The Last Gold Rush

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Jack wrote this in August, 2005:

Probably some of you younger blog readers aren’t aware that pre-lottery Americans had their own dreams of finding a way out of the monetary strait-jackets.  Around the turn of the last century thousands of men with guts and a shared dream rushed to Alaska following the discovery of gold in the Yukon.  During the 1920s and ’30s they rushed to Oklahoma and Texas in a rags to riches (for a few) wildcatting-for-oil frenzy.

Mostly the minerals became a lot more difficult to locate, prices of gold and silver declined, and major consortiums  bought up the most promising oil leases.  The dreams didn’t die, but the tools for making those dreams come true became a lot more cunning and elusive.

During the early 1950s, however, the US decided there were a lot of places that still needed bombing.  They’d whetted their appetites on New Mexico, Japan and some islands in the Pacific, but there were places in Nevada that were crying to have a hydrogen bomb or two set off on them, and the potential for bombing the bejesus out of a lot of Russians seemed to be a good bet.

The US needed uranium for a generation of nuclear weapons, and nobody’d yet paid much mind to where it might be located.

Uranium was the new gold.  Find it, file a claim, you’re a wealthy man, came the news.

The two men in this picture, along with thousands of other Americans, responded to the call, were preparing to do so while they posed for this photo.  They’d bought a WWII jeep, loaded it with WWII surplus gear, Geiger-counters, picks, shovels, and soon afterward headed off into the wilds of northern NM and Utah for several months.

By the time they returned to their hard-scrabbled farms in Eastern New Mexico, the world knew there’s plenty of uranium, no problem, no major value.

But, they had an adventure, my granddad and Charlie Nelson.  They were part of the last gold rush.  They had the courage to follow a dream while Americans still allowed themselves to dream.




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Jack wrote this in August, 2005:

Ceiling and visibility unlimited. The Federal Aviation Administration weather guessers invented this one, methinks.  You call in for in-route weather reports, they tell you CAVU all the way to your destination…. You listen to the winds aloft, find you have a 20 knot tail-wind at 8000 MSL.

You smile to yourself, wrap it all up into the same package with the CAVU, taxi down to the end of the strip.  Run up.  Left mag, right mag, carb heat, everything A-OK.  Lock the left toe-brake and examine those beautiful empty skies for aircraft.  Nuthun but pure clear altitude up there.

Straight down the tube, lock the toe brakes, full throttle, full RPMs, release the toe brakes… roll, bring up the tail… roll, feel her  trying to fly… lift the nose you’re free.

That’s how it all begins.  You allow yourself to believe it’s true.

Yeah, I’m a top-hand.  I have a handle on things.  I’m what they call a real neat guy.

That’s your most vulnerable moment.  That’s the time in this life, you, me, savoring the sweetness of knowing we are just the smartest, coolest, most absolutely scintillating critters that ever came down the pike, that’s when we close our eyes.

Maybe it will get us into trouble, but often enough it doesn’t so’s to let us get into a habit.  The universe has lots of time, and an unplanned, hard landing isn’t the only penalty for self-imposed blindness.  Probably that isn’t even the worst penalty over the long haul.



Morning gratitude affirmations

Jack wrote this in April, 2005:

Hokay.  I try to think of five particularly communistic things going on in my life every morning, every evening, during the day, to find reasons for being grateful for.  It’s a ritual I try to practice constantly, but if I begin the day with it, it’s a lot easier to remember for the rest of the day.


I’m going to let the lottery numbers on the PB draw last night be my first, even though it’s really easy.  Those numbers did good and I have a lot of good feeling about what hit last night.  It’s cheating, but I’m going to be grateful for that anyway.

Hokay.  Number two.  It snowed last night.  Everything was budded out, and it damned well snowed.  Maybe you think I’m not grateful, but I am.  If the frost gets those buds for a third time there ain’t going to be any apples, apricots, grapes, pecans, but there’s always another year, and we need the moisture, probably more than we need the fruit this year.  It’s been a long drought and the moisture deficit isn’t entirely made up, even with all the rain and snow this winter.  Yeah.  I’m grateful.  Yes, I am.  I can feel it, reluctant, squirming, fighting every inch of the way, but grateful is emerging.

