The Beast Beyond Our Fires

I used to wonder how anyone could “like” sleeping. I never liked or disliked it, but now I like it. For those few hours there is no virus, no impossibly stupid news, none of this exists. Last night (in an effort to keep me asleep) my imagination sent me two Siberian Huskies who, on their own, moved into my house with Bear and Teddy. They were beautiful gray and white ones like Cody O’Dog. They had the intelligence and independence of every Siberian Husky I’ve known who had a half-way decent puppy-hood and love from a knowledgeable and experienced human.

Obviously, I didn’t want to wake up. Huskies are wonder-dogs in themselves, but they also represent a time in my life when I could run in the mountains. That’s really the ONLY thing for which I would turn back the clock and I wouldn’t even care that it was running in the hills that brought to my current walking limit (for now? forever?) of 2 miles and (because that’s not enough) my ride the bike-to-nowhere reality.

For those of you who have never been trapped at home before, I’m an expert having been stuck here twice in the last year due to injuries. I’m happy with it, but that took a little stragetizing. A routine helps. Exercise is necessary. The bike-to-nowhere is not boring if you get in the habit of riding it — and watch a movie or a bike riding video. My favorites are “Bike the World” which are free on Youtube (uninterrupted, too) and silent so you can listen to whatever you want. The routes are great, many crossing mountain passes such as the Gottard or the Furkha. My favorite at the moment is “Crossing the Picos Europa.”

Extroverted people have a bigger adjustment than I have. I wouldn’t be hanging out with people much under normal circumstances, but shopping would not be the sketchy thing it is now.

Last night I was thinking about a lecture given by Michael J. Preston in my very first class in college. It was Middle English Verse Romances, an upper division class that he’d given me permission to take. I won’t say I “got it.” I didn’t, but in the fullness of time I became a Swiss Medievalist Historian.

Life is weird.

On that day Mike Preston said, “You have to understand what life was like for people in the Middle Ages. Night was DARK. Dark like none of you have ever experienced. I have experienced it. I grew up on a farm in Eastern Washington.” We were to hear about that farm a LOT. He then went on to say something more (I paraphrase because it’s been 50 years), “Outside their houses, away from their fires, were brigands and thieves. But that wasn’t all. There were beasts – wolves and bears — and some that lived in their imaginations. Beasts and demons waiting, waiting, to prey on them. They knew nothing about disease or its causes; it was just another one of the faceless monsters lurking beyond their fires, blood-thirsty, unpredictable, diabolical, invincible”

Artist’s conception of Grendel

Last night, as I read the order finally passed down by our Governor, Jared Polis, telling us to stay home except for the usual, uh, exceptions, I thought of that lecture. I’m not living in Western Washington on a farm, and we have street lights, but it’s dark in the San Luis Valley. We’ve even been named — or parts of us have been named — National Dark Sky Areas. Out there in the Big Empty, where I walk so happily and peacefully with Bear, night is very dark. Then I thought of all of us hunkered down in our homes, and the scary beast beyond our windows.

Tuned In

Long, long ago in a land three hours away from here, a young lady or teenage girl (depending on your point of view) got to work in a radio station. Once a week, Sunday evening, the radio station turned itself over to my high school’s speech club. 

We wrote and produced a radio show. I don’t remember how long the show was, but I remember writing radio plays, announcements and ads, and, rarely, being on air. 

My voice is in a pretty high register. In order to go on air without sounding like a three year old, and hurting the ears of the vast number of listeners on Sunday evenings I had to learn to speak on air. A real, live radio DJ taught me to bring my voice down a register or two. I was never a husky-voiced radio siren, but I did OK.

My dad was a radio appassionatto. During WW II (since he never managed to ship out with his outfit) he ended up a radio operator out by the Salton Sea in the Anza Borrego Desert east of San Diego. He not only learned to operate radios, but to build them. Once he was out of the Army, on the GI Bill, attending Eastern Montana College in Billings, MT, he was an Amateur Radio operator. This was a time when HAM radio was the only voice in what was often a dark, cold and lonely wilderness. 

Later on in life, my dad got a Zenith Trans-Oceanic radio and could listen to radio all over the world. One of my dad’s and my favorite things was to turn on the Trans-Oceanic (in the basement?) and try to listen to Russia. We never succeeded, but what sense would we have made of it, anyway? Most of the time we got Juarez or Tijuana.

“Practice your Spanish, MAK.”

We got a car with a radio in it in 1955, and my dad was constantly tuning to find the best song. Back in the 1950s, there was only AM radio and not many stations, but my dad never gave up. Happy times arrived in 1957 when the push-button car radio made it into our world. My dad steered with his left hand and directed his automotive orchestra with his right.

So do I, much to the fear and annoyance of my passengers. Nothing worse on the road than 3 minutes of music you hate.

Ours was attached to a car…

On long road trips we’d try every local station. Driving at night, he’d try to tune in a certain Texas radio station that broadcast a strong signal. “Leave the radio alone, Bill!” was my Mom’s unavailing refrain. 

Radio where I live now is spotty and random. I tried NOT spending money on SIRIUS and making do, but as with a lot of other things, the San Luis Valley is a radio time warp. Sometimes I might get a decent station from Salida (1 1/2 hours to the north) or Taos (an hour to the south). There’s a station in Alamosa that’s pretty good, but it has to be everything to everybody. There’s Public Broadcasting from Taos (I think) but reception is spotty. There’s a Top 40ish station that makes my teeth itch and none of these come in clearly. 

I realized satellite radio is a quality of life issue for me, not only because my driving style depends on it (one hand on the wheel, one hand on the buttons), but because I think that the car radio is an oracle. More than once I’ve gotten in the car, turned on the engine and BAM the song that comes up is exactly the one I need to hear, answering a deep question or soothing frayed nerves. 

Back in California, at the end of my time there, when I desperately wanted out and feared I would never escape, if I heard The Eagles’ “Hotel California,” on my way to school, I thought, “Shit, I’m trapped.” Now when I hear it, I say, “Ha ha, fooled you!” and turn it up in defiance.

Last year, driving over La Veta Pass on my brother’s birthday, I heard both of “his” songs (“Fool on the Hill” by the Beatles and “Hurt” by Nine Inch Nails). There’s a long list of “signs” (William S. Burroughs said, “There are no coincidences.”) If I hear my “anthem” (“Running Up that Hill” by Kate Bush) I feel that nothing can defeat me. I realize this might sound to you like a kind of psychosis, but it’s not that serious.

Or is it? There’s a lot of truth to Warren Zevon’s song. And yeah, I’ve heard it on the radio.