Month: July 2016

Scratched

This race has just started, on the turf infield, at the Del Mar Fairgrounds, Del Mar, California.

This race has just started, on the turf infield, at the Del Mar Fairgrounds, Del Mar, California.

Britt Layton was a rising star in the world of horse racing back in the 1950s. He even dabbled in show business. He played the part of the “Jockey”, in the 1950 movie “Riding High”, which starred Bing Crosby, Colleen Gray, and Charles Bickford. But enough with the name-dropping. This is about a different story. A story I call Beauty and the Beast.

The beauty is the spectacle of horse racing. The beast is its dark underbelly. But I love horse racing. No sport has more beauty than these muscular equines barreling down the racetrack at breakneck gallop. My adrenalin runs wild. My heart soars. I love seeing the wildness and freedom of tons of horseflesh vying and stretching for the finish line. It’s absolutely beautiful.

But with any beauty comes a beast.

Britt met the jaws of the beast on a racetrack in Canada. A multi-horse pileup sent him to the hospital. He never fully recovered and was forced to retire from racing. No one knows if he began drinking before this accident or after. But if before, it’s certain that he increased his alcoholic consumption post-career.

A turf finish. Turf races are often reserved for older horses, and horses with soreness from racing too frequently. The grass is easier on their hooves and legs.

A turf finish. Turf races are often reserved for older horses, and horses with soreness from racing too frequently. The grass is easier on their hooves and legs.

My mother met him in an alcohol rehabilitation center, where she worked. They fell in love in a whirlwind romance, and married two months later. I was eleven years old, and excited about this new stepfather. He was fun. And unlike my previous stepfather, he was not abusive.

He owned a riding stable, and introduced us to the world of equestrian life. And he stayed sober.

For three months.

One day he took us to the Del Mar racetrack, in Del Mar, California. That’s the place in the Bing Crosby song, where The Turf Meets the Surf. You could get in free in those days, and that’s all we could afford. We were railbirds (couldn’t afford seats). But the rails is where you get the best glimpse of the beauties, anyway, as they sail past.

Britt was animated as he taught us all about the thoroughbreds and the behind-the-scenes aspects of racing. That’s when I learned that horses were often doped.

“It’s illegal,” he said, “but they do it anyway.” And then he added with a heavy, sad voice, “You’d be shocked with what they get away with here.” Of course I was eager to know all the details, but he shut up after that. A little while later I smelled vodka on his breath. The beast had him again.

A scattered field is finishing this race. The guy on the tower at the right is finishing line judge.

A scattered field is finishing this race. The guy on the tower at the right is the finishing line judge.

Three months after the wedding, Britt returned to his former habits of a stumbling-down, sleep-in-the-gutter drunk. He lost the riding stable. We had to move into an old house way out on a dirt road, with no utilities. He and my mother fought. It was pathetic to see this erstwhile successful, fun man reduced to such a helpless slave of the bottle. My mother annulled the marriage before their first anniversary. She scratched him out of her life. A few years later he was scratched again, when he died a broken, drunken man, in his mid-40’s.

Finishes can be pretty exciting. Especially when the horse you bet on wins.

Finishes can be pretty exciting. Especially when the horse you bet on wins.

But he inspired a love for horses in my older sister. She could see the beauty, and she held onto it. In fact she made a career of working in the equine industry. Today she owns a large ranch, and specializes in training gaited trail horses. This is such a highly specialized niche that she has practically cornered the market on it in Southern California, and has become well-known and highly reputed in the local horse world.

She has a few friends in the horse racing business, who follow the racing circuit. This time of year you’ll find some of them working behind the scenes at Del Mar. In fact, last year around this time, one of them gave my sister a “backstage” tour, and she actually got to meet American Pharoah, the Triple Crown Winner. My sister says it was one of the most exciting days in her life.

I think this was a photo finish. I hope the horses remembered to smile.

I think this was a photo finish. I hope the horses remembered to smile.

