About Me

My photo

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

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.

South of Casa Grande is one of those mountains that rise suddenly from the desert floor. They are striking sights, especially at dawn and sunset when the low angle of the sun's rays highlight the mountain's topography. The mountain is covered with the symbol of the Sonoran Desert, the Giant Saguaro cactus. There are a good collection of trails, starting with one that circles the base, and others cut into the mountain's sides at three different levels. I was on the lookout for critters, and I did encounter one Sonoran Rattler that announced it's presence as I walked the trail below the rock where he was perched. Rattlers are big. Even bigger at eye level. But the only real hazard I encountered was the cholla. These are cacti that drop ping-pong sized orbs completely covered in needle-sharp spines. There were several occasions where I had to stop, remove a boot and use a pair of pliers to remove the spines that had poked all the way through the tough leather uppers into my tender feet. After the boots were cleared, I removed my socks and used the tweezers out of my first aid kit to pull the spines out of the side of my foot, and socks. That got old pretty quickly. Mainly though, it was the heat. That first month included a stretch of about a week when temps soared above 120 degrees. Fahrenheit. There's something that's just soul-crushing to turn on the eleven o'clock news and hear that it's still 110 outside. Needless to say, my distances that week were short.

Despite the drawbacks, there is an innate beauty to the desert. It is rugged, and hazardous, but that's part of the charm. Walking among the Saguaro, you feel like a pioneer.

Around Labor Day, we left Arizona for Colorado, and after a quick three-week turnaround, were on the road again, this time for San Dimas, California. And after winter in Colorado and summer in Arizona, we finally got the seasonal thing right. Well, almost. The second week here, we were caught in an historically ferocious Santa Ana, which drove the temperatures into the low 100's. Locals complained, but after Arizona, we found it to be almost pleasant.

Where we're located along the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains, is home to several quaint and attractive communities. San Dimas, La Verne, Glendora, and a few others are fun to walk and very easy on the eye. Walking these streets, I understand those innate qualities that make up a physical community. Then, just about the time you begin to think how nice it would be to live there, you look up the real estate and are saddened to see that a small craftsman-style bungalow, about 1,100 square feet will set you back about three-quarters of a million.

I had to take a week off when my knee started acting up. After seven days of rest and advil, I was ready to head back to dirt.

There are two types of trails here. Canyons and mountains. I did two of the former, the Antonovich Trail, and the Marshall Canyon Trail before tackling two San Gabriel trails, Claremont Wilderness, and Cobal Canyon Mountainway. The latter actually climbs into the mountains, and not into a canyon. These trails consist of two halves, a steep, tough climb of 800 to 1,000 feet, and then a faster descent where the biggest hazard is executing a face plant on the wide dirt track.

Mountains are cool, wherever they are. The San Gabriels are a coastal chain, so they're not nearly as tall as their Colorado counterparts. Mount San Antonio, are as it is colloquially known, Mount Baldy, tops out at just over ten thousand feet. Mount Wilson, where Edwin Hubble's telescope still scans the heavens, rises to 5,700 feet above Los Angeles proper. Where Colorado mountains are covered with conifers and deciduous, the San Gabriels, and the neighboring San Bernardinos, are covered with what could best be described as scrub. There are a couple of reasons for this. First, Southern California, despite the comfortable Mediterranean climate, is still a coastal desert. The lack of rain through most of the year doesn't support the growth of large trees. In the sheltered gorges, you can find some twisted oaks, but everywhere else are short tree-like shrubs that rise maybe 6 or seven feet at most. Also, as I understand it, these mountains are subject to wild fires, that tend to keep the groundcover in a constant state of recovery. But the views, once you hump up to the top, are tremendous, and well worth the workout. There are signs about warning about recent sightings of cougars, and to be watchful for bears and rattlesnakes, but the days I was up there, a lot of people were sharing the experience with me, and critters don't generally stick around large groups of humans.

We've enjoyed our time here, and I've reveled in the joyful hiking possibilities which abound in this area. But we're just past the halfway point on this contract, and will be on the road again after the holidays. Our next stop won't be known for awhile, but hopefully it'll be someplace with plenty of dirt trails.

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.  

My daily distance through the previous years had been about 5 miles when running, and anywhere from 4 to 10 miles when hiking.  So my first task was to add distance.  Gradually, I stretched it out.  I had abandoned running after my doctor warned me that the continual and vigorous pounding would guarantee me a wheelchair before I reached the age of 70.  I turned to hiking, which is a total joy when you live close to the Appalachian Trail.  Now in Colorado, I turned to the large network of urban "trails," in reality just really long sidewalks.  Down to one car, my access to the interesting dirt trails that populated the foothills on the other side of Denver was limited.  Plus, I really wanted to wait for warmer weather.  So on those footpaths in and around Aurora, I set to work.  Also during this time, I was acclimating to the higher altitude.  I was chronically short of breath, but the only way to get my Colorado lungs, was to push ahead.  By April, I was up to 7 miles per day.  In May, my lungs had acclimated and I was putting down ten miles five days per week, and finally hiking some really interesting foothill trails as well.  I was now ahead of the required pace.  

In June, we relocated to Casa Grande, Arizona, south of Phoenix for three months.  I blithely assumed I could walk and hike in an Arizona summer.  After all, it's a dry heat, right?

It didn't take but a day or two before I realized the fallacy of that assumption.  In order to get my distance in, I had to be on the street or trail close to sunup, and off the same by around 9 a.m.  The heat was incredible, and things just got worse.  In late June and early July, the temperatures shot up to 120 degrees.  Fahrenheit.  There's something spiritually debilitating about turning on the ten o'clock news and being told that it was still 110 degrees outside.  I realized that like the altitude in Denver, the heat in Arizona required time to get used to.  

By being smart and careful, and drinking gallons of water, I was able to get six to seven miles in almost every day.  In southern Arizona, mountains stick out of the ground seemingly at random.  They are not terribly high, as mountains go, but they are rugged and filled with the kind of hazards you could only find in the desert.  Along with rattlesnakes and coyotes, there is are nasty little buggers called cholla, a type of cactus that drop items that could best be described as spiky ping pong balls.  I had a lot of faith in my Hi Tec Altitude IV boots, but many was the time when I had to stop, sit carefully down, and forcefully remove the cholla from the side of my boot, and then remove my socks and pick the spines out of my foot.  Nasty.

Around Labor Day, that contract was complete and we returned to Colorado for a quick three-week turnaround.  There was a lot to do, including snagging the next contract.  Honolulu fell through, Woodland Hills had to be turned down because there was no affordable place to stay, UCLA Medical Center was stolen out from underneath us.  Finally, Cheryl landed a spot with a small community hospital in Covina, California.  Southern California in the fall!  After winter in Colorado and summer in the desert, we finally nailed the seasonal thing.

At least until the Santa Ana conditions made an historic showing.  For the better part of two weeks, temperatures hovered around 100 degrees.  While locals complained, after Arizona, it was actually kind of pleasant.  So I was back to the pattern of hitting the streets at daybreak and getting done before the heat really got started.  Fortunately, the hotel was in the town of San Dimas, a delightfully picturesque community that abutted other delightfully picturesque communities.  Walking here was a real pleasure.  As I tallied up my distances, I was getting very close to my goal.  Then my knee started acting up.  I could feel a grinding in the joint, and I had a pain that seemed to around the edges of the kneecap.  Hoping that it was just a strain, I took a week off and Advil.  With less than 20 miles to go, this was an annoying setback.  But after a week, I felt a lot better.  I got back at it, reducing my distance and slowing my pace.  

Then finally, on November 2nd, after a prosaic walk around a shopping center while my car was being serviced, I hit my goal.  A thousand miles done, with two months to spare.

So, I did it.  I set an ambitious goal and not only met it, but ahead of schedule.  

This was important, especially given the events that started the year.  I had to prove to myself that I could accomplish something meaningful outside of my former professional life.  That, along with getting my first book published, provides a nice set of bookends to what has been a chaotic and stressful year.  

What will I do next year?  Haven't decided yet.  I need to have my knee looked at before I make any plans.  But now I know what I can do when I set my mind to it, and that's the best kind of knowledge for me.

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.

Without exception, the person who enlists for military service is a very different person from the one who completes their tour.  Military service is not for the weak.  Recruit training, commonly known as "boot camp," is the first of many crucibles to pass.  There, we learned how to put others ahead of ourselves.  There we learned that following orders keeps one alive in the middle of a fight.  There we learned that we are so much more capable than we ever thought possible.  And there, we made the first of many friendships, most of which would endure for decades.

Our first duty station was the realization that this was a very serious business, and that we would always be training and learning because in war, you have to get it right the first time.  There won't be any second chances.  For some of us, combat awaited.  The ultimate test.  There it was learned that when a best friend died violently beside you, there was no time to mourn because the enemy was still out there.

It is a fact that in the history of the world, no nation has shed so much of its own blood in defense of other people.  We really haven't fought a war on our own soil since 1812, and while World War II started for us with the brutal attack on Pearl Harbor, for the rest of the war, we took the fight to the enemy.  American soldiers pushed our enemies out of Africa, Europe, and across the Pacific, always liberating other countries along the way.  A visit to the American cemeteries outside our borders remains a mute, but meaningful testimony about American honor.

Today's veterans are fighting a different kind of battle, the war that refused to stay behind.  Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome, PTSD, haunts veterans today.  There wasn't a diagnosis like this for veterans of previous wars.  It was just assumed that when the troops came home, life would just go on.  It is a sad state of affairs that those who never went to war will never understand those who did.  One veteran told me, "I can't tell you about war.  If you weren't there, you'd never understand."  Those who go into combat are witness to scenes of horror.  Human bodies torn to shreds, their blood, guts, and brains worn by those nearby.  Enemies fight viciously, sometimes in the very personal battle of hand-to-hand, and face-to-face combat.  In order to survive, the combat veteran must change; and that change is never for the better.

In all of our wars, participation was relatively short.  World War II lasted for America, just three years and nine months.  From the first military advisors to the last combat troops, we were in Vietnam from 1955 to 1973, 18 years.  But in all of those wars, no single serviceman was in combat for more than two or three years.  We are now sending our troops back for their fourth and fifth combat tours in the Middle East.  Not surprisingly, more and more return to us broken in mind, body, and spirit.

It is not just their service in uniform that we should honor. It is what they were asked to give of themselves.  They left their youth, their energies, that boundless enthusiasm that has always marked American youth.  Their loved ones see the shell that remains, and they mourn the death of their spirit. 

Those with physical wounds are easy to spot.  Prosthetics, scars, chronic limps identify them to us.  But the worst wounds are those we can't see.  A brain that was too close to too many explosions.  A heart torn apart by the death of friends.  And the loneliness of possessing a fundamentally different view of the world, and of life.  I once sat with a Pearl Harbor survivor in the Chief's Mess aboard the Battleship Missouri as he wept over the memory of his buddies who died that day, and the life-long guilt he carried because he survived and they didn't.  For him, and others, the war will never go away.  The violence and death they experienced can never be forgotten.  There are entirely too many of them who wander among the homeless because the war left them utterly unable to function.

On Veteran's Day, and on Memorial Day as well, we would do well to remember those broken spirits and aching hearts that walk among us.  We should always remember that the sacrifice they made has paid for the freedom we take so utterly for granted.  And the safety about which we never seem to think.

It is the trendy thing these days to thank veterans for their service.  That gratitude is always welcome, always appreciated because we who served know that it comes from the heart.  But I think the greatest form of appreciation is in the lives you lead, and the kind of America you allow, through your attention to issues and that all-important right to vote.  For the combat veteran who left it all on the battlefield, the best thanks they can get from the rest of us is to make sure that America survives as the cynosure of unity and freedom the rest of the world sees in us.

As one unnamed veteran said, "If I am to die in battle for my country, please, my countrymen, do not make my sacrifice an empty one."

It's time for us to make America worthy of those who gave the "last full measure of devotion."

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.

Across the way, a group of high school cheerleaders practice their routines.  There's a group of boys shooting hoops.  People from the neighborhood sit at the picnic tables talking, smiling, laughing.  At the playground, children play under the watchful eyes of their mothers, there only concern being diligent at the only job they have, having fun.  A young couple stroll by, fingers intertwined, their faces reflecting that special joy that exists only in the very small world of being in love.

A park is a place of refuge; a deep green haven amidst the concrete, steel, and noise of the urban desert.  Here one can find the peace of contemplation, whether considering the simple beauty of a flower, or the direction of the next step on the path of life.  It is a place to find time you never knew you had, to let go of life's burdens even for a short space of time.  But to find such a moment means we have to stop driving by, pull off the road, and get out of the car.  Walk across the soft green grass, perhaps barefoot and thus leaving nothing between you and nature.  Listen -- really listen -- to the birds, the wind rustling the leaves.  Hear the shrieks and laughter of small children.  Feel the soft breeze brush your cheek, in that affectionate way only a beautiful day can do.  

An adult's life can be an ever-growing load of anger, frustration, and heartache which we insist on carrying around like a 75-pound backpack.  The beauty and peace of a park invites us to drop our burdens for a time, and just...breathe.  We can then exist in that moment of peaceful reverie.

Take the time; go to the park.  Explore, and find your healing peace.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Back With My Ocean Again

Copyright © 2017
by Ralph F. Couey

A month into the new contract assignment and things are beginning to sort themselves out. There's always differences, but the change from broiling Arizona to temperate California was a welcome one.  At least until this past two weeks.

I've always had tender feelings towards the massive body of water that is the Pacific Ocean.  I spent ten years criss-crossing it's surface while in the Navy, but the feeling goes beyond mere familiarity.  The Pacific has a realm of beauty that, in my mind, far surpasses its iron-gray eastern counterpart.  Most of its area encompasses the warmth of the tropics, from the gentility of Tahiti to the harsh heat of the Solomon Islands. For the most part these are places of great beauty, and what we generally think of as idyllic.  Along the west coast of the U.S., the interplay of golden sunlight, deep blue waters and the tawny sand and green hills beyond creates a pallet that eases the eye and soothes the soul.

Whenever we visit California, I make it a point of going to the beach and watching the sunset.  As an experience, it recalls those lonely evenings at sea when I would stand on deck with a lump in my throat missing my family.  Hawaii has beautiful sunsets, but the colors are stronger, bold reds and oranges, breathtaking in their own way.  But California's colors are gentler, tending more towards calming pastels.  It is that softer tone that touches me so deeply.

To see the Pacific touches the poet within.  I feel a peace I just don't get anywhere else.  Everyone has such a place, somewhere the harshness of life is somehow held at bay and a space of healing opens up.  It may not be a specific place, but perhaps wherever we happen to be with the one person who means the world to us.

We sometimes forget that in the challenge of maintaining our physical health, that our spirit at times requires attention as well.  It is important to know that because a sick or broken spirit can leave the body also sick and broken.  Thee are more than a few people who after a severe emotional trauma have passed from this life, leaving "broken heart" as the sole cause of death.  But there are just as many of those who suffered from grievous health problems who willed themselves back to health on the strength of an unbreakable spirit.

We seek those places because we need to be healed.  It is there that a painful past can be reconciled; where a light can illuminate a dark, unknowable future. Standing on that beach, watching the sun slide into the horizon, I found that space.  I am emerging from a period of time where I had lost my sense of purpose, and sometimes, worth.  It has been a challenge to find myself in this new paradigm of retirement.  In a sense, I've been stumbling around in the dark.  But as my eyes fell once again on the crenelated waters of my ocean stretching to the horizon, somehow things became better.  And I realized that perhaps this new life is doable after all.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

The Worst Days, Or Our Finest Hours?

The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse
From Wikia.com

Copyright © 2017
by Ralph F. Couey

Autumn is always a time of the year with some uproar attached. With summer ending, kids are going back to school which lends an air to not only their lives, but adults as well that playtime is over and it’s time to go back to work.  Even our games reflect that change.  Baseball, a timeless game is being supplanted by the clock-driven urgency of football and basketball.

But this year has been altogether different.  The world has been swept by the news of a series of disasters and tragedies, all compressed into an unimaginably small space of time.  Three Cat 4 hurricanes made landfall, Harvey in Texas, Irma in Florida and the Caribbean, and Maria which wiped out Puerto Rico.  Nate also made landfall on the Gulf Coast, but as a mere Cat 1, didn’t get the headlines of the other three.  A devastating 7.1 earthquake struck Mexico City, with the kind of death and destruction typical in a place where building codes are an afterthought.  The drumbeat of terrorism continues with notable attacks in Canada and France, along with the depressingly regular toll of dead and wounded throughout the Middle East.  On October 1st, Stephen Paddock, a real estate millionaire from Mesquite, Nevada executed a minutely planned mass shooting from the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay Hotel in Las Vegas, firing into a crowd of some 22,000 attending a country western concert across the road.  59 died, over 500 were wounded.  To this point, ten days after the shooting, his motivations remain a mystery.

