Screen Scourge

Recently, I came across two discouraging articles in the New York Times. One was written by a woman who described her growing infatuation with her cell phone as justification for staring at the screen for more than seven hours a day. The other analyzed findings by social scientists showing that sex in America was on the decrease. I am curious as to how they came by those statistics, but the conclusion was that younger people were so enthralled with their screens that they preferred the unreality of screen content to human intimacy. A corollary to that study was that visits to free porn on the web were growing rapidly.

On the last flight I was on, the person next to me propped her cellphone up on her tray table, plugged in tear drop shaped ear pieces, and began watching a movie that was larded with CGI depictions of explosions, flying cars, combat and other effects designed for large theater screens. She had traded sitting in a theater in the company of other people for the experience of watching the movie on a tiny screen on an airplane, shutting out contact with other passengers.

As a practicing curmudgeon, I am obliged to point out the dangers of these behaviors. A look at Maslow’s hierarchy of needs shows that sex is among the basic needs we must satisfy before moving up the pyramid to self-actualization. Here’s the footnote’s_hierarchy_of_needs#Ranking_of_sex .

On the other hand, if people who are addicted to their screens are less likely to procreate, that probably enhances our gene pool. I suspect that people who would rather watch than play may have something to do with the fact that forty percent of adults in America are obese. That’s right, forty percent.

I could continue, but I won’t. I’d rather offer an alternative to screens. It’s called walking around in nature. And early spring is a good time of year to try it out. It involves not just walking but pausing to pay attention in detail to your surroundings. Nature is infinite in its variety, color, shape, and design.

Just to give an idea, here are some images from our backyard, reality reality, no cellphones, goggles, or digital paraphernalia needed. And I recognize the irony that I’m using a screen to ask they be avoided.

Walkway weed — magnified size of a penny

Quit the screen, have sex, lose weight, reduce stress, have fun. How’s that for a concept?   


I don’t normally promote my books here, wishing to avoid crass commercialism and dislike because I tend to tweak politicians of all parties. However, I’m making an exception for Longevity, my latest novel. It’s a subtle satire of the modern fantasy/ mystery/thriller genre (Ithink I just made that up).

It’s short–about 60,000 words– and the premise is the unforeseen consequences of scientific research to prolong human life for 30 years. As it happens, numerous villains wish harm to the program and its leader, Dr. Lucy Mendoza. Lucy and her former fiance who left her at the altar, now a one-handed former special forces marine named Grant Duran, are in harm’s way. Much of the story chronicles their efforts to thwart the villains and avoid being killed.

Aged Wylie Cypher, who appears in all my novels, has a supporting role as a participant in group testing new medicine.

The book can be found here

Benign Neglect

An early snowstorm almost froze the plants that over-summered on our covered front porch, but the sudden blanket of white stirred my unreliable memory to bring the collection of philodendrons and Christmas Cacti to their winter home in our heated sun room. They joined the angel wing begonias who have enjoyed their Florida there for the past five years along with a Mandevilla that produces striking red flowers during the first winter month before deciding it needs to spend its energy on sending vines to entwine nearby books.

Given my unreliable memory, I tend to ignore the plants on the porch during the summer, letting them find moisture and sunlight for themselves and fend off marauding pests of many varieties. Only when they cry out in desperation do I squirt water in their direction. Nancy says I’m offering tough love. I prefer to think I’m following an approach favored by former New York Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan—benign neglect.

The proof of that approach’s benefit is the behavior of the Christmas Cacti once they have settled into their new surroundings. The nascent buds at the end of their segments quickly swell, turning into cascading flowers before Thanksgiving. Makes me wonder about the “Christmas” in their name. Probably originated well north of here.

Christmas Cactus

I look at the rose and white flowers decorating the sun room (they will last two weeks and return, in less abundance, twice more before spring) and enjoy the benefits of benign neglect. My thoughts turn to other natural incidents of benign neglect—beautiful stands of well-formed trees and fall foliage, for example.

Japanese Maple

I wondered if such neglect might apply to human behavior, and soon found an incident to ponder. 

Driving home from running errands, I followed a school bus dropping off children that looked to be about seven or eight years old. The road we were on had numerous side streets running up to homes on a hill. A large SUV waited at almost each stop. A child or two hopped off the bus, ran to the SUV, received a parent’s greeting, climbed aboard, and the SUV proceeded up the hill—for about 500 yards before turning into a driveway.

