Chasin’ Freshies

There’s nothing here. Neither Mt. Ashland nor Mt. Shasta have much snow and neither resort looks to open anytime soon. That means a road trip is in order! The storm tracks throughout the month have been northerly and neither Utah nor Tahoe resorts are anywhere close to seasonal norms. The snow has been falling in Washington, Idaho (especially the panhandle), and Wyoming. They have the Tetons in Wyoming and that’s our destination: Jackson Hole Mountain Resort.

My buddy (who does the driving) is coming in an hour and we hope to make it to Idaho Falls tonight. Then an early start and we can hit the slopes Thursday and also get a full day in on Friday. If the predictions are good we should hit freshly fallen snow both days. “When it snows, we goes” is our motto but we’ve been hard-pressed to pull the trigger on a trip because of the paucity of the white stuff so far this season.

It’s New Year’s weekend of course and that means it will be busy in Jackson. Most of the motels are at or near capacity. The mountain report says that only a small portion of the lifts and thus the trails will be open to ski. “Early-season conditions” is the word. But we are desperate and willing to go almost 900 miles just to catch some runs. We already had our ski-legs by this time last season so it should be a challenge at a new park that neither of us are familiar with.

That’s part of the excitement, seeing a new place. The Northern Rockies are spectacular and the Grand Tetons are perhaps as beautiful as any mountain range anywhere in the world. We hope that there will be another following storm so that we can stay on the road and get some skiing in at another spot before we head back home. The forecasts don’t look very promising, unfortunately. Sun Valley is in a dry stretch, so are the Cottonwood resorts, and not much is happening in Colorado, either.

Wish us luck!




My latest foray into time-wasting is Pendragon: The Fall of Roman Britain by GMT Games. Pendragon is a card-driven board game set in the fourth and fifth centuries of our era. This is a time of civil unrest as the Pax Romana on the frontiers of the Empire began to crumble after the death of Marcus Aurelius in AD 180. Britannia was still a province of Rome but barbarian invasions and local rebellions had made it a troubled land and its overseers were increasingly uncertain about the future. Pendragon re-creates the conflicts among the Romanized citizenry, the imperial government, the unconquered tribes, and the many acquisitive foreigners.

I ordered the game when it was in pre-production last fall and it finally got published and printed this fall and arrived in the mail last week. The packaging is beautiful with quality parts, a large colorful board, and extremely detailed rules and player aids. When I say detailed I mean there is a 17-page tutorial to walk you through the game process! It will take me weeks to learn the system but it seems carefully constructed and play-tested. Pendragon is the eighth in a series that GMT calls COIN for COunter-INsurgency. The developer of the scheme and series is listed as Volko Ruhnke but Pendragon’s creator is Marc Gouyon-Rety. It’s not strictly about counter-insurgency but rather asymmetric conflict which of course is of continuing relevance in the 21st century.

One of the things that appealed to me about this game was the lack of solid information about this time and place in history. War games involving Napoleon, WWII, or the American Civil War are very popular and we know a lot about the historical settings, the units involved, their fighting strength and disposition, and the topography and terrain. The conflicts in Britannia 1500 years ago are shrouded in the mists of the past. Much of that time comes to us as fable or legend, King Arthur for example, and we have few first-hand accounts and little written material to study. The Peloponnesian War took place four hundred years before Christ but we have Thucydides to consult. Julius Caesar published books about his exploits in Gaul fifty years before Christ. We have no such comprehensive sources for the Empire’s woes in the British Isles four hundred years later.

Pendragon allows you to take on the role of either the Britons or the barbarians. The Britons are divided into two factions, the ‘Dux’ who represent the imperial army and administration, and the ‘Civitates’ who are the landed gentry, native chieftains and their tribes who depend on Roman support. The barbarians are also divided into two factions, the ‘Scotti’ or Celtic raiding parties from Ireland (Hibernia) and Scotland (Caledonia), and the ‘Saxons’ who are Germanic peoples looking for new lands to settle. The Briton factions seek to preserve the status quo and their prosperity while the barbarians seek plunder, prestige, and the disruption of Roman rule. The Briton factions can come into conflict with each other as the Civitates desire independence while the Dux hope to preserve the Empire. The barbarians can join together to fight the powerful cavalry and militia of the civilized people or they can fight each other while seeking loot, land, and glory.

Pendragon: The Fall of Roman Britain covers a span of about 150 years and big changes took place in the lives of the many people who inhabited Britain during that time. The collapse of Roman power and the rise of the early kingdoms must have been massive disruptions to the peace and prosperity of the populace. The game includes things like changing victory conditions to reflect the chaos of the times. I’ll admit it is overwhelming. The ‘Playbook’ (which includes the aforementioned tutorial) is 72 pages, and the ‘Rules of Play’ add 44 more. These are 8-1/2 by 11 pages with a two-column format and a typeface with capitals that aren’t quite 2.5 mm high. It takes some doing to figure it all out. But it brings out my inner geek, and I’m interested in the history. There’s a bibliography included in the material and a number of contemporary books listed seem promising.

I may be in way over my head on this, but I’m sufficiently intrigued to give it a shot. It can’t be THAT hard, right? These people can’t be THAT much smarter than me, can they?

We’ll find out.



Apparently there is an official kind of moodling: an open-source software resource for teaching and learning. That’s not the kind of moodling I mean. I’m thinking more like Brenda Ueland:

So you see the imagination needs moodling—long, inefficient, happy idling, dawdling and puttering.

My wife calls this “piddling” and it has an entirely positive connotation when she uses it. Moodling is about renewing the imaginative part of the mind and allowing ourselves to be creative. Much of life is doing stuff you have to do. It’s hard to maintain a fresh, open, and free outlook when completing tasks. You need to be able to goof off in order to do that.

Unfortunately we live in the world of work. I’m retired, but I used to be part of that world. In the world of work, one must work. And work is often dull and unrewarding. Even people like me who found something that suited them discovered that the actual job had little to do with the idea of the job. I was a teacher but spent most of my time on crowd control and record keeping. That’s just the nature of it despite the best efforts of many. I stuck it out for thirty years mostly because I had summers off! And I did my best to focus on the positive things. I had a good job by most people’s standards and I felt fortunate, but I would not have gone to work unless I got a paycheck. People talk about loving what they do but how many would show up just to do it if they didn’t have to worry about money?

And that’s what it is all about here in the US of A. Money. We have to have it. And moodling is contrary to money-making. You can’t moodle and be a good capitalist. You have to be working and striving and competing. You have to be improving all the time, being more organized and more efficient. That’s what makes innovation and that’s what begets growth and that’s how we get money. So moodle at your peril, bohemians!

But the creative, imaginative part of us needs nurturing. Even if we are CEOs we need to allow for moodling. You can’t solve problems entirely by attack mode. Sometimes you have to un-think about things in order to open new mental pathways and get around conceptual roadblocks. Creative people are good at breaking out of popular, established modes of thought. They see connections between seemingly disparate things. I used to think only some people had this ability, but I met many hundreds of youngsters in the course of my career and I can assure you they—and thus we—all have it.

We mostly don’t get to develop our creative sides. We have to work. We have to make some kind of accommodation with the economic system. We need money for food and rent and cars and clothes and doctors and phones and all the rest. Even if you don’t play the guitar or paint or whatnot you still need your imagination to prosper. And that requires care and feeding just like your muscles and organs do.

The world needs more grace, tolerance, diplomacy, empathy, humility, and kindness. Perhaps the mythological free marketplace that we worship will provide such things with the same alacrity it provides us with cheap jeans. Perhaps not. We’ll have to look for after-market solutions like more moodling. We have to imagine loving our enemies before we can actually do it, right? Thus we need to allow insight, ingenuity, and inspiration, and that comes about not by force of will or increased effort but by just the opposite, a sort of dreamy idleness, much like all children naturally have.

I’m a big boy and I know we have to till the land and harvest the seas to sustain our bodies. And we have to extract from the earth the materials we need to build our societies. But we also have to feed our minds. And if society gives us no time for that because we are too goddamn busy working, and if not working then worrying about work and money, what’s the point? We should not have to be grinding all the time. There should be ample time for resting and reflecting. Without that we can’t absorb all the inputs of all the days and thus we can’t learn and grow, that is imagine and create. We ought to value moodling a lot more than we do.