A few days ago I treated her to a day at the races. We met at the Del Mar Fairgrounds. We watched the thoroughbred beauties roar past us like hurricanes, sometimes observing from the rail, and sometimes watching from the seats. And we recounted that palmy day when Britt took us to this very track when we were kids.

Then she got on her cell phone to call one of her racing friends. We were hoping for another backstage tour.

“He’s too busy,” she announced with sadness in her voice, as she set down the phone. “He says there have been two euthanizations, and he has to assist with the necropsies.”

“Wow! Two?” what’s going on, I asked incredulously.

“He said two is about what they average per day,” my sister glumly answered. “He said they often die of overdoses. Illegal drugs.”

The beast.

I mentioned that some people say that horse racing is cruelty to animals. My sister agreed with that. And it certainly seemed so to me.

But then a pack of thoroughbreds rounded the far turn and flew down the stretch. Everyone stood and shouted and urged the horses on. Including me. I felt that same old, familiar thrill. An electric frisson raced up and down my spine. I tell you, there’s nothing more beautiful and awe-inspiring than these magnificent horses at a full-tilt run.

I have to believe the horses also feel a thrill. How great it must be for them to be out of their paddocks and free to stretch their legs as fast as they can, with a herd of their own kind. Is it really cruelty to animals? Aren’t they doing what comes naturally to them, and with a release of pent-up wild gusto?

The close races are the most exciting.

The close races are the most exciting.

I studied my racing program, to make my picks for horses in upcoming races. I noticed that a few had been scratched. I wondered, were some of these the ones who were devoured by the beast today?

A name caught my eye. Sid the Squid. What a name! I have a highly sophisticated betting scheme. I bet on the name that best strikes my fancy. And Sid the Squid was ready to race. He had not been scratched.

Yet.

I headed down to the wicket, with two bucks in hand.

“Two dollars on Sid the Squid.”

“To Win, Place, or Show?” the man behind the counter growled.

“No, just to not be scratched.”

“We don’t take bets on that.”

“Well, I just want him to show up.”

“All right, to Show then,” and he took my money.

He ran seventh in a field of eight. And lived. That was showing enough for me. It was a good race.

Because in the case of Sid the Squid, beauty was not scratched by the beast.

Sid the Squid.

Sid the Squid.

Volcanic Peace

There once was a people who lived in a high, lonely desert. These poor bastards could barely scratch out a living. They ate anything that moved. Lizards, bugs, worms, whatever. If it was alive, it was fair game.

They also planted crops, but never reaped much of a harvest in that damned dry desert. Usually they starved beneath blue skies.

But they lived together in peace. Hell, they had to. They had to have everyone working together in harmony, pooling their wits, talents, and efforts, to put food in their mouths. Their peace was born out of desperation.

They lived this way for who knows? Hundreds? Maybe thousands, of years? It was a long time, that’s for sure, spanning many, many generations. And so naturally their peaceful way of life became custom and ritual. Peace became a skill learned from birth. Resolution of conflict became second-nature to these people. Everyone was a diplomat, in their coordinated quest for food.

And as hardscrabble as that quest for food always was, one day it became even harder. One morning as they went to work in their wilted, scraggly fields of miserable crops, the earth began to shake. Giant cracks spiderwebbed for miles around. Fire and smoke belched out of the earth and shot thousands of feet into the air.

A volcano was born in their midst.

Everyone ran like hell for their lives. Within days their farmlands and hunting grounds were completely destroyed. The volcanic mountain lifted their land a thousand feet and buried their homes and meager livelihood beneath rivers of lava, piles of rock, and tons of ash.

And after the main eruption, a blanket of gray ash covered the desert for miles around.

Everything about their lives was knocked balls up and arsy-versy. Now what the hell would they do? They could point fingers of blame at each other for their misfortune. They could seek a scapegoat. Perhaps sacrifice a virgin. But none of that could put food into their mouths.

They could turn to cannibalism. That would put food in some of their mouths. At least for a while. But cannibalism is kind of a deadend street. And it runs completely counter to a people who know only peace and team effort.

