Alone is Worse

I had another of those hikes…

You know the ones I’m talking about, the ones that make me think about life.  The ones that make me go all writer-ish and focus on the bittersweet of life up here.

Now, anyone who has seen so much as a picture of Yellowstone is pretty familiar with the bison we have in the park.  And, heaven forbid, if you happen to visit  If you do, you will quickly come to understand just how little those big fellas actually care about the puny little two-legged things that clog up the nice, big, paved bison-trails with useless shit like cars and cameras.

Well, they don’t care until they think you’re threatening their calves…then they start to just all kinds of care!

You haven’t lived until you’ve seen a placid, stolid, lazy bison — a critter the size of a hatchback, mind you — turn and go from zero to forty in about five steps.  It’s amazing as hell to see because, like grizzlies, something that big just should not be able to move that fast.

Err…let me correct that: it’s amazing unless you happen to be the idiot on the receiving end of that charge.  Then it’s a trip to the E.R. and a long explanation to your insurance company.

A bison doesn’t actually have a whole lot of natural predators, by the way.  Oh, don’t get me wrong, the wolves and grizzly like to eat bison, but to try and bring down a full-grown, healthy adult*?  Yeah, there are definitely easier ways of getting dinner.

*Calves, on the other hand, are just plain irresistible to the predators…hence the whole “charge it ‘til it’s gone!” theory of calf-protection.

But the bison do have one true predator — the same one we all share: age.

When a male bison gets old, he doesn’t hang around the edges of the herd.  He doesn’t try to hook up with another group.  No, the younger males who won the dominance fights over him, let alone the males running in other groups, would never stand for that.

When a bison gets old, he instead wanders off on his own.  He lives quietly in a small range, with no other bison around — no family, no friends, no old pals…

In short, he goes off to die.  Alone.

A creature that has never before been alone, spends his last months — perhaps as much as a year — in precisely that way: alone.  He’s been put out of mind by all those he ever knew, forgotten by even those he once protected as calves…

When you are out hiking, away from the “prime” bison areas, and you come across one of those old, solo bulls…yeah, that’s the bitter part of bittersweet.  There’s no question about it, no way to sugar-coat it, he’s out there to die.  Forgotten and — worse…by far worse — alone.

I know I’m anthropomorphizing the shit out of this, but you can’t help but connect the sad, lonely end of the bull I saw today with how we as a society treat our own elders.

I have friends who handle the honor guard duties at veterans’ funerals, and I can’t tell you how many times they have told me about burial ceremonies where they were the only ones there.  Them, and the one who died…alone.

So call your parents, kids.  Call your siblings, and your friends.  If they’ve passed already, visit their graves.  Honor them — no, that’s not quite it.  Remember them.

None of us should ever be that old bull, wandering off to die forgotten and alone.

Alone is worse.

The Eyes Tell The Real Story

I was writing a microfiction piece to post later this week.  Nothing new in that, although I haven’t been as good at keeping up with the whole “Microfiction Friday” thing as I should be.  At any rate, I had finished writing the piece and I was looking for a photo to go with it.

Hoo boy, did that search send me down a rabbit-hole.  I wanted a very particular picture — a particular timeframe, a particular composition, a particular subject…

But I framed my initial search too broadly.  I framed it too broadly, and I ran into a whole lot of “other” pictures.  Oh, not the BAD kind of “other”, but rather the good kind…the kind that gets us writers to thinking.  To imagining and projecting.  To writing.  Pictures that, like the old saying goes, say a thousand words.  Pictures that say more than that.

Private-Edwin-Francis-Jemison.jpgOne of those pictures truly stuck with me.  It still sticks with me.  It sticks with me because it tells an entire freaking novel

It’s not a comfortable picture, not when you look at it for a while.  And it gets worse when you learn his story…and his fate.

Private Edwin Francis Jemison, 1844 – 1862.

Look, child soldiers are bad enough, but look at that picture…really look at it.

You know what gets me?  It’s the eyes.  Those are the eye of someone who has seen death, of someone who has fought and feared and suffered.  They are certainly not the eyes of a boy, of one we should be able to call an innocent.

Shit, I write about 16-17 year old kids.  I write about them as addicts and thieves and prostitutes.  I write about them, when you get right down to it, as who they truly are: the inhabitants — the victims, really — of the society we have created…and are still creating.  Now, I write about them in terms of sci-fi, but the eyes in that picture are a reminder that the same damned thing has been happening for centuries.  Worse than that, it has been happening as long as we humans have been around…

I do sci-fi and fantasy.  I’ve never tried my hand at historical fiction, but…

…but, holy shit!  How can you look at that picture and not want to tell the story behind those eyes?!  How can you not want to use Private Jemison’s short life to tell the story of those kids who still get pulled into every war — into every disaster and problem — we can create?

