Sunday, September 28, 2008

In memoriam

I awakened to the truly sad news this morning that Paul Newman has died at the age of 83. In appearance and in other personality characteristics, he reminded me a lot of my beloved friend and neighbor, Norman Maclean. Norman was known around the world as the author of A River Runs Through It, and a second book, Young Men and Fire that was published posthumously following brilliant editing by University of Chicago Press editor, Alan Thomas. Of course, A River Runs Through It was made into a highly successful Robert Redford movie that was released in 1992, two years after Norman's death at the age of 88.
The same year the movie was released, Young Men and Fire was published and soon after Hollywood approached his family (son John Maclean and daughter Jean Maclean Snyder) about optioning it for a movie as well. It got as far as several screen play versions, though none seemed to John and Jean to adequately capture Norman's intent. In conversation with Norman's son-in-law, Joel Snyder, I learned that Clint Eastwood had been proposed to play Norman in the would-be film. While that was not unreasonable, by far the best match in terms of looks, age (at the time of Norman's involvement in the events described in Young Men and Fire), and persona, Paul Newman would have been the ultimate choice.
I took this photo of Norman in our Chicago back yard in the fall of 1982, about a year after we visited Yellowstone, the Grand Tetons, and Norman at the Maclean family cabin in Seeley Lake, Montana. That wonderful trip, and what I learned about the world from Norman Maclean through the years I knew him, were to set the course of my life. I loved Norman deeply, and the loss of Paul Newman has opened anew the pain of his passing.

Saturday, September 27, 2008


The other afternoon I had the good fortune to have an hour to lie down and vegetate before having to go to my evening exercise class. At such times I like to turn on the radio, usually Chicago Public Radio (all talk at that hour), but I keep it at low volume, especially in open-window weather, to avoid disturbing my next door neighbor. My thoughts drifted away from ceaseless discussion of world financial meltdown, then back to something more interesting, or at least, more meaningful, that came on the radio. I realized I could hardly hear the interviewee, whose voice was soft and accented. Then I tuned in to the problem more sharply. The amount of ambient noise, that I had to this point been oblivious to, was overwhelming. I added up these virtually simultaneous sources and came up with a list to explain why I couldn’t hear the radio without turning up the volume. I should explain that I live several stories up on the back side of a tall building, thus my apartment is a good half a block away from a busy intersection. Nonetheless, the number one sound-drowner was one CTA bus after the next with some hideous, but miraculously nonfatal disease, that causes them to screech over a low rumble at incredible volume each time the gears engaged, which happens each time they pass northbound or southbound: the stops are right across the street. Note that we have the number 6, the 28, the X28, and the 171 routes to choose from, and this was rush hour. The sick bus noises were, of course, superimposed on the usual grind-and-boom of the big diesel engines and heavy-duty transmissions accelerating from a stop, the squeaky brakes, and the blaring recorded announcements of the stops. Then there is the noise of ordinary auto traffic, plus motorcycles whose riders favor the least effective mufflers they can get away with. In the distance at occasional intervals were the sounds of sirens and klaxons; we’re not far from a tertiary care hospital, a fire house, and two police departments that cover our neighborhood (both of which ignore the illegally-loud motorcycles). On top of that, we are under Midway Airport’s flyway, and though Midway itself is only 8 miles distant, for some reason sometimes noise abatement doesn’t always seem to be in effect, and at just the right altitude and just the right atmospheric conditions, the jet engines can easily blot out a punch line on the radio. Then a low-altitude helicopter pulsed by. Oh, and I live a block and a half from the train tracks, where Metra commuters and heavy freight trains ply all day. When all these decibel-busters happened to coincide it wasn’t possible to even tell that the radio was on. At a brief moment when they didn’t happen to overlap, the recycling truck came by in the alley on the other side of the building and dumped a few loads of glass bottles into its hatch. For a moment then, I could hear above the incessant rush of air through the ventilation system in the bathrooms next to my bedroom the sounds of water moving in the plumbing that I share with everyone who lives above and below me: someone happened to be showering overhead. Then a broken number 6 bus came by…

What’s miraculous about all of this is that it goes on all day and into the night, and all summer long when my windows are open I rarely notice the din. I hear instead its loud absence. The first night or two when I bed down in my cabin in Yellowstone, it’s dark and late, and almost everyone has turned off their lights, and there’s no ambient noise like there is in the city, when I become aware of a strong, steady, high pitched sound in my ears, tinnitus that is totally undetectable in my normal habitat.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

They're Alive III

In looking over some older posts, I realized that I have neglected to update my own reports on grizzly sow #399 and her three cubs. As of April 16, 2008, it had been confirmed that all three cubs and their mother survived another winter, a very rough one, in fact, their second together. And, as predicted, a month later, 399 was seen aggressively chasing the cubs away at the same time a boar was noted to be hanging aroundright on schedule. By the time we got to Grand Teton National Park, in the latter part of May, the kids were still in frequently seen in mom's territory, but apart from her. Here, half way up Pacific Creek Road, in pouring rain, we found two of them, romping and playing as they had when they were little COY's (cubs-of-the-year) in the spring of 2006. They were definitely no longer in their mother's wake, physically nearly mature, healthy bears able to take on the world by themselves. What a testament to their mother's abilities. Maybe again, in the sping of 2009...let us hope!

Sunday, September 21, 2008

The changing of the seasons

I often like to commemorate the transition of the seasons - any seasons, fall to winter, spring to summer - and now, from summer to fall. I can hardly wait for the days to cool off, for the first early morning hints of temperatures that dropped to freezing or below overnight, and for, of course, the sensory glories of changing foliage, wet brilliant multicolored leaves underfoot. Is there anything about summer I might miss? Sure - baby animals all around, birdsong, glowing sunny days, people on the sidewalks and parks basking in the easy living of summer. But when I think about it, it's probably the summer fruits that I miss the most. The eating of course is terrific, but the mixed smell of ripening fruits in a bowl is the best. Even though of course we get fruits and vegetables from around the world 24/7/365, January produce just cannot match what comes to us May through September.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

China's changing economy

These last couple of posts on subjects related to the Peoples Republic of China inspired me to look back through the three-some-thousands slides I have from my two trips there in the early 1980s. There are so many it will take me months (if not years!) to scan them all in, but I rather liked this little one, taken at a street market that I can't reconstruct until I can lay my hands on the numbered key that will tell me with great precision. Until then, let it just serve as a reminder of how far China's market economy has come since then, and most certainly, where it very well may be going.