Saturday, September 28, 2013

Heathcare Debacle & Proposed Solutions

For all the violent rhetoric about the "socializing" of the US healthcare system, and the handwringing over the advent of Obamacare (which will probably just add more confusion and waste to the mix, though yours truly--a conservative Republican!--will definitely be signing up for it, because I simply cannot afford the cost of my $5000-deductible insurance, from either the investment or the payout end), I haven't heard any of the idiots here in either party or any branch of the government (which is threatened with shutdown) mention the essential problem with our system: it isn't capitalist.

A truly free-market system competes based on price transparency.  In the American system, neither the primary-care providers (the physicians, nurses, medical techs and so forth) nor the recipients (patients and their families) know what a particular procedure costs, precisely because even when done by the same person at the same facility, the amount varies based on what the billing office thinks can be squeezed from the paying party, and a host of other hidden factors.  The costs are always a surprise (and shock) to the consumer, and not known until weeks or even months after the care is delivered.  There are two-and-a-half healthcare areas in which Americans actually have cost information ahead of time, and can make choices of provider based on that information: eyes, teeth and ears.  For glasses and contacts, you can decide whether to go to a private practice which carries designer frames, or to a chain store offering buy-one-get-one-free options at various price points.  Likewise, it is possible (at least in urban areas) to find out how much a dental cleaning or filling costs before undergoing the procedure.  Auditory treatment (fitting with hearing aids) is a little more mysterious--I think some places let you know how many hundreds or thousands will be required for these tiny plastic devices, and others must wait until negotiation with the given insurance company.  Obviously, these fields of medicine usually involve just routine care, and except for the occasional broken tooth, eye injury or punctured eardrum, the urgent necessity of of treatment does not usually override what can be a economically reasonable cost-benefit comparison.

But even quickly-needed (if not acutely urgent) tests are frequently delayed in our current system--we don't have to wait for "socialized" medicine for this scenario, if my case is any example. Despite being in considerable, ongoing discomfort from the morning my three herniated disks manifested themselves (because two were pressing on my spinal cord!), between the referral I received for an MRI and the moment the local hospital was able to schedule me in was almost two weeks!  And then, my insurance was billed upwards of $6000 (and I was ultimately forced to pay more than $4800 out of pocket) for an hour's worth of scanning...which did not include the technician fee, billed separately). Had I known the cost, and had access to other scanning centers, I would surely have been able to get the MRI more quickly and less expensively--the machines are costly, but at the rate I was billed, in one calendar year the devices earn back their value a minimum of twelve times over.

Unless one is involved in an accident or borne down by a nasty virus--something to which children and the elderly (the latter frequently being the most ignored and neglected members of our society)--glasnost ought to be required in the US health system so that consumers can make informed decisions about what treatments they receive and from whom.  If Congress could legitimately legislate the requirement of caloric, vitamin and mineral content and Recommended Daily Allowances on all food in grocery stores, could not it mandate that procedural costs also be provided to the consumer?

The (unfortunately, frequently fatal) flaw in this method's being applied wholesale should be painfully clear to all of us--that even with this necessary clarification of cost at the outset, there are treatments that cannot be ethically denied or refused because of inability to pay.  When my niece had a blood clot in her brain four years ago, she needed many expensive tests and several surgeries to deal with the issue. Her hospital stay filled three nerve-wracking weeks (the good care she received was a contributing factor in my sister's decision to become a nurse)--she would have died had she not been treated as extensively, as an in-patient (she still had to put up with 6 subsequent months of twice-daily blood-thinner shots, which she bore bravely).  So, there has to be a means by which crisis care is assured, and payment for it is insured, so that medical centers do not make the economically rational decision to cease offering these vital, but costly procedures.  I am not entirely unconvinced that this cannot be dealt with in the main by private insurance companies, but there must needs be a public option for those who are incapable of purchasing private insurance (unless of course the Obamacare compromise of forcing private insurers to offer low-cost comprehensive cooperative plans proves workable, which I frankly doubt).  Incidentally, the only reason that Rita's treatment did not bankrupt her immediate family and impoverish our extended one was that she was, due to her age and developmental disability, on a government plan which subsidized her care. 

