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

Astronomy Picture of the Day

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.

If you took the time to read a newspaper – any newspaper – between December 7, 1941 and June 30, 1942, you’d find the same daily dose of bad news. By all accounts, we were losing World War II.  At home, government austerity measures, such as rationing, were being imposed on the civilian populace.  On the east and gulf coasts, the horrors of war were brought home to people watching almost nightly as the pyres from torpedoed merchant ships lit the skies.  On the west coast, people lived in fear that the Japanese combined fleet was about to show up off Los Angeles or San Francisco.  Then there was the very personal tragedy of the dreaded yellow telegrams, opening with the words, “The Secretary of War regrets to inform you…”

But that was a tougher generation.  Compared to them, we are all snowflakes.

Like it or not, it is us in these present times, and we still have to get through the tough stuff.  Life must still be lived, despite what be going on elsewhere. 

A question was asked of a terrorism expert shortly after 9/11 as to what would be the most effective response ordinary people could make to the attacks.  He replied, “Go bowling.”  That seems like a non sequitur, but I understand what he was trying to say.  The terrorists wanted – and still want – Americans to live in fear.  Hide inside, lock the doors and windows.  Don’t go to work; in fact, don’t go anywhere.  But we didn’t do that.  We did go bowling, and to the mall.  We took in movies and ballgames, and ate dinner out.  We refused to live in fear.  And when victims cried out for help, we responded.  We gave generously and where possible, pitched in to help.

We have always taken shots to the jaw, individually and as a country.  What has defined us has been our unwillingness to take it lying down.  We took the punch, and got back up, defiantly.

Tragedies like the string of recent events author all manners of human miseries.  But such times has also inspired acts of bravery, selfless sacrifice, and compassion.  When we see others in distress, we drop our divisions and reach out to help.  This, I think, is the thing we should remember about these tragedies and their aftermaths.  We came together, literally giving the shirts off our backs to succor those in need.

In the movie “Apollo 13” there is a scene towards the end when the NASA PIO is speaking to Chris Craft.  He enumerates the long string of challenges facing them, ending the list with the words, “This could be the worst disaster NASA’s ever experienced.”  The Flight Director, Gene Kranz, turns and says, “With all due respect, I believe this is going to be our finest hour.”

We can give in to tragedy, and mourn destruction and human loss.  Or, we can choose to pull together to make things right.  If we can continue to do that, than this will not be the apocalypse, but instead it will be our finest hour.

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.

The current trend of protest has been players sitting or kneeling during the playing of the National Anthem. This was started by Colin Kaepernick during the 2016 pre-season when he chose to sit on the bench rather than stand. His statement explaining his act was this: “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color. To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder." Before the opening game of the season, he modified his protest by kneeling after a conversation with former NFL player and armed forces veteran Nate Boyer. That act of kneeling was picked up by other NFL players. 

While the instances during the 2016 season were relatively isolated, this new season has seen that protest take center stage. The motivation is expanding also, in one player’s words, “to give voice to those who have no voice.” The effect has been polarizing, splitting the NFL audience into two camps. It has also had a noticeable effect on the NFL brand. Teams are reporting reduced attendance. The networks are reporting declining ratings. Even the sale of NFL-branded gear is being affected. President Trump, in an incredibly inexcusable set of statements and tweets has added fuel to the fire by referring to the protesting players as “sons of bitches” and that they should be fired from their jobs.

Now, the NFL, which once was the refuge from politics, is now the center stage.

The United States is a country that was born through protest. It is not only a big part of our heritage, it is a primary element of our national character. Traditionally, it is what we turn to when other more prosaic methods prove ineffective, particularly with the members of our government. They will ignore the individual sitting in their office, calmly offering their opinion. However, they cannot ignore the scene of a mass of people expressing that same opinion. Our exit from the hopeless morass that was Vietnam was fueled in large part by massive protests. While cumbersome and somewhat dangerous, they do get things changed over time.

