About Me

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Husband, father, grandfather, friend...a few of the roles acquired in 62 years of living.  I keep an upbeat attitude, loving humor and the singular freedom of a perfect laugh.  I don't let curmudgeons ruin my day; that only gives them power over me.  Having experienced death once, I no longer fear it, although I am still frightened by the process of dying.  I love to write because it allows me the freedom to vent those complex feelings that bounce restlessly off the walls of my mind; and express the beauty that can only be found within the human heart.

Astronomy Picture of the Day

Saturday, January 20, 2018

The Happy Heartache of the Past

The Old Grey Lady

Copyright © 2018
By Ralph F. Couey

We accumulate memories on our trek through life, some bad, some good, most neutral.  Some of those recollections can be triggered by sounds, smells, or sight. When the emotionalism of nostalgia becomes intertwined with those memories, they can become far more selective than objective.  But nothing brings those thoughts into focus like visiting a place of significance from the past.

I spent 10 years in the Navy, serving on two ships and a shore duty assignment.  By the end of that span, I was a Chief Petty Officer, and facing a life-changing decision.  My kids were about to become teenagers, and they needed me at home a lot more often than my duty commitments allowed.  With my priorities properly aligned, I turned my back on the sea and headed home.

I left behind a decade's worth of remembrances of 28 foreign countries visited, friendships that have stayed strong across the intervening decades, and a warm recollection of a time when my life had a mission.

I was finishing up my shore duty assignment as the Navy Liaison to the National Narcotics Border Interdiction System, a multi-agency task force.  In multiple discussions with my detailer, I had narrowed down the choices for my next duty station.  For the career sailor, this is an exciting period of time.  Each choice was framed by where we would go, the impact it would have on my family, and the professional opportunities that awaited me there.  Then during one of those telephone calls, he casually mentioned that a billet had opened up aboard the battleship USS MISSOURI, home-ported in Long Beach, California, which was where I had spent my shore duty.  I was immediately intrigued.  Long a Navy history buff, I knew the historical significance of that ship.  Plus, I had spent most of my life in Missouri, so the opportunity to serve aboard my state's namesake ship was well-nigh irresistible.  After talking it over with my wife, I accepted the assignment.

The timing was going to be tricky.  The last day at NNBIS would have to be adjusted to accommodate the ship's departure to participate in RIMPAC, a huge multi-national naval exercise in the Pacific.  But things worked out, and on the appointed day, I found myself walking on the Battleship Piers, so named for the presence of two of the Iowa-class dreadnoughts.  It was quite a sight.  After clearing the pier sentry, I could see on the left the USS NEW JERSEY and on the right, my ship.  Battleships were still a rare sight, and to see two of them together was just stunning, a vision of power, strength, and grace guaranteed to warm the cockles of any sailor's heart.

Swinging my seabag up on my shoulder, I crossed the brow, saluted the flag, then the OOD and officially reported aboard.  Things were bustling, as typical for any ship preparing for sea.  Beneath my feet, the teakwood deck gleamed, the product of hours of holystoning.  The bulkheads all looked freshly painted and there wasn't a speck of rust anywhere to be seen.  Ted Mason, the author of Battleship Sailor had written most eloquently of the pride of the old battleship navy of the late 1930's.  Clearly, that same pride had been manifested here.  

A couple of days later, we put to sea, a process much quicker and less detailed than the hard work on my last ship of snaking our way out of Pearl Harbor.  In no time at all, we had  cleared the mole and were making turns for the broad reaches of the Pacific.  I was busy, running a division of 65 hard-working sailors along with another Chief and a Senior Chief.  But I found some limited time to explore the ship and meet my shipmates. 

On the third day out, the Captain scheduled a gunshoot of the main battery.  As it happened, I was off-watch and temporarily free of other taskings, so I went up to the 03 level, the only safe place one could be topside during a main battery firing.  Equipped with a pair of sound suppressors, those ear muffs we called "Micky Mouse Ears," I awaited with quiet excitement the commencement of the event.  

Slowly, all three turrets swung out to port.  The barrels raised to the proper level.  Then the countdown started, the last three seconds marked by a very loud buzzer.  In a titanic blast, all nine guns erupted, throwing a volcano-sized ball of fire and smoke over the water.  The thrust imparted to the shells momentarily dropped the air pressure behind the guns, causing my skin to tingle and my ears to pop.  As the roar faded, I could hear the swishing sound as the car-sized bullets flew downrange.  Seconds later on the horizon, a massive curtain of water and foam rose to the sky as all nine shells impacted with 50 feet of the intended target.  Without exaggeration, any object, whether on sea or land, would have been utterly obliterated.  It was a sight, sound, and sensation that has stayed with me since.

I spent a little over two years on the Mighty Mo, as we called her.  There were good times, and some very difficult times.  But it was a gas to be on the battleship.  When we steamed in company with other ships, their crews always came topside when we were close by, and even from 300 yards away, the envy was palpable.  At sea, a battleship is the very vision of power as she drives forward, cleaving the waters aside and leaving the brilliant white foam of her boiling wake astern.  In port, we always opened the ship for tours, and it was great to see the effect she had on the visitors who crossed her decks.  The two most popular places were, of course, the guns, and that spot on the 02 level where General Douglas MacArthur accepted the surrender of Imperial Japan, thus ending World War II.  The spot is marked by a brass disk set into the deck.

On a ship manifestly built for war, it is an altar to peace.  On so many occasions, it became the  place where the chance encounters of World War II veterans from America and Japan buried their hatchets.

It was a glorious tour of duty, but all things must end, and there finally came the day when I crossed that brow for the last time and left that life behind.

