Amaru, a 5-year-old rescue dog, waits patiently on his family’s front lawn in Skagway, Alaska, watching for the bus to arrive each morning.
“He got used to sitting in that spot. He even looks in the direction he knows they’re going to come,” said his dad, Gary Hisman — who typically does yard work while Amaru awaits his daily transport. “He’s a very smart guy.”
Amaru, along with about 40 other dogs, is part of a play group organized by Mo Mountain Mutts — a local dog walking and training business, run by husband-and-wife duo, Mo and Lee Thompson.
The Thompsons lead off-leash pack walks up to three times a day, but what has captured the attention of people worldwide are hilarious videos showing how they collect their canine clients: A recent TikTok video of several dogs confidently boarding the bus on their own with big wagging tails was viewed more than 50 million times.
It documents the Thompsons’ regular pickup routine. At one point, the minibus stops in front of Amaru’s home, where he is seated in the front yard — clearly expecting them. From inside the bus, the Thompsons open the doors for the pup, and he happily leaps in.
Once entering the bus, the dogs typically sniff around and greet the other canine passengers, before climbing onto their assigned seat — which the Thompsons have trained them to do. Then, their harness gets secured, and the same process is repeated as the rest of the pack, about 12 dogs, is picked up.
The seats are carefully selected based on factors such as a pup’s personality, age and manners. Most dogs head directly to their designated seat without being guided.
“Specific areas of the bus are better suited to the dogs,” Mo, 31, explained, adding that senior dogs tend to be assigned seats closer to the front, while rowdier youngsters ride in what she calls the “licky puppy corner,” because they tend to lick each other for most of the journey.
When the dogs board the bus, Mo does a small obedience drill, and passes out treats to reward good behavior. Once they’re settled and buckled in, Mo said, “they have to stay on their seats” — just like humans — while being transported to the trailhead.
Nature and adventure writer Craig Childs contemplates the beauty and meaning of rock art in his new book. “Tracing Time” celebrates the ancient communication on the caves, canyons and cliffs of the Colorado Plateau. Child’s conversations with elders, scholars and friends are interwoven with the observations of his own brilliant mind.
Colorado’s cliffs, canyons and caves are blanketed with ancient Indigenous rock art depicting people, animals and celestial events. In “Tracing Time,” explorer and nature writer Craig Childs, of Norwood, Colorado, meditates on their meaning and mystery. Childs joined Ryan Warner at Colorado Mesa University in Grand Junction for our series “Turn The Page.”
There have always been two dominant styles in Cormac McCarthy’s prose—roughly, afflatus and deflatus, with not enough breathable oxygen between them. McCarthy in afflatus mode is magnificent, vatic, wasteful, hammy. The words stagger around their meanings, intoxicated by the grandiloquence of their gesturing: “God’s own mudlark trudging cloaked and muttering the barren selvage of some nameless desolation where the cold sidereal sea breaks and seethes and the storms howl in from out of that black and heaving alcahest.” McCarthy’s deflatus mode is a rival rhetoric of mute exhaustion, as if all words, hungover from the intoxication, can hold on only to habit and familiar things: “He made himself a sandwich and spread some mustard over it and he poured a glass of milk.” “He put his toothbrush back in his shavingkit and got a towel out of his bag and went down to the bathroom and showered in one of the steel stalls and shaved and brushed his teeth and came back and put on a fresh shirt.”
McCarthy’s novel “The Road” (2006) can be seen as both the fulfillment and the transformation of this profligately gifted stylist, because in it the two styles justified themselves and came together to make a third style, of punishing and limpid beauty. The afflatus mode was vindicated by the post-apocalyptic horrors of the material. It might have been hard to credit, say, contemporary Knoxville as the ruined city that McCarthy describes in his earlier novel “Suttree” (1979), a giant carcass that “lay smoking, the sad purlieus of the dead immured with the bones of friends and forebears . . . vectors of nowhere,” and all the rest. But the imagination had much less difficulty in “The Road,” where a similar rhetoric floats over the ashen landscape of an annihilating catastrophe. Meanwhile, the deflatus mode suddenly made both literary and ethical sense, since a world nearly stripped of people and objects would necessitate a language of primal simplicity, as if words had to learn all over again how to find their referents. One of the most moving scenes in “The Road” involves a father and son discovering an unopened can of Coke, as if in some parody of Hemingway’s Nick Adams stories, with the father having to explain to the son just what this fabled object once was.
