About Me

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

Astronomy Picture of the Day

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.

The first one was a bright yellow Ferrari headed south on California Route 1.  Another car in front made a sudden deceleration, apparently a last-minute decision on a left turn.  The Ferrari's driver expressed his vexation through a sudden and very noisy downshift, sending the engine into a hair-raising skin-tingling growling roar of epic proportions, as only a Ferrari can do.  The Italian beauty then made a quick zig and danced around the other car like Barry Sanders around a linebacker before accelerating on down the hill.  Made me smle.

A little later, at a signal light were two Rolls Royces facing each other on either side of the red light, one very new, the other one a vintage model from the early '60's, one that resembled, except for the paint job, John Lennon's Rolls.  When the light changed, the two glided forward in near silence in stark contrast to the Ferrari.  I continued down the road, taking in the sights of the incredible homes lining the shoreline.  Some were small and simple, others were larger and more ostentatious.  Passing one where the driveway was below the street level, parked there was another Ferrari and a Maserati sedan.  The front door of this beautiful home was ajar, and I could see straight through to a wall of glass beyond which lay a magnificent view of the Pacific Ocean.

Curious, I looked through the Zillow app on my phone.  If you blow the map page up enough, the estimate of value for homes not for sale are displayed.  For this magnificent property?  $18 million, not including the rolling stock.  And it's very likely that this wasn't their primary residence.

You can stand on the south rim of the Grand Canyon and look across to the other side and gain an appreciation for the gulf that lies between those of great wealth and everybody else.  I remember walking through the Ferrari dealership that used to reside inside the Wynn Hotel in Las Vegas, where the used cars were displayed in a museum-like setting.  At one point, I came upon two men, one a customer, the other a salesman.  As I passed, the customer said, "This will be a cash deal, so I won't pay more than three hundred thousand."  It was a humbling moment.

There are basically two types of wealth, inherited and made.  In the first case, somebody in the past made a pile of money, invested wisely, and managed to heir and trust fund the cash to succeeding generations.  Everybody knows about the Kennedy's.  Joseph P., a shrewd businessman and an investor with an incredible sense of timing, made a pile during the bull markets of the 1920's.  When he sensed the crash was coming, he shorted those stocks.  He was worth $4 million on the day of the crash.  Post-crash, he snapped up bargain basement real estate and by 1935 his net worth was over $180 million, over three billion in today's money.  That was enough to fund political campaigns for his sons, and a life of ease for his grandchildren.  There are hundreds of other families like the Kennedy's.

Then there are the ones that attained success on their own terms, the classic American story of starting out with nearly nothing, and achieving tremendous success.  There are thousands of stories like this one.  Anyway, what results is a mix of old and new money, both loathing each other, inhabiting homes the size of medium-sized hotels and vacation homes in places like Laguna Beach.

For those of us of far more humble means, we can only admire from a distance and shake our heads in awe and disbelief.  And, to be honest, envy.

Being wealthy isn't just about sipping champagne cocktails on a deck overlooking the ocean, or skiing in Vail.  Wealth of that magnitude has to be managed, and that is more than a full-time job, especially in a volatile investment environment.  As nice as it would be to have all that money, I'd rather do without the responsibility and headache.

Still, most dreams are about success, money, and neat possessions, like a million dollars wrapped up in the two vehicles in the driveway.  Since dreams like that are rarely grounded in any kind of reality, we envision only the fun things.  And continue to dream.

Which is why you're likely to find a lottery ticket somewhere in almost every wallet in America.

What the heck?  It could happen...


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-
December.

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.  

The bad ones sweep in, bringing with them all the anger, sorrow, and angst that was present at that moment.  There was the death of my first dog, my first personal acquaintance with the finality associated with the end of life.  The last time I sat with my father and had to face the harsh realization that he was leaving and he wouldn't be back.  Aboard my ship off the coast of Australia, holding the Red Cross message in my hands, telling me that my mother was dying.  Knowing that being 11,000 miles from home, there wasn't a damn thing I could do about it. 

There are others I won't talk about, times of horrifyingly brain-dead behavior that still give me sleepless nights.

But as every night has a day, every bad memory is balanced, even overwhelmed by the golden moments.  Watching breathless as our four children found their way into the world, and all those wonderful years of cuteness and love that followed.  The first time my eyes found the girl who would be my wife, across 30 lanes of a crowded bowling alley.  And all those moments when I had given up on myself and she refused to give up on me.  The magic of grandchildren, and the many joys they've given.  Then there were those moments on the Appalachian Trail, alone with the forest and God.

These are the thoughts that drift through my mind on a beautiful evening in mid-December feeling the warmth of the sun on my shoulders.  It is a quiet moment; a peaceful moment, so rare in a world that knows only one pace:  breakneck speed.  We need moments like this, if for no other reason than to remember other moments.  

Take the time to stop, turn around, and look back up the trail your life has followed.  It is that past that has shaped the present, and will give meaning to the future.

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.  

Across the plain of asphalt that is the Truman Sports Complex parking lot lies the home field of the city's NFL franchise, the Chiefs.  The team arrived here from Texas in 1963, having lost the AFL-NFL battle for possession of Dallas against the Cowboys.  The team was immediately embraced by the city, packing old Municipal Stadium to the rafters for every home game.  The Chiefs were immediately successful, in the hunt till the end almost every year, winning the league championship in 1966 and 1969, and appearing in Super Bowls I and IV.  A dominant second half by the Packers resulted in their defeat, but the Chiefs then dominated the Minnesota Vikings in their second appearance, rolling to a 23-7 triumph.  It looked like the Chiefs were on the verge of a superb run, but a lackluster 1970 campaign was followed by a loss in an epic playoff game against the Dolphins who the following year would achieve the NFL's only perfect season.

