Friday, December 22, 2006

Growing Old

A loud television was showing an old Christmas movie from over fifty years ago. The entertainers were young, healthy dancers dressed in costumes that showed smooth tight skin. The audience with wrinkled skin sat with drooping faces in concentric semi-circles of wheelchairs. They sat motionless without expressions of happiness, pain, contentment, anger, joy or recognition.

I walked into the room as Julie, Gale and Leon waited in the hallway. She noticed me as I approached her and a smile spread across her face. It a smile that I remember from almost sixty years ago and it appeared to be a smile of recognition. “Hi, Mom! Do you remember me?” When my sister came in she asked “Mom, who is this?” “Daddy” was the reply. There was some recognition.

Sometimes she calls my sister “mommy” and sometimes “my baby” but often the one or two words of communication leave one uncertain. “Are you cold?” may elicit a “no” when shivering says otherwise. A few times she spoke in full sentences with voice inflection and a rhythm that sounded like a practiced language but the sounds were unintelligible gibberish.

Of all the nursing homes that I’ve visited, this is the best. There’s no smell of urine and the decorations appear more like an upscale hotel rather than an institution. My sister found the new facility about five years ago. It’s located about five miles from her house which makes it convenient. She’s an RN and works per deim a few days each week which enables her to visit and monitor Mom and the care she receives.

I sat there and attempted to talk without asking questions. She has met Julie multiple times. They first met about seven years ago when she was still living independently and alone at home. I reintroduced Julie and explained that we are married.

I held her hand and looked at the deep blue veins that showed through the thin white parchment-like skin on the back of her hands. It was a hand that held mine years ago as we crossed streets and walked into school for the first time. It was a hand that I learned to dodge when I angered her. It was a hand that made an annual fruit cake which was the only Christmas gift that I anticipated for years.

It wasn’t a sad visit. Life is what we make of it. Hopefully, one morning soon, the phone will ring and the caller will say the wait is over.

Experiences like this cause me to reaffirm my determination to pack much living into my uncertain years. I’ll not wait to retire to enjoy life. I’ll not face the future with fear but with anticipation.

Old age can be a slow methodical thief but I plan on giving the bastard a challenge and denying him the ultimate win.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006


Work consumed yesterday. Preparations for traveling ravage this day. Tomorrow presents the challenge of lines, impatient homo sapiens and illogical airport security.

(That’s another interesting label – homo sapiens: Etymology: New Latin, species name, from Homo, genus name + sapiens, specific epithet, from Latin, wise, intelligent. Wise? Intelligent? But, back to the issue at hand.)

Sunrise on Sunday, 12/17/2006.

Julie and I drive to Phoenix tonight and fly to Buffalo, NY tomorrow to visit one of my two favorite sisters and my favorite mother. Next Sunday we drive a rental vehicle to Kentucky to visit my son, daughter and five grandsons. Regretfully, there are – and will be -- no granddaughters. I haven’t seen them in two years so I expect they have changed much. I sometimes wonder what they think of this weird stranger called grandfather who occasionally invades their lives.

In this photo I was playing with the camera and depth of field.

Enlarged Bird
Photo was taken with a 10X optical and cropped from the above photo.

Yesterday I began my seventh decade. I asked Julie how it felt to be married to an old man. She replied that she made a mistake and should have married a rich old man.

Me not rich? Given her love and companionship, I feel extremely rich.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Old Memory - New Toy

I placed my books on the counter. As she took them she asked “Are you still enjoying photography?” The question surprised and amazed me. The town had a small library that was staffed by elderly women in their seventies and eighties. Ten years earlier I had read several books on photography. She remembered! I envy that mnemonic ability. (I couldn't remember how to spell mnemonic and had to resort to a dictionary.)

In over 15 years I never had a personal library card. It was the old days – the good ol’ days before computers. I would browse the stacks or the card file and find a book. When I made a choice, I would scrawl my name on the card in the back of the book and leave it at the checkout desk. Whenever I failed to return a book on time, I would receive a pleasant phone call at work reminding me of the overdue book. The first time it happened, I wondered how they read my scribbled name and how they knew where I worked. I lived in another town in another county about ten miles away.

