Thursday, June 18, 2009

A Couple of Lefts

A few weeks ago the local Audubon group advertised a Saturday trip to a place called Steele Canyon, which is north of Clarkston, Utah. I thought I'd go. But they always leave at 7:30 in the morning from a place 15 miles south of where I live. Clarkston is 5 miles north. So I slept late and I thought I'd try to catch up with the group in Clarkston, which is a little town of less than 700 people. There's only one road into it. And there aren't any paved roads going north out of town. So I figured Steele Canyon would be easy to find. I was wrong.

I headed into Clarkston at about 9 AM. There wasn't much activity there on a Saturday morning. I had to drive a couple of side streets to before I found a man tilling his garden. I stopped and asked if he knew where Steele Canyon was. "Yeah. Sure. Out the dirt road, a couple of lefts. You'll see some cedar trees." So I headed out the dirt road north of town.

It was some of the emptiest land I've ever seen. No farms or ranches or houses. Few signs of life. I saw one trailer parked in a thick grove of trees, a planted field here and there, some "No Trespassing - Private Land" signs. But I kept driving, raising a cloud of dust as I went.

I saw some beautiful land and flowers (sunflowers and flax - I think - growing wild below) and stacked clouds, a redtail hawk, lots of meadowlarks.

(click on pictures to enlarge them)

I tried taking a couple of lefts, like the man in town suggested. But I seemed to be getting further from the mountains. I didn't think I'd be likely to find a canyon in the middle of a prairie. So I turned around and headed in another direction. It did cross my mind that if my car broke down I'd really be out of luck. I checked to see if I still had cell phone service. I was glad I had a good supply of water in the car.

I'm sure I drove 10 or 15 miles on those dirt roads. I never passed anyone driving in the opposite direction, although a man and his wife, both with binoculars hanging around their necks, pulled up behind me and asked if I knew where Steele Canyon was. I guess I wasn't the only one who wanted to sleep a little longer that morning.

I eventually saw a marker up ahead by the side of the dirt road. It was an old piece of metal cut in the shape of the state of Idaho. It was painted red, white, and blue, and had a couple of bullet holes in it and a big spot of flaky rust. I hadn't planned on driving to Idaho that day!

On closer inspection, I saw that someone had scratched "Check Your Gas" into the bottom of the sign. No simple "Welcome to Idaho" messsage. Well, that's all it took. The time was right to give up on Steele Canyon and turn back toward home.

On the way back I saw a man and stopped to talk to him. He had a silver star for a belt buckle, and said his name was Lynn. I asked if he knew where Steele Canyon was. He looked confused for a minute and then said "Well, if you've been all the way up to Idaho and back, you've been through Steele Canyon. Yep." And he nodded a couple of times.

He said he was spraying for "noxious weeds" and showed me his recently planted safflower and wheat fields. He wasn't sure what people used safflower for -- bird food maybe. But he was sure we'd have a good crop of choke cherries for pancake syrup this year. I believed that, judging by the bush he was standing next to, which was at least 25 feet wide, and was heavy blossoms and humming with bees.

Speaking of wrong turns, stopping short, (and maybe choking on cherries too)... NCR, the company I used to work for, recently announced that they are moving their headquarters from Dayton Ohio to Georgia. My first reaction to this news was relief (maybe tinged with a little elation) that I won't have to experience the trauma, the sense of powerlessness, and the group loss of that transition. My second thought was concern for the people I've know over 14 years of working there. My next thought was fear for the future of Dayton. NCR put Dayton on the map 125 years ago by building a cash register company. It evolved. It shed its reputation as a caring company a long time ago. But the men who invested in Dayton, rescued people in the 1913 flood, built bell towers and parks and mansions, also built NCR. The company history and Dayton's history are intertwined. My last thought was indignation at NCR's callousness toward its workers and the city.

Dayton recently lost Mead Corporation, a large paper company and a good corporate citizen, historically. The big General Motors truck plant shut down at the end of last year. My memory is drifting to the Carillon bell tower by the river in Dayton that still plays a concert once a month without any kind of audience. I suppose Colonel Deeds, the old NCR executive who built the bell tower, left a bequeath for the Sunday afternoon bell concerts in the park. Because summertime park-going listeners disappeared with the invention of air conditioning, I suppose. The NCR world headquarters building across the street from the bell tower, the one that has 8 or 10 international flags flying out front now, will stand empty in a year.