After that, things got bad.  The rest of the 1970's and the entire decade of the '80's was a long stretch of really bad football.  Things got exciting with the arrival of Carl Peterson and Marty Schottenheimer in 1990.  But regardless of their success in the season, they were disasters in the playoffs.  The latter part of that decade passed with yearly disappointments.  It wasn't until 2003, the third year of Dick Vermeil's tenure, that things got better.  The offense was red hot, but the defense struggled, losing the playoff contest against the Peyton Manning-led Colts, remembered as the game without a punt.  If the defense had put up one stop against the Colts, the Chiefs likely would have gone to the Super Bowl.

Then came an era of truly bad teams until 2013 when the Chiefs went 11-5.  They qualified for the Wild Card game against the Colts, this time quarterbacked by Andrew Luck.  The Chiefs had a 28-point lead at halftime, and lost the game.  In 2015, they finally won a playoff game against the Texans, but lost to the Patriots in the divisional round.  They went back to the playoffs in 2016, but lost to the Steelers, due in large part to some epically poor officiating.

This year was supposed to be the year.  All the pieces were in place, a group of veterans who knew how to win and some scintillating rookies who were hoped to light up the games.  The Chiefs started 5-0, with important wins over the Patriots and Eagles.  They were spoken of widely as locks for the Super Bowl, and their quarterback Alex Smith was certain to be the league MVP.

Then something happened.

Back to back losses against the Steelers and Raiders, in what were eminently winnable games.  A brief dominance of a bad Denver team was followed by a loss to the Cowboys, and losses to three really bad teams, the Giants, Bills, and Jets.  In those losses, the Chiefs have looked increasingly confused and despondent.  The energy that was so much a part of those first five games has evaporated.  The Jets game featured a rejuvenated Alex Smith in an impressive performance after four bad games, but was countered by a Chiefs defense that could not even get out of their own way.

The season that started with such optimism and joy has gone into the trash heap.  True, there are still games to play, but the consensus among the fans is that even if they make the playoffs, the Chiefs will likely embarrass themselves, and us as well.

It hasn't just been the losses.  It has been the character of those defeats.  The Giants are a team that was accused of quitting on their coach.  The Chiefs have looked like a team that has quit on themselves.  The causes are too numerous to be enumerated here.  I will refer you instead to the Kansas City Star's stellar group of sportswriters.  But from the perspective of the fan base, this utter collapse was not entirely unexpected.

One thing required most of all for a Chief's fan is a well-calloused heart.  The team has repeatedly delivered epic disappointments, but like the abused half of a bad relationship, the fans keep coming back.  At Arrowhead Stadium, empty seats have been noticeably rare.  Part of this is that unique familial relationship between the folks on the field and the folks in the stands.  You just don't abandon the members of your family when they hit a rough patch.  But there is a shift underway, brought into focus through the lens of social media.  For the first time, in my memory, people have begun to reach the point when Enough is Enough.  They are turning their Sundays to more productive, or just more emotionally fulfilling activities.  Part of this is undoubtedly related to the broad trend of the NFL's falling popularity.  The introduction of political activism in what has always been a game has damaged the brand.  The growing number of players suffering Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) has brought to light the sometimes frightening level of violence endemic to the sport, not just at the pro level, but all the way to Pee Wee League.  But for Kansas City fans, the point may have been reached where their hearts have become not just broken, but irreparably shattered.

Looking back now, I can see that it wasn't only the players and coaches behind the collapse, but that there actually may be something fundamentally and fatally flawed in the organization itself.  Whether policies, procedures, strategy or ethos, there is something at the very heart of the Chiefs that has made them allergic to success.

The Chiefs have always been a family-run organization.  The Hunt's beginning with Lamar, have led them from the beginning.  In fact, it was Lamar who helped launch the AFL those many years ago.  Lamar, even with all his millions, remained a kind of everyman in the eyes of Kansas Citians.  He was respected, even beloved.  He was always considered approachable and accessible.  He just didn't act like the oil tycoon that he was, rather like the neighborhood grocer.

But human lives don't last forever.  Lamar died, and control of the team passed to his son.  Clark Hunt was a relative unknown.  Kansas Citians have never really gotten to know him, and he seems to lack that affectionate warmth that was so much a part of his father.  And his record has been less than stellar.  His ascension to the top spot in 2006 was followed by a string of really bad hirings of general managers and head coaches.  In 2013, he made what was considered to be his first good decision, hiring Andy Reid as Head Coach.  But today, five seasons hence, nothing has gone right.

It is perhaps a sacrilege to even suggest divorcing the Chiefs from the Hunt family.  There's certainly no guarantee that new ownership would be totally committed to achieving championship results...or even keeping the Chiefs in Kansas City.  Things could definitely be worse. 

But I think it is obvious that something drastic needs to happen, something that would fundamentally change the culture and ethos of the entire organization.  Because in the final analysis, there is only one thing that will keep this trickle of disaffected fans from turning into a flood.

A Super Bowl.

It is, I readily admit, a tall order.  But for a team that hasn't been to the Big Dance in nearly a half-century, there can be no other goal.

If this were a marriage, then the fans and the team would be neck-deep in counseling, desperate to save the family.  It has gotten that critical, and a breaking point is rapidly approaching.  It will be up to the parties involved whether this long, heartfelt, and tumultuous relationship can be saved.

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

Warbirds



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.

(Chorus)
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.

(Chorus)

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.

(Chorus)

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

(Chorus)

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.

(Chorus)
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

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

(Chorus)
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

Seek


"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.