Please Be Clear: It’s Much Cheaper

Wanna know how expensive missed communication is–even from a professional communicator (like me)? Today’s price: $450.

My truck is at Firestone getting an inspection sticker. The truck is old (1998) and far from perfect. I expected a few adjustments, so when the mechanic called this morning at about 8 and told me I needed new windshield wipers and that my “power steering gear box is leaking fluid,” I asked how serious the latter was. He said it wasn’t bad, but that the box would eventually need replacing.

I said, “Go ahead and do what’s necessary.”

He took that to mean “replace the gearbox.” I meant, “Top off the fluid.”

I called a few minutes ago to see if the wipers had been replaced and the fluid topped off, so a friend and I could go kayaking (the truck is my carrier). I was told it would be another hour and a half to two hours. “To put on wipers and top off the fluid?” I asked, slightly exasperated. “No,” he said. “The mechanic has the gear box out and is replacing it.”

“Oh, shit,” I said. I instructed him to go ahead and finish the replacement (it will need to be done eventually) and smacked myself around a bit for not making myself clear … as I so often ask others to do.


Protecting Virginia’s Voters … From Trump

Gov. Terry McAuliffe at VTC recently.

Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe made the following announcement yesterday:

“Today the Commonwealth and the other 49 states received a lengthy request from Kris Kobach, the Vice Chair of the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity, requesting a list of all registered Virginia voters, the last four digits of their social security numbers, their addresses, date of birth, political affiliation, and their voting history. The Vice Chair’s letter also contained a list of vague inquiries about the election policies and laws of the Commonwealth.

“I have no intention of honoring this request. Virginia conducts fair, honest, and democratic elections, and there is no evidence of significant voter fraud in Virginia. This entire commission is based on the specious and false notion that there was widespread voter fraud last November. At best this commission was set up as a pretext to validate Donald Trump’s alternative election facts, and at worst is a tool to commit large-scale voter suppression.

“The only irregularity in the 2016 presidential election centered around Russian tampering, a finding that has been confirmed by 17 of our intelligence agencies and sworn testimony delivered to several congressional committees. In 131 days Virginia’s Department of Elections will again conduct a statewide election for the offices of Governor, Lieutenant Governor, and Attorney General, as well as 100 House of Delegates races and numerous other positions. I’m not going to divert resources that could potentially compromise that important work to enable this politically motivated and silly posturing.”

Let us hope that the other 49 governors are as on top of Trump as ours is. We apparently can’t do much with Congress, but we can win if states fight back.

Here’s What We Get with Trumpcare (Gulp!)

In a concise editorial this morning, Paul Krugman brought the Republican/Trump efforts to re-define federally-assisted health care coverage to the very bottom line. Here it is:

“More than 40 percent of the Senate bill’s tax cuts would go to people with annual incomes over $1 million — but even these lucky few would see their after-tax income rise only by a barely noticeable two percent. … So it’s vast suffering — including, according to the best estimates, around 200,000 preventable deaths — imposed on many of our fellow citizens in order to give a handful of wealthy people what amounts to some extra pocket change.”

That, boys and girls is murder by government in order to slightly increase the theft of tax dollars for the wealthy by their paid employees in congress. An individual committing that crime in Virginia would face the death penalty (which I oppose, regardless of its source).

Like so many of us, Krugman is trying to figure out what makes Republicans so despicable and inhuman when it comes to protecting the public–even the angry white people who voted for Trump. He comes up with this (in part): “Republicans start from a sort of baseline of cruelty toward the less fortunate, of hostility toward anything that protects families against catastrophe.” It began with Reagan and has intensified since.

My guess is that it will get even worse before (or if) it ever gets better. When those angry white men who so love Donald Trump’s Tweets start filing for bankruptcy (another GOP target) because their insurance wouldn’t pay for that knee replacement, we might see a turn in opinion.

‘No, Son, That’s My Family Crest’

That’s me in the woods a little while ago, all sweaty and trying to dry my shirt in a light breeze.

I wear this stylized “S” often in various forms (hat, shirt, rugs in my truck, underwear, jammies) and occasionally I get the question, as I did the other day. “Is that a Superman symbol?” the seven-year-old asked.