During my childhood in the middle ages, I recall that my friends and I walked the mile or so to school back and forth twice a day (once for lunch). We wore galoshes and scarves when it was cold and slickers when it rained. We felt sorry for kids who were cooped up in buses because they lived too far from school. Despite those privations, we grew up into reasonably well-functioning adults.

So, I’m wondering if a dose of benign neglect that required a child to walk home from the school bus stop would be harmful. I hear about helicopter parents who probably wouldn’t like that idea. But still, I wonder.

Your thoughts?


As an antidote to political pandemonium, my first wife and I visited another national park at the end of September. We find solace and wonder in the quiet, astounding beauty of our national heritage and try to make a pilgrimage to at least one park a year. In early days, we’d pack our kitchen, bedroom, and living room into a big duffel bag, fly to a spot of natural beauty, rent a car, and camp out until it was time for a shower in a motel.

I think it was about fifteen years ago when first wife Nancy told me that, from now on, camping out would be a Holiday Inn or better. So, before visiting the Olympic peninsula a few weeks ago, I made reservations in or near The Olympic and Mt. Rainier national parks. North Cascades was avoided because only tent camping was allowed. And we could only reach the campsites by a long trek or canoe.

We drove from Seattle to Forks, WA a small town found near the west coast between the Pacific and main inland areas of Olympic national park. From that location we made daily visits to both the coast and inland areas, most of which are on native American reservations. The Pacific northwest Indian cultures are fascinating.

Pictures describe our adventure better than words. Here are some from the forests primeval on the peninsula .

Copyright 2018 Rolf C. Margenau- Olympic Peninsula-Cape Flattery041

Copyright 2018 Rolf C. Margenau- Olympic NP-Sol Duc Waterfall & trail035         Copyright 2018 Rolf C. Margenau- Olympic NP-Sol Duc Waterfall-Salmon Cascade018A

Longevity Cover

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Here are photos from the Pacific side:

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Copyright 2018 Rolf C. Margenau- Olympic NP-Sol Duc Waterfall-Ancient Groves023

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That’s a fly agaric mushroom. Parboiled and dried, it’s hallucinogenic!

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This picture is from the Trail of Shadows at Mt. Rainier.  The first two days there were cloudy and wet. On day three the skies opened up. Unexpectedly, the brush at about a mile up displayed stunning fall colors–even on drizzly days. Here are some of them.

073Copyright 2018 Rolf C. Margenau-Mt. Ranier NP- Fall Colors

018Copyright 2018 Rolf C. Margenau-Mt. Ranier NP- Fall Colors  013Copyright 2018 Rolf C. Margenau-Mt. Ranier NP- Fall Colors

And then–we saw the mountain.

025Copyright 2018 Rolf C. Margenau-Mt. Ranier NP- Fall Colors

071Copyright 2018 Rolf C. Margenau-Mt. Ranier NP- Paradise (sunny day)

And other peaks, including Pinnacle–pretty obviously named.

050Copyright 2018 Rolf C. Margenau-Mt. Ranier NP- Paradise (sunny day)

Black bears aren’t found only in our backyard in New Jersey.

012Copyright 2018 Rolf C. Margenau-Mt. Ranier NP- Paradise (foggy day)  065Copyright 2018 Rolf C. Margenau-Mt. Ranier NP- Fall Colors

And, of course, it’s a rain forest, which means lots of water but not too much in the fall:

020Copyright 2018 Rolf C. Margenau-Mt. Ranier NP- Nisqually River  048Copyright 2018 Rolf C. Margenau-Mt. Ranier NP- Paradise (sunny day)

I’ll spare you the other 700 photos I took.




Eager Cactus

Last July, I commented on the prickly pear cactus in my garden that bloomed on the same day, July 1st, two years in a row. I wondered if the plant could tell accurate time and awaited this year’s bloom. Would it be the same day again?

Since the bloom lasts only a day or so, I checked daily to discover that a pair of blossoms opened on June 30, a day before the last two years. One day off out of 365—about a quarter per cent error. Is that enough to accuse the plant of jumping the gun, or is it just a rounding error?