Number 3.  Tres.  I’m grateful for these affirmations.  That’s an easy one too, cheating, but they’ve had an enormous influence on my life for the past decade, and sometimes I forget to be grateful for knowing how good they are for me.  And besides, it fills a slot, allowing me not to have to confide to you what some of the ‘really communist’ troubles I’m going to have to be grateful for before I get past these affirmations in my private mind, this morning.  But those are none of your business, so I’m going to try to keep this clean and well lighted.

Number 4.  Quatro.  Lessee.  A cat just took a dump on the rug over there across the room.  Knows better than that, but did it anyway.  It means, hopefully, that the cat was communicating to me the litter box is getting too full.  I’m grateful that cat reminded me of my neglect.  I haven’t cleaned it up, but when I do I will examine the stool and make certain the cat wasn’t telling me something else, something more important.  I’m grateful a cat will tell a person willing to listen what’s going on with it, what sort of health problems might be hidden there in that pea brain, wanting to come out but not knowing how.

Number 5:  Half an hour after daybreak and the wind’s coming back up outside.  I’m grateful for that wind, that howling and clattering of things loose on the porch, the rabid windchimes, the cold air whistling in around the old wooden frames of the windows.

Maybe you think I’m not grateful for that wind, but I am.  Here’s why.

Hmmmmm.  Hmmmmmm.  I am.  Just give me a minute here.

Ahhhh..  I’m grateful for that wind because it’s going to melt the snow quickly.  Maybe even soon enough to save the blossoms and buds.  Maybe that old wind will just evaporate enough of the snow, good old wind, temperature 37 degrees F, maybe it will have all that snow gone in no time at all and the new grapevines won’t lose their buds, the apples will be okay.

A lot of people mightn’t be grateful for that wind howling to blue blazes out there, me sipping my coffee here, typing, feeling the cold air on my bare ankles, but I am.  Yes, I am.


A voice recording on MediaFire

From Jeanne:
A year ago, Jack was in the hospital, and I’m trying to not think about that a whole lot, but anniversaries of significant events are hard to ignore.
One reason I am the luckiest person in the world is that I have a lot of recordings that Jack made. Some of them are our conversations, some are hospital commentary, lots are gratitude affirmations in which he covers most of the major events and people of his life, and some are of him reciting poetry.
I thought I’d share one recording with you which he made when he got the most recent voice recorder and was trying it out for the first time. He talks about what was going on in the world when he was born in 1943 and mentions a few details of very early childhood before he touches on a sad memory which makes him abruptly stop the recording. It’s a little over 6 minutes long. It’s an MP3 file which can be accessed by clicking “download” on the linked page.

A road not taken

Jack wrote this in April, 2005:

It’s a beautiful day here, aside from the normal New Mexico spring wind. From the porch I can see the Rio Grande’s having it worse than here, lots of dirt in the air. But just below this old house the only road that could take a person anywhere besides downhill and out to civilization heads East into the mountain. It’s been closed since the first snowfall, but I was feeling some cabin fever. Thought I might just be able to get through the pass above here into the East Mountains.

About 2/3 to the top I found it wasn’t to be. Packed snow still thick enough to stop traffic, maybe for another month.

On the way back down, stopped and hiked around a while just to listen to the streams running and smell the trees. It was good. All that water heading west, probably thinks California’s heaven. It wouldn’t be in such a hurry if it knew where it’s really going. First it has the desert between here and the Rio Grande, where a lot of it will vanish off to a parallel universe. Then, if it behaves in the normal manner, it will have to take a hard left turn into the Rio Grande, take a bath in the effluent from the Albuquerque sewer systems, then meander on south and east into Texas.

Not what it was expecting at all, I’m betting. Otherwise it wouldn’t have been in such a hurry to get down the mountain.

Near the base of the mountain on a cliff wall about three miles up the road from here is the Sandia Man Cave. Stopped to fool around there a bit, think about those old outdoorsy guys up there in that cave, figuring how they’d be fairly ecstatic winter is over and they could get out of all those animal skins.

Sandia Man Cave was the home of some early people, maybe 12,000 years ago. Folsum/Midland Era. That cave was the place where the gnawed bones of the latest mammoth in New Mexico were found. The folks there were evidently dedicated to improving the environment for the sake of those of us now by killing off the last of the mega-fauna around here.

