, and there were
many of them.

Mammalian hearing developed primarily as an animal-detector system —
and it was crucial to hear every rustle from afar. The evolved ear is
an extraordinary amplifier. By the time the brain registers a sound,
our auditory mechanism has jacked the volume several hundredfold from
the level at which the sound wave first started washing around the
loopy whirls of our ears. This is why, in a reasonably quiet room, we
actually can hear a pin drop. Think what a tiny quantity of sound
energy is released by a needle striking a floor! Our ancestors needed
such hypersensitivity, because every standout noise signified a
potential threat.

There has been a transformation in our relationship to the environment
over the millions of years since the prototype for human hearing
evolved, but part of our brain hasn’t registered the makeover.

Every time a siren shrieks on the street, our conscious minds might
ignore it, but other brain regions behave as if that siren were a
predator barreling straight for us. Given how many sirens city
dwellers are subject to over the course of an average day, and the
attention-fracturing tension induced by loud sounds of every sort,
it’s easy to see how sensitivity to noise, once an early warning
system for approaching threats, has become a threat in itself.

Indeed, our capacity to tune out noises — a relatively recent
adaptation — may itself pose a danger, since it allows us to neglect
the physical damage that noise invariably wreaks. A Hyena
(Hypertension and Exposure to Noise Near Airports) study published in
2009 examined the effects of aircraft noise on sleeping subjects. The
idea was to see what effect noise had, not only on those awakened by
virtual fingernails raking the blackboard of the night sky, but on the
hardy souls who actually slept through the thunder of overhead jets.

The findings were clear: even when people stayed asleep, the noise of
planes taking off and landing caused blood pressure spikes, increased
pulse rates and set off vasoconstriction and the release of stress
hormones. Worse, these harmful cardiovascular responses continued to
affect individuals for many hours after they had awakened and gone on
with their days.

As Dr. Wolfgang Babisch, a lead researcher in the field, observed,
there is no physiological habituation to noise. The stress of audible
assault affects us psychologically even when we don’t consciously
register noise.

In American culture, we tend to regard sensitivity to noise as a sign
of weakness or killjoy prudery. To those who complain about sound
levels on the streets, inside their homes and across a swath of public
spaces like stadiums, beaches and parks, we say: “Suck it up. Relax
and have a good time.” But the scientific evidence shows that loud
sound is physically debilitating. A recent World Health Organization
report on the burden of disease from environmental noise
conservatively estimates that Western Europeans lose more than one
million healthy life years annually as a consequence of noise-related
disability and disease. Among environmental hazards, only air
pollution causes more damage.

A while back, I was interviewed on a call-in radio station serving
remote parts of Newfoundland. One caller lived in a village with just
a few houses and almost no vehicular traffic. Her family had been
sitting in the living room one evening when the power suddenly cut
off. They simultaneously exhaled a sigh of relief. All at once, the
many electronic devices around them (including the refrigerator,
computers, generator, lamps and home entertainment systems and the
unnatural ambient hum they generated and to which the family had
become oblivious) went silent. The family members didn’t realize until
the sound went off how loud it had become. Without knowing it, each
family member’s mental energy was constantly diverted by and
responsive to the threat posed by that sound.

Where does this leave those of us facing less restrained barrages?
Could a critical mass of sound one day be reached that would make
sustained thinking impossible?

Is quiet a precondition of democracy? The Supreme Court justice Felix
Frankfurter suggested it might just be. “The men whose labors brought
forth the Constitution of the United States had the street outside
Independence Hall covered with earth so that their deliberations might
not be disturbed by passing traffic,” he once wrote. “Our democracy
presupposes the deliberative process as a condition of thought and of
responsible choice by the electorate.”

The quiet in Independence Hall was not the silence of a monastic
retreat, but one that encouraged listening to others and collaborative
statesmanship; it was a silence that made them more receptive to the
sound of the world around them.

Most likely Schopenhauer had in mind a similar sense of quiet when he
chose to live in a big city rather than retiring from society:
apparently he, too, believed it important to observe as much of life
as possible. And when he moved to Frankfurt, he didn’t bring earplugs.
He brought along a poodle known to bark on occasion, and the flute he
loved to play after writing. Most people who are seeking more serenity
from the acoustical environment aren’t asking for the silence of the
tomb. We just believe we should be able to hear ourselves think.

