More Joyrides by Dennis Payton Knight
Playlists around the world are filled with songs about peace and love, desire and despair. But humans will never play the music of life as well as nature herself. Neither horns, nor strings, nor woodwinds, bells or drums, nor all of them together can give a concert as moving as the rhythms of our natural surroundings.
Sing to us, Mother Nature.
Around the world oceans roar in waves and lap with splashing sounds on the sands of beaches. Rivers whisper around rocks, through hanging brush and beaver dams, and cascade in a roar over well-polished cliffs. Marsh ponds sleep through the night, peaceful stages for frogs to croak, ducks to quack, geese to honk, and warblers to warble in the willows.
Children and puppies sleep to the cooing of a mourning dove perched on a telephone line, a human invasion that nature has hijacked for her own beautiful purposes. On the ground a cricket chirps, a fox barks and in the tree a mockingbird mimics them all.
Nature has drama in its music, too. Tchaikovsky could do no better than the roar of a cougar in Colorado, a grizzly in Alaska, a tiger in Bengal or a lion on the Serengeti. Hear the cry of a golden eagle’s quarry snapped from a colony of prairie dogs. Hear the sound and rage of a Nor’easter in Maine, a tornado in Oklahoma, a volcano in Hawaii.
Nature sings to Windsor Gardens, too. Sit in the cooling breeze of your lanai and soak in the melody of robins singing, squirrels chattering in the branches and geese prattling on the lake. Magpies chime in with bars of sweet harmony, and in the next stanza squawk like banshees in a rock band. You may want to throw a boot at the percussion of a flicker rat-a-tat-tatting by your window but instead you distinguish in nature’s opera the baritone of owls and the aria of a coyote.
Nature’s music lulls you into serene contemplation when you sense the wafting of a breeze and a clap of thunder breaks your reverie. Hailstones bang on the ledge and you retreat to safety behind the sliding glass door. Lightning flashes in the darkened skies unleash the fury of a late evening thunderstorm. The hail turns to rain, intensifying and driving rhythmically against your window. You marvel in the rumble of thunder near and far, and revel in the crackling choreography of lightning. After a dozen minutes the wind and rains give way to naught but the sound of water in the rain pipe, a distant thunderclap bids adieu, the moon returns, a cricket gives the cue and nature’s philharmonic strikes up again.
Does a tree falling in the forest make a sound? You bet it does, in a crash that shakes the woods and the fauna, as great as the crescendo of cymbals in a Sousa band, yet as peaceful as a kitten’s purr.Sing to us again, Mother Nature.
Vice President Dan Quayle once talked of “the importance of bondage between a mother and child.” That is an example of a classic malapropism, and it serves to introduce the point of this article, which is that strapping on words is like strapping on a pair of roller skates. You may dash elegantly by the swooning ladies, but there is every chance you will land on your keister.
Malapropisms got their name from a character named Mrs. Malaprop in The Rivals, a 1775 play by Richard Sheridan. She was a moralistic lady who affected enlightenment with stylishly big words that never quite hit their target. The play is full of linguistic roller skating like “hydrostatics” when she meant “hysterics,” “pineapple” for “pinnacle,” and “allegory” for “alligator.”
My favorite Mrs. Malaprop line is her proud declaration, “Sure, if I reprehend anything in this world it is the use of my oracular tongue, and a nice derangement of epitaphs!” For that one sentence she must have strapped on four pairs of skates.
The famous Yankee Yogi Berra played in more World Series games than any other player, and he was such a master of the malapropism that he unwittingly created his own form of the art, known as Yogisms. Once, on being told he looked cool, Yogi answered, “You don’t look so hot yourself.” When asked what time it was, he pondered, “You mean now?” As a baseball coach he instructed his players to “Pair off in threes.” The obituaries were full of Yogisms when he died in September of 2015 at the age of ninety, but he had already pronounced his rejoinder to all of them, “I really didn’t say everything I said.”
Yogi’s boss on the Yankees was “The Old Perfesser,” the great Casey Stengel, and he was apparently Yogi’s mentor in the sport of fracturing English. On the field Casey ordered the team to “line up alphabetically, according to your height.” He told a reporter “The team has come along slow but fast;” regretted “I got players with bad watches – they can’t tell midnight from noon;” reflected “There comes a time in every man’s life, and I’ve had plenty of them;” and professed “Never make predictions, especially about the future.”