Lucky thing, too. I hate to think what those sabre toothed tigers and mammoths would do to pet dogs and orchards.



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Twenty miles from nowhere
On a desert autumn road
It caught my eye
Drove another mile
And turned around
To look again
And wonder


Mile Marker 20

Vieja rattles truck
Worn loose and wrinkled
Pickup and woman
Two alike
Too alike.

Youngest son of 20
Sullen, pockmarked
Central Avenue of Duke
Comes around to steal her change
And vanish.

Middle daughter
Just 20 miles away
Her man hates
No calls, no visits
No joy smile of grandson

Man dead
These 20 years
Whiskey mind rocketed
Car rocketed
Life rocketed
Into concrete
Just over there.

Oldest son locked away
Seven years of twenty
In Las Lunas
Today she visits
Carton of smokes
And twenty bucks
Saved hard
To ease his gone.

Flash inside her head
Inside the years
Inside the cab
Wheel wrenched right
Fingers locked white
Stalks circles
Three times around the truck
Eyes down
Sees nothing

Tin, tape, a marking pen
A steel post cry
To everything that wasn’t.


From Poems of the New Old West

Copyright 2002, Jack Purcell

Ask Old Jules: Uniting the world, Where love comes from, Correcting karma, How to deal with the Ego

Old Jules, how about uniting the world? Can we all love each other unconditionally?

Conditionally or unconditionally there’s not much about us as a species to love. We try to make up for it as individuals to some extent, but the sea can’t resist the tides, the smoke can’t resist the wind.

Old Jules, do you think a healthy mind produces love?

A healthy mind transcends love in favor of something far less ambiguous. A needy, clinging mind produces love. A needy mind, if healthy at all, incorporates a type of health necessary to produce challenges and obfuscations to disguise reality.

Old Jules, how do we work on correcting our karma in this life when we might not be sure what our karma is that we already accumulated?

If you stand back from yourself and observe without bias the challenges you face in your life you’ll get an excellent understanding of the karma you’ve accumulated.

Old Jules,  do you think selfless work purifies consciousness? Because when there is no trace of ego involvement, we can’t produce new karma?

Ego is a tricky, sticky yet slippery thing. Maybe its due to that paradoxical nature that we have yet to really understand why. From what I understand, though, is that if you are aware that it is selfless, and are doing it for intentional selfless reasons, its only really selfish in the fact that you are trying to be selfless to satisfy a desire for egolessness, which in the end only embellishes the actual ego itself. I think the trick is, is to just really appreciate your surroundings, do what you want to do, not get in the way of others but work with them to attain goals together. All the while not worrying about whether it works for or against the ego. I’d liken the ego to a nagging itch, if you just ignore it, it will just vanish. Though you can never really be itchless as long as there’s skin to be itchy and things to irritate it.

Long Day’s Journey into Night: The Unforgiven

Jack wrote this in July, 2005.
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The man in the picture is Charlie Nelson.  (Note from Jeanne: I am not sure this is the photo he used originally, but his grandfather is on the left and it may or may not be Charlie on the right.) My step-father, biological father to writer Bobby Jack Nelson.

Charlie harbored a notion for a while that he might make me into a rodeo circuit bull rider, because, he said without a smile, it was a profession a man such as I was likely to become, could ‘fall back on’.

Charlie was a somber, taciturn, unimaginative man who’d left his two preschool sons, Bobby Jack and Billy, with his aging parents to run around unsupervised all over that small town during the war years while Charlie was off doing the North African Campaign.  When he got back those boys didn’t quite understand who he was, and he didn’t show any signs of wanting them to know, so they continued to run loose.

By the time he married my mom, herself a divorced mother of three kids of her own, Bob was 11, or 12, and I was a toddler of 4 who thought Bob hung the moon.  A couple of years later, Bob ran away to California and was gone for six months.  When the cops brought him back and dropped him off at our house, Charlie was sitting in the front room trying to repair a space heater.  He looked up at Bob and said, “Hi,” and Bob said, “Hi Pop..If it’s okay I’d like to come back and live here and try to finish school.”

“Sure.  Probably a good idea.  I hope you do it.”  Charlie went back to working on the space heater.