Camera Manual
Camera Manual.

I’m reading photography again but now it’s digital photography. I bought a new camera last week. I’ve read most of the manual and tried some of the features. I’ve taken 277 photos and am pleased with the camera but not my ability. This camera cost half of what I paid five years ago for my previous camera and does much, much more.

Truthfully, I never read the entire manual on my old camera. It probably does more than I imagine. After finishing the new manual, I'm going to read the old manual and keep the old camera in the car.

I wonder if I can remember the details from two manuals or will I confuse them. Doesn't really matter. For me, the fun in life is not in succeeding but in trying.

Friday, December 15, 2006



I had three ideas for posting today and wanted to write one first thing. I promised some work for this morning. I was looking forward to having lunch alone at a bookstore and reading whatever magazine begged for my attention.

But ….

I got into work this morning and checked my calendar – research meeting 8 to 9, a second meeting 9 to 11, lunch with co-workers 11 to 1.

Next meeting is less than 5 minutes.

Work is really beginning to interfere with my play time!

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Discussion - Part III

(This is part 3. Read parts 1 and 2 first for the context of this series.)

I like the term fellowshipping. It’s been hijacked to mean a group of church members meeting for a potluck meal but I like to think of the derivation of the word and not it’s bastard usage. Fellow shippers convey the thought of a group on a ship experiencing things in common – beautiful sunsets, dangerous storms, dwindling food, camaraderie, sickness, entertainment and work. The fate and fortune of one is the fate and fortune of all.

I feel a sense of fellowship with people – all people without regard to age, gender, ethnic origin, religion or nationality. I feel sympathy for the families of the soldiers who have died in Iraq. I feel equal sympathy for the families of Iraqis who have died as the result of our aggression. They are of equal value.

As a human, an aging human with many needs fulfilled, I can transcend my personal experience. I can feel and empathize with others. I can dream of possibilities. I can respond to a desire to create. I can voluntarily control some of my needs because I value some person or some great truth. These feelings and desires guide my discussions.

A few months ago I read an anonymous comment that’s not eloquent but true. It stuck with me. Another ex-prisoner suggested that “all people in positions of responsibility, politicians particularly, ought certainly to have had schooling in the skills of a good POW. It causes you to look after yourself being aware that someone else is looking out after himself and you mustn’t damage him. You are both equal when all is said and done.” (Lewis H Carlson – We Were Each Other’s Prisoners – An Oral History of World War II American and German Prisoners of War)

I want to look after myself with damaging another person or denying them opportunities for health, happiness and freedom. That means I support increasing the minimum wage and providing child care for single mothers trying to get an education and job skills. It means I favor increasing taxes on myself and those who make more than I do. It means I don’t oppose gay marriage. It means I want to prosper but not at the expense of other people.

When we discuss today’s social, ethical and political issues I’ll be choosing my words and arguments based on the things that I value. You need to know what I value and I need to know what you value.

I value people, freedom, opportunity, challenge, community, relationship, diversity and responsibility.

(This isn’t the end of this subject. I could add presuppositions to needs and values but I think I’ll stop here and turn to some more pleasant things – just because I want to. Also, Michael wrote an interesting comment to yesterday’s post. I agree with it and think I may do a full post on the subject sometime in the future.)

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Discussion - Part II

(This post is part 2 and will be confusing unless you first read part 1 below.)

Honesty, responsibility for self and life with nature. These are some of my strong needs that are irrationally sensitive to threats.

I can’t explain why I have these needs any more than I can explain why I’m heterosexual. I was born this way and I’m incapable of change in these areas.

First, honesty is probably my most sensitive need.
When discussing an issue, if I’m presented with deception then a reaction takes over that limits my ability to discuss the original issue. I get angry and loose respect for the person who lied. It’s a loss that can’t be corrected with a simple apology.

