Why a campfire? (reprise)

October 26, 2012

It was more than five years ago I originally posted this?  Heck, I won’t even add links or a “More” section at the bottom.  I deserves to be repeated though, I think, especially in an election year when we wish we could gather more people around a campfire.  Here goes:

Training adult Scout leaders always produces a few puzzled looks, and occasional passionate, fearful rebukes, when I note that a campfire gives a boy or a girl an opportunity to play with fire.

No, I don’t mean, exactly, that we should let kids play with fire.  There are rules — what’s burning must be in the fire pit, is the chief rule.

There is some primal need to watch a fire, to study it, to experiment with it, and finally just to watch it go. If you camped as a kid, you probably know what I mean.

Camp fires are universal.  This one was outside Bangalore.

Camp fires are universal. This one was outside Bangalore.

Every kid needs to do that.  It’s a part of growing up.  It’s a necessary memory for healthy and sane adults.

Start a fire, and a kid will get a stick and poke the burning logs and, especially, the red-, yellow- and white-hot coals after the fire burns a while.  They’ll start the stick on fire, put it out, and light it again.  They’ll pull the stick out of the fire and watch the flame consume the stick.  Kids will experiment with different things on the fire, to see whether, how fast, and how they burn.

Just keep it in the fire pit.

A Scoutmaster can tell which kids have been camping. A Scoutmaster knows which kids have been able to sit around a campfire and play with fire in that way.  Kids who know fire are more mature, generally, more relaxed about the excitement of the stuff, and much more careful with it.  Scouts who have dabbled in the campfire respect fire for what it is and for what it can do, good and bad.

What you’ll remember 20 years later, or 30 years, or (God bless me!) 40 years, and I hope 50 and 60 years, is the watching of the fire as the flames die down to a red and pulsing bed of coals.

You’ll remember some of the stories — Freddy Jonas’s often-told story of racing down the Champs Elysee in horse-drawn carriages, bribing the driver of the other carriage to go slower to win the race; the story of Rulon Skinner, the best non-swimming canoe instructor on Earth, and the big canoe race in which his opponent finally tipped Skinner’s canoe, and then yelled “snake!” to appeal to Skinner’s other great fear; the night the bear invaded the camp at Ben de la Tour, a bear later found to have antlers and four hooves.  You’ll remember the s’mores, and you’ll forget how messy they are.  You’ll remember the time you waited for the cobbler to cook after someone forgot to start the charcoal, or the the time the story got so good you forgot to take the cobbler off the fire, and how the Dutch oven had to be thrown away because it never would come clean.

You may remember that little fox at Camp Carter, sneaking just beyond the light of the fire and carefully circling every chair, looking for something good to eat, to steal.  Or that stupid porcupine that, now that you think of it must have been rabid, heading straight for the fire there in the only stand of Ponderosa pine in Utah County, up Payson Canyon.  And that will trigger the story of the night the fire wouldn’t start in the Catskills, and what seemed like hundreds of giant porcupines convened in bacchanalian festivities while campers dared not sleep, in their tents.

Someone will mention retiring U.S. flags, and you’ll remember the retirement ceremony for the flag from the widow of the veteran, how she insisted that you promise the flag would be burned completely and honorably, and warned “he’ll be watching!”  You’ll remember the mass flag retirement after the lifting of the burn ban at Wisdom, and how you suddenly realized lots of flags put out lots of toxic fumes — but somebody ad libbed a part to the ceremony to add time to let the fumes clear, and no Scout noticed (you hope!).

We haven’t even gotten to the singing.

I was put in mind of the power of the campfire with a remembrance from Real Live Preacher writing at High Calling:

I remember how worried we were the first time we tried to set one of those brush piles on fire. We nervously stood before a ten-foot high, fifteen-foot wide mound with a can of lighter fluid and a couple of matches. I squirted a modest amount around the bottom of the pile and stood back while Michael threw the match. That’s when we discovered that it’s surprisingly difficult to set things on fire. Now I marvel at stories of people casually throwing cigarettes out of their cars and setting whole forests ablaze. Michael and I had a hard time starting fires even when we used diesel fuel and a blowtorch.