Will Dayton turn into a ghost town? I hope not. Cuz there's a really cool mandolin orchestra there and an old canoe club on the river that's still operating after 100 years or so, some great bike trails, a cute little 12-block area called St. Anne's Hill that's full of REAL neighbors, a famous banjo guy from the 1970's who can REALLY play, and lots of other caring people who have grown up there, raised children, built schools and stadiums and businesses and families, and call it "home."

I'm sure NCR's move is calculated to cut costs and employees. So now General Motors and Chrysler Corp have both filed for bankruptcy. And we're all wondering if they can be saved, if they're even worth saving. I see a road jammed with cars in this little valley (definitely not Los Angeles), and I wonder how it happened. Time marches on. We have to pay attention and continue to change as the world changes. There were lots ans lots of Blacksmiths in America back in the 1860's. How many are there today?

Have the "rust belt" towns been driving down the same outdated industrial revolution road, knowing that it probably leads nowhere, but hoping that they might have some good luck and stumble onto something? I suppose it's too late. But maybe the sign I saw can offer them a word of advice, too:

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Strange Birds

In early March I went bird-watching in the valley here with some Audubon Society folks. Birdwatchers are gentle people, people who take time chase after small creatures. So it was a nice day.

We saw sandhill cranes, lots of gulls, some swans, geese, and other birds that I've forgotten already. Most of these birds were just passing through on their way to Canada or Alaska or the Arctic for the summer.

Here's a picture of some of my Audubon friends looking out into a field at a falcon perched on an irrigation pipe. I was driving one of the "getaway" cars. We had a route mapped out and we followed it very slowly, until someone spotted something of interest. Then we'd pull over and all pile out with our binoculars and scopes. It's a good thing there wasn't any other traffic on the roads.

These are swans we saw walking around in a farmer's field. I think it's the first time I've seen swans out of the water. It's not their prettiest pose, I suppose.

Birdwatching involves standing still for long periods of time. You're an observer in foreign territory, which is a cool thing to be, especially for people like me who always have to be doing something. There's no reward in birdwatching other than the outdoors and the fun of looking for and finding beauty, diversity, and whimsy in the wild bird population. It's not physically challenging which is probably why old people do it (so I guess I must be an old person now?).

One thing is sure -- if I'm going to take pictures of birds I'll need some better equipment. They're small and usually far away too. So you may need to click on the picture and enlarge it to really get a good look at them.

I have managed to attract plenty of birds to my yard through the Winter. The starlings are in and out of the garage, which doesn't have an enclosed soffit in the back. I can hear a nest of babies chirping somewhere in there too. The starlings are also nesting under (or in) the eaves of my house. I can hear them rustling around overhead when I wake up in the morning.

I went to an Audubon Society dinner last week. Lots of university professors and their wives were there, 150 people altogether. They were celebrating the signing of an agreement between the society, The Nature Conservancy, and Rocky Mountain Power Company. The Audubon Society received a conservation easement from Rocky Moutnain Power for 500 acres of bottom land next to the Bear River -- they will manage it as a wildlife habitat and as a natural plantlife biofilter to protect the river from pollution from farm chemical runoff. Here's a photo of the area. All the subtle colors and differences in texture are interesting, aren't they?

These "riparian" (riverside) zones are among the most diverse biological systems on earth. They perform services that human effort and technology can't do as well. So this is an important project, and it's an example of how the people here just go ahead and do whatever needs to be done. That goes for snow removal and wildlife refuges.

The keynote speaker at the Audubon banquet was a woman from Hawkwatch International. That organization pays people to camp out on mountain tops and watch for (and count) birds. I want that to be my next job!

The day I went birdwatching with the Auduboners, we saw some sandhill cranes. They are made for the job of foraging in the unplowed fields -- notice how they blend right in. If you weren't looking for them, you'd drive by the field every day and never notice them.

Here you can see the cranes a little better against a contrasting background. But their color seems to mimic this environment too. Some are doing their crazy dances.

I saw a strange blackbird crossing the street on my way to work the last week. It was a yellow-headed blackbird (something unique to the West). Its head and breast is really orange, though. They hang out in the tall cattails, as you can see. But when they're waking across the street, they look like they have safety vests and superhero capes on all at once.

Here are some nice Pelicans that have been drifting around the sloughs nearby.

