Saturday, August 31, 2019



How quickly my time has gone at the Monastery of St. Gertrude.

I leave early next Saturday morning for four days in Boise, then down through Nevada to the Bristlecone Forest in the Eastern Sierras, a night in Independence, CA (home of Mary Austin, author of Land of Little Rain), then home.

The schedule here, which I'm free to follow or not, except if I want to eat, is roughly as follows: breakfast 7:30 to 8, Morning Prayer 8:30, Mass 11:30, Lunch 12:10, Evening Prayer 5:00, Supper 6:00.

One thing I've discovered is that minus the urban noise, and driving the freeways, my days here are pretty much the way they are at home. I wake early; spend an hour or two in prayer, spiritual reading, and gazing out the window; shower, eat a bowl of cereal, and for the rest of the morning work (have been editing a book I want to call HARROWED: The Misadventures of An Urban Gardener, plus working on columns for Magnificat and Angelus, plus mapping out my arts and culture schedule for the fall, plus contemplating revamping my website/blog, reading, and watching movies).

Then Mass, lunch, help with dishes (the month-long artist's residency is free; the sisters ask only that I help put away dishes after lunch and supper). Then I'll take a nap if did not get enough sleep, which is usually, and/or work for an hour or two more, answer emails, maybe call or answer a call from a family member or friend (I can get cell reception in my studio but not outside).

Then generally I join the sisters for Evening Prayer, then supper, dishes, and an hour-long, fairly strenuous walk up the hill behind the monastery to the cemetery and on up to a lovely clearing where you can survey the valley below and the setting sun.

En route I'll pray a Rosary, pick some wildflowers for a glass on my desk, and upon returning, read or watch a movie. There is plenty in between of reading the NYT,, and

A few readers, with whom I sympathize completely, commented recently about the difficulty many of us have in settling down, quitting ourselves of distractions, feeling guilty for reading or listening to podcasts or watching TV or movies.

One thing I see out here is how even though I pride myself on working hard, the fact is I work, I mean really work, as in sitting down, focusing, and doing the beast-of-burden, insufferably slow toil of, say, writing a column for maybe two hours a day, three if I'm lucky.

On the other hand, that's not bad. It's pretty much what I'm capable of: mentally, emotionally, and even physically. A certain kind of stamina is required consistently to write--and I do think that diminishes a bit as we age.

But the real stamina and toil for me consists in forever "remembering" that my work--and everything that goes into it--is the way I've been given to love God with all my heart, all my soul, all my strength. That doesn't mean, I realize, that my work is any good. It doesn't mean it's going to bring me worldly success, security or attention. It means I'm called to be faithful to it.

I also need to remember I have a chronic mental-emotional illness--alcoholism--and that my main job, even before writing, is to treat it on a daily basis. Also, I'm an extreme introvert. Not "having" to talk to people here for more than an hour a day has been heaven, and a breeze.

If I can stay straight on all that, I find I'm way less bothered by feelings of guilt, the urge to second-guess myself, and/or resentment at others who are "doing" more, seemingly getting more attention and love, and are clearly more "holy." I don't have to be quite so quick to justify or defend myself and my life in my head.

Early in my stay, a visual artist who was passing through remarked at dinner: "I'm so torn. With all the horrible things going on in the world, I'm really starting to question whether it's okay for me to spend all my time making art."

I kept my big mouth shut, especially since she'd hardly asked my opinion, but I did think: Of course art helps alleviate the suffering of the world. Of course our desire for, and efforts toward, goodness, truth and beauty matter absolutely. If I did not think art basically holds the world together, I wouldn't have devoted my life to it.

Also of course I need only hear, for example, that, say, a friend of a friend is entering his 16th month in jail, awaiting trial for trespassing at a nuclear weapons facility, to be thrown into an abyss of self-doubt. If I had faith the size of a mustard seed, I, too, would be in prison! I, too, would be doing something noble and self-sacrificing and important!

If I've made any progress at all, it may be that now it takes hours instead of days to remember that I am doing something important--for me, the most important thing in the world. I remember the Flannery O'Connor quote that gave me "permission" to quit my job as a lawyer almost 25 years ago now: "We are not judged by what we are basically. We are judged by how hard we use what we have been given. Success means nothing to the Lord, nor gracefulness."

Every time I think I have the cross down, I discover all over again that I don't. Suffering, for love of Christ, helps heal the world. But so, under the right circumstances (which only we can discern, which is why that hour or two of prayer in the morning is ESSENTIAL) do watching films, gabbing with our friends, listening to podcasts, buying a new pair of shoes. If joy, fun, and praise don't do honor to Christ, we're left with masochism, and a competition to see who can suffer most.

Whereas once we're grounded in him, and more or less clear on what we were put on earth for--as St. Augustine said, "Love, and do what thou wilt."

Plus it's summer already! Or was...

Plus the less I think about myself and my "progress," in any way and on any level, the way better for me and everyone else in this vale of tears.

"Living a full and overflowing life does not rest in bodily health, in circumstances, nor in seeing God's work succeed, but in the perfect understanding of God, and in the same fellowship and oneness with him that Jesus Himself enjoyed. But the first thing that will hinder this joy is the subtle irritability caused by giving too much thought to our circumstances."
--Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest, August 31

"Reading a book, visiting a museum, wandering out to people-watch at the park. Though we purport to value artists and romanticize their muses, the aforementioned activities aren’t often recognized as work."
--Bonnie Tsui, from a June 19, 2019 NYT op-ed piece called "You Are Doing Something Important When You Aren’t Doing Anything"

"How beautiful it is to do nothing and then rest afterward."
--Spanish Proverb

Happy Labor Day!



Friday, August 30, 2019


I'm winding up my third week of an artist's residency here at the Monastery of St. Gertrude (Benedictine women) in Cottonwood, Idaho.

The sisters have a vegetable garden and a fruit orchard. We have apricot and raspberry preserves, plus stewed cherries, at every meal. The other day they put up 41 gallons of applesauce (from a variety called Yellow Transparent). They have a pantry full of gleaming quart glass jars of pears, peaches, and plums.

The other day whilst wandering the grounds I happened upon another couple of trees, not in the orchard, laden with small, roundish, juicy-looking fruit: on one tree purple-red; on the other golden. Were they Rainier cherries? I wondered. And more to the point, why wasn't anyone picking them?

Naturally I nabbed a few, bit in and--delicious! A tart undertaste overlain with sweetness. A seed like a cherry, the size of a cherry, and yet not quite the texture nor taste of a cherry.

Back in my room I googled and discovered that this splendid fruit is known as the cherry plum. I rapturously told of my find at dinner and was met by the inhabitants of the monastery with supreme indifference. "Oh those old things? Even the deer won't eat them and they make a terrible mess. If they get any bigger, we're going to chop 'em down."

"But they're delicious!" Silence. "Does no-one want them?" Silence. "Would anyone mind if I picked some?" "No, go ahead."

So every day I go out, fill my pockets to bursting with this exotic, scrumptious fruit, and have a feast in my studio. The trees themselves are also beautiful.

All I can think is: What innumerable other treasures do I pass by during the course of my day?

Thursday, August 29, 2019



In this month of the anniversary of the U.S. bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki:


"I’ll get down on my knees to beg you—please, find our Anna
Sushko. She lived in our village. In Kozhushki. Her name is
Anna Sushko. I’ll tell you how she looked, and you’ll type it up.
She has a hump, and she was mute from birth. She lived by
herself. She was sixty. During the time of the transfer they put
her in an ambulance and drove her off somewhere. She never
learned how to read, so we never got any letters from her. The
lonely and the sick were put in special places. They hid them.
But no one knows where. Write this down . . .

The whole village took care of her, like she was a little girl.
Someone would chop wood for her, someone else would bring
milk. Someone would sit in the house with her for an evening,
heat the stove. Two years we all lived in other places, then we
came back to our houses. Tell her that her house is still there.

The roof is still there, the windows. Everything that’s broken or
been stolen, we can fix. If you just tell us her address, where
she’s living and suffering, we’ll go there and bring her back. So
that she won’t die of sorrow. I beg you. An innocent spirit is
suffering among strangers.

There’s one other thing about her, I forgot. When some thing
hurts, she sings this song. There aren’t any words, it’s just
her voice. She can’t talk. When something hurts, she just sings:
A-a-a. It makes you feel sad."

--Svetlana Alexievich. Voices from Chernobyl: The Oral History of a Nuclear Disaster, winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award.

Alexievich won the 2015 Nobel Prize in Literature, "for her polyphonic writings, a monument to suffering and courage in our time."

Monday, August 26, 2019



Here's an interview I did with Aleteia last week re my new book, RAVISHED: Notes on Womanhood.


"Christ has asked me to "die" so that I can really begin to live now. This is what the fourth gospel calls abundant life. It is a new and fuller life; it means not so much any external difference as a different quality of life.

I think that it means above all the avoidance of fantasy. I also suspect, though I really cannot be quite sure, that is is one of God's gifts to us as we grow older, that in the second half of our lives the paschal mystery touches us more closely. As our bodies become less strong, and our faculties begin to fail, we are forced to recognize what diminishment may mean, and we have to accept the many things that we will never do, the many doors now closed to us."

--Esther de Waal, Living With Contradictions



Saturday, August 24, 2019


From Buenos Aires. At 15 years of age, Brendae suffers from Juvenile Huntington’s (JHD). She lost her Father to HD on her last birthday after her Mother had left, unable to cope. She’s been cared for by her aunt Norma Lara ever since.

The subject of this week's arts and culture column is a documentary that addresses an especially cruel illness: Huntington's Disease.

Here's how the piece begins:

“Dancing at the Vatican,” a 38-minute documentary directed by Brian Moore and produced by Amanda Spencer, showcases the plight of those suffering from Huntington’s disease (HD), a progressive neurological disorder. A parent with HD has a 50/50 chance of passing it on to his or her offspring.

The film is narrated by Emmy award-winning former NBC-TV foreign correspondent Charles Sabine, an asymptomatic HD carrier whose two beautiful young daughters accompany him to Rome.

HD causes progressive degeneration of nerve cells in the brain. Its symptoms include uncontrolled movements (the accompanying jerking and twitching is known as chorea), emotional problems, and loss of cognition. The disorder is genetic and it is fatal.

HD can strike anyone and anywhere: Folk singer Woody Guthrie purportedly died of it. But in an even crueler twist of fate, it concentrates in certain places around the globe, and they are mostly poor.

Barranquitas, Venezuela, in the Lake Maracaibo region, is one such place. Chile and Peru also have dense clusters of HD. Dilia Oviedo Guillén, from a village in Colombia, watched her husband and five children die of the disease. She now devotes her life, 24 hours a day, to nursing four more adult children who suffer from HD.


Wednesday, August 21, 2019


Living in relative silence and solitude is interesting.

I see that a lot of the "noise" for which I blame the world is really noise inside of me!

"Christ has asked me to "die" so that I can really begin to live now. This is what the fourth Gospel calls abundant life. It is a new and fuller life; it means not so much any external difference as a different quality of life."

--Esther de Waal, Living with Contradictions

Saturday, August 17, 2019



"[I]t is true, for better or worse, that we affect others in the last resort by what we are. From us too power will go forth in our small measure, to heal or to hurt, in accordance with our state of being. Too easily we forget this central fact of life: that always and inevitably we are affecting other people. We think too exclusively in material terms; we forget the power of spirit. We think too exclusively in terms of outward activity; we forget the power of being. If we are filled with egoism, hatred, the dark forces of life, then we spread darkness and bitterness about us whatever we may do or say. If we are filled with love then it is light and joy that go forth from us and affect the world even though we may be remote from human contacts. We know what it means to be lapped in the love of another human being, to be energized by it, healed, strengthened, renewed: we have to see that that is true of the whole world, the battleground of those opposing forces, partly a haunted house where evil that was done long ago lingers and is active, partly holy ground where the influence of love lingers on, to the healing of humanity. We have to think of the simple saints, the hermits in their cells, and see them for what they really are: playing a major part in the world's destiny, in the shaping of the world's future, simply because they are love-filled and love goes forth from them. To spread that kind of influence is the first duty of the christian [sic] in the world in which he lives."

--Gerald Vann, OP,  The Pain of Christ

Tuesday, August 13, 2019


"[C]ontrary to what I might have hoped or expected when I was younger, life does not in fact grow simpler as one gets older, its complexities and contradictions do not actually decrease as time goes on."
--Esther de Waal, Living with Contradictions: Reflections on the Rule of St. Benedict

How I do not know, but I have arrived at the Monastery of St. Gertrude in Cottonwood, Idaho.

It is close to ideal.

I’m on the fifth floor, facing east, overlooking the Camas prairie, a big sky, and many tall trees, in particular two super-tall spruce I think, the upper branches of which reach far above the fifth floor and are hung with clusters of cones. It occasionally rains and thunders with flashes of lightning as it did the first morning. Birdsong of various kinds is constant. The sisters have an orchard with (that I know of) apples, apricots and cherries, as well as a giant raspberry patch. They thus have delicious home-made preserves, and fresh unsprayed cherries and raspberries at every meal. The food is plentiful and lovingly made and there is certainly enough there so I’m not going to starve, esp since I brought three to four bags and smart move of my own snacks, crackers, dried fruit and drinks.

The main thing is it is quiet. I have not had actual unabated quiet probably since I was at the Dorland Mountain Arts Colony which was a year ago. Anyway, there are sisters who actually live on my floor and wing and I haven’t even seen them, though we share bathrooms. The bedroom is small and adequate with a window directly in front of a beautiful tree. I will sleep and take naps there. But the place I’ll spend most all my time is the Guardian Angels room, the studio I nabbed within the first few hours, which has two big windows, wifi, a desk, shelves of actually decent books (I also brought tons with me, and again good move), high ceilings, fir woodwork and which I have already managed to trick out with cards and artwork I brought myself, a few semi-decent icon images they had here, and wildflowers stuck in Goya coconut water cans.

I cannot describe the sheer sense of heaven to be ensconced up here and know I will not be BOTHERED. Right outside my Guardian Angels Room door is a life-size statue of Mary that scares the crap out of me every time I see/sense it as my limbic system persists in perceiving an actual person. She is squishing the head of a screaming serpent, so that’s good, and I hope to get used to her. Right across from her is a bathroom, and beside that a small kitchen area with a full-size refrigerator, a sink, a small coffee maker, and a plug for my electric water heater—in other words, my coffee and tea needs (one of the day's MAIN considerations) are TOTALLY PROVIDED FOR.

With all that, I have many psycho-spiritual conflicts/battles raging, per usual. I'm sure none of them amount to anything.


Friday, August 9, 2019



In a piece this week for "Catholic Philly," Philadelphia Archbishop Charles J. Chaput reflects on the recent shootings in Gilroy, El Paso, and Dayton.  He wrote:

"Now begins the usual aftermath: expressions of shock; hand-wringing about senseless (or racist, or religious, or political) violence; bitter arguments about gun control; heated editorials, earnest (but brief) self-searching of the national soul, and eventually — we’re on to the next crisis.

I buried some of the young Columbine victims 20 years ago. I sat with their families, watched them weep, listened to their anger, and saw the human wreckage that gun violence leaves behind. The experience taught me that assault rifles are not a birthright, and the Second Amendment is not a Golden Calf. I support thorough background checks and more restrictive access to guns for anyone seeking to purchase them.

But it also taught me that only a fool can believe that “gun control” will solve the problem of mass violence. The people using the guns in these loathsome incidents are moral agents with twisted hearts. And the twisting is done by the culture of sexual anarchy, personal excess, political hatreds, intellectual dishonesty, and perverted freedoms that we’ve systematically created over the past half-century.

So I’ll say it again, 20 years later. Treating the symptoms in a culture of violence doesn’t work. We need to look deeper. Until we’re willing to do that, nothing fundamental will change."

I couldn't agree more. I can't understand why every Catholic bishop and priest in the country isn't calling loud and clear for a ban on assault rifles (at the very least). And the secular world betrays its own limitations by failing to recognize that the violence that permeates the American psyche is at bottom a spiritual crisis, a sickness of the national soul.

Twenty years ago, Chaput observed:

"The real problem [of Columbine-like violence in our culture] is in here, in us … In the last four decades we’ve created a culture that markets violence in dozens of different ways, seven days a week. It’s part of our social fabric. When we build our advertising campaigns on consumer selfishness and greed, and when money becomes the universal measure of value, how can we be surprised when our sense of community erodes? When we glorify and multiply guns, why are we shocked when kids use them?"

Aside: Archbishop Chaput wrote a book in which from what I understand he maintained that every Catholic should vote based SOLELY on whether a candidate is for, or against, laws that ban abortion. But just as gun control laws in and of themselves won't stop gun violence, laws restricting abortion won't stop abortion--and for the very same reasons he himself stated above. So what do you do if a candidate thinks abortion is fine but supports the abolition of private ownership of assault weapons? What do you do if a candidate purports to support life in the womb but in his or her life, actions, speech and spirit is a malignant, racist, hate-spewing, lying narcissist?

Would that life were so clear-cut that we could extract an "issue" from the whole fabric of existence, choose the "right" side, and let our consciences rest. It's not, ever. Thus, Christ nailed to the cross: of the paradox of human existence'; of the fact that for us to live and consume, someone else necessarily dies or goes without; of the fact that no issue or money or decision or act is totally "clean" except possibly martyrdom.

So how to proceed without despairing? How to refuse the thought, Nothing I do matters, so I will do nothing at all.

 "The real problem [of violence in our culture] is in here, in us"…[Similarly, when a newspaper posed the question, ‘What’s Wrong with the World?’ G. K. Chesterton reputedly wrote in response: "Dear Sirs: I am."].

Wednesdau, I drove from the 300 or so miles from Winnemuca, NV to Boise, Idaho. I started at 7 am, knowing there was an hour time change, and set as my goal to arrive in Boise in time for 12:15 Mass at St. John the Baptist.

The landscape was glorious and en route, I prayed the Glorious Mysteries, and for many people in my life, and others who've specifically asked me to pray for them. I also prayed my car wouldn't break down, that I could pass the semi in front of me without getting squished by an oncoming semi, that I'd find a place to pull over and pee, that my life would bear fruit, that my heart would be purified, that there'd be enough cell reception so I could check the Rogers Cup live scores, in gratitude, that the Boise Co-op would carry bread from the Acme Bakery, that I could reach into the cooler and eat a cup of yogurt and blueberries while driving, for the hideous heart-stopping gun massacres that our nation allows and de facto encourages would stop.

I thought about the fact that "being an American" has come to mean two very different things to two very different groups of people, or perhaps truer, that the American psyche has always had a split down the middle of it. In New Hampshire, where I was raised, our license plates, for example, read and still read, "Live Free or Die." The American Revolution was still very much a part of the civic psyche. Town commons were and still are adorned by cannons, flags, and statues of Paul Revere. On the fourth of July, you can still drive through Portsmouth, the town where I was born, and see grown males dressed as Minute Men.

Violence, in other words, upon which our nation was founded, was in the air, and so was the so-called righteousness that attended it, the thought here being: This land is ours and we're willing to die for it. Except actually the land is never anybody's except God's. The land is for those who understand and revere and cherish and value and preserve it, which at that point would have been the Native Americans who we massacred before grabbing and "conquering" it.

We never dealt with our collective and subconscious guilt. Instead of transforming the wound, we refused to acknowledge and thus transmitted it. Race has thus always been a factor in our history, and so has violence.

We paid superficial lip service to an amorphous ecumenical, toothless "God," then commandeered and appropriated "God" to support our violence. We claim to be a religious nation but as a nation we have never  truly bowed before any god besides our own self-interest and greed. We'll put a good gloss on it, like we all do in our daily lives, but when you get right down to it--self-interest and greed.

Beside the live free or die mentality arose many of the values upon which I have based, however imperfectly and inconsistently, my adult, sober life: hard work, decency, doing for your neighbor. A desire for the common good, and the cognizance that such a desire has sacrifice and compromise built into it.  You might want to play your music full blast, for instance, but that is probably going to bother your neighbor so you tone it down. A gratitude and reverence for the landscape and natural resources that manifests not so much in joining an organization but in ordering your daily life so as to be able to drink in and reflect as much as possible of that landscape.

I'm thinking of my father, who had a vegetable garden and shared the produce with neighbors. I'm thinking of my mother, who gathered greens from the fields in back of our childhood home and made Christmas wreaths from them. You operate on the honor system. You try not to take out without putting back in, hopefully more than you took.

But there's a dark side to the live free or die ethos, too. That one says I can do whatever I want and you can't tell me not to because I'm an American. I can ride my motorcycle back and forth through your neighborhood purposely gunning the engine and making as much noise as I possibly can at because I'm an American. I can drive a giant gas-guzzling 4 by 4 to transport myself and the one kid to Trader Joe's and yoga even though the world is in grave climate-change peril because I'm an American. I can acquire an arsenal of assault weapons in spite of the fact that my insistence on the "right" to such weapons causes incontrovertibly contributes to countless massacres of my innocent neighbors,  I can be the President of the United States and proudly pay no taxes because I'm an American, and a smart one at that. (That half those taxes go toward maintaining our military might, while our people go hungry, uninsured, uneducated, and jobless is another story--suffice it to say our President worships both our national military might and his own refusal to pay for any of it).

I, too, have a psychic split. As St. Paul said, The good I want to do I don't do, the evil I don't want to do, I do. What's the matter with the world is me. That I return again and again to my own need for mercy is what grounds me, enables me to continue living with some small kind of hope, strengthens me to take any action at all.

I drove 219 miles on 95 N (a two-lane highway), then cut off on 55-E, which was undergoing road work and had stop lights, then 84-E, where I could book it cause time was beginning to get tight, then off onto surface streets and downtown Boise and more road work and traffic congestion and with two minutes to go spotted St. John the Evangelist, jockeyed a parking space, grabbed my Magnificat, phone, keys, purse, sprinted across the street and asked a cluster of construction guys (the church is undergoing some kind of rehab) where the chapel was if they knew.

"Right down there, just duck under the yellow tape," one of them said, and I rushed in sweaty and shaking, during the Responsorial Psalm. Three hundred miles and I'd made it by a margin of seconds in time for the Gospel, so I felt I could in all good conscience, especially since I'd done everything in my power short of endangering others to arrive on time, take the Eucharist.

Lots of the women wore mantillas (and they weren't Latina), and in front of me was a young, well-built guy wearing a "Take the Hill" T-shirt, the back of which I studied during the homily. Pictured was a platoon of soldiers in camo gear with unbelievably scary-looking black hoods and machine guns. I'm not saying Christ was a pacifist, simply because Christ didn't have ideologies or formulas for anything. But I have a very hard time squaring the Gospels with assault weapons, of any kind, for any purpose. "Render unto Caesar what is Caesar's and what is God's unto God."

Like I said, the Cross.



Tuesday, August 6, 2019



Per usual, life has been moving at a faster clip than I'm able to keep up with.

I do know this: I'm in Carson City, Nevada. That's right. Holed up in the Forest Room of the Bliss Bungalow: "a charming inn for the discerning traveler."

Well, the first part  is right.

Carson City, the Historic District anyway, is totally cool--who knew? Bungalows of wood, stone and brick, shade trees, coffee shops, art galleries. (Plus of course the Nugget).

I'm en route to St. Gertrude's Monastery in Cottonwood, Idaho, where I'm to spend a month as an artist-in-residence. (An, not the: apparently there's to be another writer or artist, so that will be nice). For reasons I won't go into except that they have to do with the fact that I decided not to drive 500 or 600 miles a day, which I have done before on other road trips, I thought I would space this one out a bit.

Also, I planned the whole trip basically in the middle of the night on my phone while lying in bed. Which I realize now doesn't really show a full picture of the whole map thing.

I've gone up the 395 through Lone Pine to Independence, one of my all-time favorite California towns (Eastern Sierras) many times. And there is nary a hotel room or airbnb anywhere within about a fifty-mile radius of Yosemite this time of year. So I thought I would take a kind of westerly route and end up in the town of Tuolumne (not to be confused with Tuolumne Meadows, which is on the east side of Yosemite), spend the night there, and the next day have a leisurely drive across the park on the Tioga Pass (I'm ashamed to say I have never visited Yosemite and did not intend to "visit" it in any meaningful way this trip-but figured I could at least get a taste for next time) and end up on the 395 and from there up to Carson City.

All went more or less well except that getting to Tuolomne requires a good 100 miles--the last 100 miles--on "secondary roads", with gigantic 4 by 4s bearing down on my tail any time I was going less than 70, and as I approached on Sunday afternoon (thank God I was going the right way), after an almost six-hour drive, there was a huge long line of cars snaking down from the park and all kinds of people and activity and camping supply and kayaking stores and so forth. And I realized that to descend into Yosemite Valley itself this time of year would probably be not that much fun for a scenic drive.

I stayed in a lovely airbnb except it turned out "they" (the people of the town) were putting on some kind of huge outdoor 70s rock concert that entailed deafening rehearsal for an hour in the afternoon and then loud music with thumping bass from 6 to 9. So that was awful.

In the meantime, I took a long walk around the town. I saw a few cool artist-type warehouse-type spaces with weathered corrugated tin rooves and two or three huge clusters of swallows' nests under the eaves of the VA Building. An old lumber store with broken windows, a rusted tin roof, and overgrown weeds was probably my favorite place, besides the similarly burnt-out old-timey cinema. Some lovely person has planted a maintained a beautiful flower garden and had a sign out on the white picket fence saying "Garden Tours" in charming script but I didn't see anyone around and didn't want to barge in.

There was a general air of not a lot of jobs, and several streets dead-ended at fences with signs saying You Are Entering Native Land, or more like Don't Come in Here, it's Native Land. I skimmed a book about the history of Tuolumne that night and the first picture was of a Native Me-Wuk woman weaving a beautiful basket. The book (and this was by some town historical society, not someone with a "political" agenda) mentioned that when the miners and lumber people came in the mid-1850s, they stripped, cut down, ravaged, pillaged, fouled the water, and in general completely upset the ecosystem under which and with which the indigenous tribes had lived for centuries. It must have seemed like the end of the world to them, the Me-Wuks.

Meanwhile I was learning of two separate domestic-terrorism massacres, at least one of which was committed by some dreadfully mentally derailed soul who is worried that "the Hispanics" are going to take over--what was never "ours" to begin with. And is especially not ours to the extent that we don't respect, revere, and conserve it, and its people.

The other thing I realized is that the folks in these mountain towns have got to be kind of stuck there in winter. The passes are closed in Yosemite from November or so till early June! And probably even getting down and around on your own side of the park is kind of dicey. As in you need one of those giant trucks. And chains.

Much as I love or profess to love silence, that would drive me crazy. So back at my room, I googled What is it like to live in Tuolumne, and all kinds of interesting chat boards came up.

"Nature Guy" wrote: "My wife and I "crash landed" in Sonora, Calif. (Tuolumne County) about six years ago. Yikes! We could clearly see that this was a very nice area to live....about THIRTY or FORTY years ago! And we were told as much by folks who'd grown up and lived in this general area. Nearly all the roads date from the Civil War period, or before. Roughly speaking around the late 1850's and early 1860's. Unfortunately for everyone, in the many long years since that time, the area has far exceeded it's basic capacity for REALISTIC GROWTH.

