Sunday, November 27, 2011

Thanksgiving in Tucson

Early Thursday morning, Thanksgiving Day, Julie and I packed quickly and left for the drive to Tucson. We stopped in Flagstaff for a cup of coffee, in Phoenix for breakfast and arrived in Tucson midday. We had reservations at a resort that gave us a room number a week ago and said the door would be unlocked since the office would be closed for the day.

There is a swimming pool, a volleyball pool, a hot tub and a conversation pool, a long curved pool with seating on both sides to facilitate conversations. We met a group from California, Arizona and Colorado that had met for Thanksgiving dinner. One lady will retire next spring after teaching German for 40 years at two universities. I enjoyed talking with her about changes in Germany since she came to this country as a young woman. The gentleman from Colorado told of his experiences walking coast to coast across Great Britain and recent hiking trips with Road Scholar, the new name for Elderhostel.

Julie had researched options for supper and had made reservations for the Cup Cafe in the historic Hotel Congress. We drove into Tucson, had supper and took a short walk around a few blocks before returning to the resort and the hot tub for more conversation with a couple from Phoenix.

Friday morning we made tea and returned to the hot tub where we met a couple from Reno, Nevada. He works for a online school that offers classes for K through 12. I don't have experience or much knowledge but have had a generally negative feeling about online K-12. I posed a few questions and learned much. The program isn't for all children but I learned it may be the best choice in some situations. It was a good conversation.

Friday afternoon we visited Saguaro National Park, West. The park is divided into two areas, East and West, that are separated by several miles. We watched a video at the visitor center before selecting a loop hike.

It was a good trip.

Saguaro National Park, West.

Saguaro National Park, West.

Abandoned Gould Mine.

Our hike took us close to the abandoned Gould mine. Julie is picking up pieces of what I assume are iron pyrite.

Iron Pyrite.

Iron pyrite or fool's gold.

Healthy mature saguaro.

A healthy mature saguaro. Arms being growing at about age 75.

Sun behind a saguaro.

Sun behind a saguaro.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Good Progress

We made good progress this weekend on the living/dining area remodel.

We picked up materials, finished preparing the walls, textured and painted the walls, painted and installed wainscot paneling, crown molding, door and window casing. I am well pleased with the wall texturing. I applied the compound and Julie came behind me knocking it down. She did a job equal to a professional.

Julie staining an oak panel.

Julie staining an oak panel that will trim the side of a pantry.

It will take another weekend to finish some trim items on the south wall, finish the breakfast bar, install flooring and baseboard and two lights.

This has been an enjoyable project.

Remodeling progress.

Progress to date. This area needs flooring and baseboard. Note the side of the pantry that Julie stained in the above photo.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Future, Past and Present

I'll celebrate my sixty-fifth birthday before the end of 2011. Seems strange in a way. I used to think of fifty as old and, for many years, joked that I hoped I died before I turned fifty. Why? Because most of the older people I knew were grouchy, set in their ways and unpleasant company. I didn't want to join their ranks.

Julie and I have been planning for the future. We've checked investments, talked schedules and identified goals to be completed before I quit work. We're on a "five year plan" as Julie likes to call it. I hope to work until I'm seventy and one-half. This will coincide with Julie's plan to quit work and the end of the spring term at the university. But I'm not as interested in the future as I am in the present.

Nor am I interested in the past. I did my "twenty-five years in hell" as I like to define it. Once I was free my two most enjoyable activities were grocery shopping and going to the laundromat. That may seem strange but they represent control. I was in control of my life. Life began to improve, become more hopeful and, finally, took on a sense of euphoria.

I like my life with Julie, I enjoy the present, my job and co-workers, the things I give myself to and the things I do for recreation. I find myself reading more which is a good sign. Throughout my life those times when I quit reading for enjoyment were bad times and low spots. I like to think an increase in reading is a good sign.

Lately I've been wondering why the present is so good, why I generally feel a sense of quiet euphoria most of the time. I know parts of the answer. I'm not wealthy but not impoverished, I'm aging but in good health and I have control in my life. I know genetics plays a part but not a determining part. Undoubtedly, a huge part of the answer is Julie. However, I'm wondering to what degree my sense of optimism, well being and euphoria can be attributed to conscious choices I've made in the last fifteen years. I'll never be able to identify a definitive answer which is OK. I'll just enjoy the moment.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Recent Events

Our sun room is an aromatic delight. Several days ago I noticed a flower stalk on a round leaf sanseveria. Tonight when I entered the room I immediately noticed the scent. The flowers have opened and the room is filled with a wonderful fragrance.

Round leaf sanseveria in bloom.