I had an acquaintance, a Twentieth Century Mrs. Malaprop, who I served with on a school accountability committee. At one meeting, after she had returned from conferring with politicos at the statehouse, she urged us to “Write your legislators. They are very receptacle to your letters.”
Now for a confession and a boast. On roller skates I will never succeed, and I stopped trying after insulting my tailbone once too often and suffering a hairline fracture of my elbow. Conversely, with language I power through paragraphs like a jammer at the roller derby. Maybe you have noticed all the fancy words I wounded into this artifice. I do not disbelieve I have remitted a single malapropism in the entire receptacle.
Just as the calendar inexorably passes, so too is aging inevitable, making you a like a fine wine. Or you can just get old, but that is a state of mind, not an inevitability.
Now that I am in my seventies and living in this wonderful Denver amusement park for seniors called Windsor Gardens, I have friends who fit either category. Some unfortunately are old at any age, but this essay is not about them. This is about the folks who, though they show and feel the ravages of time, will never be old.
All of us must deal with one or some or many of the nuisances that aging presents. Maybe we don’t hear or see or dance as well as we once did. Maybe we don’t suffer fools as well as we once did and have become plain speaking curmudgeons. We make jokes about aging, but as long as we maintain a zest for life, we are not old.
My good friend has been on this earth long enough to be my mother. She suffers from impaired vision and a maddening case of sciatica. I am privileged to take her to appointments and help her with shopping and other activities. She stays on top of the news, reads the papers faithfully, and enjoys forming and defending opinions. She watches Animal Planet because animals are so much more sensible than humans. We have engaging conversations, and she seldom lets a day go by that she doesn’t add a new word to her English vocabulary, even though it is not her native tongue. Yes, she too is aging, but she is not old, and I don’t expect she ever will be.
We enjoy in our Writers Group the company of two dozen members. We are in our fifties, sixties, seventies, eighties, nineties. It is likely someday we will count centenarians among us. Our life experiences are as varied as our hair colors once were. Some use hearing aids, others should. Some of us shout to be heard, some mumble. We have been around the block, as they say, and all of us are aging, but none of us are old. That is because we are, each of us, engaged in observing life, writing about life, and taking part in life itself. When I look around the room, I don’t see old people; I see authors with experience.
A year ago we lost to a tragic accident, not to infirmities or old age, a treasured friend who led us with vitality in his eighties. We remember another colleague who passed away at the age of 97, not as an old man, but as a writer engaged to his very last week in documenting the journal of his life. Our friend didn’t die old, but he surrendered life within days of losing his treasured independence.
So here in a nutshell is my advice if you ever plan to grow old: Don’t.
The challenge today is to deliver an essay on the word “bible”, a notion I have never before entertained. Of course folks have been writing to the high heavens about The Bible in the upper case, so instead I will approach the topic in the lower case. For that I’ve done a little research, finding in that case a bible can be any book, reference work, periodical, etc., accepted as authoritative, informative, or reliable. Yes, that fits me to a tee.
The internet yields hundreds of listings for bibles. Most of them are in the upper case, but more than a few are in the lower case, like The Healthy Smoothie Bible, The Beekeeper’s Bible, a Baking Bible and three different bibles to help wayward youth get into law school.
For connoisseurs there is a Wine Bible, a culinary guide called The Flavor Bible, a Soup Bible, The Hamburger Gourmet Bible, a Vegan World Food Bible and The Vegetarian Flavor Bible. For those who don’t eat with one pinkie pointing on high there is a Beer Bible, The Whiskey Bible, The Pizza Bible and a Barbecue Bible. If you like dried tomatoes, crispy bananas and turkey jerky, order The Dehydrator Bible.
I already know, by the way, all of the commandments in The Diabetics Bible, and yes, bless me father, for I have sinned. For my penance I will order and adhere forever to The Juicing Bible.
The Real Estate Rehab Investing Bible might make you rich, and you can put your money into a profitable new Colorado industry where there are two handy bibles waiting, namely Marijuana Horticulture: The Indoor/Outdoor Medical Grower’s Bible, and The Cannabis Grow Bible. To keep track of inventory and profits you can create some useful spreadsheets with the help of The Excel Bible.
