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.

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.

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.

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.