Bob did, but he never forgave Charlie Nelson, and Charlie was a man who took a lot of forgiving.  Bob spent enough pages maligning the character of Charlie in Keepers, A Memoir, a book that made a middling smash during the late ‘90s, so that it doesn’t need a lot more from me, even though Bob did a lot of it with lies, which also weren’t needed.  The truth would have been enough, and it would have been a lot more intriguing.

When Charlie died in 1972, nobody knew how to find Bob to tell him about it.

I’d spent a good many years trying to find ways and reasons to forgive Charlie for his shortcomings.  He took an impoverished mother of three kids, kept a roof over our heads, food on the table.

I forgave him all the beatings he used to give me because I had to admit, I earned most of them fair and square.  I had it all thought out that he was an unenlightened man, that beatings were just how things were done in those days.  I’d never thought about whether he was beating the other kids, just assumed he was, that it was part of the operating procedures.

I went a quarter-century without any contact from Bob, but during the mid-80s I saw him on television being interviewed about one of his books.  I chased him down and we began having lunch in Austin, occasionally.  One day over lunch at a restaurant Bob and I were discussing Charlie, him griping about the complete indifference, and I mentioned the beatings.

Bob stared at me in disbelief.  “Charlie never cared enough about anyone to give them a beating.”  I was shocked.  So shocked, I was, that when I next saw each of my sisters I asked them whether their memories of Charlie included a lot of beatings.  “No.  I don’t think he ever even gave me a spanking,” was the reply.  “I know he was awfully hard on you that way, but I didn’t get into much trouble.”

Suddenly, a decade-and-a-half after his death, all forgiven and forgotten, I found I had a new, burning hatred for Charlie Nelson of the sort that would have had me dancing on his grave if he hadn’t been cremated.  I had to begin all over with the forgiving, and this time it took a lot longer.  But I eventually managed to get it down to a mild, gut grinding indifference.

But, what I find most enigmatic about it all is that Bob never did.  At the age of 62 he was still seething enough to be gazing at his navel, submerged in self-pity for how hard he had it as a kid.  Enough so to write an entire book about it.

Makes me feel grateful, writing this, that I got some attention, instead of being neglected.

I wrote this with Bob in mind after I read Keepers, A Memoir.  I didn’t remember getting to be third to the bath water until Bob reminded me of it with a tone of lingering resentment many decades later.


The Price of Wealth

Hated Saturday nights;
Being third to
The bath-water
After Mom and Dad
But before the older kids
Felt poor;
He thought he was.
While down the road
His buddy, Joe Cordova
Didn’t have to feel so poor
Because the family
Didn’t have a tub.
Lucky Joe.

From Poems of the New Old West

Copyright 2002, Jack Purcell

Being grateful can be a tough bull to ride.  Forgiveness might be even tougher.  But it beats hell out of the alternatives.  Things could be a lot worse.


Long Day’s Journey into Night (part two)

Jack wrote this in July, 2005.


That little farm you see down there is the place where I spent a good many of my
formative years.  As you can see, we’d had a pretty good year for hay, which dates the
picture to 1949, or 1950, before the big drought hit.

Maybe I’ll write some more entries about that farm and some of the things that happened
there sometime, but today, the reason I’m posting this picture has to do with life and
some of the more unexpected things that come into it.

In the lower right, this side of the railroad, you see a warehouse… what you can’t see is
that there’s a giant farm machinery business there, outside the picture.

That family was probably one of the wealthiest in our relatively poor town.  Good, solid
folks, the father not one to tolerate the kind of snobbery in his offspring that prevailed
among the other financial upper-crust families there, where there were crystallized layers
of social strata it’s difficult to imagine existing anywhere in these times.

The ‘untouchables’ were the Mexicans, mostly farm laborers, who lived on the same side
of the tracks as I did, in a mishmash of adobes that began half a mile to the left of the
picture.  Next up were the farm kids, no matter how successful the farm.  Anglo farm kids
were better than Mexicans, but not nearly so good as any town dweller.

Next up were the poorer town folks, then the physicians, lawyers, business owners and
ENMU profs.  The stratosphere of a 1950s small town society.

But, I’ve digressed.  I wanted to tell you about the sons of the man who owned that
business in the picture.