Not to humanize the cactus, it does show amazing perseverance—looking like a dead piece of shoe leather in early April, beat upon by five nor’easters in three weeks and nibbled around the edges by marauding mice—only to regain its green color in May and send out fat buds in June.

That bloomed like this:

Cactus Flowers

On top of that, it had to fend off two roughhousing dogs who thought nothing of wrestling nearby, deterred only by the prick of needles the cactus grew to defend itself.

Here they are: Luci-fur and Dingo measuring the size of their teeth.


I think I’ll cut the cactus some slack, welcome it happily to my garden, and forgive it for being a bit eager. Come to think of it, were it a person it would be more likely to be late than early.

Nice to see you, opuntia!

Bluebirds (and Flying Squirrels)

Originally posted on April 25, 2018

According to my friend, John, former President of NJ Audubon, bluebirds are in our neighborhood all year long. I’ve never seen them in the winter, but I would never mistrust John. Today, after weathering four Nor’easters in three weeks (the one on the first day of spring deposited 12 inches of snow in the woodlot) it was time to prepare out bluebird houses for a new season.

Bluebirds are fastidious, and they will not tolerate a dirty or untidy home, so I work on each house with a putty knife to scrape away last year’s debris. New Pup, Dingo, assisted by keeping marauding juncos at bay.

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If only bluebirds occupied the house last year, there is a two-inch high nest at the bottom of the house usually constructed of pine needles and soft, downy material, with a few feathers. If house wrens took over the nest, it will be filled to the top with twigs cut to fit the interior dimensions of the house perfectly. Sometimes the wrens build their nest over a bluebird nest and smother a fledgling or two. I dislike that cleanup job.

Today, however, I had a novel experience. Opening bluebird nest number three, I saw the remains of a bluebird nest at the bottom covered by five or six inches of soft moss, light as a feather. I pried it all out with my putty knife and, as the stuff fell to the ground, discovered that I had a flying squirrel setting on my hand. As a nocturnal animal, it had large black eyes, which fixed me with a look of surprise and irritation. I was a mortified homewrecker; the pile of moss was beyond repair.

So, we looked at each other for a few moments, as I hoped for forgiveness and the squirrel, I guess, woke up fully and decided on its next move. Which was to hop onto an adjoining branch and look at me accusingly. Then its large eyes softened, and he crawled unhurriedly up the branch, watching me finish cleaning.

Fly Squirrel Siberian flying squirrel 4

I moved on to the next nest, relieved that a nuthatch rested on the opening and flew away as I arrived. I guess I’m only good for wrecking one home a day.



5Copyright 2018 Rolf C. Margenau - Sahara Desert- CamelsFor the past two weeks I’ve been recuperating from surgery that fused three vertebrae in my neck. The results were positive—numbing pain in my right arm disappeared, and more improvements are expected as time passes. However, this process is not for the faint-hearted. The surgeon approaches the spine through the front of the neck, causing great difficulty swallowing for about a week. But, I lost nine pounds in less than a week.

With a decreased activity level, I’ve been reflecting on a trip to Morocco my wife and I completed a few days before the surgery. Aside from the pleasure of visiting a new and exotic place, I also wanted to get a sense of a North African locale. I am currently outlining a new book that has a character who is a German soldier fighting in North Africa in 1942 who is captured and sent to an American POW camp

Morocco is a fascinating Arab country, one of few we’ve visited, with an abundant supply of camels, gregarious and ubiquitous beasts I had never thought much about, considering their rarity in New Jersey. I was immediately attracted to the camels suddenly in our midst. Their luminous eyes, friendly curiosity, and willingness to serve impressed me. It took a while to learn to ride one, but I finally settled in to the swaying gait.

Moroccan camels, like 96% of all camels, are dromedaries with a single hump. The two-humped camel, the Bactrian, lives in central Asia, far from North Africa. The dromedaries can reach seven feet high at the hump, weigh up to more than half a ton, can drink 53 gallons of water in three minutes, run 40 miles an hour, and provide transportation, milk, and meat—all in one package perfectly designed to survive in the hottest desert. In the 1850’s, the United States Army established the U.S. Camel Corps. Although the Corps was considered a success and the Secretary of War intended to order a thousand more camels, the outbreak of the American Civil War saw the end of the Camel Corps: Camels were used as war machines as early as 12000 BC.

