Archive - 2013

February 12th

Home for the storm

I came home Friday night in order to attend a Bush Foundation retreat which is a required part of my Bush Fellowship--only to have the weather intervene and prevent my driving to St. Paul. So, I have been a part of this storm which dumped on us Sunday and early yesterday.

I went in to visit Aunt Olive today. She's doing very well. Looks great. Emil, the Hilton's maintainance director, set Olla up with a big reader so she could read books and the newspaper more easily, but she has no interested. "I live on memories," she said. Television doesn't interest her any more, either. She sits in her chair and enjoys it thoroughly. I think she enjoys paging through her lifetime of adventures. 

When I am down in Arizona, I get all ambitious to get home and start on projects. Flying home for a weekend disavowed me of that notion. As soon as I returned, my energy level declined and all I wanted to do was sleep. Wow. No projects forthcoming. So, I look forward to flying back to AZ tomorrow and getting busy again. In fact, I think I will take my laptop to spring training and work.

From November through two weeks ago, I kept up a pace of writing 1,000 words per day for 65 consecutive days. At that point, I ran out of material, so I called it a book. Now I have to edit the thing and make sure it makes sense. That is turning out to be quite a task. I haven't really delved into it yet, but that will be my goal when I return to AZ. 

I will relish every moment of the warmth after getting my dose of winter. 





February 7th


I have been trying to upload pictures, but without luck.

On Tuesday, neighbor Rob from back home took me on a 4-wheeler trek. Two other parties met us at the staging area south of here near Florence, and we took off through the desert towards the mountains.

First surprise: You have to wear a facemask or a bandana to keep from breathing the dust. Why? In the dust is the fungus which causes Valley Fever, a disease you do not want. 

Okay, so I wore a bandana!

I also should have worn one on my head as I couldn't wear a cap, due to the speeds, and my balding head got a little burned with the sunshine.

Rob is an expert driver. The Polaris side-by-side 4-wheeler was amazing. Its suspension allowed us to roar over crevices, embedded boulders, bumps, ravines, the works. I had a handle to hang on to, much like I was steering, which gave me the illusion of control.

We put on 60 miles. We climbed right to the top of some small mountains, then dove down to the canyons, and then back up to the top, and so on. Most of the day I was hanging on to the handlebars quite tight.

I didn't say anything, but I got woozy before lunch. Carsick woozy. I knew all I had to do was eat, and when we ate, I felt better and was okay for the rest of the day. 

On the very primitive trails were dozens of other 4-wheelers, all manned by snowbirds. Then there were Jeeps bouncing up and town the mountainsides. One caravan had 9 vehicles. Three or four had one driver! I guess the fun is in the driving, not the passengering. But I enjoyed being a passenger.

The network of trails is impossibly complex. Every quarter of a mile, you have to make a choice. Rob, who was in the lead of our caravan of three, has spent the past 11 years learning the trails, so he went forward with confidence and knew just where to turn. Or at least, he never showed doubt!

Now I can say I have gone 4-wheeling in the back country.  

February 4th

Saguaro skeleton

saguaro skeleton.jpg 

Underneath the flesh of a saguaro is a beautiful, woody skeleton. Notice the green sprouts of grass and other plants. The desert is turning green due to recent rains. I suspect at some time in the next couple of months, the wild flowers will be in full bloom. I would love to be here for the event, but it is impossible to predict the exact time of bloom. 

January 31st



January 30th

Cactus wren


January 28th

Canyon Lake

canyon lake az.jpg 

Yes, they do fish on this lake. 

January 24th

Frank Lloyd Wright studio


Lance and I visited Frank Lloyd Wright's studio, Taliesin West, in north Scottsdale yesterday. We took the one-and-a-half hour tour, which was led by the woman pictured above. 

The tour was very interesting and worthwhile. Frank Lloyd Wright was a character, and the tour guide was as well. 

The studio is still active, used by students who pay $30,000 per year to live on the premises and study architecture.

In addition, about 10 of Wright's former assistants still live on the 500-acre property which once was in the middle of the desert, but which now is surrounded by development. Most of those assistants are now in their 90s. One is still making sculpture. They eat communally each day. 


Wright was in perpetual debt. He went through 90 red vehicles in his life, and over 20 Steinway pianos. He fathered six children by his first wife and then ditched the family for a mistress. After she bore two of their children, all three were killed when a servant burned the house down and killed seven occupants with an axe as they escaped. Wright was away at the time. 

