Monthly Archives: February 2012

On Writing

There is a plethora of advice out there for writers who would like their work to be read by other people. When you get right down to it, it is way easier to read about writing, read other writers’ works, or take “writing courses” than it is to just sit down and write something original.

I stole the title of this piece from Stephen King, whose book On Writing is one of the best books I’ve read on the subject. Margaret Atwood and William Zinsser have also written advice-laden tomes which are well worth reading, but the suggestions in this tongue-and-cheek web essay by writer Chuck Wendig cut right to the chase:

25 Things

The piece received many comments from “aspiring writers”, but this rather exuberant paragraph from commenter and writer Dan O’Shea pleased me with its literate extravagance:

Forward, penmonkeys! Saddle up the work of your choice! Tease it with carrots! Spur or whip its flanks into bloody froth! Ride its ass into the ground and then carve its meat into finished stories before mounting the next beast and the next and the next. Go not gentle into that good night. Hell, don’t even go gentle into lunch.

I enjoy writing and I write nearly every day, but I don’t take the craft all that seriously. I seldom edit, aside from fixing obvious typos and other infelicities, preferring to start a new post rather than obsessing over the old ones.

Perhaps it is due to the nature of the blog medium. Old posts scroll off the bottom of the screen, accumulating into untidy piles of verbal humus in the nether regions of my mind. That humus is rich stuff and serves as a seedbed for new excursions, blog posts inspired by current experiences as well as remembrances of things past. The photographs I take offer additional stimulus.

I’ve been writing for this blog and its now-lost earlier incarnations for about eight years now. I’ve been rather careless about preserving my work; the posts from the period between early 2004 and early 2010 were lost to a series of hard drive failures as well as the theft of a computer during my dark days in Hannibal, Missouri. Now my work is saved on the remote servers of the far-flung WordPress company, which seems to be thriving. I’m not too disturbed about the loss of my old stuff; many of the posts were stories and I now regard them as mere practice pieces. I can tell those stories more effectively now after years of practice. Even those few readers who once read my old blog, Rural Rambles, probably have only the vaguest of memories of the stories I told way back in the day. Surely I can tell those stories again, and tell them better — after all, who will complain? A good story is a good story, after all.




Filed under Essays and Articles


A crusty irascible cantankerous old person full of stubborn ideas.” is a rather pithy and accurate definition of the word “curmudgeon”, I dare say. That definition came out of the Wordnet project about five years ago. It’s an interesting word with a derogatory flavor to it, a word which is used by young people to describe old folks, and also by old people when referring to themselves in a humorous and self-deprecatory fashion; old people generally don’t mind using the word to describe themselves but might well take umbrage if you use it to describe them.

Many of the best essayists in the English language could be fairly described as curmudgeons. Complaints about the world are more interesting to read than passive expressions of smiling acceptance and complaisance, I’ve noticed.

H.L. Mencken, that journalist, pessimist, and general social gadfly, was a classic curmudgeon. Few escaped his scathing torrents of prose during the early years of the last century. Christopher Hitchens could be considered a modern example.

Some writers are part-time curmudgeons. George Orwell donned curmudgeonly robes when he wrote his classic essay “Politics And The English Language” — but some might call that particular piece shooting fish in a barrel.

Recently I was reading an essay by Roger Kimball called The Great American Novel. The essay is a lament, or perhaps a diatribe, concerning the sad state of affairs in English-language novel-writing these days. According to Kimball, very few novels of much value have been published during the past fifty years. Here’s a quote:

We get a lot of new novels at my office. I often pick up a couple and thumb through them just to keep up with what is on offer in the literary bourse. The delicate feeling of nausea that ensues as my eye wanders over these bijoux is as difficult to describe as it is predictable. The amazing thing is that it takes only a sentence or two before the feeling burgeons in the pit of the stomach and the upper lip grows moist with sweat. I am not generally a fan of the Green party, but at those moments I feel a deep kinship with their cause: All those lovely trees, acres and acres of wood pulp darkened, and for what? No one, I submit, should pay good money for a college education and then be expected to ruminate over the fine points of what is proffered to us by the fiction industry today.

Doesn’t Kimball’s prose just drip with curmudgeonly condescension? It seems that the man has decided to dislike every new novel that comes down the pike, as if the generations younger than his favored one can’t possibly equal the legendary efforts of the Writers of the Golden Age, the god-like scribes of the halcyon years of Kimball’s youth.

I did agree with a few of Kimball’s points, even though he’s on the opposite side of the political spectrum from myself. I wondered about how old the man might be. To be such a bitter curmudgeon, wouldn’t he have to be in his seventies or eighties?

I looked Roger Kimball up at the Wikipedia site. I was a bit bemused to find that Kimball is just one year older than I am! He was born in 1953. Perhaps conservative writers attain curmudgeonhood sooner than the rest of us.



Filed under Essays and Articles, Words


Near the Arizona-New Mexico border there is a mountainous region populated by the ghosts of past vulcanism, the Chiricahua Mountains Wilderness Area. The volcanic ash in this region cooled into a mineral known as tuff, or rhyolite, and the most populous part of the area is set aside as a national monument.

When I say populous I’m not referring to people. The mountain and canyon slopes are crowded with erect pillars, the products of millions of years of erosion. This has to be one of the weirdest landscapes I’ve ever seen. The “hoodoos”, a very appropriate local name for the formations, remind me of the sentient walking trees, the Ents in Tolkien’s novels. It is easy to imagine that the standing stones move around when you aren’t looking, perhaps even milling about and visiting each other at night. After all, there are so many of them that no-one could keep track of them all! Some views of this surreal landscape:

The last photo in the above series shows a quite striking view. The mountains in the distance are peaks in the Rincon range just east of Tucson, about sixty miles away.

Towards the right-hand side of the following photo notice the ranks of hoodoos managing to keep still until I walked away:

Parts of the Chiracahua Wilderness burned last year and several scorched mountainsides are readily visible. I squatted down in one burned area and shot this photo of one of the few plants blooming at this time of year in these mountains, Wright’s Vervain (Verbena wrightii). I had never seen the species before and, once back at the house, I had trouble identifying the plant using my photos. Bev gave it a try and quickly found a match I’d overlooked in the Peterson Guide to Southwest and Texas Wildflowers. I was a bit nonplussed and embarrassed, as I’ve been identifying plants for many years, but the woman evidently has good pattern-matching abilities, perhaps surpassing my own — but maybe I was just having an off day…

The hoodoos gathered to observe the brightly-clad tourists, marveling at the insectile walking sticks and cameras with brightly-flashing lenses:

This rock silhouette on the horizon is known as Geronimo’s Head; I liked the way the silvery dead branches framed the view:

More hoodoos with Sugarloaf Mountain in the background:

The forests in the national monument were dominated by Arizona Cypress, a species with a very delightful odor, all resinous and spicy. It was enjoyable seeing tall trees again after several weeks of short scrubby oaks and manzanitas!

Finally, here are a couple of roadside scenes. The trees bordering the road are mostly cypress:

I would really like to visit this freakishly-beautiful area at dawn someday, when the hoodoos are foraging for dewdrops, small mammals and lizards!



Filed under Arizona

On Mount Ballard

Yesterday Bev and I walked up a steep path towards the summit of Mt. Ballard, the highest peak of the Mule Mountains and the eighth-highest mountain in Cochise County, Arizona.

Sage, the sure-footed collie, accompanied us up the winding trail, which was surrounded by a spotty elfin forest of shrub oaks, manzanitas, madrones, and piñon pines. We passed through a large expanse of mountainside which had been burned in a wildfire a few years ago. New sprout and seedling growth was springing up but had only attained a height of two or three feet, leaving the view across the canyon unobstructed. Some photos:

Looking across the vast expanse of Sulphur Springs Valley the snow-capped peaks of the Chiricahua Mountains can be seen, a range we plan to hike into sometime soon.

The trunks of a tall succulent plant known as the Soaptree Yucca are normally shielded from view by the dry and dead remains of spent leaves, with the current leaves forming a starburst spray at the top of the trunk. The fire burned off the dead leaves and revealed charred but undamaged trunks marked with intriguing patterns of leaf-scars and the charred leaf-stubs:

It was a pleasant hike. We stopped along the way in a grove of manzanitas and ate spinach-feta cheese bread and avocados, while Sage greedily drank from an outstretched palm filled with water from a bottle.


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Filed under Arizona, Photos

A Fiddle Student

A candid photo taken during an impromptu fiddle lesson this morning. The tune she was playing? It was the Tennessee Waltz.



Filed under Arizona, Photos

More Morning Scenes


Filed under Arizona, Natural History, Photos

A February Morning In The Mule Mountains


Filed under Arizona, Natural History, Photos