Saturday, November 04, 2017

The Real Ghosts of Halloween

It’s by no means a profound thought, but it occurred to me this morning as I took the Halloween decorations back out to the garage that Halloween makes a good practice run for Christmas.

It’s the same setup. Decorations and candy and costumes are in stores nearly two months before the actual holiday. (The candy and other Halloween seasonal items appeared at my local Safeway in mid-August.) The movies and TV specials are hyped. Parties are thrown and attended. No gifts bought or given, though. This is the practice run.

Eventually, unless you’re one of the many young adults spending the actual night of the event getting inebriated while in costume, you might be home for the thing Halloween is actually about: three to four hours of waiting by the door for the trick-or-treaters to come.
I got all of two pages edited and a couple of lines of a poem started when the pen started drying out on me. (All four colors! Actually, it’s just a super-cheap pen I picked up for free at a job fair, so I got what I paid for.) Then it got too chilly to sit still, so I went inside.

What 31 October means as I get older: the dying light of a dying season, as the old year’s life fades into a long interregnum (at least here in Colorado) of cold, dry, brown death until next year’s life takes hold. Happy Halloween!

Like Christmas, these weeks of lead-up culminate in a few hours of actual observance on the special day. Halloween, with its 5 pm - 9 pm window for trick-or-treating, probably lasts longer than Christmas for most people, whose entire Christmas proper is less than one hour spent around the tree tearing the paper from presents, before wandering off to watch television.

It’s probably just me and maybe half a dozen other people, but I always feel a tinge of melancholy among the celebrations. I’m reminded of Halloweens past, when I used to escort my small children about our old north Colorado Springs neighborhood. I remember when that neighborhood used to be a lot quieter and friendlier, in happier, more stable economic times.

I’m over the hardest part, which is the crushing sense of irrelevancy one feels when one’s children no longer needs him to take them through the neighborhoods. Still....

I’ve been turning this around in recent years by reminding myself again that this is a fool’s despair spiral. Neighborhoods change. Everything changes. Children grow up, as well they should. We all grow old, if we’re lucky. 
“For soon all shall go dark.” Is that gothic enough for ya?

Halloween 2017 went quietly, as it did last year. We saw maybe all of ten trick-or-treaters, most of them small children. I would have liked to have seen more, but maybe that will change over the years. Everything else has.

And so we begin the run-up to Christmas. 
The large secondhand store along the main drag where I live traditionally closes the day before Halloween and opens a couple of days later in full Christmas mode. It’s the only place that does this in town that I know of, and it doesn’t come across quite as “Oh, dear, Christmas decorations right after Halloween!” obnoxious as one might think. It’s just what they do.

I’m blessed to live in a small town, without broadcast television leading us into the temptation of leaving the set on to blare commercials for whatever fad toys/gadgets/etc. the Lords of Commerce seek to promote this season. My wife will decorate the house accordingly after Thanksgiving, which is our tradition. We stand a good chance of having both our grown children home for the holiday.
“But first, we must enter through this door.” [*evil cackling laughter*]

You’d think this lack of external stimulation would slow the days down for us, but I’ve noticed it has the precise opposite effect. Charles Bukowski was right, as always, the days really do run like wild horses over the hills, so much so that my ghosts are falling behind me. As they should. The Good Old Days are now.
See you next year!

Monday, October 30, 2017

An Abbreviated Autumn, Part 2 which I’ve saved the best for last. The sun through these leaves makes for nature’s own stained-glass masterpiece. Over 50 years of these things for me, and they never get old....

All of the following photos were taken two days after the last post’s batch, which turned out to be the day before that night’s snowstorm and hard freeze that would kill what was left on the trees before it had a chance to change. Then came the winds....

One of the great pleasures of this short season was to come upstairs into the master bedroom in the late afternoon to see the sun blasting through the golden Lombardy poplar leaves through the west-facing windows there.

At the window with the screen pushed back.

Looking up at the same trees, but from down in the yard. There were no bad angles in this light.

Over on the west side of town, and now I notice the Lombardy poplars dominating this post. Although these trees are native to the regions bordering the Mediterranean Sea (hence the “Lombardy”), they were brought to this part of Colorado for use as windbreaks. Lombardy poplars grow tall and fast, and I’ve yet to see one break. The local forestry folk would rather people would stop planting them, as they supposedly have a relatively short life as trees go, but in an area where the wind comes at you as ruthlessly as it does on or along any mountains of respectable size, these trees are a godsend.