In the years since, I've made a few trips to Pearl Harbor.  Missouri is moored port side to, and just forward off the port bow lies the brilliantly white iconic memorial to her valiant sister ship, USS ARIZONA.  Together, the ships and the memorial provide a bookend to the most violent years of human history.

Going aboard always stirs deep emotions for me.  A sailor develops a relationship with his or her ship.  For them, the ship is a thing of beauty, and worthy of their best efforts to keep her looking like new.  Pride can be at times a difficult thing to define, but a ship's appearance is a silent testimony to the affection and respect that runs between the ship and her crew.  For old guys like myself, it's not just seeing a place where I used to work.  It was here that I spent my youth, that period of time when energy is limitless, opportunity is without bounds, and the future is a long ways off.  I sometimes think part of that emotion is a kind of mourning for that period of my life that is forever, irretrievable vanished.  Walking her decks on this day, I place my hand lightly on the bulkhead, and realize that she is not dead, merely sleeping.  The Association has taken such great care with her, she looks like she could still put to sea tomorrow.  

My first stop is the Command Engagement Center, where I spent most of my on-duty hours.  Most of the equipment is still there, some kept from when she was decommissioned, some scavenged from her sister ships.  If I don't look too closely, it looks the same as it did the day I left her.

 The console on the right was mine for controlling aircraft.

It is a surprisingly small space, given all the things that were done here.  And even harder to imagine that during General Quarters, some 70 sailors squeezed their way in here.  

I continue to walk around the ship, luxuriating in my memories.  I am honest enough to remember the bad times, the difficult times when I was challenged to the limits of my abilities.  And those times when I missed my family deeply, and those first moments of consideration of my future without the Navy.

As a former crewmember, I am accorded a few perqs during my visit, including meeting the curators and getting a rare peek at the Chiefs Mess where I lived during my stay.  After a couple of hours, I realize it is time to leave, and after one long, last look around, I cross the brow and return to the pier.  I spend some time in the gift shop and leave with a couple of t-shirts.  Before I return to the bus for the ride back to the Arizona Memorial Visitors Center, I stop and take one last look.  She is old, turning 74 on January 29th.  But she is still a thing of beauty, and the hordes of visitors I see walking her decks makes me feel good, for she is being introduced to a new generation, and perhaps they will get to know here a little bit, and understand the singular place she holds in our nation's history.

These visits are special to me.  I feel so much better that she is not merely resting at anchor in West Loch along with all the other inactive ships, sealed up, silent, and deserted.  While she will likely never go to sea again, Missouri, along with here sister ships, will still inspire pride, and a reminder that our freedoms are hard-won and therefore must be constantly defended.  

But as I see the ship recede from view from the bus windows, I know that she is something personal to me.  In a way, we share a bond, the battleship and me, a reminder that even as old as we are, we can still be meaningful.  And relevant.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Paradise (Almost) Lost

Copyright © 2018
By Ralph F. Couey

It was a calm, quiet morning, a cool breeze drifting through the windows and in a tree just outside a dove was calling.  I had just finished dressing and was ruminating over the possibilities for breakfast when that instantly identifiable tone issued from my cell phone.  I didn't react immediately, assuming it was a high surf warning for the forecasted 50-foot waves pounding the north and west shores of O'ahu.  Eventually, I picked it up and there in front of me was this message:


As wakeup calls go, it was certainly an eye-opener.  

I grew up during the worst part of the Cold War and am old enough to clearly remember regular 'Duck and Cover" drills in school, so the idea of a pending nuclear attack is not unfamiliar to me.  But even  with the recent nerves over North Korea, this seemed to come clean out of the blue, very out of place on such a calm and peaceful morning.  For about 30 seconds I was frozen in place, then the analyst part of my brain woke up and began to function.

Outside the window, all was still quiet.  I should have been hearing warning sirens spooling up and the sounds of HPD cars racing to critical traffic control points.  There should have been the sound of fire trucks and ambulances racing to their pre-position locations.  I should have been hearing the roar of jet engines as the fighters of the Hawaii Air National Guard and U.S. Air Force were scrambled from Hickam and Honolulu International Airport.  I should also have been hearing the strident sound of ship's whistles from Pearl Harbor signaling emergency recall to their crews.  Something was wrong.  If the alert was genuine, there should have been a lot more going on.

I moseyed into the living room, turned on the television and clicked through the local stations.  Instead of a news desk and grim-faced anchors, I saw NCAA basketball and two infomercials.  Business as usual.  Continuing to surf, I came across another channel where a vivid red crawler was splashed across the top of the screen accompanied by a kinda creepy computer-generated voice repeating the warning I had seen on my phone.  I thought about that for a moment and decided that this was part of the automatic response accompanying the text push.  In other words, no human had yet acknowledged the warning.  I put the remote down and went out to the front porch.  All I saw and heard was...normality.  Just another Saturday morning in Honolulu.

Less than five minutes had passed by this point, but I had already assessed, based on all the available information, that someone at the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency (HEMA) had somehow clicked the wrong thing on their computer,  a boo-boo of massively critical proportions.  Roughly 40 minutes later, the media was reporting that this was in fact what had happened.  At shift change, a watchstander had initiated a test of the Emergency Alert System (EAS) and selected the wrong option.  By the time the error was known and reported, panic had ensued throughout the islands.

