Sunday, December 30, 2007


The wedding and the reception were fantastic! I have stories that I could never have anticipated. My laptop configuration has become corrupt and won´t connect to the internet. The cafe that I´m using doesn´t have the correct software installed so I can´t post photos but I have the graphic proof that everything is true.

Julie and I, along with Lee, were invited to the roof of the church by the man who rung the bells about and hour before the wedding. Didn´t expect to see the town from the roof.

The bride and groom prepared for about 300 people. I initially estimated 500 but later revised it to at least 700.

The pork was cooked in two barrels and was served with tortillas and mac and cheese. Never had mac and cheese at a wedding reception.

The dancing went all night. The pole dancing was hilarious. Never expected that at a wedding.

If you ever get a chance to attend a small-town wedding in Mexico jump on the opportunity and let me know. I´ll go with you.

Today we are doing some more sighseeting and return to the US tomorrow.

We´ve had a fantastic time.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Mexico - A Short Story

Notes for a story to be told at family gatherings.

Setting: A town in central Mexico known as the City of Eternal Spring

Occasion: Marriage of a young lady

Main Characters:

The Redneck – An irritating, grouchy, balding and unattractive old man who tells long boring stories about subjects that he and only he finds interesting. Has no sense of style. Has a beard that always needs trimming.

The High Maintenance Sister – Two years younger than The Redneck. Has an affinity for style, finger bowls, napkin rings and comfort. Has an immediate allergic reaction to uncleanliness, disorder, imperfection and The Redneck. Married to The High Maintenance Brother-in-Law.

The Normal One – A sister eight years younger than The Redneck. Raised with The Redneck and The High Maintenance Sister but somehow maintained her sanity and sense of humor. Married to The Good Guy whom everyone likes.

The Good Wife – Spouse of The Redneck. Is a wise and long-suffering woman who tries to keep The Redneck from making an ass of himself. A woman of beauty with questionable eyesight and judgment evidenced by the fact she married The Redneck. Hummm? She possesses both wisdom and questionable judgment at the same time! This contradiction makes her more appealing to The Redneck. Often wastes her time by reminding The Redneck that his beard needs trimming.

The Plot: The story opens with The Redneck and The Good Wife in humble peasant quarters. They are happy. The High Maintenance Sister arrives and is horrified. There is much weeping and wailing. The universe must be fixed. The HMS refuses to use the shower. The HMS insists on finding lodging in a mansion. The Redneck grows more grouchy than usual and vows to stay with the peasants. A mansion is found with spacious rooms, uniformed servants, manicured grounds and immaculate showers large enough for the entire village to shower together. The Good Wife cautions The Redneck that he is about to transform himself into the rear end of a donkey. He welcomes the transformation and holds fast. He will not move to the mansion and abandon his principles and the common people. Then he learns the Mansion has wireless internet and his virtue and integrity crumble. He abandons the peasants and moves into the mansion – only to learn the wireless connection does not work! The Redneck is pleased with the justice he has received. Karma has spoken and been heard. As the story ends The Redneck is about to make an ass of himself once again by posting a ridiculous account of his experience without the knowledge of The Good Wife who is sleeping. But, he does not care. She will love him anyway and life will continue to be good.

My youngest sister has arrived. As I understand it, she has been told by multiple people – people who have never visited Mexico – that she and her husband will be mugged. Personally, I feel safer in Mexico than I do in the US. Here’s my biased perspective and warped logic based on my limited experience. I choose the terms biased and warped because I react negatively to the police in the US – so strongly so that, based on my prior experiences, I no longer ask them for directions or help.

In Mexico City I saw more police than I’ve ever seen at one time. In the early mornings by the Cathedral we saw over 100. Walking around the historical part of the city it was difficult to find an area where one or two were not visible.

Some are armed (hand guns, shot guns, semi-automatic and automatic weapons), some are not; some wear protective vests, some do not. The thing all of them have in common is that they appear to be non-aggressive, passive deterrents that operate in a reactive mode to more serious incidents.

