what America looks like

If we judge by how hard it is to find camping gear, most of America has packed their cars and pitched a tent in a National Park this summer.

It’s the sort of thing Karl Marx would have approved of, but the National Parks are an American invention. At this time, there are 61 parks set aside for people to visit. Protected and preserved, the federal government maintains these parks for tourists.

These places are really unique. They are unbelievable. In fact, most people didn’t believe it.

The traveler’s tall tale is well known. Homer’s Odyssey had impossible stories that couldn’t be found in real life- the cyclops and sirens threatening the sailors’ lives. Marco Polo claimed to have seen marvels on his trip to China.

And the national parks have to be seen to be believed. Geysers can’t be a real thing! Until you see it. And you see several the same day, like I did in Yellowstone. I could not have imagined it until I saw it myself.

Sequoia trees, inconceivably large, were actually used in sideshows. They would fell a tree, cut it into pieces and reassemble it at the far end. Except—people still didn’t believe it was real. It was just too incredible.

Americans hear about these natural wonders, but not very many people could go. Once trains were built, some visitors could come. But when roads and cars caught up, that’s when people could finally make the trip. 50s families took to the road to see for themselves.

1950s and 60s, people drove all over the country. What followed was a time of big change of uprooting. People saw for themselves.

And now, this year, people are driving over to places they remember or have always wanted to see. They are getting away from their homes and seeing more of America.

People have been set free, too, to work from home. Americans can contemplate how they might pack up their internet and go somewhere else.

More things are possible than we had assumed. Between the interstate highway and the information highway, there are a lot of choices.

I wonder how America is going to look in ten years.

Take Care

We’ve all been cooped up, you know? When we heard they were opening the national parks we jumped. Ack up

The cat and away we go.

Those places take my breath away and make me think.

We were not the first people to see the Grand Canyon. But someone was. One of those first people had to wonder:

How would they ever get past it?  

either go down through it, or find a way to go around it,

Hard to say which was harder. You can’t easily tell the depth of the edges of this huge canyon.

But what caused it?  Surely the finger of a gigantic god dug out this terrible groove. That’s half what I believe today as I look at it.

Then the scientists took a look at it and did their hypothesis/observation magic and gave an answer:

The water did this.

See that tiny silver squiggle? No, at the actual bottom.That’s the river. It did this.

All of it?

Yes, all of it.

If I hadn’t seen it, I would never believe it possible. 

I’ve known rocks and I’ve known rivers. They don’t behave this way.

This rock did. This river did.

Rocks are strong and rivers are soft. But there is something I haven’t realized.

What rivers have I been ignoring? What rocks have I taken for granted?

This pandemic has shifted a lot of things I counted on.

This Canyon reminds me there are things in the world I didn’t expect. Immovable rocks can crumble.

When  we rode mules partway down, I was impressed with how strong and tireless these mules were. The American west was tamed by mules.

But even still we stopped a lot on the way up. Mules are not in fact tireless. We have to take care of them so they can do what we ask them to.

How’s your day?

Are you having a good day?

How about a nice day?

I think America started this greeting, “Have a nice day!”  It replaced the older “How do you do?” which became “howdy” before it feel out of use.

A day is a tidy package. It’s a handy size: small enough to grapple with, big enough to fit some significant things.

We can deal with a day. We can ask about a day, and give our wishe…command?…for others to have a nice day.

It’s not insincere. I wish for others to have a nice day, because I really want a nice day for myself.

I would like to put my day to good use, and really enjoy it. And by enjoy, I mean fill it with productive activity.

I think about it a lot. What will I do with my day? How will I pack it appropriately?

I try. Every day I have intentions, and I start out with ideas about how and when I will do what.

I never quite make it. And I feel particularly guilty about it during this quarantine because there is no excuse. I have nowhere else to be, nothing to do but what I set out for myself.

And I still do not hit my target.

I just found this book: Daily Rituals: How Artists Work by Mason Currey. He’s collected the stories of artists—musicians, writers, painters, etc.—how they arranged their days.

They are short little snapshots, with alcohol featuring prominently across many lives. There is not a consistent thread. It feels like a reality TV show: “ At least I don’t do THAT!”

These influencers, these famous names, were trying. They had weird, often inconsiderate and toxic habits and requirements they performed in their days.

I am comforted to know they didn’t hit it either. But the range—Mahler was austere, F. Scott Fitzgerald was a bacchanal—the range gives me room to keep trying.

I’m trying. I’m trying to have a good day.

It’s gonna take awhile.

Shaggy Dog Story

My husband grew up with an Airedale terrier, and we have one. This is our second dog of the same breed. One of the good things about this breed is they don’t shed. Their hair is hair, not fur, and it is curly. Not quite as curly as a poodle, but definitely curly.

My hair is curly. We share that trait.

Stories about my kind of dog pop up sometimes. Airedale dogs were very popular at the turn of the 20th century and that’s when most of the Airedale stories happen.

James Thurber wrote The Dog that Bit People, a story that makes me laugh not the least because I recognize in the illustrations of the grumpy dog as my kind of dog.

The story I want to tell is about Garret Augustus Morgan, who was born 1877 and became a very influential inventor. He left school after 6th grade, and went on to  invent an award-winning smoke hood that helped fire fighters save lives. He got a medal and was made an honorary member of International Association of Fire Engineers. This invention was so effective it was used by the military in WW1.

About that time automobile traffic was becoming a thing, so he patented the green-yellow-red traffic lights so people could have some time to slow down.

These are some impressive, practical, and ingenious inventions. They have dramatically saved lives since they arrived.

They were not, however, the source of his commercial success. Garrett Morgan was black, the son of slaves. Because of bigotry, some people refused to buy his life saving smoke hood.

But his blackness gave him insight into a need that had not yet been addressed.

And this is where the dog comes in. Wait for it.

He was working on another invention in 1905– a liquid that would help smooth sewing machine needles so they wouldn’t catch on the fabric.  He noticed the chemical had another property: It could straighten hair.

As the story goes, he took this liquid and tested it on an Airedale.

Now, I know a few inventor types, and they can get pretty single-minded. I can picture Garrett Morgan wanting to find the right way to test this chemical.

But it wasn’t his Airedale.

It was his neighbor’s dog.

I am pretty sure Garrett Morgan was delighted to discover that his chemical solution worked very well as he straightened the coat of this local dog.

But he had not asked permission. He hadn’t even told his neighbor he would do this.

So after the successful hair treatment, doggie went home and was a stranger to his family. The dog’s owner wouldn’t let him in the house. What a transformation!

I can’t stop giggling at the idea of straightening a dog’s hair. Just how many treats did that take?

But Morgan launched a company of expanding hair care products. His photo in Wikipedia shows a very handsome black man with impeccably straightened hair.

I bet he was a fascinating man to talk to, and I can imagine his home constantly had experiments going on.

And my doggie was associated with that. I am delighted.