A video surfaced online of parents lowering their children into storm drains.  On Interstate H-3 between Honolulu and Kaneohe, drivers abandoned their cars and raced on foot into nearby tunnels.  A state assembly rep huddled with his children in their bathtub, praying fervently.  People took shelter in their garages, crying and praying.  A soccer field was cleared in seconds as terrified parents fled with their kids.  At University of Hawai'i - Manoa, students fled their dorms and ran aimlessly for any kind of shelter.  Some went to placarded fallout shelters only to find the doors locked up tight.  On Waikiki, tourists ran from the beaches back to their hotels.  Guests were herded into underground storage areas.  In restaurants, people were huddling in storage areas and walk-in refrigerators.  On the roads and highways, drivers ignored traffic laws and raced at speeds up to 100 mph trying to reach family and shelter.  The cell networks on O'ahu were instantly overloaded as frantic people tried to call, text, and facebook loved ones to say their final goodbyes.  Almost everywhere, people were crying in terror.  The end, they had decided, was nigh.

Eventually the word got around that it was a false alarm.  People's reactions since have been almost universal in their anger.  The HEMA director did not mince words, taking full responsibility for the incredible error.  There were calls for investigations and firings.  Democrat politicians took to the airwaves turning the incident into political fodder, blaming President Trump for the whole fiasco, hoping to obfuscate the fact that the rise of North Korea to the status of a nuclear power in the first place happened on the watches of Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton.  

Changes have already been made, for example, now to run that EAS test requires the assent of two people.  Other changes are on the way.

In the aftermath of this terrifying incident lies the stark reality that Hawai'i is manifestly unprepared for the real thing.  Not that, in my opinion, any preparation would be sufficient.

Nuclear weapons come in a variety of sizes and uses, from small tactical battlefield munitions in the 10 to 20 kiloton (kt) range to 5 megaton (mt) city killers.  Their destructive power is beyond most people's comprehension.  There are three immediate effects, blast, heat, and initial radiation.  After that, irradiated debris falls from the sky, poisoning the land and killing whatever life is left.  Most elements will decay within hours to a couple of weeks.  But other elements, such as Strontium-90 and Cesium-137 have half-lives of 30 years, which means it would take that long for that radiation to decay to half the immediately lethal level.  Any land so blasted and exposed would take a century or longer before it could be safely re-inhabited. 

O'ahu is, and has for a long time, been a primary target.  It is a major military command and operations center, home to the Pacific Fleet, the Pacific Air Force, and a plethora of secretive facilities, mostly underground, vital to military operations.  It is the only major port facility for commercial traffic between the U.S. west coast and Japan.  It is also a vital communications center, not only for government and the military, but private enterprise as well.  World War II started for the U.S. at Pearl Harbor.  It was a primary target of the Soviet Union during the Cold War.  And in the post-9/11 era, it remains a very attractive target for terrorism.

And it is home to 950,000 people, plus tens of thousands of tourists on any given day.

Even a quick look at a map of the Pacific Basin reveals that the loss of Hawai'i creates a huge problem for everyone who does business in those great waters.  Our enemies have always understood this and it is assumed that any weapons targeted on this island would not yield kilotons, but megatons.  Why is this important?  A small weapon affects a limited area, especially in terrain marked with high and steep mountain ranges.  But a 1 mt weapon detonated at 5,000 feet over Pearl Harbor would leave nothing alive on O'ahu.  Which begs the question, why issue the alert at all?  

The reality of a nuclear attack on O'ahu is this:  if the blast and heat don't get you, the radiation will.  There won't be edible food or drinkable water, emergency medical care, or a functioning government.  Federal disaster aid would be at the least days away, even if they could safely land here.  Those left alive would die a slow and painful death from radiation poisoning.  I for one would rather be taken by the blast.

Flight time from North Korea is less than 15 minutes, and that is not enough time to get people to shelter, even if they knew where to go.  HEMA's protocols were that people hunker down for at least 14 days.  There are, as of today, no shelters stocked with food and water for several hundred people for two weeks.  So even if people found there way to a (relatively) safe place, they would die of hunger or dehydration before those two weeks were up.  

The thing that amazed me was that after the better part of a year when everyone knew about the nuclear threat from the Hermit Kingdom, nobody knew where to go or what to do. The alert sent people screaming, crying, and panicking into running to...nowhere.  It is amazing that nobody was injured or killed.  This result could not have been on HEMA's list of desirable outcomes.  The responsibility for that reaction lies solely with the government.  If they had been more proactive in telling people what they needed to know in the months prior to this incident, I think things would have played out in a much calmer way.  The most important element of that pre-planned knowledge is a full understanding of what fifteen minutes means, and what someone can reasonably accomplish in that span of time.  I was darkly amused by one visitor interviewed on local television, who told the reporter that upon receiving the alert, he checked out of his hotel and headed for the airport and the first available flight out.  In fifteen minutes, he couldn't even have made it out of Waikiki.

The Japanese people, after all, have been drilling for years for the eventuality of tsunamis.  Because of that training and education, when the siren sounds, they know where to go and what to do.  If they can take it, I'm of the opinion that we can as well.  

I do understand that the government must provide some element of hope.  It is a basic human characteristic to want to cling to life, even when all indications are that life is ending.  The government just can't announce, "Hey, a missile's on the way.  See you on the other side!"  But the stark reality proven on Saturday is that nothing worked as planned, and thus Hawai'i is manifestly unprepared for an attack.  The leadership is unprepared to manage the situation, and the populace is completely uneducated on what to do and where to go.  I'm sure there was a reluctance to teach such things, out of a fear of alarming the citizenry, but such caution is inappropriate, and perhaps cowardly, in a world where a psychopathic Kim Jon Un might unleash an attack for no other reason than because he got up on the wrong side of the bed.  