My favorite bird photo so far is this one of Cattle Egrets (I think) foraging on a big manure pile down the road. The farmer cleaned out the barns just in time for the birds' arrival. I wonder if he planned it that way.

It's kind of awful - these white birds with long silky feathers standing on a dung heap all day. I had to hold my breath to get the picture.

When people forage, there usually seems to be some sense of shame. But these birds act like they are kings of this mountain. In Dayton, I remember the way the alley pickers used to keep their heads down and eyes averted when they went through our garbage. After you watch migrating birds for a while, it seems like foraging is a natural way of meeting needs, like people shopping at the second hand store. Rich people may not want their old shoes. But poor people sure can use them. The little birds can eat what the pigs and cows are too big to notice. Of course, foragers are at the bottom of the food chain, or the social hierarchy, in the case of humans.

I felt a kinship with the white birds on the dung heap. I know I have to pick through a big pile of poop to find something of value, something to sustain me -- on television and the internet, in churches, schools, jobs, movies, and even in the fancy grocery store...

One thing I know for sure is that I'd much rather watch the strange delicate dancing flying swimming birds than the stock market, the demise of my 401K, or even this computer screen. They fly and swim and dance and do their best to avoid us humans. Birdwatching, like whale watching or the job of a night watchman, is healthy exercise. It requires alertness, patience, vision, a good book, fresh air, diligence, and a little bit of plain old luck.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Signs of Spring

I went out to check on the asparagus I planted last weekend. Nothing so far. But one of the raspberry bushes I put in along the fence has one leaf bud. And it looks like my new strawberries survived last week's snow just fine.

I thought I'd have a productive Saturday. But it was 65 degrees. There were bicyclers coming through town from every direction. There's still snow on the mountains, but the valley is bright green with new hay. So I went on a walk with a neighbor to enjoy the sun and breeze.

After that, I had a book (a really nice biography of John Muir) to deliver to a nice man who chopped up a tree that was down in my yard. His wife showed me their old rock house, their hen house, plans for the garden and landscaping projects.

Then I picked up my order of artisan bread from the town baker who has a big pizza oven in his garage, admired his kids' newly-acquired garter snake, rescued from a snake-fearing neighbor.

On my way home from Jim the baker’s house, I saw more signs of Spring. Here's a 3-week old colt trying its legs.

Here she is with her mom.

This little town has family farms interspersed with the houses. I think just about everyone has animals of one kind or another. I, myself, resisted the urge to buy some baby chicks last weekend at the farm store. Aren't they cute?

It was Easter weekend too! Three or four laying hens wouldn't hurt anything, would they? My neighbor said there would be plenty of people willing to help me build a henhouse. But around here, they buy the chicks in the Spring and kill them for the pot in the fall. I don't think I could kill a chicken. I'd have to find a way to heat the henhouse for the Winter.

Here are some mother and baby goats that live around the corner. One of them came up to the fence and tried to eat my pants.

Liz is expecting a baby and I promised her some pictures of mom and baby animals. So here they are, Liz.

I took a drive up the hill to the dairy farm, looking for baby calves with their mothers. They had plenty of babies there, about 25, I'd say. But they separate the calves from their mothers, since the mothers are milk cows. This one is a Swiss Brown, which farmer Jeff said will be ornery, given half a chance.

Here's the youngest calf they had -- just 3 days old.

They gave me a tour of the farm, which has 93 milk cows. The cows were huge -- the largest one weighs 1400 pounds and produces 57 pounds of milk every day. There have been lots of articles in the papers around here about the plight of the dairy farmers, with milk prices low and hay prices high. But I didn't hear any complaints. I think these farmers like what they're doing. They knew the quirks and "freckles" of their cows.

In the milking barn there was a constant parade of cows. Fourteen of them were attached to milking machines at once, and moved out after 20 minutes or so. I definitely have been getting an education about farm life. It's funny -- I spent a lifetime learning things about literature, computers, music, art, eastern plants and birds, and children. Now I discover that I could spend another lifetime learning about a totally different part of life -- Utah plants and bugs and geology, the cross-fertilization needs of fruits trees, breeds of cows, milking equipment, ways of building fences, what to do with manure, how to mix feed for animals. I only get one life, though.

Whenever I walked toward one of the cows, I noticed that she was expecting food. I guess that's what we humans are good for. Who really needs a pat on the head, anyway?