I confess that my position on the United States' healthcare system and our government's role in managing it has undergone a radical metamorphosis as I have gotten older and become better informed.  I still do not think that Britain or Canada has all the answers, that they offer ideal models for us to emulate.  I have read of and met with people who pointed out essential flaws in them, who experienced in them less than what your average middle-class American demands in terms of quality care.  Furthermore, I believe that most of us are fairly idiotic, and even with the great deal of information at our fingertips, we continue to make stupid decisions about our consumption of junk food and abuse of recreational chemicals (legal or not) which directly affect our health.  There is only so much hand-holding the AdCouncil can do with its inspirational (and frequently downright condescending) posters and billboards.  And how much should the Feds or the states have to provide in terms of "essential" care before we are even more bankrupt than before?  From a cruel, real-politik perspective, how much less will survival of the fittest cost than subsidizing the sick, particularly those whose behaviors may have contributed to their bad condition?

There are two essential steps that need to be taken, other than the partisan Obamacare-funding brinksmanship: 1) Congress, in its little wisdom, should require financial transparency (I think most Americans would agree that overall, it's not the physicians who are making money hand over fist, it's the insurers and the administrators who are cutting the backroom deals which end up with patients like me getting charged $20,000 for a nine-hour daylight hospital stay with no special care), and bills that are legible even for a layperson like me--they did it with nutrition labels, they can do it here.  2) Conservatives (and liberals of a social-action bent) should start practicing the compassion they preach about caring for the poor in the realm of healthcare.  Contributing money is one important thing--contributing time and attention is another.  Simply watching out for one's neighbor and washing one's hands can cut down on all sorts of nasty accidents and illnesses.  Any solution in this world will be imperfect, but just these two steps--towards free markets and care for fellow men, will go a long way towards addressing the major flaws in our healthcare structure and our frequently apathetic selves.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Y'all Haul, Not Just “U”; Russian Coverage

A blog commenter asked “what about Uhaul?” in response to my recent complaints about moving services and the difficulties of finding an affordable one.  The problem there is twofold. First, I consulted their website, and though the base rate for the rental of a truck is very low, the per-mile fee (which does not include fuel, another hefty charge) is such that for the slightly more than 600 miles between Alexandria, VA, and Evans, GA, the cost for the vehicle itself would run around $1000.  Second, there would be no one available to drive my car down, or to drive the truck if I were to take my car.  I do not have the ability to drive a truck with the car trailered behind [moreover, if I did have the skill to drive that configuration, according to my research I would probably then be liable for interstate taxes levied at the weigh stations between here and my home state, because the tonnage would exceed the “private vehicle” limit (additional cost!)].  Uhaul and its ilk are really geared to appeal to couples—you need two people for a move involving anything more than van-size, where there’s a car involved.  And there are hidden extra fees!—I remember when Aaron and Leah gave me some bookcases years ago, I rented a “$25” in-town van to move them.  It ended up costing about $75 with the taxes and whatnot for just four hours’ use.  If an interstate move’s going to set me back $1200, I want someone else to be behind the wheel of the truck for the 10-hour trip south, if not hired help to load and unload on both ends!

It’s 3 AM and I’m pontificating about relocating.  Maybe I’ll be able to sleep at lower latitudes.
The Russians have arrived!  According to the stats on my blog dashboard, I’m now getting regular readers from the Russian Federation, which is cool.  Some of my old St. Petersburg posts from the summer of 2009 have attracted attention, as well as last week’s Strike story.  I should have remarked in the latter that—as a military friend of mine confirmed—as there is a lot of electronic surveillance gear in the embassy near the public area where I was entertained, I should not have just assumed that the folks there would be concerned about incoming snooping devices (when allowing mobile phones inside) so much as they may well have been looking at the influx as an opportunity for frequency-tapping.  Though anyone who listens in on my telephone conversations will learn more about the estate sale business than he or she ever really wanted to know, I am sure that on the odd chance that someone who’s connected to someone important was so na├»ve as to bring in his or her iPhone or Blackberry, that would indeed have provided useful surveillance data.  I admit, the first thing I had thought when I saw the large sculptured wood replica of the Faberge egg outside the theater was, “That would be an excellent hiding place for listening devices!” Back in the 1950s or 1960s, a “group of Soviet schoolchildren” presented a large and lovely carving of our national bird to their local American ambassador, who proudly hung it behind his office desk, thereby permitting the electronic bugs imbedded therein to eavesdrop on classified conversations.  Of course, I imagine that were the egg thus unsurprisingly filled, most of the material it recorded would be along the lines of my comments: “Oh, how cute. Do you mind taking a picture of me with it?”  Which isn’t exactly national security-level stuff.  But there must be a few gems of intelligence dropped for all the thousands of “Look at the pretties!” inanities that ordinary people like me produce by the ton.

