While we were in Arizona, we also learned about threats of political violence on the right. Solomon Peña, who lost his 2022 run as a Republican for state House District 14 in New Mexico, was arrested by Albuquerque police and was accused of paying and conspiring with four men to shoot people at the homes of two state legislators and two county commissioners in December and January. Even though he lost the election in a landslide, echoing the words of his spiritual leader, he claimed the race was rigged. He also calls himself the “MAGA King.” Fortunately, when he attended on site with his not so trusty AR-15 jammed and he could “only” use a Glock, or more damage might have been done.
As CNN reported,
“The stewing of doubt about election veracity, principally among Republicans and usually without proof, has exploded nationwide since then-President Donald Trump lost his reelection bid and began propagating falsehoods that the 2020 presidential election was stolen. The claims have stoked anger – and unapologetic threats of violence – against public officials down to the local level.”
Maggie Toulouse Oliver, Secretary of State for New Mexico understood what happened and put it this way: “This is how violent political rhetoric spills over into violent political action.” Peña had posted on social media that Oliver should be “hung in the town square.”
Such rhetoric is deeply troubling but increasingly American Republicans do not see it that way. Increasingly they see acts like this as justified attempts to overturn a Democratic Party coup.
It is clear that right-wing violence is on the rise in this country. It is certainly not dying out.
I was hoping for a sunset. I am an inspector of sunsets much like Henry David Thoreau was an unofficial inspector of snow storms around Walden Pond. He wanted to explore well the area around him in Concord New Hampshire and I want to explore well the land around me in. San Tan Valley Arizona. The sunset was mostly a dud. It is impossible to predict when a great sunset will be produced by Mother Nature. The one essential, besides the sun, is clouds. But those clouds have to be just the right amount—not too much and not to sparse—and they must be like that at the right time. You need a Goldilocks moment. And, of course, clouds move and shift in shape. To finding a classic sunset is more luck than brains. Or perhaps someone with a lot more brains than I can be better at it than I am.
I wanted to photograph the sunset of course, but the most important part was the experience. If you are tired of sunsets, you are tired of life. John D. MacDonald that great writer of pulp fiction, now deceased, once said, that if sunsets occurred only once a year, we would be forced to declare a national holiday on that day.
This year I had a second reason to look for sunsets. I thought sunsets were a symbol of one of the things I wanted to learn about on this trip. I wanted to learn about western civilization, particularly in America and Canada, in decline. Are we in the sunset years of that civilization? Sometimes it seems that way. In fact, to me it seems that way more often than it used to. In fact, on this trip I found some shocking news about exactly that. I intend to blog about that. It amazed me how prescient my theme was.
I did capture a couple of images that pleased me. They showed the clouds reflecting the pink light. Clouds reflecting the colour of the sun obscured by cloud in part but not completely, was the image I was after. I am a sucker for the blaze of colours in a sunset. And no two sunsets are the same.
Sometimes the light in the eastern sky is more interesting than the western sky. Sometimes the light is reflected back to the west where the sun is dropping. Today was like that. Again, sometimes the best sunset shows only the after glow in the eastern sky. Look around, you might be surprised. I was this sunset that I nearly passed by.
Finally, a true inspector of sunsets, like me, must always remember not to give up on sunsets too soon. Persistence is essential in the pursuit of sunsets. The best sunset is revealed after the sun is gone. You might be surprised. I was surprised today!
I have started this trip with my wife Christiane at the end of 2022. We intend to spend about 3 & ½ months in Arizona and then tour a part of the Southeast United States. I intend to report in this blog on what I have “observed along the way”, to use a phrase my cousin Roy Vogt used to call his regular column in the Mennonite Mirror about 50 years ago. I loved that column; I loved that title.
I will comment on many things from many places depending on where my meanderings lead me.
I am calling this the “grand finale” tour. By that I don’t mean that this will be our last trip. I sure hope it won’t be our last trip. Such words are too ominous. Yet, in many ways I feel that the world, along with me is at a sharp precipice. Some pundits have even spoken about being at the edge of the apocalypse. Is that possible?
Often the world seems under assault. I have often called this the Age of Anger. Or the Age of Resentment. Both of those emotions seem to fill the air. Who is assaulting this world? Not foreign invaders. At least not in Canada or the US, the two countries most relevant to this journey. In Ukraine we know that this year Putin led a Russian invasion of that much smaller country. They certainly felt the sting of assault.
But we in North America don’t have reasonable fears of invasion. Interplanetary invaders also don’t seem nearby. So who should we fear? As cartoon character Pogo said, “I have seen the enemy and he is us!” That is indeed the preeminent attacker we must most fear. We are the enemy.
I remember the first time I tried to watch YouTube a few years ago. I wondered what or who I should try to watch. For some entirely inexplicable reason I picked on Professor John Moriarty who taught English literature in 1967 at the University of Manitoba during my first year of university. He was not even one of my professors. A friend of mine was his student. I was taught by another fine professor, namely, Professor Jack Woodbury. Both Professors were brilliant and we were impressionable.
I believe John Moriarty was a first year professor who quickly gained a substantial following of young students, particularly young women. He was a campus star, but as I recall, he only stayed 1 year or so at the University of Manitoba and left to go back to Europe. What a pity.