They say we'll have more snow before the warm weather is here to stay. But my neighbor came over this afternoon and we sat and chatted and fed the fish in my pond until the sun was low in the sky. Another neighbor helped me plant a couple of fruit trees last Saturday ... it got dark and we had a rambling conversation about our younger days, whether pine or spruce trees are easier to grow, Easter egg hunts, the Sawtooth Mountains of Idaho, the value of spare time ... and we looked off into the cool field of a million stars hanging over my house.

Happy Spring, everyone!

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

It's a Big State

I thought I had thoroughly covered the topic of the Moab area of Southern Utah in my last post. But, looking at it later, there's a lot more I could show you. So I thought I'd share a few more pictures.

Check it out.

Here's a picture looking across Canyonlands National Park. I think those are the La Sal mountains through the clouds. You might need to enlarge this picture (click it if you're on he blog) to really see it. The picture is so small, and it covers such a vast landscape. I think the upright rock formations are at least 5 miles away and the mountains are probably 25 miles away. Isn't it amazing that you're in the sky (on level with the the clouds), and there is snow on the distant mountains, but you're standing in the desert?

Here's a pictures taken at Natural Bridges National Monument. It's a fun park to visit because there's a 8 mile loop road that includes several different bridges and the hikes to them from the road are pretty manageable for us old folks. And the rocks are sort of porous and light and delicate, somehow.

Here's a picture taken at a place called Muley Point. It's down a long dirt road in San Juan County, near Blanding and Bluff and a place Moki(another word for Hopi) Dugway (one of those Utah words that means a road or way sunken below ground level) and Valley of the Gods. This overlooks part of Glenn Canyon. There was no one there but us. A year ago, I couldn't have imagined looking out over vistas where I could see 40 miles ahead without seeing a single person out there. By the way, Liz was holding onto my belt loops as I leaned out to take this picture.

Here's a shot of a place in Arches National Park that shows a little more of the vegetation and just sort of captures the feeling of a lot of the trails there, it seems to me:

Liz, my daughter and travelling companion, took the best picture of the trip. Here it is:

Hope you enjoyed the show --

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Another Planet

When I first came to Utah, people often said, "It must be culture shock for you here." I'd usually respond with something like, "Well the people are nicer and the land is more beautiful here. But everything else is about the same." Back then, I was just a tourist. Now I'm experiencing culture shock. It is quite different than St. Anne's Hill in downtown Dayton, and it is the other side of the universe from Oakwood, where I lived just 4 years ago.

I haven't seen a single BMW in Utah. The best vehicles are pickup trucks. My neighbors have mud-encrusted llamas and lambs instead of well-groomed yellow dogs. I observe herds of cows on my way to work instead of the homeless making their way from the night shelter to the day shelter. There is no zoning, and not a thought about doing anything as silly as passing an ordinance about paint colors or the types of fences allowed. There's no real need to hang curtains in my windows. There are more chickens and pheasants than people in this little town. The sky is full of stars and the churches are full of people.

My daughter Liz visited me the week before last. While she was here, we took a trip to southeastern Utah, where all the red rock is, along with vast amounts of empty public land, cattle grazing on the open range, mountain bikers, four-wheelers, and other Utah enthusiasts. It was nice and warm down there, and I was glad to get a break from the cold and snow.

We stayed in a rustic cabin on a little ranch in Blanding, explored Cedar Mesa, where the Indians known as the Anasazi, which means "ancient", lived. We saw lots of natural bridges, went to Moab and hiked in Arches National Park and Canyonlands, and even glimpsed a little corner of Glenn Canyon. The rock and land formations were fabulous -- a geologist's dream. There were giant rock goblins everywhere, mexican hats, temple-like formations, bridges and rock rainbows. More than once, we said, "Wow. It looks like another planet!"

Here's a picture of the little ranch where we stayed, called Abajo Haven in Blanding. It is out of the way (6 miles outside of a tiny town), has fire rings outside the cabins and places to corral your horses if you want to bring them with you.

The rancher cooked some terrific ribs for us and took us on an interpretive hike that covered several epochs of Native American history and a Utah nature lesson too. Did you know that pine nuts come from Pinon trees, which don't produce pine cones and nuts every year? Back when the cliff-dwelling Indians were basket weavers (around 500 AD) and then clay pot makers (by 1000 AD) and living in large colonies in southern Utah, Arizona, and New Mexico, a year with pine nuts was a cause for celebration. Pine nuts are very high in protein.