The third style holds in beautiful balance the oracular and the ordinary. In “The Road,” a lean poetry captures many ruinous beauties—for instance, the way that ash, a “soft black talc,” blows through the abandoned streets “like squid ink uncoiling along a sea floor.” This third style has, in truth, always existed in McCarthy’s novels, though sometimes it appeared to lead a slightly fugitive life. Amid all the gory sublimities of “Blood Meridian” (1985), one could still find something as lovely and precise as “the dry white rocks of the dead river floor round and smooth as arcane eggs,” or a description of yellow-eyed wolves “that trotted neat of foot.” In “Suttree,” published six years before the overheated “Blood Meridian,” this third style was easier to find, the writer frequently abjuring the large, imprecise adverb for the smaller, exact one—“When he put his hand up her dress her legs fell open bonelessly”—or the perfect little final noun: “while honeysuckle bloomed in the creek gut.”
There may be several reasons that McCarthy’s simpler third style is so often the dominant rhetoric in his two new novels, “The Passenger” and “Stella Maris” (both Knopf). Their author is nearing ninety, and perhaps a relatively unburdened late style tempts the loaded rhetorician who has become “weary of congestion” (as Henry James assessed late Shakespeare). A character in “The Passenger” describes this condition with appropriate plainness: “To prepare for any struggle is largely a work of unburdening yourself. . . . Austerity lifts the heart and focuses the vision.” A likelier reason is that, for the first time in his career, McCarthy is aiming to write fiction about “ideas”: these two novels contain extended conversations about physics, language, and the symbolic languages of music and mathematics.
Of course, his earlier novels explored “themes” and, in their way, ideas; an academic industry loyally decodes McCarthy’s every blood-steeped move around evil, suffering, God or no-God, the Bible, genocidal American expansion, the Western, environmental catastrophe, and so on. But those novels did not purvey, and in some sense could have no space for, intellectual discourse. These books were inhospitable to intellectuals, with their characteristic chatter. McCarthy’s two dominant styles conspired to void his fiction of such discourse. The afflatus mode gestured toward its themes so stormily that ideas were deprived of the thing that gives them power, their ability to refer. There is mathematics and theology in the following sentence from “Suttree,” but of the most opaque kind: “These simmering sinners with their cloaks smoking carry the Logos itself from the tabernacle and bear it through the streets while the absolute prebarbaric mathematick of the western world howls them down and shrouds their ragged biblical forms in oblivion.” At the same time, the deflatus style wicks away all thought—William Carlos Williams’s motto, “No ideas but in things,” has always come to mind when McCarthy is trudging along in this minimalist mode.
In the new pair of novels, which separately tell the life stories of two brilliant and frustrated physicists, Bobby Western and his younger sister, Alicia, a fresh space is made to enable the exchange of ideas, and the rhetorical consequences are felt in the very textures of the fiction. The old, bifurcated McCarthy is still evident in every sentence—my earlier unsourced examples of afflatus and deflatus were all from “The Passenger”—but the new hospitality to physics entails a hospitality to the rational that hasn’t exactly bulked large in McCarthy’s most celebrated work. His ear for dialogue has always been impeccable; in these novels, in place of the portentous reticence of McCarthy’s earlier conversations, whole sections are given over to long scenes of lucidly urbane dialogue. People think and speak rationally, mundanely, intelligently, crazily, as they do in real life; only for a writer as strange as McCarthy would this innovation deserve attention. And along with the excellent dialogue there are scores of lovely noticings, often of the natural world. In Montana, pheasants are seen crossing the road “with their heads bowed like wrongdoers.” A fire on a Mediterranean beach: “The flames sawed in the wind.” Taking off over Mexico City, “the plane lifted up through the blue dusk into sunlight again and banked over the city and the moon dropped down the glass of the cabin like a coin falling through the sea. . . . Far below the shape of the city in its deep mauve grids like a vast motherboard.”