We lure them…

IMG_0720We draft them…

We propagandize them…

We indoctrinate them…

Then we kill them.


Musical Note — I’ve used this particular song in a post before, but I can’t think of a single damned thing to better accompany Private Jemison’s picture:


No Rebirth Without Death

I’ve talked before on this blog about about wildfires.  About how, unless you’ve experienced one, you simply cannot imagine the inexorability, the sheer malevolence, of a force of nature with a seeming mind of its own.  You can read one of those earlier posts here, by the way.

I’ve talked about expecting fires, and about watching fires.  About living through them, and about smelling them.  Hell, I’ve talked even about having to evacuate from them.  One thing I’ve never really talked about, however, is what comes after.  About the devastation, and the loss.  About, also, the survival and the rebuilding.

Now, one of the guys I currently work with is a retired fire chief, so maybe I should just sit back and let him write this damned post — that’s a man with scars and stories to cover just about everything you can imagine.

But…well…this is my blog, so it pretty much has to be my own thoughts.

I was hiking today, through an area devastated by a large fire about 8 years ago.  It’s an eerie feeling,* walking through a place like that.  It has a graveyard feel to it, a feeling of being surrounded by death and loss:

*Talking about eerie — just wait ‘til I write a post about Quake Lake, that place will most definitely get your hackles up…

Of course, the thing you have to keep in mind, even as you walk through devastation and destruction, is that life…adapts.  Hell, life — at least life up here — needs the devastation and destruction of wild fires in order to reproduce.  The seeds of the lodge pole pine are held inside the cone by a resin that melts only when the temperature is well over 130 degrees Fahrenheit.  That tree, just as one example, will completely die out without fires.  Even amidst the destruction, then, even amidst the detritus and scars, new life springs up:

It’s humbling to think about, in a way.  The destruction and devastation that is so fearsome to us, that is so hated and loathed, is in the longer term a vital part of the rhythm of life.  It goes back to the truth of an old saying: there can be no rebirth without death.

I honestly don’t know if the images above of the little bits of green growing amidst the blacks and greys of a blasted landscape are sad or hopeful, but I think that’s the way things are supposed to be — always with that touch of poignance, always with that mix of bitter and sweet, always with that knowledge of death and loss leavened by the hope of what is to come.

And that, of course, is why I write about the broken and hopeless.  Why I write about those with nothing to lose…because they have everything to gain.  Because they can be one of those little bits of green…

Still Angry

There was a thought buzzing around my mind this morning.  It was buzzing early, and it kept buzzing even when I left for my “I hate humans hike”.  Even after a few hours of off-trail hiking — and a handful of cuts and bruises to show for that — the buzzing was still there, and so was the anger.

My muscles are feeling every inch of the 12 miles of rough, nasty terrain…I’ve got my favorite post-hike snack* going…I’ve got music blaring in my ears…and I’m still pissed off.

*See this post for more info on that.

It’s time, I decided, to remember Rule #1:

You write it.  You always write it.

Ahem…here goes:

Just when I thought it was safe to read the news again…

Just when I thought I might be able to make it through just one morning without getting a reality-induced headache…

Just when I’m sure we’ve reached bottom, and that things couldn’t possibly get any stupider…

Politics — and humanity — proved me wrong…again.

Look, I don’t play on either team in DC.  I’m as independent and libertarian as it gets, so I have no real dog in any of the current fights, but even I have to ask, just what the hell are these people thinking?!

Donald Trump…


Does “the Donald” have to try so hard to be a completely insane, unacceptable, undignified, unpresidential waste of space?  I mean, is it something he wakes up and plans to do?  Or does it just come naturally to him?

The man gave a Memorial Day speech aboard the USS Wasp in Yokosuka, Japan.  Great…no problem there, that’s what Presidents are supposed to do.  It wasn’t even a bad speech, as such things go.  But then…

But then…

E8DEF876-EE57-4AF7-BA06-3EE5531F8E8CBut then, it turns out that Trump so hates and fears the ghost of a dead man that he had to insist a ship named after that man’s father and grandfather be hidden from view…

Are you fucking kidding me?!?!

Just how infantile and idiotic can you be?

B8204FC1-A392-494C-A190-55DEB601BE5EMr Trump pissed on two men who died long before he ever dreamed of running for office, two men who gave a lifetime’s worth of blood and honor for this nation.  “President” Trump also pissed on a man who just died — a man he attacked and denigrated for the “sin” of being tortured for five and half years.  More than that, however, “President” Trump pissed on an active-duty, commissioned warship of the United States Navy.  But by far the worst of all, he pissed on every single sailor who has served, is currently serving, and ever will serve aboard the USS John McCain.

9516B084-795C-4EDA-BECD-AAB74DA33D1EScrew you, “President” Trump.  I don’t know what’s wired wrong in your head, but you are most definitely broken, pathetic excuse for a human.