About 34 years ago, I worked at a place where a salesman came in periodically. We got along well. I enjoyed talking with him. One day he said “I like you, but if I can do anything to make a dollar off of you I’ll do it. I would sell my mother to make a dollar.” I didn’t – and still don’t -- agree with his values but I respected his honesty. I would rather have him as a neighbor than some politically correct and dishonest politician.

If we get into a discussion, present verifiable facts or tell me it’s just your opinion. Don’t toy with the truth.

Second, I like being responsible for myself. I resent intrusions into my freedom of caring for myself.

For example, I don’t think the law should force me to wear a helmet when riding a motorcycle. I’m not talking about passengers or children. I’m talking about myself. I think I should be able to go to Canada and buy prescription drugs. I’ll research the risks involved and hold myself and only myself responsible.

Laws should protect the helpless, the innocent and the uninformed. They should not intrude into my personal freedom to be responsible for myself.

Patrick Henry wrote “Give me liberty or give me death!”. I understand his need.

Third, I need nature, solitude, living plants and animals, wild spaces, challenges and risks. Many of my earliest memories are of nature. It’s who I am and I value it greatly.

Proposals to build roads, pave, log, mine, dam and “develop” areas meet instant resistance. I don’t respond to arguments that people are more important and that nature should be used to create jobs and for the benefit of man.

Some things are optional in life. I can be in an accident, lose an arm or a leg and life will continue to be good. I can lose much of my income and have enough for necessities and life will continue to be good. I can lose many things but nature is not one of them. My happiness, health and contentment depend on living in an environment that’s protected from human abuse.

These are three of my needs. What are yours? If we enter into a discussion about many of the challenges confronting us, I need to know your needs so we can find solutions that protect both of our needs.

Needs do not fully explain behaviors. Values cause me to ignore my needs. In the next post -- part 3, I’ll think about what’s important to me and how that affects my choices and decisions.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Discussion - Part I

The discussion rambles on with the same arguments that are futile and wearisome. Many of the arguments focus on peripheral issues that seem to offer a point of weakness and the opportunity to inflict pain or score points on some personal score card. Though I think I try, I feel handicapped and unable to see the other side and wonder if they are trying to see my point of view. Are we seeking solutions, understanding, agreement or are we hopelessly circling with no goal, no destination and no hope? I have no desire to win. I want to stop, to quit, to escape but these not an options – or are they?

The subjects of the discussion are many – terrorism, globalization, politics, racism, Freedom and freedoms, patriotism, immigration, separation of church and state, social security, health care, economy, ignorance, entertainment, education, environment, empire, war and peace, the UN, genetic engineering, sexual orientation, the role of government, the definition of marriage and family, marketing, sustainable growth, welfare, energy, news media and democracy, human rights, torture, wealth, resources, population growth – and the list continues.

My frustration grows and my anger increases at the futility of the discussion. It’s time to call a break and to reorient.

Daily, in my work, I am presented with problems to solve. I begin by asking questions to understand the problem. Once I understand, I develop theories to explain what is happening.. I identify possible causes and rank them according to probability. I create a list of solutions and evaluate them in terms of time and difficulty to implement – and risk associated with causing other problems by implementing the solution. As I begin work, if things seem inconsistent I stop and go back to the basics, to what I know to be true. These are not conscious steps. They are habitual, unconscious steps that have become ingrained by years of work solving problems.

Will this approach work with the subjects above? Probably not! People are not rational. We – yes, I include myself – are emotional and respond to unconscious threats and needs. Perhaps the way to reorient is to identify our needs. If we know our needs, we can discuss solutions that provide for our needs. We can look for win-win solutions.

I know some of your needs. They are the same as mine – food, clothing, and shelter. Basic physical needs are easy to identify but these are not the source of our problems in the western developed world. (Perhaps that’s part of our problem. Hungry people don’t argue about sexual orientation and gay marriage.) Our needs extend beyond the physical to the emotional, social and psychological. We need security – freedom from fear and threat. We need people who love and support us. We need self esteem.