It takes about five hours to burn a giant pile of brush and cedar, so Michael and I would start a fire, then sit on the tailgate of the brown pickup truck and talk while we kept an eye on it. Apart from the searing heat and looking like chimney sweeps, it was fun. I’m always looking for guilt-free reasons to sit around and talk with friends. I don’t suppose I’ll ever have as good an excuse as I did back then.

A guilt-free reason to sit around and talk with friends?  A campfire is an automatic reason — guilt only obtains if there’s a ban on burning where you’re making the fire.

Carl Buell painted another one that took my breath away the first time I saw it.  Go see it. (I’m asking permission on this one; it may take a little while. Posted below with permission.)

That’s not a photograph, you can tell because it so well preserves what you remember — better than any photograph ever could —  it preserves what you remember from that campout up in the San Franciscos the night the sky was so blue so late and you could see the whole moon from the earthglow — or was it in New Mexico?  Probably not Colorado because there aren’t any mountains — oh, but if he’s looking east, it could have been south of Pueblo . . . no, maybe near Albion in the Sawtooths . . . Buell works in the east; it’s probably up in Maine . . . but he lived and painted in Marin County.

Didn’t he perfectly capture that night?

Campfire, by Carl Buell.  Copyright Carl Buell, all rights reserved; used with permission

Friday Photo: Washington Monument from the top down

October 26, 2012

U.S. Department of Interior, on Instagram:


Interior’s Instagram caption: It’s not every day you see the #Washington #Monument from this angle. #dc #mall #bestofteday

For me, additional security in Washington, D.C., has stolen much of the fun, joy and awe of the Washington Monument — compounded by the damage from the 2011 Virginia earthquake.

Before September 2011, the Washington Monument was open until midnight in summer months.  Tourists head off for dinner and hotels at before 6:00 p.m. — the tourist lines disappear, and especially after 10:00 p.m. on most nights, one could, or one and the three or four visiting friends you had could, without waiting catch the elevator to the top for an absolutely matchless view of Washington D.C. at night.

Spy on the White House; spot the tourists dangling feet in the Reflecting Pool at the Lincoln Memorial; see the light in the Capitol Dome indicating Congress in session, and gloat that you were in recreational mode instead.  See a couple kissing on the steps of the Jefferson Memorial, thinking no one would see them.  Watch the arc of U.S. Airways airplanes coming down the Potomac River corridor, panicking anyone in the USA Today building who happened to look out and look down on an aircraft passing by, and almost hear the screams from the non-frequent DCA fliers as the plane banked sharply at low level to line up with the runway at National Airport (it will never be Reagan to true aviation buffs, who still miss the controllers who gave us confidence in that thrill ride).

For the Fourth of July, the National Park Service (NPS) used to conduct a lottery to select a tiny handful of professional photographers to shoot the fireworks, one of the best displays on Earth.  The fireworks shoot from near the Lincoln Memorial.  Does NPS do that any more?

Then walk down the stairway, past the hundreds of carved memorial stones, gifts of Americans who wished to honor George Washington by contributing some large, expensive rock to the interior of the obelisk rising Pharaoh-style out of the swamp near the Tidal Basin.  Notice the color line shift that marked the Know-Nothing Party control of the group building the monument — the original American Tea Party austerity group, who stopped construction for 20 years just to prove they could impose austerity on those ‘spendthrifts’ who wished to build a monument to a man, even without any public money, and even though they controlled the commission only from 1855 to 1858 (the Civil War intervened).

The Washington Monument, all 555 feet, 5 1/8 inches of it, is closed now.  When I visited last, in June, damage from the earthquake was still being assessed, and to protect the monument and the public, no access to the interior was allowed.  Around the base, the 50 U.S. flags still fly 24 hours each day; but the paths to the monument now have blockades to stop any unauthorized truck, perhaps laden with explosives, and the public benches sat empty where we used to meet small-town Americans awed by the thing, and foreign tourists in awe of America.