About 50 years later I decided to search for his name on the YouTube platform and was stunned to find an old lecture of his someone had been recorded and placed on the Internet. It was an astonishing find. By then he had gone back to the United Kingdom and was teaching in either Ireland or England. I was not sure which country. There he was in front of me, through the magic of modern technology, and bringing me back to the days of my youth. They were grand times challenged by grand ideas. Those were the ideas of the 60s that will forever be with those of us who lived through those times. Many of those ideas had to be modified and rejected, but an important element has stuck with us. Thank goodness for that.
And there he was with the same long hair that was an essential part of the costume for us sixties radicals. And what was Professor Moriarty talking about? He was talking about us. Us the enemy. Just like Pogo! He called humans “a virus on the earth” like the aids virus. Moriarty was speaking before Covid 19 or he might have likened us to that virus. Instead he likened our species to the Aids virus that attacked the world’s immune system. He said we humans are like a toxin on the earth. We are ravishing it. And once again, I found it difficult to disagree with the Professor. We, led by a vicious cartel of capitalists, are relentlessly attacking nature.
There is a second and closely related theme I want to explore in a meandering fashion of course, on this Grand Finale Tour. That is the apparent serious decline of western civilization evidence for which seems ubiquitous.
By now we know clearly and irrevocably, that civilization requires a reasonably stable environment. And we don’t have that anymore. If nature as we know is destroyed, we could create a new civilization, but it would take millennia. These two ideas are therefore inextricably entwined.
To avoid civilizational collapse, we desperately need a new attitude to nature. We need to turn away from our destructive ways. We must cease to be the toxins of the earth, the careless predators of the earth, we must become the champions of a new way to work with nature, rather than against it.
At the same time, we must turn away from the current path on which our civilization seems to be on an inexorable decline. Those two paths are closely intertwined. By destroying nature we are destroying ourselves. Together, these two trends are leading us to our doom. On this trip (and beyond) I want to explore those two important themes. I have always thought an important part of travel is to learn new things. We travel to learn and become different people. Not completely different, but significantly different. That is what knowledge does. It changes us.
By the expression ” the Grand Finale Tour” I don’t mean mean that in the sense of it being the end of life or nature or civilization. But I must admit such thoughts have entered my mind. Particularly of late.
I hope we have many more trips to come. But it is the finale of my legal career. I gave notice to the law firm SNJ where I worked for nearly 50 years that I would retire and withdraw from the practice of law on December 31, 2022. I did that and now I can no longer practice law. Since then I am no longer a lawyer. I have simply devoted enough time to that career. It is time to move on.
Christiane and I have noticed that we are not getting better and stronger each year. Funny how that happens. Each year seem to be a bit of a step back. We are no longer the healthy vigorous people we once were and will never be again. That is life (and death). We must face that. We hope to have many adventures before we pack up our tents for good and hope to enjoy the journey until then, but the future is of course uncertain. We want to make the best of it. This journey is the start of that finale. But as I do that, I also want to take a hard look at this world in which we find ourselves. Can it be on the edge of doom? Why? What can we do about it? Where do we stand?
I have chosen the sunset as the symbol of the trip. I am in my sunset years. Yet there is some light left. It may be fading, but it is not gone. Not yet.
When the sunset begins I call it a whisper sunset. You just see a pale blush of sun if you look to the east or at least away from the sun.
At Buffalo Point for the New Year’s weekend I found employment of a sort. Henry David Thoreau, one of my heroes, claimed to be an inspector of snow storms when he lived at Walden Pond. That never appealed to me much but being an inspector of sunsets that was more like it.
So, I took up a self-appointed position as the inspector of sunsets. The sunset today was pretty good too. I particularly like sunsets in winter when trees are reduced to their essential elements.
One thing I learned many years ago I think it was from Jim Peters or Dennis Fast at a photography workshop was that the best sunset photos don’t have the sun in them. The sun usually turns into a yellow blob in photos. Best, usually, to keep it out of sight but look at its magnificent handywork.
I learned a valuable lesson this evening. Sometimes you have to look for beauty where you least expect it. I looked at the sunset and was disappointed it. It was a dud. But the eastern sky was a pastel rose/purple gem. I thought it was a gentle gem. It was almost too subtle for me. It was well worth photographing. This reminded me of a line from another Bruce Cockburn song: “Spirits open to the thrust of grace.” You had to be open for the beauty or you would miss it.
One late afternoon, after a swim I went for a walk in San Tan Mountain Park–together with Usery Park–one of my favorites. It felt great to be back. And it ended with a real happy ending–not the kind that some masseuses provide. The happy ending was a near divine sunset.
It started out as sunsets often do, with a whimper not a bang. Yet I have learned through my years of sunset inspecting, not to give up too soon. Henry David Thoreau called himself an inspector of snow storms; I call myself an inspector of sunsets. This was dandy.
A passerby who saw me setting up my tripod, hollered out, “you’re going to have great pictures.” I was not sure she was right. Like J. Paul Getty said about money, who wanted “more” I wanted more too. I had hope, not confidence.
It started out dull and gray, but I noticed it had some cracks. I knew from past sunset experience that small cracks could allow great beauty to emerge. And it did. Like Leonard Cohen said, “There is a crack in everything and that’s how the light gets in.” That applied perfectly to this stunning sunset.
After the sun dropped behind the mountain, and then a soft yet powerful pink color emerged in the sky above where the sun had been, turning to crimson. It was a perfect pink smudge right behind a Saguaro cactus creating a lovely silhouette. So often the best sunsets occur after the sun has dropped out of view. Briefly, I was in paradise.