3:30 AM. Gack. I have 28 boxfuls of leftover Phi Alpha Theta-collected books to get from Georgetown tomorrow (to process for resale or take to the Arlington Library).  Several carloads' worth, provided I first unload my overstuffed little Honda (long may it run!).  And then I need to make more jewelry.  Maybe after the physical and creative labor, I’ll be able to get a decent night’s sleep--it's clearly not happening tonight.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Three Hours

...that's how much sleep I got last night. I was able to doze off around two, and woke up abruptly at five. I got up to have a banana sandwich for breakfast, in hope that a full stomach would permit me to fall unconscious for another couple of hours, before I had to get ready for work. It didn't.

Really short workday, because my boss and coworker had afternoon plans. Drove directly to Anita's to make jewelry. Struggled with findings for three hours and only ended up with one necklace and two pairs of earrings. Anita's husband worked from home in the office upstairs, and since quitting time he has been engrossed in some semi-computerized D&D-style role-playing card game with a remote friend, and the one-sided dialogue has been hilarious--all about dropping mountains, "stacking the heroics", and "gods willing" this or that magical creature.  Being really tired has few upsides, but seeing slapstick and/or farce everywhere is one.

Having a rotten time finding an affordable mover available on Saturdays, when I might potentially have friends available to help schlep.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Wretchedly Tired, 3rd Night.

Insomnia is awful. 

You lie for hours in the dark, trying various ruses to lull yourself asleep, and nothing works.

You listen to your heart beating in the silence and wonder if it is supposed to sound like that?  (Which doesn't add to your sense of calm.) 

You get up numerous times to empty your bladder, get water, have a snack, wash your feet, check some random fact on the internet that you've been mulling over and over--all in an effort to trick your body into drifting into unconsciousness--and the hours inexorably, consciously pass.  You find yourself obsessively checking humor websites for cute pictures of fuzzy animals, but you are too tired to laugh.

You get more and more shaky--you feel too hot, your familiar bed doesn't welcome you, you move your pillows here and there at random.  You know you have to get up in just a little while, and you can't doze off. 

You finally take a rare dose of sleep meds, but that dosage that worked several months ago doesn't even cause you to yawn.  You think about doubling up, but your last lingering shred of good sense makes you afraid of accidentally overdoing it, and ending up in a permanent sleep (without the Hollywood starlet headlines but more of the unpleasantness for friends and loved ones).  And besides, you aren't suicidal, just sleep-deprived!  It's the middle of the night, and you know in your current condition you aren't safe to drive to the CVS to ask the pharmacist for something over the counter that won't permanently debilitate or addict you, but will knock you out.  And there's so much you need to do during daylight hours, which minute by minute are getting closer! 

My last several nights have been miserable due to insomnia, and during what should be wakeful time, I've either been desperately napping (what little sleep I get has not been high-quality) or wandering around like an amnesiac ghost, trying to accomplish a few of the things on my "to do" list, including making jewelry (talk about an absolute lack of novel ideas these days!), pricing moving services (the first option I found was $ hour! Two days of that would be more than my possessions are worth.), and chatting up friends in a hope of finding other job opportunities (but right now I'm not coherent enough to apply for any, even if I remembered what the names of the companies were--they're written down somewhere). 

My chest feels like I have a weight resting on it, but there are no cats to blame here, just the tension that comes from a third consecutive night of being unable to sleep.  I hate this! 

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Fulton County Chopper

My brother Nate had a great day yesterday--the fire-spitting, brass-knuckles embellished motorcycle he had just finished building won "Best Rat" in the EAV Roll Car Show in Atlanta.  "A rat bike, like a rat rod, is a super-chopped, low-budget, un-pretty motorcycle," he wrote us, knowing my mom and my sister and I wouldn't understand the term (though I am sure my bike-owning brother Bob did).  Nate is now officially an award-winning motorcycle builder.  Pictures:

Nice ride, eh? High handlebars and coordinating helmet.

He mounted the brass knuckles at the rear of the frame, over the tire.

Thursday, September 19, 2013


I HATE it when I've spent half an hour carefully composing a post and in the click of a key it all disappears, never to be recovered!!  Here goes again...

