Friday, August 30, 2013


Grief is an assailant in the night, one that comes from nowhere, attacks with pitiless ferocity, and leaves you bleeding and gasping for breath.

I thought I'd kept a step ahead of my own personal demon, was living a life that filled me up with accomplishment, acceptance, friends, challenges, and experiences I never knew existed. I thought I'd done a pretty good job of leaving that other life behind like an already-read book that wasn't worth carrying along on the rest of the journey. I thought I was making progress and maybe I was, but the assailant took a mighty swing at me last week and took me to my knees.

A friend asked to see my house, the one I still co-own in Washington state, and I had no idea I would be blindsided. There was my house on Google Earth, with our motorhome in the drive, waiting to be sold "due to divorce" as he phrased the Craigs List ad (and left town so I could be the one to deal with all the lookers). There were the two raspberry patches that I weeded and tied up and harvested buckets of berries from. There were the apple trees that I picked bushels from, then peeled and cut and canned for days and days. There was the indestructible rhubarb that produced gorgeous stalks from spring to fall. There was the multitude of rhododendrons that I pruned and shaped. There was the grass I cut all the time I was killing myself at our bakery. There was the insidious English ivy that I tried and failed to eradicate. I saw all this in about fifteen seconds of looking at the computer screen. I saw two and a half years of living in that house and I was knocked flat.

I've shown people the interior of the house, too, especially the kitchen that we finished remodeling about six weeks before I learned my life would inexorably change. I loved that kitchen and seeing the photos I took of it before, during, and after the remodel always makes me sad. Sad because of the loss of what I expected my life to be, sad because I was so ignorant and trusting that I never saw it coming, sad because it was perfect but it was a veneer over rot. But it was seeing the house and the yard and the gleam of the canal from the air that took me down. It was a tsunami of anger, sadness, hatred, and bitterness more vile than I could imagine. I felt like stone, red-hot and nearly immobilized, and could do nothing but sit and cry.

I hate with fierce passion the control this situation still has over me. When I said to my friend that I'd told the ex-husband some time ago that I got it, that I understood why he did what he did, and that I forgave him for it, all my friend said was that I was still bitter. He was right. I don't know how forgiveness works after all. I thought I could will it but I can't. I don't know how to walk this path with heart I thought I was so firmly on. I don't know where to go from here but the only way that seems open is forward. I guess that's where I'll go.

Thought of the day:
Perhaps I am stronger than I think. (Thomas Merton)

Thursday, August 29, 2013

I lost my job, my dog died, and my wife ran off with my best friend

People steal petrified wood from the park. They do. How much is up for speculation, but it happens. In the past the entire focus was theft prevention, dating back to the early days when Theodore Roosevelt declared the area a national monument in 1906 (it didn't achieve national park status until 1962). Tons of the stuff were carried off and legend has it logs were blasted with dynamite to release the beautiful crystals that were inside some of them. 

The author Edward Abbey worked at the park in 1961 for a few brief months before being fired for being a "wrench in the operation." He said his job consisted of sitting in the entrance booth for 8 hours at a time asking people if they had stolen petrified wood, and feeling like they were all lying to him.

It's true that the park was inhospitable to visitors for years, but the emphasis now is on making the park open, accessible, and welcoming. Still, a sign at each end of the park says vehicles are subject to inspection, a kind of "trust, but verify" philosophy.

Some folks all of a sudden remember a chunk that's made its way into the car, and they're found on the side of the road between the sign and the exit.


I've been out there where the stuff lies thick on the ground, I've seen these truly beautiful and unique marvels of nature, and I understand why people want to take one home. 

Sometimes the pieces that make it out of the park also make their way back home. I was in the post office one day and saw this box, a lot worse for wear, waiting for someone to pick it up.

The box was already open on one corner, so I took a better look. Not the most gorgeous piece I've ever seen, but apparently attractive enough for someone to take home.

 The returnees are often accompanied by a letter. I don't know about this one; maybe the sender thought the note on the box was enough. 

The park keeps all the letters. There are at least a couple of boxes of them, and I sorted through some scans to find a good one. Many, many of them tell tales of bad luck coming in waves since the wood came into their possession. Here's one that's a typical account, sounding like a bad country music song:

If you absolutely have to have some, just buy a piece in the gift shop or from any of the vendors along the road. Stolen petrified wood is bad juju. 

Thought of the day: 
A guilty conscience is the mother of invention. (Carolyn Wells)

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Never, ever pass up fry bread

In a panicky flurry of day-tripping a few weeks ago to see all the places I'd put off, I made the return visit to Canyon de Chelly that I'd promised myself. The first time I went I didn't have the time or the water or the shoes for a hike into the canyon to see White House, but the second time I was prepared.