If you are still in your athletic prime, you might want to top your career by dedicating yourself to the creed and principles set forth in The Triathlete’s Training Bible. If you are over the hill and prefer to stand on the sidelines, there are bibles for football coaches, baseball coaches, volleyball, swimming andsoccer coaches.
Ornithologists find joy and answers in The Birding Bible. Hobbyists find reference material in The Crystal Bible, The Calligrapher’s Bible and The Furniture Bible. If meditation is more to your liking, you will find thoughts to think in The Chakra Bible and The Yoga Bible.
Those of us obsessed with stringing words together can find deliverance in The Story Bible, The Writer’s Bible and The Freelance Writer's Bible: Your Guide to a Profitable Writing Career Within One Year.Finally, for fans of irony we have The Shooters Bible. I won’t go out of my way, but if I happen to be traveling in America’s Bible Belt, I might just find one waiting in ambush in my hotel room. If so, I will read its commandments and get myself saved by Charlton Heston himself.
The sky starts at our feet and rises some 62 miles to the Kármán line where the air becomes too thin to sustain flight. The sky holds oxygen for our lungs and protects us from the white light of the sun. In doing so it filters away most of the blue wavelengths in a process that quite illogically makes the sky look blue. That is my scientific understanding of the phenomenon we call the sky.
Like the insects and birds that surround us, we have ingeniously conquered the skies using the principle of airfoil. We fly around the earth and to the sky’s highest reaches. Sometimes we even pierce the sky with rockets to deliver man and equipment to explore and establish our spaces in space.
In the skies birds assemble to soar in long migration, and wander in search of shelter, water and food. Eagles, hawks and owls swoop from skies above to take prey, and other birds find fast refuge in the sky to escape predators on the ground. But it is not an entirely safe place for them, either, because aerial hunters sometimes snag prizes right from the air. Of course humans use the blue yonder to wage war against ourselves, but that is mankind’s shame, and we should not blame it on the skies.
The songwriter Irving Berlin wrote the words, “Blue skies, smiling at me, nothing but blue skies do I see,” and Hoagy Carmichael in another popular song wrote “Ole buttermilk sky, I'm keeping my eyes peeled on you.”
Vincent Van Gogh made a name for himself painting the skies in a full range of shapes and colors, swirling clouds, blazing stars, and bright crescent moons. He, like others of the old masters, found form and color in the sky in ways to put us in awe of their vision.
But nature with its own hand paints the soaring blue to perfection, illuminating it by day, deepening it by night, and softening it with touches of clouds. Skies may be gray and rainy, and split in the violence of lightening. Or they may sparkle in the sun and glow in the light of the moon and stars. Nature daubs the edges of the skies at sunrise and sunset with purples and oranges, and when solar winds blow at earth’s poles, nature stages exhilarating productions of northern and southern lights.
Where would we be without friendly skies to hang our kites or float our balloons? Where would we find space to perform aerial maneuvers? Or for small planes to drag banners and spin smoke in the blue to sell toothpaste or propose marriage?
The skies seem to play right to our emotional needs. In 1892 Walt Whitman, one of America’s great poets, in a piece of prose wrote, “Out of the sane, silent, beauteous miracles that envelope and fuse me—trees, water, grass, sunlight, and early frost—the one I am looking at most to-day is the sky.”
“To Dream the Impossible Dream” is an inspiring song with lyrics by Joe Darion from the musical, Man of La Mancha. The play is based on one of the greatest novels ever written, a two volume seventeenth century tale by Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra. It is known in full as The Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote of La Mancha.
It is the story of an unnamed Spaniard of the minor noble rank of hidalgo who loses his sanity and decides to set out to revive chivalry, undo wrongs, and bring justice to the world. He takes the name of Don Quixote, and recruits a farmer, Sancho Panza, as his squire and sidekick.
In one chapter, Quixote calls Sancho to see “forty hulking giants over yonder”, declaring his intention to “do battle with them and slay them… for this is a righteous war and the removal of so foul a brood from off the face of the earth is a service God will bless.”
"Take care, sir," cried Sancho. "Those over there are not giants but windmills.”