There are things that must be done as soon as practicable.  Shelters must be established and stocked with food and water.  People must at least make a passing effort to stockpile their own supplies in the event they cannot get to a shelter.  And everyone, citizens and leaders alike, needs to have a plan.

As much blame that has been directed at the government, people have to understand that they have an important share in this responsibility.  Families must sit down and discuss what they will do if a real alert is received.  Children need to know where to go.  Parents must know what to do and where to go, and families need to embrace the sobering fact that there may not be time enough to gather before the missile arrives.

A nuclear attack on Hawai'i is no longer a subject for academic study.  The threat is palpably real, dangerously so, and the failure to properly prepare the people of Hawai'i will ensure major and certainly unnecessary loss of life.  

The world has changed yet again, and Hawai'i must embrace this new reality.  Retreating into the delusion of wishing will accomplish nothing but destruction and death.  This is a beautiful land, populated by a loving and joyful people, things that are certainly worth preserving.  The only way to protect and preserve that land and those people are for their leaders and custodians to make sure that people are fully prepared.

Beautiful memories are part of the Hawai'ian experience.  But for those who live here, and those who were visiting, they will never forget that Saturday in January, the day that Paradise was almost lost.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Time, Distance, and Linearity

From Humans are free.com

Copyright © 2018
By Ralph F. Couey


We live with it every day.  In many ways, it defines our existence.  And yet as familiar as it is to us, time remains one of the things we least understand.

Our existence is linear.  In every way we perceive, it is to us a straight line with a beginning, a middle, and an end.  That is the context in which we understand life.  We are born -- the beginning.  We die -- the end.  At any point on the line between those two points, we define as the middle.  We understand that line.  It organizes things in a way easy to understand.  But the length of that line is as individual as the people who exist upon it, from less than ten minutes to more than ten decades.  Our line is but one of billions of other lines coexisting in the same space.  Stretching into the past are lines that started and ended long before us.  Other lines extend on into a future that remains a mystery.

We believe those lines are fixed, that they cannot be edited.  To get from Monday to Friday, we must pass through the intervening days.  In order to travel from Kansas City to St. Louis, you have to pass through Columbia.  This is the essence of the three dimensional universe we inhabit.  The linearity of time for us is the same as physical distance.  

The Difference Between Confidence and Hope

Shot themselves in the foot once again.
And us in the heart.

Copyright © 2018
by Ralph F. Couey

A few days have passed and the sharp pain has faded to a dull ache.  The shock of seeing the Chiefs lose yet another playoff game has given way to a kind of fatalistic sense of an expectation fulfilled.

I know we attach way too much importance to sports and their outcomes, especially when there are so many more vital issues to be concerned about.  But having said that, there's no denying the sense of ownership, identity, and belonging that arises from our loyalties to a team.  And the angst that hits home when that team fails.

If you're going to be a fan of the Kansas City Chiefs, the first requirement is to grow a callous around your heart.  The record of the Chiefs in the postseason requires it.  Crushing futility is a good term, but doesn't come close to describing how it feels.  Since their victory in Super Bowl IV just short of a half-century ago, the Chiefs have played in 16 playoff games and lost 15.  It's not just the losses, but the character of those losses.  Way too many of them were games where things seemed well in hand, only to see them slip away at the end.  

Thursday, January 04, 2018

New Years, and the Revolving Resolve

Copyright © 2018
by Ralph F. Couey

"To have the kind of year you want to have
something has to happen that you can't explain
why it happened."
--Bobby Bowden

The earth has complete one more orbit around the sun, a digit has been added to the calendar, and with the roar of fireworks, a new year is upon us.

New Year's is a neat way to draw a line between the past and the future, a time when it becomes somehow convenient to redraw our lives along what we hope will be happier and more prosperous times.  When the clock's hands point straight up on that night, it is a moment when hope becomes somehow palpably real, as if we could take it in our hands, stroke it gently, and feel the joy of a perfectly unsullied moment.  The year past is seen as old and broken, something without value to be cast aside in favor of the shiny new future. And yet, as the patterns of the past have shown, most times we find ourselves at the end of that new year, essentially in the same rut we were in before.

Resolutions are made every year, and every year remain unfulfilled.  All those wonderful changes we intended to make become lost in the return to the post-holiday routine.  The passion and energy we were planning to use in pursuing the new us somehow is drained in the long, dark tunnel of January, February, and March.  Anyone who has belonged to a gym sees this graphically manifested in the flood of new members during January, few of whom remain by Valentine's Day.  For some, the resolutions were set too high.  For most of the rest, I think we find we're comfortable being who and what we are, unwilling to vacate that safe little box and voyage into uncharted territory.  At the end of the year, we do see changes, but they are almost always small and inconsequential.

Being Home on the Road

Farewell, California...

Copyright © 2018
by Ralph F. Couey

"I will never lose the love for arriving,
but I'm born to leave."
--Charlotte Eriksson

It was a warm, sunny day, like nearly all of the 91 days we spent in California.  We had gone through the travail of packing up the car, checking out of the hotel, and now we pointed the car's nose eastward.  The approach to that day was accompanied by a sense of unreality born out of the daily routine that had been ours.  We knew that the end of our stay was nearing, that we would leave the marvelous Mediterranean weather for far colder climes.  But somehow, even as we headed for I-15, we still couldn't quite grasp it.

Our life now is a succession of contracts, thirteen weeks in one place, then hitting the road for another.  We sold our home in Virginia, and while we use our daughter's home in Aurora as a home base of sorts, at this point there isn't really any place we could call home.  But that's how we like it.  Cheryl has a kind of stopwatch inside of her with regards to her job.  When the contract is up, so is her patience for the often stodgy bureaucracy that is the modern American hospital.  So it is with a kind of relief that she can pick up and leave without looking back, pushing on to the next adventure.  Since we don't have anyplace to call home, we don't get homesick.  We make friends and have fun, but are still able to take off without any emotional strands tugging at our hearts.

