Love Loves to Love Love

Ths is Skywagon 180 Zulu Romeo.

Crater Lake • Photo by MMB shot from Skywagon 180 Zulu Romeo

Crater Lake is a high desert lake in southern Oregon. It is a caldera lake, set inside the crater of Mt. Mazama, an ancient dormant volcano. With a depth of 1,500 feet, it is the deepest lake in the United States. Winter rules here. Snowfall averages 505 inches per year.  When trying to  book a room there in June I was told that all of the windows would still be completely blocked by snowdrifts.

This photo was taken from a friend’s single engine airplane as we were flying from Palo Alto, California, to Sunriver, Oregon. The plane had the poetic name of  “Skywagon 180 Zulu Romeo” which is how both the pilot and numerous air traffic controllers referred to the aircraft as we flew northward.  The “Zulu Romeo” portion stems from the Z and R of the plane’s co-owner’s business, “Zombie Runner” which is an establishment in Palo Alto that sells both running shoes and strong espresso coffee drinks. I bought some shoes there but have only used them for working out at the local YMCA. The only times I would run currently, would be if someone or something dangerous was chasing me, perhaps a zombie. “Zombie Running” is a high endorphin state of mind desired by long distance runners.

Mount Shasta • Photo by MMB

That’s an amphibious Amphicar!

Amphibious Amphicar

The Alabama Hills are a small range of red rocks and eroded formations in the Owens Valley in eastern California at the base of Mt. Whitney, the tallest mountain in the continental USA. There are dozens of natural rock arches in this rugged and fantastical range. Many cowboy and western TV shows and movies have been filmed here, including Bonanza, Hopalong Cassidy, Bad Day at Black Rock, The Lone Ranger, Iron Man, Gunga Din,Transformers, the Gene Autry Show, as well as countless others.

The roadside motel we stayed in had a Cowboy Museum, as all of the Cowboy stars had stayed there when they were filming and donated memorabilia for the collection. When I was in third grade in Scotland, all of my classmates assumed that I had been in wars with Native Americans and had 6 shooter pistols, based on their watching of re-runs of Gunsmoke and Bronco on the BBC after school.

There was a vintage Amphicar 770 in the parking lot filled with fly fishing gear at our motel next to the Alabama Hills in the town of Lone Pine.. It was an English made amphibious convertible car of which 3,871 were ever produced. Next to the tailpipes were two discrete propellers. The front tires served as primitive rudders.

The Alabama Hills were named for CSS Alabama. When news of the Confederate warship’s war exploits reached prospectors in California sympathetic to the American Civil War Confederates, they named many mining claims after the ship, and the name came to be applied to this entire small mountain range. When the Alabama was finally sunk off the coast of Normandy, France by the USS Kearsarge in 1864, prospectors sympathetic to the North named a mining district, a mountain pass, a mountain peak, and a town after the Kearsarge. I have hiked over Kearsarge Pass, and did not think about the Civil War once on that ascent.

Alabama Hills • Photo by MMB

The Lone Ranger and Tonto ride in the Alabama Hills

Just because it hasn’t happened doesn’t mean it won’t!  

This slight misquote of a line from a Jackson Brown song: “Don’t think it won’t happen just because it hasn’t happened yet,” still rings true 40 years after my friend John said it to me, regarding something lost in the mists of time which has probably happened dozens of times in the intervening years. 

Until a few months ago, worldwide viral pandemics were the stuff of dystopian science fiction novels and presidents of the United States were not infamous worldwide for spewing hatred and dangerous lies, denying Science and Human Rights, encouraging violent seditious insurrections in the capitol and trying to overturn election results, but anything can happen and probably will. I was warned by a Christian Cult contractor working on my home years ago, that we were “Living in End Times,” which at the time I thought was dystopian and ridiculous, but perhaps he was correct. As Tom Waits once said, “There is no Devil, just God when he’s drunk.”

Endtimes featuring the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse

Love Loves to Love Love.

My friend and house mate David was assigned this quote from James Joyce’s “Ulysses” as the subject for a final exam essay in his linguistics class at Stanford in 1973. He had enrolled in a graduate level class to complete his English major requirements and had a panic attack when he saw how cryptic the final exam question was, but was able to become calm, carry on,  power through and pass the class and graduate. It was a unique phrase which stuck in my mind and seemed to state that one loves the idea of loving someone who believes in love – the very essence and foundation of a good and enduring relationship.

