Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Through the Bifocals

READING. READING. READING. Not writing much right now, but soon I will. I read a great amount and I like fiction, history, economics, and kids' books (Harry Potter is for both kids and adults. I’ve read them all.). So, here is my latest reading with some notes.

Fall of Giants (The Century Trilogy)
FALL OF GIANTS by Ken Follet. A huge book both in scope and pages. Our oldest son Ramsey used to say that he only liked books over 800 pages. He would have liked this one.
An epic historical fiction work, this book covers the tumultuous period in the opening years of the 20th century. World War One was peering over the wall of a vibrant, rich, and yet selfish Europe. Empire was in charge of the world; but times were about to change. The working class wanted a fair share in the wealth. (Sound familiar?)
The story follows the lives of an English, American, German, Russian, and Welsh family. Each suffer severe losses due to the war and to the changing times. Collapsing empire, woman’s suffrage, labor unions, the socio-political face of Europe.
The history is well-researched; the figures like Winston Churchill and US president Wilson are vigorously portrayed. I couldn’t put it down.

14211421: THE YEAR CHINA DISCOVERED AMERICA, by Gavin Menzies. Did you know about China’s huge fleets and giant boats during the Ming Dynasty in the 15th century? I didn’t, and I have read a great deal about Chinese history. This book re-creates the voyages by Chinese fleets all over the world. This is both history and conjecture, but if it is correct, then China was way ahead of Europe.

The World at Night

THE WORLD AT NIGHT by Alan Furst. 1940 Europe in the grip of WWII. Paris. Germans. Espionage. Realistic. Riveting. Moral issues. Is this a cautionary tale?

Wednesday, October 27, 2010


 I WAS SITTING IN MY FAVORITE CHAIR READING by the fire the other day.  It was a warm day, and the late afternoon sun was filtered by high mackerel clouds. Suddenly something caught my  eye.  It was dark, moving fast and big.  A dog?  Probably.  Then another dark shape ran by.

They were two bear cubs, probably 70-80 lbs.  They ran right past the big, floor to ceiling windows right to a small apple grove about fifteen yards away.

Then she arrived, slowly, purposefully, with an ambling gait like a sailor too long at sea.  She was big, maybe 200 lbs.  She was wonderful.  A brown nose (snout would be disrespectful) and a powerful body.  She stopped and looked in the windows. I don’t know whether or not she saw me.  The afternoon sun might have reflected in such a way that I was out of her view.
The cubs were climbing the apple trees.  Fast!!!!  They went way up to shake the limbs and get the apples down on the ground to eat.  After all, winter is coming and they need to fatten up for the long winter sleep in some cave or under a ledge up on the ridge behind us.

The big bear lingered in front of our house certain that the cubs were safe.  Then she joined them to feast on the apples on the ground.

I grabbed my camera and had the foolish notion of going outside for a close-up.  I canceled that notion.  They are after all wild creatures.  I shot pictures from the safety of the inside of the house.  They stayed for maybe fifteen minutes and then ambled off.  Their range is about 10 square miles, and they probably had visited our apple trees before.

I wonder what they think of us?  I thought that they were incredible.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Cold Day

I’M SUPPOSED TO BE WORKING TODAY.  Supposed to be is the operative phrase.  I don’t want to.  No, I like writing; I really like it. The work I’m talking about is all the stuff you have to do to be an author and a publisher: Contracts, trademark infringements, license agreements, lawyers, more lawyers!  Yuck! I’m a writer and a traveler. That means reading, research, talking to people, thinking (daydreaming sometimes), and then putting fingers to computer keys.

Being a writer is somewhat like being back in college.  Papers need research, good ideas, writing, re-writing, and deadlines.  If you like that kind of stuff and you don’t mind being alone a lot, then maybe writing is for you.

The internet revolution is providing space for  people to be heard and to get their ideas, thoughts, and creativity out there.  I love and believe in the book and the bookstore, but we can’t ignore or overlook the computer and what it offers. Change, as we all know, is the one big constant.  Embrace it.  It’s not always easy, but it is real.

It’s a cold day in Vermont. There is snow on the upper part of the mountains.  The leaves are gone.  Good riddance. I have never liked the overblown colors of the fall, it’s like too much candy all at once.  Now the hills and mountains are more prominent. I like seeing bare tree limbs.  I like pecking away at these keys.