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Peace, and the Pacific

Copyright © 2017
by Ralph F. Couey

There is something peaceful, even hypnotic in the sound of a beach on a calm day.  The waves roll in, responding to impulses of wind and tides originating far out to sea.  A small rolling hill emerges from the flat seas, moving shoreward.  As it closes the beach, it slows down and grows.  At the point where the top of the wave is moving faster than the base, the top begins to curl.  Looking carefully, one might spot fish caught in the translucent green-blue wall.  A line of foam appears and the crest curls forward, creating a tube.  Then with a sort of muffled "whoomph" the water hits the sand, followed by a hissing as the water races over the sand, almost as if it were taking a breath after a long, tough journey.  The water glides in before running out of momentum, and returning to the sea.  In sharp counterpoint, seagulls contribute their characteristic shrill cries.

Friday, December 22, 2017

Why it is a "Silent Night"

Copyright © 2017
by Ralph F. Couey

"Silent Night,
Holy Night.
All is calm,
All is bright."
--Joseph Mohr

It was Christmas Eve in a small town nestled among the mountains of Western Pennsylvania.  It had been a very active, very joyful day.  Three of our four adult children had come into town to spend Christmas together with us.  Our century-old Victorian house had fairly burst with laughter and singing, and the running feet of young grandkids.  It had been snowing most of the day, about nine inches thus far, and we had all been outside throwing snowballs, making snowmen and snow angels.  I couldn't rustle up any sleds thanks to the immutable law of scarcity in a small town, or we would have taken on the steep hills in the area.  We had all eaten way too much food, played games by the fire, and generally had reveled in the singular feeling of togetherness for a family which had started to fly before the four winds.

As the evening grew late, everyone finally retired and the house grew quiet once again.  I had stayed in the living room, having finished the round of stories for our grandkids.  I was watching the fire, ostensibly preparing to bank the remaining coals before retiring, but mainly soaking in a rare kind of joy.  The stockings were all up on the mantelpiece, greenery hung in graceful loops along the walls.  Over by the window, the Christmas tree stood, glowing softly and illuminating the many gaily-wrapped boxes that awaited that special joy that could only be Christmas morning.

Saturday, December 16, 2017

The Cosmos, and Our Survival

Earth's first ambassadors to the galaxy
From https://voyager.jpl.nasa.gov/

Copyright © 2017
by Ralph F. Couey
Written content only

On December 11th, President Trump signed a Policy Directive ordering NASA to lead a space exploration program with the goal of sending Americans back to the moon.  The document, signed on the 45th anniversary of humanity's last lunar landing, implies a permanent base on the lunar surface, and also declares Mars as the next target of manned exploration.

It is a bold declaration, which of course will be strangled by politics, opposed by people solely on the basis of their hatred of the President, much as a similar directive by President Bush was ignored and smothered.  Pun intended, it will never fly.

Manned space exploration beyond earth orbit was abandoned decades ago.  Politics played a large part in that collapse of of mankind's boldest and most courageous effort to leave the natal womb of our planet.  But the real cause was the abandonment of vision.

As a human race, we have always been at out best when pursuing high aspirations. Big dreams coupled with daring actions have produced extraordinary results and our understanding of the universe has increased exponentially.  But for every question answered, a dozen more are generated, and thus the process of exploration and discovery should have its own kind of self-generated momentum.  But for what I suspect are purely selfish motivations, there are those with access to power who persist in squashing vision.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

The View Across the Great Gulf

Copyright © 2017
by Ralph F. Couey

Today I drove down to Laguna Beach to do my walking, which probably sounds odd to you.  I try to vary my walking routes to keep the activity from becoming stale.  One favorite destination is the coast because I love the ocean.  Unfortunately, where we are staying is in the far northern reaches of the LA area, so getting to any of the beaches take a pretty good drive.  One of my favorites is the town of Laguna Beach.  It's a pretty place, to be sure, but along with it's tony neighbor up the coast, Newport Beach, is home to some of the most expensive real estate in the world.  Around there, the cheap homes go for about four million.  Dollars.

But it is a place of beauty and is thus a wonderful place to visit on a sun-splashed California morning.  Those uber-priced homes attract similarly well-heeled clientele, most of whom are actually fairly nice.  But one of the fun things about being in this area involves my love affair with exotic automobiles.  Anytime spent in any of the expensive beach communities of Los Angeles will net the discriminating watcher views of spectacular hardware usually only seen in person at auto shows. Today's three-hour walk between Laguna and Aliso Beaches produced some fruitful watching.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

A Quiet Moment

Copyright © 2017
by Ralph F. Couey

The breeze blows softly, taking just enough of the edge off the warmth of the bright sunlight.  Leaves rustle in the trees above my head and the music of the songbirds fills the air.  The cool, green grass wraps around my bare feet in a most welcoming way, all while I attempt to remember that it is mid-

There is a kind of delicious irony to be savored on such a calm, peaceful evening, remembering other Decembers in other, less congenial locales.  I can remember the biting wind, chilling me to the bone.  I remember shoveling huge amounts of snow, trying to drive through ice storms and blizzards.  But those memories seem so far away.

I know there are millions of you who are dealing with all the unpleasantries of winter, and believe me, I do feel your pain.  But at the risk of seeming smug, that's just not me this year.