I went to the Russian Embassy for the first time this evening to watch Sergei Eisenstein's 1925 film Strike. The event was organized by the Initiative for Russian Culture at American University, and open to students and faculty (and a handful of those of us in limbo between the two poles) of the Washington area Consortium of universities (which includes University of Maryland-College Park, American, George Washington, George Mason and Georgetown). The official vice-chair of the Initiative is a former classmate of mine, who is now a professor at American.  He is Russian, and in the olden days he would have been an excellent spy, given his great gifts for sociability and the ease with which he rubs elbows with the powerful (he spent all of the pre-screening dinner/reception smiling and shaking hands from one group of guests to the next, speaking easy, fluent American English and equally comfortable and colloquial Russian).  These days, I doubt the world of espionage would ever satisfy his ambition--he's got the politician's gift of general likability, he's a good talker, and I would not be at all surprised if in ten years or so he were to be appointed to some influential position in the Russian government.  His connections are impressive on both sides of the pond--not only did he persuade the embassy to host this several hundred-person shindig, when the Boston Marathon bombers were identified as Chechens, it was to him that at least one major local Washington TV station went for "expert" commentary (despite the fact that his main familiarity is with 19th-century liberal movements in the Russian empire--he's already managed to turn his dissertation on the subject into a book, issued by a respectable press).  What can I say?  He's a golden child, marked for success.  His name typed into Google brings up more than 15,000 hits, and a selection of nice pictures of him in various professional poses in the "images" section!

Meanwhile, I despair of American leadership--I was briefly seated next to a U.S. congressman at a dessert table (I didn't speak to him, just noticed his official lapel pin on his blazer), and the man knew almost nothing about Russian history (he hadn't known, for instance, that the strike depicted in the film took place almost fifteen years before the Bolsheviks had taken power).

The film was really impressive--beautifully photographed, with stark and elegantly memorable images, and relentlessly paced--no chance for the audience to reflect on its revolutionary message until the devastating conclusion.  Eisenstein was the Soviet equivalent of D.W. Griffith (he of Birth of a Nation infamy), able to shape his audience's mind to whatever he chose, a masterful propagandist.  What struck me about Strike was how the mostly college aged American audience in the theater tonight reacted differently from how his original audience probably did.  One of the final scenes, where a tsarist gendarme drops a toddler off a balcony to its death, did not faze them.  But an earlier shot, where a woman kicks a kitten gnawing on a bone, brought an audible gasp from across the whole theater.  Earlier Soviet audiences might not have distinguished the two in terms of cinematic verisimilitude, but modern American audiences know that the baby-dropping was just clever camerawork on the part of the director, whereas the unfortunate feline was really abused.  Let's just say that Eisenstein would not have been able to get the ASPCA certification that "No animals were harmed in the making of this movie"--a cow is also slaughtered onscreen, and various bears are shown chained and made to perform.

I had a couple of nice conversations over a glass of rather bad red wine and a bowl of pretty good ice cream, and I also got a photo of me next to an odd piece of decorative art (yes, they allowed us to bring in our cell phones--visible electronic security was perfunctory at best, but they had a lot of security people (of various levels of goonishness) looking over the crowd, so in terms of HUMINT resources they were properly covered):

It's a three-foot-tall, wooden, rhinestone-embellished replica of this:
The 1898 "Lilies of the Valley" egg by Faberge.  The original is less than 10 inches tall, and made of pearls, gold, enamel and diamonds.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Small Charming Males (Of Two Species)

I spent the morning babysitting for two-year-old twin boys, the sons of my friend DesertRose.  They were surprisingly low-maintenance, thanks to Dora the Explorer and a ready supply of more concrete distractions. I kept picking them up and squeezing them--they are still at the giggling when squeezed stage, and they also like to be "curled" like sets of dumbbells at the gym (this technique was a great distraction when they occasionally decided to have meltdowns). 

DesertRose, who is expecting her third little son in February, offered me her 13-year-old Basement Cat (as LOLcats calls black cats) for adoption, as he is starved for adult attention and too nervous around the twins to come seek it out. He's a beautiful big Maine Coon, and having lived in her house for a month before I moved in with Susan for the first time, I know I'm not allergic to him.  I told her I'd consider it--he's completely healthy and she'd provide me with a carrier so as to get him safely down to Georgia.

Speaking of cuddly guys, it was so good to see little Theo again.  He was radiating cuteness this evening, and so I hauled out my camera and took a few photos. Can you understand why I might feel reluctant to leave DC?

The fierce wild baby, uncaged!

Who can resist that little face with those ears???

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Devils Head

It took almost an hour and a half to climb to the top of Devils Head.  I made it down the mountain in less than 20 minutes. Nothing like the threat of an imminent lightning strike to hurry you away from admiring the view from a several-thousand foot exposed rock to the lowland safety of a dry, rubber-tired automobile.