Hence, those of us who are dreamers by nature are seen to be quixotic, meaning we are hopeful or romantic in a way that is not practical. We dream impossible dreams and reach for unreachable stars, and our belief in justice, dignity and peace for those with whom we share space on Earth may be quixotic. If so, it is our wont to “run where the brave dare not go, to right the unrightable wrong.”
There have been dreamers before us. Abraham Lincoln, debating Stephen Douglas two years before his election, argued, “Most governments have been based… on the denial of the equal rights of men…; ours began, by affirming those rights.” He was referring to those dreamers who framed our constitution in the century before his. Lincoln, a dreamer himself, was elected to advance those constitutional rights, yet his election provoked a civil war that nearly destroyed the country.
In 1963, Martin Luther King had a quixotic dream that inspired generations of Americans to deal with each other fairly, justly and perhaps without prejudice. The election in 2008 of a black man to be President of the United States was an event that profoundly affirmed the impractical dreams of Jefferson, Adams, Lincoln, and Martin Luther King. And even if those dreams remain yet unfulfilled, the election of Barack Obama proved they are indeed possible.
Is a peaceful Earth a dream only to sing about at Christmas? Or is that possible too? Cynics who believe only in things practical will say no. But maybe it is but a matter of laying down arms in our communities, one by one, not by dint of law, but because we have begun to realize in a common, if quixotic way that “The world will be better for this, that one man, scorned and covered with scars, still strove with his last ounce of courage, to reach the unreachable star.”
challenge is an essay on Fine Feathered Friends, and indeed a duck may be
somebody’s mother. But being the cynic I am, I am more inclined to write about
those who might be our fine feathered foes.
count as foe the waterfowl, grouse and pheasants who populate our waterways and
prairies, although they must see us as enemies, particularly those among us who
travel in teams with shotguns and golden retrievers. But from our perspective,
such fowl do not have the temperament to be the foul and offensive foes of
humans. They are but fine feathered friends who sometimes join us for dinner,
whether they like it or not. Geese are another story, and more on that later.
search for flocks of fine feathered foes, I considered the Red-tailed Hawk. One
of them made headlines some years ago when he got after some picnicking humans
in Connecticut. They had approached too close to his tree and nest, and he
attacked them beak and claw until they ran for cover. But you really cannot
call the Red-tailed hawk a foe, because that skirmish was entirely human error.
They should not have come without an invitation.
Owl was a candidate, breeding and raising his family in the arctic circle. Like
the hawk, it also raises holy hell when humans approach its home on the frozen
tundra, and it has the size and ferocity to do it. You might remember the Snowy
Owl from the movie as a fine feathered friend of Harry Potter, but that was
just acting. The Snowy Owl may actually qualify as foe; however, this wizard will
not be going north to find out.
Lammergier is a German vulture that swoops up bones left behind from the
post-mortem feast, dropping them from on high to fracture and get at the soft
marrow inside. Since they aim the bones at rocks and not humans, it would be
unfair to call the Lammergier our foe. But if a flying femur does happen to
take out a human, well, that’s the way the bone crumbles, and accidents do make
considered the Barred Owl which feeds on small prey like rabbits and rodents.
Its range once was limited to forests in the Southern United States, but it has
expanded into territories all the way to British Columbia. It is not a
deliberate foe to humans, it just finds it hard to distinguish between small animals
foraging about in the underbrush and furry human heads bopping through the
woods, and so hard hats are now encouraged. Coonskin caps are discouraged.
this research I have identified one true foe in feathers. By day it flocks and
honks through our airspace with no obvious purpose. It lands to taunt us and
foul our links and gardens, and it cackles all night from a nearby pond. It is
our Fine Feathered Foe, the infernal Canadian Goose.
The challenge is an essay on Fine Feathered Friends, and indeed a duck may be somebody’s mother. But being the cynic I am, I am more inclined to write about those who might be our fine feathered foes.
I cannot count as foe the waterfowl, grouse and pheasants who populate our waterways and prairies, although they must see us as enemies, particularly those among us who travel in teams with shotguns and golden retrievers. But from our perspective, such fowl do not have the temperament to be the foul and offensive foes of humans. They are but fine feathered friends who sometimes join us for dinner, whether they like it or not. Geese are another story, and more on that later.