What do you need beyond basic physical needs and elementary emotional and social needs? I don’t know and won’t pretend to know. Instead, let me illustrate by telling you what I need. This may give us a beginning point to talk and work together to find understanding. Agreement is not necessary. Respect and trust are.

(Work prevents me from finishing this post today. I'll continue tomorrow.)

Sunday, December 10, 2006

A Walk

The casual visitor would miss the diversity that surrounds my home. One mile to the west is a ridge that runs north from Francis Crater to connect with Junction Crater. The national forest fence is at the bottom of the ridge. On the east side of the fence are several Junipers and on the west side are a few Junipers. Climb the ridge and the Junipers thin and become sporadic or completely absent for long distances. Continue west about a mile and one finds a solitary Ponderosa Pine. The forest of Ponderosas is several miles farther west beyond a chaparral-like terrain. Junipers return and become interspersed with Pinyon Pine and, finally, Junipers and Pinyons give way to tall Ponderosa.

My goal today is to the foot of the ridge. The land around my house is firm – layer upon layer of cinders with a few inches of fine dirt and sand mixed with small red cinders as the top layer. The ground to the west becomes loose and is colored gray in dry weather and black in wet times. The cinders are fine – more like a coarse sand. The grasses give way to yuccas and bare areas that record the passing of pronghorn, coyotes, rabbits and smaller animals. Walking in this area is like walking on a beach where the sand shifts and steals some of the energy from each step.

Dry Wash
The dry wash heading southwest.

I begin by heading due west, picking a path through the trees until I come to a dry wash that leads southwest. The trees and wash provide some protection from the wind. I’m constantly on the watch for tracks, scat, wildlife and small flora. In the wash I notice prints made by a horse. This doesn’t appear to be an area or a wash that someone would ride. Neighbors about a mile north have horses that are sometimes free. Perhaps one of them circled this way. Or, perhaps someone was riding and decided to take a shortcut this way.

As I move uphill the wash becomes shallow and finally ends. I’m above the trees and have nothing to protect me from the wind. My ears began to hurt, not from the cold but from the twenty-some miles per hour wind. The sun comes and goes as shadows of clouds roll across the hills and the grasses. The peaks to the west are lost in a mist of snow and rain.

Above the Trees
Out of the protection of the trees and in the wind.

I come across a den. The weeds that have blown into the entrance and the undisturbed dirt around the opening indicate it isn’t being used. I continue on a few yards and look back and can’t see the den in the sparse grass. Deprived of scent and sound, predators would pass the den within a few feet and never know of its existence.

A Den
A Den.

I change course from southwest to due west. I’ve been climbing gradually but this change gives me a level or slightly downhill grade. I know there are old tracks from a vehicle not far ahead. I plan on finding the parallel tracks. They will take me northwest to some electric transmission lines where I’ll turn east toward home.

Pottery Shard
A pottery shard.

As I walk west I see a piece of pottery. It a small fragment about an inch in diameter – red on one side and black on the other. I photograph both sides and replace the fragment as I found it – black side up. A little farther on I find two pieces within three feet of one another. These pieces are white with black paint and are probably from the same pot. Not realizing I’ve accidentally turned my camera to video mode, I photograph one piece and then the other without disturbing them.. Yesterday, while checking my property I saw three pieces – one red, one tan and a white roped piece. I don’t collect the pottery shards. I leave them for others to enjoy and for myself to find again on future walks.

I find the vehicle tracks and change course. Almost immediately, I note pronghorn tracks. A small heard passed this way before me. I follow them for a few hundred yards before my attention is caught by the change in the ground. I’m in the loose black cinder area that is punctuated with yuccas. It’s an area that I never tire of exploring.

Pronghorn Tracks
Pronghorn Tracks.

I come to the point where I turn east toward home and immediately notice tracks. They are mine. Last Tuesday night I walked this way after supper. The air was still and cold – below freezing – and the grasses and trees where beautiful in the moon light.