This trip was made on Highway 12, which crosses from Arizona to New Mexico and back to Arizona across Navajo land, and it got me wondering if there is a blah stretch of landscape anywhere in this part of the state. If so, I haven't seen it yet. I'm so grateful that there are usually wide shoulders to on which to pull over because otherwise, I'll tell you, I'd be sorely tempted to stop right in the lane with an eye on the rear view mirror. How could anyone pass up views like this?

Wild horses, I think. They're all over the area.

Knowing I was on Navajo land got me thinking about fry bread, and lo and behold, at the intersection of 12 and somewhere, there was a food truck selling just that. You betcha I stopped.

No turkey legs for me but plenty of people lined up behind me ordered them (at 8 bucks a pop!) and must have depleted the supply because by the time I left the sign was down.

The young woman forming the bread allowed me to photograph her tossing the dough into discs just like pizza makers used to do.

The discs were slapped into the grease in the pan over the gas burner one at a time and a short time later this is what I got for ten thin dimes. Yes, just one dollar for this most delicious fresh, hot disc of fry bread. I went back and bought another, which I definitely should not have done.

After eating way too much of the second piece I headed directly to the canyon just down the road. After nearly two pieces of fry bread... well, I had to try to work them off.

The trail is three miles round trip and in one of those weird circumstances that makes so sense whatsoever, it was much harder going down than coming up. From the rim, the trail looks somewhat steep but at least smooth - but they are faking you out.

This is what the trail really looks like, except this section is fairly level. Somehow it was easier to navigate the loose rocks leaving the canyon than it was going in.

Once on the canyon floor, a big disappointment was finding a fence all around the ruins. I know better than to climb all over but apparently enough other people do not, and a five-foot fence was the only way to get the message across.

I suppose the same ladders used to climb to the upper section were used to carve the petroglyphs.

The dark streaks are desert varnish, a mineral that's deposited slowly and often serves as canvas for rock art.

You can see how the upper level is somewhat protected from the elements.

This line of eroded rock was about thirty feet off the ground and interesting because of the stones piled up in a couple of the holes. Who? Why?

I met a nice young woman on the climb out, a traveling nurse from Alaska who was sightseeing before beginning her first assignment. She took this ever-so-flattering picture of me in all my sartorial splendor. In my world, dressing appropriately for the activity and dressing anywhere near fashionably are mutually exclusive conditions.

I expected to feel the spiritual 'pow' at White House that I've felt in other places, but didn't. Maybe it's like any other thing you expect to find or look for too hard - love, happiness, fulfillment -- whatever is missing in your life and think you desperately need to have right now - it's never where you think it should be. Just live, and it'll show up when you're ready. Maybe, probably, when and where you least expect it.

Thought of the day:

It's a good place when all you have is hope and not expectations. (Danny Boyle)

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Alley pickin'

Petrified Forest is the only national park to host a section of the Mother Road, Route 66. For the longest time it freaked me out that walkable sections of it appeared in two widely separated sections of the park, and what seemed to me to be at right angles to each other. I don't know how long it took me to figure out the road through the park has a switchback at the north end, so the park road touches Interstate 40 and Route 66 twice. Anyway, the section on the north end is close to where I call home and I walk it every once in a while. On that end of the park, it skirts the Painted Desert on the east for a short while and then goes off cross country.

Where 66 appears farther to the south in the park there's a faint, grassed-over depression in the earth, and with your imagination you can see the ghost of the old highway, but on the section in the north, pavement intermingles with gravel areas and is kept clear of weeds by vehicular traffic from park staff who use the road for one reason or another.

Between the road and the Painted Desert lies what I first thought was the park landfill; a couple of acres of trash surprised the heck out of me the first time I wandered out there because it was such an anomaly for an organization that's dedicated to preserving natural resources. Then I found out there used to be a lion farm, The Painted Desert Park and Zoo of Native Animals, which held a motley collection of wild critters. It had no association with the park but the owner was trying to make a living by capitalizing on its proximity to Route 66. When the government bought the property in the late 1950s and razed the whole mess a short time later, the trash got left behind and what a scavenger hunt it has turned out to be. Bottles, cans, hubcaps, pop bottle tops, dishes, all kinds of good junk. Lots of the glassware is broken and when you think it's been half a century since the place closed down, it's amazing that anything breakable is unbroken. Many pieces look like this,

 and are found in areas that look like this, piles o' trash:

 so when intact items show up, with lids even,

or little treasures like this bottle with the stepped, deco-looking sides, it's a pleasant surprise.