The caption from Interior begs more explanation.  Why don’t we see this view?  The Washington Mall — that expanse of grass and, now, museums between the U.S. Capitol on the east end and the Potomac-side Lincoln Memorial on the west — graces pilots’ air charts as a civilian no-fly zone.  After too many small-plane pilots gave the FAA fits, and somebody parked one on the lawn of the White House, FAA banned all flights over the mall, except by police or other official aircraft.  Pragmatically it’s the D.C. cops and Marine One helicopters who might be able to capture this view.

How did Interior get the shot?  The Instagram doesn’t explain. Perhaps it was part of the work to repair and restore the monument from the earthquake.

This picture highlights some interesting things. You can see wear and discoloration of the stone, from weather.  Discoloration is not consistent; you can see how the windows at the top alter the even flow of water.  Acid rain causes the stone to turn gray, then black; the monument is light only from a couple of scrubbings (though, contrary to climate denialist and GOP claims, Clean Air Act control of acid rain reduces the damage since 1972).  Some of the discoloration may be from copper solutions washed off the window frames by the rain.

If you look closely, you can see one of the cracks caused by the earthquake.  At the peak rests a tiny pyramid of aluminum, undistinguishable from the limestone.  Aluminum?  Yes — while the metal is a very common element around the Earth, refining it out of ore was difficult, commercially impossible in the 1880s when the Monument was completed.  As a last tribute to Washington, builders capped it with what was then one of the most precious metals on Earth, aluminum.  Soon after, the advent of mass quantities of generated electricity made aluminum refining commercially viable; today we make disposable drink cans out of what was once the most precious metal on Earth, when purified.  One may ponder how George Washington would consider such technological changes in the nation where he hoped every citizen might have a “vine and fig tree,” first to cap his monument with aluminum, and then make millions of tons of the stuff to throw away.  We are an industrial society to an extent Washington did not, perhaps could not anticipate.  Would he approve?

About a quarter of the way up from the base, you see the color of the limestone changed, as I noted earlier.  All the stone on the face of the monument came from the same quarry; however, during the cessation of construction during the rule of the Know Nothings on the monument commission, rock from the quarry continued to come out, to be used in other projects.  By the time construction on the monument was restarted, rock quarrying pulled out limestone of a slightly darker, more reddish color.  Builders decided to continue with the color variation rather than pull down the stone already stacked.  The Washington monument thus becomes a memorial not only to Washington, but also to the politics he futilely hoped would not affect our nation’s government, even non-governmental commissions working around and about the government.  That color line preserves in stone some of the political errors of the mid-19th century.  It remains unclear whether anyone ever learned a beneficial lesson from those times.

At the base you see patterns of stone unrecognized at ground level (are those white stripes the benches to wait in line to get up to the top?).  Around the monument a phalanx of 50 U.S. flags, which fly constantly (except in hurricanes), and you can see the lights that illuminate the flags and the monument at night.  Flying into Washington, D.C., at night, becomes one of the great vistas of the world, pierced by the shining white spire of the Washington Monument against a black sky (or dark blue, better), and the panorama of great public buildings, also lighted limestone.

Under local and federal zoning rules, skyscrapers are not allowed in that core area, to preserve the buena vista.

And finally, in the photo you can see fewer than a dozen people, colored dots at the base of the structure.  Are they looking up?


One more time: “Do we really know who Donald Trump is, or where he came from?”

October 26, 2012

Donald Trump is at it again.  His $5 million offer to get Obama’s grades mystifies me, and irritates me (why doesn’t he just call Harvard, and see what GPA was required to graduate with the honors on Obama’s diploma?).  It’s clear Trump has not bothered to see whether information is available on Obama, but is instead attempting a political smear.

Should we be concerned at all?  David Letterman savaged Trump on his show October 24, but then invited Trump to appear on October 25, and let Trump get away without challenging most of his big whoppers.  Letterman seemed to sense he was not witnessing a political exposé, but instead was witness to the dying throes of a man whose talent and time seem to be restricted to hair design, these days.

Heh.  Why should we believe Donald Trump?  In addition to the manifold reasons you may have already accumulated to dismiss the guy as a crank and a crackpot, consider that we don’t have a clue about his bona fides.

