Wednesday, November 30, 2016

November’s Leftover Cats

...are prepping for their first Christmas at Big Pink.

I’m always taking happysnaps of these furry kibble bandits, looking for a theme to tie them together so I’ll have an excuse to post them. The notion of “leftovers” absolves me of such issues. So we’ll start with this fine photo of Lily the Puff atop my PC tower, looking away into eternity. Or at the bug outside the window.

Then we have our midnight stray out of Monte Vista and this blog’s biggest star (other than my zombies, of course), Miss Bella Luna. Her “Sixteen Views of a Kitten on My Lap” shoot was one of my most popular posts this month. This photo is in another light, namely, the one behind my desk, as the sun is down.

Making the bed in the morning often involves inconveniencing two or more of the Five Fluffies of the Apocalypse, as they like to make camp where our warm bodies were. Here, we see Jack and Luna giving me the stinkeye while elderkitty Otis snoozes on.

Luna is already the size of a normal-sized cat, which means, like our other cats, she’s going to be bigger than normal-sized. Here, she shows off her remarkably symmetrical markings. I like how her stripes become leopard spots on her belly. Jack provides the yang to the yin, or whatever, in this shot.

Here’s Jack, proving once again what a unique challenge it is to photograph a black cat. I’ve got so many shots of him sitting thus on the arm of my chair. This overexposed shot is the only one that reveals his eyes.

I wish this was better focused so I could make a proper meme of it. Cats always look like they’re about to take someone’s head off when they yawn.

“Okay, everyone go home now. Time to get ready for Christmas!”

Sunday, November 27, 2016

The Ghosts of Thanksgiving Past, Present, and Future

Special 2016 “The Year Everything Changed” Edition

My favorite of the two liquor stores in Monte Vista, its windows painted by local artist “E. Sprouse Rowe,” whose work I’ve seen in Del Norte and Alamosa. She’s basically the designated window-painting artist of the lower-mid San Luis Valley.

I came close to hating it. My personal Imp of the Perverse really wanted to hate our first Thanksgiving in Monte Vista, if only to justify my depressive foot-dragging and sour temper since we left Colorado Springs for “Gilligan’s Valley,” as I’ve taken to calling the San Luis Valley when aspects of remote, rural small-town life clash with my long-ingrained suburban, get-it-when-I-want-it sensibilities.

This two-person table-setting looks much less lonely
and sad with the light behind me, but lonely and sad
is what I’m aiming for, so cue the sad violins.
It was bad enough we were doing this without our children for the first time since 1993. When it became apparent I had no convenient streaming options for the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade from NBC, I nearly went over the edge. The parade and the dog show that followed had been tradition in our household for years.

But this is 2016. We now live in a remote rural valley in southern Colorado, where no broadcast television exists, and the Powers That Be at the major networks still haven’t thought to stream their network signals live on the Internet, commercials and all, like radio stations have been doing for over 15 years already. Which is to say, no shade on the SLV, but what’s up with corporate America being unable or unwilling to support a non-infrastructure intensive, no-brainer way of further exposing its advertisers?

Dinner was still hours away—bless her heart, my wife went ahead and made the full turkey with trimmings for the two of us—so I stomped upstairs, and, sure enough, the show I wanted to watch was trending on Twitter. I saw photos and animated .GIFs and film clips. And it was then that I realized something.

Our table setting from the other side. Lighting is everything. Well, that and perspective, A new color of paint on the wall would help tremendously, but that’s another can o’ worms. We’ve only been here four months.

All I was missing was another year of rolling my eyes and walking out of the room for most of the first hour while the intolerably fey and cheesy Broadway musicals promoted their overpriced product. I’d enjoy the Rockettes for the three minutes they were on near the top of the next hour, then continue to bring in the Christmas tree and decor boxes from the shed until dinner. I’d get a kick out of watching the marching bands from the high schools out of flyover country, knowing how much these kids would treasure the memory of their 30 seconds of fame the rest of their lives as they put on a show they’d worked all year to perfect.

Santa Claus closes out the parade, and, hooray, it’s Christmas. Well, I missed all that this year. Christmas is still coming, of course. Depending upon their work schedules, my children might not be here for that, either. It is what it is.

It’s ironic when I consider that the TV was on mainly to give us something to talk about when the children were in the house. Over the last couple of years, we even got into eating dinner with the dog show on, and commenting on the breeds we saw. As if we didn’t have any other way to connect. So wrong, right?
The brine recipe my wife used this year let her get away with brining the turkey for only 12 hours instead of the usual 24. The white meat was deliciously tender and moist.

We no longer live in that house, we no longer live in that town, and our children are on their own, no longer living with us. So if I never see the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade or the following dog show again, it’s just as well.

It’s 2016. This is how things are done now.