The trip was just one amazing sight after another. Here is a picture of Liz standing at the base of a rock formation in Arches National Park. She looks like one of those little action figures, doesn't she?

Here are some ancient Indian pictographs on rocks. The Anasazi Indians didn't have a written language, even though it is estimated that there were 2,500 native inhabitants of the San Juan valley. The lack of a written language might explain why the pictures look like children's drawings.

This made me start wondering about the development of written languages. Why did civilizations develop them? Why did some cultures get along without any written language? Historians see that the development of written language corresponds to the development of cities. Did people need to write laws as the population density increased? Was it for accounting purposes? Did it reflect a need to record history? Today, it seems as if the main reason we need written language is to communicate with people who are far away. Since I am a writer by trade, I've noticed that our culture used to be more oriented toward the written word, before the invention of film, TV, and now digital cameras. Written communication started out as pictures, evolved to use shorthand symbols (alphabets), and is now evolving back to pictures.

Here is a photo of the famous Delicate Arch in Moab. It really is a beautiful spot. To give you a sense of the scale, those little black dots in the patch of blue sky to the left of the arch are people walking around.

The most amazing place we saw was Dead Horse Point, a state park that overlooks Canyonlands National Park. Here's the view from there:

There was a huge dust storm when we first arrived at Dead Horse Point, and we saw a little rainbow reflecting in the dust in the air over the canyon. The place is called Dead Horse Point because, according to legend, cowboys corralled wild mustangs there on the "neck" of the mesa, which is 2000 feet above the Colorado River. They closed off the only exit route with brush, and left the horses there too long without water.

My friend Rose called from Ohio the other day and told me that the Magnolia tree in my back yard in Dayton is in full bloom. Back here in northern Utah, it has been snowing off and on all week. Spring is still somewhere down the road and around the bend. Liz has gone back to Ohio, which might explain why the sun has disappeared and the sky is still falling (as flakes of snow).

When Spring finally comes to northern Utah, I wonder if there will be something as wonderful as the old magnolia trees of southern Ohio. As I go through the transition from a tourist to an inhabitant of Utah, if this is another planet, I wonder if the native people speak my language. I suppose I'll need to learn theirs. But I think I'll try drawing some simple pictures, first.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Annie's Western Adventure

Annie's Western Adventure

There is so much going on in the news -- the economic crisis, bailouts, a new president, a stylish first lady, and even the academy awards. It all makes me feel as if I should address something important, something newsworthy here. But then there's the escapist in me. One morning, just a week or two ago, I actually said, "Shut up" out loud to the radio as I was getting dressed and heard another dismal report of cutbacks, layoffs, greed, falling stock prices, and economic drear delivered on NPR news. So something small, personal, and close to home might make me (and you!) feel more secure for a minute. The topic this time will be my cat, Annie. Maybe we'll get back to the wider world, and our serious problems next time.

Annie is my independent, in-charge alpha cat. She's a calico I adopted 5 or 6 years ago. Annie is the kind of cat who loves people to pet her, but hates to be held. She's curious, bold, acts like she's the biggest, baddest cat in the land, and harasses Sugar, my Himalayan (who has never fully recovered from Annie's arrival in our household). But when it comes right down to it, Annie is a little cat and a big chicken. I'll never forget the way she screamed and cried, "Help. Murder. My world's falling apart!" when we moved to the house in St. Anne's Hill in Dayton. I had to wrap her in a blanket and carry her to the house, screaming all the way. All the stray cats in the neighborhood came out of the bushes to see what the trouble was. I'm sure they, and all my new neighbors there thought a cat was being skinned alive, from the sound of it.

But let's get back to Utah, and the present. In this little friendly town, a neighbor made a sweet snack after dinner one night, and brought me a sample. While I was accepting this gift, and chit-chatting at the door, Annie must have slipped out the door at my feet.

Annie has always yearned to be an outdoor cat. I never let her out when we lived in the city. But last Fall, she found a way out of the house several times, and started training me to be the owner of a cat that is both an outdoor and an indoor cat. But since the the snow started falling here, she had not ventured out.

Annie often wanders the house. So I didn't notice she was gone until the next night. I was thinking about going to bed and the cats usually gather 'round at that time. I noticed that I hadn't seen Annie for quite a while. When I started calling all over the house, Sugar, the Himalayan, hunkered down and looked slightly guilty. Then I went to the front door and called out to the dark valley and the bright stars. No luck. I spent a restless night, imagining Annie's frozen little body somewhere out there in the wilds of northern Utah. I got up several times that night and called for her.