I've learned that when I find myself in pleasant and advantageous circumstances, I need to take the time to savor those things; to treasure the moment, storing those feelings and sensations away in the vault of memory.

Life is a collection of moments, some bad, some forgettable, and some golden.   It is the ones that fall at either end of that scale that tend to stay with us.  Sadly, it is the bad ones which remain the most vivid of recollections.  I'm not sure why that is, perhaps that pain makes the deepest of impressions.  Doing a quick inventory of my own set of memories, there seems to be an even mix between the two.  The ones in the middle pop up from time to time, unexpected and unbidden.  Out of the clear blue, I may experience a few moments lying on the couch in Pennsylvania, watching television while the big flakes of a lake effect snow storm float and dance outside the window.  Or a piece of a late night commute home through Northern Virginia astride my motorcycle.  

Thursday, December 07, 2017

Heartache and the Kansas City Chiefs

Okay...it's not Rembrandt,
but it does make the point.

Copyright © 2017
by Ralph F. Couey

The relationship between a professional sports team and its fans is necessarily complex.  Technically (and legally) speaking, the team is a private club owned by private individuals.  Membership is strictly limited to a relatively few supremely qualified individuals.  But the clubs are identified primarily by a city, and thus fans assume a sense of ownership themselves.  This sense is strengthened by the fact that the club's revenue is dependent on ticket sales, concessions, parking, sales of team logo gear, everything from professional quality jerseys to key chains.  The only exception to this is the Green Bay Packers, which is owned by the city of Green Bay, Wisconsin.

The team's identity is completely and totally linked with the city in which they play.  So any success adds luster to the city and it's citizens.  Likewise, failure can sully the name and reputation of both.  

Kansas City, Missouri is in so many ways the quintessential midwestern American city.  That ethos touches every aspect of community life, especially with regards to its sports franchises.  

The Royals' two-year run stirred emotions to a fever pitch, ending in an epic parade and victory celebration attended by upwards of two million people, all dressed in blue.  True to midwest ethics, on that day, out of those two million fans, there was only one arrest, a guy who had imbibed too much of the spirits of joy.  Also of note, on the night of the win over the Mets, there were nearly-orgasmic celebrations, but no riots.  No stores were trashed, no cars set on fire.  To Kansas Citians, the relationship between them and their teams is very much like a really big family, and in a time when the eyes of the world were on them, nobody wanted to embarrass the kin.  

Wednesday, December 06, 2017

Wildfire and Stubborn Humans

Flames in the Santa Paula area of Los Angeles
From azfamily.com

Copyright © 2017
by Ralph F. Couey
Written content only

People who live in Southern California rave about all that is wonderful in the lifestyle that exists here.  The usually mild Mediterranean climate, proximity to the heart-stopping beauty of the Pacific Ocean and the coastal mountains. It is an area that fairly boils with things to do, being the entertainment capital of the world.  On the same day, you could hike precipitous trails in the mountains, spend the afternoon swimming in the ocean or tanning on the beach, then in the evening attend a world premier of some kind, then party on into the wee hours at any one of the world-class nightspots.  I have written before here about the natural beauty of the region, the gentle pastels of sea, sky, and mountains.  In that context, there's no place like it anywhere.

But this is not Eden.  There are the drawbacks, prices to be paid for the privilege of living here.  

Monday, December 04, 2017

Christmas and Memories

Sleeping Beauty's castle, lit for the season.

Copyright © 2017
by Ralph F. Couey

Age diminishes many things, mostly physical, but somehow our appreciation for the simpler things never goes away.

We are now in what the politically correct call "The Holiday Season," but the rest of us always know as Christmas.  The air is colder, the days shorter, for some the first of many winter snows cover the ground.  But entering this season, one can't deny the onset of a quiet kind of happiness.  Part of that comes from childhood memories, rife with anticipation framed by the impatience of waiting for the arrival of that jolly old gent and a memorable morning tearing into gaily wrapped packages, watching dreams come true.  As I got older, I gained an appreciation for the gathering of family, grandparents, uncles, aunts, and cousins whom I never saw often enough.  Sometimes that meant a long trip up north to Wisconsin, where I realized they had REAL snow, instead of the hit-or-miss pattern of Missouri's winter weather.  There, we would all go to Tenney Park and spend a glorious day sledding down steep hills, having snowball fights, building snowmen, all those fun things that can only be done in winter.  When the sun rested on the horizon, we trooped back to a home, warm and bustling, where a hot bath and dry clothes awaited us.  I remember Christmas morning, us kids sitting around the tree, the focus and cynosure of love and affection as we tore into our gifts.  

Christmas dinner was served up by my grandmother, a brilliant instinctive cook who, along with her daughters, produced a feast the flavors of which still bring a smile to me over 50 years later.  A couple of days more, and we piled back into the car and started that long ten-hour trip back to Missouri.  The glow of those days stayed with me, and how I wished that it would go on longer.  

Tuesday, November 28, 2017


Copyright © 2017
by Ralph F. Couey

I've always had a thing for airplanes, going back to my youth.  I suppose that this is part of that peculiar male tendency to anthropomorphize technology.  My Dad would sometimes on Sunday afternoons take us to old Kansas City Municipal Airport, just across the Missouri River from downtown.  There, we would drive to a parking lot on the opposite side of the airport where we could sit and watch the airliners take off and land.  The tall towers of downtown necessitated an abrupt descent to catch the runway.  It took skill to land there, and it was a dramatic process to watch.  