Bad news is something to be expected in life, albeit in isolated doses.  Rare is the time, however, when so much misery is thrown at the human race in so short a time span.  People are resilient for the most part, but we all may be suffering from a form of mass combat fatigue, especially the poor folks for whom these tragedies have been up close and personal.  While this spate of bad news has been terrible, this is not the only time we’ve been on a bad streak.

Friday, October 06, 2017

The Difference Between Posturing and Doing

The start of it all.
© 2016 NBC News

Copyright © 2017
by Ralph F. Couey
Written content only

There was once a time when we could turn on the television on a Sunday afternoon and be treated to the thrilling spectacle of a National Football League game. It was a time when we could indulge in our baser instincts and forget, for a time, the often ugly world that lay in wait just outside our windows and those stadiums. For three or four hours, we could forget the bad things in life and just focus on having fun. Sports has been for a long time the great unifier. People of vastly different backgrounds and opinions could find common ground and comradery in the mutual affection of The Team.

But that fun often obscured the ugliness that lay below that glistening veneer. Racial minorities have had to suffer numerous indignities heaped upon them for no other reason than their race. Baseball, basketball, football, golf, all took unconscionably long times to integrate. And can anyone name a black or Hispanic hockey player?

I just finished James Hirsch’s exceptional biography of Willie Mays. It would be hard to identify a ballplayer who was more beloved than the Say Hey Kid. But as Hirsch explores the often brutal world of a black ballplayer, and to a greater extent black people in general, in the 1950’s and 1960’s, the reader begins to understand the undercurrent of frustration and even anger that inhabits them. And despite the best of intentions, this is something white people will never truly understand.

The Civil Rights Movement got its start through protest. Protest sustained the movement during its difficult maturation. While things are far from perfect, they are substantially better than they were back then. Progress, while helped by protest, was attained by people of courage choosing to undertake efforts aimed towards change. Protest that is not backed up by constructive action becomes an empty gesture. Also, the protests should be designed to call attention to the cause, not overwhelm it. It is a common thing for protesters to burn American flags. The problem is that the act is so overwhelming, so outrageous that the reason for undertaking the flag burning is completely lost. If you were to ask someone about the last few times someone burned a flag, to identify and explain the cause for which the protest was staged, I’m willing to bet you’d get a blank stare in return.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Eras and Endings

Copyright © 2015 Sports Illustrated

Essay Copyright © 2017
By Ralph F. Couey

Sports teams are irretrievably bound with the cities they represent and the fans who root for them. The relationship is a complicated one. Teams are, legally, private clubs to which membership is strictly limited, and which could be revoked at any time. But those teams live and die financially on the revenue stream provided by those who come to the games. Except for the Green Bay Packers, they are privately owned and operated, an entity unto themselves. Yet, there is a passion that exists between those on the field and those in the stands, and a sense of ownership, even family.

I’ve been a fan of the Kansas City Royals as long as there has been a Kansas City Royals.  I grew up in the Kansas City area, and even in those years when I was separated by miles, oceans, and continents, I followed their shifting fortunes.  I haven’t lived there since 1980 and yet they remain my favorite team.  There have been times of great excitement, and times when frankly, they were hard to even watch.  After the 1985 World Series Championship, it seemed that they would dominate for a few years anyway.  But things went south and I, along with millions of others, endured nearly three decades of drought. 

Around 2008 or so there were rumors that a supremely talented group had been assembled in the minor leagues, players who many said might bring the Royals back to dominance.  We waited with admirable patience until they all joined the major league team.  2014 saw them get into the playoffs by the few inches between Salvador Perez’s hot grounder and Josh Donaldson’s outstretched glove.  They blew through the rest of the playoffs, not losing a game until the World Series.  They took a tough Giant’s team to game seven only to lose with the tying run standing on third base. 

Friday, September 15, 2017


"There is a pleasure in the pathless woods,
There is a rapture on the lonely shore,
There is society, where none intrudes,
By the deep Sea, and music in its roar:
I love not Man the less, but Nature more."
—Lord Byron, "Childe Harold's Pilgrimage"

Copyright © 2017
By Ralph F. Couey

There are many natural wonders, all of which strike a responsive chord of some kind.  Some speak to us in peaceful serenity.  Others inspire awe, the proverbial “wow.”  Fields of flowers, vivid and joyful in their colors.  A snow-capped mountain rising from the plains below, and the reverse view of the limitless land seen from high above.  Sometimes it is the majestic power of a thunderstorm, or the yellows and reds of a sunset sky.  Maybe its just a quiet afternoon beside the still waters of a lake.
We need those moments.  We need those wonders.  We need to be awed.

Life is often a chaotic mess racing at breakneck speed as the days click past like posts along a country road.  Have-to-do’s and gotta-be-there’s make us frantic; being late or missing them entirely fills us with frustration and sometimes anger.  The only time things slow down are those few moments at night between laying down and drifting off to a fitful sleep.  Even then, our minds are full of thoughts of what lies in wait for us tomorrow.

We do this to ourselves, it seems, with a great deal of glee.  Sometimes we boast to others just how busy we are, forgetting that this is not supposed to be a competition.  Even vacations, which are supposed to be those times when we do relax, are filled, morning to midnight, with activities to the point that when we return home, we are tired all over again.

Here then is the eternal mystery, life lived at such a pace that we reach the destination without any knowledge of the journey.

