So, do I have your attention? After seeing the ad below in Tuesday's 'Yuma Sun', I thought it was a fluke and a pretty funny one at that. Just to satisfy my curiosity, I ran it through Google and what do you know! Its a big deal in a lot of western states. Figures. Big guys on horses, carrying guns and shooting varmits would just naturally gravitate toward bull testicles, wouldn't they? Must be a 'manly' thing. I'm having trouble wrapping my mind around this one. But I'm not trying very hard.
Have a Ball at the Testicle Festival
Now, these aren't just any old testicles. No sir! These are USDA grade bull testicles. I am not aware of the grading guidelines. But bigger is better. There are formal names for this delicacy.
One is 'Rocky Mountain Oysters'. Another is (groan) 'Montana Tendergroin'. They taste like chicken. Well, sure they do. Doesn't everything?
There is apparently only one basic recipe and here it is. Just in case you have the odd dozen or so testicles you just don't know how to cook. Use frozen USDA Grade bull testicles. Skin them when they are just thawing, because the membrane peels like an orange. Hungry yet? Marinate them in beer. Bread them four times and then deep fry them. Or, you could just go out to one of the festivals like the one below. Yuma, Arizona is having one this weekend.
Over 150 million years ago, in the age of the dinosaurs, shifting sand formed huge expanses of red sandstone over most of what is now the American Southwest. The same forces that uplifted mountain ranges and the subsequent erosion over many eons then formed faults and valleys leaving the formations we see today. Other rock formations include limestone and shale.
Thats the geololgy. Its not what you first think about when you drive through it. The sky is so intensely blue and the rocks are so red that it is immediately apparent that this is a unique and mystical landscape. You just want to get out of the car and walk around in it. To touch a few things. To connect.
Your imagination just takes off. Who were the people that called this home? How did they live here? Where are they now? The span of occupation dates from 300 B.C. to around 1150 A.D. They were the Basket Maker Peoples. They predated the later Anasazi Peublo Farmers, but whether they assimilated into another group or just disappeared is not clear. They were hunter gatheres. They left rock art behind. They are gone. It's just too big a mystery, isn't it? When they looked at the formations like the one below, what animal do you think they pictured?
This is the West, don't forget. Full of cowboys and outlaws who needed hideouts. Follow a trail here to a slight depression in the rocks called "Mouse's Tank". Rainwater collects here, sometimes lasting for months. Perfect for a guy on the run. Along the route, there are many prehistoric petroglyphs. Did these people come upon the water and stay for awhile? I wonder if they were surprised when it dried up or if they were somehow able to calculate when the rains came and water would be found here again.
This is near Atlatl Rock. An atlatl is a fishhook shaped wooden tool that was used to hurl a spear great distances. They figured that out, as well as peoples from the same time periods on other continents. How does that happen? There are many varieties of flora and fauna, even in a place that looks as desolate at this. The Visitor Center here describes how intimate Basketmaker Peoples were with their environment. Nothing that was usable for survival escaped their notice.
People sat around a fire here, long ago, looking up at a blue sky while a meal was cooking. Maybe they were worried where the kids were, or if they would find water the next day. Some talented craftsman was making an atlatl for the hunt the next day. Others were thinking about what to draw on the rocks to tell their story.
Life went on.
(The Valley of Fire is located an easy 45 minute drive northeast of Las Vegas, Nevada. It used to be on Lake Meade. The lake isn't here anymore. A 13 year drought has taken it's toll)
This is one nifty bird. They are mostly carnivorous and run like the wind. Roadrunners can fly if running won't do, but they prefer the desert floor. Although they have a silly reputation from cartoon images, the sounds they make are a descending series of "coos". No bird ever made a "beep, beep" sound. For it's size, this bird is a ferocious hunter. It can handle anything smaller than it is and can even kill and eat a rattlesnake. It digests the snake while half of it is still hanging from its mouth. That fact is going to come in handy later in this story.
This country has more consumer goods than any nation on the planet. We practically import all of China. And, when the wind is from the west and the stars are in perfect alignment, the price is right too. Who can resist a sale? It's unamerican. I had just one more teensy little thing to find to finish my Christmas shopping. Don't start with me on being so organized that I could get all this done before the 'after Thanksgiving Day' sales. I may be a senior citizen, but I'm not out of my mind.
