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Tuesday, March 20, 2018

We Take a Visitor on a Climb into the Sky

With yet another friend from Traverse City, this one coming to us from weeks spent with other friends in New Mexico and in the Tucson area, we made our first expedition of the season to the Chiricahua National Monument on Saturday, St. Patrick's Day. I always enjoy the drive from the ghost town in my "home" mountains of Dos Cabezas down the road east to Chiracahua almost as much as I enjoy being in the excitingly tree-filled Chiricahua Mountains, and our friend Joe had never been to Chiricahua before. So we were eager to show it to him, and he was, I am happy to report, duly impressed. --But then, who wouldn't be? In one direction, we looked down on the plain we had crossed to get to the Monument; in another, our view extended clear into New Mexico.

As you can see from the way this little girl's hair was blowing every which way, the wind was fierce up on Massai Point, and air was cold, too. I regretted not having worn my sheepskin-lined buckskin jacket, and the Artist could also have used a heavier coat, but notwithstanding the cold we did quite a bit of up- and downhill walking -- not attempting the trail to the shelter you see on the mountaintop below (are you kidding?) but climbing stone steps to a small exhibit building, where the origin of the rock formations was explained. 

We ran into our friend Tom up on Massai Point and didn't have to introduce Joe and Tom to each other, as each had spotted the other's Michigan license plate. We were glad to see Tom and invite him to join us for Irish dinner later in the day. We Michigan people, it must be said, were all a bit giddy being in the company of real trees up there in the higher altitudes. "It's like being in Canada," I exclaimed to the others. Here in Arizona, gains in altitude are like gains in latitude back in Michigan.

A notable feature visible from Massai Point is the mountain known as Cochise Head. It is a striking profile, but I wish the famous Apache were seen looking proudly out across his home territory, rather than lying on his back as if in death.

Going up the mountain, I had the alarming sensation that I could be crushed any minute by a rock wall that seemed only inches away from my head. (This is no reflection on Joe's driving, only on my nerves.) Riding down it was the nearness of the edge that had me gripping the armrest for dear life, but the views were worth the fear. 

We had a chance to pull off the road once or twice on the way down to photograph the columns of rock towering above us. Either looking down on them from Massai Point or looking up from the winding road below, the formations inspire awe and wonder. 

Recrossing the beautiful grassy plain as we returned to our own "sky island," I thought the sky and clouds in the south looked like burnished platinum. Sometimes you would think I have the mind of a grazing animal rather than an omnivore, the times when I can't help saying out loud, dreamily, "What is more beautiful than grass?"

Back at the cabin, though, it was time to put aside reflections on nature and get practical about dinner, a meal planned for omnivores, Irish and otherwise. I had been delighted to find the most beautiful little green cabbage I ever saw at the grocery store the day before, but the carrots and cabbage had to wait. Even the potatoes (cooked separately) had to wait while the corned beef simmered slowly in its herbs and spices, making a delicious broth. Eventually it all came to the table together, each item's cooking perfectly timed, if I do say so myself. Tom brought Guinness, the perfect accompaniment to our St. Patrick's Day dinner, and we were too busy eating and drinking (and drinking and eating) for me to remember to photograph the plated portions. You'll have to take it on faith that everything was delicious. 

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Yet Another Bookman's Holiday

Artist with donkeys

We are getting back to normal -- or at least establishing a "new normal" following the Artist's three-day hospitalization in Tucson due to a non-ST heart attack. [link] Since a friend visiting from Michigan, staying in nearby Willcox, is a big fan of indie bookstores and offered to do the driving, we made a little expedition over to Benson the other day to introduce him to bookstores we have discovered on the other side of Texas Canyon. Sadly, our very favorite Benson bookstore closed three years ago -- was in the process of closing in April of 2015 before we left Arizona for Michigan -- not because of business failure, I'm happy to report, but because the owner had put in her quarter-century of bookselling and decided it was time to retire. Even without that shop, however, our itinerary included several interesting book sites.

The first was Singing Wind Bookshop, unusual primarily for its location. Singing Wind is not in the town of Benson at all but two miles north of the expressway on Ocotillo Road and then down a long dirt driveway. It is housed on a ranch, and you can see exterior shots on my 2015 post. This time I photographed only the donkeys outdoors. The Artist loved them! (See above.) Aren't they sweet? 