Monday, September 11, 2017

9/11/2017: Just Another Day?

Photo Copyright © 2011 
by Ralph F. Couey

Copyright ©2017
by Ralph F. Couey

"Time moves in one direction;
Memory in another."
--William Gibson

16 years ago, the calm beauty of a Tuesday morning was shattered by news reports that defied belief.  Somehow, terrorists had taken control of four airliners and were flying them into buildings.  First one tower of the World Trade Center, then the other tower, then the Pentagon across the Potomac from the nation's capitol.  The fourth plane, probably targeting the U.S. Capitol building, was forced down over rural Pennsylvania when the surviving passengers and crew took the first offensive act of the Global War on Terror.  Thousands died that day, along with the destruction of landmarks symbolic of America's government, military, and economy.  There exists a persistent assertion that there may have been as many as four other teams whose attacks never occurred, mainly due to the exigencies of the U.S. air transportation system. Their flights were delayed until the FAA shut down the skies over America, thus they never got off the ground.

The attacks changed history. They changed America.  They changed us.  From that day on, time was divided into two periods:  pre-9/11, and post-9/11.  Every year since, Americans have commemorated the attacks with solemn ceremonies across the country, most usually involving the tolling of bells as the names of those who died that day are read.  At first, a lot of attention was paid, not only through attendance, but watching on television, since all the networks, cable and others, carried the ceremonies live.  It was a rare moment of unity shared by a people who have found themselves increasingly polarized.

Then there came a moment when the open wound of that experience closed.  The scar remained however, something we would all gently touch every September 11th.  As time has put increasing distance between that day and today, we have become less attentive to the anniversary.  Solemn ceremonies are still held, but fewer people attend.  The networks no longer air them live, choosing to briefly summarize them in a short slot between political news stories.  Flags are still half-staffed, but when people see that, there is that moment of confusion, and then the "Oh....yeah."  It leads me to the question, is 9/11 becoming just another day?

Saturday, September 09, 2017

Seeing the Sun, Knowing the Universe

©KSNT News

© Copyright 2017 
by Ralph F. Couey

Wildfires are a way of life in the western U.S.  Every summer, the rains stop, the heat starts, and the land dries to a matchstick volatility.  At that point, it only takes a spark from a small campfire, a large spark from a lightning bolt, or in one case, radiant heat from a parked SUV's catalytic converter to get blaze going.  This year has been no different with acreage burning in just about every western state except Washington.  

Here in Denver, a freakish meteorological condition involving the jet stream has funneled smoke from fires burning not just in Colorado, but from California, Montana, and Oregon into and over the Mile High City.  The sky, normally a clear and vivid blue now resembles 1964 Los Angeles.  Folks with respiratory ailments have been forced indoors with air conditioners running on days when frankly, they weren't needed temperature wise.  This has affected not only the visibility, but the usual Chamber of Commerce views of the Rockies have been completely obscured.  At night the moon rises, the smoke cloaking it in an ominous blood-red lens.  It is s altogether annoying, if not unsettling.

Friday, August 18, 2017

The California Republic -- Dream vs. Reality

Copyright © 2017
by Ralph F. Couey

Californians -- both citizen and government -- have long boasted how economically self-sufficient their state has become, to the point where some firmly believe that California could survive quite nicely on its own, outside the United States.  That rhetoric has increased in volume since the last election.  Californians, overwhelmingly liberal Democrat in political viewpoint, are utterly unwilling to contemplate being a part of a country that had the temerity to elect a Republican, especially Donald J. Trump for whom most consider the term "buffoon" to be too high a compliment.

There have always been secession movements in this country, although most (outside the Civil War) involve splitting states, not leaving the Union.  Western Maryland, for example, is politically the photographic negative of the eastern half of the state, where the liberals in Baltimore and Annapolis run the whole state through their leftist lens.  For a few decades, there was a movement to separate northern from southern California.  But to this point in history, the only state to split apart was Virginia at the beginning of the Civil War, dividing into Confederate Virginia and Union West Virginia.

But things have become more complex since 1863.  The interweaving strands of economy and culture are far more dense today.

Monday, August 14, 2017

The End

                             The vicious cold of Bastogne          The sweltering heat of Peleliu

Copyright © 2017
by Ralph F. Coue

"To our good and loyal subjects:  
After pondering deeply the general trends of the world 
and the actual conditions obtaining in our empire today, 
we have decided to effect a settlement of the present situation 
by resorting to an extraordinary measure.
We have ordered our Government to communicate 
to the Governments of the United States, Great Britain, China and the Soviet Union 
that our empire accepts the provisions of their joint declaration.
We charge you, Our loyal subjects, to carry out faithfully, Our will."
--Hirohito, Emperor of Japan
August 15, 1945

August 15, 1945 was an oppressively hot day in Washington, DC.  The high reached 91 degrees with the humidity of 74%.  But the heat was mostly ignored as bits and pieces of  scintillating news swirled around America's shrine city.  Finally at noon, it was announced that Emperor Hirohito had told the Japanese people that his government had accepted the terms of the Potsdam Declaration.  Although the word "surrender" was carefully avoided, the meaning was clear.  The war was finally over.

Germany had surrendered three months earlier, but even during the wild celebrations that followed, the harsh reality was never far from anyone's mind that The War was still not over.  Soldiers in Europe had begun to prepare for the grim transfer to the Pacific Theater for what seemed to be the inevitable invasion of the home islands of Japan.  It would have been a horrible fight.  Conservative estimates pegged Allied losses at roughly one million soldiers, sailors, marines, and airmen.  Since the defending Japanese forces would have included old men, women and many adolescent children armed with little more than sharp sticks, Japan's losses likely would have topped 20 million people.  With the high post-war birth rate, it is possible to extrapolate that as many as 100 million people are alive today because their grandparents and great-grandparents weren't killed in that assault.