So, what's wrong with this picture? NO SALES CLERKS!!! And, if you are fortunate enough to actually find one, chances are one of the following scenarios will happen.
Clerk has no idea what you are talking about
Clerk has no idea where the product is located
Clerk has no inking of store's layout
Clerk can't speak English
Clerk is on the phone and can't be bothered with you
Clerks are gathering to talk about boyfriends
Clerk can't figure out register
Clerk makes mistake and it takes hours to find a manager who actually knows how to correct it and ring up the sale
Enter Geococcyx Californianus, the Roadrunner. Any bird that can catch and eat a rattlesnake ought to be able to run down and nail a sales clerk. It can digest the clerk as it's nasty little feet hang out of its beak as it does with the rattlesnake. Or, it can use it's habit of spearing the prey and beating it to death against the rocks.
The most painted and photographed landmark in Arizona, after the Grand Canyon, is Superstition Mountain, rising 3000 feet above the desert floor of the Salt River Valley in the Tonto National Forest - the whole lying inside the boundaries of the huge Sonoran Desert. It encompasses 242 square miles of rocky cliffs.The climate is treacherous. Summer temperatures soar over 125 degrees with little or no water in sight. In the cooler season, snow can cover the peaks and even the desert base can plunge below freezing. Wood to use for fires is scarce, the forest plants here are cacti. Food is questionable, assuming you could catch anything. And, the wildlife is hungry too - you might look pretty good to them.
Why would anyone care? GOLD. The romance and allure of finding the Lost Dutchman Mine is just irresistable. Jacob Waltz left no clues and has been dead for over a 100 years, yet maps and forays into the Superstitions have continued for all that time. Interested?
Well, you're going to need a map. It just so happens that there are dozens of those. There are 62 documented maps on record, even though Mr. Waltz wasn't talking. How tough can this be? Lets take a look.
From an unspecified point which may be along a river, a road or just the bottom of the page, we travel toward some benchmark. Did someone draw an "X" on the ground there? We know it is after the "deep cliffs", but that's sort of a relative term isn't it; everything is a deep cliff. Now, "facing W of SW third of 4 peaks over right shoulder". Hmmm. Somewhere, with 3 red hills in front of me as I am facing WSW, I'm to look over my right shoulder. I will be looking at the 3'rd of 4 peaks.....behind me? What does that accomplish? Maybe there is a hill shaped like an arrow pointing the way. Obviously, either the map is not to scale, or the kidney shaped pit is both miles and miles away from "X" and half the size of Lake Michigan. This just won't do. Better try again.
This is a little better. Places have names, but I doubt there are street signs. If we find a place called Buzzards Roost while facing Coffee Mountain there will be a trail heading....up? Did no one own a compass? Going up, we find "Reid's Water", further along the road forks and if we bear left we will come to "Reid's Silver Queen Mine". Off to the right of Buzzards Roost are "old markers", but we would just have to know what they looked like, it isn't specified. Then, before the trail turns "up" again, a strange little symbol is off to the right and looks like a shovel. Dig here? Now we sort of know where we are, but have no idea what to do with it. Lets get another map.
This one has Spanish references, so those will have to be identified. Other than that, try this one out on a topo map and see where you end up. It is noteasy to find a starting point without some sort of scale. Well, there are dozens of these maps. Lets just get another.
Much, much better. Trouble is, the "Phoenix Don's Club" has had this information for years and haven't had much luck. I love the detailed description of the sun shining through the two notches of "Horse's Head" in the hills to land on "X" halfway up a mesa some unspecified distance away. Not sure which mesa, there are lots of them. Well, that's just crystal clear.
I'm way ahead of anybody looking for gold. The Superstitions are just beyond Apache Junction, an easy drive from here. I'll pack a picnic and take a moment to be in the desert air with those mountains as a backdrop and that luminous blue sky overhead. Just LOOK at the picture.
If that isn't golden, nothing is.
(Blogger has improved it's posting pages. Consequently, this post, which was written before that, has a few quirkly colors and fonts. Your PC is fine, it's me, I'll get it right next time.)
One dark and foggy night, a man hurries home through deserted streets, his feet squelching on wet leaves with every step. His breath rushes out in front of him in a white stream as he wraps his arms tightly around himself trying to conserve the warmth inside his long wool trench coat. There are night sounds. The dripping rainwater is now turning to ice. Frozen twigs snap as the wind whistles through tight places.