The method of protest is every bit as important as the protest itself. The act must magnify the cause. The trap for protestors is that the act often overwhelms the cause. One of the most attention-getting protests is burning an American flag. Desecrating the flag was at one time a violation of the law. However, the Supreme Court case U.S. v Eichmann in 1989 ruled that flag burning was a constitutionally protected form of expression. Despite that, burning the flag still upsets a lot of people. The act itself provokes outrage and a guaranteed spot on the nightly news. The problem is that the method is so outrageous that it completely obscures the reason for the protest. People will remember that the flag was burned, but will have no idea why. Without the “why,” the protest becomes pointless.

Football is a business, yes. But to the majority of its fans, it is a game. Period. Games are there to take us away from the often brittle reality of our lives and we don’t enjoy the real world intruding on our diversions. Also factored in is the economic divide between us in the stands from them on the field. We know they make more money than us…way more. That they work way harder than most of us, risk horrifying and crippling injuries, and have 80,000 people looking over their shoulders on game day doesn’t make the divide any narrower. Beyond that, there is the sense most of us have that in order to change something, you must do something beyond posturing. In order to effect change, you must undertake the responsibility of actually doing something about the problem.

And that’s really the problem. Taking a knee on the sidelines is one thing. Going into those affected communities and building bridges between now and the future is an act that demonstrates that one’s principles are real, and not a convenient ploy for publicity. I guess that’s what we’d rather see.

If we see them directly involved, then maybe that’s the motivation for the rest of us to pitch in. Then, working together, maybe…just maybe…the problems can be solved.

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. 

That disappointment became the cause that drove them through the 2015 season, and into the playoffs.  The Royals played with passion and energy and this time, winning the whole thing over the mighty New York Mets in only five games. In 2016, the driving, breathless pace of the previous two seasons caught up with them, as injuries crippled the squad, leaving at one point, four all-stars on the bench healing.  Unable to sustain the race, they finished out of the playoffs. 

When 2017 started, it was billed as the last time this core of singular players would be together.  Free agency was looming, and the Royals were not rich enough to sign them all back at the rates of pay they had so richly earned.  Two-thirds of the dreaded H-D-H combination of shutdown relievers were gone.  Greg Holland lost a year to arm surgery and was signed by Colorado.  Wade Davis, the most dominant closer in major league baseball was traded to the Cubs for a reputed slugger who ended up spending most of the season in the minors, being unable to hit major league pitching with any consistency or authority.  Both Holland and Davis ended up in the top three for Saves.  It was Frank Robinson for Milt Pappas all over again.

The Royals showed short glimpses of dominance and brilliance, but spent much of the season hovering around the .500 mark.  The season isn’t mathematically over yet, but in a big way, it really is.  The chase for the divisional championship died with the Indian’s improbable 22-game winning streak.  Although technically still in the running for a wild card spot, it would honestly take an act of a kind and partisan providence to make it happen.  In a couple of weeks, the last game will be played, a meaningless encounter with the Arizona Diamondbacks.  The gear will be packed up, and the K will fall silent except for faint echoes of the cheers coming from nearby Arrowhead.  Within a few weeks, certainly before February, we will begin to hear and read how Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakis, Jason Vargis, Alcides Escobar, and Lorenzo Cain will have signed enormous contracts with other teams.  And we will have to endure the heartache of seeing our guys in enemy uniforms. 

This kind of thing is inevitable.  Baseball is a game; but it is also a very serious business, and like all others, focused on profit, loss, and bottom lines.  In that stark environment, there is little room for sentiment.  Rosters change constantly, with deserving rookies coming up, old players retiring, some being traded.  Of the twenty five members of the 1927 Yankees, considered the best team in history, ten players were gone in two years.  But amidst the swirl of change in the Royals roster, that core of players, joined by Alex Gordon, Salvy Perez, and Danny Duffy were there for the two most important years of this franchise.

In the sorrow and sense of loss that will accompany this round of change, we will mourn their departure.  But we will forever remember the excitement and the pride they brought to our city, and that wider geographic group of fans called the Royals Nation.  It is easy to be bitter, even angry.  But having resigned myself to the reality, I won’t give in to the negative.