Love • Robert Indiana

Capital M – I – S- S – I – S – S – I – P – P – I

Spanish Conquistadors “discover” the Mississippi River

Correctly spelling the word Mississippi in second grade was seen as one of the pinnacles of early learning by everyone in my class. In Ojibwa it means “Big River” or “Father of  Waters.” We also loved to shout the word ‘ Antidisestablishmentarianism,” though none of us knew what it meant and we certainly did not know how to spell it.

My brother Peter and I cool our feet in the headwaters of the Mississippi River • Northern Minnesota • 1953

I can’t stay outside all day. I’m not an animal!

Mythic beasts

We were walking across the Lefty O’Doul Bridge crossing China Basin on our way to a Cirque de Soleil show in a giant tent next to the San Franciso Bay, when a very large man walked by us, loudly telling his diminutive girlfriend “ I can’t stay outside all day. I’m not an animal!”  It was never clear what she wanted him to do all day when they were outside for far too long. 

Where is my self? Where is my mind? Where is my self?

An elderly Chinese gentleman, my Chinese brush painting teacher at Stanford University said this often in the spring of 1974, asking fundamental questions as he taught us to grind ink and paint mountains, bamboo, birds and butterflies with direct simplicity and an understated economy of lines, strokes and washes.

The sage teaches his student

We Will Bury You!

Khrushchev and Stalin

Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev made this threat while addressing Western ambassadors at a reception at the Polish embassy in Moscow in November of 1956. It was one of his often repeated bellicose threats aimed at the West during the Cold War. Later at a United Nations General Assembly meeting he took off his shoe and banged on the dias with it during a speech to emphasize his serious intentions of world domination. As he later stated “I took off my shoe and pounded it on the desk so that our protest would be louder.”

As chidren in elementary school in New York in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s we had all heard Khrushchev’s threat and as a response we often had “Nuclear War Safety Drills.” The alarm bells would start ringing and the window monitors would quickly lower the blinds on all of the windows (to keep shattered glass from the atomic bomb blast from falling on the students) while the rest of us crouched under our desks on our hands and knees, sheltered from atomic annihilation by plywood, Formica and the steel frameworks of our little desks. 

He would climb a tree for a dishonest dime and leave an honest dollar lying on the ground.

FDR Dime

Lucky Farr said this to me, commenting on the poor moral character of one of his neighbors in Buckhannon, West Virginia. Lucky was one of the more prosperous inhabitants of Upshur County, though I never learned exactly how he made a living. He always had mason jars of moonshine hidden behind hay bales in his barn which he would offer surreptitious sips of to me and my friend Tommy when he was showing us his cows and pigs and the women folk were in the house sewing quilts and drinking sweetened iced tea.

Dollars on the ceiling

My nephew Colin wearing a dollar crown at his wedding • Photo by MMB

You can tell a real trucker by the quality of his rope.

This sage bit of manly advice was passed on to me by my friend with the money name, John Dollar, right after I had purchased my first pick up truck and needed some rope to tie down lumber to begin reconstruction work on the house my wife and I had just bought.  As Mr. Dollar recommended, I bought the highest quality, strongest nylon rope that cash money could buy, wanting at last to be a real trucker and to be able to keep on truckin.’

Give ’em enough rope

I may be stoned, but don’t take me for granite.

This was a favorite phrase often uttered by one of my fellow graduate students when I was getting my Master’s degree in print making in San Francisco.  His second favorite saying was “Someday my prints will come.”

Granite monoliths

An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with fear. But the angel said unto them, “Be not afraid, for I bring you good news of a great joy that will come to all the people. For today in the city of David, a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.

Riverside Church interior

Every Christmas Eve after dinner my family would gather around a creche that my father had built and reenact the story of the birth of Christ in Bethlehem. Each family member would be responsible for different participants in the drama; some holding wise men, some herding sheep, cows, oxen and camels, some holding shepherds, some holding Mary and Joseph and one lucky person laying the baby Jesus to rest in the manger. My father had specific biblical passages that he would read for the entrance of each of the characters into the creche and would accompany us on the piano as we sang hymns to go along with each section of the story and drama, such as “We Three Kings” for the entrance of the wise men. Sometimes I would accompany the hymns on a bagpipe chanter or on a recorder while my father played the piano. As one of my beginning piano books stated on the cover; “Music self played is happiness self made.”