At the edge of his hearing, he is aware of a small bumping sound growing steadily louder. Almost, but not quite, like a door left open that is blowing back and forth, slamming against its frame.
Its more like someone in heavy boots, and its getting closer and louder still. The man feels the hair on his neck rise and he begins to walk much faster, as he turns to look behind him to see what is causing that horrible clumping. The icy air catches in his throat as he sees through the fog, the image of an upright wooden casket, banging right down the middle of the street toward him! BUMP, bump......BUMP, bump........BUMP, bump.............
Terrified, the man turns and runs toward his house. but the casket keeps pace with him. He thinks of the safety of his home and tries to put more distance between him and the grotesque thing following him when he suddenly hears a slamming noise. Over his shoulder his watches in horror as the casket lid bangs open and shut, revealing the grotesque thing inside.
The man races to his front porch, fumbles the key in the lock, then wrenches open the door and leaps across the threshold, slamming and locking it behind him.He stands with his back against the heavy door, his chest heaving as his gasps for breath. The thing in the casket is on the porch! It crashes through the door, knocking the man forward. He takes the stairs three at a time, desperate for any sanctuary from the unspeakable monstrosity in the casket following him up the stairs.
BANG! CLANG! BANG! CLANG!
He locks himself in the bathroom and looks around desperately for something, anything, to use against the cadaverous thing slamming through the door and stretching out its hands for him. The smell of wet earth and rotted flesh is all around him when SCREAMS and SCREAMS and SCREAMS erupt from his throat. His thrashing hands grab the first thing he feels and he hurls the cough syrup at the specter facing him when.............
The Coffin Stops.
(Although I would happily acknowledge the author of this idea, I do not know who that is; it has been making the rounds for years.The considerable verbal embellishments and use of stock photos are all mine.)
A lot of folks were seriously injured in Sedona recently. Three of them are dead.
James Arthur Ray was holding a "Spiritual Warrior" event which included a poorly managed sweat lodge exercise.
Mr. Ray seems to be able to manage himself rather well. Fees for the event reached $10,000.00 according to published accounts. His web site (click here) is a slick bit of self promotion. Scroll down to the "Continue Here" button on the bottom of his page to see a video of him explaining his philosophy, such as it is. The guiding principal seems to be "Harmonic Wealth....Attract the Life You Want".
According to Mr. Ray, he will ...."show you 6 Laws of the Universe that will help you rise above all external circumstances". Really? That seems to be information that the general population would have keyed in on by now. How does something that universally beneficial remain a mystery to all but Mr. Ray? And why is the news only available to those in an altered state?
Three things about all this make me very, very angry. The first is, obviously, the loss of life. The second is that it does a disservice to the residents of Sedona by picturing the area in a negative light. And the third is that by misusing the term "warrior" and holding an event in a "sweat lodge" Mr. Ray insults the native culture to whom these honorable terms and traditions rightly belong.
Sedona and its environs are hypnotically beautiful settings. It is a truly breathtaking piece of Arizona real estate in a state that has stunning vistas in abundance. The area has long attracted those interested in crystals and vortexes and New Age ideas. Although I would not choose to follow the proponents of these principals, its a choice I make for myself. Whatever paths others choose, to whatever enlightenment they seek, is entirely up to them. Yet I am fairly certain of one thing.
I'm not a prude, lets get that straight right up front. But, on my first trip to Las Vegas last week, I saw more "t and a" than Hugh Hefner on a busy day. Sure, sex is what the city is all about, that and money. But, when the ceiling starts dripping breasts, enough is enough. When I had to duck to avoid running into them, I knew I had to even the score.
Lest you think I exaggerate, here is the lady in question. Pretty gal, probably more modest than she is allowed to be here. Obviously, this is Cleopatra and I'm sure Anthony appreciated her attributes, but I'm guessing it took more than a nice set to hold an empire together.
And, if she used feminine wiles to win her man and protect her throne...well, a gals got to do what a gals got to do.
The boys from the Big Apple look pretty good from afar, very afar. Trouble is, they are pretty much above it all.
Not much chance to get acquainted when you are keeping time for the city.
And whats with that hook on a staff thing anyway? Kinky stuff.
Aww........he looks kinda shy doesn't he? Not ready to show off yet.
Just hiding behind a tree, peering at the world. Not exactly an eye catcher, but maybe he will grow into it.