There is also the consideration of Soviet involvement.  With Japan's society decimated and most of their homeland reduced to rubble, it would have been fairly easy for Russian troops to invade and occupy the northern islands. As documents show, this was in fact the plan of the Soviet leadership.  Japan, instead of the economic and industrial powerhouse it became, would have been reduced to another divided Cold War battleground, like Korea and Vietnam.

Friday, July 07, 2017

Signs of the Times of Yore

Copyright © 2017
by Ralph F. Couey

Memory is a funny thing.  Snippets from the past can lie dormant in the brain for decades until one day, quite by accident, a word, a picture, even a sound can unlock that storage and unleash a wave of sweet nostalgia.  It sneaks up on you and quite without warning transports you back to a time long ago, and almost long forgotten.

I don't have a FaceBook account myself.  I prefer to piggyback on my wife's account, mainly because it seems like too much work to set up my own.  One of the groups I (we) follow is one called "Growing up in Independence, MO."  This week, one of the members posted some pictures from the 1960's one of which was of the Mugs Up root beer stand.  Seeing the place was the key that unlocked that musty storage locker in my head.  We had a similar place much closer, a real classic of the drive-in era, called "Dog n' Suds."

I've lived a lot of places, but Independence was where I've spent the most time, especially my formative years.  We moved there from Los Angeles in 1960 not too long after the building containing my Dad's office burned to the ground.  We spent the first two years in a rental house before buying a new home on Mark Avenue.  Being six at the time of our move, and eight when we got the new place, I hadn't really been old enough to have been vested in Southern California.  I do remember how hot and muggy our new home town was, compounded by the lack of air conditioning, which my Dad considered an extravagance until he finally had central air installed a few years later after the onslaught of Missouri summers conquered his fiscal stubbornness.

There were those oppressive summer evenings when we would be sitting in the living room watching TV with electric fans whirring away until Dad would decide that we needed some relief.  We'd pile into the car (which was also non-air conditioned) and drive for about 10 minutes or so before pulling into a slot under the garish yellow lights which always seemed to attract a multitude of flying insects.  A teenager would come out and take our orders, and return a few minutes later with several iced glass mugs holding that treat of treats, the Black Cow.  This was, of course, the same root beer float we could have made at home, but going out, as rare as we did that, made it special.

Saturday, July 01, 2017

Giving Our Best to America

Copyright © 2017
by Ralph F. Couey

"America was not built on fear.
America was built on courage, on imagination, 
and an unbeatable determination to do the job at hand."
--Harry S. Truman

Every summer, Americans take a day off in July.  Businesses and government offices are closed, people flock to the grocers and the warehouse stores and lay in supplies from a case of burgers to tents, sleeping bags, and the other accoutrements of camping.  But whatever we do during the day, as the sun goes down through that universally warm and humid atmosphere, we gather in places great and small and wait with great anticipation for the night sky to explode in that cacophony of bright lights and booming sounds that are fireworks.

As far as I can tell, this custom was born on the long night of September 14, 1814.  British gunboats, in an attempt to take Baltimore harbor, shelled the keystone of that harbor's defense, Ft. McHenry for 27 hours.  When dawn broke on September 15, a huge American flag fluttered above the fort, stating without equivocation that it was still in American hands.

Out in the harbor on a truce ship, an American lawyer, Francis Scott Key, witnessed the bombardment and that breathless moment when the site of the Stars and Stripes pierced the fog and smoke.  Inspired, Key wrote the first words of a poem which would eventually become our national anthem.  Since then, on the evening of July 4th, skies across our country have been lit up with fantastic displays, emulating that long bombardment.  The thing I find most remarkable is that during that time, we all sit together without enmity and celebrate being Americans.

That transient moment of unity is, like so many other things, a facade.  As soon as the fireworks stop and the lights come up, we will go back to just being us.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

The Sonora, and its Siren Call

Giant Saguaro Cactus,
The symbol of the Sonora Desert

Copyright © 2017
by Ralph F. Couey

Since coming here with my Dad in my youth, I have long had an affection for the desert southwest.  To me, it has always been a land without limits; a wide open sky surrounded by a horizon that seems to go on forever.  The land is  mostly flat, but dotted by mountains that seem to spring up suddenly from the desert floor, some of which have been sculpted over the centuries into strange and inscrutable shapes.

It's tempting to call this land "empty." There are none of the thick hardwood forests of the northeast, or the streams and rivers of the midwest.  Birdsong, the joyous soundtrack of any woodland hike, won't be found here in abundance.  In my hikes thus far, the only birds I've heard have been the squawking cry of the huge Chihuahuan Raven and the somber, sad plaint of the mourning dove.  But the land teems with life.  You have to know where to look.

Twenty to Forty million years ago, the Sonora Desert was a hotbed of volcanic activity.  The land holds that memory in the form of several giant caldera and signs of lava flows.  Then the drift of continental plates began to stretch and pull the region apart.  The crust crumbled into the the sudden uplifted mountains and hills that remain today.  Mountains bordering what is now the desert, uplifted high enough to cut off the flow of moisture from the Pacific Ocean.  The land dried out and plantlife over time adapted to the new climate. The air sinks into the desert basin, compressing and heating.  Unrelieved by moisture, the heat in this region can reach into the 120-degree range, as it did last week.  But nature is adaptive, and in the hot sands, plants such as the Giant Saguaro and the Organ Pipe cacti flourish.  Sagebrush (not related to the herb sage in any way) also covers the ground.  Rather than being empty, the land is full of animal life.  Coyotes, chipmunks, jackrabbits, javelina, rattlesnakes, Gila Monsters all live in the desert.  In addition the smaller critters, seemingly dozens of types of flies, spiders (especially the black widow and tarantula), scorpions reside here as well.  The large number of venomous creatures will demand close attention of the terrain by human hikers.