In the morning, I went out searching again. The neighbor's lambs were startled at my shameless calling, and stood absolutely still, on edge, the way lambs do. The neighbor's sheep-herding Border Collie came over and looked at me nervously. By this time, Annie had been out in the cold for 36 hours.

When I got to work that morning, I called my wonderful neighbor, May. The first time May came over to visit, she was surprised that I brought cats with me all the way from Ohio (cats are barn animals here, and they're all at least half stray). But May was concerned. She could hear panic in my voice. I'm sure her sympathy was based in an undersanding that I had misplaced one of my 2 only companions. She said she'd send her husband, Myron, out to the barn to see if Annie had joined their cat pile. She also said she would call the other neighbors, put out an APB for a wandering Eastern calico house cat.

I didn't hear back from May that day. So I knew Annie was still at large. I "sang the blues" to the receptionist at work, who is something of a bartender behind that counter. I talked about how sad it is when a small pet dies. I thought about all the cats I've buried in the back yard, usually in the pouring rain or the bitter cold.

When I got home that night, I went out cat-hunting again. Just after dark, I passed a small open field not far from the house, still calling "Annie," and I heard a distant "meow."
"Annie is that you?"

I could make out the shape of a car sitting in the field, and I thought I could see something moving on its hood. So I ventured into the snowy field. I didn't have boots on. But the snow was crusty enough that I mostly walked on top of it.

As I got close to the car, I saw that it was, in fact, long-lost Annie. She wouldn't leave the car to come to me, but paced back and forth, and jumped into my arms as I walked up close to the car. I noticed that the windshield was caved in, and there was still a little trailer hitched to it. Hmm. Had Annie been on a camping trip?

The getaway car (with footprints):

Annie was warmer than I was at that point. She seemed more cuddly than usual as I walked home with her. I guess she had been hiding in that old car for a couple of days. But the car wasn't really that far from the house. Was she just reluctant to put her feet back in the cold snow, since she had found the oasis? Was she lost, disoriented? Didn't she know her way home? Was she having a mid-winter cat party there? Was this her trusty steed, and was she playing Annie Oakley? I don't know. But as we approached the front door of my house, and I opened it, she got excited and bolted out of my arms. I corralled her into the house.

Annie immediately started rolling on the carpet. Sugar, the Himalayan, hissed and growled when Annie rolled near her, as if to say "You're back, darnit. I thought I was going to have this place all to myself. Keep your distance, and next time take a longer trip." And I thought that she had been upset about Annie's absence!

That was 3 weeks ago. Annie, now known as "Oakley," hasn't been outside since then. But the ice is starting to melt on the fish pond. Melting snow and icicles are dripping from the garage roof. I see lots of migrating ducks and geese in the morning as I pass the reservoir on my way to work. And I guarantee that Annie is plotting her next adventure.

Now, don't we feel better?

Monday, January 19, 2009

So Much Depends Upon...

I went for a walk the other morning and came across this old half of a GMC truck in a field south of my house. It struck me as an appropriate image about where GMC (General Motors Corporation) is today. I thought my friends in Ohio might appreciate the wry humor in it, since we've suffered from General Motor's cutbacks, which have taken the ooomph out of many "rust belt" communities. The part I like best in the picture is the coiled barbed wire sticking out. That piece of steel on the ground is pretty symbolic too. Something about it says, "John Henry was here."

John Henry, a symbol of the strong worker in America's age of industry, was, in the end, a story about the futility of people fighting the advance of technology. The story says that in order to save people's jobs, John Henry took on a contest with a machine to try to prove that people could do the job of clearing land and drilling tunnels for the railroad faster than the new machine. He won the contest with a heroic, super-human effort, but dropped dead from exhaustion when it was over. So that's a sad story. But by now we all know that brains have eclipsed brawn in America. The machines have won the contest.