Of course, we don't have time to wait around for that. I'll check on him next year.
Oh....I know, I know! Don't tell me.
ATLAS! Didn't know they were twins. But three could be fun.
Wonder who holds up the world when they want to take a break? Looks like a really heavy job.
I'm not sure they could lighten up and just enjoy a drink. Maybe a show. Nah.
Wait a minute! Is this guy Atlas or an impersonator? Vegas is full of those people - what you see is what you get, sort of.
He is not holding up the world, more like a big boulder. There is that curly hair. Maybe Sampson?
He looks pretty buff, but he is, you know, blue! Not sure I could get interested in a blue guy.
And, he looks busy.
This is a possibility. Look at those muscles. And that hair. Very nice.
Wait a minute. Whats that stuff on his thighs? Little pieces of .......... pigeon poop!!!!
Well, yuck. This guy needs a shower.
Nice body, but not too muscled. The hair and beard could use some shaping.
He brought a blanket. That is very, very thoughtful.
But, the, a, credentials are a bit weak.
Nope, I want a refund.
Las Vegas is a lot to take in over just a few days. And a few days is all you can take at a time. It is an intense "in your face" city. There is no subtlety here. It is after your money. With my luck, casinos ought to have drive through windows so that I can just get it over with. Thats OK. I won't lose more than I consider the price of a nights entertainment. I have more to say about my trip, so stay tuned. I'm not crazy about the place.
Some, very few, gifted artists have the ability to stop you dead in your tracks and leave you so stunned you forget that time exists.I am in awe of such creative genius, the sort that can lift you up and transport you to a whole other plane of perception. It is otherworldly, like seeing through a fourth dimension.
Using a layered presentation of photographs, journals and poetic, hauntingly beautiful voices, Mr. Colbert paints a picture of possibility, of what can exist between us and the animals that share our planet.
See for yourself here. Its like being let in on the most incredible secret, as if Mr. Colbert took my hand, then placed his index finger across his lips to quiet me and said..."Let me show you something wondrous."
Prepare to be astonished. I will claim this gift when the installation opens again. Maybe I'll see you there.
Please take a moment to use the two links above and see how these organizations are helping women around the world to help themselves. While there, scroll down to see what the Washington Post book reviews and others are saying.
This link is provided by the publisher, Alfred P. Knopf, in conjunction with the release of "Half the Sky", one of the most important books of our generation. I hope you will add it to your reading list as soon as possible.
All women, at one time or another, have been at the least marginalized and at the worst, murdered. We all have benefited from a lifetime of sisterhood linking us to those who provide a helping hand; from a mother, a sister, a girlfriend, a teacher, or to an organization that through our combined solidarity, moves us forward.
Incredibly brave and resilient women who have survived the most unimaginable cruelty need our help. Please stand up and be counted so that our sisters can stand as well. They will never break the chain or abuse this trust. Their lives depend on it.
This post is Arizona Sky Blue - the same sky that covers and connects us all. Under it's canopy, all our futures are interwoven.
This is my favorite rose of all time. It was a gift, almost fifteen years ago. The buds are a deep pink color that top long, sturdy branches. It seems so small then, hardly capable of the show to come. As it begins to open, the petals reveal a lighter shade of pink with a hint of lightest yellow. These two colors then combine to form the most gorgeous shrimp color that lightens as it approaches the center which is the brightest sunny yellow. Just like a new day dawning, it fills my hand to overflowing. I have always thought of this rose as a long stemmed sunrise. Nothing, I thought, would be this beautiful in the desert. Its just too dry, too hot, for this sort of delicate, ethereal beauty to exist.
Was I ever wrong. Meet a rose of the desert.
Rainbow Cactus Variety - Strawberry Hedgehog
This photo has not been enhanced in any way. It is almost unbelievable as it is. Like a fireworks display, this rose begins immediately with an "in your face" intensity that defies belief, amazes you for what seems like an instant, and then is gone. It's petal shapes appear still wet and newly formed, sculpted from the purest pools of color. It is like the brilliant last hurrah of a sunset, the light infused sun's palette brimming with all the saturation it can muster.
Like a sunrise or a sunset, both beginnings and endings hold the promise of tomorrow.