This is a harsh land, not for those of weak constitutions.  The heat during the summer months, and the epic thunderstorms and flash floods that occur during the July monsoon pose dangers to people.  The land doesn't absorb much moisture, so when it rains, just about all the water becomes runoff.  Dry gullies can become raging torrents.  Streets and roads can become flooded in a matter of minutes.  Early settlers understood this, and the descriptive names like Skull Valley, Rough Rock, Tombstone, and Bitter Springs tell a history of their own.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

The Wild, Wild West of Cinema

Copyright © 2017
by Ralph F. Couey

I grew up watching the west.  Not so much the actual place, although I did travel there with my father several times.  No, this was the west that was shown to me through the magic of films and television.  It was a land of cruel, if antiseptic violence, but a place where heroes could be found, and where right almost always triumphed.

It was not a day for the faint of heart.  The temperatures were well into triple digits, and some 6 visitors had already been taken away for medical treatment by the time we arrived.  After being cautioned to "water up frequently" by our guide, Sheriff Jack, we headed through the gates and into the past.

In 1939, Columbia Studios needed a set for their upcoming movie "Arizona."  Not finding a suitable location in Southern California, they traveled to Tucson, Arizona.  Already a place where several films had been done, the flat desert, relieved by the sudden uplift of isolated mountains, and decorated by sage brush and giant Saguaro cacti was a filmmaker's delight.  The company decided on a site just west of the Tucson Mountains off a winding dirt road which had serviced camps of the Civilian Conservation Corps, and a tuberculosis preventorium.  In a month, the company sunk a well, built a power plant, and constructed an exact replica of Tucson, circa 1862.  When filming was completed in June, the movie folks packed up and went back to Hollywood, leaving the set to become a ghost town.  Then, in 1946, the Junior Chamber of Commerce opened the set on weekends, setting up some concessions, and put on some recreations.  Some people did come, braving the 10 miles of twisting, dusty dirt road to arrive 100 years in the past.  During their tenancy, the JayCees made some rough repairs to the building and managed to sub-lease the set for the production of 22 movies.  Each production added new buildings and renovated old ones, according to their needs.

In 1959, a Kansas City promoter and entrepreneur name Robert Shelton assumed the lease and turned what was called "Old Tucson" into a tourist destination.  The dusty streets were lined with restaurants and stores, and Shelton added realistic gunfight shows.  Old Tucson in short order became the most visited tourist site in Arizona, after the Grand Canyon.  Shelton was a born salesman, and that talent, plus his contacts in Hollywood, brought the filming of some 112 movies, 48 TV shows, and also a lot of commercials.  Another set town, named "Mescal," a remote set 30 miles out into the trackless desert was also built.  While Old Tucson remains open to the public, Mescal is only accessible by special invitation.

Monday, June 12, 2017

The Rock of Aging

Copyright © 2017
by Ralph F. Couey

Past a certain age in life, the number of obligations begin to shrink in number, creating, or I should say, recreating moments of spontaneity.  Such a thing happened Sunday when, quite by accident, we discovered that Chicago and the Doobie Brothers, two rock bands who had largely shaped my adolescence, were in Phoenix for a one-night show.  It was so spontaneous that I bought the tickets on my phone standing in the parking lot. 

For teenagers and young adults, music, as much as any other thing, provides not only entertainment, but a soundtrack through which our lives are expressed.  I turned twelve in 1967, which meant that my brain was filled with the Beatles, Bob Dylan, Peter, Paul & Mary, and yes, Elvis.  As the decade turned over into the 70’s, the music took a much harder edge.  The Beatles were now four separate acts.  The Stones, Zeppelin, Deep Purple and the Grateful Dead.  Pop now achieved its divorce from rock n’ roll with the Jacksons, Elton John, Neil Diamond, and the Supremes.  Folk emerged from the Village coffee houses and we heard Gordon Lightfoot, Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young, Simon & Garfunkle, and Joni Mitchell.  Motown surged with muscular authority with James Brown, Aretha Franklin, Gladys and the Pips, and Wilson Pickett.  American radio stations blasted listeners with all those formats, a kind of electronic cross-culturalism.

I had several favorite acts, and a ton of favorite songs.  But around 1970, two bands emerged for me. 
In 1969 San Jose, California, survivors of a band called Moby Grape formed a new group that would eventually evolve into the Doobie Brothers.  By 1972, they were charting nationally. Their unique sound pushed through the background noise and captured my attention.  I remember when Cheryl was pregnant with our son, I would put a Doobies record on and place the headphones on her belly, hoping to entertain that developing fetus.  Oddly, after he was born, he never liked either band.
About that same time, another band came out of Chicago, originally called “The Big Thing” and “Chicago Transit Authority” until threatened legal action by that city’s mass transit bureaucracy force a shortening of the name to simply “Chicago.”  They were a rock band with horns, a trombone, sax, and trumpet, that brought a bright, brassy sound to the radio.  I was a brass player, so naturally they appealed to me.  Those two bands were at the top of my charts from adolescence through almost early middle age.  I had gone to see Chicago when they were touring with the Beach Boys round 1975, but hadn’t been back since.  I had never seen the Doobies on stage.  So it was with great anticipation that we entered Ak Chin Pavilion that evening.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

In the Presence of the Past

The Ruins at Casa Grande

Copyright © 2017
by Ralph F. Couey

"The ascendance over men's minds of the ruins of the stupendous past,
the past of history, legend, and myth, 
at once factual and fantastic, is half-mystical in basis.
The intoxication is not the romantic melancholy 
engendered by broken towers and moldered stones.
It is the soaring of the imagination into the high empyrean
where huge episodes are tangled with myths and dreams;
it is the stunning impact of world history on its amazed heirs."
--Rose Macaulay

I have my life long been fascinated by the past.  Whether a stack of newspapers from World War II America or a stunning Mayan temple in Mexico, history speaks to me in a way nothing else does.  Today was our first completely free day since coming to Arizona and we set out early to do some exploring.  Our first stop was a set of ruins, the last remnants of a culture of native Americans that thrived for about 1,150 years before fading from history around 1400 CE. 