In New York we lived surrounded by medieval, Gothic fairy tale buildings at Union Theological Seminary where my father was a professor. We sometimes went to late night Christmas Eve services in a stone chapel in which the entire church was magically lit only by candles as an acapella choir sang  Victorian Christmas carols and Gregorian chants. The president of Union, Henry Pitney Van Dusen, always had a Christmas party in his enormous apartment, complete with a ceiling scraping Christmas tree lit with dozens of burning candles, closely attended by one of his sons who stood watch with a long handled brass snifter, to make sure that the tree and apartment didn’t catch on fire. I often sang in the Christmas choir in the magnificent Gothic Cathedral of Riverside Church, just down the block, a building that ruined all other churches and churchgoing for me in later life with its monumental Godly majesty and towering stained glass windows.

My Sunday School class got to ascend the bell tower of the church and visited with the Carillon master who rang the bells every 15 minutes all day, every day, to let the neighborhood what time it was. He also played hymns and religious music on the bells which clanged and reverberated high above Morningside Heights and Harlem. He was a wizened old man who had his hands completely wrapped and enveloped in gauze and surgical tape, as he had to hammer down the bell keys with considerable force, using his fists to get them to ring out using a giant, medieval looking keyboard. He told us that if we did not listen to and obey our teachers he would tie us to the bell clappers with ropes and ring us along with the bells when he played, as punishment for disobedience, which terrified me. 

When we spent Christmas in Saint Andrews, Scotland in 1959, we lived in a house named “Windrush” on the Lade Braes Walk, a house name right out of “The Wind in the Willows.” For Christmas that year my mother roasted a goose. When we had lived in Minnesota when I was younger she told me that she was cooking a rooster for Christmas, which sounded far more exotic than a chicken or a turkey. 

The only heat source in the big two story house Windrush was a coal burning fireplace in the living room and a coke burning stove in the kitchen which my father stoked several times a day for heat and for cooking. Refrigerators had not yet made it to Scotland so our perishables were stored in a cold cellar in the basement on the north side of the house. Each bedroom had a primitive portable kerosene heater that made the rooms smell like burning aviation fuel and we all wore wool stocking caps to bed and donned 1” thick sleeping socks every winter night to keep our feet warm.

I contracted rheumatic fever there after not being treated for strep throat, and spent many weeks in bed recovering. Just before Christmas it snowed and I was able to go outside into our backyard for the first time in several weeks and built a Jesus snowman with a snow lamb next to him to welcome in the holiday season. I whittled a knife shaped wooden letter opener for my father as a Christmas present with a celtic cross on the handle end and I made a stand for the letter opening knife out of a foot long log with a slot in the middle for the knife to stand upright in. Sadly, a U.S customs agent confiscated the log stand when we returned to the United States 6 months later, claiming that the wood might contain dangerous insects which could infect all of the trees in America.

Riverside Church bell tower

Ideas are like fireflies – You have to catch them while you can, otherwise they will disappear forever and you’ll never see them again.

Fireflies and Lupine

I heard the musician and songwriter Ray La Montagne make this observation on the creative process in a podcast interview. There is always the potential for magic in everything that we think, do, make or create. We hope to uncover the potential for wonder, unearth the unexpected buried treasure or find the glimmer of gems in the veins the mundane. Art has a way of underscoring the oneness in things, and bringing the invisible forth.

As a child in rural western Massachusetts, my favorite thing to do on early summer evenings was to wander around in a hay field in July as twilight was fading and darkness was rising in the world. Fireflies would dance in flight and stream around us like a swirling cosmic fireworks light show, filling us with wonder and delight. We would capture dozens of them in glass jars and hold them in our hands like the flashlights of the Gods. They seemed to be spirits bright with angel light, tracking the distant dawn, appearing in the gathering twilight, illuminated too briefly soon after the sun had gone down.

Firefly stone carving • Tikal, Guatemala

Bioluminesence in action