The Good News. We’re finally back at Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge in Alamo, Texas. Here in the Rio Grande Valley of south Texas, you don’t stop and smell the roses, you stop and smell the broccoli (and later the onions).
We won’t soon forget Bosque del Apache. It’s a beautiful, fascinating place. From late October to February, sandhill cranes, snow geese and other birds come to Bosque , many to spend the winter there. We took many of our favorite photos at Bosque and were lucky enough that the Refuge included three of our photos in their 2015 Habitat magazine that is given to visitors. How fun is that? Here are a few pics that we submitted that weren’t selected but are some of our favorites.
Santa Ana. If you remember, we spent part of last year as volunteers here at Santa Ana, having an exciting time. Some things have changed here and some things will never change. One change we’ve already noticed: There is a major increase in State Police and Highway Patrol in our area. The locals tell us that illegal immigration is down about 80% as a result. We see more Border Patrol too. We’ve heard that former Governor Perry negotiated a grant from the Government to pay for the extra people. Another change is at the Santa Ana Visitor Center. There are new displays, new procedures, new volunteers and new Fish and Wildlife personnel all over the place. We’ll be fine here.
The Bad News. What hasn’t changed is life (and death) below the border. The day after we arrived, I picked up a Spanish language newspaper with the headline: Van ya 30 muertos. In English: “Up to now 30 dead.” This all happened in the last few of days in the Matamoros area, just across the border from Brownsville. The article, translated for me by Arlyne, says (paraphrased): There has been an escalation in violence in Matamoros. The body count reflects only the bodies that are found because many are carried away by the gangs. Area roads and some universities were closed and the U.S. Consulate cancelled its activities because of grenades thrown into a (nearby) municipal building. The toll road between Reynosa and Matamoros was closed because the fee booth was riddled with bullets. The newspaper also said: The toll road is now a free road.
Arlyne and I are located about 45 miles east of Brownsville as the bullet flies, so I hope we’re safe for the time being.
Other News. In spite of these activities in Mexico, Santa Ana feels like a refuge for us too, getting us away from of the problems we experienced in California and later on our trip to Texas. The California problems were significant but nothing we couldn’t handle. It’s just money, I guess. We spent more than two months fixing up our former home (now rental property) in Escondido. New microwave, new hot water heater, new gas cooktop, electrical repairs, tile work, furnace repair, window repairs, hauling away junk left by the previous tenants, etc. We camped out in the empty house most of the time, sleeping on deflatable beds. Yes, we had our own version of deflategate when we woke up one morning on a nearly flat bed. It seems as if we had to fix or clean something every day. We’re fortunate we managed to find new tenants who signed a two-year lease. Not to mention that our motorhome was in the shop for nearly two months as well.
The Other Bad News. We were only 75 miles from our destination at Santa Ana, driving comfortably, when we heard a loud, sharp WHACK! We had a massive blowout on a rear motorhome tire. Scared the hell out of us. We were lucky that Good Sam roadside assistance called a local company that replaced the tire with our spare. The culprit tire actually blew up (shredded and violently came apart) and blew a softball-sized hole right under our shower. Talking to other volunteers, we’ve found that nearly everyone has had a similar experience.
The Good News. Whoa! It turns out there is a recall on our Michelin tires and we’re going to get six new tires at no cost. The recall notice states that the tires in question could lead to a “loss of tread, and in some cases rapid air loss, risking a loss of vehicle control.” (I love the attorney-drafted phrase “rapid air loss.”) Well, we’re now poster-kids for this recall. Six new tires would normally cost $2500.
Draper On Aging. I promised a few people that I would write some words about aging, which Arlyne and I are doing every day. This is only for entertainment value, I suppose. Two things to start with: First, I find that as we age, everything dries up except watery eyes and drooling and, if you’re lucky, post-nasal drip (which is good because if you’re sick, you’re not dead). Second, we have to resist signs of aging whenever we can. When I took a short SouthWest flight to visit my brother Rich, I was putting my carry-on in the overhead compartment and a middle-aged passenger standing next to me said “Let me help you with that.” I almost said “get the hell away from me” but then just said “Thanks, I got it.”
As I get older, I sometimes have what I call “extreme short-term” memory loss. I put some water in a cup, for example, reach over to turn the faucet off, move my hand back and knock over the cup. Is it possible to forget something I did just 2 seconds before? Yes. Arlyne and I are systematically developing strategies for remembering where we parked the car, where we put our phones, her purse, my glasses, all our battery chargers……well you get the idea. We’re not immune.
As we get older, it seems we’ve lived long enough to see a number of U.S. presidents rehabilitated (or nearly so), having been very unpopular during their term of office. Harry Truman is one of them. He was not glamorous but he’s considered a great president now. LBJ is one of them. He is beginning to be rehabilitated. He faked a war record by taking a flight in a military aircraft early in his career. Of the dozens of Great Society programs he instituted, the only one still around is Head Start. All the others have long since been abandoned as useless and wasteful. He did sign important civil rights legislation, but remember, he just signed the legislation, he didn’t work hard to craft it, negotiate with Congress and the Senate, fight over amendments, etc. He simply held the pen and signed it. That’s good but not great.