I was nearly in shock at how readily I accepted this. Not entirely fatalistically, either, although fatalism is a necessary component of said acceptance. Apparently, I’m turning a corner. Hooray for me.

As my wife and I sat down to eat, it was inevitable that we would speak of our gratitude for raising two children who grew into lives of their own outside our house. They’ve got copies of the housekey; they can let themselves in anytime they want. If they’re 200 miles and three to four hours away, depending on which mountain pass they take to get here, it’s important to remember that there are others who wish they had our problems. Their children could be deployed overseas with the military, or absent in other ways that don’t involve mere time and distance. 

Of course, as I must remind myself every day, there are all the single people out there. I was one of those for the longest while, until I was nearly 29. Even then, it took a few years before we could recover the holiday, and make it into something we should have known we’d miss later.

As we took our customary post-Thanksgiving dinner walk, I looked at the light gilding the trees and the houses of my new town, and was immediately reminded of Thanksgivings past.
For Monte Vista is a small, poor town, and can only afford to wish you one happy holiday at a time.

As with Halloween and Christmas, there comes a time when the holiday loses that special thrill it once had for you as a child. Being the morbid sort I am, I thought back to when that likely happened. Age 21, 1982. After that year, the elderly aunt and uncle whose farm we visited for dinner were too elderly to handle entertaining all of the families that gathered to visit. Most of the cousins weren’t coming up anymore, anyway, as they had girlfriends, and were taking dinner with them.

We had Thanksgiving dinner at my parents’ condo after that, but it was never the same. The families never came together again. The elderly aunt died, my mom died, and that was it altogether for my immediate family. 
A sun dog I struggled to get a decent photo of.

One by one, the elders fell away. Memories of them still alive came vividly to me as I saw the late autumn light blaze its final glory over Thanksgiving 2016. It may have been 2016, the gosh-wow 21st century they never lived to see, but the timelessness of the light brought them all back. I could imagine them walking and talking, my step-grandfather stopping to wonder at the old churches and buildings in this old farm town, not terribly dissimilar in appearance and attitude from Hartsville, South Carolina, in the early 1970s.

Naturally, it occurred to me that my wife and I are now the elders on the fade.
Second Avenue facing east in Monte Vista, on the way to what we’re now calling home.

Well, that’s the least we deserve for not dying young. If our children are not here with us, it’s because they have jobs and significant others. They’re healthier, happier, and better adjusted than I ever was, spending Thanksgiving drinking alone throughout the remainder of my 20s, with no sense to do things any differently.

I watched the red streaking the sky just like it did as we drove home from Hartsville, South Carolina, in 1968, or 1973. Of course, it’s Monte Vista, Colorado, in 2016. And I’m thankful for another fine Thanksgiving.
Part of the reason for the walk is to make room for the pie when we get home.

POSTSCRIPT: The supposed madness of the Official Start to the Christmas Shopping Season was over the hills and far away from Monte Vista, so we were thankful for that. My wife spent Saturday playing search-and-destroy with the caulking gun on air leaks around the house, so I insisted on taking her out to eat at our favorite restaurant in town. Minutes after we arrived back home, my daughter drove up with a friend of hers from Colorado Springs. They had to drive back in the morning, but the night was spent with music playing, loud talk and laughter. We awoke to snow on Sunday, but my daughter and her friend were able to drive safely out.

My belly, heart, and now my weekend are full. For better or worse, come what may, Christmas 2016 is on. Here’s hoping your season is going well. We only get so many of these.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Winter Comes to Colorado

It normally comes a full month earlier. 

When I lived in Colorado Springs there were years I could run out the door to Frontier Park north of my house, and quite literally watch the season-changing front roll in. It’s dramatic like that here in Colorado. It doesn’t always snow, but once that fat gray bank of clouds fills the sky, that’s it. It’s cold, and that cold is here to stay until Memorial Day.

I don’t know the whys and wherefores of this late season and don’t much care, as it was a relief to have as much time as we did to get Big Pink ready for the famously harsh San Luis Valley winter. The clouds and wind blew in during the night, so I didn’t see the change when it came. The winds were strong enough to rock our century-old Victorian, though.

Then came the snow. It would blow in hard, then calm down. Then the wind would gust back up, and another snow squall would pass over us. As of Thursday, 17 November, Winter 2016/17 was on.

Like a lot of Colorado snowstorms, however, this weather event was fleeting. What was gray and white at 11 a.m. had cleared off by 1 p.m. At 2 p.m., everything in the yard had melted except what was in the shadows. Note the straight lines of the snow to the left of the garage. Even the patch to the left of the wheelbarrow was in the shadow when the sun came out. 

The snow melted off, but the cold has remained. Our days of highs in the 50s and 60s F are done, and long single-digit nights are in the immediate future. One thing I’ll say about the cold in the San Luis Valley, it lets you know exactly where the air leak is around your windows. We have some busy days ahead with the caulking gun.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Up on the Roof

...during the warm before the storm. 