When Wright sought a divorce from a subsequent wife, she went nuts and had him thrown in jail twice, experiences he claimed to enjoy. 

Wright charged his student assistants to work for him for the privilege of working with the master, and they did back-breaking labor. They hauled the rocks by hand which formed the building above. 

Quirks aside, the buildings are an experience. Wright loved the light that comes through canvas, so he had canvas panels installed rather than glass. Although he eventually installed glass, the canvas remains and the light is magical. He created a dinner theater in a carved-out cave with wonderful acoustics. 

Wright's philosophy of "compress and release" was everywhere on display: He liked to make entrances small and cramped so they propelled people into the main space, which would be wide open. Most of the entrances felt like you were crawling into something. He'd compress you, then release you. 

Wright was one of those fascinating geniuses who was full of charm to the outside world, but a pain to those under him or those related to him. 

When he was called into court once, he was asked on the stand to give his name and occupation. 

"I am Frank Lloyd Wright, the greatest architect in the world," he responded. 

When his wife later said he needed to stop referring to himself that way, he responded, "But dear, I was under oath!"



January 22nd

Chills from the Welsh

One of the great things about the British Isles is people aren't afraid to sing. The Welsh in particular are avid singers. They take pride in singing their national anthem well, particularly at rugby matches against teams from other nations. 

Those are indeed the players on the field singing their hearts out, not some choir. Can you imagine Adrian Peterson singing our national anthem with the same fervor? Or Joe Mauer? 

And then, after the national anthem, they often sing their favorite Welsh hymn, Bread of Heaven, known to Lutherans as "Guide Me O Thou Great Jehovah." What a version! It takes a while to get going, but then it builds. Poor Tom Jones, doesn't know the words. 

This is what you call singing lustily. Bread of Heaven often comes out again spontaneously after a victory or during the game after a goal--the entire crowd of 70,000 starts singing a hymn. What a novel idea!

At about 8 p.m. on weekends in certain British pubs, things start getting out of control and people start...singing. Loudly. Hymns. Stephen Foster songs. Whatever. When the pub closes at 11 p.m., they take it to the streets. 

We have no such rowdy singing tradition in this country, and it is a pity. 

UPDATE: The tradition of singing the Welsh national anthem before rugby matches started in 1905. The New Zealand All Blacks, then, as now, one of the world's greatest rugby teams, would perform their legendary haka, a Maori war chant. Any New Zealander worth their salt can at least to a passable version of the haka. 

Rather than stand and stare back without any response, the Welsh decided to sing their national song afterwards, led by the captain of the team. 

According to some, it was the first time in the history of any spectator sport that a national anthem was sung before an event. American baseball didn't play the Star Spangled Banner before a game until the World Series of 1918, which was thirteen years before it was adopted as our national anthem. 


January 21st

The Earl of Baltimore

Earl Weaver finally passed away this weekend after decades of chain smoking. Earl was the manager of the Baltimore Orioles during their glory years. Here is a tribute to Earl. And then, just to make sure you know Earl intimately, here is an adults-only, world famous rendition of Earl in an argument with Bill Haller, one of the best American League umpires. 

Despite the inanity of the argument, Earl Weaver was one of the most intelligent managers ever. He was way ahead of his time. 

Barry Goldwater, photographer

I was reminded this week that former Sen. Barry Goldwater was also a master photographer

Also, a nice article in the Casper, WY paper about friend Chuck Kimmerle's exhibit. Chuck moved to Wyoming because his partner Brenda got a good job there. We all wondered what would happen to his superb landscape photography, which up to that point was entirely attuned to the Great Plains. 

Chuck adjusted, and is thriving. 

What the article and most reviews of Chuck's work miss is the sense of humor I find in his work. Maybe I am perverse, but when I see virtuosity like Chuck's; when I see him turn a commonplace scene into something transcendant, I laugh out loud. It is the same laugh that comes when I hear Vladamir Horowitz take a commonplace piano piece and make it sizzle like a drop of water on a hot griddle. 

Armed with my camera, I headed north to Payson, AZ today. The scenery was beautiful, but I wasn't inspired to photograph. Payson is up on what they call "the rim." In other words, it is at 6,000 elevation. The saguaro are replaced by juniper and pine. The mountains are dusted with snow.

I found a Thai restaurant there that served a good lunch, then turned around and came back to Gold Canyon. Temperature? 76 degrees F. 

I do check on MN temperatures and I do know what you are going through. This is when I relish every moment in the desert.