On Sunday morning a taxi took us to the anthropology museum. We were in the left lane when a car stopped for a red light. The taxi driver backed up, passed the stopped vehicle on the right and turned left through the red light while ignoring two policemen standing on the curb beside the stopped car. No one blinked or took notice. This happened twice more within the next ten minutes.

A group of indigenous dancers in costume set up drums and began performing in the curb lane which blocked one lane of traffic. The police arrived and instructed them to move. They complied at a leisurely rate as the police waited patiently without harassment or pressure to hurry.

In another incident a siren sounded briefly to request a driver move out of the way of the police vehicle which was a pickup truck. The police stopped across from the café where we were having coffee. Three young men walked toward the truck and the second one slapped the first one hard on the side of the head. The police did not react. The three young men climbed into the pickup and one officer casually pushed the first to the floor of the pickup out of sight. The other two joined him and the vehicle drove away as three officers stood in the bed holding cross-bars to maintain their balance. The scene was about as intimidating as a laundry truck making a pick up at a business. The crowd ignored the incident. From my experience, in the US the men would have been shackled, traffic would have be blocked for 30 minutes and a crowd would have watched the excitement.

Julie and I have walked everywhere both day and night. I’ve never felt any concern. This is a major city and the caution taken has been the same that I would take in any city in the US.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Four Stories

“A drug store. Advil.” The policeman looked confused in response to Julie’s words.

From some shelf of my memory popped a word: “Farmacia!” A look of recognition and he began pointing and giving directions. We caught part of the name and enough directions from his gestures to walk one block and turn right.

At the pharmacy a counter blocked customers from the shelves of drugs. Unable to browse the aisles Julie asked for “Advil”. The young lady didn’t react with an expression of understanding. I didn’t have a clue but Julie quickly said “ibuprofen” and the clerk understood. In a moment she returned with a box and pointed to the word “Ibuprofeno”.

As I was putting my change away a man approached me with a small box containing gum and candy. “No, gracias”, a shake of my head and he turned away and stepped outside to stand beside his wife.

Some movement or something got my attention. I looked down and saw a small girl who was about five years old. “Peso?” It was her eyes.. There was no expression on her face. Just two deep, dark, beautiful eyes. I reached into my pocket, pulled out some coin and placed it in her hand. A small quiet “Gracias” and she turned and walked outside.

As we left the store I looked back and saw the girl with the beautiful eyes standing between her mother and her father who was holding a small box of gum and candy.

A black metal fence with gates separated the outdoor dining from the sidewalk. Old men, teenage girls and middle-aged women would occasionally walk among the tables with various items for sale – paintings, carvings, bracelets and other items. A polite no and they would move to another table.

I’m not sure about the young girl’s age. I would guess somewhere between seven and ten. She was selling what appeared to be ceramic salt and pepper shakers in the form of saguaro cacti. She approached me and quoted some price but I shook my head. She persisted. I declined a second time. She was standing on my left and was trying a third time when a young boy of about five, whom I assumed was her brother, came around to my right and began pushing on the shutter button of my camera which was on the table.

I took the camera to prevent him from accidentally knocking it off the table. I pointed to the camera and the girl and asked “photo?” Five pesos was the response. I pulled two coins from my pocket. “Dos” I countered. Two wasn’t enough. She held fast at five. I gave her one peso. “Dos?” Once again she asked for five. As I laughed, shook my head “no” and started to pull my hand back she quickly grabbed the second coin and walked away.

I really wanted a photo and the memories of bargaining with her. As it is, I have only the memories. I think we both got a fair bargain.

Christmas eve supper, low lights, a moon rising, birds singing, the sounds from the plaza and a gentle breeze. These were memorable enough but a brief experience made it more memorable.