Hurry back spring.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

The Ancient Ones

THE ANCIENT ONES  or the Anasazi, pueblo people in the Southwest dating back hundreds and hundreds of years lived a perhaps-idyllic life.

We went to Santa Fe, NM for a working vacation recently. While there, we re-visited one of our favorite spots: Bandelier National Park, home for more than 600 families 5-600 years ago.  These people lived in a narrow canyon with soaring sandstone cliffs.  A stream runs through it providing water and fish.  Back then there were deer and wild turkey, squirrels, other birds, rabbits and--bears, mountain lions, and snakes.  The rattlers were poisonous.

The canyon sheltered the people from the sometimes severe winters in this high desert land.  It was sunny, pretty warm, and fertile for growing corn and squash.

The people lived in what was apartment-style or condo-style lodges.  Some were tucked up by the cliffs and others were in a large circle on the valley floor.

These people were agricultural and peaceful.  They shared in the work and the benefits of hunting and fishing the stream.  They enjoyed a communal life. Today  the valley in this canyon is much the same as it was when it was inhabited by the ‘ancient ones.’  But they are gone.  Was it disease? Or warfare? Did they hunt an fish it out?  Did they lose faith in their community? Did they jut decide it was time to move on?

We will never know; they did not leave written records, only wonderful carvings in the soft sandstone cliffs and the remnants of their buildings.

Is there a cautionary tale in this?

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Mother Earth Hasn't Given Up!

April 28, 2010

MOTHER EARTH HASN’T GIVEN UP! Not by a long shot. Witness the Ring of Fire, that chain of volcanoes that stretches in a gigantic arc in the Pacific Basin. Earthquakes and volcanic activity occur with great frequency in this region; but there are other zones or regions prone to this Mother Earth activity. The unpronounceable volcano in Iceland is just one of many.

This planet is alive, active, and amazing. We are lucky to be on this journey hurtling through space while spinning and twisting. What a ride!

Countries and airline companies, hotels, and businesses are complaining of the financial loss due to canceled airline travel. But how about the human benefit of people being thrown off their usual course and forced to make adjustments, meet new people, experience a different rhythm to their lives? Trains became important; buses; boats; cars. People shared spaces, ate in crowded restaurants, and met new people. Is that all bad? Of course not. People can thrive on adversity as long as it isn’t bloody warfare or devastating earthquakes that claim lives or hurricanes that destroy cities.

Mother Earth continues to surprise us even when we least suspect it. ( I haven’t mentioned plagues or killer viruses that lurk on our Earth. I just didn’t want to.)

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Well, Well, Well

WELL, WELL, WELL, THREE HOLES IN THE GROUND.  Cold up here; scant snow. Mountain as hard as rock candy.  Very few animals about.  Saw some wild turkey tracks under the pine trees where they browse for pine-nuts.  Spring, where are you?  But, I asked for it, years ago, when I moved to Vermont. I knew what I was getting into.  Still, I want to be on a boat in the Caribbean or on an island in the Gulf of Siam or tucked up in a nice apartment in Paris or Bologna.

Chanting Baby Monks
I’ve been thinking about energy and its flow lately: Electromagnetism, Gravity, The Strong Force, The Weak Force.  It’s all around us in the energy of people (the crowd at the Super Bowl, opera, pop concerts, excitement in a classroom when there is a good teacher and a good lecture, the feeling of unity over a cause (not always a good one: witness the great rallies held by Hitler in the 1930’s) the joy of people in love, kids, kids, kids. Yin and Yang.
Magnetic poles North and South. Batteries with positive and negative poles. Energy in the atom.  WOW!  I repeat: it’s all about energy.   Start with the Big Bang and move forward--except in space/time there is no forward.
MONEY. Yup, here it is again: Energy.   The flow of money keeps the world going; its stoppage or slowing causes problems.  Greed disturbs it.  People are motivated by it.  It spawns such nightmarish creatures as sub-prime mortgages and derivatives.  It drives people mad.

The energy I like best is the Sun, except of course for LOVE, the real energy in the universe.

If this offends you, mea culpa.

Ray  (it’s still cold out there. Yuck!!)