Instead, I want to thank them publicly for the tremendous ride.  In just two short years, the Royals went from doormats to dominance; from chumps to champs, and we rode that dizzying arc with them.  For two all-too-short seasons, we heard and reveled in the breathless reportage, seeing the national media pay attention to us, even saying salutary things. It became almost common to travel to other cities and encounter tens, even hundreds of people wearing Royals hats and shirts.  It was exhilarating to feel that shared excitement with total strangers.  It was finally cool to be a Royals fan.

Now those days are done.  The team will fall back into a rebuilding mode.  There are promising players in the pipeline, but nowhere can be found another set like the one we’re about to lose. There will likely be a few years until that spark is once again ignited, but hopefully not the three decades after the last championship.  Regardless of what the future brings, embedded in our hearts will be the memories of a time, a team, and one perfect season.

And as for Moose, Hoz, Vargy, Esky, and LoCain, I wish you all the best, and may the rest of your dreams come true.

But know that wherever you go, whatever team you play for, whatever fans you play in front of, you will never mean as much to them as you have meant to us.

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.

Life is not about destinations.  These things we call destinations are in reality little more than way points.  When we reach one, we are immediately thinking about the next one.  What we should be doing is to stop, look around, and take stock of where we are, and where we’ve come from.  The midpoint of any journey is when things are happening.  We learn, and put those lessons into practice.  We succeed, and we fail, we laugh and we cry.  Through it all, we are moving.  The starting and ending points are pauses, moments of stasis.  Nothing happens because either we haven’t started, or we’re already done.  Thus that space in between is where that thing we call “life” happens.

We fly through our lives caught up in the frenetic pace set by the “have to dos” and “gotta be theres” that populate and drive our days.  But in every one of those days, there will be a moment; a colorful sunrise; a beautiful blue sky; in the midst of a gloomy, rainy afternoon, a beautiful rainbow.  Perhaps a quick glance reveals beams of sunlight among the trees.  Coming home late, perhaps a glance above reveals the beauty and mystery of the universe. 

Those moments when they occur, need to be noticed; they need to be felt.  After all, nature is best seen by the heart.  It is her way of whispering to us, a reminder that her greatest works are there for us whenever we are ready to view them.  It is so important to take that time, embrace those moments because they can ease our stresses, and even heal our pain. 

To spend such moments is a gift; to actually seek them out is perhaps the result of an unheard but deeply felt cry of pain from within the deepest parts of ourselves.  There, removed from other people, the strain of the constant load we all carry, and just away from all the noise and tumult we are freed.  We seem to be alone, but we actually are anything but.  Surrounded and embraced thus, it is us, nature, and God.

Seek out the natural creation.  Empty your mind and fill your soul. 

Find yourself.

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?

The Gibson quote with which I opened this post says a lot about human nature.  One of the most familiar adages, "Time heals all wounds," has become so familiar that the original author has become almost lost to history.  The earliest iteration seems to be the Greek dramatist Menander who coined the similar "Time is the healer of all necessary evils" some time around 320 BCE.  It is more accurate perhaps to opine that the wound never really closes.  Over time, we just get used to the pain.  

Also at work is the impact of human generations.  Now entering the high schools across the country are the first wave of those for whom 9/11 is history instead of memory.  It will never be as personal for them as it was for us who watched as those horrific events unfolded before our eyes, in living color.  For them to know...to feel what that day was like, they have to be taught by the rest of us.  And to be honest there seems to be more interest in teaching them the evils of whatever political side their parents and educators aren't on than about that moment when our differences dissolved and we all stood as one.  That kinda makes sense.  For those of us who were awake and aware on that day, we really needed those commemorations; it was a part of our healing, a shared catharsis.  For the young, they don't feel that they need ceremonies for an event for which they have no personal involvement.