Devil’s Head (I have yet to find the history of the name, whether it has to do with a certain satanic shape, or is connected with the fact that lightning regularly reaches down to blast its surface) is less than 20 miles from my cousin’s house, but both the Forest Service website and my GPS agreed that there was no direct, easy road between the two.  Of course, I think that the GPS programmers must derive a sadistic pleasure from sending unwary travelers via some of the most obscure and treacherous routes available—through cornfields, down goat paths, up sheer rock faces....  Almost half of the way was unpaved, and after a week of rain, the little twisty mountain roads into the Pike National Forest were muddy and rutted—I kept a sharp eye out for edge sections where the dirt was entirely washed away as I crept around hairpin turns and down single-lane tracks in my increasingly filthy rental SUV. 
Again, I was grateful that the Avis lady had recommended that I upgrade from the sedan I had originally reserved.  Bumping over the potholes and up the steep and occasionally slippery grades would have been even harder going in a strictly urban vehicle.

When I started my hike, the sky was blue for the first time in days, and the aspen trunks shone white in the sunshine.  I wish that the leaves had been already turning the golden butter color for which they are famous, but they were still a nice summery green, intensified by the generous watering they’d enjoyed the previous week. 
There were huge, Humvee-sized lumps of granite everywhere, their rough pink and grey surfaces specked with pretty splotches of lime-colored lichen, and clumps of soft moss underneath the assortment of spruce and pine trees. 
The fresh air was delightful.  As I climbed higher, I could see across the lower ridge of mountains out onto the plains, and admire the irregular terrain through which I had so painstakingly navigated in the Buick Encore.  There were only a few other hikers out, and so I was able to crunch along in unhurried silence, stopping frequently to take photos of whatever little detail or awesome view had caught my eye.  Thanks to a couple of USDA-installed fenceposts at strategic points, I was able to get a couple of pictures of me in the landscape, and when I finally reached the catwalk around the fire-watch tower, a father with his two sons was willing to snap a couple of additional frames. 

Hermione, who is a rocket scientist (literally—she has a MS in aeronautical engineering from Stanford), says that science is the study of God—in the order and mystery of the universe, she sees his hand. Hiking in the woods and ascending to the crown of Devil’s Head impressed me similarly. The Forest Service sign at the bottom of the 100+ stairs noted that from the top, on clear days (of which this was an example), you could see 100 miles in all directions, and the beauty of it (not to mention the height) took my breath away.  I would have contentedly stayed up there for hours (there were no fires to spot because everything was so wet), but I could see (and hear) the dark bulk of a thunderstorm rolling in quickly from the northeast, and I deduced that getting fried by a bolt of electricity would not be the most pleasant way to end my Denver vacation.

The minute I was safely back inside my car, the rain began.  It lasted for most of the dirt road back, but almost at the moment I hit pavement, the sky ahead cleared, and when I pulled back into my cousins’ driveway, the sun was again dazzling.  So, I went down for an afternoon nap after I finished off the last of Hermione’s peanut butter-M&M cookies (“They have oatmeal in them—they’re good for you!”). I’d stayed up all Sunday night reading Allende’s Zorro cover to cover, so I was more than a little mentally fried, even if my ever-plumping physique had thankfully escaped being so.

My LDC and I resumed contact last week—he’s been traveling in West and Central Europe with one of his cousins, and internet access is occasional.  I really want to go visit my friend in Prague, but none of the three flights on the Denver trip were overbooked, so I didn’t have the opportunity to give up my seat in exchange for a voucher.  Short of winning a travel sweepstakes or something similar, I don’t see me getting overseas anytime soon--my current passport expires next year­­, and I want to get at least one more stamp in it before this version is retired!

Monday, September 16, 2013

Computer Issues

I don't believe for a second that the post "Wanderings in the Rain" has really garnered more than 600 views.  Someone's pet is probably sitting on the refresh button on their keyboard and thereby lousing up my stats. Cakewrecks this is not!

I've done nothing but sleep today. I managed to remain unconscious (or at least unresponsive) through THREE alarms and my cousins knocking on my door saying they were leaving for church.  I did fill out several online job applications, but at least one kept giving me repeated error messages, so I don't know whether the company actually received it.

I need to call a moving company tomorrow and price getting my stuff down to GA.  I may just rent the largest Uhaul or Ryder truck available and bribe friends with pizza and baklava to help me load it (Mums and an assortment of her kickboxing classmates can assist me with unloading on the other end). If I do this, I have to get it done before the end of the month, because the Discover 5% cash back on gas promotion ends then, and those big trucks get lousy gas mileage.  I'd really rather a company do everything for me, though. 

No word yet on whether the painting I consigned has been sold, and my eBay and Amazon listings are just gathering digital dust.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Alternate Route

I am really, really grateful that I didn't know I was carrying around a huge spider until it was dead, on the floor of the shower, being sluiced down the drain.  Its body alone was an inch long. Gack!

There's no reaching Rocky Mountain National Park this trip.  It's my cousins' favorite place in Colorado, but the road there has been washed away, and the park itself is closed.  So, I made alternate plans (Hermione and Charles decided to stay home).   I started to drive to Leadville, where I was told there is a pretty lake and silver mines, but a third of the way there it started to pour, and so I turned around and took US-6 for Golden. 

Great craggy scenery. I was behind this wood-sided jalopy for part of the way.

Clear Creek, alongside the road, was neither clear nor creek-like--I saw one rubber raft-load of foolhardy thrillseekers battling the foaming rapids.

I decided to drive up Lookout Mountain, as the skies over Denver were still blue.  I parked 3/4 of the way up, and hiked to the summit. A nice medium trail, beautiful views of the purple mountains' majesty on the west side, and of the neatly suburbed Mile High City on the other. Pink quartz rocks, moss, and wildflowers.  The only real problem with singleton hikes is that no one is available to take your picture against the wilderness backdrop.  I was able to prop my camera up on a rock and get one decent shot, then settled for a couple of close-up "selfies" with my cell phone, but they didn't get the scenery, just a really good record of my multiplying facial wrinkles.
This is not water, but pine sap.  Many of the trees are being fatally attacked by beetles.
My new hiking boots and the Camelback pack have been wonderful.
I love the mountains!  When I first stumbled on this view, a tiny bird was busily bathing itself in the little puddle of water in the rock, visible at the lower right, but it flew off before I could get my camera focused properly.

Visited Buffalo Bill's grave before driving back home--it's not particularly remarkable (this buffalo statue is by the pathway to it).  What was impressive was the rapid buildup of ominously dark clouds in the southeastern sky, which encouraged me to get off the mountain and back to civilization as quickly as possible.

My cousins will shortly be calling me to watch another episode of Sherlock. I've known they were nice, and of course they are family, but this trip has been a delightful indulgence in the company of kindred spirits. The first concrete evidence of "fellow nerddom"... discovering that I needn't have brought my Russian-English dictionary (just in case, you know, someone asks me to translate something while I'm on vacation), because Hermione had a copy of the exact same one:

Oh, and here's an example of the condition of my wardrobe these days...besides the monster rip in the right sleeve of today's shirt, there's a hole in the cuff of the left one.  I think it may be time to retire this particular piece...

Friday, September 13, 2013

Moist Mountains

The weather didn't start to clear until this afternoon.  Charles drove Hermione and me into the mountains to enjoy fresh air and the discovery of mushrooms (not to eat, but to photograph).  We saw at least one bridge that was washed away, and the mountain streams roared frothing along the roadsides, tearing through yards and leaping in impromptu cascades down rock faces next to the highway. 

Vista after the rain.

Moss-floored forest, like something out of a fairy tale.

Biggest 'shroom I've ever seen--the dollar is there for perspective.

Tweensy shrooms. Didn't get proper focus on this one, either!

The carnivorous (er, coniferous) forest reaches out its claws to grasp passersby.

Aspen leaf--the trees were only just beginning to turn gold.

This pretty much summarizes the state of Colorado right now. This was a narrow, clear brook before--now it is a raging monster, far over its banks and tearing away loose earth and gravel by the cubic meter.

Deluged In CO

I expect we are staying in today, since it rained all last night, and everything is sodden in this usually desert-like state.  Meanwhile, I must have won a sort of buzzword Bingo for search-terms, as my antepenultimate post has almost 200 hits already, a rapid record for a boutique blog like this one. Incidentally, several people have asked about the adjective in the blog's title--does it refer to the card game? No. I am not a card player. It is both obviously a play on the word "rumination" and, obscurely, a term from the early 19th century (derived from the feeling you get after drinking) meaning "odd, queer". I think that readers will agree this fits!