Indoors we were greeted by Missy, resident bookstore dog, eager to have herself immortalized in a portrait.

Then Peggy, in charge for the day, called the owner to give us "the tour," and Winn toured us to a fare-thee-well, shelf by shelf, through her excellent inventory featuring (but hardly limited to) books about the Southwest. Tom and I both made substantial purchases while the Artist went back outside to commune with the donkeys, and Tom was impressed with the selection and very glad we had made the trip to Singing Wind, all the more so since he found a favorite author whose books he usually has trouble finding. 

Peggy and Winn

Me and Winn

From the ranch we went back into the town of Benson for a stop at the little bookstore run by the Friends of the Library. All three of us found treasures there -- books, magazines, music CDs -- more bags of books to crowd into Tom's car!

Then, rather than take time for lunch, we decided to push on to one more bookish destination, the Benedictine monastery on the San Pedro River south of the town of St. David. 

Meditation garden

As we paused by the little meditation garden so I could step out of the car to photograph it, I thought of Chiang Lee, whose The Silent Traveller in Boston David and I had just finished reading the night before. Silent Traveller Lee would have smiled gently upon the meditation garden and would have had many reflections on the concept of meditation gardens in general and examples from his native country, China. 

Bishop's house

I wanted to photograph the bishop's house, also, because it is so gracious and lovely but was disappointed that the peacocks, although within hearing, were nowhere in sight. They had showed off, preening and strutting like runway models, feathers shining irridescent in the sun, on our previous visit -- the day I didn't have my camera with me. Now they remained hidden. How vexing! But of course we had come primarily for the bookstore, where once again I managed to find a few delightful items amid the donated books. Both bookstore and thrift shop, as well as the office and shop with new religious books, souvenirs, and local produce (mostly pecans and honey), are maintained by volunteers who come for a month at a time and live in their RVs back by the birding trail along the San Pedro River. 

The three of us agreed unanimously to content ourselves with treats at the Old Benson Ice Cream Stop instead of traditional lunch, which made me happy, as I had been anticipating an Italian cream soda ever since we set out for Benson. 

While I was inside waiting to order, another woman came in, apparently on her first visit and practically reeled when confronted with the huge menu board listing possibilities, exclaiming, "You could come here every day for a year and have something different every time!" As for me I'm working my way through all the available flavors of the Italian sodas. Last time hazelnut, this time raspberry, next visit who knows?

It was very windy all day, and when we came through Texas Canyon the dust was still in such an uproar on the Willcox Playa that Dos Cabezas was not visible at all, and it remained hidden to us all the way home. I tried to capture the effect of a dust storm with my camera but to so little effect that there's no point posting the results. 

Here, on the other hand, are books I have bought recently. Four of those pictured (which ones, do you think?) were not from our Benson trip: one (used) was from the little Friends bookshop in Willcox, two (new) from a research station in the Chiricahua Mountains, and one (used) from a desert museum store. The remainder, my purchases from Thursday, totaled $60. That was spent at $50 Singing Wind and $5 at each of our other two stops. Can you guess which books came from where and which were most expensive?

Bookseller's note: I do not begrudge paying full price for new books or a reasonable price for used books in an indie bookstore. Bookstore owners have invested time as well as money in their businesses and are working to make a living and deserve to be paid for what they do. I am not without prejudice in these matters, of course, as you know, because, as an indie bookstore owner myself, I understand from firsthand experience that a bookstore owner cannot make expenses, much less make a living, by selling books at the same prices as volunteer-staffed library bookstores, but I bring the matter up today because at the Friends bookstore in Benson there was no way to help overhearing a man (with a very loud voice) complaining about the wonderful store with the fabulous inventory of used books that used to be our favorite Benson stop. His complaint was that prices in the bookstore were higher than yard sale prices. 

All of us could, I suppose, survive without bookstores. We could do our book-buying online (searching out specific titles) and at yard sales and garage sales (taking potluck). But I have to say that if I am ever able to retire, I plan to continue patronizing indie bookstores wherever I find them, as I already do, despite having my own. I love the volunteer-run library bookstores and thrift shops, but I also really appreciate well-curated bookstores, run people who know their stock, love their books, and have enough faith in themselves and what they sell to maintain open public, "bricks & mortar" shops. And I'm (really) not saying this to toot my own horn but to salute my colleagues because I know the sacrifices you make on a daily basis. Thank you, people like Winn at Singing Wind, for providing me with bookman's holidays!