He was dressed neatly and carried a guitar. As he walked over to our table I shook my head no. He ignored me, looked me in the eyes, began strumming the guitar and started singing the Beatles song “Yesterday”. He was not shaken by our pleased laughter at his surprising choice of songs. He continued to maintain eye-contact and smoothly transitioned into “Hey, Jude …”

His music was good, his showmanship excellent and his smile was contagious. He deserved a gratuity. I began to get my billfold but he laughed, said no and moved on to entertain others.

I saw him again on Christmas evening at another open-air restaurant. As he came toward our table I pointed at him and said “Yesterday” and he immediately began singing. I like his Christmas gift to us. I’ll probably never hear “Yesterday” or “Hey, Jude” without thinking of him.

After supper on Christmas eve we walked to the cathedral. Around the courtyard are three chapels of varying ages and sizes. Clapping and the organ music indicated the service had reached a pinnacle. The largest chapel was packed with several hundred worshipers. Many were standing in the aisles unable to find seating. I was impressed by the atmosphere of the service. I was also impressed by the beauty of the ceiling. The subtle geometrical patterns in subdued colors hadn’t been noticeable during the daylight. The recessed lighting brought out colors, hues and transitions that were beautiful.

The courtyard was bisected by a shrub lined walk from the large chapel to the gate that led into the street. A few hidden lights made it possible to see the walk but not faces. Kneeling along the walk in the shadowy semi-darkness were an old man and three women. They were separated by distance and weren’t together. Age and sun has cut his face with deep wrinkles. The women were frail and seemed ancient. Weak voices, small bones, thin skin and shawls pulled over their heads. The man was holding out a straw hat and the women their hands.

I’m tactile and touch things when examining them. I enjoy feeling the textures of the earth, bark on trees, feathery grasses, hard stones and wispy flowers. But, none of these resemble the feel of their frail hands in the dark as I placed a coin on their palms.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Happy Holiday!

7:00 AM - No hot water. The water heater is turned off each night and wasn´t back on by seven AM. Before we left in search of breakfast I heard the background roar of the boiler.

9:30 AM - The restaurant with the outdoor dining across from the main plaza was closed. I had asked yesterday if it would be open and was told "yes". A 200 pound block of ice was delivered and is lying outside the main gate so it should be open later.

11:00 AM - The internet cafe was not open as expected. I saw a young lady leaving and asked when. "Maybe 4" she replied.

I enjoy this relaxed, unpredictable life! In 1985 I took off my wristwatch and vowed "never again".

I'm having a wonderful Christmas day!

Happy Holiday to all.

Monday, December 24, 2007


Intimacy, as I understand it, is communicating trust and letting others be themselves. It’s accepting them as they are and being ourselves as we are. Intimacy is something we need but rarely receive or give. Life without intimacy is merely existence.

Today, Sunday, we went to the anthropology museum and walked through an area with expensive hotels, limousines and Cadillac and Hummer dealers. Quiet, orderliness, wealth and aloofness abounded.

The contrast was sharp as compared to our accommodations over the previous three days. We had been staying in a good hotel on an old street in the historic district. It is an area whose grandeur has waned and whose zenith is a part of history. In the evenings the sounds of traffic, drums, music and laughter challenge the volume of the TV. When dark descends the streets are littered. In the mornings the streets and sidewalks have been swept by hand; the litter is gone but the embedded dirt accumulated over years remains.

Tonight we’re in a hotel in Cuernavaca. The reservations were made by a brother of the man my niece is marrying. Our amenities include a clean room, a private bath, a television, one electrical outlet and clean towels given to us at the front desk when we received the door key. The room is about 10 by 10 with a separate bath and a closet.

Amenities do not include a door knob on the closet. It is missing. There is no door knob on the inside of the entrance door and never has been. An old-fashioned deadbolt suffices to open the door. There is no remote for the TV. To change the channel we must use the down button. The up button does not work. The entire bath is tiled and the shower is one end of the room. There is no division for the shower. It is simply a shower head high on the wall, controls for hot and cold water and a drain on the floor. The room has neither heat nor air conditioning, clock nor radio, carpeting nor phone.

