“Do you believe in a higher power?” I had been living away from home for many years, had a family and life of my own. I was an adult far from childhood. But you are never prepared for the death of a parent, and my father’s death affected me profoundly. I was in Poland when he fell seriously ill. My sister called and I caught the first plane home. I think I was over Canada when he died. I admire his last words. As my sister reported, when asked how he was doing, he replied, “I can’t complain.”
For a long time after, I was out of balance – a kind of vague malaise. Then I had a remarkable dream. Words will not be adequate to convey the feeling, and the feeling was what made it remarkable. I felt that in the eternal present. Everybody was there, past, present & future. I don’t try to explain it. My malaise lifted and I have not felt it again. Well, almost never, which is remarkable since it has been more than two decades.
I firmly believe in a higher power, with the stipulation that I can never understand in any rational way what that means. The explanation lies with faith in … faith. That is not say we cannot know anything. Raw truth – the meaning OF life – is unavailable to the mortal man, but we can come to a likeness of truth by seeking meaning IN life. We humans are hardwired to seek meaning in life and to persist in the journey that we know will never be completed. All of us must find our own way.
Some people seek truth by meditating or studying ancient texts. I have great respect for those who do these things with rigor and commitment. I never got into meditation. I fall asleep. If that counts, I am adept at my daily meditations. And although I still sometimes enjoy parsing ancient texts, that is not where I find answers to profound questions. IMO, those answers cannot be found in the intellectual sense but can be perceived. I learn the parts by study and effort; I perceive how they fit together -the whole – only when in motion and engaged in some activity. Just don’t sit still. My favored way is to immerse in nature and try to recognize natural principles, accepting that the joy & connections come from searching, not finding. I welcome a new horizon opening after I summit each ridge. I recognize that is my way and not the only way.
We are the original “green deal.” The American Tree Farm System has been conserving forest land in the USA since 1941 & I think we have done a good job.
The ATFS logo includes the four things our land produces: wood, water, wildlife & recreation. We know we need to make a profit on our land, else we are not doing our duty as part of the productive economy. But profit is not the only or even the primary motivation for holding land.
Clean water is a product of forest land. Our forests filter rain water and the natural processes of a forest actually clean water flowing over it. A well managed forest produces wildlife habitat. That is a big part of my forest goals. And forest are undeniably beautiful places.
My often repeated slogan is that trees are more than wood and forests are more than trees. We need look at the total ecosystem and the total ecosystem includes more than what we would usually call nature.
The human ecology is also part of our system. If our products go into long lasting buildings, they continue to hold the carbon they absorbed and create a habitat for humans. Lately, I have been thinking of it in terms of the triple bottom line. We need a money profit, a community/cultural profit and an ecological profit. Failing any of these is a general failure. Succeeding in all this is the success we seek.
My pictures are from around Louisville. The Ohio River is very high.
Bourbon is a gift of the oak tree. More than half of whiskey’s flavor & all of its color comes from the oak in the barrels. The whiskey is taken in and out of the wood as it ages and matures. The taste of Bourbon is the taste of the oak forest. I think that is beautiful. We went to the Old Forester distillery in Louisville. Since it was a tree farmer convention, Old Forster seemed appropriate, although we would prefer something like “experienced but still energetic forester.”
They make whiskey at their downtown location and also have a cooperage. The barrels need to be made of new white oak, so there is a big demand for that wood.
We are a little worried about the future of white oak. It is common now, but most oak forests are middle aged to old growth. The new generation is not coming up in sufficient numbers. A big reason is that maturing of forests of eastern North America. Oaks need light and disturbance to regenerate. It takes 30-80 years to grow a white oak tree, so we need to act now so that Bourbon drinkers of the future will benefit.
In Louisville. CJ & I went to visit Jim Beam and then had supper at the local Gordon Biersch. Also visited Louisville Slugger. They are moving away from ash. More bats are made of harder maple these days. On the way to the National Tree Farm conference in Louisville. We are spending the night in Cambridge, Ohio. There is not much here, but the hotel is convenient and inexpensive.
We had supper at a place called Steak and Ale. They had the standard fare and we have the standard pictures.
The other pictures are Braddock’s road and Braddock’s grave. As you recall, General Braddock came to western Pennsylvania to fight the French & Indians during the French & Indian War. The British eventually won, but not this time. As was standard at the time, he built a road so that his troops could move in good form. This tipped off the French & Indians. A small force of French and Indians ran into the larger British force and defeated them. It is called Battle of the Monongahela or sometimes just Braddock’s defeat. General Braddock was killed. Then Colonel George Washington helped hold the army together as it retreated.
The British troops did not have the capacity to take Braddock’s body home. Not wanting it to be dug up an mutilated by the French & Indians. They buried the body under the road, unmarked. The movement on the road covered the grave. The precise grave site remain unknown until 1804, when workmen found the bones. The site of the grave is marked and you can see it in my picture with me standing near it. Souvenirs hunters stole some of the bones and artifacts until they were reburied on a hill above the original grave. A monument was erected in 1913.
Forestry is the 3rd largest industry in Virginia (Agriculture is #1 followed by tourism). Brunswick County is Virginia’s leading timber producer and has been for the last decade. My forest lands are in Brunswick County, so I was delighted to go to the Brunswick County Agriculture and Timber Conference on February 20.
Brunswick County depends on agriculture & forestry Brunswick County officials were there to show their appreciation and concern for the County’s biggest industries. They seemed sincerely interested in how to make the place more forestry-friendly. Everything could be better, but Brunswick is already a pretty good place for forestry. That is why I chose to buy land there. Much of that is not easily within the immediate control of local officials, however.
Human ecology Favorable human and business ecology are the main reasons Brunswick is good for forestry. An ecological paradigm applies to human relations. We have enough loggers, mills nearby, decent infrastructure for moving timber and a supportive local culture, i.e. people are comfortable with the odd things that we do to manage and harvest trees. There are challenge with all these things that I will address later, but compared to most other places, we are doing well.
Forestry a big deal for Virginia Bettina Ring, Virginia Secretary of Forestry and Agriculture, was the keynote speaker. Ms. Ring was Virginia State Forester before becoming Secretary and was involved with Tree Farm and sustainable forestry before that. She reiterated that agriculture & forestry are Virginia’s biggest industry. Together they produce $91 billion of annual value for the Commonwealth and directly support 450,000 jobs, and many more indirectly. Forestry and agriculture also contribute mightily to tourism, our second biggest industry. Besides contributing to natural beauty, I was interested in some of the ways Virginians are using the production of the earth. We have 300+ wineries and cideries, 250+ brewers & 70+ makers of spirits, all of these attract tourist and support tourism. Who doesn’t want to have a nice drink in a beautiful setting?
We do have the perpetual challenge of land transfer. Much of the Commonwealth’s land is held by old people like me. In fact, I am a little on the young side. We will not live forever and what happens to the land when we shuffle off this mortal coil? We must recruit a new generation of active landowners who want to keep their land in trees or crops. I am concerned when I see the fingers of the cities reaching into rural land but selling often makes sense to landowners. I have no plans to sell my land, ever. I hope my kids learn to love the forests, but who can say? On the plus side, this challenge is perpetual, as I note above. Forest landowners are usually older than average, for the simple reason that you must be old enough to inherit land or to have saved enough to buy it. I have owned my land for almost fifteen years, and I was 50 when I got it, already not a young man. Virginia has a special designation of “Century Forest,” a forest that has been in the same family for at least 100 years. My great grandchildren could apply for this in 2105, but there is a lot that can happen between now & then.
The triple bottom line Finally, she got into the triple bottom line, although she did not use that term. For a project to be truly sustainable it must be worthy from the ecological, economic and social/cultural perspectives. If it fails on any of these factors, it fails generally. There is a challenge in meeting all three, since there are inevitably tradeoffs. But it is a challenge that can be met and is being met in most of Virginia forestry.
When thinking about the triple bottom line, I do not like the idea of compromise among the factors. Compromise implies a zero-sum game, where one loses to the extent that the other wins. I believe in synergies. Applying intelligence and accumulated practical wisdom, we can do better in all the factors, where one does not take away from others but rather each grows with the other.
Virginia ports and railroads Daniel LeGrande, talked about Virginia ports. He explained something I wondered about, but never really followed. How is it that Virginia has a “port” at Front Royal, hundreds of miles from the sea and not on a navigable river. Virginia’s inland port is a hub for rail and roads. Virginia’s ports at Hampton Roads is the third largest and deepest on the East Coast and is well served by rail and road. Ships can also go up the river as far as Richmond. Agriculture and forestry serve this by filling empty containers going out. All this logistics is fascinating for me, but well above my competence. I am glad somebody got it figured out.
Forestry panel We broke into separate forestry and agriculture groups. The forestry group featured Virginia’s State Forester Rob Farrell, as well as local forestry business leaders including Owen Strickler, Thomas Evelyn, Frank Meyers & Vance Wright. It was a very congenial group, guys who have known each other for many years and know their business.
More wood than ever in Virginia Rob started off with good new and bad news about forestry in the Commonwealth. We are harvesting more wood in Virginia than ever, but we are growing those trees on fewer acres and more wood is growing each year than is being harvested. Why is that good and bad news? Harvests are good. That more wood is coming off fewer acres may be good, but it probably means that we are growing more intensively. That is good, right? Not sure. I know this is only my opinion and it is based on the luxury I have of an income not only from forestry, but I like a little LESS efficiency. My farms are a little lazy. The trees are too far apart for maximum production, but they are the right spacing for wildlife, for example. I am not sure the longleaf experiment ever will pay off. Intensive loblolly would be better. I cannot scoff at better results, however. Well … I can but I recognize that mine is a curmudgeon opinion. I am not offended knowing that many people would think I was just nuts.
The more wood factor is more clearly economic. Prices for timber are low and the fact that more wood is growing every year than is being harvested implies that they will not improve. On the other hand, it does show that we have a practically limitless supply of southern pine. No worries about a wood famine for at least a generation.
Virginia forestry is green, good and growing Unambiguous good news is that Virginia forestry is doing a great job of protecting the environment. Department of Forestry inspects every harvest and they do a sample for deeper study. In this years sample 95% of the sampled met 100% of their Best Management Goals (BMP), and 100% of the samples found no significant sediment leaving the tract. You cannot do better than perfect. Virginia’s BMPs are more stringent than those imposed by EPA.
My experience fits with what the State Forester told us. In May of 2018, I went along for tree farm inspections on 20 randomly selected Virginia Tree Farms. The inspector found zero violations of standards of sustainability. We harvested on Freeman this year. I am very particular about how it is done. I inspected the harvest in every way I could. I found a few things I did not like, but absolutely nothing that I could reasonably complain about. The loggers left the site clean and beautiful. The only things I did not like was that the ground was compressed where they had assembled the logs. This was unavoidable. I can, and I am addressing this by making them into pollinator habitat.
Solar farms growing but not green Thomas Evelyn spoke about rural economic development in New Kent County. The thing I took away from his presentation was the danger of solar farms destroying forest ecosystems. I have noticed these monstrosities popping up like a rash in Virginia and the Carolinas.
The following is what I was inspired to think about, but as I read it, I see that it is a bit of a rand and I will not saddle Mr. Evelyn with it.
IF you think that using energy from solar farms is “green” you are badly mistaken. Solar power from solar farms is obscenely destructive. Solar farms are more like strip mining than they are like regenerative. They tear town existing forests and cover the land with solar arrays. Nothing grows there. The soil underneath erodes. The land underneath dies. And then consider the aftermath. You have to dispose of these solar panels when they are done. Solar panels require lots of toxic materials to make and disposing of them creates a toxic waste situation.
The Commonwealth of Virginia is worried about this. Lawmakers want to require solar purveyors to come up with a plan to dispose of the panels when they are done and restore the soils, the flora and fauna – just as they would have to do with strip mining. Virginia has an estimated 200,000 acres of land easily suitable for solar farms. One of my worst nightmares is that solar is put on these acres.
I have received unsolicited offers to lease my land to solar firms. I tear them to pieces & throw them away. There is no way I would EVER do this to my living forests. I would consider it immoral to ruin the environment like this. I love my land too much. Yesterday’s solution is often today’s problem, and solar farms are going to to be a big problem, maybe not today but soon. The irony is that we are paying taxpayer money to finance and subsidize this future ecological disaster.
Solar energy can be, often is, good. Like most things, however, it depends on where, when, how and how much. The race to appear green is sometimes harmful to being green. Don’t fall for that green electricity canard. If you demand 100% renewable energy currently, YOU are part of the problem, not the solution.
Questions about Virginia forestry Frank Meyers gave a great talk. (I have a semi-disclaimer here. Frank introduced me to the guy who sold me the land in Brodnax. I have been pleased with the purchase and grateful to Frank for the opportunity.) He did not answer so many questions, but he posed lot to think about. Some of the things I think that I have thought about, but I am not sure. Frank worried about merging of mills. We have a lot of mills in the near Brunswick, but maybe not the competition that will give landowners the best prices. Frank praised the reforestation tax. Loggers pay it and the Commonwealth matches it. The proceeds go into reforestation of pine. Frank wonders if we may not have done too good a job. Maybe we need to go into hardwoods. We worried about a shortage of pine. Maybe not.
Frank also was concerned about solar farms. He mentioned them in Fluvanna County. Solar farms do NOT respect stream management zones or BMPs. The rain that falls on solar farms washes sediment into streams. Will forest owners need to pick up the slack? Will we get blamed for the silting of streams and estuaries from the sediment of those solar farms?
What about Timber Investment Management Organizations (TIMOs are like REITS but for timber land). TIMOs own or control a lot of forests land these days. Their goals are investment more than forestry. What if they find better returns for their shareholders? Finally, Frank talked about something I never even thought about. Evidently loggers have to pay taxes on their equipment, while farm equipment is exempt. This is making it hard for loggers. They have a fixed tax unrelated to their income.
Vance Wright pointed out that forestry is Virginia’s first green industry. He also took a swipe at the solar farms. He said that there are just two ways that we humans can get anything. We can dig it out of the ground, or we can grow it from the earth. Forestry grows from the earth. Solar panels are made from materials dug from the ground. Make your own judgement.
Owen Strickler said that we need another pine saw mill east of I-95. There is lots of supply. Virginia is exporting raw logs. This is okay, but it is better to add value with Virginia jobs. He made an interesting point that just had never occurred to me. He talked about how a pine saw mill could ease a shortage of hardwood logs. Some of the best oak and popular comes as a collateral harvest to mature pines.
What is happening in the state legislature After the panel and after lunch we had a few presentations. The one I recall best was by lobbyist Ben Row. He talked about several of the bills in the legislature. Two of special interest, IMO. One related to timber theft. Many landowners sell timber only once in a lifetime. They are not sophisticated about the sales and can get ripped off. One scam is for a crooked logger to sign a contract paying 50% of up front and the other 50% when the job is done. Sounds fair, but what the crooks do is pay the 50% and then harvest up to 90%. Then they stop. They never finish the job and so never pay the rest of the bill. Another bill related to those hated solar farms. It would allow localities to require owners to present a plan to decommission the solar farm when it is finished. The danger is that solar owners will leave the mess of panels, denuded soils and toxic waste.
I greatly enjoyed the conference. I attend lots of such events. Usually they are good, but this one was so very well targeted to my local issues. I hope they do it again and remember to invite me back.
Did you have any serious accidents as a child? My regret about the many accidents I had as a kid was that the emergency hospital did not give out frequent flyer points, but I had only one accident serious enough to land me in the hospital for a long time. When I was eleven years old, I broke my leg. We were playing a silly game for bouncing a super ball against the house and then fighting over it. I fell on the ground with my leg propped up. Ricky Gebhardt fell on top of it and everybody else fell on top of him. It was a compound fracture on the upper leg. My father came out and thought I was faking. He told me to stand up. I tried. It didn’t work.
A broken leg alters destiny They carried me into the house and laid me on the couch. A broken leg hurts in a kind of throbbing way, especially when there is vibration. My sister was watching “F-Troop”, one of her favorite shows and objected to my screaming. I was being kind of dramatic. My mother came home and called an ambulance. In those days, the cops ran a kind of station wagon. They came up, put a leather thing around my leg and carried me out. It was a big neighborhood event. The neighbors came to watch.
Six weeks in traction changes your perspective I spent the next six weeks in traction at St Luke’s Hospital. My parents, relatives and friends took turns visiting, and that was nice. My cousin Ray & my father always came on Sundays to watch the Packer Game, killed two birds with one stone. Ray was always very funny, and I enjoyed all the attention, but it was still usually lonely and unpleasant immobilized in the hospital.
Funny the little things you recall. I broke my leg on the first week of school. On the first day, I got in trouble for fighting with my friend Andrew Oren. Don’t recall how it started, but it ended with us putting gum in each other’s hair. I had short hair, so I suffered less than my friend who had nice long hair. Anyway, this was our introduction to our 6th grade teacher. She was not amused. She made some comment about boys being trouble. I suffered karma from the gum incident with my broken leg, since some of the gum still sticking in the hair on the back of my head created minor but persistent discomfort as I lay on the pillow.
Short-term pain = long-term gain This injury improved my life in the long run, however, at the cost of temporary suffering. The immediate result of my forced inactivity was that I got weaker physically but stronger mentally. I could not get out of bed, so I read & read. My mother was great about bringing books from the library and I went through lots of them. Ironically, learned a lot that was useful for the future even as I fell behind in my actual 6th Grade school work.
Before the long-term gain, let me explain the short-term pain. As I just said above, I fell behind in my school work, and I was behind when I went back to Dover Street School. My teacher was not very understanding. She often said that boys were lazy, and she thought I was a typical example. I read mostly history and geography in the hospital and did well in those subjects, but even there I gave my teacher reason to dislike me. We had a “geography bee”. You got eliminated when you got one wrong. I survived to the final round along with one of the teacher’s favorite girls. I won. But the teacher said that she had to use up all the question. I had to answer three more, otherwise it would be a tie. I recall the last question was obscure – the capital of Sudan. I think she thought she got me on that one, but one of the books I read in hospital was Winston Churchill’s “River War” where he talked about Gordon of Khartoum. I think I still recall the look of surprise on the teacher’s face, but that might be a synthetic memory.
Not smart enough to learn foreign language I wanted to study language in 7th Grade, specifically I wanted to study German, but I was judged not smart enough. I think the teacher’s recommendation made a difference and she told me I was lazy. I was streamed into the less challenging classes.
My subsequent education and career implies that I am reasonably competent at language learning, so I think I would have done okay, but that is past. On the other hand, I got to be relatively smarter in a less competitive environment.
The real good in the long-run came from the real short-term bad of physical weakness and bullying. The hospital time and long convalescence made me weak. Bullies can smell that, and they gave me a lot of crap. The funny one I recall now related to the then popular series “Gunsmoke.” Reruns featured a character who limped the way I did soon after I got back to school. Some of the kids called me “Chester” after that character. I didn’t know what they meant until somebody explained. We got bad TV reception and maybe we did not get those reruns.
The joy of being bullied Being bullied was something I did not enjoy, so I resolved not to stay weak, and started to work out – pushups and pullups first. I never stopped. Anyway, flowing from the ostensible bad event of breaking a leg, getting weak, being put into the “dumb” group and being bullied, came my live-long habit of physical exercise, love of reading and generally proactive outlook. How terrible would it have been if some guardian angel had prevented my injury, made my teacher more understanding or kept the bullies off me? You can’t always tell when you get good breaks, or bad ones.
People who know me know why we burn and what we are doing, but maybe some people who saw the post about our Brodnax burn don’t know me, so let me explain. Fire is an important factor in southern pine ecology. Too often, we have excluded fire with negative effects. We are burning on our lands in Virginia to restore the balance. It will encourage the growth of understory plants, including habitat for pollinators and wildlife like quail and deer.
We have also thinned our forest, so that the trees are spaced widely enough to allow sunlight to hit the forest floor to allow that growth mentioned above.
You have seen pine forests that are so thick that almost nothing grows on the ground under the trees. This is an efficient way to grow pulp and timber, but produces a mono-culture that does not share the environment.This is not what we prefer.
Trees are more than just wood and a forest is more than just trees. A more complex and complete ecology is a thing of sublime beauty, that has value beyond its “use” to us. On our Freeman unit, we have thinned about 80 acres of 22-year-old loblolly to 50 basal area (trees are far apart). We are establishing pollinator habitat and restoring longleaf pine. Longleaf pine ecology is the most diverse in non-tropical North America. Of course that ecology includes more than just the trees, as discussed above. We also planted some bald cypress in the damp rills.
Our Diamond Grove unit is 178 acres, of which 110 acres are in loblolly pine planted in 2003. The balance is stream management zones, mostly hardwood – a lot of beech,maples & tulip trees. We will thin the pines in 2020. I think will go with 80 basal area, not so thin, but still with some light hitting the ground. I will clear 5 acres near Genito Creek and plant that with bald cypress.
This fire is on our Brodnax property. We are patch burning 45 acres: 15 +/- acres each year in rotation. This provides diverse wildlife habitat.
First picture shows the Brodnax burned section. The loblolly there are about 30 years old. Next is thinned Freeman. Those trees are 22 years old. We will burn in December or early next year. We are planting openings with longleaf. Picture #3 shows newly planted lobolly. There were planted in 2016. They are genetically better trees and have grown very fast. Last two are videos from Freeman. It is not so much what they show but the sounds of the peepers in the first and the running water in the second.
Great fire today. Seems the perfect fire. The rule is that black (char) is good. White (ash) is okay. Red (burned to the clay) is bad. My inspections found all black. And when I kicked under the duff, I found that the dirt under was still moist in most places. We had moderate winds &moderate temperatures, but the big factor was that we had damp and cool soil and dry grass and brush. Perfect. Of course, I will know that for sure only when I see what grows in the spring.
Adam Smith from DoF did the planning and honchoed the operation. I got the easy assignment of laying the fire lines along the roads, while the DoF guys did strips inside the forest. Alex’s friend Colin Michał came down and got to lay a fire line along the stream.
Pictures show Adam, Colin and me. Others are various fire photos.
Not feeling well. I have the end of a cold that has migrated to the lungs. Think I will soon be okay, however. Have to go to work tomorrow at State Dept. Working on the Columbia River Treaty. Not sure when or even if I will get paid. Life for WAE is uncertain these days.
I wrote a quick note about a recently finished book. “Camelot’s End,” by Jon Ward I voted in my first election in 1976 and was an enthusiastic Carter supporter. I changed my mind by 1980 and voted for Ronald Reagan. This book describes some of the events that changed my mind, and America’s. It both brings back memories and gives context I did not have at the time. The 1970s were a not pleasant. We had a continuing energy crisis, inflation & stagnation at the same time (stagflation), our foreign policy was in turmoil and Americans were divided. It was like today in the last aspects, but today we have solved the energy crisis and the economy is robust, which makes it much less depressing. Carter took over at a hard time and things did not improve under his leadership. Presidents get too much credit or blame for things that happen on their watch, but processes that started under Carter helped strengthen the economic boom of the 1980s, such as starting deregulating transportation and airlines, the Staggers Act that resuscitated American freight rail and strong anti-inflation actions by the Fed. None of this much helped Carter at the time, however, and he sure had his share of boneheaded economic plans.
The author clearly implies that Kennedy’s challenge cost Carter the election. Not did it demand resources that Carter could have deployed in the general, but Kennedy also called attention to Carter’s shortcomings as a leader. Kennedy just looked better and with the name, the and the media behind him, Kennedy and many others thought he should replace Carter, who was seen as a kind of accidental president. There was certainly the snob appeal at work. Kennedy was rich and to the manor born, as much as anyone can be in America. Carter grew up poorer than machine almost anyone in America can these days. Although his father later became a successful peanut farmer, little Jimmy worked while Teddy played. This kind of hard scrabble rise did not impress Kennedys. Recall their open contempt for LBJ, or their dismissal of Nixon as “having no class.”
The book is not kind to either man. Kennedy is portrayed as a drunken lightweight. Carter is a man who thinks nothing is funny and is always sure he is right. According to the author, both improved after the 1980 defeat. The author speculates that Kennedy did not really want to be president but felt both pressures to do it and entitlement based on his family. After his defeat, he could apply himself to his Senate career. He remained a drunk and philander for years later, but it didn’t matter as much and, in the Senate, he became adept at passing legislation. Carter became perhaps the most active ex-president, working for a variety of causes, including almost eradicating Guinea worm. Carter was not well-liked by other presidents, including Democrats. He never quite overcame his self-righteousness and proclivity to interfere.
I learned a lot that I just didn’t know about Carter and some of what I didn’t know about Kennedy, although his life was better known. I felt some sympathy for Teddy. He was not groomed for the top-job and likely would have been happier farther from the spotlight. He was pushed beyond his abilities, but on the plus side, he responded reasonably well in later life. Carter was a drive man his entire life. He learned to hide his ruthless ambition behind a smile. His flaw, the one that caught up with him in the presidency, was his need to be in complete control.
The book was very entertaining, especially the first half. I listened to the audiobook while driving and it kept my attention.
I voted in my first election in 1976 and was an enthusiastic Carter supporter. I changed my mind by 1980 and voted for Ronald Reagan. This book describes some of the events that changed my mind, and America’s. It both brings back memories and gives context I did not have at the time.
Have you lost any possessions that you really cared about? What were they?
The short answer is “no”, but that would make a very short and not very interesting essay. Maybe the reason I cannot think of anything whose loss has greatly distressed me is because in today’s world you can replace most possessions. The irony is that things don’t much matter when you have lots of things.
Maybe some losses that were hard at the time, but funny now.
Pick pockets of Spain
I got pick pocketed in Spain back in 2002. I was upset at the time, but on reflection I admire the thieves’ skill. Chrissy and I were walking in Barcelona, when this old guy came up and told me there was dirt on my coat. He set about “helping” me brush it off. Soon another guy also came to help. I suspected these guys were dishonest, but I did not want to be rude. Crooks depend on that you don’t want to be rude. So, I kept my hand on my wallet and waited for them to go away. They did. I felt for my wallet and it was still there. I thought that maybe I was wrong about them. They were a couple of odd, but friendly guys. After all, I still had all my stuff and my coat did have a dirt stain on the back.
I was wrong. A while later we wanted to buy some pastries. I reached for my wallet. The wallet was still in my pocket, even the cash was still there, but the credit cards were gone. These guys were so skillful that they took my wallet – while I was aware of them – took out the credit cards and put the wallet back. It was a smart trick. Had they taken the wallet, I would have chased them, or at least immediately reported the cards stolen. At first, I thought that I maybe misplaced the cards, but when we called Visa, we learned that the cards had already been used to buy thousands of dollars’ worth of jewelry.
Visa & Master Card were good about it. We suffered no losses, but it was hard, since we no longer could use the cards. Chrissy had her cards, but they were the same ones that I had and were compromised. Fortunately, we always build in some redundancy and we had a third unrelated card in the hotel safe. The lesson I learned was that you never should carry two credit cards with you. One suffices, although in our defense in those “old” days in Europe, some shops took Visa and others Master Card. Many did not take both.
Reporting the incident to the police was a challenge. They did not have English speakers and we do not speak Spanish. Our old Portuguese worked more or less, mostly less, but all we really needed was the police report for the credit card companies and we got one. There was no chance of catching the crooks. I later learned that Barcelona was well-known for the skill of local pick pockets. In all my travels, this is the only time it has ever happened to me. I really suffered no loss, but it was a lot of paperwork to get it resolved. For months after, we got bills from tunnels and toll roads. Visa told us that this was one of the scams. They had a confederate working at the toll booth and they just ran the card over and over. We did not have to pay, but we did have to inform Visa each month. Master Card did not have that problem.
We were victims of crime on three other occasions: in Brazil, in Poland and right here in Washington.
Burglars in Brazil
Thieves broke into our house in Porto Alegre when we were traveling. They were stupid thieves. They broke down one door going in, and another one going out. I think they thought it was another room. Anyway, they stole only a couple bottles of Bourbon, some costume jewelry and my leather coat. A lot of trouble for not much gain. Our neighbors were also robbed in this petty way. They did not even know a robbery had taken place until our friend could not find a favorite suit. What he did find was a pair of old shorts with one of his belts attached. Evidently the thieves tried on the clothes until they found what they wanted and walked out better attired than when they walked in.
Car thieves in Poland (Russian mafia?)
We had a car stolen in Poland. Chrissy was driving in Warsaw, in an area w/o much parking, when she found a great spot. She was not gone long, but when she came back, the spot was open again, but our car was gone. The police figured that it was the Russian mafia, but they blamed the Russians for most things. They said that it was a sort of made to order robbery. The crooks would keep a parking place open until their colleague saw the type of car they wanted. I don’t know about that.
Stupid crooks in Washington
In Washington, a thief broke into our car and took a couple tapes and a glow stick, not much of a haul. The tapes were not of general interest. We were studying Norwegian at the time and one of the tapes was a Norwegian language lesson. The other tape was “Secrets of Power Negotiating,” so we searched for a Norwegian speaking negotiator in SW Washington, but never found him. Replacing the broken window was the big expense. Many of the cars in the lots were attacked. We figure that it was kids or druggies looking for a fast grab.
Anyway, besides these, maybe my most inconvenient loss was when I left my dress shoes on the train from Krakow to Warsaw. I had to go to meetings with my running shoes and nice suit. It turned out a good thing, an ice breaker.
No narrative of loss
I guess I don’t have a narrative of loss to share. I cannot think of many things I would feel really terrible about if I lost them, although I prefer not. I would be very sad if my house burned down and devastated if I “lost” my forest land, but I don’t think that was the sort of possession they meant. Possessions can be replaced or maybe you didn’t need them in the first place. Loss is not a problem but an expense.
My pictures are from our trip to Barcelona, a wonderful place to visit, pick pockets notwithstanding. The picture of Alex and Espen is outside our house in Warsaw. There was a mean dog there. They were afraid of him, but had to look.