There’s never any sense in getting angry over the weather, but the relentless, bullying winds that came after to strip what was left all blew all sense from my door. I can handle the extreme cold, along with how my south-facing office bakes like a Dutch oven in the summer, but going outside only to get repeatedly slapped upside the skull and bodily shoved around wears on my nerves after a while. 

‘Tis the season. 

The Indian Summer that wound out the last full week of the month has made up for the unsettled week that came before. Although the remaining leaves are, for the most part, dull brown, they fell in a drips of one, two, and three all around. I want to say it sounded like crackling fire—that is the easiest analogy for the season of yellows and reds—but it was more like the slow drip after a wave has washed over. It proved very calming to stand out on the front porch and listen to this as the sun melted into the western horizon.

An Abbreviated Autumn, Part 1

In which I present photographic evidence that it was no less lovely for what it was. Consider:

All photos in this post were taken on Friday, 6 October 2017, before the snowstorm of 9 October and the subsequent freeze cut the fall color season short.

As of this writing on 28 October, these trees are bare. But they blazed gloriously for their time.

One thing suffers as another benefits. I let this blog go over the month of October not only out of despair for having enough photos or—and more to the point for me—not having much of anything to say about these same views of the same Colorado high valley farm town where I live. 

Despite the dark start to the month, October 2017 has been very productive in terms of putting chapters of my latest novel to bed, and sketching in the details for how I want my contribution to the zombie post-apocalypse genre to end. I put Chapter 13 to bed the night of my birthday, Chapter 14 went down sometime last week, and I’m dangerously close to wrapping up Chapter 15, bringing me to the midpoint.

It’s taken me over a year to get this fire going again. For the first time, I’m confident about finishing this. When? As always, I don’t dare jinx myself. I’m just happy to build a compelling story, with completion in sight. Once I’m done with Chapter 15 I’m into part three of the book. We’ll do a couple of chapters of Fun and Games, the Darkest Hour, and then the bloody resolution.

One windstorm after another not only knocked the leaves off the trees, it took out a fair-sized aspen. This is before we went through that week or so of Windstorm of the Day.

Chapman Park, on the far west side of town, is my go-to for walking the long perimeter trail. Sadly, the daily afternoon windstorms made it almost impossible to approach sometimes.

The leaves did look pretty in the wet red clay of the trail. Note that most of these didn’t even have a chance to change color before they were ripped away by the insistent gusts.

There are other projects coming together, and although I’m more confident of them now than I was, say, a week, ago, there’s no point in bringing them up until I’m ready to unleash them on the public. Meanwhile, the thing to do is to empty my photo folders and brace for November.

West of the park and across Prospect Avenue, by the farthest western point of town. After this, there’s a hotel with a drive-in movie theater, the Regional Electric Cooperative, and miles of gorgeous Wild West high country until Del Norte, with the San Luis Regional Landfill somewhere in between.

It doesn’t bear too much thinking about, but for the short summer, and the even shorter autumn, October itself has proved to be the longest short month so far. I suspect the three chapters I put away had something to do with my temporal discombobulation. I’m just so happy to get things done for a change.

Walking east back home, but looking back. 

I love when the green is just getting ready to go over to gold... can really lose oneself in it.

I had a feeling the seasons were taking it easy on us last year. Of course, the weather is a capricious thing wherever you are, and no more so than 7,600 feet up into the Colorado high country, surrounded by mountains of 11,000 to 14,000 feet. However it goes down this winter, I need something to show for it. Back to work, then.

Saturday, October 21, 2017

From the “Don’t Be Sad That It’s Over, Be Glad That It Happened” Files, Case #11,942

A gentle reminder that, for all the casual cruelty we witness among people every day, for all the horrors depicted in the news, there is comfort, there is love. 
As seen on the Facebook page Alone with the Horrors: Horror Fiction.