We older people really do have a great advantage in remembering bits and pieces of history, good and bad. Most of us have talked to people who witnessed history that occurred even before we were born. My father, for example, was already an adult in 1929 Los Angeles when Wyatt Earp died (in Los Angeles). I talked to him about that. I remember listening to the radio when it was announced that the Korean Police Action (war) started. I remember hearing (on the radio again) that Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay were the first humans to reach the top of Mt. Everest. An interesting sidebar to this: when Arlyne and I were working in New Zealand in 2003, Sir Hillary was still living there and still in the phone book. (2nd Sidebar: Hillary Clinton says she was named after Edmund Hillary. Well, she was born and presumably named in 1947, six years before Edmund Hillary climbed Mt. Everest in 1953. What do you know about that?)
Things I’ve seen…….a real life lion tamer (with bandages), a complete live radio show on stage (Buster Brown), the WWII Lockheed flying wing (flying), the Howard Hughes Spruce Goose, a field of dozens of surplus B-24 rear gun blisters, John Wayne movies before he was a cowboy, Elizabeth Taylor movies before she was a teenager, a WWI (yes, one) veteran who had been hit with mustard gas and an Army scout that guided General Crook and met with Geronimo before the legend was finally captured.
Things Arlyne has seen…….an active German submarine that was sunk off Puntarenas, Costa Rica when she was living there, her dad and his friends gathered around the radio listening to a Joe Louis boxing match, memories of enjoying working ox cart rides with her brothers and sisters at her grandfather’s remote Costa Rica farm.
Also, after 48 years of marriage, I find I have X-ray eyes. I look at Arlyne and I see the young woman inside, still there, still beautiful. Only I can see this. It’s Valentine’s Day every day. I’m living the dream. Getting older isn’t all bad.
“My” Thoughts onThe Future. Now here’s a different subject in my blog. Do you remember “The Time Machine” by H.G. Wells? It was published in 1895 and there have been two movies based on the book. Perhaps we should all read it again because Mr. Wells actually made some profound predictions. I’m struck by similarities between what Wells wrote and today’s world. I will use some of his nomenclature. Again, this is for entertainment value, I suppose.
When Well’s main character visited the distant future, he found that the world had two kinds of people: the eloi and the morlocks. The eloi lived above ground, didn’t work, had fun and danced all day. They had no responsibilities and were generally small and weak. The morlocks were strong and misshapen, lived underground, did all the work and operated the machines that allowed the eloi to live in comfort and pleasure. Once in a while, the morlocks would come to the surface and “take” some of the eloi, in effect a barter system.
I already see our world beginning to separate into these two categories. By virtue of normal human nature, assisted and encouraged by the direction and intervention of governments, it seems many people are evolving into an eloi class. Using the labor of the morlock class to supply their needs, eloi are provided for in increasing ways, easing their way through life. I understand that it’s very early in this process, but there are many people worldwide today who don’t want to work, are unable to work, can’t find any work, don’t have to work (perhaps rich) or aren’t necessary anymore due to technological and societal changes. In the moderately distant future, these people will increasingly be supported by benevolent governments or find increasingly simple employment with governments themselves. The very rich (this is the future remember) will fade away because their assets will increasingly be taken by desperate governments, until governments themselves (and elections and politicians) are no longer needed.
Another segment of society, the morlocks, will develop to operate machines, grow food, generate and distribute energy and control transportation and other “industries”. There will be fewer morlocks than eloi because of highly advanced technology that will allow morlocks to provide for both themselves and eloi. Perhaps there will be a very small intellectual class but I will lump them in with the eloi. There will be no middle class at all, as there will be no purpose. I think, initially, the eloi class will consist not only of the very (idle) rich and those who are supported entirely by governments, but athletes, entertainers, artists and others who produce no food, materials or goods. I’m not saying artists and entertainers are not valuable today. But, they will increasingly become part of the eloi class and be supported entirely by others.
I’m not saying I know more than anybody else but you may ask “What about doctors and nurses, for example?” Where do they belong? Because of advances in technology, robotics, artificial intelligence and a vastly increased understanding of the human body, this segment of the population will most likely fade away. What about criminals? I think this segment will also fade away, since all their needs will be taken care of or eventually they may gravitate to the morlock side and be subsumed.
I’m trying to be realistic, not pessimistic. H.G. Wells was way ahead of us and my thinking of course relies on his ideas. His vision included society (and the earth) deteriorating until both were gone. It is very scary and may not happen, of course. He saw this as millions of years in the future. Clearly we’ll never see it, but perhaps we are witnessing very, very early movement. I hope humans eventually escape from earth and try to improve the future of humanity. What do you think about this idea of the future?
“Our Birdies”. I can’t post a blog without a few wildlife pictures. As we left our assignment at Bosque del Apache in New Mexico, we submitted several photographs to the Refuge, for possible inclusion in the 2015 issue of Habitat, the brochure given to all visitors. Three of our photos were included in the brochure……very exciting for us! A deer, a hiker and Arlyne’s sora (a small water bird). Here are a few more of the photos we took in our last few weeks at Bosque. Next blog I’ll include the Habitat photos.
Bob and Arlyne Draper