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Wednesday, March 29, 2023

First Quarterly Report, 2023

Primroses in the morning

I stopped keeping running lists as a sidebar but still keep my own lists of Books Read. So far in 2023 the total is fifty-seven, with one more day left in the first quarter of the year. I’m sure my reading pace will slow once I’m back in Michigan, busy in my bookstore and at home, selling books, mowing grass, and hanging laundry on the line, but for now, here is the list as it stands on March 29. If it were annotated, it might be more meaningful, but I don’t have the heart. The sad, crazy state of my country is too much with me. 

Bajada lupine

1. Spragg, Mark. An Unfinished Life (fiction)

2. Moor, Robert. On Trails (nonfiction)

3. Brontë, Charlotte. Shirley (fiction)

4. Irving, Washington. A Tour on the Prairies (nonfiction)

5. Swan, Walter. How to Be a Better Me (nonfiction)

6. Maxwell, Gavin. A Reed Shaken by the Wind (nonfiction)

7. Ferber, Edna. Show Boat (fiction)

8. Simeti, Mary Taylor. On Persephone’s Island: A Sicilian Journal (nonfiction – uncorr. proofs, 1986)

9. Fellowes, Julian. Snobs (fiction)

10. Keillor, Garrison. Pontoon (fiction)

11. Sumner, Cid Ricketts. Tammy Out of Time (fiction)

12. Jance, J.A. Unfinished Business (fiction)

13. Jance, J.A. Until Proven Guilty (fiction)

14. Abels, Harriette. Mystery on the Delta (fiction – YA)

15. Rhodes-Pitts, Sharifa. Harlem is Nowhere: A Journey to the Mecca of Black America (nonfiction)

16. Robertson, Mary E. I’m Sorry For Your Loss: One Woman’s Journey Through Love, Loss & Recovery (nonfiction – ms.)

17. Postgate, Raymond. Verdict of Twelve (fiction)

18. Jance, J.A. Taking the Fifth (fiction)

19. Robinson, Shauna. The Banned Bookshop of Maggie Banks (fiction)

20. Sanders, Michael S. From Here, You Can’t See Paris: Seasons of a French Village and Its Restaurant (nonfiction)

21. Durrell, Lawrence. Mountolive. (fiction)

22. Collins, Billy. The Trouble with Poetry (poetry)

Cain, Susan. Bittersweet: How Sorrow and Longing Make Us Whole (nonfiction)

23. Frank, Bruno. The Persians Are Coming (fiction)

24. Hoag, Tami.; The Bitter Season (fiction)

25. Gallico, Paul. The Abandoned (fiction)

26. Abram, David. Becoming Animal: An Earthly Cosmology (nonfiction)

27. Collins, Billy. (poetry)

28. Elliott Andrea. Invisible Child: Poverty, Survival & Hope in an American City (nonfiction)

29. Simenon, Georges. Maigret and the Saturday Caller (fiction)

30. Trollope, Anthony. North America (nonfiction)

31. Jance, J.A. Moving Target (fiction)

32. Gooley, Tristan. The Lost Art of Reading Nature’s Signs (nonfiction)

33. Murie, Margaret E. Two in the Far North (nonfiction)

34. Spender, Matthew. Within Tuscany: Dead Ned Reflections on a Time and Place (nonfiction)

35. Fukuoka, Masanobu. Sowing Seeds in the Desert: Natural Farming, Global Restoration, and Ultimate Food Security (nonfiction)

36. Warner, Sally. It’s Not About the Money (fiction – YA/juv.)

37. Henkin, Joshua. Morningside Heights (fiction)

38. Jance, J.A. Without Due Process (fiction)

39. Masefield, John. Dead Ned (fiction)

40. Leon, Donna. My Venice and Other Essays (nonfiction)

41. Leon, Donna. Doctored Evidence (fiction)

42. Backman, Fredrik. A Man Called Ove (fiction)

43. Smith, Mark G. Tuscan Echoes: A Season in Italy (nonfiction)

44. McMurtry, Larry. Literary Life (nonfiction)

45. Kalanithi, Paul. When Breath Becomes Air (nonfiction)

46. Virgil. Eclogues; Georgics

47. Masefield, John. Live & Kicking Ned (fiction)

48. Jance, J.A. Name Withheld (fiction )

49. Bornerud, Marcia. Reading the Rocks: The Autobiography of the Earth (nonfiction)

50. Verne, Jules. Paris in the Twentieth Century (fiction)

51. Greene, Jayson. Once More We Saw Stars (nonfiction)

52. Airgood, Ellen. Tin Camp Road (fiction)

53. Barnes, Julian. The Sense of an Ending (fiction)

54. Huxley, Aldous. Beyond the Mexique Bay (nonfiction)

55. Greene, Stephanie. Falling Into Place (fiction- juv.)

56. Bailey, Gwen. What Is My Dog Thinking? (nonfiction)

57. Estes, Eleanor. The Middle Moffat (fiction- juv.)

dock (edible)

Saturday, March 25, 2023

The High Way was rocky. It is not an expressway.


“Do you want to drive up the road a way this morning and then hike?” “Sure!” For such a day we'll have with (and on) us water and snacks and extra outerwear that we’ll end up shedding and carrying -- snacks because energy expended needs to be replaced along the way, and extra outerwear because when the temperature is 30ºF and part of your way lies in the shade, you need those extra layers. Taking the car partway up the road once in a while spares us a repetitious beginning to a new adventure.