Amazingly, nobody died in the eruption. Together, they managed to escape the cataclysm, so together they must manage to pick up all the pieces and figure out how to keep from starving to death. So these peons who’d been shit on so cruelly by the gods, went to work in a community effort to recover what they had lost.

Initially they had to resort to eating insects and all sorts of foul things. But then some rains fell, and they discovered that the volcanic ash underfoot was like a sponge. It absorbed and retained water, and actually increased the fertility of the soil. So they got excited about that, and got back to the business of planting crops.

And oh, how those crops grew! Their next harvest produced an abundance they had never experienced before. As did the next and the next. Before they knew it, their stores had more food than mouths available to eat it.

Starvation became a thing of the past.

They grew prosperous and did what many rich people do when they move on up in life. They made babies. Their population multiplied. And they built many houses of stone to accommodate their large families, and dotted the landscape with settlements surrounded by fields of bumper crops.

Trade developed, because in spite of all the new babies they still had more food than they could consume by themselves. People from all over traveled to this new civilization to trade luxury items for their food. The volcano, with its belching black smoke, served as a beacon for travelers, guiding them to this flourishing region.

A large complex was built to accomodate all the new arrivals. People of many tongues met at this business center. They intermingled, traded, and played games. And they cohabitated in peace, following the example of their hosts, who retained their peaceful customs and way of life even during this time of great wealth.

Many wonderful things were carried from afar to these people. Traders from the south brought scarlet macaw birds and exotic copper bells. Woven cotton textiles from the north were proffered and bartered. Red clay pottery arrived from the west, and black and white pots were imported from the northeast.

Their civilization became known and celebrated far and wide.

This is no bullshit. It ain’t a fairy tale. Believe it or not, this story is based on true events. Okay, so I might have embellished a little. I always embellish some when I tell a story. But I’d say it’s about 97% to 98% accurate.

Historians call the people I’m writing about, the Sinagua. But nobody knows what they actually called themselves. They lived in present-day northern Arizona about a thousand years ago.

Around 1065 AD, the volcano we know as Sunset Crater was born, kicking and screaming. It was the newest offspring in what geologists today call the San Francisco volcanic field, in the San Francisco peaks area. But nowhere near San Francisco, California.

Sunset Crater, in Sunset Crater National Monument. It formed from a violent eruption in 1065 AD, then smoldered and poured out ash for the next hundred years.

Sunset Crater, in Sunset Crater National Monument. It formed from a violent eruption in 1065 AD, then smoldered and poured out ash for the next hundred years.

Humprheys Peak is a volcano that formed earlier. At 12,637 feet, Humphreys Peak is the highest point in Arizona, and is found 12 miles north of Flagstaff. Sunset Crater lies 10 miles east of Humphreys peak, and can be found in Sunset Crater National Monument, at an elevation of 8,041 feet.

Lomaki Pueblo, with Humphreys Peak looming in the background, Wupatki National Monument, AZ.

Lomaki Pueblo, with Humphreys Peak looming in the background, Wupatki National Monument, AZ.

The Sinagua got a big kick in the teeth from the eruption of Sunset Crater. But then they turned lemons into lemonade. Or pee into tea. Or a big shit into a bit hit. Or their knocked out teeth into chiclets. Okay, okay, enough with the metaphors. I think you know what I mean.

After the eruption, this resilient people resettled just north of Sunset Crater, in what is now called Wupatki National Monument. It was here they started farming those big bumper crops, and here they built their great civilization, that flourished in trade and other multicultural exchange.

Wupatki Pueblo, Wupatki National Monument, AZ. This hundred room complex is the equivalent to our modern-day shopping mall. Traders traveled for hundreds of miles, to meet and swap good here. And of course, teenagers, bums, and proselytizers may also have used this as a hangout.

Wupatki Pueblo, Wupatki National Monument, AZ. This hundred-room complex is the equivalent to our modern-day shopping mall. Traders traveled for hundreds of miles, to meet and swap goods here. And of course, teenagers, panhandlers, and proselytizers may also have used this as a hangout.