Who is Donald Trump, really?  I posted this originally in February 2011 — and since then, Trump has failed to release any whiff of evidence to clear up his murky background.  He’s not released his birth certificate (except a forgery), he’s not been able to establish that he ever attended a college in America.   In short, he’s vulnerable exactly to the type of unfair and churlish attack he’s making on President Obama.

Here’s how it unfolds:

Donald Trump demonstrated his ability to spread hoax information at the CPAC Conference recently — a group who love to hear hoaxes and spread them, as much as fourth-grade boys love to hear and spread jokes about flatulence.

But can he take it?  [Note the hoax insinuations below are underlined.]  Could Donald Trump withstand the kind of attack* he made on President Obama?

I mean, he claims President Obama may not have attended Columbia because Trump hasn’t personally interviewed anyone who knew him there — despite years of stories in alumni magazines, major media interviews with the people who knew Obama there, etc., etc.

Donald Trump and unidentified woman

Gratuitous picture that makes trump look funny or evil, with gratuitously misleading caption: “Donald Trump wants people to stop asking why no one, in America, can remember his high school and college days.” Alternative caption: “Donald Trump, two of his closest friends and an unnamed woman discuss politics and government policy.”

Does Trump have room to talk?  His Wikipedia bio claims he attended Fordham University for a brief period (got kicked out, maybe?), but didn’t graduate.  It claims he got an undergraduate degree from the Wharton School in Pennsylvania.

A search found no one from Wharton who remembers Donald Trump as a student there.  Jon Huntsman, the founder of Huntsman Container and Huntsman Chemical, the guy who invented the “clamshell box” for McDonalds, is one of the most famous and wealthy Wharton grads (and also the father of Jon Huntsman, Jr., the recently resigned Obama Ambassador to China).  He never saw Trump on campus at Wharton.  James DePriest, the outstanding conductor now with the Oregon Symphony (and fun to watch, trust me) — he never ran into Trump on campus when he attended Wharton.  There’s no record of Trump having had a roommate there. Alan Rachins, the famous actor who graduated from Wharton — not only never took a class with Trump, but said he never heard of Trump attending classes at the time.

Who is Donald Trump?  Where did he come from?  How come no one remembers him?

But the fog gets inkier.

Trump was not only a football standout in high school, he was a social standout, winning awards for his community involvement (although, no one at the high school in his hometown remembers his attending classes there).

But during the time he claims to have attended Fordham, no one remembers him.  No social standout.  No football hero.  Was he ever really at Fordham?

And what about his odd religious beliefs?  There are jokes about his worship of money — but what sort of religion would lead a man to claim that the 2008 economic collapse was “an Act of God?”  Yes, he really believes that.  His “god” appears to have a grudge against the United States and its economy.  Even in his greatest economic ventures, he pays homage to Muslim Hindu religious landmarksWhat is his secret agenda on religion?

Where did Donald Trump come from?  Why does no one in his hometown high school remember him?  Why did he drop out of sight at the time he claims to have attended Fordham University?  Did he buy his way into a listing as an alumnus of Wharton, after so many Wharton grads don’t remember seeing him there?   Who can trust a guy who worships (if he does worship at all) a “god” who strikes down the U.S. economy?

Who is Donald Trump?  Why did no one at CPAC check his questionable credentials before giving Trump a national platform?  Why is CPAC mum about this entire affair?  Why did Fox News conspire to obscure the message and candidacy of Ron Paul, with their new darling, Donald Trump?

Worse for Trump, most of the things in this screed are factually accurate.  Those who live by the inaccurate spin can die by it, too.

Scarier:  Which conservative sites will have the guts to question** Trump’s secret credentials?

Read more here, at Oh, For Goodness Sake [archived here] (and here at “Donald Trump Pants On Fire”), and here, at PolitiFact.


*   That is, “completely hoaxed up.”

**  Oh, yeah — that should have read, “gullibility to fall for.”  When will the blog owner correct that glaring error?***

*** Not until Trump apologizes to President Obama.



%d bloggers like this: