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Nightmare Alley

Well. That was quite the ride, I’d say.

Not one I’d necessarily recommend unless you have some sort of professional interest or completist determination.

In great art, it seems to me, the artist’s particular vision – and it indeed, might at times be quite particular and peculiar – manages a connection of some kind with the greater world and other human beings. That seems obvious. It’s why we are still reading Greek tragedies and Shakespeare, right?

I don’t know how one does that, but it also seems obvious when it doesn’t happen.

So, with Nightmare Alley. Which wasn’t awful and was quite compelling and readable, but also wasn’t a book that said to me either, That’s a world and aspect of life that I recognize or This is all new to me, but still rings true.

I had heard about this book in my noir forays, but never made space for it until I noted recently that Guillermo del Toro has directed a new film adaptation, due to be released in December. Here’s the trailer.

Well, okay, I thought. Let’s take a look. I read a lot of American noir fiction, so it’s probably obligatory.

By the way, there’s an earlier film adaptation, recently re-released by Criterion, with the screenplay co-written by Gresham, the novel’s author. It also stars Tyrone Power, who was my mother’s absolute, deepest Hollywood heartthrob back in the day. I’ll probably try to see it soon, although our library lists it only as “on order” at this point.

I want to say, first off, that this novel is not what you might expect, either from any synopsis or from the trailer. There’s not a bit of the supernatural about it – well, not any “real” supernatural elements, although plot points do revolve around faking the supernatural. It’s not a detective tale nor is it the traditional noir tale of a man caught in evil, struggling to make the choices that will get him out of the mess.

It’s the story of a con man.

I suppose I shouldn’t give too much away of the plot, since, even if you’re not going to read this book, you might want to see the movie – and even thought the teaser trailer is sketchy, the scenes that pop up do indicate that it will follow the book.

(Although Bradley Cooper is way older than Stan in the novel, who begins our story in his mid-twenties at the oldest. And is – as the novel tells us over and over – blonde. This seems to be quite important and also seems to be ignored in the film, just judging from the trailer. .)

Remember what I said up there about great art being the fruit of a particular, peculiar vision having a universal appeal? In order to get at how Nightmare Alley fails that test, in my mind, it’s helpful, then, to spend some time on the source of that particular, peculiar vision – author William Gresham.

And this is what I didn’t realize before I started the novel: that Gresham is the “Gresham” who was the first husband of Joyce Davidman, who, in the early 1950’s, became fascinated with C.S. Lewis and eventually crossed the sea with her two sons to be near him, married him and then died in 1960. Lewis fans know, then that the literary fruits of this are Surprised by Joy and A Grief Observed and that one of the sons – Douglas – has been instrumental in preserving Lewis’ literary legacy.

Knowing all of that, reading Nightmare Alley takes on a whole other dimension. For the contrast between the vision behind this novel and Lewis’ works is about as extreme as you’re going to get.

(Gresham was also an alcoholic and, by the time Joy left, was involved with her cousin, whom he would marry. I am not a Lewis acolyte, do not put the man on any sort of pedestal, and so was interested, rather than disturbed this article about his marriage to Davidman. YMMV.)

Synopsis, as per usual, written by someone else, because I’m lazy:

Nightmare Alley begins with an extraordinary description of a carnival-show geek—alcoholic and abject and the object of the voyeuristic crowd’s gleeful disgust and derision—going about his work at a county fair. Young Stan Carlisle is working as a carny, and he wonders how a man could fall so low. There’s no way in hell, he vows, that anything like that will ever happen to him.

And since Stan is clever and ambitious and not without a useful streak of ruthlessness, soon enough he’s going places. Onstage he plays the mentalist with a cute assistant (before long his harried wife), then he graduates to full-blown spiritualist, catering to the needs of the rich and gullible in their well-upholstered homes. It looks like the world is Stan’s for the taking. At least for now.

Nighmare Alley is rough, sexually forthright and extremely dark. Which doesn’t bother me, since I’m a rather dark and cynical person myself. But I do appreciate a little hope (as I do find in Greene), and there’s none of that here.

There are two figures that dominate Nightmare Alley: the Conman and the Geek.

Stan – our main character – evolves into a master conman. We meet him as a magician, and then he moves into the world of Spiritualism, exploiting the pain of loss for what he hopes will be great gain: manipulating a woman whose daughter died and a man whose youthful paramour died from the abortion of his child decades before.

But why is he conning? Because, Gresham implies, Stan himself was conned. By whom? By life itself.

Conned into believing that the life into which he was born was solid and real and characterized by authentic love and support for his own ambitions, dreams and talents  – and would last. It wasn’t and it didn’t.

(Enter a lot of Freudian psychosexual allusions)

Betrayed by this con as a child Stan is tossed out into the world and so begins the journey the only way he knows how: by the con.

And then we have the Geek – not just the sideshow freak, but the person (usually a man) who, at the lowest of the low points, is manipulated to perform low, dehumanizing acts – in this case, biting the head of a chicken. Aside from Stan, he’s the first figure we meet in Nightmare Alley, and he and what brought him to that point hover above the whole novel and inform Stan’s own journey, both as a conman and a victim:

We live in pain and need. The canny and the sharp see this – and will exploit it and use us. The outright conmen, but also the corporations, the industrialists, the religious, the advertisers and the (Lilith is a psychologist):

The next moment Lilith’s hand was through his arm, pressing it, turning him across the avenue to the apartment house where she lived, where she worked her own special brand of magic, where she had her locked files full of stuff. Where she told people what they had to do during the next day when they wanted a drink, when they wanted to break something, when they wanted to kill themselves with sleeping tablets, when they wanted to bugger the parlor maid or whatever they wanted to do that they had become so afraid of doing that they would pay her twenty-five dollars an hour to tell them either why it was all right to do it or go on doing it or think about doing it or how they could stop doing it or stop wanting to do it or stop thinking about doing it or do something else that was almost as good or something which was bad but would make you feel better or just something to do to be able to do something.

From childhood, Stan had a dream – the dream of that Nightmare Alley – running, running running on a narrow path between darkened buildings, with a light glinting and the end – but he never reaches it. Ever.

But the canny and the knowing are fully aware of the hunger for love, acceptance and peace that drives that run – and they’ll use it.

And there you’ll be – the mark, the geek, blood at your feet, blood on your hands, blood at the edges of your mouth.

You might get the idea from the trailer and from the synopsis that Nightmare Alley is all about carnivals. It’s not. Maybe a third is set in that world. The rest takes us to two different worlds: that of mid-twentieth century psychology and, more importantly, pop Spiritualism – both of which interested and involved Gresham a great deal.

Both Brighton Rock and Nightmare Alley present a vision of suffering humanity, seeking to have its needs met, fears assuaged, hurting comforted, along with a vision of a world that is perfectly willing to meet, assuage and comfort – but at a price. For Greene, it is the transitory salvation of mechanical attractions and entertainment as well as greed and lust. For Gresham, it’s the charlatan and the conman.  But perhaps the two are seeing the same realities, in the end.

For Greene, at least, there is hope. In Gresham’s world, there really isn’t a spot of it. It’s interesting to rattle around in his head for a few hours, but in the end, it’s just him and his obsessions I’m getting acquainted with, and nothing beyond: We’re all needy marks – the only way out, even for a short time – is to recognize it, defend yourself, and turn it around. And even so – the book’s chapters are titled by tarot cards, which tells you all you need to know. There’s no chance, boys.  We’ll never reach that light, will we?

Because it’s not actual light. It’s just a dead thing, tricking us here on this dying earth:

The moon brightened concrete steps leading down the terrace where the grass was ragged. Stan’s legs felt stiff as he descended to the street where the arching maples closed over him, moonlight showering through their leaves now black with night. A sound came from the house he had left, an old man weakly crying.

 In a patch of silver the Rev. Carlisle stopped and raised his face to the full moon, where it hung desolately, agonizingly bright—a dead thing, watching the dying earth.


Random, amusing note: I started reading this book online, then noted that one of my local libraries had a copy. So a couple of days ago, I headed down there – because I prefer to read “real” books. I went to the fiction section, got distracted, and wandered over to a special display labeled something like “Humorous English Novels.” And there was Nightmare Alley, right in between Wodehouse and Kingsley Amis. Someone needs to do some more homework, I think……

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That’s today’s Gospel at Mass.

It’s also the framework for the introduction to my Loyola Kids Book of Catholic Signs and Symbols.

The Kingdom of Heaven is like…..
…a mustard seed.
…a treasure hidden in a field
….leaven


Think about the most important things in your life: feelings, ideas, emotions, realities, and hopes. Now try to explain these things in a way that communicates the depth and breadth and truth of what you’ve experienced.
It’s hard. It might even be impossible. For we all know this: no matter how eloquent we are, what we express only touches on the surface of what’s real. What’s more, the deeper and more important the reality, the more challenging it is to adequately express.

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But we still try, because we are created to do so. We’re created in God’s image, which means we’re created to be in deep communion, to understand, to imagine, to love and create. And so to do so, we depend on metaphors and similes, signs and symbols.


Signs and symbols are not add-ons to human communication. All communication, from letters to words to hugs to great paintings, is symbolic. For what are signs and symbols? They are expressions that represent something beyond themselves.


So, yes, written and oral speech is symbolic. Gestures are symbols. Images, music, food, nature – all of what we see can be incorporated into life in symbolic ways.


Just as Jesus himself used that most absorbing means of human communication – the story – to communicate with us, so did he use deeply symbolic language as well as signs. The Scriptures are woven with imagery that remains fundamental to our understanding of God: rock, shepherd, right hand…


Spirituality involves the deepest realities of all: the human soul and its relation to the Creator. Signs and symbols play an especially rich and important role in this part of life.


Signs and symbols have always been important in Christian life and faith. Human beings are, of course, natural artists and communicators, so we use symbols to express deep realities. Early Christianity developed in an environment in which persecution was a frequent fact of life, so symbols became a way to communicate and build bonds and pass on the truths of the faith in ways that hostile outsiders could not understand.
Signs and symbols have played a vital role in Christian life over the centuries for another reason: for most of Christian history, most Christians could not read. In these pre-literate societies, most people learned about their faith orally, as parents, catechists and clergy passed on prayers and basic teachings. They also learned about their faith in the context of cultures in which spiritual realities were made visible throughout the year, through symbolic language and actions: they lived in the rhythm of liturgical feasts and seasons. They participated in the Mass and other community prayers, rich with symbolic gestures, images and even structured in a highly symbolic way, from beginning to end. Their places of worship, great and small, were built on symbolic lines, and bore symbolic artwork inside and out.


These people might not have been able to read – but they could read.


Their books were made of stone, of paint, of tapestry threads, of gestures, chant and the seasons of the year.
They could indeed read – they could read this rich symbolic language of the faith. Their language was one that communicated the realities of salvation history and God’s mercy and love through images of animals, plants, shapes and design. They knew through these symbols that God is justice, God is beauty and with God, there waits a feast.

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Brighton Rock

I am an unabashed Graham Greene fan. I honestly think that if you told me I’d be on a desert island with only one author’s oeuvre available to me, it would be either Greene or Trollope. Sorry Flannery. You know I love you.

I don’t know how long I’ve got to live on this earth, but I’m pretty confident that as long as I have a Greene within reach, I can be content. The sharp observations, the hope buried deep, deep – deep – within cynicism about human nature…..

Here’s an ancient piece I wrote on him – for OSV at the time. Almost twenty years ago. Phew! I’ve learned a lot, changed a bit, read more Greene, but I wouldn’t change much about this piece.

Shockingly, though, and much to my shame, it wasn’t until last week that I read his early success, Brighton Rock.

And it surprised me.

I knew – knew – that it was both a thriller and theological in nature, but I had no idea how theological.

I’m not going to do a summary of the entire book, not going to go on and on in detail here. But I want to  use the space to reflect on some theology as well as some aspects of contemporary public discourse.

Greene, of course, besides being a superb stylist and observer, is known for being not a Catholic novelist  and even barely a Catholic. He’d tell you say that he was a novelist who was a Catholic, but also that he was a Catholic atheist. Or atheist Catholic.

He “converted” mainly so he could marry the woman who would indeed become his wife, and to whom he would be unfaithful for most of their marriage. And his take on faith is not uncontroversial, having adopted Peguy’s  statement that “The sinner is at the very heart of Christianity. Nobody is so competent as the sinner in matters of Christianity. Nobody, except the saint” as the through-line of most of his work.

Self-justification? Lukewarm, convenient, appealing ambiguity? Perhaps.

But somehow, more true to life and the journey called faith than the black-and-white, simplistic paintings of the earnest, self-defined “Christian” artist.

He seems to be working that out for the first time here in Brighton Rock. As per my habit, I’ll let someone else summarize the plot:

Graham Greene’s chilling exposé of violence and gang warfare in the pre-war underworld is a classic of its kind. Pinkie, a teenage gangster on the rise, is devoid of compassion or human feeling, despising weakness of both the spirit and the flesh. Responsible for the razor slashes that killed mob boss Kite and also for the death of Hale, a reporter who threatened the livelihood of the mob, Pinkie is the embodiment of calculated evil. As a Catholic, however, Pinkie is convinced that his retribution does not lie in human hands. He is therefore not prepared for Ida Arnold, Hale’s avenging angel. Ida, whose allegiance is with life, the here and now, has her own ideas about the circumstances surrounding Hale’s death. For the sheer joy of it, she takes up the challenge of bringing the infernal Pinkie to an earthly kind of justice.

And yes, the “Brighton” is the English seaside holiday town, but the “rock” is not a part of the landscape – but a kind of candy. A hard stick candy which has the word “Brighton” infused in it through and through, no matter how much you’ve consumed. A nod to human nature.

Brighton Rock, Greene - AbeBooks

The setting – 1930’s Brighton, full of holiday-makers, race-goers and gangsters – is brilliantly written, even as Greene is clearly critiquing much of it, primarily the soullessness of mass, popular culture, the impact of the machine on human interaction, and (despite Greene being quite a snob himself) – the negative impact of impoverishment on human life.  

But the central compelling aspect is the unrelenting complexity of that  Catholic understanding of the cosmos, our part in it, and the role of choice and, yes, the nature of good and evil.

Pinkie is cold and responsible for deaths and ready to see how far he must go in order to protect himself. Ida, who had a brief dalliance with one of his victims, is indeed, the avenging angel, out to find the answer to the mystery, to get justice for Hale and protect Rose, the young woman who’s been brought into the mess and whom, Ida is certain, will meet a terrible end from Pinkie because of it.

So there you have it, on one level – bad guys and good gals and guys, right?

Not so fast.

Of course Pinkie has done great wrong, and of course his acts exist in a world where justice is required.

But what is this about, when Greene seems to contrast Ida’s fixation on “right and wrong” in a negative way with Pinkie and Rose’s understanding of “good and evil?”

Well, here you’ve hit the core of what Greene was exploring. From a post at the Britannica site:

Although Ida is ostensibly the heroine of the novel, her heroism belongs to the blank morality of the detective novel, where the measure of goodness is in the ability to solve the mystery. By contrast, through his contemplation of his own damnation, Pinkie’s evil achieves a sense of moral seriousness that Ida’s agnosticism can never obtain. Rose is Pinkie’s counterpart here, sharing his Catholic faith and prepared to corrupt herself in order to protect a man that she believes loves her. For Pinkie, the part he plays in Rose’s corruption will ensure his damnation much more clearly than his role in the murders that punctuate the novel.

Ida – a totally appealing character, means well and is motivated by admirable qualities: affection, loyalty, fellow-feeling and justice – but ultimately, it’s clear, she’ll forget and she’ll move on.

In the universe of the “Romans” – Pinkie and Rose – no such thing is possible. Everything matters, everything has weight and Hell exists.

“Mad killer prowls a summer resort!”

One could go on for hours about this, but this isn’t the spot for that. I just have two final points to make – if I’ve made any at all.

First, if you want a break from the ridiculous binary and narrative absolutes (as opposed to theological absolutes) of contemporary discourse, even in the Catholic world – pick up some fiction. You may agree, you may disagree, but I’m certain you will recognize some truth about the real world.

Secondly, Rose. Much attention is paid to the characters of Pinkie and Ida in Brighton Rock, but it’s perhaps Rose we should be listening to. Here’s an excellent article – a chapter from a book – about the character of Rose, quite well-informed about Catholic theology and spirituality.

The scholar makes the case – which had occurred to me as I was reading the novel – that Rose, as flawed and weak as she is, works in the story in general and in Pinkie’s life in particular, as the loving hand of God reaching out, offering another way.

Yes, Rose throws her lot in with Pinkie, helping him to cover up his crimes, knowing full well that he has, indeed committed those crimes. But on the other hand, Rose – after their admittedly brief acquaintance, declares she is in this with Pinkie because she loves him. And it’s clear that the extension and presence of love to Pinkie at this time  in this place could be his salvation. It could. If he said yes, if he opened himself up, rather like the Misfit in “A Good Man is Hard to Find,” being met by the Grandmother’s recognition, “You’re one of my babies!”

As Katherine Walton says in her really excellent article on Rose in Brighton Rock:

Rose’s faith makes her the novel’s only character to provide an apparatus by which to understand a divine force as it is experienced by humans within the world. Unlike Ida, both Pinkie and Rose believe in Good and Evil and their respective “two eternities,”but only Rose exhibits faith in the redemptive power of God. Despite her belief that orthodox religious practices such as prayer and confession cannot help her, Rose instinctively reaches out toward a God who may be distant but not inaccessible; though she refuses to repent for her sins, her faith moves her toward contrition, toward her time with the priest in the confessional at the end of the novel and, perhaps most importantly, toward the power of spiritual self-determination, that will to decide for herself what meaning she might derive from her “Roman” life. ..

…At the novel’s end, just as she accepts the priest’s words in what Gerald H. Cox considers as “clearly an act of faith” in a similar act of community, so too does Rose agree to pray not merely for Pinkie’s soul, but for the priest, as well. In this moment, it is as if Rose suddenly becomes aware that her sin does not sever her from, but rather binds her ever more tightly to her God, and that through this connection, she is most in unity with those like her. When previously she believed that “her prayers stayed here below with the siphons and statuettes: they had no wings,” following her conversation with the priest, she begins to understand that the divine can be made present through human action. She cannot bestow salvation, but she can seek community with God through the action of love.

Earlier today I read a tweet or a blog post or something critiquing the mode of “managing a pandemic via narrative.” Perfect, I thought – not only for the covid situation, but for so much of contemporary life.

Fill in the blank, can you?

Managing ________________________________________ via narrative.

And that narrative always involves condemnation, walls, absolute divisions, vituperation, dismissal, accusations and thoroughly good guys versus thoroughly bad guys.

But guess what?

In the history of the highest forms of authentic “narrative” – art, no matter what the form – what stays with us, what prompts us to the deepest reflection, what holds up an actual mirror to our lives are those that dig deep and refuse to let us rest easy in our preferred war-like state, gazing intently over the trenches, so sure of ourselves.

“You cannot conceive, nor can I, of the appalling strangeness of the mercy of God.”

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The Kids Need Saints

A week from today is All Saints’ Day. That’s good. Because The Kids Need Saints.

Why?

So they will have inspiration to “be good” or be moved to “set the world on fire?” So they will have fun Catholic friends in heaven?

Maybe.

But most of all, it seems to me, the Kids Need Saints because the world they’re living in mostly lies to them about who they are, why they’re valuable, why they’re here, and where they’re going.

The truth, of course, is found in what God’s revealed to us through Scripture and Tradition, what we hear when we live with that at the center.

That is hard. Always has been. Even in “Christendom” – sin abounded because human beings are who we are. Corruption, rationalization, obscuring, veils and unjust structures built in the name of God.

It’s always a challenge to make our way through, to see the truth – which is why the life of this church has always been one of cycles of grounding and reform and renewal, over and over and over – as the prophets and saints among us recognize how the Gospel has been obscured and then courageously show the rest of us how it’s done.

So the Kids have always needed saints, yes.

But, it seems to me, especially today, the need is deep and profound. For the forces and voices that are tempting them to believe lies about themselves are more powerful and louder than ever before. Pervasive and invasive in their appeal.

The impact of the deception runs even deeper and wider than the obvious celebration of appearance, achievement, sexual appeal and possessions as indicators of value.

It seeps into even the most well-meaning worlds of formation, guidance and education: in which young people are taught to assume that life – even a Christian life – is about pursuing dreams and happiness and finding fulfillment. Because, they are told, of course whatever they feel and sense quite deeply about themselves must be God’s plan and will for them. Why? Because God created them and loves them exactly as they are, therefore whatever they feel and sense must be God-planted and God-approved.

Follow your dreams.

This is a lie.

This isn’t the Gospel.

This is:

For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it.

Sorry, all of us valiantly determined to baptize our 21st century western achievement-fulfillment-happiness framework intact despite a Crucified God staring us in the face.

There’s more than one species of Prosperity Gospel, you know.

This is why the Kids Need Saints.

So in vivid ways, through the stories of women, men and children from every era and every place on earth, out of every ability and disability and state in life – they can see the truth lived out.

The Kids Need Saints because when they are immersed in the lives of these women, men and children, they see something unique, something that they find in no other institution, culture or subculture in human history. Yes, all cultures honor other human beings, they erect statues, some even have their miracle-workers. They have their wise men and founders, they have their holy fools and mystics.

But in what other human context are rulers and managers and the wealthy – the valedictorians, the Merit Scholars, the All-Stars and the Ivy-League bound – reminded, no exceptions, that their fulfillment – the actual, real fulfillment of their very real lives – might just be rooted in honoring, emulating and humbly seeking the prayers….. of a beggar?

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Monday

Monday

Well, well, well!

Travel:

We’re back. Got back last Thursday night. Summary report of our trip to Utah here.

Individual posts:

Octobe15: Travel day, Salt Lake City

October 16: Capitol Reef National Park

October 17: Leprechaun Canyon, Blarney Canyon, Goblin Valley State Park, Moab

October 18: Devil’s Garden Trail hike, Arches National Park. Islands in the Sky overlooks, Canyonlands National Park

October 19: Fiery Furnace hike, Arches National Park, travel to Needles section of Canyonlands

October 20: Chelser Park Overlook hike, Canyonlands, Delicate Arch trail hike, Arches

More photos and videos at Instagram, both in posts and in “highlights.”

It’s odd – although completely expected – how quickly the focus changes once I return from a trip. For weeks beforehand, every other browser tab and half the books on my desk are related to the trip, and I’m all research, research, research up until the last moment (especially when a trip changes…at the last moment as this one did)..and then the minute I get home…bam. It’s all out of my head (in that respect).

Time to move on!

Don’t know where, though.

Writing:

I was in Living Faith yesterday. Go here for that.

I was on the Son Rise Morning Show this morning talkin’ about solidarity. Great conversation!

And, er…well, as I said….just got back from a trip. Currently recalibrating.

Reading:

Two novels which have completely defied my expectations: Greene’s Brighton Rock and Nightmare Alley by Douglas Gresham.

Why these? Because Brighton Rock is one of the few Greene novel’s I’d not read, to my shame, considering its place in his canon, and the other because it’s a famed noir that’s the source for a forthcoming film from Guillermo del Toro (and an old one starring my mother’s heartthrob, Tyrone Power).

I’ll write about both in separate posts. Brighton Rock today, and Nightmare Alley tomorrow – I’ve got about fifty pages to go. It’s very strange and quite different, as I said, from what I expected. What gives Nightmare Alley particular resonance is – as I figured out in a duh moment when I picked it up – is that the author, William Gresham, was Joy Davidman’s first husband – the one left behind when she crossed the pond for C.S. Lewis. Considering the content of this novel, that is just….fascinating.

Many New Yorker articles, including a surprisingly engaging one on Paul McCartney here, framing it in terms of the new Peter Jackson-directed and produced documentary project, airing at Thanksgiving on Disney+ – pulled together from the dozens of hours of footage filmed during the Beatles’ last recording session. I’m not a particular Beatles fan, but of course, I do like my history, including cultural history, and this – a correction, in a sense, of an earlier documentary culled from the same footage – looks marvelous.

Watching:

Not much for me, although the two youngest in the crew saw Dune over the weekend and raved, and the one who still lives here returned to scroll through the film, streaming on HBOMax, pointing out his favorite parts to me. So in a sense, I guess I sort of saw Dune.

Listening:

Inspired by reminiscences by David Remnick in the McCartney article, I queued up Teddy Wilson on the playlist last night and spent the evening with him in the background while I made my baffled way through Nightmare Alley.

Cooking:

We’re back, so that means busy times for the person who does the eating around here. Time to cook in batches and leave them around for when the need arises. Bought a bunch of short ribs half price at the grocery store, so they became this. Made a fantastic tomato pasta sauce last night: sauteed onions, green peppers, carrots, then soaked, chopped porcini mushrooms. Garlic. Put a bunch of red wine and tomato paste in, cooked it down. Dumped in a jar of passata (half price, on clearance at Publix), fresh basil and oregano, etc. Cooked that for a bit, then put in the partially cooked meatballs (ground beef & pork, soaked breadcrumbs, parmesan, eggs, salt, pepper, garlic & onion powder, oregano), kept on a low simmer. Threw in parmesan rinds.

Perfect.

And then, probably tomorrow, I’ll make this pork & poblano stew. That should do us for the week.

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Yes, it’s Sunday….. 

There’s a lot you could read today on any number of subjects, but  the life of St Anthony Mary Claret is probably one of the best things you could spend time with, especially if you are engaged in ministry of any sort.

Seemingly indefatigable. What interests me, as always with the saints, is the shape of their response to God. In hindsight, we often think of the lives of the saints and other holy people as a given, as if they knew their path from the beginning and were just following a script.

Such is not the case, of course, and their lives are as full of questions and u-turns as anyone else’s – the difference between them and most of the rest of us is God’s central place in their discernment, rather than their own desires or those of the world’s.

We usually, and quite normally, look to the saints for wisdom in how to act. I tend to be most interested in the wisdom they offer me in how to discern.

So it is with Anthony Claret. He began working in textiles, like his father and pursued business, then felt the pull to religious life, which at first he thought would be Carthusian – his vigorous missionary life tells us that this didn’t happen. All along the way, he listened and responded and moved forward. From his autobiography, reflecting on these matters in general, and specifically in relation to his time at the Spanish court – probably the place he least wanted to be in the world:

I can see that what the Lord is doing in me is like what I observe going on in the motion of the planets: they are pulled by two forces, one centrifugal, the other centripetal. Centrifugal force pulls them to escape their orbits; centripetal force draws them toward their center. The balance of these two forces holds them in their orbits. That’s just how I see myself. I feel one force within me, which I’ll call centrifugal, telling me to get out of Madrid and the court; but I also feel a counterforce, the will of God, telling me to stay in court for the time being, until I am free to leave. This will of God is the centripetal force that keeps me chained here like a dog on his leash. The mixture of these two forces, namely, the desire to leave and my love for doing God’s will, keeps me running around in my circle.

624. Every day at prayer I have to make acts of resignation to God’s will. Day and night I have to offer up the sacrifice of staying in Madrid, but I thank God for the repugnance I feel. I know that it is a great favor. How awful it would be if the court or the world pleased me! The only thing that pleases me is that nothing pleases me. May you be blessed, God my Father, for taking such good care of me. Lord, just as you make the ocean salty and bitter to keep it pure, so have you given me the salt of dislike and the bitterness of boredom for the court, to keep me clean of this world. Lord, I give you thanks, many thanks, for doing so.

********

We wonder a lot about evangelization these days and fret about how to do it in new ways because, of course, we have our New Evangelization. 

Read the life of St. Anthony Claret. And if you have even just an hour sometime, you have time to at least skim is autobiography, a version of which is here.

There is no fussing, meandering, focus groups or market research. There is just responding vigorously to Matthew 28. He preaches, preaches, preaches. He teaches, hears confessions, provides the corporeal works of mercy on a massive scale, he forms clergy, he builds fellowship, he forgives:

The would-be assassin was caught in the act and sent to jail. He was tried and sentenced to death by the judge, not-withstanding the deposition I had made, stating that I forgave him as a Christian, a priest, and an archbishop. When this was brought to the attention of the Captain General of Havana, Don Jose de la Concha, he made a trip expressly to see me on this matter. I begged him to grant the man a pardon and remove him from the island because I feared that the people would try to lynch him for his attack on me, which had been the occasion both of general sorrow and indignation as well as of public humiliation at the thought that one of the country’s prelates had actually been wounded.

584. I offered to pay the expenses of my assailant’s deportation to his birthplace, the island of Tenerife in the Canaries. His name was Antonio Perez,382 the very man whom a year earlier, unknown to me, I had caused to be freed from prison. His parents had appealed to me on his behalf, and, solely on the strength of their request, I had petitioned the authorities for their son’s release. They complied with my request and freed him, and the very next year he did me the favor of wounding me. I say “favor” because I regard it as a great favor from heaven, which has brought me the greatest joy and for which I thank God and the Blessed Virgin Mary continually

How to evangelize and lead and serve and such:

anthony mary claret antonio

Back in a parish of Catalonia, Claret began preaching popular missions all over. He traveled on foot, attracting large crowds with his sermons. Some days he preached up to seven sermons in a day and spent 10 hours listening to mi

The secret of his missionary success was LOVE. In his words: “Love is the most necessary of all virtues. Love in the person who preaches the word of God is like fire in a musket. If a person were to throw a bullet with his hands, he would hardly make a dent in anything; but if the person takes the same bullet and ignites some gunpowder behind it, it can kill. It is much the same with the word of God. If it is spoken by someone who is filled with the fire of charity- the fire of love of God and neighbor- it will work wonders.” (Autobiography #438-439).

His popularity spread; people sought him for spiritual and physical healing. By the end of 1842, the Pope gave him the title of “apostolic missionary.” Aware of the power of the press, in 1847, he organized with other priests a Religious Press. Claret began writing books and pamphlets, making the message of God accessible to all social groups. The increasing political restlessness in Spain continued to endanger his life and curtail his apostolic activities. So, he accepted an offer to preach in the Canary Islands, where he spent 14 months. In spite of his great success there too, he decided to return to Spain to carry out one of his dreams: the organization of an order of missionaries to share in his work.

*****

On July 16, 1849, he gathered a group of priests who shared his dream. This is the beginning of the Missionary Sons of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, today also known as Claretian Fathers and Brothers. Days later, he received a new assignment: he was named Archbishop of Santiago de Cuba. He was forced to leave the newly founded community to respond to the call of God in the New World. After two months of travel, he reached the Island of Cuba and began his episcopal ministry by dedicating it to Mary. He visited the church where the image of Our Lady of Charity, patroness of Cuba was venerated. Soon he realized the urgent need for human and Christian formation, specially among the poor. He called Antonia Paris to begin there the religious community they had agreed to found back in Spain. He was concerned for all aspects of human development and applied his great creativity to improve the conditions of the people under his pastoral care.

Among his great initiatives were: trade or vocational schools for disadvantaged children and credit unions for the use of the poor. He wrote books about rural spirituality and agricultural methods, which he himself tested first. He visited jails and hospitals, defended the oppressed and denounced racism. The expected reaction came soon. He began to experience persecution, and finally when preaching in the city of Holguín, a man stabbed him on the cheek in an attempt to kill him. For Claret this was a great cause of joy. He writes in his Autobiography: “I can´t describe the pleasure, delight, and joy I felt in my soul on realizing that I had reached the long desired goal of shedding my blood for the love of Jesus and Mary and of sealing the truths of the gospel with the very blood of my veins.” (Aut. # 577). During his 6 years in Cuba he visited the extensive Archdiocese three times…town by town. In the first years, records show, he confirmed 100,000 people and performed 9,000 sacramental marriages.

Here, at archive.org, is the text of his autobiography.

In past years, I’ve run a series of posts on his life on this day. This year, I’ll just link to those past posts.

His childhood

On ministry

On evangelization

On why he emphasized short books and pamphlets – proof that nothing changes.

In our day, then, there is twice the need for circulating good books. But these books must be small because modern people rush about so much and are pressed on all sides by a thousand different demands–not to mention the concupiscence of the eyes and ears that has reached such a point that people have to see and hear everything and travel everywhere –so that a thick tome is just not going to be read. It will merely sit around gathering dust on the shelves of bookstores and libraries.

Finally, on the importance of poverty for those in ministry….and dogs.

 The dog watches by day and redoubles his vigilance by night. He guards the person and the property of his master. He barks at and bites all those he knows or suspects are planning to harm his master or his master’s interests. I should strive to be always vigilant, and denounce vices, faults, and sins, and cry out against the enemies of the soul.

 The dog’s greatest joy is to be in his master’s presence and walk along beside him. I shall strive always to walk joyfully in the presence of God, my dear Master. 

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Here’s my ritual trip summary post, giving more details about places we stayed, where and what we ate, what resources we used, and….why we did this thing at all.

Where and When:

Three Utah National Parks. October 15-21, 2021.

Why:

Well, we do like to travel and see new things. Of course, travel has been a little challenging for the past year and a half – not that this has stopped us. We did a trip to Grand Tetons National Park and Yellowstone in August of 2020, and then the south rim of the Grand Canyon and the Petrified Forest in February 2021. As well as shorter jaunts – like up to the Big South Fork area in middle Tennessee in August.

You notice the preponderance of outdoors activities and national and state parks, right? Well, given the fact that for most of this time, cities outside of the south have been either shut down, mostly shut down or just…you know…cold (depending on the time of year) and travel outside the United States is a massive pain in the neck – it leaves the Great Outdoors, and yes, the Great Outdoors in the United States really is great.

And with this, we’d have done “The Big Five” – all the national parks in Utah. Quite important, you know.

Besides Covid restrictions, our other limitation is schedule. The 16-year old (the only one still here ) is very busy with his homeschool classes and tutoring, music lessons and recitals, and then his weekend parish organist job. A job which, from November 1 through January 1, is very time-consuming, not only in terms of actual playing but in terms of the need to prepare and practice.

So if we were going to be able to do anything this fall – this was our window. We’ll have another mid-January, I hope.

Problems:

Yes, there was a problem. I spent so much time planning and organizing, and so of course – the week we were supposed to leave was the week of some massive schedule issues with a couple of airlines, including American – not as widespread as those with Southwest, but still with an impact. And part of that impact was on us – cancelling a flight from Dallas to Grand Junction, Colorado.

Here’s the original schedule:

10/13: Late flight from BHM-GJT. Land GJT at midnight.

10/14: Pick up car at GJT early morning, drive the scenic Unaweep / Tabeguache Scenic and Historic Byway, stay in an AirBnB out in the country around Cortez, CO. If we have time, run over to the Hovenweep National Monument.

10/15: Mesa Verde (Mug House Tour & other exploring), drive to Monument Valley.

10/16: Tour of Monument Valley with Dineh Bekeyah Tours. Drive up to Monticello, possibly on the Moki Dugway, see other sights along the way.  

10/17: Hike in Needles section of Canyonlands NP. Drive up to Moab.

10/18-19: Arches NP. Evening – drive back to Grand Junction.

10/20: Fly back to BHM.

Well, that didn’t work out, since on the morning of our departure, while M was taking the PSAT, our DFW-GJT flight was cancelled. I won’t go into any more detail than I did here, but the upshot was I just cancelled that whole set of American flights, crossing my fingers that I’d get a refund (I did) and scheduled new flights (same basic cost) leaving Friday 10/15 and then returning on 10/21.

(The issue had been Thursday – the day when M has his 3 homeschool co-op classes. Of course I only wanted him to miss one set of those classes, so we ended up just pushing that up – he was to miss on 10/14, but missed 10/21 instead.)

AND then, well – because of the change, it was too late to grab new Mesa Verde tours, and since a major part of Mesa Verde is closed at the moment anyway – Cliff House – M said that he thought it would be better to save that for another trip anyway, and he’d rather put Capitol Reef NP in the mix. At which point it made sense to fly in and out of SLC instead of Grand Junction. In addition, at that point, I, not being psychic, had no idea what would be happening with the employee situation at the airlines, and I reasoned that a flight to or from SLC had a lesser chance of being cancelled than those associated with Grand Junction. And it all worked out fine, although I was cursing it all, I admit, on the drive back up on Wednesday night, especially passing the “Grand Junction – 113 miles” sign, when I still had 3 hours to go to SLC….

So.

New schedule/reality:

10/15: Fly from BHM to SLC, land about 1pm, fight with car rental agency, lose, spend $$$$ on a car, hoping for a refund, eventually. (Update 10/23: Got it! Well, not a refund, but I challenged the charge, and the cc company reversed it in very short order.) Explore SLC a bit – see Temple Square, the Capital, the Catholic Cathedral of the Madeleine. Drive to Torrey, Utah to the Red Sands Hotel. I had originally booked Saturday at the Broken Spur, but they didn’t have any Friday night rooms for the new plan – I got a little nervous that no one would (it was the end of fall break for many Utah schools). But we lucked out.

10/16: Capitol Reef NP – Hiked Cohab Canyon Trail to Hickman Bridge Trail and back. Mass. Dinner.

10/17: Drive from Torrey to Moab. On the way, explore Leprechaun Canyon, Blarney Canyon and Goblin Valley State Park. Drive into Arches NP to case it out. Check into the Expedition Lodge in Moab.  

10/18: Devil’s Garden Hike until early afternoon, then drive to the Islands in the Sky area of Canyonlands, take in some overlooks.

10/19: Fiery Furnace until early afternoon, drive to the Needles area of Canyonlands, check it out, do the Cave Spring Trail and the Pothole Trail, drive to Monticello to stay at the Blue Mountain Horsehead Inn.

10/20: Chesler Park Viewpoint hike in Canyonlands, then drive back up to Moab. Delicate Arch hike. Driiiiiiive to SLC.  Check into the Tru hotel near the airport.

10/21: Fly SLC-BHM, arrive 3 hours late because of….well, the expected. At least it wasn’t cancelled this time.  

We probably averaged about 7 miles of hiking a day. Luckily, I can still do that and more (like the 10+ we did in September at Big South Fork) fairly easily with no aching muscles the next day – although those inclines can be rough, and I’m determined to work on it more than ever now. M has some hiking boots – don’t know what. I have Danner low cut hiking shoes. We carry a cheapo 3L water backpack thing, plus another water bottle. I have trekking poles, but didn’t bring them because you can’t put them on a carry-on. And I didn’t need them, although I saw plenty of folks using them.

More photos and videos at Instagram, both in posts and in “highlights.”

All posts linked on the “Travel” page

Where We Stayed:

Red Sands Hotel in Torrey, Utah. Nice, probably overpriced, but it’s a tourist area. They lent me a bottle opener, so that was nice. Torrey is small, so there’s no real advantage to location, except a couple of hotels are further east and set so that the sunset is more easily enjoyed from their properties. But then, you can just drive there and see it if you want.

Expedition Lodge in Moab. Great, funky spot. Good heated pool, excellent location in walking distance of all the downtown restaurants and services. Retro vibe, quality appliances. I didn’t take photos on the property, but you can see plenty here.

Blue Mountain Horsehead Inn in Monticello: Basic old school roadside motel, but with immaculate, updated rooms.

It seems to me that all of these smaller hotels have really upped their games over the past few years. I suppose with the prevalence of online reviews, they can’t afford to be dirty or negligent and expect to stay in business.

Tru by Hilton in SLC. SUPER trendy – to the point of profound annoyance –  new Hilton brand, but it was it was also cheap for my date, so I went for it. It was fine.

I absolutely understand the popularity of camping. It’s not my bag at this point, and I sometimes wonder how long it takes for camping costs (costs including money, prep time and learning curve time) – especially in an RV – to balance out what you’d spend in other kinds of accommodations. But for a trip like this it would certainly make sense for a lot of reasons, not least, in, for example, Canyonlands – being right in the park, rather than 45 minutes away.

I mean….what is cuter than this??

Where we Ate:

Lucky’s Iron Door Roadhouse  in SLC (the original Lucky 13, being feature on Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives – but as a bar, barred to 16-year old M.) He had the pastrami burger – which is what he came for – and declared it excellent. He says its a Utah thing? I don’t know. I had a good salad. Don’t hate.

Curry Pizza in Bicknell, Utah – also a Fieri recommendation (although I think he visited the SLC location). Butter Chicken pizza, Samosas and chili wings, all excellent. Shockingly so.

Breakfast on Saturday at Austin’s Chuckwagon in Torrey. M had a breakfast burrito, which was massive and he liked, I had a veggie “frittata,” which was fine – eggs cooked with a bunch of vegetables. Can’t really do it wrong.

Late lunch/dinner on Sunday – Tacos La Pasadita truck in Green River, Utah. Very good – never eaten bad food from a taco truck, anyway. I had 3 various tacos, M had vampiros, which he loved.

Lunch Monday-Wednesday was from sandwich fixings purchased at a Moab grocery story in the madhouse of a Sunday evening. It was exactly like the craziness at beach grocery stores on Sunday afternoons and evenings, when everyone’s stocking up the rental for the week. Wild.

I had brought a cheap cooler bag at Dollar General, I believe, packed it in my suitcase, and so we iced that up, stored the meats, cheeses and pimento cheese in that as we went out during the day, and stuck it all back in the hotel fridge at night.

Monday night dinner at Antica Forma – arancini, pizza (M) & salad (me). Good, a bit pricey – but then everything is these days, isn’t it?

Tuesday night, Ja-Roen Thai Sushi in, yes, Monticello, Utah, and it was quite good. M had drunken noodles, I had a well-spiced basil chicken thing. I can’t speak for the sushi quality, since we didn’t partake, but our mains were tasty and freshly prepared. With a herd of mule deer in the yard next door and a simply lovely little Catholic church across the street.

Wednesday….Wednesday…Oh. Lunch from the sandwich stash, and then dinner via the drive through of a SLC-area In-N-Out, rather late in the evening on the way to the hotel.

Given various “free” hotel breakfasts and the grocery store purchases, we did fine for costs. Didn’t have a bad meal, either.

Hints and Suggestions:

As everyone knows (or should), Our National Parks have exploded in popularity in recent years, especially in the past year and a half. You really must plan your visits in order to avoid frustration, closures and lines. It’s like Disney World out there, folks. The NPS helps by providing, for example, webcams at certain very popular destinations – as with Arches NP, the webcam at the entrance gate. Study it.

6:45 am, entrance into Arches

Of course, neither Capitol Reef or Canyonlands are as popular as Arches, but you can still be disappointed by closures at these as well – we wanted to do the Capitol Gorge hike in Capitol Reef, but the road to the trailhead is currently closed, adding five miles round trip to the hike, which…we were not interested in spending time on. We checked into doing the Cassidy Arch trail, but by the time we arrived, the small parking lot was full. The Elephant Hill trailhead parking lot at Canyonlands also fills up – we arrived a little before nine and had no problem, but when we finished around noon, the lot was full – on a Wednesday morning in October, for heaven’s sake.

If you are able, don’t be afraid to hike. Yes, there are challenges, but there’s so much beauty beyond the first, easy stops – like beyond the Landscape Arch, as impressive as that is.

The park sites have lots of information, and if this is your bag, you know to download the AllTrails app – and pay for the pro version, which enables you to download trail maps on which you can track yourself, via the gps on your phone, if you want to.

When you go into Arches or Canyonlands, take your own food and any non-water drinks you might want. There is nothing of that nature inside the parks, not even in the visitor’s centers.

Moab is a decent little tourist town – not as obnoxious as Sedona or Pigeon Forge (is anything as obnoxious as Pigeon Forge? Branson, maybe?) – and it was busy, but only moderately so when we were there. I expect it’s crazy during high season, especially with only one main road running through the town along which all the businesses are located.

There is lots to do in that area besides just hike, of course – jeep and ATV or whatever tours, canyoneering, rafting, biking – but we didn’t do any of that. We had a fun jeep tour in Sedona, but weren’t tempted in Moab. M is a mountain biker, but he had, not surprisingly, no interesting in doing that without a friend along.

My only disappointment is that most of the museum/exhibit aspects of these parks are still closed – the Needles section of Canyonland being an exception, featuring a great relief map of the area. Oh, the stores are open of course, but not the museums, and the rangers are all still standing outside to give their advice. It really is silly that so much of these types of offerings in these parks remain closed and you have to wear a mask in these spaces – when you drive down the road to Moab and no one is wearing a mask jammed in the grocery store. Or – ahem – as Joe mentions in the comments – when the NPS shops themselves are…open. Hopefully by next year, all that will be back to normal.

Check out Recreation.gov for permits, tickets and reservations for all of these federal sites.

Oh, and avoid the City Market in Moab on a Sunday night. If you can.  


Octobe15: Travel day, Salt Lake City

October 16: Capitol Reef National Park

October 17: Leprechaun Canyon, Blarney Canyon, Goblin Valley State Park, Moab

October 18: Devil’s Garden Trail hike, Arches National Park. Islands in the Sky overlooks, Canyonlands National Park

October 19: Fiery Furnace hike, Arches National Park, travel to Needles section of Canyonlands

October 20: Chelser Park Overlook hike, Canyonlands, Delicate Arch trail hike, Arches

More photos and videos at Instagram, both in posts and in “highlights.”

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—1 —

Well, we are back!

Got back last night – over three hours later than scheduled, but at least we made it. Walked in the house, dumped clothes into the washing machine, finished two loads, put away clean clothes and suitcases, slept in our own beds and here we are!

M is already back at work – playing a memorial Mass at a local parish this morning.

I’m going to do a wrap up post on the trip later today, but I’ll fill up these takes with a report on what we did on Wednesday.

Previous posts:

Arriving in Salt Lake City

Capitol Reef National Park

Leprechaun and Blarney Caverns, Goblin Valley State Park

Devil’s Garden Trail in Arches National Park

The Fiery Furnace Trail in Arches National Park

— 2 —

A bit of a gap in coverage here. Wednesday was a full day – about ten miles hiking all together –  with a white-knuckle drive in the dark on Utah 6/89 through some mountains south of Provo, and by the time we got to our hotel in SLC, getting photos sorted and resized was about as much as I could do before crashing.

(An explanation of the resizing. I resize photos I upload to WordPress because if I didn’t, I would have long outstripped my included storage capacity, and blog posts would take a lot longer to load. Because of this, after blogging in this space for ten years, I’ve still only used about 2/3 of the storage space. I guess there are a lot of ways to resize, but I use this site.)

Tuesday night, we had driven to Monticello, Utah, to make our journey to the Needles section of Canyonlands a little less onerous – one hour versus the 90 minutes from Moab. Not to mention that Monticello hotel prices are at least half of what you generally pay in Moab. (More on where we stayed and what we ate in my ritual summary post.)

We had considered rising quite early – since it’s an hour to Canyonlands, we thought…maybe leave at 7?Start the hike by 8? Well…it was still dark at 7, so I let M sleep and we got back on the road by 8 – which was fine.

Encountered a new friend along the way.

(The first part of the drive is open range.)

— 3 —

I will say – there is a chunk of the drive to the Needles section of Canyonlands that’s almost unbelievably stunning. You drive down among towering, walls of chiseled and tumbled rock, and it’s just gorgeous.

After some discussion Tuesday evening, we settled on the Chesler Park Viewpoint trail – it’s an out-and back through boulders, formations, a canyon and up to a great Needles spot – AllTrails says it’s 8.6 miles out and back, but the signage and park information says it’s 7.4. Judging from our time, I’d say the latter is correct.

I am normally not a fan of out-and-back hikes, being easily bored and much preferring a loop, but this was great. Given the variety of the landscape, hiking one way and then another actually gives different experiences, considering the different directions in which you are looking as you walk.

— 4 —

A very good hike – some incline, but not enough to make me wish for a fainting couch. I can walk all day if the landscape is flat, but inclines have become a weak point – I have stairs in my house, so I suppose I have no excuse, as all I need to do is run up and down those a few dozen times a day to fix this issue.

— 5 –

As we began the journey back north, we considered the time. After some discussion, we decided that yes, we could fill in the missing piece of our Arches experience – the Delicate Arch.

I’ll admit to you that both of us, after three good days exploring various parts of Arches, had developed a bit of a snobbish attitude about the Delicate Arch. Our hikes and viewing experiences had been so marvelous, we had concluded that basing the image of Arches on the Delicate Arch was a bit unfair to everything else. But hey…we had time….how can we not engage in this iconic experience?

It’s a 3-mile roundtrip hike, and we wondered why all the sites indicated it could take as long as three hours. Well, we found out!

I mean – we did it in two, but still – it’s not easy – it’s one of the more challenging “popular” hikes that I’ve done in a national park. What makes it difficult is not the distance, but the long, long section that’s an incline up an expanse of slickrock. The Delicate Arch is on a height (as are all the arches and popular formations in the park except for the Fiery Furnace), so of course you’re going to have to go up to get there. This was just….lengthy. And a little hard!

— 6 —

But absolutely, totally worth it. The setting of the arch is really unlike any other in the park – all of the other arches are a part of larger formations, carved by nature out of rock that still surrounds the structure. But the Delicate Arch stands alone, with the gorgeous LaSal mountains and the other Arches formations in the background. Really, a set designer could hardly have done better.

What deepens the impact is first, the effort you’ve expended to arrive there – 1.5 miles of mostly uphill climbing – and then the initial approach – you have no view of the arch at all before, well, you see it. You’ve walked on a stone ledge around a large stone formation, you turn the corner – and there it is!

As I said, absolutely worth it – with the additional experience – which is always so moving to me – of experiencing it with others – it’s like seeing Old Faithful in Yellowstone or the Grand Canyon – being present with a crowd of others from all over the world, everyone just so pleased to be here, in this spot, in this country, right now.

It never fails to make me a bit verkemplt.

Well, now it’s time to move on! Quite a drive up to Salt Lake City, with that bit through the mountains, which was nerve-wracking not so much because of the driving in and of itself – winding mountain roads in the dark – but because everyone around me was completely used to the drive and was racing up, down and around me at great speeds.

But we made it! With a stop at an In-and-Out in Provo, and then on to our hotel for the night where I did not write this blog post.

So here you go.

More photos and videos at Instagram, both in posts and in “highlights.”

— 7 —

Taking back to family matters:

Movie Guy Son saw The Last Duel and wrote about it here,

He was interviewed on this podcast, mostly about John Carpenter’s movies, but also about his forthcoming novel…

The Sharp Kid, which you can take a peak at here….

All Saints is coming! Pick up a book!

Loyola books

For more Quick Takes, visit This Ain’t the Lyceum!

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A Fiery Furnace

One of the more well-known hikes in Arches National Park is the “Fiery Furnace.” It’s a tight formation of fins and such that’s somewhat of a maze. You must have a permit to hike there, and they only make a few dozen available every day – and they must be reserved online. Before Covid, they did ranger-led tours as well, and I hope they’ll begin again next spring – but for now, you’re on your own.

And of course, since there are so few permits given every day, it’s a race. Reservations for permits can be made no earlier than seven days before the desired date, and they are released at 10 am eastern time on that date – and they’re gone before a minute has passed.

We decided this was a hike we wanted to do, so now it was time to practice!

No, not walking or scaling sliprock – but refreshing the recreation.gov page at exactly 9am our time and getting in there and getting that permit.

So, yes, every morning for a week, there I was on the computer at the designated time – the first couple of days I missed it, but then my technique improved and I was fake-snagging those permits with ease. (And releasing them a moment later, hopefully giving joy to some slowpoke out there).

At the same time, I was also practicing and trying to get tour tickets for Mesa Verde – for all tours except the Long House, it’s the same issue, especially since the Cliff House is closed – the Square House and the Mug House only have a few dozen spots every day for tours. I did get tickets for the Mug House tour eventually, but then when our plans changed, had to return them – for an almost-full refund (minus a $2 service fee or something).

So, permit reservation in hand for today, Tuesday, on Monday afternoon, after we were done with the Devil’s Garden and whatever else we did that day, we stopped by the visitor’s center to pick up the permits – and, as it turned out, get oriented. The ranger took all of our information, filled out tags for our cars and for our packs, then trotted us into a room to watch a video on Safety! and Take Care of the Nature! and It’s Not a Toilet Down There!

Fully oriented, off we went.

Because parking at this lot isn’t an issue as it is in the others, we didn’t need to get there *quite* so early, but we did want to avoid the big, slow (How much is it? Oh, I can get an annual pass? How much is that? Well, that sounds like a good deal – should we get the annual pass, Ted? Well, I don’t know – do you think we’ll go to another park this year? Oh yes, we’re seniors. We can get a special pass? Ted, should we get an annual or lifetime pass? Ted, can you get out the credit card? ……) line at the gate, so we settled on a departure/checkout time of 6:45, getting us there – after a stop for a Diet Coke and a milk – around 7:15. Already piling up!

We weren’t in any hurry, so we decided to park and hike around the Windows area – taking the back-end “primitive” trail. It was lovely. Lots of folks with tripods on all sides, of course, catching that early morning sun.

Then to the Fiery Furnace!

The difficulty is a little oversold, but that’s fine. That, along with the permit system, works against the place being overrun by 12-year olds in flip-flops.

We got very turned around at the beginning despite my having downloaded the trail map on the AllTrails app. It was sort of ridiculous, but in the process, M did find what looked to be a snake-feeding spot – he found some bones and some snake defecation which he picked apart (with a stick) and in which he found more bones.

(Yes, he knows about snakes – we used to have one.)

But we eventually found our way to the proper trail (obviously), and climbed, scrambled and slid our way in and around the fins and towers.

It took a lot longer than we thought – mostly because of that initial confusion – but it was fine. We ate lunch up at the Panorama Point viewpoint, then got in the car, said farewell to Arches – a lovely, lovely park – a favorite now – and made our way south to the Needles area of Canyonlands.

First stop was here – we did get out of the car, but didn’t take any tours – they were giving one when we arrived, and we didn’t feel like waiting. What is it? A 5000-square foot house dug out of the sandstone back in the 1950’s – with a bust of FDR carved in the front for good measure.

Then down to Canyonlands with no more stops because someone fell asleep. The drive into the park from the main road is long – over thirty miles – but it’s simply gorgeous. Canyonlands is, in a way, like the Grand Canyon, only spread out. We did a few viewpoints and the short but interesting Cave Spring Hike – just around and above a series of caves and overhangs near a spring used over the centuries by Native Americans, and then cowboys, up until the 1970’s, when they stopped using the area as a cattle range.

We’ll be back tomorrow.

Tonight: Surprisingly fantastic Thai food in Monticello, Utah.

More photos and videos at Instagram, both in posts and in “highlights.”

All posts linked on the “Travel” page

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From Arch to Arch….

Again: Tired.

So this will be a text-light post. I can see that my reflections on this trip will definitely have to wait until our return. I have Thoughts, but fatigue and then the slight nerves about getting to the Next Stop make it all just too much for many words.

Remember: You can click on any photo in the galleries – not the single photos, sorry – to enlarge it.

So…most of today was spent in the fabulous Arches National Park, which is really nothing like I expected. I think my son said it best in the gift shop when he said, “All the images for Arches feature the Delicate Arch, but that’s really not doing the park justice. It’s so much more.”

We were out of our Moab hotel by 6:15, headed the six miles or so to the Arches entrance. We weren’t one of the sunrise-chasers, but the park has been so busy for the past few months that the line to get into the park is dozens of cars long by 8 am, and they have been temporarily closing the park by 10am some days (until early afternoon) because the parking lots have filled up.

(You can watch the park entrance on this webcam, which I have been for weeks, making my plans…)

I didn’t want to wait 30 minutes in the entrance line, nor did I want to miss my chance for a trailhead parking lot, so driving in the dark at 6:30 am it was – all the way to the end of the park road to the Devil’s Garden trailhead.

We did the…whole trail. Every step, every side path to every arch! The alternative, longer, more challenging loop back, called the “Primitive Trail.” I think it was about 7.5 miles, and it took us until after noon – we went slowly and stopped several times. A great, great hike. Just enough challenge and interest to keep it spicy.

Parking lot when we arrived
Beginning the hike. About 7 am. Both trails and lot were..busy when we emerged about five hours later.
Landscape Arch – the first major arch on the trail, and the easy one to get to. Most people just go to this one and go back and move on. Part of it – on the left – fell in 1991.
The first part of the trail beyond the Landscape Arch. If you click on the photo to expand it, you can see folks scrambling up the sliprock.
End of the trail

After that, we drove to to a few viewpoints, including Balancing Rock and the viewpoint for the Delicate Arch from below.

Then back to the room for a bit, and then a drive out to Canyonlands.

There are three distinct areas to Canyonlands – the one closest to Moab is called “Islands in the Sky” because what you can see are mesas rising from the massive, wide canyons. As my traveling companion remarked, “This part of the park seems to be mostly about viewpoints or very long hikes.” And he’s right. But the viewpoints are spectacular – the canyon is astonishing to view.

Then back…to a great dinner at Antica Forma, and then readying ourselves for checkout and the Next Step…..

More photos and videos at Instagram, both in posts and in “highlights.”

All posts linked on the “Travel” page

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