I went away from that town for a lot of years, then revisited it and became reacquainted
with a lot of old friends and enemies.  As a result of that fairly weird experience, I
learned that one of those sons of the farm machinery tycoon was a banker in the town
where I was then living, which led to me looking him up for a chat.  His older brother,
Stephen, had been a boy I respected a lot and we’d been good friends at a distance,
allowing for the differences in our social strata.  I wanted to know what ever happened to

I’m shaking my head, once again, as I write this.

That fine young man got himself a good education, went into banking, was a rising star
until the mid-1980s.  Then he abandoned it all, vanished for a while from everyone who
cared about him.

A few years later, his brother tells me, they discovered he was living under a bridge,
living on the streets in Seattle.  He wasn’t asking for any help from any of his wealthy
family, wasn’t looking for a way back, wasn’t even willing to talk to anyone from his
previous life.

I’ve pondered Stephen a lot during the years since I learned what he’d done with his life.
In some ways I think I understand, though I’m not sure.

My own life has been a long series of reversals in direction.  It’s meandered, cutting as
wide a swath of human experience as I was able to pack into it.  So, from that
perspective, I can gnaw at the edges of understanding Stephen’s behavior.

But I was a wild kid and I’ve always pushed the envelope, all my life.  Stephen was

I’d like to see old Stephen again if he’s alive.  He’d be 63, 64 years old now and maybe
wiser than he was in the 1980s when something told him he’d had enough.  I’d like to sit
on the porch and talk with him a long time to come to know how he came to make his
choice to isolate himself, to impoverish himself.

I do my best not to think I know what other people should do with their lives.  But, in the case of Stephen, I know what I’d like this reality a lot better if he did, and the news got back to me that he’d done it.


The Forum Mission House

Jack wrote this while following posts and forums on a lottery information site in July, 2005. (I apologize for formatting weirdness– when I click “Edit” it looks fine. I’m not aware of how to fix it, and don’t have time to mess around with it at the moment).

I have a lot of respect for missionaries, for people who burn with a faith that requires
them to attempt to share the joy of faith with others, even when their zeal is for a faith I
don’t subscribe to.  I’m glad whenever I see anyone consumed with recognition that
there’s more to life than the landscape, the sorrows, the trials, the baggage of human daily

I have even more respect for those gutsy Christian missionaries who took their zeal into
remote areas of the earth without regard for their own personal safety, even though that
respect doesn’t extend to ignoring the damage they’ve wrought on local religions and
cultures, the hate they’ve caused to be focused on their own religion, their own countries
of origin.

We all make mistakes.

A few years ago I saw a motorcycle gang going down the highway, a typical gang in
dingy leathers, could have been any gang of outlaw bikers.  But the legend on their vests
was “BIKERS FOR CHRIST”.  I smiled to myself and saluted them in my mind.

Having said that, I’ll also say that I have a middling respect for the Christian faith, a lot
of respect for the Christian thinkers of history, almost no respect for modern Christian
doctrine, and a profound respect for the destruction brought about by Christian
evangelism throughout the past 2000 years.

I don’t want to learn about Christianity (or any other religion) from mindless parrots
knocking on my front door in an attempt to convert me to their way of thinking.  I don’t
want to be accosted by hare-brained Hari Krishnas and their bastardized On-The-Rebound-
From-Drug-Addiction-New-Faith when I’m trying to get into a public airport.  I don’t
want to be disturbed by the testimonials of some lunatic who claims to have a hot-line to
God when I’m sitting in my vehicle waiting for a red light to change and allow me to

I’m glad these people have faith.  I share their joy in that regard.  But I don’t want to hear
about it.

And I’d far rather not read about it when I’m browsing this site.

The (mostly unpaying) users (read, abusers) of this site who attempt to spread their
gospel on the threads by interjecting religious thread-drift strike me as an unnecessary
and unwanted distraction.

It seems to me there’s a simple solution.  Most DBs include a button to allow any user to
click an ‘Ignore’ button beside a posters name and purge any posts by that person from
all future intrusions into the attention of the person clicking the button.

By that method the users here who prefer to be spared from the religious zeal of
any particular poster can do so without having to experience the reduction of joy for the
zealot that results from the rudeness and arrogance of evangelism.

Just a bit of venting, along with a not-so-subtle suggestion.