Category Archives: 2018 Trip to Southwest USA

Original Sin



According to Professor John Moriarty, my guide on this particular meander, things went wrong right at very  beginning with the first chapter of Genesis. In chapter 1 verses 26 and 28 where God is saying “let us make man in our image and likeness where God gives man a divine mandate to rule over the earth, to subdue it, and have dominion over it.”

It followed directly from that the world was created by God for “man’s use and benefit.” Moriarty compared this to saying the earth, which is a jewel hanging in space, is more like a sink or a toilet bowl—i.e. for the use and benefit of humans.

 I would characterize this as the original sin. Right from the start, Moriarty says, “our attitude to the earth was all wrong.”

 In Job, God withdraws the commands to rule the earth. There in Job he says man cannot and will not haver dominion over the behemoth. Jesus was “Grand Canyon deep in the world’s karma,” according to Moriarty. So it is not a bad thing that many are in religious collision with his holy book. This is as it should be.

Moriarty asks if one can be “not rebelliously but religiously, in collision with the Holy Book?” Is that even possible? He says Man must resist that command. Just as if a man was commanded to have dominion over his wife, and the wife must refuse, so many must refuse the command to rule the earth. If God said to man rule over that dog, the dog could not manifest his nature to man. So too with the world.

As a result, Moriarty rejects this early commandment of God. That is a bold move. Instead, Moriarty seeks to walk beautifully over the earth. That is Professor Moriarty’s religious quest.


Decline of Ancient Ancestral People of the Sonoran Desert


At Casa Grande Arizona, a steel and concrete canopy was built in 1932 to protect what remained of the Great House from the elements.

As I mentioned earlier  the great puzzle is why were these magnificent structures and elaborate towns abandoned in favor of smaller communities after about 1450 C.E.

Some have speculated that some catastrophe caused the people to leave. There is evidence that the area experienced significant floods between 1300 and 1450.  Those were followed by intense periods of drought. Severe climate change in other words.

Archeologists use multiple kinds of evidence to answer such questions, or at least shed some light on the questions posed. As a result, they have been studying salt discharge on the Salt and Gila rivers, as well as the increasing soil salinity, diseases, and evidence of malnutrition. It is likely that environmental conditions changed and the Ancestral people of the Sonoran Desert (formerly Hohokam people) did what all smart people do, they adapted to changed conditions. That is how people survive. That is a lesson we moderns are beginning to experience. How will we adapt is not so certain.

The evidence does show that the extreme flooding deepened the Gila River Channel making it more difficult for canals to carry water to fields where water levels were low. Part of the canal system was abandoned while other parts were extended miles upstream to maintain proper water flows. Around 1350 C.E., the time of the Great House, a combination of factors may have triggered a breakdown of Hohokam society and undermined their leadership.

It is probable that as a result of all of these factors, the survivors of the floods and droughts abandoned large sites like Casa Grande in favor of smaller settlements along the Gila River. Today’s O’odham people believe that they are the descendants of the Hohokam people. As a result, Hohokam society never disappeared it just adapted and changed to a lifestyle that was better suited to the changed conditions. This change was likely to one more similar to their ancestors. They changed to a simpler life. Perhaps that is what we will be compelled to do.

There is a lot to be said for a simpler life.

Smothery Civilization


Mark Twain in the novel The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn does not endorse what Huck calls “sivilization.” Huck cannot stand “sivilization” because it smothers the life out of him. It causes him at the beginning of the novel and again at the end to “light out for the territories.”


At the beginning of the novel he says:

“The Widow Douglas she took me for her son, and allowed she would sivilize me: but it was rough living in the house all the time, considering how dismal regular, and decent the widow was in all her ways; and so when I couldn’t stand it no longer I lit out. I got into my old rags and my sugar hogshead again, and was free and satisfied. “


New clothes confine him too much too. He can’t stand them either .  As Huck said, about the widow: “She put me in them new clothes again and I couldn’t do nothing but sweat, and sweat, and felt all cramped up.” Later Huck said, “I didn’t want to go back to the widow’s anymore and be so cramped up and civilized as they called it.”


When Tom tells Huck that is how everybody lives Huck defiantly says, “I ain’t everybody and I can’t STAND it.” Then he philosophizes like a true rebel: “being rich ain’t what it’s cracked up to be. It’s just worry and worry and sweat and sweat, and a-wishing you was dead all the time.” He doesn’t to be rich and live in those smothery houses. Tom would rather live on a raft where life was “free and easy.”


One of the themes of the novel The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is the fact that Huck and Jim are both on a voyage of discovery searching for freedom. Jim’s search is more obvious. He is enslaved and separated from his family and desperately wants to get to them. Eventually, after much hesitation and doubt, each of them makes a burst for freedom.


Too many Americans, according to Huck, have traded their freedom for respectability, and this is what he does not want to do. He doesn’t want to conform. He sees that as smothering death.  For Huck life of respectability smothers him so much that he “was a wishing you was dead all the time.”


That is why both of them loved the raft and were fearful of houses and civilization.  As Huck said,

“We said there warn’t no home like a raft, after all. Other places do seem so cramped up and smothery, but a raft don’t. You feel mighty free and easy and comfortable on a raft.”


Huck Finn needs freedom like the rest of us need air. He can’t breathe without freedom.


At the end of the novel, after Jim is knows he was freed by Miss Watson in her will, that it was time for Huck to get away from ‘sivilization.’  As he said,

But I reckon I got to light out for the territory ahead of the rest, because Aunt Sally she going to adopt me and sivilize me, and I can’t stand it. I been there before.


That is what the book is all about—taking a burst for freedom before one gets sivilized, before one is tamed. That is what Tom Sawyer was unable to do. Only Huck could do it. Americans constantly claim to be free when they seem tied slavishly to conventions that smother them. They need a better declaration of independence.


As Azar Nafisi said, “We must make a new declaration of independence, a spiritual rather than a political one this time.”



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)