I continue east a ways before picking a point to turn southeast. After a short meander through the trees, I drop into the dry wash in which I began my walk. I turn downstream toward home. Inside, I feel a sense of contentment. To most people, one tree looks like another and the washes are confusing but this is my world – my small private world. I love it.

Today, I’ve not encountered anything new or astounding. I’ve not discovered a new plant or stumbled upon anything of commercial value, but it’s been a good walk. My mind has wandered and all stress is gone. If every day treasures a walk this beautiful, I’ll have a good life – a very good life.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Over the Line

Three days ago I got close to a line that should never be crossed – reverence for life, respect for freedom and protection of those weaker than me.

I always write truth and take few liberties with complete honesty. Life is rich. Embellishment and fiction aren’t necessary.

On the early spring backpacking trip into the Shining Rock Wilderness, we camped at about 6,000 feet elevation. The weather turned much colder than we anticipated. We were in no danger but were uncomfortable. As we talked before going to sleep, I asked if she had any other clothing in her pack and jokingly asked if she was wearing anything that might fit me. There were no evil thoughts. I assume you knew this.

I’ve been reading with an eye to learning about writing styles and I’ve read books about writing humor, irony and surprise. I’m considering taking a creative writing class in the spring. The post was intended to be a playful experiment. However, it’s troubled me since then. I crowded that line.

There are some subjects that I don’t find humorous – ever. Alcoholism, abuse, infidelity and marriage are off-limits. Perhaps this is not a conscious ethical position but one that developed from my life experiences.

I have alcoholics in my family. I remember too many nights when I lost my bed to an uncle who was sleeping off a drunk. I remember a period of weeks when I had to sleep on the floor with cousins because alcoholic parents couldn’t provide them with a home. I’ve seen DTs and rehab centers. As a kid I went into bars searching and I’ve been to religious missions that served sandwiches and a sermon. I’m not talking about one uncle or one family. Alcoholism isn’t funny. I detest movies that portray the lovable lush. He doesn’t exist.

I endured 25 years of a marriage that slowly eroded the will to live until a sense of hopelessness became the reality of daily experience. I found no humor in it. I would choose death rather than relive those years.

I’ve been on all three sides of the infidelity issue. It’s not the slow death of a horrible marriage. It’s a sudden sharp overwhelming pain that exceeds any other that I’ve ever experienced. I have to force myself to watch scenes in movies that portray infidelity and I don’t find them entertaining.

Life is good for me. I don’t want to forget those bad experiences and I don’t want to joke about them or hear other people attempt to turn them into a comedy routine.

Last night Julie and I turned on the TV and heard one line of a program that attempted to make sexual child abuse a joke. We turned it off.

I’d like to meet the sonofabitch that wrote that line. My ethics don’t compel me to show him respect.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Morning News - Thursday

Page 1 – Local News

“Look, Julie, I’ve got a third nipple!”

She made an appointment with a dermatologist but the nipple fell off before the appointment. The doctor questioned two moles on my stomach. I made the mistake of saying one itched occasionally and she decided to remove it – a quick shot, a quick cut and it was over. If I was a true American, I would feel justified in blaming the government for not putting a warning label on the sun and being responsible for me when I was young and foolish; but, I’m not and I don’t.

Page 2 – World News

I received the following in an email and leave it to you to verity its accuracy.

If you consider that there has been an average of 160,000 troops in the Iraq theater of operations during the last 22 months, and a total of 2,112 deaths, that gives a firearm death rate of 60 per 100,000 soldiers. The firearm death rate in Washington D.C. is 80.6 per 100,000 for the same period.

That means that you are about 25% more likely to be shot and killed in the U.S. Capitol, which has some of the strictest gun control laws in the nation, than you are in Iraq.

Conclusion: The U.S. should pull out of Washington D.C.

Page 3 – Society News

Last year Julie and I attended a Christmas concert that was fantastic. It was probably the best symphony I’ve ever heard. I’m looking for something similar this year.