Round leaf sanseveria in bloom.

Julie bought the plant on a trip to Amarillo two or three years ago. It had four arrow straight round leaves perfectly aligned in a unnatural row. After a period of time new leaves began to sprout and the original leaves began to curve. I know some people cut the new leaves and attempt to keep the perfection created by the nursery. I prefer things natural. I let the leaves grow and curl and change shape from round to oval. The smooth surfaces developed long depressions between high ridges. I had it hanging high above the counter. When the leaves touched the ceiling I lowered it to give it more room. Sanseverias bloom when crowded and I didn't expect it to blossom since it seems to have ample room. It has been a pleasant surprise. What the flower lacks in showiness it more than compensates with fragrance.

Our Christmas Cactus is blooming but I anticipated this. It blooms each year just before Thanksgiving. It seems a more appropriate name would be Thanksgiving Cactus.

Last weekend we began remodeling the living room. We removed the furniture, carpet, window and door casing, baseboard and crown molding. I did some drywall work and created a materials list. Tomorrow I'm purchasing laminate flooring, paint and new trim. Julie and I are taking a day off Thursday to work in the room. Hopefully, this weekend we'll texture the walls, paint, install beaded paneling, chair rail, flooring and much of the casing, base and crown molding.

In addition to beginning work on the living room we installed a cell phone repeater. The repeater that we bought in the summer worked fairly well but after six power supplies failed we returned it and the manufacturer refunded our money. We researched another brand that is more expensive with a better reputation. The repeater is working and is giving excellent service. It has better construction and better service. We are getting four bars on the cell phone with a signal strength of -60db. We're going to wait another ten days and if all is well we'll replace our oldest cell phone. This will enable us to remove the original antenna and retire the Dock-N-Talk. There are other benefits to this solution. Visitors will have cell service and we can investigate installing a hotspot for Internet access. This will eliminate the need for satellite service. We'll get better and faster access for less money up front and less expense per month.

I've bought two new books. The first is The Man Who Walked Through Time: The Story of the First Trip Afoot Through the Grand Canyon by Colin Fletcher. This is a old book that I've know about for a long time. I found a copy for $2.50 and bought it on impulse. The second book is The Evolution of Everything: How Selection Shapes Culture, Commerce, and Nature by Mark Sumner. This was another impulse buy and a used book store.

I realized I left two recently read books off my reading list. I've corrected this omission and added The Botany of Desire: A Plant's-Eye View of the World by Michael Pollan and Raising Fences: A Black Man's Love Story by Michael Datcher.

Today I received the first 2012 seed catalog! Thank you Pinetree Garden Seeds.

And finally: We've made reservations at a resort in Tucson for Thanksgiving weekend. It's been a few years since we've been to Tucson. We're planning a relaxing trip of swimming and hiking.

That's the summary of recent events in my small corner of paradise.

Wednesday, November 09, 2011


I'm enjoying Realm of the Incas by Victor W. Von Hagen. Some of the pleasurable aspects of many books are little asides that catch my attention or small insights into the values and beliefs of the author or turns of phrase that have a special quality. As I'm reading the book I've highlighted portions that caught my attention. Some feed my biases, some cause me to stop and think, some surprise me, some amuse me.

I've italicized the portions that made me stop reading and do a little musing.

  • Human beings everywhere act like human beings. They knew that the gods were dead, but they persuaded themselves that they were living and fell, just as we ourselves do, into inextricable contradictions.

  • Unlike modern society, wrote Osborne, in which work is regarded as a necessary evil undertaken to secure a leisure which society is untrained to utilize, in Inca society work was regarded as an end in itself.

  • Pleasures and pains are universal; amidst the eternal illusion that envelops us one thing is certain -- suffering. It is the cornerstone of life.

  • There are almost everywhere two aspects to religion. In its first aspect, it is the simple expression of natural man who faces the unexplainable and stands in awe of the supernatural and makes his obeisance to it. In its second aspect, the organized religion took his simple faith, here as in all other religions, and embroidered these fears with elaborate borders of hocus-pocus.

  • Such, more or less, was the daily life of an Indian's life, a life which, if it were reduced to a moral platitude, could be summed up in one short sentence: Ama sua, ama ilulla, ama checklisa -- Do not steal, do not lie, do not be lazy.

  • More than half of the foods that the world eats today were developed by these Andean farmers.

  • In a verdant valley, Nazca, south of Paracas, which breaks the naked misery of the desert, is another lost culture....

  • This is the sort of folklore that most peoples invent about themselves. If the mythos of Christianity were reduced to a five-line synopsis, it would have much of this naivete.