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The meteorological winter has only just begun, and the 2023 water year is a mere two months old, so it’s probably too early to be talking about snowpack and precipitation trends. But I’m going to do it anyway because things are getting kind of interesting.
As I’ve noted before, La Niña has returned for a third consecutive winter, a rare occurrence. La Niña strengthens the trade winds along the equator, pushing warm Pacific Ocean water away from South America’s west coast, which then causes cool water to upswell to the surface to replace the warmer waters. This pushes the jet stream northward, bringing drier conditions to the Southwest and moisture and cold to the Northwest.
At least that’s what usually happens.
So far, though, Western weather hasn’t always followed the rules. What else is new, right? For example:
The snowpack in the Upper Colorado River watershed is currently just above the median for this time of year, and is quite a bit healthier than on this date in 2021 and 2022—also La Niña years. If current trends continue through the winter it should buoy levels at Lake Powell, or at least keep them from declining so rapidly. Currently the reservoir’s surface is at about 3,527 feet above sea level. On the one hand, that’s 14 feet below what it was at this time last year, which is not so great. On the other hand, levels have held fairly steady since late September thanks in part to a wet fall.
As if to rub it in, Phoenix, which had a pretty healthy monsoon this summer, just experienced its wettest day in almost a year, receiving .76 inches of rain over a 24-hour period. Tucson, meanwhile, received .69 inches of rain during the first week of December, nearly five times the normal amount for the entire month.
Meanwhile, the Northwest is cool and wet, just as one would expect during a La Niña year. A scan of SNOTEL stations in Idaho, Wyoming, and Montana show some stations have more than twice the usual snowpack for this time of year.
Still, the winter is young, and things could change radically. Last winter started out dry in much of Colorado, for example, leading to the late December Marshall Fire near Boulder that wiped out 1,000 homes. Then some monster storms came, forcing everyone to reassess. Then the dryness returned. This year, forecasters are expecting La Niña to mellow or disappear by early spring, so maybe things will return to normal. Whatever that means.
Saturday Night Live episode’s opening sketch found Senator Mitch McConnell (played by James Austin Johnson) in an office with Senators John Cornyn (Mikey Day) and Marsha Blackburn (Cecily Strong), lamenting the difficulties that Republicans face in Tuesday’s Senate vote in Georgia.
Into their office, they welcomed their party’s contender for that seat, Herschel Walker (Thompson). “Hey there, Mitch McDonalds,” Thompson said as he entered. “I’m sorry I’m late. I was having too much fun in that free merry-go-round y’all got out front.”
“That’s a revolving door,” Johnson answered.
Told by his colleagues that they thought he had a chance to win the coming runoff, Thompson replied, “Oh, well, I’m good at those. My ex-wife said all I do is run off.”
With polling numbers running narrowly in favor of the Democratic incumbent, Senator Raphael Warnock, Johnson said that Georgia had already begun counting votes by mail.
“Right,” Thompson said. “But you’ve got to remember, they’ve still got to count votes by female.”
Asked by Strong if he could share any additional “bad things from your past that maybe people don’t know yet,” Thompson eagerly responded, “Oh, yes definitely. So many.” A clock on the wall spun forward as he shared an anecdote, which he concluded by saying, “Anyway, she didn’t want to keep it, so I drove her down to the Planned Parent Trap.”
The three senators asked Thompson for some privacy and he happily obliged: “You can toss a blanket right over me and I fall asleep like a parakeet,” he explained, which they did. While he napped, his colleagues concluded that they had no choice but to go to Plan B.
Awaking Thompson, Johnson brought him to a security door that he said led to what used to be his panic room, and he instructed the candidate to wait there until the election was over.
It’s no mistake that one of Jorge Luis Borges’s books is titled “Labyrinths.” His metaphysical stories lead the reader through an intricate maze of ideas, images, history, philosophy, and fantasy from which there are either many possible exits or none. More than two dozen stories by Borges, who died in 1986, at age eighty-six, were published in The New Yorker, most of them in the decade from 1967 to 1977.