I loved watching the planes, and I took pictures which I added to the scrapbook that Dad had started for me with pictures of the planes he had ridden on.  My favorites were the graceful cetacean curves of the Lockheed Constellation, and the power and grace of the Boeing 707, the undisputed Queen of the Skies.  I don't know how my mom and sister saw these outings, but as a young boy, it was a fine way to spend an afternoon.

I started buying and building plastic scale models, mostly from Revell, and of World War II vintage.  That war was less than two decades past, and I know now how swiftly those years pass for those of adult age and older.  The war was still being fought on prime-time television, with shows like Combat! and 10 o'Clock High.  Movies were shown on Saturday afternoons and evenings, mostly forgettable films like Battle of Blood Island, The Gallant Hours, Wackiest Ship in the Army, as well as undeniable classics like Sink the Bismarck, The Battle of Britain, and In Harm's Way.  Through older movies, I was introduced to the jet age by semi-propaganda movies like Bombers B-52, Strategic Air Command, and the one that introduced me to my favorite jet plane, The Hunters, about a USAF squadron of F-86 Sabres.

The Sabre, has always looked...well...beautiful to me.  There have been a lot of beautiful aircraft over the years -- the B-58 Hustler, the Russian Backfire, the Tomcat -- but in my eyes, nothing more beautiful or graceful than that big-mouthed silver bird.

Monday, November 27, 2017

Why Digital SLR's Never Bathe

What happens when you shoot with a dirty camera.

Copyright © 2017
by Ralph F. Couey

At the end of May of last year, Cheryl and I undertook what was the most difficult hike we (or I) have ever done.  We drove out to the western part of Virginia to the Cedar Run Trail.  This was a humdinger, when combined with the return loop through White Oak Canyon, it was over eight miles, 2,400 feet up and 2,400 feet down on a hot and humid day.  Why, you ask, would we do this?  Well, we wanted to do a waterfall hike, and Cedar Run, which tumbles down that long hill between the two trails, was full of them.  It was pretty, but a tough climb up, and then an even tougher descent, because the spray from the stream had slicked up the clay surface of the trail.  It was like hiking on ice.  Anyway, at the bottom of the return loop, we had to ford Cedar Run twice.  It was, at this point, a pretty sedate stretch of water.  I started crossing on the rocks, but they were wobbly, and at 62 years old, my balance isn't near what it used to be.  Exhausted and impatient, I decided just to wade across.  After all, my boots were waterproof.  But the subsurface was slick with moss and algae, so of course, I went down.  With great energy.  The water was very cool, which felt really great on a hot day, but I had neglected to put my new $400 Sony digital SLR camera back in it's case.  So, it got wet.

Upon arriving home after a 90-minute drive, I stuck camera and lens in a bag of rice.  Now, opinions are divided on the efficacy of this method, but after four days, I extracted the camera, dusted it off and holding my breath, switched it on.  To my intense relief, it fired right up.  All the functions worked just fine.  So take that, Internet.

However, in the ensuing months, I began to notice smudges appearing on my pictures.  Over time, they got pretty ugly.  Eventually, I replaced the lens, which took care of most of the problem, but some of the smudges remained.  I learned that playing with the aperture and focal length, I could minimize their appearance, but, as you can see by the dusk photo of Catalina Harbor above, sometimes conditions prevented such manipulation.  I finally faced up to the fact that there was mold growing on the sensor.

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Song For the Combat Vets

From Military.com

Copyright © 2017
by Ralph F. Couey
All Rights Reserved

I am a writer of prose, but have never been a poet or a songwriter.  Nevertheless, I was awakened this morning with these words booming inside my brain.  The tune was the Christian group Selah's song "Oh the Blood," so there's absolutely no chance of doing anything with this other than posting here.

This song is dedicated to the combat veterans, those who were so fundamentally changed by war, and who have struggled to find their footing upon coming home.  

Sometimes I rage.
Sometimes I cry.
At times I just sit and stare.
You ask me why, 
I just don't know
Except there's something very wrong with me.

I am home, take my hand and comfort me,
I am bleeding from a wound no one can see,
I've laid aside my gun,
My battle, it is done,
But the war it still rages within me.

Bombs explode,
The wounded cry,
These are the sounds that haunt my dreams,
The silence of 
Our nights at home
Are ripped and torn apart by my screams.


War is Hell
I've heard tell,
By those who've never been,
If you've not seen
Your best friend bleed,
There's no way you can ever understand.


I live with fear,
Anger too,
I cannot find my peace,
Your patient love
Is what I need
While my broken spirit tries to heal


We are called
Heroes all,
For serving so our land can be free,
But to me
The heroes be
Those who died in battle next to me.

I am home, take my hand and comfort me,
I am bleeding from a wound no one can see,
I've laid aside my gun
My battle it is done,
But the war it still rages within me

I want to be restored
To the me I was before,
And I hope that person still lives inside me,

I am home, take my hand and comfort me,
I am bleeding from a wound no one can see,
I've laid aside my gun
My battle it is done,
But the war it still rages within me.

Please pray for me
That someday I'll be freed
And I will find that peace that 's meant for me.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

A Summer of Trails

“It had nothing to do with gear or footwear or the backpacking fads
or philosophies of any particular era or even with getting from point A to point B. 
It had to do with how it felt to be in the wild. 
With what it was like to walk for miles with no reason 
other than to witness the accumulation of trees and meadows, 
mountains and deserts, streams and rocks, rivers and grasses, sunrises and sunsets. 
The experience was powerful and fundamental. 
It seemed to me that it had always felt like this to be a human in the wild, 
and as long as the wild existed it would always feel this way.” 
--Cheryl Strayed 

Copyright © 2017
by Ralph F. Couey

I haven't written about hiking for some time, mainly because all those posts began to sound the same. It is still difficult for me as a writer to adequately translate into words what these wilderness wanderings do for my spirit. So I thought I'd just summarize my trail activities for the last few months.