Oh, the joys of medical screening. Medicine is all about prevention, and that is a good thing. We really are living longer because of it and that is a very good thing. So, I was a little puffed up recently from being responsible and going through all those poke and prod tests, as I do every year, and passing with flying colors. Then my Doc said it was time for a colonoscopy and he handed me a prep list for the day before the procedure. Right after I said, "you're going to put what...where?!".
This is one of those ideas that sound a lot better in principle than in practice.
I decided to stop at the pharmacy for the prep supplies before heading home, just to get used to the idea.
It didn't work.
I felt like Alice, getting smaller and smaller until I could barely see the top of the counter. Can a person actually get all that inside?
Two 32 ounce bottles of Gatorade is one whole GALLON! A G.A.L.L.O.N. I don't like Gatorade, let alone with a bottle of thick, slick goo in it. And, it has to go down in two hours! That is 8 ounces every 15 minutes. Not exactly sippin' speed.But before we start in on all that liquid, there is the Ducolax to get down.
Five of them. At one time.
Now, that is exactly what I would do to a terrorist. It was shaping up to be one explosive evening; I could become airborne. And so it began. Take the pills and wait two hours. Just to pass the time, I began to mix the Gatorade and white powder. But, WAIT! The Gatorade is red and I can't drink anything red! I have to drive to the corner pharmacy. Oh, no,....no, no...... not a good idea. I just downed 5 Ducolax. Ho. Leee. Shit. But, I do it. Ran in, grabbed the Gatorade, slapped cash down on the counter, looked impatient, a little crazed....told the woman to take the money...take the money.....TAKE THE MONEY!!!!!!!!
So now its time for the Gatorade. And more Gatorade.......eeeewwwww. And then, nothing. I'm getting nothing. Walking, walking, bending, walking...nothing. Really, can this stuff turn to cement? Nothing. I'm getting worried, wondering if I should call the.....WHOA....SOMETHING!!!! I have to say, sneezing fits in the most inappropriate of places is unsettling and remained that way for some time.For quite a long, long, time.
I arrived at the Doctor's office early and was processed in record time. All the nurses were smiling and asking questions and being ever so sweet. Of course, they can afford to be; they have the power. Somewhere, behind the brightly painted walls, a thing was lurking. THAT thing was waiting. That big LONG thing.I turned over on my side and waited, then saw..........my friend? She was asking if I needed help getting dressed. Huh? I remember nothing, but among the things I do not remember are conversations I was reported to have had.
Maybe, and maybe Susan's just messing with me. She does that.
OK, I've had some fun with this, but here's the bottom line (excuse the pun). There are no guarantees out there. If you can improve your odds significantly, why wouldn't you?
(What happened above was a head game that I did to myself. The Gatorade wasn't bad, the MiraLax is not slimy, and the Ducolax was not a problem. Things take a while to pass though, so start early. The Doc was fabulous, I don't remember a thing. And nothing hurt. Honestly.)
The Heard Museum in Phoenix tells the story of American Indian cultures, with an emphasis on the Southwest, using it's beautifully displayed collection as a window into another world. Throughout the museum's galleries, pedestals with headphones provide oral histories and narratives to place the items in context. Detailed descriptions of how pieces were created illustrate the enormous talent and creativity of the Native Peoples. This signature collection contains both artifacts and current pieces by artisans working today in silver, turquoise, basketry, pottery, bead work and textiles as well as Barry Goldwater's Kachina Dolls gift. All are displayed with the Heard's unmatchable grace and style. See it here.
The real action, however, takes place on the front lawn. Every year, the Heard hosts the World Championship Hoop Dancing Competition, bringing together many tribes and age groups performing one of the living traditions of their Native culture. These images are from the 2007 Competition. Hoops are made from plastic tubing wrapped to match the dancer's costume, which incorporates local color and design. The hoops are small, no larger than 30", and are symbolic, telling us that life is a never ending circle, with no beginning and no end. Hoop dancing is a form of Native American storytelling in which a solo dancer forms animal shapes such as a snake, eagle or coyote, and ending with the shape of the world using many hoops over the body to show that all life is interconnected.
These performances require superior athleticism and skill. The dancers use as many as 30 hoops that connect along their arms and legs to form wings or tails. All the while, they execute intricate footsteps in sync to the beat of many drums and chanting voices that speed towards an ending crescendo where the dancer is a blur of color and movement. It is absolutely mesmerizing. A recent Hoop Dancing Champion, Dallas Chief Eagle, a Lakota Sioux whose signature dance is called "Nurturing the Tree of Life" can be seen here. Another proponent of his Native culture, Kevin Locke can be seen at www.kevinlocke.com and also here dancing.