In my search for flocks of fine feathered foes, I considered the Red-tailed Hawk. One of them made headlines some years ago when he got after some picnicking humans in Connecticut. They had approached too close to his tree and nest, and he attacked them beak and claw until they ran for cover. But you really cannot call the Red-tailed hawk a foe, because that skirmish was entirely human error. They should not have come without an invitation.
The Snowy Owl was a candidate, breeding and raising his family in the arctic circle. Like the hawk, it also raises holy hell when humans approach its home on the frozen tundra, and it has the size and ferocity to do it. You might remember the Snowy Owl from the movie as a fine feathered friend of Harry Potter, but that was just acting. The Snowy Owl may actually qualify as foe; however, this wizard will not be going north to find out.
The Lammergier is a German vulture that swoops up bones left behind from the post-mortem feast, dropping them from on high to fracture and get at the soft marrow inside. Since they aim the bones at rocks and not humans, it would be unfair to call the Lammergier our foe. But if a flying femur does happen to take out a human, well, that’s the way the bone crumbles, and accidents do make good pickings.
I then considered the Barred Owl which feeds on small prey like rabbits and rodents. Its range once was limited to forests in the Southern United States, but it has expanded into territories all the way to British Columbia. It is not a deliberate foe to humans, it just finds it hard to distinguish between small animals foraging about in the underbrush and furry human heads bopping through the woods, and so hard hats are now encouraged. Coonskin caps are discouraged.
After all this research I have identified one true foe in feathers. By day it flocks and honks through our airspace with no obvious purpose. It lands to taunt us and foul our links and gardens, and it cackles all night from a nearby pond. It is our Fine Feathered Foe, the infernal Canadian Goose.
Mother glacier sends
Crystalline droplets to fill
Her child, Lake Marie
Medicine Bow Peak, at over twelve thousand feet is the highest point in the Snowy Range west of Laramie, Wyoming. At her base sits Lake Marie, the crowning glory of a place where Arapaho, Sioux, Cheyenne, Shoshone and White River Utes once congregated to find mountain mahogany wood for bows, and powwow for rituals in the valley to make good medicine to cure their ills in the warm mineral springs along the river.
I grew up with my family enjoying the Snowy Range with drives, picnics, hiking and fishing in the summer months when the road was open. Beautiful vistas would emerge at every turn and crest as we wound out way to where the scattered granite making up Medicine Bow Peak hovers above shimmering, crystal Lake Marie below.
If ever there was a place in nature that represents the simple purity of peace, it is Lake Marie, and yet six decades ago she was the witness and site of a what was to that time the worst commercial air disaster in our country’s history. At 6:33 the morning of October 6, 1955, United Airlines Flight 409 from Denver to Salt Lake City crashed into Medicine Bow Peak, killing all 66 people aboard, including military personnel and five women members of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.
The flight had departed 83 minutes late, planning to follow a flyway in a northern arc above Laramie and Rock River, a flight path that avoided the mountain ranges of Colorado that extended into southern Wyoming. Not pressurized, it was assigned a cruising altitude of 10,000 feet to keep the passengers and crew from the discomfort of flying any higher.
The region did not yet have tracking radar, and so it was the lack of an expected position report from the flight crew that alerted authorities to trouble and sparked the ground search. The New York Times reported, "First rescuers to reach the scene said they had found about 50 bodies strewn along a 300-foot course down the face of the mountain. Only a tail piece, part of the fuselage and a wing of the plane had been located at mid-afternoon by rescuers who fought snowdrifts and a howling wind on the 12,005-foot Medicine Bow Peak.”
Although the flight had been slightly off course, the cause of its demise has never been established. It may have been a faulty altimeter, turbulence, or clouds obscuring the peak with the pilot operating by visual flight rules. The crash was memorialized by visible patches of burned oil where the plane's engines apparently struck about 50-75 feet from the peak.It has been left to nature to dispose of fragments of airframe still remaining from Flight 409, unseen to visitors from all over the world who come to rest momentarily in the peace and beauty of Mother Glacier sending crystalline droplets to fill her child, Lake Marie.