We had no idea Wednesday, 16 November, would be the last day of Indian Summer before the Colorado winter kicked in. Fortunately, my wife and I took advantage of that day’s fine weather to climb to the roof over the addition to Big Pink and clean the upstairs bathroom windows from the outside.
Seven thousand, six-hundred imperial feet up, and flat flat flat flat FLAT.

Given that the painters who scraped and slapped a coat on the house in October were slobs, I ended up spending the better part of a half hour sweeping paint chips from the roof. I even found the lid to a can of paint.

It was good getting this chore over with, however. It also afforded me the opportunity to take some photographs from this eastern end of the house, from right (south) to left (north). 

Facing due east now. The Sangre de Cristos are behind that cloud bank on the far horizon. Depending on the atmosphere, sometimes you see them looming large over the trees in the distance.

A Chinese elm dominates this photo. These were brought into Colorado to control erosion way back when, and like kudzu in my native Deep South, these horrors took over. You can cut down the main tree and little saplings will still grow from the main root system, which will be all over your yard and the next two. Especially by your sewage outflow pipe.

Looking northwards over the roof of the main house towards the house next door.

Zoom on, looking east by southeast over the roof of my garage, through the easy geometry of power lines and bare branches.

Panning downward, to the geometry of sloped roofs on my side of town.

On a clear day, you can see the dumpster outside of Safeway. Of course, if you’re looking for ugliness, trouble, etc., you’re sure to find it (I keep reminding myself).

Friday, November 18, 2016

Sixteen Views of a Kitten on My Lap

I’m Luna-bombed most often in the mornings. I used to think she liked how my bathrobe felt. It turns out she’ll come all the way upstairs and park herself on my lap because she feels like it.

I’m told people are stressed these days. Therefore I present a sequence of photos taken with a seven-month old kitten who likes to jump up and hug and bite on my hand. Luna is as affectionate as she is aggressive, and she can be plenty aggressive. Let this happy striped tigress take down your blues.

Profile shots.

My work here is done. Meet you downstairs for dinner.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Drive By Reviews: THE WITCH

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY/TL;DR: Apparently I alone among reviewers found Mark Korven’s soundtrack loud and annoying. Fortunately, a well-established sense of impending doom and fine acting by the cast salvage writer/director Robert Eggers’ The Witch: A New England Folktale as a watchable film. If you enjoyed watching those three college students lose their minds over the course of The Blair Witch Project, you shouldn’t get too bored as the Thing in the Woods slowly exerts its cruelty on this exiled and isolated family in 1630 New England. Overall, I enjoyed it, but it was an extremely qualified enjoyment, hence the long review.

Robert Eggers’ The Witch reminded me a lot of The Blair Witch Project, which is an issue that should be dealt with immediately, as the latter film elicits strong feelings on either side. Although The Witch is a straightforward narrative showing the viewer many things the film’s characters do not see, as opposed to the found-footage pastiche of The Blair Witch Project, both films evoke a deliciously oppressive sense of isolation and dread. 

When the colonial New England family is banished from “the plantation” as it’s referred to at times throughout The Witch, we watch from the family’s point of view as they ride away. Settlers and even the Indians of the village regard them briefly and turn away to their business, and it’s right there that the viewer realizes the characters are riding away to a lonely execution. It’s the same feeling one has watching The Blair Witch Project’s trio of college students leave their car. You look at the car in that shot, and know that’s the last you, or the future human sacrifices entering the Dire Woods, are ever going to see of it. 
You can’t see the Evil for the trees. Good thing this will all be strip malls and fast food joints one day.

In both films there is an Unseen Evil in the Dire Woods that plays with its hapless victims before going in for the final kill. The difference between the films becomes more acute in the details, though. In The Blair Witch Project, you see and hear the reactions of the terrified students, but it’s difficult to make out the exact noises in the woods that are unnerving them. 

In The Witch, an infant disappears from a blanket in an instant in the course of a game of peek-a-boo with his angel-faced sister. It would be enough to drive anyone insane for the sheer unreality of it. Yet the frantic girl looks to the woods as if they indeed did make an infant vanish. A wolf ends up taking the blame, the 17th century New England equivalent of “a dingo ate the baby.” But the girl—and everyone else—comes to suspect dear Thomasin of something.
The director and cinematographer like this angel face so much it fills the screen in the film’s opening shot (this isn’t it), in case you don’t get later that she’s going to be a focal point.

The family set against one another is another dominating sub-trope of the fatal isolation of our victims that The Witch shares with The Blair Witch Project. In this movie, though, the director is not content to leave his audience wondering what is going on in those woods. 