Time has put distance between now and then, and therefore, the urgency and heartache we felt has lessened.  It is probable that in time, September 11th will become like December 7th; just another day.  There is a kind of sadness in that realization.  But it is also important to remember that the enemies who perpetrated those attacks, and would like nothing better than to repeat them, 9/11 is day of celebration.  And perhaps, just perhaps, when they see that it just doesn't matter that much to us they may realize that while they scared us, wounded us, and for a time, united us in a righteous anger, they see that the attacks didn't really change us.  We still live our lives free to determine our own personal destiny.  If we have dreams, and the will and stamina to make them happen, there's no grim Jihadi standing in our way.  Our economy not only recovered, but managed to survive an even nastier shock imposed by the banking terrorists in 2008.  Terrorism, or even the threat of terrorist attacks, doesn't dominate the news, or our discussions around the water cooler or over the back fence.  Yes, getting on an airliner is still a ripe old pain in the ass, but it is something we are used to now, kind of like a limp we've had for so long we are no longer consciously aware of it.  

However, I wonder about the people who lost friends and loved ones that day, who parted with that perfunctory wave or quick peck on the lips, not knowing that it would be the last moment together.  Do they still wake up on September 11th feeling sadness and a sense of loss?  Do they still weep on this day over the memories?  As mundane as it has become for us, will they ever really truly know peace?

As time continues to pass, the memory of 9/11 will become even more faded and indistinct.  There might come a year when no ceremonies are held, no bells toll, no names are read and the most horrific day of this generation becomes just a minor footnote in a college history course.  I think it means for us to decide just how important the events of 2001 are, and how much we feel the need to remember.  

The honest answer to those ruminations will, I think, say more about us than we will ever want to admit.  But for now, we will remember the attacks.  We will remember the names.  We will remember the countless acts of courage and sacrifice by those who tried to help.  It is a duty, I think, for us to remember.  

And a solemn promise to the ages that whatever happens, we will never forget.

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.

Thursday, June 01, 2017

Where Dawn's Early Light Illuminated a Nation

Copyright © 2017
by Ralph F. Couey

The morning rain had given way to a light mist and a warm, palpable humidity, an unfamiliar sensation after bone-dry Colorado.  Leaving the glass and steel towers of downtown Baltimore behind, we carefully drove between two brick pillars that separated the rough industrial infrastructure of the port from the red brick and deep green grass of the grounds of Fort McHenry.  

The War of 1812 is probably, along with Korea, the least known and understood of America's historical conflicts.  The seeds of war were sown at first in the Chesapeake-Leopard Affair.  On June 22, 1807, the British warship HMS Leopard encountered and hailed the American frigate USS Chesapeake in the waters off Norfolk, Virginia.  A British officer boarded and presented Captain James Barron with a warrant for British deserters.  Captain Barron refused the warrant and sent the officer back to the Leopard.  The situation quickly escalated when Leopard opened fire on the Chesapeake. The American ship had just put to sea prepared for a long voyage and her decks were cluttered with freight, and her guns unloaded.  In response to the barrage, Chesapeake managed only one return shot.  With his ship damaged and dead and wounded among his crew, Captain Barron struck his colors and surrendered.  The British removed four crewmen from the Chesapeake, one of whom was eventually hanged.  Captain Barron, upon his return to port, was court-martialed.  

The news was received in America with indignation and fury.  The systematic impressment of American merchant sailors, many in US territorial waters by the British added fuel to the growing fire.  Also, the British were materially supporting the effort of a coalition of Native American tribes to control what was then called  the Northwest Territories (modern-day Indiana, Illinois, Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin and part of Minnesota), which resulted in numerous clashes along the disputed border.  Adding to all this was the persistent clamor among American politicians for annexation of British Canada and Spanish Florida.  While this was all a big deal in the U.S., Britain was largely unaware of the deteriorating situation in her former colonies, being neck-deep in yet another continental war with France.  So it was with a great deal of surprise when on June 18, 1812, President James Madison asked congress for a declaration of war.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Where I Want to Live

Copyright © 2017
by Ralph F. Couey

I want to live in a place where people wake up with the promise that as long as they draw breath, they can make a difference, if not in the whole world, at least their corner of it.

I want to live in a place where friending someone is done over a back fence or a cup of coffee, and not over an artificial electronic network.

I want to live in a place where a conversation consists of more than 140 characters.

I want to live in a place where a smartphone or tablet is a tool, not a way of life.