Winn, bookseller at Singing Wind Bookstore

Reader's note: Then just last night (in the middle of the night, actually, during a sleepless hour) I finished my reading of Ronald Takaki's A Different Mirror: A History of Multicultural America (1993). Reading it was often, I'll be honest, an emotionally painful experience. Nevertheless, it is a book I highly recommend, and I guarantee that if you read it through to the last page, you will never again be tempted to view American history in simplistic terms. Thank you, Ron Takaki, for this important work!

I have now begun Edith Wharton's Age of Innocence, and before the Artist and I go to sleep at night, I read aloud a chapter of Brad Herzog's Turn Left at the Trojan Horse, so far much more than just another travel memoir. 

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

And Yet Another Place of Ghosts

[This is another one that's been "in the can" for a while. I'll have something new soon.]

Dos Cabezas and Pearce are not the only former townsites in southeast Arizona now gone sleepy. Much, much sleepier is a dusty T intersection on the back roads from Willcox, in Cochise County, to Safford in Graham County to the north. Astonishingly, there is a modern elementary school at Bonita (which I always want to call “Bonita Junction), but little else other than cows and wildlife.

Coming down from the mountains, Bonita Creek cuts across the east-west road and takes a shortcut southwest to cross the north-south road south of the intersection and school. The path of the creek is easy to follow with the eye. Like the course of the San Pedro River over on the other side of the Dragoon Mountains, the creekbed here, too, is lined with cottonwoods, and now, as they begin to come into leaf, their soft grey-green crowns winding across the land tell where water flows.

No matter how many times we pass this way, I am fascinated by the old store at Bonita, the only remaining once-commercial establishment of the former town. Other fans of the noir Western “Red Rock West” may recognize the building, but it isn’t a cameo appearance in a film that stops me to look again and again at the old store. (We first came this way before I had ever seen the Nicholas Cage movie.) The building itself, with its straight, true lines and faded paint, has a presence and obviously holds innumerable stories and secrets.

Arizona Place Names, by Will C. Barnes (and revised and enlarged by Byrd H. Granger), gives a hint of what some of Bonita’s secrets might involve. 

When Fort Grant was in its heyday Bonita was a town just outside the military reservation where the soldiers poured in every payday…. There were then about one thousand people living in Bonita….  

Payday for the soldiers occurred three times a year. Approximately one thousand soldiers descended on the town. Added to this were the girls who flocked in from Willcox. The eight or ten saloons did a rush business, as did the girls.

Today Bonita is a quiet and sleep spot. 

Indeed it is! Where would the “eight or ten saloons” have stood? Where were the houses for the 1,000 inhabitants, and how could over 2,000 people have made this place “roar,” as the author says they did three times a year? It truly boggles the mind.

I position my camera to shoot through the chainlink fence (keeping nosy parkers like me from getting too close to the old building) and zoom in, hoping to investigate the interior, but all I can see are reflections on the store windows of the empty land behind me. 

How long has the store at Bonita stood closed to the public? What was sold there back in Bonita’s “heyday”? In less distant years, what children made this little foot-powered merry-go-round spin?

We sigh and turn out sights toward the mountains, anticipating our climb to the pass and perhaps a stop among junipers and oaks along the way, and as we cross Bonita Creek once more, we muse about the lives of those who settled here (post office established 1884), undoubtedly attracted by the running water that still, when flowing, helps supply the town of Safford.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Don’t Wait For Cymbals and Fireworks!

This won’t be about books or travel adventures or horses or dogs, but it’s important information for everyone. 

In the movies, you know a character is having a heart attack when he staggers and clutches his chest. If he’s standing, he falls to the floor; if seated, he slumps forward onto his desk. And I’m saying “he” because I don’t recall ever seeing a female character in a movie have a heart attack, though real women do.

My question is, how do you know when a real person is having a heart attack? The first thing you need to realize is that it might not be at all dramatic. Take a look at this list of symptoms of non-ST segment elevation heart attack:

Chest pain or a feeling of pressure in the chest.
Discomfort in the upper back or in the area between the shoulder blades.
Upper back pain.
Tingling in the hands and arms.
Shortness of breath.
Heartburn or indigestion.
Sudden cold sweats.
Unexplained sweating.
Sudden lightheadedness.
Unexplained feelings of nervousness or anxiety.
Feeling of tiredness, or not feeling well.