We do not know who thought to commission and install this memorial to his or her pet over a century ago. But most of us have had that one dog, that one special cat, that one pet who was more than a pet, who was more loyal than blood. We look back across 107 years, and we grieve with Dewey’s unseen, unnamed caretaker, because we know the same things. But we should also take joy that, for 12 years spanning the turn of the 20th century, and just before the Great War, there lived a cat named Dewey, who loved, and was loved. And somewhere out there in the madness of our own century, a similar tale lives. As it was in the beginning....

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Towards a More Splendid Retelling of a Holiday “Classic”

Yes, those scare quotes are there for a reason. Happy Halloween.

Fortunately, Charlie Brown had a trick-or-treat bag full of rocks. Which is the one part of that half-century-old holiday TV special that’s always bothered me...honestly, what kind of neighborhood is this where everyone seems to know who you are, even in costume (granted, it was full of holes), and the adults managing the candy of every house drop a rock in your bag while giving the rest of the children candy? (Don’t even get me started on the soul-crushingly depressing Christmas special.) 

Fortunately, this meme redeems the Great Pumpkin storyline. Here, the adults of Charlie Brown’s neighborhood recognize Charlie Brown as the Chosen One, though they dare not speak of this in front of their cruel and hateful children. For Charlie Brown is mankind’s best hope to resist the emergent Great Evil Foretold, who was prophesied to appear to them as a neurotic, but preternaturally articulate and intelligent kindergarten boy with a somewhat off-putting predilection for sucking his thumb while rubbing a dirty blue blanket on one side of his face. 

That Linus and and the eternally outcast Charlie Brown were the next best thing to best friends makes the showdown all the more poignant. For only one can walk away....

State of the Apocalypse: Mid-October 2017 Report

If I’d knocked this post out on Sunday like I sorta wanted to (but not badly enough, apparently) I could have called it the Ides of October Edition. Like that means anything.
Storms over the Sangre de Cristo range. All of these photos were taken during the last days of September, which was rainy, windy, and all around messy for a place that’s supposed to be a high alpine desert.

As it is, its been a stormy start to autumn in the high valley, in more ways than literal. I was excited for the resurgence in pageviews due to my posting photos of the high valley scenery around where I live, and posting it to local groups on Facebook. Once I recovered from my initial giddiness though, I quickly realized I can only do so many photo essays. It’s just as well we had that hard freeze after the 9 October snowstorm to brown all the leaves that had changed. 

In the same general location in west Alamosa Country off of US 160, looking south across the highway.

Looking in the same direction across the same highway, but eight miles west, on the far end of Monte Vista, looking at the swaths of color on the San Juan Mountain foothills.

For a while I felt somewhat obligated to take my camera everywhere I went. It’s rather nice now to just go out on a walk and not have to stop to get a photo of That Really Pretty Thing That Shines in the Light Just So. Although there are plenty of locations worthy of extended shoots that I expect I’ll get to sometime, I know I won’t be throwing photo essays up with enough regularity to justify it as part of my planned Patreon fundraising.
Boughs catching their cold fire beneath gloomy skies.

How to go about running my Patreon campaign has been tormenting me for the last couple of months. I won’t go much more into it than that. It’s just something I have to deal with until it’s dealt with.

The quiet poetry of fallen leaves along a sidewalk. They’ll chatter merrily enough once the wind picks up.

Meanwhile, there’s the book to finish writing, or at least get as far as I can until I absolutely cannot avoid rattling my cup and passing the hat for one more minute. So far, so good on that. I don’t know what else to tell you.

In August I was startled by the bright red flash among the green. Here it’s completely gone over, but by the end of the weekend it was bare.

I like how I’ve got the Ghosts of Autumn Past, Present and Future in this shot.

Like a splash of blood along the fence. Autumn’s sanguinary sacrifice...okay, yeah, that’s troweling it on a bit thick. Enough!

What with the foreshortened autumn after a too-brief summer, finding the waterlogged corpse of a feral kitten in our yard after three straight days of cold rain and wind, and me now closer to 60 than I am 50 years old, the melancholy streak in the fabric of my reality is a little wider than I’d like. Still, we soldier on, and take our rainbows where we find them.


Friday, September 22, 2017

“Have You Been Here Since We Switched the Pit?”

Our third trip out to the San Luis Valley regional landfill.