I want to live in a place where the television is reserved for those times when the weather is too inclement to go visit the neighbors.

I want to live in a place where people watch out for each other, rather than investigate each other.

I want to live in a place where people know their neighborhood, and their neighbors, better than the back of their hand.

I want to live in a place where government knows that the people are their bosses -- not the other way around.

I want to live in a place where people know, and kids learn that the decision to solve one's own problems is the hallmark of being an adult.

I want to live in a place where people know that the most common source of one's difficulties is not government or society, but that familiar face in the mirror.

I want to live in a place where people realize that no matter how fervent their views, there exists the possibility that they may be wrong.

I want to live in a place where debate is a respectful, meaningful process and not a weapon of war.

I want to live in a place where people are kind to each other, for no other reason than "just because."

I want to live in a place where differing opinions don't automatically mean we should hate each other.

I want to live in a place where people are grateful for what they have, not envious of what they lack.

I want to live in a place where people can sing the national anthem loudly and proudly without one shred of self-consciousness or judgement.

I want to live in a place where people prove their discipleship, not by words, but by their everyday actions.  Especially when they think no one's looking.

I want to live in a place where people recognize that a diverse community is a human community.

I want to live in a place where wealth is an opportunity to give back, and poverty is not an invitation to give up.

I want to live in a place where people know that politicians and pundits, if not held accountable for the truth by their own followers, will lie with ease and without conscience.

I want to live in a place where people do the hard, time-consuming job of research to form their own opinions, rather than mindlessly parrot the statements of their leaders.

I want to live in a place where people respect each other's journey, and don't judge the destination.

I know in my heart that somewhere, such a place exists.

Which is why I wait with great anticipation for interstellar travel.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Another Birthday...

Yeah, I feel like this sometimes...

Copyright © 2017
by Ralph F. Couey

A few days from today, the anniversary date of my arrival in this world will arrive.  This has always provoked a time of deep thought about where I am, where I've been, and most importantly, where I'm going.  I think that's a common thing among adults, especially as those years begin to pile up.  

I've discovered that there are three phases of attitude towards birthdays:

(1) Celebration
(2) Denial
(3) Acceptance

These phases are tied to whatever age we find ourselves.  The Celebration phase is strictly for the young.  At that point, we are happy that for at least one day, it's all about us.  We get gifts, a sugary treat (or several), and a measure of indulgence from others.  We get excited and happy, and it's usually a day to be remembered, at least until the next one rolls around.

I see this phase lasting up until about the early 30's.  By then, we begin to notice the subtle signs of age creeping up.  A slight loss of energy.  Maybe we don't have the stamina we used to have.  Getting out of bed in the mornings becomes a bit more of a chore.  And where we used to burn the midnight oil with relative impunity, now it's much harder to stay up late, and especially wake up the next morning.  It's no coincidence that this is when most of us are neck deep in raising children and pursuing our careers.  As a result, we have very little time that really belongs to us alone.  Also, we begin to sense the passage of time.  We can see the years behind us, and are beginning to realize that the years yet to come will not be the carefree devil-may-care ones that we might have wanted them to be.

This is when the Denial phase begins to ooze into our thinking.  We know that we are getting older, and we don't want to get older.  As we move into our 40's this becomes especially acute.  We begin to review our life, and seeing only missed opportunities, or chances that we didn't take that we should have.  Our conversations with ourselves more and more start with the words "If only..."  Into our mid and late 40's is when our little birds begin to flee the nest, and we discover that the thing which consumed almost every minute of 20 or 25 years of life is suddenly gone.  Those times of fun and chaos are gone, and we are left with a silent, empty house, and a phone that now never rings often enough.  If we have done our jobs as parents, then we have bequeathed to the world fully-formed adults, capable of standing on their own two feet, and making their own way through life without subsidy from us or the government.  But in that success we also mourn the idea that suddenly we aren't needed anymore.

Sunday, May 07, 2017

The Search for "Home"

Oakwood Homes, Inc.

Copyright © 2017
by Ralph F. Couey

One of the major steps in a relocation is finding a place to live.  Our situation is more than a little fluid, since I'm retired and Cheryl is a Travel Nurse, working a series of 13-week contracts in a variety of locations.  