In June, we went to Casa Grande, Arizona for three months. Yeah. Arizona in the Summer. I know. Anyway, we stayed in a nice home in a retirement community a few miles south of town. The community was kind of isolated, with miles of nearly-empty desert in all directions. That was my first target. Starting out just after sunup, I was able to explore those sand-covered roads. That particular area contained little wildlife, which was okay because that desert is liberally populated with rattlesnakes and scorpions. To the northeast of the community were the four Toltec Buttes, a couple of hundred feet high, which made for a nice quick climb. There are canals that run here and there, carrying that substance without which life would not be possible there. I alternated those hikes with walks around and through the rather large community. Three weeks in, I felt I had acclimated enough to the heat to try something a little more ambitious.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Setting Goals...and Actually Meeting One

"This one step -- choosing a goal and sticking to it -- 
changes everything."
--Scott Reed

Copyright © 2017
by Ralph F. Couey

January is traditionally the time when people set goals, a process we know as "New Years Resolutions."  I have, for a long time, declined to take part in what I always considered a process that almost always ended in failure.  Got cynicism?  But on one cold night in January I was sitting in front of the computer looking at my stats on running/hiking/walking from 2016, courtesy of Map My Run.  I intrinsically like round numbers, and that total of 822.35 miles kinda gnawed at me.  Surely, I thought, I could have somehow squeezed an additional 177.65 miles out of that 365 days.  It got worse when I did the math and realized I only needed an average of .48 miles every day for the year to get to the magic 4-digit number.  Less than a half-mile per day.  Hmmm....

So out of that doleful rumination arose a -- -- New Years Resolution.  For 2017, I decided, I would commit to bipedally locomoting a thousand miles.

Having made the decision, all I had to do was figure it out.  And then carry it out.

First, the math.  To do 1000 miles in a year, I would have to average 20 miles per week.  At my normal activity level of 5 days per week, that would be a measly four miles each time.  But January was almost gone, so I had to refigure for a 47-week year, which raised the weekly a smidge to 22 miles per week.  I knew that weather would be a factor, and the inevitable times of sickness, plus the usual responsibilities of life which would create days where walking would be displaced by duties. 

January was a time of transition for us.  I retired, we sold our home, moved to Colorado to stay with our middle daughter and her husband while we sorted things out.  Cheryl left her traditional job and chose to become a travel nurse, working 13-week contracts, something she's always wanted to do.  If you read my posts from that time period, you will know that I was also dealing with some personal angst.  So, with all that going on, it really wasn't until early February that I really began whittling away in earnest.  

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Remember the Guardians

"This will remain the land of the free
as long as it is the home of the brave."

Copyright © 2017
by Ralph F. Couey

On Saturday, we drove down to the city of Orange, California to spend the day with Cheryl's brother and his wife.  While we were there, we walked to a nearby park where a Veteran's Day event, called "Field of Valor" was being held.

Every year, the city puts on this event honoring American veterans by posting 1,776 American flags in the outfield of one of the baseball fields.  It was a breath-taking sight on a perfect sunny day to see that forest of red, white, and blue furling and unfurling in the breeze.  I've been a lot of places in my life, 32 countries, by my last count, and I can tell you that one of the most inspiring sights an American can see is our flag flying proudly in a place far removed from home.

Amongst the ordered ranks and files of flags, veterans walked.  Some were current or recent service members, those from the trio of Middle Eastern wars of the last 27 years.  Others were older.  Vietnam, Korea, World War II.  Many were there with their wives and families.  Some were alone, accompanied by darker memories never shared.

Attached to the staff of each flag was a placard, honoring a veteran by name, branch, rank, and dates of service.  But through the center rows were flags carrying larger placards, remembering those who earned America's highest award, the Medal of Honor.  As I walked along, I paused and read every single one.  There were heroes there from the Civil War, Haiti, Nicaragua, World War I, World War II, Korea, Vietnam, Kuwait, Iraq, and Afghanistan.  I was struck by the number of heroes from our most recent wars.  I hadn't realized that so many had acted with the kind of selfless courage, and that such heroic acts had passed almost unnoticed in the news.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

The Park

"I find peace where the sun-kissed leaves dance 
in the melody of the breeze that floats through the air."
-- Saim Cheeda

Copyright © 2017
by Ralph F. Couey

A few decades ago, the rock band Chicago released a song entitled "Saturday in the Park," a kind of musical memory of a summer day in an unnamed city park.  The lyrics expressively described "People dancing, People laughing, a man selling ice cream singing Italian songs." And "People talking, really smiling, a man playing guitar singing for us all."  I've always liked that particular song more for the feelings those words sparked in me.  There was a day when people took the time to go to one of those magical green spaces.  Some played, some just...hung out.  Most of us can't do that these days because our schedules are chock-a-block with have-to-dos, and gotta-be-theres.  But I really think there's value in spending time there, even to just sit a spell.

I'm retired, which means that just about all I have is time.  There are still things I have to do, but they don't fill my every waking moment like they used to.  So now, I take the time.  

Sometimes the park is close enough to walk, other times it requires some time in the car.  But it always begins the same way.  As soon as I cross the sidewalk, the world changes.  The world goes away, and I am transported to a magical, peaceful place that might have only existed in Tolkien.  Sitting on a bench, I let my eyes drift across the green grass and trees.  I watch as the sun-dappled shadows of the leaves dance to the music of the breeze.  I clear my mind and just inhabit the moment.