I like our room. I like it better than any in Mexico City near the Hummer dealer. I prefer it to the room we had for the last three days. My room gives me an opportunity for intimacy. Through my niece or cousin, both of whom speak Spanish, I can express gratitude to the young man who checked the room, deemed it acceptable and made the reservations. I cannot talk with the family at the front desk but I can smile and say “Thank you. Gracias!”. I can pass people climbing or descending the stairs and each meeting holds the possibility of intimacy – of chipping away at the shell of my more affluent but limited world and peaking into the world of others.

For me a vacation isn’t about the number of stars that rate my lodging. A vacation is about intimate experiences.

Things I’ve learned thus far.

  • Speaking Spanish isn’t necessary. A smile, the word “Gracias”, the ability to point and a willingness to eat whatever was ordered are all that are necessary.
  • When boarding the bus no one checks baggage. Be prepared to put your baggage in the cargo bay yourself.
  • The correct pronunciation of the name Teotihuacan is tay-oh-tee-wah-can. (I had wondered about that for 41 years.)
  • There's not enough time to write about everything and post photos.

What I wish I hadn’t learned:

  • It hurts like hell to walk by a two year old boy sitting on a crowded street next to his young mother who is nursing an infant and extending a hand pleadingly.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Day in the City

As I stood in front of a Diego Rivera mural a feeling came up inside me. It was not the same feeling but a close companion to one I experienced a few months ago. In the first experience I was watching and listening to a performance by Andre Reiu and the Johann Sebastian Bach Orchestra. The beauty of the classical music, the innate talent of the performers developed after years of practice and the intent and message of the piece were overwhelming. How could there be war, oppression, greed? How could men and women compose and perform such moving beauty also be selfish, cruel, apathetic and do so much evil? It seemed so inconceivable.

Unlike the music, the Diego Rivera mural affirmed the cruelty of which we are capable but called for action. How can we – how can I – remain apathetic to suffering and oppression? How can I not be outraged and animated – moved to action?

We began the day at the Palacio del Bellas Artes. In a building of grandeur are murals by Diego Rivera, Jorge Gonzalez Camerena, David Alfaro Siqueiros, Jose Clemente Orozco and others.

The Palace was followed by a curiosity walk through a Sears store which was much more up-scale than the stores in the US. It was orderly and neat to the extreme. Clerks stood silently to the side of aisles and a few shoppers quietly browsed expensive items. Julie commented on the low height of the ceilings. The arrangement of the displays and the layout of the building camouflaged the approximately eight feet (maximum) ceilings. At one point I cautiously stepped up to a support beam and felt the side of my head make contact. It could have been no higher than six feet two. It was a superb example of conserving resources while designing a building that seemed open and roomy.

We considered going to the Museo Nacional De Anthropologia but our map was divided into two sections with different scales and no overlap. It was unclear how many miles we would have to walk. We investigated the subway but couldn’t decipher the system – how much, which direction where the trains moving? As an alternative we selected the Museo Nacional De Arte.

At the museum I chose not to take photos but to browse and study freely. The museum itself is a work of ornate art. In each gallery were a single chair and a security guard who immediately stood and moved to an area near a doorway or central wall. As we walked around the panels he or she would quietly move along the wall so as to keep us in sight. I nodded or spoke to a few guards and wished I could speak Spanish. Rather than treating them like fixtures it would have been enjoyable ask them to walk with us and talk about the art, their lives or any subject.

The museum houses some paintings from the early sixteen hundreds as well as pre-Spanish pieces that are over two thousand years old. I’m confident it’s my age, experiences and religious heritage but the four hundred year old religious paintings give me a dark feeling of shallow one dimension. I am impressed by the ability of the artists but not the message which seems to have been dictated.