  • The Incas expanded; they expanded as all empires do -- by conquest.

  • At the age of twenty a man was expected to marry; if he did not, a woman was chosen for him. There seem not to have been, nor was there allowed to be, voluntary bachelors in the realm.

  • Death and taxes are not a modern preoccupation; they were just as inevitable if one lived under the rule of the Incas. Since they did not have money, that great human convenience, the Indians' taxes were in service, called mita. Each taxpayer was obligated to give a stated amount of work annually to the government. It might be as a laborer in the mines (an odious service which all resented, and the Inca recognized it by rotating the miners rapidly), on roads, or in bridge building....or any other of the multiple services that a fully organized state needed.

  • The American Indian did not have, it scarcely has to be repeated, draft animals of any form. Outside of woman, who was the first carrier, the closest that indigenous man got to a domesticated animal was the llama.

  • Such were the advantages of a womb-to-tomb society; its disadvantages will appear later.

I selected this book because I thought I would enjoy it. I underestimated how much enjoyment it holds.

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

The Why

Last Saturday morning Julie and I discussed the my planned backpacking trip. I got up at 4:00 AM to check the weather. It was raining. By 5:00 AM the rain had turned to snow. The forecast called for cold, wind, more rain and snow. At we talked Julie made the comment "I don't understand why you want to go in weather like this".

Why? I answered her question quickly but I've thought about it more.

Camaraderie. Todd and I always have a great time. He's a good partner with experience, knowledge and a good even disposition and demeanor. I like his company and enjoy backpacking with him.

Challenge. I enjoy challenges in which I may succeed or may fail. Success isn't the goal. It's the challenge of trying. There's not much challenge on warm sunny days on level ground.

Memories. Recently I heard the old saying that people near the end of their lives regret not the things they did but the things they didn't do. I want memories, not regrets. I learned long ago to never wait for perfect weather.

Endorphins. The first 15 minutes of any trip is generally the toughest. After those few minutes my breathing settles, any stiffness in my legs disappears and I feel great and grateful to be alive and doing what I'm doing.

Beauty. During "bad" weather when it rains, snows or is windy I see beauty I don't see on good weather days. Dry waterfalls begin flowing, the light glistens off leaves and snow drifts, dust and sand make fragile patterns, clouds hide the tops of hills and create a sense of mystery.

Accomplishment. Valuable things come only with hard work. I appreciate the sense of struggling and working hard to accomplish a goal.

Health. I try to exercise regularly but one hour of walking on level ground or slight grades each day doesn't compare to climbing 3,600 feet in four hours while carrying a pack. I feel the effect when I reach the top but during the next week I feel healthier, stronger, better.

Balance. I live in a safe world that's heated, air-conditioned, dry and predictable. Evolution didn't prepare me for this sterile artificial world. Doing a trip in bad weather gives me a sense of balance in my life that makes a warm bath followed by a good meal with Julie much better.

I can think of other reasons but in the end the answer to why is because I enjoy it.

Cottonwood Creek and Horseshoe Mesa.
1 marks the left point of Horsehoe Mesa; 2 marks the location of Cave of the Domes; 3 marks the trail down to Cottonwood Creek; 4 marks our camp site at Cottonwood Creek.

Snow on the rim.
The day was partly sunny and windy with a chill factor that required gloves. There was a few inches of snow on the rim. On our trip to and from the trail head we passed small herds of elk grazing under Ponderosa. The snow on the trees, the elk and the light filtering through the trees created a memorable scene.

Todd near the top of the Grandview Trail. After descending about 400 feet in elevation we came to the end of the snow.

Left end of Horseshoe Mesa.
Todd at a narrow section on the left end of Horseshoe Mesa. We went to the end where we had to back. At the narrow section it was possible to stand in one position and look down both sides several hundred feet.

Cave of the Domes.
Todd is signing the register in the cave of the domes. The cave was a surprise and seemed out of place. It is about 100 feet below the top of the mesa and is accessed by a drain which leads to a ledge that arrives at the cave after a few hundred feet.

Todd exiting Cave of the Domes.
Todd exiting Cave of the Domes. The cave is dusty. In addition to an ammo box containing a register there are remains of candles and string leading to deeper sections of the cave.

Cottonwood Creek.
Cottonwood Creek is about 3,600 feet below the rim of the canyon and 1,100 feet below the point where the photo was taken. After taking the photo we hiked about two and one-half miles to get to our campsite beside the small six-inch-wide stream that flows from a spring. The temperature dropped to 36 degrees at 7:00 AM the next morning. When we arrived at the rim later in the day it was snowing lightly and the temperature was 35 degrees.