And [sic] educated guess would be that absolutely nothing will be done to deal with this local dilemma UNTIL some local lawyers' family member (or City Council person) dies from being unable to receive emergency aid, due to congested roadways! Big money coupled with foolish, unrealistic growth can garner a VERY dark side, which everyone in this area pays for each and every day to some degree.

Looking at the faces of drivers in the opposite lane, bumper to bumper some 40 or 50 vehicles long, is an "education" worth avoiding. GRIM, I think, would be an appropriate description. As with many things, however, no one is shackled to this area (unless they want to be), and we're no exception. Our long-anticipated EXIT from this over-priced, over-rated area should take place in the next six to eight months, God willing. California still has numerous areas worth one's efforts to explore and live in....sadly, the general Sonora areas has surpassed it's "golden period" MANY long years ago."

This is just the kind of thing I'd be likely to write and I got a huge kick out of it. Naturally, a bunch of people told Nature Guy he was a jerk and that Tuolumne County is the best place going.

Anyway, I slept like a log and yesterday  morning drove the 68-mile Sonora Pass west to east, which is north of Yosemite Valley (and not in the park, which requires a 30-buck day-pass entry fee) but also "scenic." There was hardly any traffic and the heart of it has I think 25-degree grades in some places, first up, then down, so you definitely want to have enough water in your radiator and be playing heads-up ball. At the very top you could see snow all over the tops of the mountains! And these crazy alpine meadows full of wildflowers (whereas down below it's about 90 degrees).

I only got out of my car once, and went and sat on a log in the sun next to a rushing river and ate my yogurt and blueberries. My brother Joe had cautioned me from Marietta, Georgia, not to even think of going off on a trail by myself as MANY MANY PEOPLE SIMPLY DISAPPEAR IN YOSEMITE AND ARE NEVER HEARD FROM AGAIN. I think he perhaps got this bit of info from Fox News, but I was so touched that a sibling was actually concerned for my welfare that I did a little research and came upon this very interesting site on NATIONAL PARK SERVICE COLD CASES.

Dang, it's dangerous out there!

My little Fiat 500 did great, knock on wood.

Next stop: Winnemucca.






Thursday, August 1, 2019



Here's how this week's arts and culture column begins:

Let me say up front that my idea of the ideal Catholic church is a teeny, slightly down-at-the-heels chapel, say one of the “capillas” in and around Taos, New Mexico: whitewashed walls streaked with candle smoke, bloody statues of Jesus, tin retablos. On Sundays, if you’re lucky, maybe an accordion player.

On July 13, as usual, God had other plans. That was the night I journeyed to Garden Grove for a lollapalooza event at Christ Cathedral.

Formerly known as Crystal Cathedral and owned and operated by Protestant televangelist Robert “Hour of Power” Schuller, the church has been scooped up by the Diocese of Orange, subjected to a $77 million renovation, and as of July 17 is now open for weekend worship.

To celebrate, the diocese (which ministers to 1.2 million faithful) threw a black-tie bash, including a cocktail reception, a program and concert, and an elegant dinner by Patina in the Cathedral Plaza.


This was a tough column. I had to really tone it down, and then the paper, which to its credit gives me incredible leeway, had me tone it down some more, and then they toned it down still further.

Here's a bit that didn't quite make it in:

I’m no art critic, but if I were in charge of building a cathedral, I’d first off hire an architect who loves Christ and attends daily Mass. A Mass-goer would know a church is the last place you want to be exposed to the sterile glare of the operating room. A church should be hushed, with a gloomy corner or two, and the merciful twilight of a convalescent home.

A church needs a splash of blood-red: say, a  beautifully-crafted stained-glass window of the Annunciation, or even a “corny” statue of Jesus pointing to his Sacred Heart: imagery, however high or low, that speaks of consecrated time and space; of a world beyond this one; of sin, redemption, eternity, and sacrificial love. 

Anyway, all the best to the Diocese of OC. And thanks for the dinner!