Category Archives: 2018 Trip to Southwest USA

Autumn thoughts of old men (and a few others)


Buffalo Point is a special place for me.  At no time is it more special than autumn. It is always a sad time.  I know what is coming and I resist the march of time. Toward winter and toward death. In the back yard (which is really the front since it faces the lake)  which is where we spend most of our time, facing the lake, often on the deck, I looked around. I saw rotting trees. Is that bad? Is rot bad? No. Forests must rot. If the trees did not die we would soon be choked out. That would not work. Just like the planet would be overrun if we did not die. In this world, death is necessary? I don’t know about the next. That is why old men must move on and should not hang around too long.

I am like that old poplar. It no longer has leaves. I don’t have much hair left. Old is good.  Someone once said, “No wise man ever wants to be any younger than he is.” Obviously, he was not a wise man. The tree had a hole near the top. To me it looked like a woodpecker had drilled a hole in the rotten tree looking for bugs to eat.  The hole may be used by another bird as a nest next year. This old tree is still of use.  So are old men. Of little use not much more than that.  Not the same use they once had, but different. Still important. Old men need to impart what they have learned. What else is a long life for? In this day- and-age old men sometimes resort to blogging to try in their small way to give a flavour of what they have learned or think they have learned.


Albert Camus, one of my favourite writers and philosophers captured what I think about autumn– “Autumn is a second spring when every leaf is a flower.”


Delia Owens, who wrote Where the Crawdads Sing said “Autumn leaves don’t fall, they fly. They take their time and wander on this their only chance to soar.” I would say they don’t so much soar as meander.  Maybe that is because I no longer soar, if I ever did. But I sure can meander.

Jane Hirshfield, the author of The Heat of Autumn said, “The heat of autumn is different from the heat of summer. One ripens apples, the other turns them to cider.” That applies to me too. I find apples too acidic, perhaps because I have acid reflux problems.  Life is never simple for an old man, but an old man can enjoy simple pleasures, like an autumn stroll in the woods.

Elizabeth Barrett Browing once said, “Where waving woods and waters wild Do hymn an autumn sound.”  Imagine that. How can you hymn an autumn sound?  I wish I could do that.

George Eliot said, in autumn the still melancholy could make “life and nature harmonize.” I actually think that can be done at any time, but since autumn is my favorite season, why not reserve it for autumn.

The American poet e. e. cummings put his thoughts into a form that an old man can understand: “”A wind has blown the rain away and blown the sky away and all the leaves away, and the trees stand. I think, I too, have known autumn too long.” It is clear I too have known autumn. Sadly so.

One of my favourite writers, Wallace Stegner, who wrote one of the best Canadian books ever, Wolf Willow, also said it well, “”Another fall, another turned page…”  It was time to head out to our deck and turn another page of a good book.

Capitol Reef National Park


Capitol Reef National Park was the 4thof the “Big 5” National Parks that we have seen.  The Park is most important geological feature is a wrinkle in the earth’s crust that extends for nearly 100 miles from Thousand Lake Mountain to Lake Powell. It was created over a long period of time by 3 gradual but powerful forces: deposition, uplift, and erosion. The result is a stunning example of what geologists call a monocline, or one-sided fold in the crust of the earth in what are otherwise largely horizontal rock layers. This fold runs north and south through the Utah desert. Waterpocket foldwas form about 65 million years ago when the earth’s surface buckled upwards. This was around the time the dinosaurs went extinct.

The climate in the region changed fantastically over millions of years. During the past 280 million years ago this region changed from ocean to desert to swamp and river bed. During this time 10,000 feet of sedimentary rock consisting of limestone, sandstone, and shale was deposited.

That was followed by uplift between 50 and 70 million years ago when an ancient fault was reactivated during tectonic activity. This lifted the land to the west up by 7,000 feet higher than the land in the east. The land did not crack, rather the layers folded over the fault line. 20 million years ago it was uplifted again.

After that erosive forces shaped the landscape. Much of this sculpture work occurred between 1 and 6 million years ago. Moving water and gravity were the main erosive forces. Powerful rains, flash floods and awesome freeze/thaw cycles loosen and crack the rock after which much of it is washed away. Often this left behind stunning canyons, cliffs, domes, and natural bridges or arches made of rock.

The original European explorers thought it looked like an ocean reef and thought its white domes looked like the American capitol and hence gave it the name Capitol Reef.

People have lived here for long periods of time.  As a result the park contains Ancestral Puebloan petroglyphs and a preserved Mormon homestead.

Charles Dutton the famous geologist who first scientifically explored much of the American Southwest in the 1880s described it like this, “…the light seems to flow or shine out of the rock rather than to be reflected from it.”

Slow Food at the Handlebar Pub and Bar.



Maybe the ambience is a little less than stellar, but the Handlebar Pub and Grille is still a great hamburger joint. Sometimes the music is excellent too.