But after about 100 years of spewing smoke and ash, Sunset Crater ran out of batteries and grew dormant. The lifegiving cinder ash ceased to fall. The Sinagua’s manna from heaven disappeared.

This pueblo in Wupatki National Monument is known as "The Citadel".  The rich folks who could afford this view would probably have seen far-reaching fields of maize, squash and corn.

This pueblo in Wupatki National Monument is known as “The Citadel”. The rich folks who could afford this view would probably have seen far-reaching fields of maize, squash and beans. And perhaps a few succotash bushes. Yes, I think they also grew succotash.

Within 50 more years the remaining ash was tilled to exhaustion, lost to the high plateau breeze, and washed away by the thunder gods. Nothing remained to absorb and retain moisture from scarce rains. The desert recovered its territory. This forced most of the Sinagua people to move on to new horizons and different fortunes. And all that remains today is the ruins of the great civilization they left behind.

This sports arena near Wupatki Pueblo, hosted teams such as the Arizona Diamondbacks, Arizona Cardinals, Phoenix Suns, and Arizona Coyotes.

This sports arena near Wupatki Pueblo, hosted teams with names such as the Arizona Diamondbacks, Arizona Cardinals, and Phoenix Suns.

Think of all the human stories that have been lost forever here. Tales of love and exotic travel. Of derring-do. Of warm family gatherings around evening fires. All lost. All absorbed by the soil. These stories have become too faint to hear, from the echoes of the crumbling walls.

Lomaki Pueblo, Wupatki National Monument. The walls were made of fieldstone, cemented together by some sort of mortar. The few windows were very small. The roofs were constructed of large timbers overlayed by smaller branches, that was then coated by mud. After the pueblos were abandoned, the timbers were scavenged for firewood.

Lomaki Pueblo, Wupatki National Monument. The walls were made of fieldstone, cemented together by some sort of mortar. The few windows were very small. The roofs were constructed of large timbers overlayed by smaller branches, that was then coated by mud. After the pueblos were abandoned, the timbers were scavenged for firewood.

But not all was lost. Again, they still had each other, and they were still a people of peace. The Sinagua eventually came together again to form the Hopi tribe of Native Americans.

What the heck is Hopi? Well Hopi is a spiritual word, with a meaning that goes beyond it’s literal translation. Hopi is religion. To be Hopi is to strive for a total state of reverence and respect for all things. It is to be at peace with the world, and to live in accordance with the instructions of the Caretaker of the Earth.

Lomaki Pueblo, Wupatki National Monument, AZ. Crops were often planted in box canyons such as this, which tended to collect more water. The box canyons were actually earth cracks formed by the Sunset Crater volcano.

Lomaki Pueblo, Wupatki National Monument, AZ. Crops were often planted in box canyons such as this, which tended to collect more water than could collect in open terrain. The box canyons were actually earth cracks formed by the Sunset Crater volcano.

Hopi sounds much like the word “hope” to me. But it literally translates to, “The Peaceful People.” And so here’s a homily. Here’s a chance to preach a message. And by all means, please be generous when I pass the collection plate. It’s all going to a good cause. Me!

Anyway, it seems to me that Hopi is the attitude we need, to transform difficult times into good fortune. We can apply it by learning how to revere and respect anything, including those things that disrupt our lives and cause unwanted change.

Hopi can tune and harmonize us with the world. It can prepare us for anything.

It can even help us make peace with volcanoes.

Box Canyon Pueblo, Wupatki National Monument. The rooms in these pueblos were used for sleeping and food storage. And perhaps by lazy people like me, seeking a place to hide from all that hard farm work.

Box Canyon Pueblo, Wupatki National Monument. The rooms in these pueblos were used for sleeping and food storage. And perhaps by lazy people like me, seeking a place to hide from all that hard farm work.

Pie in the Sky

My wife and I spent a week last month hunting for unicorns. We were pretty successful. We drove all over the south of Utah, and spotted many of these magnificent one-horned beasts.

At the edge of the Valley of the Gods, near Highway 163. This area has served as a backdrop for western movies, commercials, and TV shows.

