Ralph Higgins

Ralph Higgins
color pencil sketch by Gayle Higgins

Quotes I Like

“Everyone is a genius, but if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.”

-Albert Einstein


Saturday, August 27, 2011

A Sierra Morning

            It’s the end of August and the morning air is starting to get chilly already.  I sat out on the deck this morning with a cup of coffee and my buddy, Dakota.  It was peaceful and quiet, but now and then I’d hear the gentle snort of a horse in the woods, just off the back of my property. Otherwise there is no sound. Just the long shadows of the pine trees as the sun begins to climb the branches to make its dramatic appearance later in the morning.

            I was reflecting on the peace and beauty.  The old song by Louis Armstrong that speaks of this as being a “wonderful world” kept going through my mind. And I guess it is a beautiful world. But I’m always struck by the dichotomy between the beauty of our planet and the cruelty and brutality of nature.

            I can look out at the forest from my deck and everything seems tranquil, but I know that a couple of miles up the hill from me there is a mountain lion tearing the throat out of  Bambi, while off to my left is a blue jay snagging a butterfly right out of the air.  Even the beautiful pine trees fight each other for the sun. Left to his own nature and adverse circumstances, I’m sure my gentle dog could conceivably join a pack of dogs and become a killer himself. That’s hard to believe, but that’s nature.

            You can watch insects and fish eat each other. Let’s face it, death is required for life. Everything is food for something else. Ironically, the worms usually get humans, after we’ve eaten everything else.

            In the book, “Lord of the Flies,” a group of British school boys are marooned on an island and the changes that take place in their personalities and behavior present grist for the intellectual mill of “nature vs. nurture.”  The boys literally become savages.

            Imagine if we didn’t “civilize” a baby and allowed the child to do whatever it wanted to do – just let it follow its nature. Would that child develop into a model citizen and a wonderful person or would it fall into the category of a “sociopath?” 

It raises the question of whether human nature at its base is good or evil. The prevailing philosophy is to not discipline children physically. Some folks think that people are basically good. No need for religion or internalized morality. How has that worked out?  Fortunately, I had girls and never had to physically discipline them. A look or a change in my voice was all it took. I was lucky and they were wonderful.

            Any one of the ideas I’ve touched on could make an interesting study, but I’m just scratching the surface with some thoughts that came to mind while I was enjoying a beautiful morning in the Sierras. And that’s really all we can do. Enjoy what you can, when you can. And eat everything that crosses your path. 

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Three Things

I have two Triumph motorcycles. I’ve owned bikes since the sixties, when I flew into Frankfurt, hopped a train to Copenhagen, Denmark, and bought my first motorcycle – a brand new 1969 Triumph 650.  A 650 was considered a big bike in those days. 

I traveled all over Europe on it. I remember when I rented a room from a communist party member in Zagreb, Yugoslavia, when it was under Tito. Sometime in the middle of the night I looked out of my window and saw cars lined up in a semi-circle with their headlights on my bike and a crowd of people walking around inspecting it.

I was several stories up and couldn’t have gotten down in time if there was a problem, but some of the guys looked up and saw me leaning out of the window watching them. It was obvious that they were just admiring the motorcycle and they didn’t even touch it. I had more trouble in Switzerland with theft than in Yugoslavia. But that bike was unique in those days in Europe and particularly in a communist country.  

I rode that bike through nine countries by myself, because my riding buddy didn’t show up at the Hoffbrau House in Munich, Germany, on the date we were scheduled to meet there. He had flown in earlier. He claimed he fell in love with a German girl and she had him locked in her bedroom. Knowing him, she didn’t need a lock. So after too many mugs of German beer, I took off on my own. Someday I’ll write about that trip. It was a once in a lifetime experience.

All of this is to say that even as an old “dude”, I still enjoy riding a motorcycle.  I’ve taken a few spills hill climbing, worn the obligatory cast on my leg, and I’ve done some other very stupid things when I was young, but I think I’ve learned a thing or two.  Now I ride like an old guy…you know, at five miles per hour with my left turn blinker on. Actually, that’s a very good way to get killed.

I just got my newer Triumph out of the shop today and I was thinking about how much I enjoy riding through the Sierras on a motorcycle. While riding, I thought that there are three major things that make my life bearable living so far from family and friends high in the Sierra Mountain range. That has always been my gripe … being too far from my kids, grandkids and friends, but I do have three things that make it palatable. There are actually more than three, but these three hit me as I rode home from the bike shop.

The first of the three is a good wife. You have to have a wife that you respect and one that respects you. You both have to be able to laugh freely. She has to be trustworthy. She has to “have your back,” she has to share your “world view” and religious belief, and she has to be a true partner. I have that with Gayle.

The second thing … gotta have a dog.  I have a great miniature Australian Shepherd, who has been molded into the perfect dog for Gayle and me. Gayle claims to not like him, but that’s B.S. She just doesn’t like him staring at her and that’s what herding dogs do. They can’t help it. I love the little sucker. Dakota is my buddy.