The symptoms in boldface are the ones my husband had for two days before we went to the ER. He blamed the altitude here in SE Arizona on the shortness of breath and tiredness, and he thought maybe had strained some muscles (chest and back) somehow, though he couldn’t think how. He never had what he called pain. But the “not feeling well” persisted, and that’s what finally sent us to the hospital. 

At the ER, blood tests showed cardiac enzymes in the blood. “You’re having a heart attack,” the doctor told him, saying also that “because you waited so long to come in,” they couldn’t do more to treat him in Willcox and he would have to be flown by helicopter to Tucson.

Everything is okay. He spent two nights in Tucson Medical Center, was stabilized, and finally released to return home, with new medications and follow-up visits scheduled with various care providers. I’m posting this so everyone who reads it will realize that a heart attack may be very subtle.

No one wants to have a heart attack, any more than anyone wants other life-threatening events or diseases, and it’s tempting to look for ways to explain away the symptoms — “I’m just tired,” “I must have sprained a muscle,” “I’m not used to this altitude,” or whatever applies in your particular case — but if you or someone you know is having these symptoms, pay attention!
“There are so many ways a heart attack can present itself, and only the classic one is stored in people’s minds.” 

That’s what one friend wrote to me in an e-mail when she got the news, and that’s when I decided I needed to share what we have learned with others. “The classic” is not the only presentation. Others are less dramatic, much more subtle. Don’t think “It can’t be a heart attack” just because there’s no sensation of being stabbed in the chest. 

Be well, stay well!

End of lecture.

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Mountain Morning, Desert Day

First morning light
[This post has been waiting "in the can" and is getting its turn today.]

Our bed is snug and warm, air in the cabin cool when morning comes, until the Artist gets up in the dark to start the propane stove to take away the chill. First signs of dawn in the east come before six o’clock, but we do not usually hurry to get up and begin our day — time enough for that when the cabin is once again a comfortable temperature. Nights, after all, are cold in the high desert: at our ghost town elevation, winter nighttime temperatures have generally been below freezing and occasionally well down into the 20s. Now, in early March, low 30s are the overnight norm, with days as warm as high 60s.

Sunrise is most often simple and uncomplicated, but it can also be as variable and colorful as sunset, depending on the morning. Whatever the sky, whether clear or streaked with clouds, the mountaintops and high slopes receive the sun before the sun has cleared what we see as the eastern horizon. Mountains are like lakes and oceans and islands. Like lakes and oceans, they never appear the same two days or even two hours in a row, and like islands seen from shore they seem to move around in the landscape, even though we, the viewers, know very well that it is our position, not theirs, that is changing as we go from place to place. 

The landscape of my ghost town can look dead and empty in winter. Where are the leaves, flowers, animals, and birds? Is there no sign of life whatsoever?

You must go out into it on foot, unhurried. Soon you hear a bird and look for it in a nearby stunted tree. It rarely works to chase after birds. The surest way to see them is to choose a spot, a shady spot if you can find one, and stand still as a statue, watching the sky and branches and ground around you. The birds soon appear. Brightest these mornings is the cardinal, a reliable visitor. More exciting to me, because we have them not in Michigan, is the pyrrhuloxia, Arizona’s “silver cardinal.” 



Most beautiful singer, of course, is the mockingbird. Most numerous birds are sparrows, but not every dull-brownish bird is a sparrow, and morning may bring others close enough to photograph and subsequently identify with the help of good field guides. See below a cactus wren in two different settings, followed by a less-than-optimal shot of a curved-bill thrasher, identifiable not only by his bill but also by the golden eye visible between two twigs.

cactus wren

cactus wren

curved-bill thrasher

A rabbit frequently appears around the cabin in the morning, but I have not caught him or her on camera, though I keep trying. We also have yet to see other notable backyard visitors of 2015, a rock squirrel and a Western fence lizard, the latter flashing his brilliant blue throat in the sunlight. I will be watching for lizard and squirrel as winter gradually warms into spring.

Meanwhile, from the window over the sink, I see a cow and calf ambling down the dirt road behind the cabin, as nonchalant as early morning flaneurs on the Champs Elysées, leading their lives without reference to any human watcher.