At the edge of the Valley of the Gods, near Highway 163. This area has served as a backdrop for western movies, commercials, and TV shows, including a few episodes of the BBC TV series, Doctor Who.

Early one morning we were cruising down Highway 163, just outside of Bluff, through prime unicorn territory. Highway hypnosis crept into our car and I got the urge to nod off. My masculine mindset told me to stay in control and handle it like a man. So instead of turning over the wheel to my wife, I got the clever idea to rest one of my eyes. But to forfend tragedy I put all my mental effort into keeping the other eye as wide open as possible.

Problem was, my other eye started to demand equal time. It was begging to rest for “just one second.” It pled so earnestly, and felt so heavy, that I finally acceded to its demand. My groggy brain reassured me that I’d be able to see clearly through both my eyelids.

I was flooded with a feeling of blessed relief, until my wife broke my reverie with a blood-curdling scream.

Mexican Hat, at the north entrance to the Navajo Nation.  This geological formation is named after the sombrero of a giant Mexican, who hung his hat here, then forgot to return and retrieve it.

Mexican Hat, at the north entrance to the Navajo Nation, on Highway 163.

My heart surged, and blasted my eyes open just in time to witness a purple unicorn the size of a Del Mar thoroughbred, standing athwart the roadway. There was no time for brakes or evasive action. Its legs were mowed under, and its back hammered the hood before it bounced over the roof.

I pulled over.

“Holy shit!” we both yelled.

The one-horned equine was thrashing about on the shoulder of the road as I ran up to it. I feared I’d have to shoot the poor thing. But then a miracle happened. The unicorn gathered its legs, struggled to its feet, shook itself, then cleared its throat.

It glared at me with fiery pupils, quivered its lips, and ordered in stentorian English, “Get on my back!”

By now you might think I’m crazy. But you must remember that unicorns are magical, and full of many surprises. Every unicorn is different. This one just happened to possess the power of speech.

And it spoke sublimely, and with gravitas, from the depths of its barrel chest. I couldn’t resist such an authoritative voice. So I helplessly swung my leg over its bare back without argument, and it galloped away, carrying me off while leaving my bewildered wife by the side of the road.

Monument Valley, Utah, in the Navajo Nation.  This small area has been featured in many photos and films that depict the West. Director John Ford often used this backdrop for quite a few of his famous western films.

Monument Valley, Utah, in the Navajo Nation, from Highway 163. Perhaps you recognize it. This small area has been featured in many photos and films that depict the American West. In fact, director John Ford often used this landscape for his famous western films.

It took on the role of a cicerone, and gave me a guided tour of the Navajo Nation. The air all around glowed with sparkling stardust. It seemed we were passing through a fairytale land. The unicorn used its long sharp horn to point out sandstone escarpments and majestic spires.

It solemnly explained to me that this was a country for dreamers. For those who longed for peace, love, equality, and brotherhood and sisterhood, and who actually imagined these things to be possible.

Then the magic horse growled a warning, advising me to respect this land and use it wisely. I was instructed to spend my time here in deep meditation. And I was to relax in the shade of giant obelisks, while reading cool, dulcet philosophies that strike a soothing tone deep within the heart.

My four-legged tour guide adjured me to cultivate lofty ideals. To bake pie in the sky. And it quipped that pie in the sky was the lightest pie of all.

Monument Valley, with the formation known as "Rabbit Ears" in the middle.

Monument Valley, with the pinnacles known as Rabbit Ears in the middle.

I was taught that this was a land for impractical dreamers. For the hippy-dippy, and for those who wear rose-colored glasses.

A lifetime of watching western movies will familiarize anyone with scenes like this. That's Rabbit Ears on the left. I believe the butte on the right is called the Eastern Mitten.

A lifetime of watching western movies will familiarize anyone with scenes like this. Rabbit Ears is to the left. I believe the butte on the right is known as Rain God Mesa.

We loped between inselbergs that appeared more fantasy than reality. The unicorn revealed that in this desert, fantasy and imagination are the water that slakes the thirst of the people. Mossback reactionaries cannot sustain themselves here, and wizen and dry to dust in the eolian breeze. To survive, you must be able to dream.

Silhouette of Monument Valley.

Silhouette of Monument Valley.

We returned to my automobile at an easy hand-gallop. I settled into the driver’s seat, anxious to blurt out to my wife all the wonders I had just witnessed.

But just then she blazed at me with shotgun eyes, and screamed, “Oh my God, wake up! AHHHHHHHHHHH!”

The fantastic cinema screen of my eyelids instantly lifted. I detected peril approaching at 65 miles per hour, and in a trice, guided the car back over the center line, and into the right lane.

I shook my head to make sure I was fully awake. Then I glanced with trepidation at the passenger side, expecting a scolding from that quarter. But my wife was snoring with her head thrown back, and apparently had been oblivious to everything. Phew! What a break!

I decided I would never confess. Hell, I’m no fool. She’d go batshit if she knew I’d fallen asleep at the wheel. Besides, I rationalized, at no time was she in any real danger. It was still early in the morning. Traffic was light. And that approaching truck had been a good hundred yards away when I corrected our lane. So no harm, no foul.

Over the next horizon I spotted a line of mammoth sandstone cliffs, and aiguilles that reached for the sky. Perhaps for pie in the sky. I recognized this scene, and remembered my dream. Amazingly, this was the selfsame dreamscape I rode through on the back of the unicorn!

I shook my head again, to make positively sure I was fully awake. Then it occurred to me that I should get a picture of this landscape, so that I would never forget the beautiful dream I had just experienced.

I pulled the car over and dug out my camera. Right next to some road kill.

It was a dead unicorn.

My wife suddenly screamed, “AHHHHHHH! Wake up!”

Highway 163.

Highway 163 passes through Monument Valley. You probably recognize this roadway from numerous commercials and films. It seems to evoke fantasy, and lures dreaming travellers into pulling over to take aim with their cameras.

Natural Bridges

Our latest mass shooting was in Dallas. Many people offered responses to this tragedy. For example, someone on the news said we need to build bridges. I was left speechless for a while. But now, here’s my response:

I see no need to build any bridges. Natural bridges already exist between us.

Kachina Bridge, Natural Bridges National Monument, Utah.  "Kachina" is a Hopi word for "spirit being." And just like a spirit, it's very hard to see. Look closely at the middle-left of the photo.

Kachina Bridge, Natural Bridges National Monument, Utah. “Kachina” is a Hopi word for “spirit being.” And just like a spirit, this bridge is hard to see. Look closely at the middle-left of the photo.

Sometimes it’s hard to see these bridges that naturally connect us. This happens when people insult and accuse and debase each other so that everyone seems less than human.

“Those bastards are criminals.”
“Cops are bullies.”
“Hoodlums!”
“Racists!”
“Terrorists!”
“Murderers!”
“Scum!”

When we demonize each other, we dehumanize each other. And then we can’t see our common humanity.

Sipapu Bridge, Natural Bridges National Monument, Utah. The closer you get to these bridges, the easier they are to see.

Sipapu Bridge, Natural Bridges National Monument, Utah. The closer you get to these bridges, the easier they are to see.

But everyone has the same basic needs. We all need to eat. We all need shelter. We need to be safe, secure, and comfortable. We need equal justice for everyone. We need respect. Anybody in this world, regardless of race, gender, religion, or political beliefs, needs these things.

Our common needs connect us like natural bridges. What disconnects us is our strategies for getting our needs met. That’s where arguments, wars, and mass shootings arise. But only when we dehumanize each other.

The arch of Sipapu Bridge. Sipapu means "hole", or "portal".. Hopi legend has it, that the first people entered this world through a sipapu, and then morphed from lizard-like beings into human form. From there they divided and separated into different tribes.

The arch of Sipapu Bridge. Sipapu means “hole”, or “portal”. Hopi legend has it, that the first people entered this world through a sipapu, and then morphed from lizard-like beings into human form. From there they divided and separated into different tribes. Reminds me of a theory of Darwin.