George Prochnik is the author of the forthcoming book “The Impossible Exile.”

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Lake George

Lake George


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“What she really loved was to hang over the edge and watch the bow of the ship slice through the waves. She loved it especially when the waves were high and the ship rose and fell, or when it was snowing and the flakes stung her face.”  – Kristin Cashore

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Chris Cross “Sailing”, 1980

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“We clear the harbor and the wind catches her sails and my beautiful ship leans over ever so gracefully, and her elegant bow cuts cleanly into the increasing chop of the waves. I take a deep breath and my chest expands and my heart starts thumping so strongly I fear the others might see it beat through the cloth of my jacket. I face the wind and my lips peel back from my teeth in a grin of pure joy.”  – L.A. Meyer


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upstate ny

upstate ny

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“That’s what sailing is, a dance, and your partner is the sea. And with the sea you never take liberties. You ask her, you don’t tell her. You have to remember always that she’s the leader, not you. You and your boat are dancing to her tune.”  – Michael Morpugo

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“Most of us forget to take time for wonder, praise and gratitude until it is almost too late. Gratitude is a many-colored quality, reaching in all directions. It goes out for small things and for large; it is a God-ward going.” ― Faith Baldwin, Many Windows, Seasons of the Heart

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Phantom Ranch

Phantom Ranch


“Emotion is not simply an overplus of feeling; it is life lived at white-heat, a state of wonder. To lose wonder is to lose the true element of religion.” ― Oswald Chambers, The Pilgrim’s Songbook


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ancient petroglyphs.

Oldest North American Rock Art May Be 14,800 Years Old

Nevada petroglyphs could date back to the first peopling of the Americas.

Non-invasive Examination

Benson said it might be possible to better pinpoint the age of the petroglyphs, but it would require sampling carbonate from inside the etchings themselves—something that he has agreed not to do.

Benson obtained permission to non-invasively examine the carvings from the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe, which owns the land.

“One of the deals I made was that I would only work to the side of the glyphs, and not touch any of the glyphs themselves,” Benson said.

Mystery Artists

Prior to the new dating of the Lake Winnemucca petroglyphs, the oldest rock art in North America was thought to be carvings found at Long Lake in Oregon that date to roughly 7,300 years ago.

Benson says he doesn’t know what the symbols at Lake Winnemucca mean, or who might have made them, but he notes that their ages roughly match those of several pieces of fossilized human feces, or coprolites, that were discovered in Paisley Cave in Oregon and dated to around 14,400 to 13,000 years ago.

This date is close to when scientists think humans first began settling the Americas. In a new study published in this week’s issue of the journal of theProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, scientists say they have found genetic evidence that a first wave of migrants crossed into the Americas from Asia about 15,000 to 18,000 years ago by slowly creeping down the continent’s coasts.

A few thousand years later, according to the study, a second wave of humans entered North America, this time by slipping across the Bering Strait into Alaska and then crossing through an ice-free corridor into Canada.

Benson speculated that members of the first wave of settlers might have been responsible for the Lake Winnemucca rock art.

“It’s possible that those people did occupy areas farther south, like the Lake Winnemucca area … [but] it is also possible that paleoindians occupying the Winnemucca Lake basin between 11,300 and 10,500 years ago carved the petroglyphs,” he said.

“At the moment we have no way to decide between the two possibilities.”

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American-Made: The Enduring Legacy of the WPA: When FDR Put the Nation to Work
by Nick Taylor

“If you’ve traveled the nation’s highways, flown into New York’s LaGuardia Airport, strolled San Antonio’s River Walk, or seen the Pacific Ocean from the Beach Chalet in San Francisco, you have experienced some part of the legacy of the Works Progress Administration (WPA)—one of the enduring cornerstones of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal.

When President Roosevelt took the oath of office in March 1933, he was facing a devastated nation. Four years into the Great Depression, a staggering 13 million American workers were jobless and many millions more of their family members were equally in need. Desperation ruled the land.