As the dancers move, their faces shine with pure joy. It is a sight to behold.
Retiring from a former life requires diligent purging. The old chrysalis must be fully detached before a newly devised being, mostly of our own choosing, can continue along the chosen path. There was that life and now there is this life and all those old things won't fit. Belongings are easy. Paper is the bane of my existence.
As long as we are alive on this planet, we are going to leave a paper trail. Certainly if we maintain a home and vehicles, deal with money in it's various forms, expect to leave anything to the next generation or deal with any taxing authority. Someone, probably my Executor, is going to be dealing with that for years after my demise. Any Executor knows you are not dead until the IRS says you are, which is exactly the second after the time period you are required to keep records. Then, you are good and dead.
So, this is the month I rid myself of extraneous file boxes, keeping only what is essential. My parents and an uncle are now reduced to one section of an accordion file, each containing a birth certificate, a death certificate, a will and a closing statement. I don't even need that. But, these things are filed along with expired passports, marriage certificates and titles to all the properties I ever owned. The record if their lives are now stored with the other mementos.
All I need is memory to bring them back and of course, I have wonderful photographs. Still, something is irretrievably gone. The closest I can come to describing it is "voice". Most of that comes from the written word and none of these people did that. Certainly, autobiographies are for those who consider their lives above the fray and are capable of producing (without a blush), ego driven expositions that assume the public would be interested in more details of their lives than are generally known. Although autobiographies are always suspect, biographers and their subjects make fine reading. Neither applies to the casual writer.
What is needed here, it would seem, is a "commonplace book", defined as a personal journal in which quotations, essays, literary excerpts, quips and comments about one's own or other's observations are gathered. Quite a few exist as published material; one of the best is "A Certain World" by W. H. Auden. In fact, he described it as the closest thing to an autobiography he would ever write. It was "a map of his planet". These compilations require a curious mind, reasonable intelligence, some facility with language and naturally, something to say, for judgements will be made on whether we will be spending time with each other, or moving on.
Blogging, with it's freewheeling structure fits this description perfectly. The author's choice of subject matter, the manner of expression and the response to it are multi layered and more personally revealing than a formal narrative. The medium is so inherently flexible that if something you observe resonates within your psyche as familiar, a response can be made immediately and a communication established. Here is the vital difference between histories and blogs. Blogs are two way streets. Each is a personal vision of the author's world; the "voice" we hear. It is not only possible to see how someone's mind works in these circumstances, it is inevitable.
My name has not escaped me, yet. But, as it turns out, it is the least important thing you need to know.
* ("My Name Escapes Me" - Alec Guiness. Written upon his retirement - one of them).
Deep in the Southwest back country and accessible only by train, the pristine and protected Verde Valley, an ecosystem supporting a wide variety of flora and fauna, is situated in the otherwise arid high desert of north central Arizona. It is a place of incredible beauty and immense age. Where I see towering vermilion cliffs laced with green malachite, a trained eye begins with the primeval seabed and traces upwards along rock walls through ten named time periods spanning 350,000,000 years to end with the Mogollon (moo-gea-on) Rim which forms part of the Colorado Plateau. Yet, for all the ponderous weight of ages, time sits so lightly in the valley that fossilized remains of long extinct species still lie on the surface.
Prehistoric peoples in the region numbered in the thousands. Archaeologists regard the Verde Valley as an "aboriginal melting pot" that included tribes we call the Hohokam, Anasazi, Sinagua, Mogollan and Salado. No one knows what they called themselves.
The Sinagua flourished along the Verde River, but life was never easy. Over half of all known skeletal remains are those of children under the age of nine. Just 4% of adults reached 45 years of age. But while they lived, they evolved from hunter gatherer, pit dwelling societies into builders of soaring cliff dwellings that remain intact today. (See one here.) A cornucopia of trees and plants provided food, medicine, clothing and shelter. The wonderful "Three Sisters" triad (corn stalks supported bean vines while the squash leaves shaded all three root systems) and the plentiful fish and game gave the inhabitants a rich and varied diet. They became master cotton weavers. From the tall, hilltop, pueblos, they commanded 360 degree views and established trade with both coastal and tropical tribes as evidenced by the parrot feathers and seashells found at grave sites. (See one here.) And then, at the height of their civilization in what is known as "The Great Abandonment", these tribes vanished into history. Theories abound, assimilation is one, but facts are few. No one really knows why.