When we remember our common needs we are able to see each other as we see ourselves. And then it’s easy to find strategies that enable everyone to get their needs met, and that everyone can agree on. It doesn’t require genius or skilled diplomats. Anyone who recognizes our common needs, even a small child, is smart enough to find our natural bridges and figure out how to reconcile our differences.

Owachomo Bridge, Natural Bridges National Monument, Utah.  "Owachomo" is Hopi for "rock mound". The bridge is at the upper middle of the photo. And the eponymous rock mound is at the left abutment of the bridge.

Owachomo Bridge, Natural Bridges National Monument, Utah. “Owachomo” is Hopi for “rock mound”. The bridge is at the upper middle of the photo. And the eponymous rock mound is at the left abutment of the bridge.

Our natural bridges are solid as rock. They can never be burned or otherwise destroyed. They stand waiting to be found, patiently and eternally.

Owachomo Bridge. A quarter-mile hiking trail leads to the bottom of this bridge.

Owachomo Bridge. A quarter-mile hiking trail leads to the bottom of this bridge.

Always ready to support those who are willing to cross.

Below the Owachomo Bridge.

Below the Owachomo Bridge.

War and Peace

Leo Tolstoy in 1908, age 79. He died in 1910. This is also the first color portrait ever produced in Russia.

Leo Tolstoy in 1908, age 79. He died in 1910. This is also the first color photo portrait ever produced in Russia.

“When I retire, I’m going to read War and Peace.” So many people say that. In fact I even said it some years ago, after an abortive attempt to tackle this monumental tome.

I retired a few years ago. But just now I finally decided to make good on this vow. For the past month I’ve slowly been nibbling away and digesting this epic manuscript penned by Leo Tolstoy. I’ve even stolen some quotes from him, as you may have noticed today.

This book is FUCKING long. At over 500,000 words, it’s considered one of the longest novels of all the classics, and is more than five times as long as the average novel. I have a goal to read one novel per year. So after having read War and Peace, I think I’m good for the next five years.

Leo Tolstoy was a famous Russian author. He wrote War and Peace in the 1860’s, and it was an instant hit. Lucky bastard. Today it’s still a big hit. Fuck! How lucky can you get? In fact Time magazine has ranked it the third greatest novel of all time. Well shit on me.

This book concerns itself with Russia’s involvement in the Napoleonic Wars, as well as the intrigues and romances of five Russian aristocratic families. Even so, it’s not the snoozer you’d expect it to be.

I never knew much about Napoleon Bonaparte until I read War and Peace. Now I’ve learned quite a bit about this dimunitive emperor. I kind of like ol’ Shorty. In fact, sometimes I imagine that I am him. Yes, I really think I am. I am Napoleon Bonaparte in the flesh!

I must be Napoleon. After all, I have conquered a 500,000 word book. And this is a great accomplishment. Probably my greatest.

But unlike Napoleon, I refuse to retreat into the ignominy of one of the most catostrophic military defeats in history. Napoleon’s greatest accomplishment was the conquest and occupation of Moscow. But after just one month, he and his Grande Armee retreated from this famous capitol, trying to escape Russia before the vicious winter weather moved in. I guess he suddenly got homesick for the French Riviera.

He was not very successful. Of the 600,000 soldiers he led into this invasion, about 380,000 died of war wounds, starvation, disease, and exposure. Another 100,000 were captured, and about half of those also died. And this is not to mention the hundreds of thousands of Russian soldiers and civilians, who perished too.

I wonder who accomplished the most, Napoleon or me? He won many famous battles. But I read War and Peace. His decisions led to the deaths of millions. But my decision to read War and Peace has only caused me to neglect my blog occasionally, and sometimes my wife. (We worked it out.)

I can die happy, knowing that I finished War and Peace. Napoleon died unhappy, a miserable haunted has-been, while exiled on the remote island of Saint Helena.

I have no blood on my hands. Napoleon was dripping in it.