What people wanted were jobs, not handouts: the pride of earning a paycheck; and in 1935, after a variety of temporary relief measures, a permanent nationwide jobs program was created. This was the Works Progress Administration, and it would forever change the physical landscape and the social policies of the United States.

The WPA lasted for eight years, spent $11 billion, employed 8½ million men and women, and gave the country not only a renewed spirit but a fresh face. Under its colorful head, Harry Hopkins, the agency’s remarkable accomplishment was to combine the urgency of putting people back to work with its vision of physically rebuilding America. Its workers laid roads, erected dams, bridges, tunnels, and airports. They stocked rivers, made toys, sewed clothes, served millions of hot school lunches. When disasters struck, they were there by the thousands to rescue the stranded. And all across the country the WPA’s arts programs performed concerts, staged plays, painted murals, delighted children with circuses, created invaluable guidebooks. Even today, more than sixty years after the WPA ceased to exist, there is almost no area in America that does not bear some visible mark of its presence.

Politically controversial, the WPA was staffed by passionate believers and hated by conservatives; its critics called its projects make-work and wags said it stood for We Piddle Around. The contrary was true. We have only to look about us today to discover its lasting presence.”

Retrieved August 13, 2013 from:

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It’s pretty amazing how so many places people visit, travel through or otherwise see were built by the WPA during the 1930’s.  Until I read this book, I never realized many airports, highways and other infrastructure and buildings were built back then. Although I’ve heard the expression about history repeating itself, the more I learn, the more that awareness puts current events in more clear perspective.


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A favorite writer…about books.


August 10, 2013

Books to Have and to Hold

I finish reading a book on my iPad — one by Ed McBain, for instance
— and I shelve it in the cloud.  It vanishes from my “device” and
from my consciousness too. It’s very odd.

When I read a physical book, I remember the text and the book — its
shape, jacket, heft and typography.  When I read an e-book, I
remember the text alone.  The bookness of the book simply
disappears, or rather it never really existed.  Amazon reminds me
that I’ve already bought the e-book I’m about to order.  In
bookstores, I find myself discovering, as if for the first time,
books I’ve already read on my iPad.

All of this makes me think differently about the books in my
physical library.  They used to be simply there, arranged on the
shelves, a gathering of books I’d already read.  But now, when I
look up from my e-reading, I realize that the physical books are
serving a new purpose — as constant reminders of what I’ve read.
They say, “We’re still here,” or “Remember us?” These are the very
things that e-books cannot say, hidden under layers of software,
tucked away in the cloud, utterly absent when the iPad goes dark.

This may seem like a trivial difference, but that’s not how it
feels.  Reading is inherently ephemeral, but it feels less so when
you’re making your way through a physical book, which persists when
you’ve finished it.  It is a monument to the activity of reading.
It makes this imaginary activity entirely substantial.  But the
quiddity of e-reading is that it effaces itself.

In the past several years, I’ve read nearly 800 books on my iPad.
They’ve changed me and changed my understanding of the world,
distracted me and entertained me.  Yet I’m still pondering the
nature of e-reading, which somehow refuses to become completely
familiar.  But then, readers are always thinking about the nature
of reading, and have done so since Gutenberg and long before.

There is a disproportionate magic in the way black marks on white
paper — or their pixilated facsimiles — stir us into reverie and
revise our consciousness.  Still, we require proof that it has
happened.  And that proof is what the books on my shelves continue
to offer.

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67 miles.

67 miles

it’s just too far to drive in a day

67 miles each way

sure wish you lived closer.

meet halfway? maybe sometime.

We’re off to the shore shack

for three or four days.

July 4th visit wasn’t long enough

It’s so nice to have a place to stay

where sis brings more food

than you would believe.

and it doesn’t cost anything.

Cup of coffee?

No time, too busy.



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Sunlit Trees.

The Sunlight and the Woods - photograph, card or bookmark of golden sunlight shining through the green trees in the woods.

The Sunlight and the Woods – photograph, card or bookmark of golden sunlight shining through the green trees in the woods.

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Sunlit Trees : A VJSE Group Team Friday 50/50:

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