Still, the wildlife remains in the Verde Valley and among them are superstars. A pair of breeding bald eagles, named "Black" and "Decker" have produced offspring nearly every year since their release in 1993. Everyone strains to catch a glimpse of them, but since we are not food and no longer a threat, they remain oblivious to us and reign in solitary majesty, perched high on red rock pinnacles safe from predators and prying eyes. But, when they deign to soar closer and their huge wingspan casts a giant shadow that glides silently over the cliffs, you literally stop breathing. Think about that. How many things have you seen in your lifetime that take your breath away?
Riding along on the Verde Valley Railroad, gazing out picture windows while sitting in cushy sofas as someone serves you drinks, it is easy to get caught up in facts about geology, copper mining, the nearby mountain of slag, the Perkinsville ghost ranch or even running from side to side of the car looking for rocks that resemble turtles. Forget all that. Get up and go outside where every other car is an open aired, fenced platform with unobstructed views. Feel the sun on your arms and the wind in your hair and try to be still with your thoughts. Like time, people touched the earth lightly here and your trip has to be back in time to feel their presence.
Please, is there anything 'common' about this little guy? Even his Latin name is longer than he is.Scientific classifications identify a species exactly; it names one specific thing and no other. Habits and range and diet are delineated in excruciating detail, as was the case with this fellow. Except for one thing. He is drop dead gorgeous.....and, really, really fast.
Camera poised, you can get within four feet as his eyes swivel around, checking your progress. But, just as you are ready to snap a picture, he skitters ahead a few more feet, rolls his eyes and waits. Until a car door slams. Then he moves so lightning fast that for a millisecond, you are left staring at empty space until your brain kicks in and records the fact that he is gone.
Like Gomez, he has a perky personality and fabulous color, so he is definitely worth pursuing. But you wouldn't know that by his name. Consider the following conversations:
ME: Oh! Look! A little blue and green 'Geico Gecko' lizard with a turquoise tail! YOU: Where? (.....as everyone within earshot comes my way.)
ME: Look! A Common Side Blotched Lizard! YOU: ........(No one is saying anything. They are all jumping up on the nearest benches before razor sharp teeth sink into their ankles.) Do lizards even have teeth? Does anyone care? First impressions are everything. I wouldn't get out of the car for a 'side blotched' anything.
'Side Blotched' or 'Turquoise Tail'? I'm just saying.
Many years ago, in a different home far away, I was looking for nicely painted paper mache fruit for an impressive cut glass bowl that sat on a sideboard in the dining room. My search took me to a picturesque area loaded with antique shops and specialty stores, just the place I might find what I had in mind. Perched on a hill overlooking the Ohio River, this little hamlet had shaded benches lining a walkway along the river and on this particular spring midday, they were filled with elderly men taking in the view, some drawing seated walkers up close to use as footstools.
Having found exactly what I wanted, my friends and I were walking slowly towards the car, each with a yogurt waffle cone and I with my additional bag of paper fruit. As I was juggling this load, a pomegranate fell to the ground and rolled under a parked car. Aghast, (this stuff is expensive), I yelled, "Oh no, I've lost my pomegranate!"
Whereupon, elderly men instantly scrambled up and to the sounds of "clang, shuffle, shuffle, clang, shuffle, shuffle," scooted away in all directions on their walkers. What on earth!?!
Did that sound like "Pomeranian"? Did they have even a vague idea of what the danger could have been? I am not fond of Pomeranians, but I do like pomegranates very much, especially on a fruit salad with poppy seed dressing. I'm likely to serve it soon, because my trees are fruiting. My friends are welcome to come by and enjoy them.
But, if you go in my backyard, you are on your own.
No one, traveling east from the Sierra Nevada, can be a stranger to Interstate 80, especially that section between Nevada and Utah. The intense brightness of the Great Salt Lake, spreading in all directions to the horizon, will make you reach for your sunglasses, until you realize that you are already wearing them. The western entrance to this salty wilderness takes you past the Bonneville Salt Flats, a raceway named for the huge and ancient Lake Bonneville that in the time of the mammoths, covered most of the Great Salt Basin. Although fed by several watercourses, this is a terminal lake, regulated only by evaporation. And evaporate it does, at a rate of 3 million acre/feet annually. That is a lot of salt by any standard.