“No,” I said, “that’s my family crest.”

“But Superman wears it.”

“Yes, he does. Or did. He was my grandfather and he was entitled to, but so can the rest of the family.”


“He was. He died a few years ago.”

“Did you get any of his powers?”

“Well, I’m not supposed to talk about that.” I winked. “A few, but shhhh. I’m not supposed to use them except in an emergency.”

A few minutes later, I looked across the room and there was the little kid animatedly talking to his dad and shaking his finger at me. The dad grinned  at me and shook his head.

Tom Cain, Man with a Vision, Leaves Us

Tom Cain

My old friend Tom Cain died early this morning in a Roanoke hospital, where he had been for a spell. His troubled heart finally gave out after years of threatening to. Tom was in his 70s. I’m not sure exactly where, but he was probably lucky to still be around–and contributing–for as long as he was.

Tom was a retired architect, a staunch environmentalist, a political essayist of a leftist persuasion who revered his native West Virginia, though he often detested the politicians who have laid waste to it.

He was a kindly intellectual, gentle, soft-spoken and persuasive. He could get mad and he could take issue enthusiastically, but he didn’t do that often. He listened in order to hear and he was intelligent enough to learn from those who disagreed with him.

He stood before City Council as a group  and individual councilmen often, selling his vision of Roanoke. Here is Tom going on about one of his favorite proposed Roanoke projects, one that combined development, education and environmentalism:

“The Lick Run Watershed is a profound educational resource–if we don’t continue to lay waste to it … It would be an unforgivable to bury the unique environmental and cultural potential available at Evans Spring under the banality of unnecessary and unwanted commercial development.”

His solutions were always practical, always had the whole in mind. He was not an environmentalist who never thought of business or development. He worked hard to see the two work together to produce the best results possible for all of us. We don’t see a lot of that kind of thinking, but Tom was clear in the head, always clear.

He could go on … and on … about his projects, but that only showed his passion.

Tom and his companion Ann Masters.

I think a lot of life went out of Tom a few years ago when his almost constant companion, Ann Masters–another strong environmentalist and voice of reason–died on an icy December night when, like Tom, her heart failed. He was sad and lonely, I think, after that. But the passion for saving the earth and its people remained.

I’m sorry he died during the Trump Administration when so much of our hope for the future of our way of life has diminished. Tom, I think, would have liked to see the light in our future, a light that is quite dim now. And with his passing, it is even dimmer.

But, as Tom so frequently said, “Be of good cheer.”

Bottom Creek from the Bottom

This is the bottom: a lovely mountain stream.

That’s my feet, taking Anne’s suggestion.

About a year ago, I ran into my friend Anne Sampson on Bottom Creek trail, where the red and blue avenues intersect.

Red goes to the tall, but distant waterfall, yellow to the creek bed. Anne suggested that the waterfall was fine, but you hadn’t lived Bottom Creek until you put your toes into the creek itself. I did that today at the very height of rhododendron season and it was simply otherworldly.

Peak season for rhododendron.

The yellow trail represents a pretty stiff hike with a 400-foot drop to the creek bed and a trail that meanders up and down for about a mile and a half. It is a good cardio workout with a sweet payoff in the cold water. My pink piggies talked to me when I put them in the 54-degree water.

Today had the added benefits of a perfect temperature (about 75), light breeze, partly cloudy sky, and spectacular rhododendron on most of the moss-covered trail. This was church for me, a lovely, close spiritual communion. I quietly uttered, “Ahhhhhh,” several times.

I will mention that several times during the hike I felt the presence of my late friend Sarabeth Hammond, the young girl who became something of a surrogate grandgirl to me. Sarabeth died this past December in an auto wreck on Bent Mountain, which is where Bottom Creek lies. She and I took our last hike to the falls.

My friend Susan would probably call this the “dragon of Bottom Creek.”

This pond interrupts the trail as it goes down the mountain. It is full of bullfrogs.

My last hike with my sweet teen-aged pal Sarabeth Hammond crossed this bridge where I got a shot of her with her camera.

Follow the yellow brick road (without the bricks)

I love the big boulders in the creek. They make great lounge chairs with feet dangling in the water.

These steps–the only civilization around–go to the water.