A walk to Plaza Garibaldi took us through an area of broken sidewalks, dirty stores, poverty and hopeless people sleeping on the street. I took no photos and won’t. It seems obscene (from old English “off the scene”) to photograph people in their misery and suffering. I’m a guest of Mexico. I’ll acknowledge their problems but refuse to take photos for the gruesome entertainment of others.

The Plaza was full of Mariachi performers but no band was performing at the time. Next we walked in the area of the Cathedral Y Sagrario Metropolitano, Plaza De La Constitucion, Palacio Nacional, Zocalo and the Templo Mayor (excavated Aztec ruins next to the cathedral).

This hints at a few of our experiences of the day. I have more to write and photos but no time. We're about to leave for a tour of the pyramids.

Friday, December 21, 2007


Dingy, dark, and faded by the sun with a layer of dust placed by the wind; old, scarred and wrinkled by years of work; unordered, disheveled and disobedient – these describe the way I like life. For some unexplained reason I’m repulsed by the luster and veneer that keep truth, life and genuineness hidden. Perhaps it’s the result of some deep psychological flaw but this is no time to look inward. There’s too much unpolished life to be experienced out there. There’s no time to search for an explanation in the burrows of my mind and thoughts. I’m in my version of heaven.

I have often wondered what it’s like to have a family and be desperate enough to cross the border knowing no English and having only memories of shared myths, multitudinous second-hand stories and a few personal accounts by repatriates to guide me. Not knowing the language must add a tremendous layer of stress. I don’t know what it’s like. Being in Mexico and knowing only a handful of Spanish words adds not to stress but to a sense of excitement, anticipation and discovery.

A steward on the plane mentioned gate M1 so we had a clue where to begin. Following cyptic Spanish signs and pictographs we joined the end of a long line and waited with passports and completed forms. A polite young lady who called me “Mr. Paul” swiped the passports and stamped our forms. The forms were free and will be needed to leave the country. The cost of replacement if lost: 42 US dollars.

We retrieved our bags and presented a second form at customs, put our bags on a conveyor that ran them through a security scanner, retrieved them a second time, pressed a red lottery button that illuminated a green light and won! A red light would have indicated a search of our bags. I saw waiting personnel and empty tables but no searches.

We threaded the crowds searching for a yellow counter and found one quickly. A ticket for a taxi ride cost 132 pesos (about $13) for the shuttle to the Cathedral Hotel. (Only pesos and American Express accepted.) With ticket in hand and only 1 hour after landing we exited and found a man who appeared to be in his fifties. He spoke no English but after a quick glance at the written name and address of the hotel loaded our bags and took us on an exciting ride.

Yesterday I wrote that no way in Hades would I rent a car. I reaffirm that decision. We used every lane, ignored painted lines, pedestrians and Flagstaff’s version of traffic courtesy. It was like listening to a reading of good poetry or watching a confident surfer play with a monstrous wave. I salute our driver. He was good. We had gone about three miles when Julie leaned over and said “Give him a good tip!”

Had a porter not materialized, I wouldn’t have realized we had arrived. The exterior of the building didn’t advertise itself. Stepping into our hotel was a huge step. The street was dingy, crowded, loud and a little intimidating but the porter led us into a clean quiet world of shining marble and pressed uniforms. The porter, like me, wasn’t bi-lingual but he took us to our room and pointed out the features which included a tap labeled “filtered water” and wireless internet (which he couldn’t point to). Interestingly, there are only two electrical outlets. There is one in the bathroom and one behind the television. We had packed a three prong to two prong adapter and need it.

Hunger led us to the hotel restaurant. Aztec fish for Julie and salmon back for me. A red thread lay on top of my bowl which was filled with salmon, boiled egg, potatoes, and small sea shells that had been home to some mollusk. I pulled on the red thread and discovered it was the feeler of a crawfish. Beneath Julies fish was a pad from some form of prickly pear cactus. I’ve wanted to try cactus and took the opportunity for a taste.

