Couple of guys from Montana came to visit: 15-year-old nephew Will, a good student and star athlete, and his Spanish teacher/fishing guide/St. Louis Cardinals-fan dad, Matt.
Bonding was soon underway.
Will grew a bit since a 2015 visit with his mom, Hope — back in his days of reading Harry Potter.
Spring weather greeted the guy-trip visitors this year.
Curious neighbors passed by.

A local character entertained Matt.
Strawberry-rhubarb pie quieted dinner table conversation with bike riders Tom and Susan, one of Will’s aunts.
Cowboy got a lecture on clothing theft and was nicknamed Ladrón.
And, boy, did he look deflated when the fun guys headed back north.

Morning order: Black coffee for the blogger, fresh water for the birds, kibble for Cowboy.

Then, as Putin aims missiles and artillery into Odesa, Mariupol and Kyiv, I watch Zelensky’s video address to Congress and Biden’s televised promise of more arms for Ukraine’s defense.

Cowboy looks dejected, still expecting after seven years I might agree to hitting the trail earlier in the day.

The only change in my habit this month has been daytime TV, watching Russia attempt to overtake Ukraine while Western Europe and the U.S. weigh their biggest challenges since NATO was formed in 1949, the year I was born, or since the end of World War II a few years earlier. The Soviet Union tested its first nuclear weapon on August 29, 1949, 13 days after I became part of the post-war baby boom.

The only commentary I watch on the Zelensky and Biden talks is from Rep. Gregory Meeks, D-NY, chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs.

He gives a lucid explanation of the Biden policies so far: Stay united with European allies, supply Ukraine arms, avoid direct U.S./NATO conflict with Russia, apply as much economic pressure as possible, hope Ukrainian military can hold out long enough for political and economic efforts to take a toll, hope for internal disintegration of Putin’s support. I am convinced so far, as Meeks seems to be, that Biden is right. But with death in Ukraine and pressure from some for no-fly zones, it’s a tough sell for everyone.

I drift into a memory of a schoolyard confidant telling me in October 1960 that, according to his father, if Kennedy were elected president there would be war. We were standing on the dusty playground of Acequia Madre Elementary School in Santa Fe. I think it was the same day Bill Mazeroski hit his bottom-of-the-ninth, Game 7 home run to win the World Series over the New York Yankees for the Pittsburgh Pirates. We listened on a transistor radio, huddled under a tree.

The day of the Mazeroski home run was six months before the Bay of Pigs in April 1961, 12 years to the month after the formation of NATO. We school children had been trained years earlier how to duck-and-cover under our desks in the event of nuclear attack.

I grew up on World War II movies, Matt Dillon, Hoss Cartwright and biographies of prominent Americans. My moral sophistication doesn’t run much deeper than black-and-white Westerns.

Here in Placitas, reading about two world wars and Vietnam, the war of my generation, is stacking up. At first, with Putin and Ukraine, I was incredulous to wake to an invasion of a European country, 83 years after the start of World War II. I have pulled out All Quiet on the Western Front, Thoreau’s essay on civil disobedience and studies of wartime enlistment and conscription, from the Civil War on. I think about Hitler, Stalin, my conscientious objector application during Vietnam, war in general — all of it.

I find there is no escape in television. Yellowstone is excessive and 1883 has been done too many times before. I’ve read it’s about more than just a trail drive but I could watch only 10 minutes of the movie Power of the Dog before the word TEDIUM scrolled across my eyeballs like a banner behind a plane.

I have no time or interest for the beef between Jane Campion and Sam Elliott. As far as the trail drive era goes, I’m happy to leave it with Lonesome Dove. I might not be entirely over my fascination with Western movies, TV and history but my brief, one-episode exposure to 1883 seems to have convinced me that me that it’s past time to move on.

The world has changed, although mistakes, pains and consequences of the past drift in the background. With aging, gasoline-fueled vehicles, I’m in a quandary about facing up to climate change with an electric car. Damaged lungs I am almost used to but the left hip and right knee take turns inhibiting my walks. A backpacking friend is in the hospital today getting stents. I shied just the other day when firefighter and trail-building friends invited me for a 50-year anniversary hike in the High Sierra. Obama started pulling us back from a John Wayne role in the world. Biden is a foreign policy veteran whose slow, careful moves I’ve come to trust. We should be thankful he’s no cowboy.

The invasion of Ukraine has revealed or underscored to me great things about Western Europe. With the global response to COVID and the response of the U.S., NATO and Western Europe to this horrible reminder of the invasion of Poland in 1939 and the start of World War II, maybe even China’s current caution, I see hope for global cooperation down the road. A paranoid bully thinking the way to shore up his own country is through aggression against another should be a thing of the past.

For me, Putin and the many-times, not-always-well-told story of 1883 and Western “settlement” — It wasn’t just the white wagon trains that had a tough time, you know — got me to thinking I should try science fiction. A pulled a famous Heinlein off my shelves, never being able to read it before. Environment writer @LauraPaskus from Albuquerque was way ahead of me. She reported online this week that she was excited to read Aurora, a 2015 novel by Kim Stanley Robinson about a “generation ship” launched toward an Earth analog in 2545.

I keep watching CNN, trying to read between the lines of retired generals, former intelligence officers and foreign policy pundits. I’m sure international military support of Ukraine is already big and will become massive. I still think it’s likely, or I’m just hopeful, that Putin will be put in his place, although I’m sad he is relegating Russia to be a third-rate state with awful weapons and a tragic history, unable to escape despotic rule even into the 21st Century.