So, here are some pictures of my new friends. In the Sahara Desert, On the beach in Essaquira. At work and hanging out.8Copyright 2018 Rolf C. Margenau - Sahara Desert- Camels

24Copyright 2018 Rolf C. Margenau - Sahara Desert- Camels07Copyright 2018 Rolf C. Margenau -Essaquira Waterfront with camels + horses693Copyright 2017 Rolf Margenau786Copyright 2017 Rolf MargenauAs a bonus, I can’t resist the goats who eat tree leaves,690Copyright 2017 Rolf Margenau



April Fools

I imagine the April Fools Gods were snickering at us residents of northern New Jersey over the weekend. They lulled us into a false sense of security by allowing a twitter storm to bypass to the Midwest where it settled in, destroying the livelihood of pig farmers in Iowa because China will boycott their pork exports, and worrying grain farmers because tinkering with NAFTA is prompting Mexico to rethink where to buy its corn and wheat.

Before the day was out, however, the fifth major winter storm in the past four weeks arrived. We woke up to this view.



Since it is April, our snow quickly melted, leaving only a white slushy residue by the next day. The remains of the twitter storm, however, continue to threaten. I worry about the sturdy folk in the farm belt who chose to be led by someone who denies climate change, believes in the trickle down fairy, only likes immigrants who will marry him, and thinks a trade war is easy to win. I can dismiss his peckerdillos, but fear that ignorant meddling with the fabric of our economy will have devastating consequences for those who placed the most hope in his ascendancy.

Let’s hope that the April Fools Gods will be disappointed, that so many will  not have voted against their self interests. May is coming, when the April Fools Gods disappear for another year. May it be a good one.

Too Many Nor’easters

5Copyright 2017 Rolf Margenau (2)I’ve concluded that, as much as the falling snow adds beauty and charm to our two-acre woodlot, the second Nor’easter in five days (the equivalent of two lions charging in the first of March) is a bit too much. We are looking forward to a foot or more of snow, with the saving grace of temperatures above freezing the next few days. It’s no fun shoveling slush!

Most photographers know that foul weather can make fair photos. So I took our two little dogs (Luci-fur and her therapy dog, Dingo) up to the woods this morning and looked around. Here’s what I saw.

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17Copyright 2017 Rolf Margenau (2)

Murder and cars

I’m writing the final chapters of my latest novel and am trying to devise unusual ways to kill off some of its less desirable characters. It’s taking a toll on me; never thought killing people would become tiresome. So, I am taking a break and reflecting on one of life’s small victories.

In earlier days, other parents and I observed that, when we loaned our cars to newly minted teen age drivers masquerading as our children, the car usually came back empty of gas, the driver’s seat reconfigured, the rearview mirror misadjusted, and, most irritating, all the radio buttons playing something like “My Sharona.” Those were the days.

I take comfort in the fact that those children now have children who most likely are equally discourteous to their parents’ cars. And when my kids bitch about theirs, I am justified in smiling and suggesting what goes around comes around. Sometimes they don’t talk to me for days.

During the winter I find it necessary to bring my car to a commercial car wash because it’s too cold to do it myself. The people there do an excellent job, with one exception. The four-foot three-inch man assigned to drive the car the thirty feet from the car wash exit to the spot where it’s dried always cranks the driver’s seat to within inches of the accelerator. It may be days before I am able to return it to my sweet spot. It makes me cranky.

Last year Nancy bought a new Subaru sedan replete with more gadgets, levers, and toggle switches than I can count. Neither of us knows how they all work. We thought “blue tooth” referred to smutty dental work. The one thing I mastered this year, however, was adjusting the driver’s seat to suit each of us and setting buttons one and two accordingly. I’m button two.

Today I had to run errands and took Nancy’s car to have it washed. As expected, Shorty adjusted the driver’s seat to his liking for the thirty-foot journey from the wash. He had a kind of malignant, smirky look when he signaled for me to drive the car away. I triumphantly pushed button number two and watched the driver’s seat obediently conform itself to MY desired position. One button. One push. Victory.

I’ve been feeling good about that all afternoon. Now I must decide whether to kill someone with a cross bow.