The site is located outside of Coolidge, Arizona, about 20 miles from the city of Casa Grande.  It consists of the remains of what are likely residential structures surrounding a massive structure that the Spaniards called "Casa Grande," or Big House.

The civilization responsible for this impressive construction were the last of the hunter-gatherers that settled in the Gila River Valley around 300 CE.  Their specialty was agriculture, an amazing undertaking in the Sonoran Desert.  To bring water to their crops, they hand-dug some 220 miles of canals.  The culture, originally called "Hohokam" and now referred to as "Ancestral Sonoran Desert Peoples," thrived for over 1,100 years before fading away around 1400.  The cause for the collapse and dispersion vary -- some say a breakdown of civil authority or internal or external conflict.  But the likeliest explanation is that they were victims of their own success.  At their height, some 2,000 souls lived in the communities along the canals.  It is highly possible that the population increased beyond the land's ability to support.  This is partially supported by the thought that the civilization Balkanized -- broke into smaller groups.  It is surmised that this culture were the forebears of the Pima and Tohono O'odham cultures.

Thursday, June 08, 2017

Where We Are, Who We Are, What We Are

From Pinterest.com

Copyright © 2017
by Ralph F. Couey

Every part of the country – heck, every part of the world has its particular charms and curses.  These are things like weather, geography, traffic, etc…  More often than not, they are the things that a particular area is best known for, or reputed to be.  Those elements even have a way of shaping the people who live there.  The northeast and mountain west have their long and blizzardy winters.  The southeast has hurricanes, and they along with the rest of the south and much of the Midwest are burdened with impossibly hot and humid summers, and tornados to boot. California has earthquakes, and under a National Park in Montana and Wyoming there lies slumbering a super volcano that, if awoken, would likely end civilization as we know it.

Each of those regional challenges creates a bit of a swagger among those who have to face them, although that doesn’t necessarily make them completely tough.  I’ve known several New Englanders who on one hand brag about surviving a winter nor’easter, only to wilt completely on what passes for a reasonably normal summers day in Phoenix or Las Vegas.

Still, we like to think that living in proximity to nature’s examples of bad temper does make us stronger in some ways, even speciously.  Coloradans like to think that the privilege of staring up at those snow-capped peaks every day makes them naturally superior to ordinary mortals.  Hawaiians feel the same way about “their” ocean.  I grew up in Missouri, which is not really known for much.  But I’ll never forget the reaction of a visitor from Korea on a drive from St. Louis to Liberal, Kansas.  She was struck speechless as we spent hour upon hour driving through productive farmland, crops stretching to the horizon, so different from her native land.  At one point she whispered, “No wonder you Americans can feed the world.”  But despite my momentary bump of national pride, I reminded myself that Americans don’t know what it’s like to live within range of 20,000 artillery guns owned by a leader whose rationality is suspect.

Friday, June 02, 2017

The Dream, and Living It

Appalachian Trail, Virginia

Copyright © 2017
by Ralph F. Couey

It's early.  The night has just given way to a grey, overcast dawn.  It had been raining when we arrived the night before, not a heavy downpour, but that kind of steady, patient fall that always seems to murmur, "Relax. I'm gonna be here awhile."

We had come east from Colorado to spend a few days with family, the part of which we left behind when that heavy steel door marked "retirement" closed behind me with that heavy, hollow boom of finality.  My wife is what is called a travel nurse, a contractor working 13-week assignments before moving on to the next one.  The stay is Colorado is done.  Now, we will head for a town south of Phoenix to endure the brutal heat of an Arizona summer.  We don't know what experiences lie in wait, though admittedly, that is part of the adventure.

My life long, I've always been anchored by the idea of "home."  In my case, a structure wherein resided my family; where I could relax and be myself.  Where I felt safe. It was a place to leave, and a place to which to return, a place I could say I was from.  But within me has always been a restless streak; a strange desire to live on the road, going where my whims directed, staying only as long as I wanted to, and hitting the road again.  It's a life that has fascinated me; to drift along from place to place, the only direction given by the capricious winds.  In my mind's eye, we did this on the back of a horse, or a motorcycle, loping along through plain, prairie, and desert.  That romantic tableau only somewhat altered to the comforts of an SUV, the wilderness trails swapped for highway asphalt.

Despite this wild urging, my life has always been framed by a safe predictability.  While the long-term future remained ever fuzzy, the short-term view seemed to provide a clear path and a life anchored by a career, a home, bills -- the dragging anchor of obligation.  While stultifyingly mundane, that structure gave me a sense of security to those passing moments we all know as the "now."  The environment in which we now find ourselves is completely different.  A lot of hard work and sacrifice has eliminated almost all of our debt.  We now enjoy that wonderful sense of freedom of not being weighed down, or even smothered, being forced to delay or even abandon dreams to the steel cage of revolving payments.  In that process, we've learned how to say "no" to ourselves, trying to limit our possessions to what can fit in the back of the vehicle.