A few years ago, on a cold, cold night, Julie and I dressed up and went to a performance of The Nutcracker in Lubbock, Texas. I had endured -- uh, enjoyed -- a performance in Louisville some years earlier but it was her first experience. The ballet is being performed in Flagstaff this week and I asked if she would like to see it again. Her non-verbal reply clearly communicated “Hell, no!” but I chose to interpret it as “No, thank you dear!”.

Theatrikos, a theatre company in Flag, is presenting An O. Henry Christmas. That sounds more enjoyable. I’m going to check on tickets.

Page 4 – Health and Aging

I started to write a post this morning but it sounded familiar – too familiar. I searched my blog and it appears I’ve never written it. I'm saving it for tomorrow and may use it after searching again.

Age does appear to affect memory. Please, please, please tell me if I re-post a story. Friends don’t let friends turn into old men who tell the same boring stories over and over and over.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Older and More Flexible

Do people get more rigid and more set in their ways as they age or do they become more flexible, more tolerant? I’ve discovered evidence for bother sides and wonder what the general experience might be – assuming there is some general experience.

I used to tell my first wife that I wanted to die by the time I was 50. The older people I knew where cranky, miserable, unhappy and difficult to get along with. I didn’t want to become like them.

Personally, I find myself becoming more flexible as I age. I don’t care what you do with your life. I don’t need or expect you to adopt certain values or behave in specified ways or believe like me. I care care what you wear, how you cut your hair, if you have tatoos or what you've pierced. It doesn't matter to me if you're gay, straight, hybrid, uncertain or confused. I don’t care what you do, watch, say or think – as long as it doesn’t infringe on my freedom and enjoyment of life. In many ways, I’m more flexible than I used to be.

I’m more flexible in that I dislike structure. When younger, I planned my days, had goals and needed a comfortable amount of control. Today, I get up and may have some vague plans. If they get done today – fine. If they don’t – also fine. If some interesting opportunity arises, I’m ready.

I like things quieter and slower. Traffic is more irritating and broadcast media more frustrating. I’m beginning to understand why some people move into retirement villages. It’s not my choice but I’m beginning to understand their choice. This doesn’t mean I’m becoming rigid and inflexible. It means that I appreciate quality rather than quantity. I want time to enjoy the moment rather than rushing to the next moment.

I enjoy life more than when I was younger. I’m more tolerant and more flexible.

I’m getting older but I am not getting old!

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Evil Thoughts

I felt her roll over and snuggle closer to me. I moved closer to her. An evil thought entered my mind. It was a thought born of need.

“She might resist but I can get her clothes off. I know I can.”

We were camped in the Shining Rock Wilderness in North Carolina. There was no one close. No one would have heard her screams of panic and resistance.

But, it was a futile thought. She weighed only about 120 pounds and I weighed about 200. Her clothes would never have fit me.

“Next time”, I thought, I’m going to bring more clothes or hike with someone who wears clothes my size.”

The inside of the tent was thick with frost. I picked up a water bottle and it was frozen. I endured the cold and tried to sleep.

Next morning, by 9 AM, the sun was out and we were in shorts. I forgot the cold night and buried my evil thoughts and she never knew.

(It was three degrees below zero yesterday and it was one below this morning. It was warm compared to that night.

Julie, when you read this, know that I would never have evil thoughts like this when backpacking with you!)

Monday, December 04, 2006

This is the Time

I was in trouble – no doubt about that. He was older, bigger and stronger. It was a time for action.

We lived next door to one another and were cousins. We had gotten into an argument about something of tremendous importance at that age, time and place and I was about to lose a fight.

How did it end? I came out day dry-eyed, bruise-free and he went home crying.

Fortunately for me, he was on his side of the fence and I was on mine. As he climbed the fence to make good on his threat, I saw a stick lying in the yard on my side of the fence. I was saved by quick thinking, quick reactions and a solid blow -- only one blow -- timed and struck while he was half over the fence.

This memory raised its ugly head yesterday after I read on another blog about the wisdom of striking the first blow.