We enjoyed a very convivial  dinner here with friends Don and Marlene Hoeppner. The restaurant is popular so we had to wait about half an hour to get inside. In the meantime we sampled their beer and enjoyed the sunset in the background. Remember I am an inspector of sunsets. The Handlebar is  our favorite restaurant in the Phoenix/Mesa area. My friend Dave Driedger says they make the best burgers in the world. No doubt that is an exaggeration, but I think they are pretty good. Interestingly, for a burger joint, the Handlebar does not offer fries Sometines the music is pretty good too. . Slowfood  with a convivial evening with friends makes for some very good times.


Life and Death on South Mountain

I went for a hike with my sister Barb and her husband Harv. It was wonderful. We all hike at sort of the same speed. Hiking in the mountains is one of the best things about the Sonoran Desert. Yet sometimes it makes you think. This was one of those days.

We drove up the South Mountain to get to the top of it. The valley looked magnificent. Except for one problem: It was not a minor problem. It was smog. We started with a couple of wonderful overlooks, but the sight of smog in Phoenix disturbed me. Of course this was not the first time I have seen it, but it sure is disturbing from on top of this mountain in the city. What are we doing to this  wonderful valley? When you think about it you realize it is disgusting.

Not a pretty picture

Some people seem reluctant to admit that there is smog in Arizona. To me it was obvious. Almost every time we drive from San Tan Valley to Mesa or Phoenix we can see haze in the distance. This is not fog. Phoenix does not often have fog. But it often has smog.

According to WebMD, “The greater Phoenix area  is the 5th worst for smog in the United States!

It is true that fewer people in the United States are breathing smoggy air, thanks to clean air laws. At least for now. No doubt Donald Trump will soon get around to dismantling these laws just as he has so many other regulations that he claims are bad for business. They are bad for bad business; they are not bad for good business.

Smog or ground-level ozone, still poses a health threat. About one-third of Americans live in areas with unhealthy air. Air pollution can make it hard to breathe and increases one’s chances of having lung cancer, asthma, heart attack, strokes, and other nasty diseases. Yet what is the American Congress doing about it? Here is what The Guardian said about it, 

More than half of the US population lives amid potentially dangerous air pollution, with national efforts to improve air quality at risk of being reversed, a new report has warned.

A total of 166 million Americans live in areas that have unhealthy levels of either ozone or particle pollution, according to the American Lung Association, raising their risk of lung cancer, asthma attacks, heart disease, reproductive problems and other ailments.

The association’s 17th annual “state of the air” report found that there has been a gradual improvement in air quality in recent years but warned progress has been too slow and could even be reversed by efforts in Congress to water down the Clean Air Act.[1]


I don’t know about you, but this does not sound very pleasant to me. I don’t want Donald Trump and his cronies to get rid of these “job-destroying regulations” as he keeps calling them. I think they are vital.

More recent studies do not paint a rosier picture either. As The Huffington Post reported recently,

Air pollution isn’t among the causes of death that medical examiners list on death certificates, but the health conditions linked to air pollution exposure, such as lung cancer and emphysema, are often fatal. Air pollution was responsible for 6.1 million deaths and accounted for nearly 12 percent of the global toll in 2016, the last year for which data was available, according the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation.[2]


As Philip Landrigan of the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai advised, “Air pollution is one of the great killers of our age.”[3]  Many have pointed out before me that the right to breathe is pretty darn fundamental. It is right up there with the right to clean water and fertile soil and bio-diverse ecosystems. We can’t live long without clean air. Yet we treat the world as a garbage dump.

I think George Monbiot puts his finger on the problem–Our lives of endless consumption. As he said, “Our consumption is trashing a natural world infinitely more fascinating and intricate than the stuff we produce.[4]

         Monbiot also asked a very pertinent question:

This is a moment at which anyone with the capacity for reflection should stop and wonder what we are doing. If the news that in the past 40 years the world has lost over 50% of its vertebrate wildlife (mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians and fish) fails to tell us that there is something wrong with the way we live, it’s hard to imagine what could. Who believes that a social and economic system which has this effect is a healthy one? Who, contemplating this loss, could call it progress? [5]

This is my opinion:  Our modern industrial system (capitalism and its imitators) has clearly demonstrated that it is anti-life. It has been great at producing stuff, but this stuff is killing life on the planet. When will it be our turn to be killed? Who is next?

I do not for one minute deny that each of us is responsible. We have to learn to curtail our consumption. We must do better. We cannot continue to facilitate the destruction of life on the planet?

Yet at the same time, we must remember that corporate capitalists are good–very good–at manufacturing desires in us. They spend a lot of money buying advertising, spin, and propaganda to convince us that we need their products. And by and large that money is well spent. It works.

Standing on South Mountain I thought about these things. I didn’t do anything about them, but I did think about them. Is that enough?

[1] Oliver Millman, The Guardian, April 20, 2016

[2] Erin Schummaker, ‘Air Pollution is Killing Millions Around the globe each year,” The Huffington Post, January 23, 2018

[3] Erin Schummaker, ‘Air Pollution is Killing Millions Around the globe each year,” The Huffington Post, January 23, 2018

[4] George Monbiot, “Its time to shout stop on this war on the living world,” The Guardian, (October 1, 2014)

[5] George Monbiot, “Its time to shout stop on this war on the living world,” The Guardian, (October 1, 2014)