After we set out on a walk around the block. It was dark and the street lights where high and widely spaced. The semi-darkness was noticeable. There were no lighted signs advertising stores, sales or gadgets. The darkness and the sidewalk were filled with people who overflowed into the street. We chose to tempt the fates and traffic by joining those in the street. A strange thing happened. We realized we were two of a small minority going the wrong way. We checked both sides of the street and it was the same. The obvious solution was to turn around which we did – and we were still going the wrong way! All evening it appeared the crowd was going west if we walked east – or the crowd moved from the street to the sidewalk if we chose the sidewalk. Hand-in-hand was walked and laughed and stopped occasionally to look in a shop.

I probably haven’t made our first evening in Mexico City sound attractive to most Americans but it was enjoyable -- extremely enjoyable.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

The Adventure Begins

Flowers watered, fuse pulled from the water pump, bird feeders full, note for the friend checking the house, passports, camera, backpacks, credit cards -- everything except money. As we pulled into the bank parking lot the phone rang. It was a clerk notifying us that the pesos we had ordered had arrived a day late but were ready. Perfect timing.

As I prepared to sign for the money, she opened the envelope and pulled out two stacks, two very large stacks. We had requested some smaller denominations, twenties and fifties, but hadn't specified the quantity. We received only twenties and fifties so we left the bank with 143 bills totaling 4,060 pesos or $400 US. I guess I can roll them up and look like I'm carrying a large apple in my pocket.


It's about 185 miles from our house to the airport. We opted to spend the night at a hotel near the airport that will provide a 5 AM shuttle. Tomorrow night we'll be in Mexico City.

I've never read my passport. As we drove to Phoenix Julie read this to me:

The Secretary of State of the United States of America hereby requests all whom it may concern to permit the citizen/national of the United States named herein to pass without delay or hindrance . . . . .
"...without delay or hindrance..." Given the current state of affairs I find that ironic. I don't expect to be delayed or hindered except by US officials.

We'll spend 3 nights in Mexico City before traveling to Cuernavaca. Someone asked if we would rent a car. No way in hades! Mexico City has been described as the largest city in the world -- over 20 million people in approximately 600 square miles. We'll use public transit.

Waiting to be explored are historical districts, museums and Aztec ruins. We've scheduled Teotihuacan for Friday. The Pyramid of the Sun, Pyramid of the Moon, Avenue of the Dead, Feathered Serpent Pyramid -- names that don't just pique my curiosity but give me a sense of thankfulness. I'm getting to see, feel, breathe, taste and experiences places that I read about as a kid over 50 years ago -- places that I thought beyond my small, limited, fiscally-challenged world of the 1950s.

When I think life is wonderful and can't possibly get any better, it does.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007


The first commandment of sustainable living is “know thy environment”.

That sentence -- written in haste in my last post -- nagged me, tugged at my mind and kicked me in the shins demanding a retraction. It's not true. I knew it when I wrote it but somehow it slipped out.

In the recesses of my memory were sentences from the New Testament: "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment." My statement was quickly typed and poor parallel to "this is the first . . .".

There are two things more important than knowing our environment. First is the knowledge that we are an intimate part of our environment. The environment isn't something "out there", something distinct from us nor something in which we reside. We are as much an integral part of the environment as are trees, hills, air, deer and rivers.

The second more imporant item is a reverence and love for our environment. Failure to respect our environment is a failure to value ourselves, our families and our friends. Of ironic interest to me is the fact that the two sentences above from the New Testament are followed by this sentence: "And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself." I define neighbor as all that exists -- human and non-human, animate and inanimate.

So, I would retract the sentence from my last post and affirm that more important than knowing our environment is to revere our intimate environment. That which we revere we learn and come to know.

The first commandment of sustainable living is “revere thy environment”.

The second commandment of sustainable living is “know thy environment”.

Reverence without knowledge is vanity. Knowledge without reverence is heartless.

(Soon, hopefully, a description of my immediate environment and micro-climate.)

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Know Thy Environment!

(Another ‘Thank You” to MojoMan who inspired this post by a comment a few weeks go. I always appreciate it when he sets up my soap box.)