Unlike the current situation, I was in imminent and clear danger. My action wasn’t based on damned lies about weapons of mass destruction that inspectors knew didn’t exist. My action didn’t result in a prolonged occupation in which over 2,900 hundred Americans have died. My action didn’t result in the deaths of 49,000-54,000 Iraqis. My action didn’t cause the deaths of 126 UK soldiers and 121 soldiers from other countries -- and journalists and contractors. My action didn't result in building the world's most expensive embassy in his yard.

Yes, there are vast differences between the two attacks but, that is to be expected because I wasn’t trying to build an empire.

This is the time for action.

This is the time for honesty.

This is the time for for soul searching and questioning.

What can I do personally to help heal the lives of people who suffered under a dictator and are suffering due to religious criminals and domination by a super-power?

Sunday, December 03, 2006


“The eye never has enough of seeing, nor the ear its fill of hearing.” – a part of Ecclesiastes 1:8 ripped from it’s context.

I suddenly realize it may be later than I think. I rush to get my coat, hat and camera. I’ve misplaced all of my gloves – even my leather work gloves – and the temperature is in the teens. I don’t have time to search for them. Once outside, I’m thankful to see the sun just cresting the rise on the south side of Saddle Crater. I’m not too late to watch and photograph the early light, the long shadows and the gladness of this small part of the earth as it begins to warm to a new day.

Small Unnamed Volcano
The small unnamed volcano as seen from our yard. Here's a larger version of the photo.

Regardless of how much I travel and see, I have some mysterious and unexplained inner compulsion to know the land around my temporary residence. I’m not content with seeing – I want to know intimately. I want to experience the grasses as they harden themselves to months without rain; as they cling to the impoverished soil in winds that scour and cleanse the earth of its fine particles and leave the surface littered with coarse pebbles; as they glow in the moonlight; and, as they turn from browns to an unnatural green for two months during the late summer monsoons. I want to be intimate, intensely intimate, with the grasses, the soil, the hills, the lava flows, the aging Junipers – with all that lives and is and was and continues in death to feed, protect, and give life, nurture, comfort and joy to a new generation.

Small Unnamed Volcano
A closer view of the hill. Here's a larger version.

This morning I plan on climbing to the top of the small volcano that anchors the corner of the land that I call home. It’s small and has no name on any map. It’s too small and insignificant. It lacks the size and stature of Merriam Crater which is young – only about 80,000 years old – and healthy and perfectly formed. It lacks the distinction of being the eastern-most crater. That honor belongs to South Sheba.

I walk toward the hill, pausing occasionally to take a photo of the light teasing a dead and weathered branch on a Juniper. As I walk I try to avoid stepping on the sparse vegetation. The land it too harsh and will not quickly forgive indiscriminate footsteps. Behind one tree I see the tracks of rabbits and the tracks of a coyote. The coyote was moving obliquely to the rabbits and probably passed the tree before the rabbits. His tracks were straight and determined as if he was late for an appointment. This morning, as always, I’m amazed by the quantity of tracks. Summer rains wash them away and infrequent snows hide them but within one day they return as animals continue their never ending foraging and hunting. As I begin the short climb, I spook a jack rabbit with his long gangly ears and legs. He changes directions twice in his frantic efforts to evade an unreal but perceived threat from my intrusion. As he moves to safety, the only other sounds I hear are birds flitting to the inner and denser branches to hide from detection.

The Ramparts
The ramparts are six to eight feet tall. Another version.

I reach to top of the hill and stand at the foot of the lava ramparts that protect the summit. My host this morning may be much older than his closest allies. He challenges my knowledge of geology. Most of this little hill’s larger brothers are great piles of volcanic cinders without lava flows or protrusions. This small peak appears to be an old volcano that has aged. Rains, winds and gravity have carried away the outer covering of cinders to expose the lava that cooled and hardened and plugged the volcano’s throat as it began to settle into a permanent slumber.

Hill As Seen From Above
An aerial photo shows the hill as an almost perfect circle.