Todd with a stuffed rabbit.
Todd with a stuffed rabbit. As he set up his tent he discovered the rabbit. Apparently his six year old daughter put it in the bottom of his pack without his knowledge.

Monday, November 07, 2011

Walking Across Campus

It snowed early this morning. I took a few photos while walking to my office.


Life Zones Arboretum.
Life Zones Arboretum.

Fruit under snow.
Fruit under snow.

Blue Bicycle.

Bird feeder behind bars.
Bird feeder behind icy bars. A few months ago I moved my office into an old stone house on the edge of campus. I hung two bird feeders outside the office window. The house has no guttering and it never occurred to me at the time that it was a bad location during winter.

Friday, November 04, 2011

Change in Weekend Plans

The weather last weekend was beautiful. This weekend it's a little more challenging.This is the forecast for an area 15 miles west of Grand Canyon Village.

Tonight: Rain before 11pm, then rain and snow. Some thunder is also possible. Low around 30. Breezy, with a southwest wind 23 to 26 mph decreasing to between 15 and 18 mph. Winds could gust as high as 41 mph. Chance of precipitation is 90%. Total nighttime snow accumulation of 2 to 4 inches possible.

Saturday: A 40 percent chance of snow showers, mainly before 11am. Mostly sunny, with a high near 38. West southwest wind between 8 and 14 mph, with gusts as high as 25 mph. Little or no snow accumulation expected.

Saturday Night: Mostly clear, with a low around 19. West southwest wind between 7 and 13 mph.

Sunday: A 30 percent chance of snow, mainly after 11am. Partly sunny, with a high near 43. South southwest wind between 7 and 16 mph, with gusts as high as 28 mph. New snow accumulation of less than a half inch possible.

Dave, Todd and I had planned a 3-day, 2-night backpacking trip to the Painted Desert this weekend. The forecast left little doubt of rain (translate that as mud) and strong winds with gusts of 60 MPH. We decided to forgo the mud and wind and do one night in the Grand Canyon. We selected a 15 mile loop with some exposure (i.e. steep ledges and climbs were a fall would be fatal) and Dave opted out.

Todd and I leave at 6:00 AM tomorrow morning to get to the Back Country Office at 8:00 AM. Hopefully we can get a permit. If not, we'll try for a permit in another area.

Dave and I hope to do a backpacking trip in the Painted Desert soon.

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Reading List Update

I've added four books to my reading list on the right sidebar.

Several months ago I read Brian Capon's Botany for Gardeners: Third Edition. When I read the book I failed to add it to my reading list. This is the first book in years that I've highlighted. Normally I buy used books and resell them after reading but not this book. It's a keeper. In high school I learned a little about photosynthesis. About all I remembered was something vague like "plants use sunlight in cells with chlorophyll to make food from water and carbon dioxide and give off oxygen in the process". This book explains photosynthesis in much detail which evoked fascination and wonder. The material in the book was excellent and the examples marvelous.

The first biography I've read in years: Naturalist by Edward O. Wilson. The material was interesting and sparked memories and visions in my mind. Most of all I appreciated Wilson's personality and demeanor. When I finished the book I gave it to a co-worker. Some months back she gave me a couple books that led me to think should would enjoy Naturalist.

For expediency I've added The Flying Tigers, author Russell Whelan, to the completed list but I have a few pages to finish. The tone is that of an old black and white newsreel that was projected on movie screens in my early childhood. I don't consider it a good book. It was written in 1942 and is almost pure war propaganda. However, it's interesting reading it as a historical piece. The part I find most offensive is the use of the term "boys" and "kids" when referring to the pilots. Just a personal peeve that I'll not explain.

My next book is an archaeological tome: Realm of the Incas by Victor W. Von Hagen. I expect this book to be a little dry but filled with interesting knowledge. As a kid I was always intrigued by history and ancient civilizations. As a child I read some fanciful book in which a young American boy became lost in Peru and was found by a remote group of Incas who had remained hidden for hundreds of years. It was fiction but it bolstered my interest in the Incas, Mayas, Aztecs and other civilizations.

I have had John Steinbeck's The Log from the Sea of Cortez on the "to read" list for several months but I've misplaced the book. It will turn up some day and I'll read it.

Together Julie and I are reading two other books. I'll add them to the list when we finish them.

I've read all my life but lately I find reading more and more interesting and attractive.

After updating the reading list last night I was left with the feeling of omitting a book. This morning I remembered Japanese Destroyer Captain by Tameichi Hara, Fred Saito and Roger Pineau. Hara was the captain whose experiences are recounted in the book.