The first commandment of sustainable living is “know thy environment”. The media inundates us with a "global perspective" and a "global economy" but that's not reality for a locality. It's not wise to import plants, values and ideas without evaluating their suitability.

Julie and I didn’t know the world into which we chose to move. On the spur of the moment while on a vacation trip to Flagstaff we completed applications for jobs at the University. Within three days Julie had an interview scheduled and within one week a job offer. We gave notice at the university in Texas and about a month later we arrived. We’ve had to learn and adapt.

When you think of Arizona, what do you envision? Desert sands, cacti, bright sun, warm winters and irrigated golf courses crowed with annual migrants from the northern states and Canada? The following map of climate zones will quickly dispel that vision. Flagstaff, marked by the red arrow, is located in an environment that requires insulation similar to that needed in northern Main and the Dakotas.

Climate Zones [1]

Flagstaff is situated on the Colorado Plateau at an altitude of 7,000 feet. I’ve read (but can’t verify accuracy) that the Colorado is the second highest plateau in the world exceeded by the altitude of the Tibetan Plateau in Asia.

Mt Humphreys, just north of Flagstaff, is the highest point in Arizona at 12,600 feet. Altitude affects temperatures, weather patterns, growing season, flora, atmospheric pressure, quantity of available oxygen and other items.

At 7000 feet we have only 78% of the available oxygen as at sea level. [2] Dehydration occurs more quickly. In Flagstaff I see more water bottles than I’ve seen in other parts of the country where I’ve lived. Altitude affects cooking so we get to read the high altitude instructions and take longer to boil eggs. Altitude can be turned into an asset. The University has a Center for High Altitude Training (“Where the World Comes to Train”).

The growing season is a surprise:
Even the summers are cool, with a growing season of only 103 days on average. The average date of the last frost is June 13, and the average date of the first frost is September 21. In 1968, the growing season was only 73 days! [3]

Compare Flagstaff’s 103 days to some other cities [4]:
  • Concord, NH - 121
  • Helena, MT - 122
  • Duluth, MN - 122
  • Casper, WY - 123
  • Bismarck, ND - 129
  • Juneau, AK - 133
  • ------
  • Tucson, AZ - 273
  • New Orleans, LA - 288
  • Sacramento, CA - 289
  • Phoenix, AZ - 308
  • Eureka, CA - 324
  • Tampa, FL - 338
We do have sunshine -- about 288 days per year [5]:
Flagstaff is one of the ten sunniest locations of National Weather Service offices in the United States, averaging 78 percent of the possible sunshine throughout the year.
Flagstaff’s temperatures are far from Phoenix’s broadcast high temperatures of over 100 degrees. [6]
  • Annual Daily Max Temp: 61.4
  • Annual Daily Min Temp: 30.9
  • Annual Daily Mean Temp: 46.2
  • Heating degree days (below 65 degrees): 6999
  • Cooling degree days (above 65 degrees): 126
January averages 29.7° F and July, 66.1° F. [7]

The monsoon season normally spans July and August. Clouds will build and thunderstorms will move through the area – about 15 storms each month. Here are the average number of days with thunderstorms. [8]
  • June averages 3.7 days with thunderstorms
  • July averages 16.4 days with thunderstorms
  • August averages 15.6 days with thunderstorms
  • September averages 6.7 days with thunderstorms
  • October averages 2.2 days with thunderstorms
Flagstaff's annual mean precipitation is 22.91 inches and annual mean snowfall is 114.7 inches based on 1971-2000 data. [9] However, this is changing due to an ongoing drought. A University web site lists the annual snowfall as 84.4 inches. It has been declining in recent years. [10]
  • 1990 - 113.4"
  • 1991 - 127.9"
  • 1992 - 158.9"
  • 1993 - 150.0"
  • 1994 - 109.5"
  • 1995 - 99.1"
  • 1996 - 28.5"
  • 1997 - 107.5"
  • 1998 - 136.7"
  • 1999 - 72.0"
  • 2000 - 74.4"
  • 2001 - 125.1"
  • 2002 - 38.9"
  • 2003 - 54.9”
  • 2004 - 50.9”
Sometimes it seems windy but the annual mean wind speed is 6 mile per hour. By comparison, Boston, Massachusetts reports 13 MPH. [11]