Cue the loud and annoying “Are you scared yet?” music, and we’re seeing flashes of an infant wriggling naked by flickering firelight. The flat of a blade is pressed against his chest. We see the naked—sagging and unattractive, alas—buttocks of a woman thrusting suggestively in the dark, but given the blood that’s filling the container by her side, she’s into something as good as sex for her.

This scene bothered me, and for all the wrong reasons. Why did we need to see this? That the baby vanished within mere seconds in a game of peek-a-boo, far from the line of the woods or any animals, with no evidence of its abduction beyond the empty blanket, should have sufficed to inform the viewer that a supernatural agency is at work. As it is, we know the baby has met a sticky end, and this viewer, for one, was grateful the writer/director had enough restraint to spare us the poor child’s cry, let alone the sight of its dismemberment.

One would think they would blame Indians in the woods over a wolf for the abduction of the baby. However politically incorrect it is to ascribe any negative tendencies whatsoever to pet demographic groups, these things did happen—and if, indeed, as stated on a title card at the beginning of the film, that the very dialogue was taken from contemporary writings—writer/director Robert Eggers had to know this. 

As it happens, Indians do not exist to so much as hunt or travel through this blue-gray corner of New England in 1630. It might have added a more sinister note if someone had brought that up, e.g., “Is it not strange that even the savages avoid these accursed woods?” As the patriarch of a family exiled to the wilderness, I would be very interested in why this common 1600s problem isn’t a problem where I am. Is it the lack of game? So what is keeping the game out of these perfectly good woods?
Instead of asking existential questions about his infant brother’s chances of going to heaven since he died unbaptized, how about, “Father, of all the places we may have settled, why this patch of perpetual blue-gray gloom where nothing can possibly grow?”

This is a factor in the family’s rapidly deteriorating circumstances. A blight has taken their crop and they will not have food to last them the winter. A hunting trip turns up nothing but a revelation that the family patriarch has taken and sold one of his wife’s heirloom possessions for—I wasn’t quite sure. All we’re left with is that the father is morally compromised, and we’re under the impression this somehow has made him and his family vulnerable to some form of dark retribution.

For all that got so needlessly spelled out in the humping hag buttocks/knife on the baby scene, there’s much more that’s needlessly murky. The business with the silver cup the father sold is the one that’s most annoying, because the mother brings it up time and again, accusing her children of taking it. The father, to his credit, comes to their defense. (It’s a big plus in this film that the father is not an evil hardass as one might expect of religious family patriarchs.) There are other matters, however.

The murkiest for me was the time frame. How long was this family in this eternally blue-gray clearing outside of the woods before the evil in there decided to take an interest? We see the family tried and exiled at the beginning, then the next thing we see they not only have a house, but a barn, and corrals for livestock. How long did that all take to build? And where did they get livestock, when all they’d left with was the clothes on their backs? 

For that matter, what were they doing with an oversized billy goat named Black Phillip? I didn’t see any female goats he would be mated with. When did the goat start talking to the twins? There is a set of younger twins, a girl and a boy, who taunt Thomasin for being the witch who sacrificed their unbaptized brother. Black Phillip supposedly told them all about it. What on earth are they doing with this clearly Satanic creature?

The twins seem to know something is up, which alarms Thomasin, as she’s not sure. Meanwhile, the pubescent middle brother, Caleb, whom we’ve already caught making furtive glances at his angel-faced sister’s chest, is on some kind of quest to prove himself. Separated from Thomasin in the woods, he finds himself before a house where a seductive brunette comes out to meet him. You know once she starts kissing the innocent Caleb that an arm is going to come around, and it isn’t going to be an arm, but something more like a claw. (It is!)

Caleb returns home naked in the rain and...I don’t want to give away the whole movie. Suffice it to say, I enjoyed The Witch for precisely the same reason as The Blair Witch Project. It isn’t the supernatural element that provides the terror so much as isolation and the fragility of the human mind under stress. Some people find this process boring. For me, it’s the only thing that makes the movie watchable.

The CinemaSins YouTube channel covers everything that bothered me about the film, from the murky dialogue to the murky cinematography, to the fact that this family, for their own supernatural ability to get an entire compound erected in no time flat, haven’t gotten a handle on hunting and fishing. For those who have already seen The Witch, or those who don’t care about spoilers—I have the same issues with The Witch’s ending as the CinemaSins guy—this is a good, comprehensive watch.
“What happened in this barn? Why did the witch kill all the animals? How? What happened to the twins? How did I sleep through all of this? I HAVE SO MANY QUESTIONS, and a sick feeling the writer doesn’t have a good answer for any of them. He’s just making it up as he goes along by this point.”

If you’re bored and like watching doomed people meet their ends, you’ll enjoy this. But this is one of those films that falls apart the more time you have to think about it. For all the rookie sloppiness of the story and its execution, The Witch is far from a classic. It is, however, a decent diversion.