What is success anyway? I’m not sure. We all have our own definition. But my notion of success, and my personal ego, allow me to tuck my hand between the buttons of my shirt and gaze proudly into a mirror. I have killed no one.

I have only read a book.

Visions in a Park

At least eight states will have marijuana legalization laws on their ballots this November. California, Nevada, Arizona, Massachusetts, and Maine will be voting for or against legalizing weed for recreational use. And Missouri, Arkansas, and Florida will attempt to legalize pot for medical purposes. Way to try to go forward, Bible Belt!

I’m from Cali, and wasn’t sure which way to vote on this. And then my wife and I visited Capitol Reefer National Park. While at this enchanted park I saw several visions, and these revelations convinced me of the wisdom of legalizing Pakaloco.

Ganoobies Cliffs, Capital Reefer National Park.

Ganoobies Cliffs, Capital Reefer National Park.

In my first vision, a great white president rose before me. He was enwreathed in a mysterious, sweet-smelling smoke. Although he seemed happy in this smoke, he was holding his breath and refusing to inhale it. He introduced himself to me as the Great Clinton. In a raspy voice he proclaimed that in the capitol there are many reefers. He stated that this park was named in honor of all the great leaders of our nation who have secretly toked on the sacred herb of Mary Jane. And then he disappeared into a bush.

Indian Boy Valley, Capitol Reefer National Park.

Indian Boy Valley, Capitol Reefer National Park.

In my next vision, a great black president emerged from a bush, eating macaroni and cheese. Magic smoke swirled about his serene face, and he could be seen to breathe deeply of it. He fixed his gaze on me, then uttered, “There’s a reason why I am known as the Great No-Drama Obama. Reflect on it, man.” Then he sprinkled some salt and pepper on his macaroni and faded away.

Around 4:20 in the afternoon a third vision appeared. An older blonde lady in a pants suit was mowing the grass. She was working hard, and huffing and puffing like a dragon. Then she stopped and sparked up a conversation with me. She told me she was up against the stem, and asked if I belonged to the Tea Party. I told her no, and she said, “Well you win a gold star for that.” Then she pulled out a couple of pocket rockets and handed one to me. We torched up while she asked if I had ever seen the Northern Lights.

Alice B. Toklas rock, Capitol Reefer National Park.

Alice B. Toklas rock, Capitol Reefer National Park.

Yes I had, a few times, I revealed. “In fact, I belong to Triple A, so I have no problem driving up there.”

She got the wind of what I was saying, then got the good giggles. Finally she asked, “Do you know who I am?”

“Sweet Lucy!” I replied, “No, who?”

Zambi Mesa, Capitol Reefer National Park.

Zambi Mesa, Capitol Reefer National Park.

Her eyes drooped and got dewy and her face went solemn. “I have come from the Great Clinton,” she muttered in ghostly fashion. “And I shall be the new Great Clinton. I am going to leave the great Trump in a ditch, after he crashes the speedboat he’s on.

“And after I become the new Great Clinton, I shall make it possible for all Americans to visit this beautiful park.” She spread her arms out wide, gesturing to the desert hills all around her. “Yes, when I achieve my greatness, no one shall be denied entry. The leaders of our country shall no longer bogart this place for themselves. It shall be shared with everyone, and all people will be allowed to toke the sweet air, admire the red buds, and wake and bake beneath the trees.”

Sinsemilla Bluffs, Capitol Reefer National Park.

Sinsemilla Bluffs, Capitol Reefer National Park. If you look closely, you’ll see the contrail of a Jefferson airplane. Wow.

These words were as refreshing to me as a leaf salad. I recalled how so many people had to sneak into this park, and how some of them went to jail for a very long time, after being caught trespassing. I suddenly got very excited. She had won me over. I asked the aspiring new Great Clinton what I could do to help her.

She stared at me sternly and murmured, “Vote to legalize ganja.” And then a strong breeze lifted her up, with her sleeves and pant legs flapping enthusiastically, and she blew away in a vortex of golden leaves.

Kumba Overlook, Capitol Reefer National Park.

Kumba Overlook, Capitol Reefer National Park.