Part of the adventure of being a Travel Nurse, or Traveller, is the excitement of going to a completely different place for each new assignment.  Since we haven't really decided where to live yet, that's an important opportunity. Visiting someplace for a few days doesn't really provide the best perspective. Living there for a period of time, however, gives you a chance to "try it on for size."  You not only see the front parlor of the community, but also the dirty basement, allowing you to make an informed decision.

For us, the list of possibilities is long and varied, driven by factors such as economics, proximity to grandkids, and available activities.  Included on our roster are places like Las Vegas, Denver or Colorado Springs, Kansas City, Amarillo or Lubbock, Seattle, Honolulu, Phoenix, and Provo, Utah.  Yes, their all decidedly on the western side of the country. We had our fill of the east after 12 years of high costs and ridiculous traffic and now yearn for more agreeable surroundings.  Each place on the list has its own set of charms and flaws, and some are more affordable than others.  But the most important factor is that indescribable and unquantifiable sense of "home."

Home is not so much a place as a feeling.  It embodies all the positives of safety, privacy, comfort, and sense of ownership (even a rental).  And family.  For so many, "home" is a place of memories.

I've lived in a lot of places, but there have only been one or two that met that nebulous definition.  On the road for so much of my life, when people ask me where home is, I simply reply, "Wherever the motorcycle's parked."

In the four months that we've been in Colorado, it has begun to grow on us.  The hardest part was acclimating to the altitude after living at sea level.  When we first got here, going up a flight of stairs was exhausting.  Now, we're finding it much easier to get around without wheezing and whoofing.  Lately, we've begun to explore the possibility of settling here.  The drawback, something that lies at the very heart of our considerations, is cost.  Denver and its surrounding areas have been defined as a "hot market" for real estate.  That's never good news for buyers.  The houses are uniformly expensive and selling rapidly, even though hundreds more are being built every month.  And prices continue to rise.  In January, we looked at a particular new home, but couldn't pull the trigger.  Last week, we discovered that same home had increased some $40,000 in price since then.

Wednesday, May 03, 2017

Altitude and Attitude

Aurora Reservoir Trail, Arapahoe County, Colorado

Copyright © 2017
by Ralph F. Couey

It's been about four months since we quit Northern Virginia for Colorado, embarking on the latest chapter of our life.  The first month here was rough for me.  I was trying to get used to the idea that I had no job to go to while mourning the end of my career.  I finally decided that I could no longer sit around feeling sorry for myself and turning my back firmly on the past, began to look resolutely towards the future.

There were a few things that I embraced towards that change in perspective.  One was my grandchildren.  They are fascinating little people, and a joy to be around.  Having pulled myself out of my funk, I really began to enjoy being with them.  Another thing was the completion of my first novel, Tales of Barely, Missouri, (available on Amazon Kindle for $2.99).  This was, as I noted in my last post, a real turning point for me.  I had proven to myself that there was something I could accomplish outside of my former life.  The early reviews are very good, and I hope that those who decide to spend the money find as much enjoyment reading the book as I had in the writing thereof.

The third thing was a continuation of the activity I had been doing back east, walking and hiking.  

Here in suburban Denver, every community it seems has a plethora of trails for walking/running/biking, most multiple miles in length. Some, like the Smoky Hill and the Piney Creek harken back to the time when this area was all open prairie, and those trails were the immigrant highways by which thousands traveled westward.  My only beef was the term "trails," which as an experienced hiker I took to mean dirt paths.  Alas, practicality has prevailed and these "trails" are actually concrete sidewalks. For dirt trails, one has to go westward into the foothills of the Rockies.

One of the things I learned very quickly was the significant difference in the oxygen content of the atmosphere here in the Mile High City versus the coastal Appalachians of Virginia.  There, I hiked roughly 200 miles of the Appalachian Trail through Virginia.  The highest ridge I had to climb topped out at about 3,500 feet.  Just walking on a sidewalk along Colfax Avenue here in Denver puts you about 2,000 feet higher up.