We spent six hours that Sunday cleaning the garage, knocking out old, rickety shelving, and sweeping and rearranging. We took another half-hour loading up the minivan with the demo’d shelving, plus the debris from last autumn’s kitchen remodel. Much of the time was spent hammering back the flesh-hungry fangs of countless nails bristling from the slabs of particle board and molding.

Fortified with surgical face masks and heavy gloves, we left for the landfill as soon as it opened on Monday morning. As always, I took my camera. There’s always something in that stretch of wide, rolling country between Monte Vista and Del Norte, Colorado, that catches my eye. This occasion was no exception.
This is the other side of the highway where we turn for the San Luis Valley Regional Landfill. I’ve often wondered what it’s like to live so far off the road in this picturesque distance.

Looking towards the landfill from the highway, just before the turn.

Looking out the passenger window on the way in, at one of the many delicate matchsticks holding up civilization in this high, windswept valley.

Man’s lines angle over nature’s landscaping.

So many gentle, wind-sculpted slopes held down by wildflowers and grease grass.

Crazy contrails.

Where Indians once hunted, poles and lines carry electricity across the wilderness.

Someone decided those lines would run all the way out there.

Then a bunch of people rolled all the way out in the middle of all this, and started digging postholes, and setting poles, and running wires. Miles and miles of wires.

“Have you been here since we switched the pit?” said the young woman working the counter at the check-in.

“Switched the what?”

It’s something they have to do from time to time, and the directions provided gave me the idea that getting to the new household dump location would be more trouble than it was. The way the route was set up, though, we couldn’t go any other way. We followed the narrow one lane path to a ridge on the far north end of the landfill.
Our lovely, scenic destination. They’ve done a fine job covering the old pit.

Zooming in on that scenery.

The view a little to the right, looking south.

Coming out to the landfill in the morning before the sun’s heat had a chance to warm up the biodegradable matter meant we didn’t need the masks. This proved fortuitous, as unloading the van took longer than I thought it would.

One thing I couldn’t bring myself to hurl with force into the pile of household waste were my two old and battered Bose 301 speakers.

I’d purchased these on New Year’s Eve 1986, along with a JVC amp and dual cassette deck with the insurance money I received upon my mother’s passing that year. This was the first stereo I ever owned. The speakers survived the obsolescence of the amp and deck, and two CD players. By the time I retired them in 2007 beneath the basement stairs of our house in Colorado Springs, they looked pretty much as you see them above. My now-grown children poked their fingers into the tweeter cores as toddlers. Indifferent military movers in Japan and Washington state broke the cases and tweeter covers. 

The speakers still worked, more or less, but they were an aesthetic disaster. I’d had them for 30 years, and in storage doing nothing for the last ten. No thrift store could sell them looking like this. So I set them down, took a last photo, and congratulated myself for letting another few pounds of useless junk go. They look no less forlorn here than they did sitting in my Monte Vista garage for the past year.
Everything we own, and eventually our bodies themselves will end up in a landfill of some description, discarded and forgotten. Cemeteries hold the remains of living bodies, but you’ll find the evidence of those lives as they were once lived in a landfill.

With my personal history thus unloaded, along with many heavy pieces of a kitchen and a garage for which someone else may have once entertained fond memories, we made our way out. Aside from some great distance shots on the county road, there were wildflowers and a gyre of hawks to see along US 160 eastbound to home.
Normally, I’m irritated when I accidentally get the radio antenna in the shot, but I like the way the antenna comes in at almost precisely one-third into the shot to complement the vertical lines of the utility poles in the middle-third.

I like the sense of vast distances conveyed in this shot. Note how the utility poles rapidly diminish in the distance towards that ridge where the cellular phone relay stands.

Looking north to the characteristically jagged Sangre de Cristo Mountains through the haze of wildfires blown in from several western states. After days of this, it finally started to clear away on 11 September, the morning we went to the landfill.

That blue you see cutting through the high, filmy haze is the first we’ve seen of clear sky in a while.

At the turn onto US 160. I took this because here you see two kinds of wildflowers that all but define the San Luis Valley, namely the yellow black-eyed Susans and the purple-petaled piƱon asters.

So many hawks sharing one thermal, two miles outside of Monte Vista.

You see the road curve into the wall of trees marking the edge of Monte Vista’s western residential area, and it’s only a mile to home. Two miles past this point, and you’re out the east side of town and in a completely different landscape.