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Peaked & Washed Out

A Paramount film crew was battening down the hatches on a helicopter and an assortment of camera trucks when my little rental SUV crawled past them up Pike’s Peak.  I had hoped that the brief cloud-clearing I saw when I left the Money Museum (I went this afternoon for the second time) would enable me to enjoy the view from Colorado’s best-known “Fourteener” (14,000+ foot mountain), and so I drove out US-24 and reached the entrance at 4:45. I steered clear of the movie people both literally and figuratively—I’ve encountered such folks twice before, and both times they’ve been rude.  It took much longer than I’d expected to drive to the top—the “highway” there (a mostly rail-less secondary road) was almost nineteen miles long, with the steepest grades at the treeless top.  It was 32 Fahrenheit at the summit, and the grey clouds which obscured everything around the parking area spotted me and my windshield with freezing mist.  A kindly park ranger took my photo next to the “top of the mountain” sign, and then I climbed on some rocks to the very highest point and then quickly ran back to my car to start the long, careful decent.  The mountain fell away from the edges of the road at a 65 to 75 degree angle, and navigating down, first in the fog, and then in the pouring rain, was a jittery experience.  The little culvert between the road and the mountain ran with a trickle, then a stream, and finally with a rush of water as I got lower and lower, and soon I was four-wheeling through puddles with my hazard lights on.  I reached the bottom of the mountain at 7 PM to find US-24 East towards Colorado Springs closed due to the rising water, and I was forced to turn west, deeper into the Rockies, wondering how exactly I was going to get back to Denver. 

It took me more than two hours to navigate what my GPS informed me was the shortest alternate route, via a tiny, twisting, two-lane road through Pike National Forest, a deserted and partially charred mountainous area with no cell phone reception and the occasional ominous sign that warned “In Case of Flash Flood, Seek High Ground”.  The rain continued the whole trip, but I was somewhat reassured by the fact that every so often I would meet a car headed in the opposite direction, which indicated the road in front of me was passable.  I did repeatedly experience an unpleasant feeling of disorientation—I could not tell if I was going up a hill or down one half the time, like an airplane pilot without any visible horizon.  This was tremendously disconcerting, and I kept taking my foot off the gas in an effort to get my attitude.  The roads in Colorado don’t have reflective paint (apparently it is easily scraped off by snowplows), and wet pavement is always visually tricky, especially in the dark.  I was very grateful to get home safely.  And utterly tired.  Folks in Boulder and elsewhere are inundated, and schools are cancelled in some areas due to safety concerns.  My cousins and I had planned to go to Rocky Mountain National Park tomorrow, but as of this evening the road there was closed due to flooding, so we may just sleep in tomorrow and eat large portions of homemade baked goods. 

Ah, I can think of possibilities for use of this particular piece of currency!

The extent of the visibility on Pike's Peak this afternoon.
Why go out when you can be curled up warm and dry in bed?  The junior kitty wasn't budging from her comfortable nap spot.

Wanderings In The Rain

I thought it was still pouring rain outside, but the roaring that I hear coming through my open window is from the swollen creek several hundred feet from my cousin’s back fence.  Usually there is no noise at all from this trickling watercourse, which is entirely concealed by a meandering copse of trees, but hundreds of thousands of gallons of water are rushing down from the mountains, and it sounds like a healthy waterfall as it sweeps tons of mud and other debris downstream.  I expect there will be silt all over low-lying areas when the sun comes up in a few hours.  The sound is so loud it woke me up about 2 AM, and I finally went downstairs to have a homemade chocolate-chip muffin (as decadent as it sounds) and a glass of milk at 4 AM, and I am writing with the jet-engine “whoosh” running nonstop in the background—I expect I’ll need my earplugs to sleep again.  My cousins’ sprinkler system keeps springing to life, and there is an occasional chittering sound from the frame over the back patio, where I suspect the herd of raccoons is busy denuding the grapevines.

Yesterday, I drove to Colorado Springs, as planned, though it rained most of the way and was cloudy and drizzled periodically throughout the day.  My first stop was Cave of the Winds, which has been commercially developed since the nineteenth century.  I am a sucker for walkable caves (spelunking—crawling on my belly through claustrophobic spaces—has never appealed to me)—they remind me of my childhood Wind in the Willows-inspired fantasy of living in a burrow like Badger.  Allegedly, CoftheW contains some seven miles of passageways, but ordinary visitors only get to see a tiny (maybe ¼ mile, perhaps less) fraction of this.  The tour, while well-led (with entertaining patter), relies on most people not having a sense of direction underground, because it backtracks a great deal , with the guide pointing out different features while traversing the same passageways in the opposite direction.  It was overpriced ($18 for adults—the only available discount was for active military servicemembers) for its length, but still enjoyable.  The portion of the caves we went through have been heavily altered (the floors have been lowered by two to four feet, permanent lighting installed throughout, and several passageway ceilings have been covered with colored cement). I’m glad I went, but the little Florida Caverns in Marianna, FL, are better (the caves are more alive, with less obvious human alteration), and considerably cheaper.   