Intact Coke bottles are ubiquitous.

Broken dishware abounds; I've found the remains of a few different sets.

Consider a stroll through the area if you're in need of car parts. I don't guarantee good condition, but they're there, like this hubcap from a Hudson, maybe,

a fender skirt from who knows what,

or a mud flap. I don't know that I've ever seen a metal one before.

People's food preparation habits are in evidence, as shown by this two-course meal,

and the bowl used to mix something or other.

Extracurricular activities like photography,

adding to one's seashell collection (in the desert?),

or playing a game of marbles are represented.

But here's my favorite find so far. How long has it been since you've seen a LePage's glue bottle, and intact to boot? It made my day.

A gorgeous morning with the sun at my back, and I couldn't resist looking taller. But tell me, does this shadow make my butt look big?

Thought of the day:
Searching is half the fun: life is much more manageable when thought of as a scavenger hunt as opposed to a surprise party. (Jimmy Buffet)

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

I love the nightlife

A month or two ago I was out walking the main road in the park at night, headed to the Painted Desert Inn. This was not a new activity for me; I really like to walk after dark because the stars - oh, the stars are a blaze overhead. It's one of the most beautiful things ever. I carried a little flashlight, planning to use it on my way back to make sure I was staying more or less between the white lines. It's not very powerful but for that I didn't need power.

I hadn't gotten very far up the hill when I heard what could maybe be described as a cross between a growl, a whine, and a purr. Or it could just be described as vaguely threatening. I've logged many, many miles on that road and this was something new and not Not Good. My puny flashlight was no comfort. I turned it on and played it out in front of me, all the while walking but having the sense to at least slow down. Well, this magnificent flashlight illuminated the ground about as far as my arm could reach, which is to say not far. You know how when you're trying hard to see something but it's dark or too far away or you have geriatric eyes, so you use the muscles around your eyes to kind of push them out, like they're on stalks you can extend and retract, like it actually helps you see better? Well, that's what I was doing, trying very hard to see, and then I was rewarded with a dark shape on the white line on my side of the road. How I knew it was organic and not a rock or a break in the paint, I'll never know, but it made me stop. It moved. Ok, then. Whatever it was, it wasn't a cute puppy.

S-l-o-w-l-y I put one foot behind the other, backing away, keeping the stalks extended, watching the critter move slowly into the weeds on the side of the road. When it seemed safe, I turned around and headed for home, and I will swear till my dying day that the noise that animal made did not diminish even though I was moving away at a pretty good clip. I will swear it was following -- nay, stalking me. I've never had such a good excuse to light the afterburners and get a move on. I described what little I saw to my boss the next morning and she guessed it was a spotted skunk. I count my blessings.

So this brings me to a couple of nights ago when I was privileged to ride along on a night ride with the biotech, a young woman who monitors wildlife in the park. Every Monday night after the monsoons start she heads off through the park at dusk, driving around 20 mph the entire 27-mile length, and then turns around and comes back. She stops for every critter and if she can catch it she will, and then documents it - species, age, sex, condition, where found - and then puts it off on the side of the road in the direction it was headed when she caught it.

We'd gone a long dry distance, nothing on the road, and then started seeing frogs. She caught one and taught me how to hold it so it wouldn't leap out of my hand. Try as I might to get a decent photo of it, the darned thing would not stop breathing or moving.

When I managed to catch one a little farther down the road it promptly peed all over my hand. Frog pee. A first for everything. A baptism, if you will.

A while later we caught another frog, a different kind that's not as cute as the first one, but it managed to sit still a little better. 

We spotted a porcupine and decided it didn't need catching, a few really cute little pocket mice that we had no chance of catching, a lizard or two that eluded us, and then she spotted a snake and we piled out of the truck. She knew from a distance that it was a rattler, I think what she called a Hopi rattlesnake. It's a small variety, maybe 18 inches long, but we kept a respectful distance. It moved itself off the road and we continued but didn't see much else. We were gone about three hours and she said there are nights she's out five or six, there are so many animals to catalog.

After hearing, and I'm telling you being stalked by, the skunk and then seeing the porcupine and rattler, it makes me think a little harder about going out after dark but I went out at dusk last night anyway. There was nothing more threatening than this jack rabbit.

And maybe the risk was worth the sunset I saw from Pintado Point, where the expansive views of the painted desert are unmatched anywhere else. What do you think?

Thought of the day:
To me, every hour of the day and night is an unspeakably perfect miracle. (Walt Whitman)