The red GMC truck in the picture is out there in a big field. I don't see any buyers or easy bailouts on the horizon. It looks like a pretty old GMC truck, judging by the stylized logo, the rusty steel bumper and all. In an effort to try to date this red truck, I did some research and found out that GMC "Ducks" were used in WWII, and that they were driven in the Korean war, too. Here is the original logo, from 1911, which is more like the one on the truck in the field than the current block style logo:

Here's a closer look at the logo (and the flaking paint and the rust) on the red truck in the field:

GMC made mostly big trucks until about 1944. By 1961, they were using the current block-style logo. I found a logo like the one on the red truck on trucks that were manufactured in 1944 and 1956. So I the truck in the field was made sometime between 1944 and 1956, and most certainly before 1960. That means it has been around for about as long as I have. Uh-oh. Am I obsolete, rusty, stuck in out in a field somewhere without an engine too?

I wonder what happened to the engine and the cab - this GMC truck isn't going anywhere, unless they hitch it to a horse or a tractor. That's probably what they do, because the tires still look pretty good. It even has a spare. Just to make sure you can see that it is missing its front half, here's another angle on it:

So the era of the big automobile manufacturers in America is over. I suppose a company can only prosper for a limited period of time, before it becomes top-heavy and bloated or outlives its usefulness. I looked at an 1850 census once and was amazed at the number of jobs that don't exist anymore -- blacksmith, miller, coppersmith. So we have to keep evolving. There are 11.1 million unemployed Americans who can attest to that.

The problems of automakers are as deep as they are wide. Some of these troubles are related to the credit freeze. But General Motors lost 38.7 billion in 2007 and another $21.2 billion in 2008. And most of that happened before the credit freeze.

In France, no one is buying cars either. The government has put together a bailout package there because in France 10% of the workforce works for automakers like Renault and Peugeot-Citroen. Car sales are down in Indonesia, too.

Chrysler, Ford, and General Motors are looking for low interest federal loans. Chrysler received a $4 billion loan from the US Treasury and wants $3 billion more. Ford has asked for $9 billion line of credit. GM received $4 billion on December 31st, which kept it from defaulting on payments due to its suppliers. And GM received another $5.4 billion last week.

There's been a lively debate going on across America about whether the car companies should be allowed to fail or not. On one hand, allowing them to fail will really hurt the US economy. Unemployment figures from November for some Ohio and Michigan cities that rely heavily on the auto industry prove that: Flint MI had 11.6% unemployment, Detroit had 9.5%, Toledo had 9.2%, and Dayton had 7.5%. For the sake of comparison, here in Logan, Utah the unemployment rate for November was 2.4%.

On the other hand, why should we subsidize corporations that have irresponsible or misguided business practices? In discussing the financial industry bailout, Dennis Kucinich, a liberal senator from Ohio said, "This is a massive transfer of wealth - taking dollars out of taxpayers pockets and putting it in the banks."

I don't think there's much debate over the need for the US Treasury to put stipulations on the way the automakers use any loans they receive. But the US Treasury doesn't know much about making or selling cars. So there are limits to that strategy.

Naturally, strong companies survive and weak ones die. But do we want natural principles to prevail when the failure of US automakers could drag the whole country down? The Chrysler bailout of the 1980's was successful. So it seems to me that we should give it a try, or at least do something to help the companies, workers, and communities gain a little time to adjust to failure.

I can remember the opening of the new GM truck plant in Dayton, Ohio in the early 1980's. I toured it then, and it was like a buzzing city inside those walls. There were fire engines in there, and robots getting parts off the shelves behind wire mesh partitions, and an automated assembly line where the right fender dropped down out of the ceiling at the perfect time to meet the body of the car and the welder's torch. It was a spectacle and something of an engineering miracle.

My sister just bought a Honda Fit, which is a highly recommended little car, made for today's driver and last year's gas prices. I drive a Mazda. So how can I lament the demise of the US automakers? If I was going to buy a truck today, I think I'd buy one that was made in the US. But US automakers DO know how to make trucks. Which brings up another factor in this complex issue. If we want the US automakers to survive, I guess we need to think more seriously about buying their products, just as they need to think more seriously about making products that we want to buy.

In the end, I suppose all I can do is offer my photo at the top of the page, which sort of says it all. Maybe GM could use it for an advertising campaign with emotional/nostalgic appeal! Would you buy a vehicle from a company that made a truck more than 50 years ago that has lost its engine but is still sitting out in a field somewhere in Utah holding barbed wire and some sort of farm implement? Well, I guess not. Time marches on. But here's my last word on the subject (with apologies to William Carlos Williams):

so much depends

a red

glazed with

in the white
snow-covered field