And the third thing is a motorcycle. That bike sets me free. There’s no better way to experience the beauty of the Sierras than on a bike, where all of your senses are open to absorb the richness of the environment. Riding in a car doesn’t do it. Even walking through the forest, as I do daily, doesn’t match riding a motorcycle through the mountains. Walking through the woods is like sipping beer. Riding through the forest on a motorcycle is like guzzling beer. There is a time for each. And a beer after a ride is not just a reward, but a means of flushing the bugs out of your teeth.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

The Other Side of the Coin

            I’ve belly-ached enough about the snow up here in Siberia, aka “Quincy”, more specifically, Green Horn Ranch, so maybe I should explain that when the sun comes out it creates temporary amnesia and the obliteration of the concept of snow. And the sun is not bashful about making an appearance. Maybe because it knows “it’s time is short.” (That phrase has a biblical sound to it.)  

            It does get hot here, although at 4500 feet in elevation the nights are cool and the heat during the day is welcome. All kinds of strange forms of vegetation scramble to the surface as though there was doubt that the snow would ever melt and that life may never return to the planet. All that means is that I have to get outside and spoil their fun by whacking them down and tossing them in a pile so that at the first snow, I can burn them. So the snow wins again.

            I also cut down a few dead pine trees on the property, although I was a little concerned that I may not be able to dart out of the way fast enough if the trees decided to drop in my direction. It had only been a few short weeks since my knee replacement, so I wasn’t very agile, but I had an expert logger help me. My next door neighbor is in his eighties and is tough as nails. He has done enough logging that he can aim a tree to drop exactly on his target. With his engineering we missed the garage, the power lines and both of us.

            The horse trails in the mountains become dusty in the summer. But even when it’s hot, the shade in the forest makes for a relaxing and energizing walk among the pine trees. And my dog loves it. He runs his ass off and occasionally we may be interrupted by riders on horseback. After all, this is a dude ranch with “city folk” riding horses, some for the first time.

            I get a kick out of the guests who go on trail rides with wranglers from the ranch as guides. They are tentative and apprehensive as they following the leader through the woods. They are as nervous about the animal they ride as they are about what dangers they may encounter. I’m sure they think that they may be subject to an attack by Indians or bears, so when I run into a group of them, I tell my dog to sit and I talk to the guide. That is important, because if they happened to come on me suddenly, the horses can spook, because they may think I’m a bear. At least that was what I was told by one of the wranglers and I can understand why… I look like a bear. But I’m working on that.

            Anyway, life here in the summer is much different than it is in the winter. It’s actually pretty darn nice. Sadly, my Triumph is in the shop, so motorcycle trip through the beauty of the Sierras is on hold. My old 1969 Triumph requires a kick start and my knee isn’t up to the task yet, so I’m stuck without a bike.

            Our anniversary is next week and we will be going to a rustic restaurant on a lake with the world’s best food. I think you have to call for a boat to pick you up on the dock, because the restaurant is not accessible by land. There are many such resorts and restaurants tucked away in these hills. So it’s not all bad living in the mountains.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Higher "Education?"

I wrote a blog some time ago where I talked about how our country seems to be run by children. I thought I’d follow up on why I think this is so.

We live in a Peter Pan world, where kids never have to grow up. We allow a man or woman of 26 to be covered on their parents insurance as “children.” Our young people are educated by college professors who came out of the childish hippy rebellions of the ‘60s. Remember those euphoric days of flower children, drugs and free “love,” which is simply a handy euphemism for free sex. How many college kids could resist jumping on that one…or two…or three…or more. The University campus has become “Neverland” for students and many professors. . . a land where you never have to grow up.

Having moved directly from college students with flowers in their hair to college professors and having gained enough book knowledge to obtain the required credentials, professors are assured a safe and tenured haven of refuge inside the halls of academia. These are the people assigned to teach our children.

Wisdom comes when idealism butts up against reality, resulting in a re-alignment of precepts. Age and real life experience are critical ingredients for wisdom. Unfortunately many professors are devoid of wisdom and “teach” from a position of arrested maturity. They recruit our children into the world of make-believe without having set foot in the adult world of business and enterprise, but these are the “experts” who “educate” our kids.

One look at the academic level of U. S. students provides confirmation that very little “educating” is going on, despite the piles of money we dump into education. But our pathetic educational system is grist for another mill. And I say that as a former teacher.

Sadly, the average I. Q. in the United States has dropped from 100 down to 92, according to experts. Anyone with common sense can arrive at several reasons why this is so.

Most graduates come out of college with almost identical social and political profiles. College is a cookie cutter and it’s possible to ask one or two questions of a college graduate and you can fill in the rest of the blanks without bothering to ask any more. They all think alike.

Professors in more academic subjects, such as engineering, pre-med, etc., are actually educating, but there are more than enough electives or socially oriented subjects to mold pliable minds into the party line.

Is it any wonder that so many of our leaders, especially in this current administration, have never experienced life in the grown-up world? The current administration has the fewest members who have had any business experience outside of government and these numbers are fewer by a significant margin. These are academics who may have theoretical ideas and book knowledge, but little experience in the real world. Consequently we find ourselves in a mess economically and socially and can now take pride in being the laughing stock of the world.