I was taken by the color of this tiny fern/moss growing on a dead log.

This is how old men become young boys for a while.

Pay attention: the banks of the creek are slippery.

Craggy old pampa, happier’n a hog in mud.

Getting Empowered at Survival Camp

Madeline (light blue shirt, partially hidden on left) and her nine new buddies.

My favorite grandgirl Madeline has jumped right into swing of her Girls Empowered by Mountain Shepherd survival school, as I suspected she would. Maddie is one of nine girls (a full house) who is in the second phase of the school and this time she’s caving and backpacking for two nights on the Appalachian Trail.

That also means a good bit of learning and preparation for those new–sometimes life-altering–experiences.

The girls made these bracelets to commemorate their time at GEMS.

The girls are in the hands of one of my favorite people, Dina Bennett, and also her husband Reggie, one of the nation’s foremost outdoorsmen.

They are at camp in Craig County and you can see from the faces here that these kids are not only not intimidated, they are embracing this experience and enjoying each other.

I noted the size of their backpacks, but my guess is that their bookbags at school would rank somewhere close in weight.

(Photos: Dina Bennett.)

Study time for the group.

Learning the value of teamwork.

Maddie (center) and a couple of pals in backpacks.

That’s Maddie cracking a joke on the right as her pal is fitted for a backpack.

Maddie and her pal with one of the ever-present dogs.

Maddie (in her UT sweatshirt) helps her buddy balance.

You mean this is dinner?

OK, so it’s not pizza. But it’s good. When do we get to eat the bugs?

Next stop: the cave.

Dina inside the cave.

Here’s Just How ‘Mean’ Trumpcare Is

The Congressional Budget Office, which is neither Democratic nor Republican,has basically put Trumpcare (which Donald Trump has had almost nothing to do with) in a deep ditch.

According to the New York Times, this is the bottom line:

“Under the bill … subsidies to help people buy health insurance would be ‘substantially smaller than under current law.’ And deductibles would, in many cases, be higher. Starting in 2020 … premiums and deductibles would be so onerous that ‘few low-income people would purchase any plan.’

“… Premiums for older people would be much higher under the Senate bill than under current law. As an example … for a typical 64-year-old with an annual income of $26,500, the net premium in 2026 for a midlevel silver plan, after subsidies, would average $6,500, compared with $1,700 under the Affordable Care Act. And the insurance would cover less of the consumer’s medical costs.”

In short, 22 million fewer Americans would have health insurance in the near future than have it now. That’s no insurance at all, not just the bad insurance that is being offered.

In addition, a huge number of old people would likely be kicked out of elder care facilities because Medicaid, which would take a major hit, pays for them. Rural hospitals would close and big urban hospitals would be even more overburdened with non-paying patients than they are now.

If you think the Affordable Care Act solution is a mess, you’re right, but compared to “Trumpcare,” it is a godsend. Trump, whom we know has read neither “Obamacare” nor “Trumpcare,” called the latter “mean.” If a man as devoid of humanity as Trump thinks it’s mean, then it’s pretty damn mean.

And I hope it has no chance of passing.

The Lovely Mimosa: Look, but Don’t Eat

The mimosa is one of the most beautiful of all ornamental trees and like so many things of beauty, it has its ugly side. This is a medium-sized tree that not only adds a lovely pink color where it grows in the spring, but its seed pods enrich the soil.

On the flip side, the tree grows readily and easily and tends to push out native plants. Its seed pods, when eaten by humans or animals, can be toxic.

The mimosa is called the “night sleeper” in Persian or the “sleeping tree” in its native Japan.

In any case, I ran into a lovely mimosa growing by a river on my walk this morning and took a few photos of it and of the bee that was enjoying it.

A Berry Happy Hike

Plentiful blackberries were wild, ripe and sweet.

Summer hikes offer many of the best rewards of the activity: color, richness of vegetation, clarity of the smell, warmth. It also occasionally offers some of its bounty and yesterday I got a good dose of that on Tinker Mountain.

For about a 3/4-mile stretch, I ran into buckets of ripe  and ripening blackberries and raspberries. I took advantage of the situation by stuffing myself with little grace or dignity.

I was wary of the raspberries, but a quick taste eliminated my concern.