That's a look at Flagstaff but we don't live in Flagstaff. We live 25 miles east-northeast of the city at an altitude 1400 feet lower. The prevailing winds are from the southwest so our weather is affected differently by the mountain. Also, within our local environment, we have a micro-climate due to the hills and slope of the land. Knowing about Flagstaff's environment is enjoyable and is a helpful clue but I need to know my small world. More about that in another post.

Monday, December 03, 2007

A Benefit of Reminiscing

Reminiscing has several benefits one of which is the pleasure of reliving simpler times. This story comes from a period in my life when the biggest challenge was to earn enough for gas, junk food and entertainment for the coming weekend. The future never extended more than fives days into the future. Beyond the pleasure, this reminiscence reminds me to be more tolerant, understanding and forgiving of young people.

It was the summer of my eighteenth year when the world was a playground filled with boundless opportunity. A friend and I were doing nothing in the middle of a warm sunny day when his brother came with the news that a car was in the bottom of a pond about two miles away.

Two railroad tracks skirted the east end of Lake Erie. At one point the tracks separated near an area with cliffs that dropped into the lake. One set passed between the lake and two large ponds. The second set bounded the ponds on the east side and rejoined the western tracks. The only road into the area was a gravel road that came from the north and ended near the ponds. The area was an isolated paradise for deer, smaller mammals, turtles and golden carp. It was one of my favorite destinations after a snowfall.

A submerged car in the bottom of one of the ponds was an opportunity for adventure. Without thought or discussion we set off. We discovered a relatively new model convertible below the surface of a pond that covered a few acres. Tire tracks marked the point were the vehicle left the gravel road, descended the high steep bank and entered the water. The distance of the car from the entry point indicated the driver was driving at a reckless speed.

Like two normal teenagers, we decided to swim out to the car. The top of the car was down but the back windows were up. By standing on the back windows and treading water, we could keep our heads our of the pond.

It was fun sitting in the driver’s seat, checking out the instruments, rummaging through the glove box (two dimes and some papers) and swimming around the car. Periodically we had to surface to breathe. On one occasion as we were balancing ourselves on the back windows the fun ended when my friend said “Uh, oh! The police.”

Fortunately, we knew the sheriff and he knew us. He asked us to get the license plate number. We swam to shore and heard him radio for the owner’s name and then ask the dispatcher to phone the owner and ask if she knew the location of her car. Yep, it was stolen.

Here’s the real benefit of this memory for me. When we first saw the car it never occurred to us that it might be stolen, that we might be tampering with a crime scence or that the driver might be dead on the bottom of the pond. We were eighteen, we were male, we were brain dead -- and would remain that way for several years more. Perhaps I need to think of this memory more often and lower my expectations of young people. They may be eighteen or twenty or more but they are not yet responsible adults.

Recently a group refurbished abandoned bicycles, painted them yellow and distributed them around campus. Anyone needing a bicycle can take one, ride across campus and leave it for someone else to use. The program is in danger. The bicycles are being stolen, vandalized and abused.

I came out of my office week before last and had mixed emotions. Some students were at different levels in a large tree. One young man on the ground was handing yellow bicycles up to another student who passed them higher to two other students. They were hanging the bicycles on limbs of the tree.

One emotion was “Darn, these kids are making this program fail. Who will take them down? It would be bad to read headlines “Student Killed by Falling Bicycle”.

My second emotion was “All right! That looks like fun. They’re making memories.”

My first reaction is tempered by memories of my youth. I got to enjoy my carefree, irresponsible and fun period and these kids should have the same opportunity.