On the way to town on morning errands, we see roadrunners, sometimes as near as our own driveway. Surely the roadrunner is the drollest bird in Arizona! People must have found them amusing long before the cartoon character’s invention, the cartoon an effect rather than a cause. When a single day may bring as many as five of them to our attention, the Artist thinks I should start taking them for granted, but I cannot. Not yet. They surprise and delight me every time. Well, except for a dead one on the highway one morning. I could hardly believe my eyes, seeing a roadrunner, unlike his cartoon doppelgänger, reduced to permanent squashed immobility. I wanted him to jump up, pop back into his former, rounded, quick-footed self, and go hurrying off to new adventures.

At a certain mile marker on our road between Dos Cabezas and Willcox, I always begin looking for hawks. Wires close to utility poles are productive sites, but a tall mesquite or occasional small tree can also hold a hawk, and it’s a rare day that we don’t see at least one. I would like, eventually, to be able to tell each species from a distance, either at rest or in flight. That, however, is a long-term goal.

So far we have been able to watch sandhill cranes only in flight formation, high above our heads. Their voices may first alert us to their presence, and we scan the air overhead, trying to see them, but other times, long before we hear them, I spot in the distance something that looks like a faint, drifting scarf of dark smoke. No, it doesn’t move like smoke: it is, once again, a shifting, graceful, phantasmagoric cloud of cranes. 

At closer range, the flock in the sky — and often several smaller flocks gradually come together, the aggregate number gradually increasing into the hundreds or maybe thousands — has the appearance of an enormous school of ocean fish, changing direction like a single animal, wheeling and swirling and changing shape like ink dissolving in water, except that the birds do not vanish in the air. Instead we see a thousand small black marks in motion, and then, as they wheel in the sun, all at once the school flashes shining silver. I notice that long before they are low enough to be seen as individual birds, and even without hearing their voices, we know at our first distant glance that this distant aerial dance school is one of sandhills. This is because while geese or ducks are directional in their flight, clearly going somewhere, sandhill cranes seem to join together and fly for the thrill of flying and the joy of each other’s company. I'm sorry my little still snapshots fall so fall short of the experience of watching cranes in flight.

“WATCH FOR ANIMALS NEXT 21 MILES” reads a typical sign along Southwest roadways. “I do little else,” I commented to the Artist as we passed one such sign, and he laughed at the truth of my remark.  Always I am hoping to see one of the high desert’s larger mammals, perhaps the coyotes we hear at might, a herd of mule or white-tailed deer, or another family of javelina — this time when I’m ready with a camera, please! But the large animals are wary, and rightly so. One day I wanted to stop to inspect a road-killed deer to determine which species it was, but we were on a curve, with another car right behind us, and by the next morning the deer carcass was gone. A dead skunk, now — that can lie on the shoulder of the road for two weeks. And it has, too. Even scavengers are passing it by. “A dead skunk is a hard sell,” the Artist observed.

Of course, I am always scanning fenced enclosures for horses, and there are never enough horses to see and never a horse not worth closer inspection. In the least glamorous herd, there will always be at least one with a beautiful face. And now, having been reading a book on reining horses, we look at conformation with more specific points in mind. Would this horse be good at reining events? Does it exhibit the correct, symmetrical trapezoid form? Would we be able to tell?

The Artist was at the wheel on the day we were once again on our way to the Stockton Pass through the Pinaleno Mountains when I spotted a javelina ahead in the road. Luckily there were no other vehicles in sight in either direction. “Slow down, slow down!” Quick, the camera! Yes! Success! My day is made!

The javelina is locally called “wild pig,” or, more derisively, just “Pig!” Its Latin name is Tayassu tajacu, its proper English name collared peccary, and because it is largely nocturnal, it is more often heard at night than seen during the day. It has that in common with coyotes, though we are accustomed to coyotes around our northern Michigan home, and their sounds at night are nowhere near as nerve-wracking as that of a herd of marauding javelina. Javelina generally travel in groups, looking for trouble, as it were — breaking down fences, raiding gardens, getting into garbage, and generally annoying homeowners — and so this solitary soul near the Coronado National Forest was a mystery, but as it lost no time in hurrying across the road and down into heavy brush that camouflaged it very effectively, I wondered if perhaps its family members were not far away. Would you, driving by, have spotted the hidden javelina? I certainly would not have suspected its presence. And then one naturally wonders, how many animals are around us here all the time, in this “empty”-looking landscape, blending into the monochromatic winter scenery right before our unsuspecting eyes?