I have traveled the beaten path, gone off the beaten path, and beaten some paths of my own. I have taken wrong paths and right paths. I have encountered those famous Yogi Berra forks in the road and taken them. The path I am on is well worn, sometimes meandering and crooked. I have slogged through muddy quagmires and skipped along lanes paved with yellow bricks. I try to stay on the straight and narrow and I am always on the lookout for the path of righteousness, but I also know about the road to perdition.
To keep us from skidding off the path and into the barrow pit of life, a motivational speaker named Ralph Marston reminds us “There are plenty of difficult obstacles in your path. Don't allow yourself to become one of them.”
Another motivator, Marcus Buckingham from England, got it right when he said, “The best way to find out whether you're on the right path? Stop looking at the path.”
Rosalia de Castro of Galicia, Spain, a poet romanticist who was born in 1837 wrote, “I see my path, but I don't know where it leads. Not knowing where I'm going is what inspires me to travel it.”
The American poet Theodore Roethke said, “Over every mountain there is a path, although it may not be seen from the valley.”
Henry David Thoreau, who beat a path of his own that we all crossed back in high school, waxed eloquently on the topic. He said, “As a single footstep will not make a path on the earth, so a single thought will not make a pathway in the mind. To make a deep physical path, we walk again and again. To make a deep mental path, we must think over and over the kind of thoughts we wish to dominate our lives.”
Thoreau also wrote, “Pursue some path, however narrow and crooked, in which you can walk with love and reverence.”
Oprah Winfrey tells us, “Understand that the right to choose your own path is a sacred privilege. Use it. Dwell in possibility.”
We travel coast to coast on speedy highways with the help of modern GPS units, but we get totally lost in the winding paths of our own lives. Some of us wander through life aimlessly, and some of us are goal oriented with detailed roadmaps for living laid before us. But inevitably we do come to those Yogi Berra forks in the road.
Over my life’s path exceeding seven decades, I have come to many forks in the road, and consistent with the wisdom of Yogi Berra, I’ve taken them. Whether I take the one on the left or the one on the right, inevitably it always leads down the path to yet another fork, so I take that one, too. I know it’s just a metaphor for life, but all I have so far is a drawer full of forks.
A single event in American that took place in November of 1621 to celebrate the first harvest may well be the best Thanksgiving ever because it has served as the template for all of them since. It was, in fact, maybe the first time but certainly not the last time people in our country have thanked their creator for the refuge of a new world.
Most of us in America are descendants of people who came to our shores looking for a better existence. Even the aboriginal people of this continent, regardless of what we call them, crossed from Asia over the Bering Straits seeking refuge from hunger, pestilence, or unknown terrors. Their descendants too were part of that first Thanksgiving in 1621.
"Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these the homeless, tempest-tost to me…”
That is what Emma Lazarus saw of America in her famous words engraved at the base of the Statue of Liberty. Unfortunately, what is supposed to be the refuge of the United States is not always as welcoming as Lazarus promised. Sometimes we dishonor her words and the meaning of our first Thanksgiving itself, standing at our shores shouting, “No! Not You!” We have managed at times to reject folks from all corners of the world who don’t look like us or profess to believe in the god of our choice.
In 1917 we imposed literacy tests, creating mental, moral, physical and economic standards, purposely shutting out Japanese, Chinese and other Asians, anarchists and “subversives.” In 1924 we set quotas based on the desirability of various nationalities. Aliens from northern and western Europe were considered more desirable than those from southern and eastern Europe. In case you forgot your geography, that means we approved of the English and French, but not so much the Spanish and Italians, and never the Russians.
Despite such laws we are a rainbow nation, filled with folks of every origin and every description. As citizens, we are all guaranteed by law, if not practicality, the refuge and fruits of the United States. It is a good and safe place to be. That is, if you are here.
Elsewhere in the world today millions are fleeing war, persecution, or natural disaster. Of those, President Obama would like to welcome into the United States a tiny fraction, about ten thousand, tempest-tost to us from Syria.
To that, many shout, “No! Not You!” because one or more may come with evil intent. That there may be terrorists among them cannot be argued. We do, after all, know terrorists and breed our own. But would a person in a storm find shelter only to destroy it? Would he not instead find it occasion for the greatest Thanksgiving ever?
And after all, what is so different about a Palestinian family seeking refuge in Bethlehem from a Syrian family seeking refuge in America?