I had planned to spend the next several hours wandering through the Garden of the Gods, which is a city park (apparently pieces of it were also commercially developed back in the day, but it was willed to the municipality with the stipulation that it be free and open to the public), but it was so damp and the sky looked so ominous that after getting the obligatory photo at the huge balanced rock near the entrance, I turned around and drove into Manitou Springs, determined to taste the waters.  Manitou reminded me a lot of Zakopane, Poland.  Pleasant little wooded mountain village with small shops and cottages staggering up the sides of curving streets.  The stream through the middle was a brown torrent, and many of the lower-lying businesses had a berm of sandbags at their thresholds as a precaution.  I’d stopped at the visitor center to pick up a “complimentary tasting cup” (I’d expected something a little more grand than the wee pee-sample disposable I got, but it did fit handily in my purse), and I followed a map from spring to spring, all of which were naturally carbonated).  It was a pleasant stroll, which took me past a dulcimer shop with stained-glass doors, a penny arcade with hundreds of games and a display of curious old vending equipment, and the requisite clusters of tattooed and pierced wanderers wearing alternative clothes and hairstyles which mountain towns seem to attract in large numbers. 

After I visited an interesting handmade clothing shop where I managed to find three things that fit me (Anita would have loved it—it was all funky stuff in her favored artistic style), I drove to the Museum of the American Numismatic Society (AKA the Money Museum) in downtown Colorado Springs.  It was only an hour and a half before closing at that point, and I anxiously asked the nice lady at the front desk if that were enough time to see everything.  She told me that if I couldn’t, she’d give me a pass to come back for free another day—an offer I ended up accepting when I had only progressed to the second room by 5 PM.  The armed security guard seemed kind of hovery, and I wondered if I looked particularly suspicious, but after he’d twice pointed out ways of learning more about the collection, I deduced that he also acted as an informal guide to the small number of visitors.  Their special display was called “A House Divided: Money of the Civil War”, and was so extensively documented that a Martian could have walked off his ship into the exhibit and come away able to discuss North-South relations, key players, battles, and—yes—monetary matters at great length and exhaustive detail with the next bewildered human he encountered.  I skimmed over the cases, and it still took me almost an hour to work through it.  I did learn many things—for instance, I didn’t know how the North had financed their campaigns, how much the war cost ($2 million a day in its final stages!), or how the war had essentially altered the nature of American currency and collections thereof (somehow, I always thought that the IRS was established in the early years of the twentieth century, but the curators traced its beginnings to the 1860s, when internal federal taxes were levied on a huge range of luxury goods).  And, oddly, there was even a vignette about Civil War medical care, which contained several tidbits of information I hadn’t encountered before (about the establishment of the American Sanitary Commission)—you never know where you’ll find something new about subjects you are researching! 

There was a whole room filled with American gold coins, from the earliest examples to the early 1900s, and I was still staring at these when the security guard told me it was time to leave.  I hope to return later in the week, depending on the weather’s dampening my outdoor plans.

Holy cow, it’s 5:20 AM and raining again!  They are going to have flash floods all over the place.  Really bad erosion, too—all the fires of earlier this year removed vegetation which might have held the soil in place on the slopes.  My cousins have a copy of Allende’s Zorro, which I’ve been meaning to read, so if it continues to pour in the daytime, I may spend tomorrow (later today) curled up on the couch with one or both of the cats, reading.
I only know a handful of flower names, but they are beautiful!

Misty, moisty mountains.

Charred tree trunk from recent forest fires.

Stalactites cling tightly to the ceiling; you might trip over stalagmites. Caves are so cool! 

The obligatory picture in front of the large rock.

Fountain for Seven Minute Spring.

The wee sample cup.

Sadly, this sign was behind glass and the machine that had once accompanied it was nowhere to be seen.

Indian Spring.  Heavy calcium deposits were starting to form cave formations in the fountain!

Twin Spring--even the dogs could have a taste.

Stratton Spring.

Cheyenne Spring.

Argh, Psy is everywhere!!!