Ambling along in my RV at a sedate 55 mph, past the track where world land records are set at speeds exceeding 600 mph, I was trying to maintain some enthusiasm for the coming 115 miles, a trip I've made dozens of times. Thoughts of "if you've seen one Great Salt Lake, you've seen 'em all" were hard to suppress, knowing full well there is just the one.
It was in this state of mind that I noticed in the far distance something not white in a world beyond white. Once again, here was the strange object that I had first encountered years ago and passed many times, rising up from an otherwise featureless landscape. This giant pillar has what appear to be alien eyeballs stuck up on it, one of which, by design, has fallen to crack apart in pieces that lay scattered below. A few passersby were stepping in and out of the shapes, trying by some tactile sense to understand what imagination failed to register. This time, I stopped.
Called "Metaphor: The Tree of Utah" or simply, "The Tree of Life", this monument pays tribute to times when life was lost. Near here, the harsh environment fatally delayed the Donner Party. In the last century, the crew of the Enola Gay practiced for a mission that would take them to Hiroshima and another blinding brightness we hope never to see again. But the sculpture shrugs off tragedy to end on a positive note, for on it's base is inscribed an "Ode to Joy", the uplifting closing to Beethoven's 9'th Symphony. Life is triumphant.
I get that. And, I'm mightily impressed. But for my life to triumph, there would be more than 75 searing miles to go and I would rather think about something other than the Donner Party when I did it. And so, humming Ode to Joy, I soon neared a manufacturing facility out on the salt.
Pioneers used to drive a team of horses out here, load up what they needed andbe on their way. Four barrels of salty sand, boiled down, equaled one barrel of usable salt. In a trade, that was as good as money. Small companies competed for business but in the end, Morton Salt dominated the industry. In 1914, a simple idea for ease of use caused a consumer revolution. A cylindrical cardboard container was designed and a spout added. Into this new packaging went salt with an anti caking agent. A blue label with a picture of a little girl under an umbrella and a new slogan taken from a proverb, "it never rains, but it pours", completed the transformation. An American icon was born.
Later, Morton would add iodine to help prevent goiters, a common ailment that has largely disappeared. Still later, men using shovels were replaced by powerful tractors with huge scoops and the term "Hootin Nannys" entered our common lexicon. Morton Salt maintains over 15,000 acres of evaporation ponds, distributing salt for human and animal consumption and for diverse purposes from water softeners to deicing. I like Morton Salt. They have donated thousands of acres to The Nature Conservancy and I wanted them to know, if they ever read this, that I appreciated it. Thanks.
Within sight of Salt Lake City, I see my last stop. A tarnished reminder not of days gone by but just wishful thinking, Saltair III sits forlorn in a weedy patch just off the highway. It isn't the "real deal". More like the "real place". Called the "Cursed Resort", Saltair burned and was rebuilt twice. This third example was flooded for years when the water advanced, but now the Great Salt Lake has again receded along with people's tastes; there are newer, flashier entertainments to be had. Peeling turrets and doors shuttered and locked with rusty chains offer testament to the way the world and the lake have moved on.
But in 1893, the original and queenly Saltair reigned over the Great Salt Lake offering swimming, dancing, vaudeville, rodeos and even a midway. Huge staircases rose to the second level, pedestals held forests of ferns, and the clink of silver on china echoed through the dining rooms. Tuxedoed men squired their elegantly dressed, bejeweled and coiffed ladies around the rooms in a sea of silk. Pictures attest to a time when this grand old gal rivaled any Atlantic City resort. Saltair has now gone the way of those more elegant times, living not in memory any longer, but only as a curiousity in history books.
A lot can happen in 115 miles. Take my word for it. Or, take it with a grain of salt.
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I believe that living in such dangerous and uncertain times requires a recommitment to the things we hold dear.
How do you know the things most dear to you, the things you truly love?
The people and things you move to protect are the things you love deeply.
My country is among those things I choose to protect.
l want my grandchildren to know that there is a way to steer by a moral compass in this sea of hate.
Truth is the only way to be free.
This blog is an attempt to find a path through the current political morass.
It is to let my grandchildren know that I did something to protect their world.
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