Below the ramparts I notice a small hole and then a second hole. Is this the home of the rock squirrels? Last summer a squirrel used to visit our yard. I put out peanuts and waited and watched for his return but he stayed hidden. Later, about two hours, the nuts disappeared. I have a photo, a poor photo taken from a distance, of the squirrel drinking from an Oriole feeder. In the corner of our yard is a dead Juniper. I removed the ends of the larger branches and trimmed the small branches to create a trunk with a few arms on which to hang feeders. The squirrel would stand on a lower branch and tip the Oriole feeder to drink. The sunlight made the sugar water drops glisten as they dropped from his chin to the ground.

Painting Inspired by the Hill
Julie's sister, Deb, took the hill as inspiration to create this painting.

Later in the summer the squirrel disappeared. I wondered if he was a transient visitor or had he become prey for some predator. One Sunday morning Julie and I were eating breakfast on the deck. I scanned the ramparts with binoculars and saw a squirrel. Was it the same squirrel, my squirrel? (I wonder if we humans are the only species to lay claim of ownership to other species. Why are we so arrogant to use the term “my”?) On that morning I passed the binoculars to Julie and described the location of the squirrel. She saw it – or did she? She was looking in the wrong location. Then she realized there were two squirrels sunning themselves. This morning I look at the holes and wonder if the rock squirrels dug them and whether they will visit next year.

I climb to the top of the ramparts that are about eight feet high. Once on top I look back toward our house. Behind the house I notice the thin covering of snow on the north side of Francis Crater. The sun has robbed the south side but the north face looks like an old man with white stubble.

Looking southwest.
Looking southwest toward home. Here's a more detailed photo.

This little insignificant hill on which I stand has memories. It has seen droughts, deep snows, passing antelope herds and brilliant sunsets. It has heard the sounds of thunderstorms, howling winds, coyote songs and the whooshing of raven wings. It has felt my booted steps and the gentler steps of many first Americans.

My fingers are getting cold but I feel alive and elated. I’ve stood on this hill on hot summer mornings, on overcast days, in wind storms and in rains. We are becoming intimate. We’re not there yet but we’re getting to know one another.

I look once again toward home where Julie is reclining on the couch with her foot elevated on a pillow. It time for warm hands, breakfast and her smile.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Evening News - Friday, December 1

Julie is recuperating without pain after foot surgery this morning. We were home by 11 AM and I took care of her throughout the day. You might say I waited on her had and foot. For lunch she requested grilled cheese with chips, orange slices and tea. For supper I prepared a salad, pizza with corn meal crust and a white zinfandel. I’ll wash, dry and put the dishes away after tonight’s movie which she chose. The last time I went to a doctor it was after she scheduled me – against my wishes – for a colonoscopy. She didn’t feed me regardless of how much I begged but, I don’t hold grudges. I’ll perform kitchen duty for the next few days.

Page 2

The trees have a white shadow on their northeast sides due to the remains of four inches of snow – our first snow of the winter. On Wednesday morning Julie checked the weather and a web cam on campus in Flagstaff to see if they received any snow. About the same time I opened the door to step out into the dark to fill the bird feeders and discovered we had snow. It never occurred to us that we might have snow. We’re 1,400 feet lower and on the northeast side of the mountains so we get only a fraction of what Flagstaff gets. The snow was beautiful. The temperature of 2 degrees was unpleasant – especially after the 80+ degrees that we enjoyed last weekend in Tucson.

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I moved most of the bird feeders to the west side of the house, changed the type of feed in some of them, and moved the animal water. This morning six feeders – and ground feed -- were empty by 11 AM. Eight feeders, camera and binoculars are ready for the weekend. Today I saw three birds that I couldn’t identify. Tonight, I’ll search the books and identify them.


Have you had your fill of Christmas commercials? I’ve already hit my nausea level. Want an antidote? Try a dose of Good Planets photos which is being hosted this month by Journeys With Jood. Good Planets is available each Saturday. Check it out tomorrow, December 2. For more info about Good Planets, read this Dharma Bums post.