Thursday, July 31, 2014

I Heart Texas

What's with the Vaseline, you might ask? Coincident.
Haven't written about things happening to me in a while, so here goes... been kinda busy, what with summer session, trying to work through the conveyor belt of my to-do list, going on vacation, and negotiating the terms of my surrender with a rare and lovely bird named Maia from Amarillo, TX.

The vacation part involved going with her down to a wedding in Marfa, TX, which is in the Big Bend portion down by Chihuahua. The drive involved a first leg haul from Amarillo to Ft. Davis, where we camped under the stars. And what stars! I haven't seen the Milky Way since Idaho 1975, and it never fails to impress. We were scheduled to attend a viewing party at the Ft. McDonald observatory Friday night, but we got off to late start, arriving around midnight, and so missed it. Maia and I went up to the observatory the next day. Hiking up to the domes, I mentioned I was strangely short of breath, and Maia pointed out we were a mile above sea level, which mitigated my alarm some...

Here is my obligatory geek shot of the trip and a more normal shot below with the 107 inch telescope dome in the background...
Not my cowboy hat....

"I am here!"
Aferwards, we stopped in Ft. Davis for lunch, where I had one of the better chocolate malts with extra malt I've ever had. Our server was having trouble with our order, and consulted with one of the regular waitresses. I asked what his deal was, was informed he was a foreign exchange student from Poland. He actually turned out to be from Ukraine. I mentioned I spoke Russian once upon a time, and he insisted I try. Surprisingly, I remembered conservational phrases and we actually had a back and forth. I could tell he was tickled with the exchange and left him a big tip. Maia observed our conservation, and said "Oh honey, you absolutely made his day!", but, you know, with that charming twang that I could get so used to.

I'm glad I could make his day!  One of the great things about being human is how so little effort can bring such great joy.

I've always liked the desert, and the high desert of the Trans-Pecos could not have been a better place to be. It's positively springlike with all the flowering plants and tan landscape and purple mountains in every direction. I want to go back and see all the things I didn't see there. Fortunately, rain came through, at one point pounding down like horses' hooves. Fortunately the luxury tent we stayed in at El Cosmico was waterproof.
Rain on tent canvas creaking like a sailing ship, but we were fine.
Then up to the Carlsbad Caverns, an experience which I would suggest was slightly hallucinatory. Those rock formations deep under the surface look nothing like the dry and simple stalagmites and stalactites we learned about in school. They were - to me - monstrous, fleshy, glistening with fat, scaly, gill covered and warty, living things. They were something out of Lovecraft. But the absolutely most bizarre part of the underground adventure was the snack bar. Here is the modern, fluorescent-lit cafeteria in a pitch black chamber, the cave walls barely lit. The bathrooms were equally weird, stainless steel, tile and porcelain surfaces in a cave tunnel. I couldn't help but think about the storied underground cities built for the nation's elite in preparation of the Apocalypse.

All in all, a truly, fantastic magical wonderful time!

Back to reality on this past Wednesday in time to close out the summer session. I was informed I should go visit Glen as his condition was worsening. (I've mentioned Glen in prior essay from a year ago. He had been diagnosed with Stage Four lung cancer and several tumors in his brain last May. He underwent chemo and radiation, which bought more than a year, but a month ago he told me he had had enough, and was going into hospice at home. I've tried to make it to the bar with him and the group  from the college when we go out Thursday nights. Normally, this tradition takes a hiatus over the summer, but, considering...

So I was informed his condition was worsening, the brain tumors taking their toll, and should visit him while he was still lucid. My former student aide, soon to be graduate student at Wichita State University in Kansas, Scotty, and I headed over last evening.

We found Glen on a good day, and he, his wife, and his sister had a very fun time. He was active, alert and engaged, and I can only hope this lasts for awhile.

At one point, we were talking about smart phones, and the topic switched to Scotty's thesis. He specualted he might continue the work of his undergrad advisor in sustainable and waste fuels for wood kiln firings. I said "I know what you need to work on, developing tumbleweeds for fuel. They are a nuisance that should be used for something like that".

Glen Reeser and I
Scotty came back with "Other people have smart phones. I have John". Which got a laugh considering how often people use their plastic pocket brains for memory, or use agents like Siri.

Glen quipped "John, call Katie!" (Scotty's girlfriend).

"KATIE!" I mock shouted.

It really was wonderful to see Glen sharp and in the groove for a change.