Because the general neighborhood is a familiar one. From this morning’s trailhead we could have re-experienced either the Dives Mine ruins we explored on February 18 or our narrow rocky canyon expedition a month later. (I've figured out now that we were not in Walnut Canyon, after all, but would have reached Walnut Springs had we gone on -- confusing!) Both were hikes we’d enjoyed on other days, but today we agreed we’d rather hike in the sun. It was a cold morning. 


As usual, the dogs wasted no time in finding a bone. And when they tired of it, Therese took a turn at play.

Our way down the wash lay mostly in shade, without any fast, easy way to get quickly from shade to sunshine, but exploring a new and unfamiliar section of wash is always a pleasure. This one was very deep – wide and gravelly for long stretches, and in at least one place narrowing to pass through bedrock.

The road is above on left, which explains our long detour to get here.


Dogs are excellent hiking companions1

The force of nature -- rushing, flooding water -- embedded rocks in this old tree.

Bedrock prevents widening of the wash here. 

Rock fall. Sunshine.

Coming into the sunshine at last, we sighed at the beauty of an alluring rocky promontory high above us. “Shall we try it?” “Yes!” Instead of going back into the landscape, as we had done in this vicinity on previous occasions, this time we would go up!

A cow path between two deep ravines on the steep slope made the climb seem almost civilized at first, but that didn’t last long. (It never does.) Stopping to investigate flowering plants and cacti along the way, though, is as important as climbing, and there is something exhilarating about being above treetops and watching birds from above rather than from below.

Looking down and back

Pincushion cacti

Desert verbena -- there will be much more soon.

Finding a government survey stake from 1938 was exciting to me, as it brought back the memory of the bearing tree I found in the U.P. one September day and how I told the Artist he could sprinkle my ashes there if I were to die first. Perhaps strangely, that northern Michigan memory made an Arizona marker more meaningful to me.

But onward and upward we go -- after another look down, remembering another day.

Footing was treacherous. This was a very steep incline, with many, many loose rocks at every step of the way. Every single step we took had to be carefully considered. Our four-footed companions were show-offs, running and leaping and gamboling like goats, while we two-leggeds went slowly and cautiously and stopped more than once to appreciate the views. Okay, I stopped most often....

All those little gullies would carry water down to the big wash during monsoon rain.

Reaching the high, exposed rocks at last was immensely satisfying! My hiking partner spotted three deer far, far below (far enough below that the dogs never realized what they had missed, which was a good thing), and the quiet and stillness of a blue sky mountain morning, blessedly free of recent winds plaguing the ghost town, added to our pleasure.

We might have continued to linger and bask in sunlight and accomplishment, except that Therese, exploring among the boulders, found large animal scat. “Bear?” I asked. “No, but maybe a big cat. We’d better go down.” And so we left that magic place. But we were there! We did it!


Down, on a serious slope, especially one covered with loose rock, is even more challenging than up. Regardless of my appearance in the image here below, with floppy hat askew, I am not drunk, only shading my eyes from the sun without having the hat sit too tightly on my head. I’m also taking the smallest old lady steps possible, stopping frequently to consider the ground ahead and below me before taking the next little old lady step. You don’t hustle straight up or down on terrain like this: a zig-zagging diagonal is best, though one also has to consider vegetation and often take an extra zip or zag around something spiny or prickly or thorny. The dogs descend with much more grace and agility.

Not drunk, just looking that way


What a hike! Almost a climb, really. We set out with no real plan, nothing more than a starting point, and  stopped several times along the way to consider our options, and it worked out great, though my legs were really feeling it by the time we reached the car again. And back at the cabin, Sunny settled in for some serious resting. 

Tired dog, spoiled dog!

To put things in perspective, I offer an image from our canyon day and another from this morning.

Today's summit from another day's canyon --

-- and the other day's canyon from our way to this morning's summit.

Thanks for coming along with Sunny and me on another Cochise County, Arizona, adventure. 


When I despair at the state of things, rocks always offer some comfort. I see gneisses and limestones and granites, greenstones and blueschists and red beds, and I think to myself, what a wonderful world. 


-      Marcia Bjornerud, Reading the Rocks: The Autobiography of the Earth

Wonderful world!


Sunday, March 19, 2023

The Last Word? Probably Not.


“You always have to have the last word!” 


That’s a show-stopper, isn’t it? Because if you respond, of course, it’s because “you always have to have the last word,” while if you remain silent, the accusation against you stands unchallenged. 


As the world turns and history marches on, though, mortal humans’ talking and writing days are time-limited, so no one ever has the last word. Nietzsche tried to have it by preemptively declaring that no one yet alive could understand him, but he’s been gone quite a while now, and challenges to his writings have yet to stop. What I’m getting at, however, in a very roundabout way, is that today will probably not be my last word on the subject of grief -- but as grief is once more my subject today, anyone who’s tired of reading about it might want to go elsewhere now.

A friend who has been in my life longer than any friends other than my two sisters recommended a book to me, Paul Kalanithi’s When Breath Becomes Air. The author was a resident in neurosurgery, apparently on the verge of a brilliant career, when he was diagnosed with the brain tumor that took his life shortly after graduation. Writing his book (his only book, what with his life being cut so short), telling of his lifelong search for meaning and his feeling that surgery was a calling and not a “job,” then recounting what it was like suddenly to be, himself, the patient – this was important to him at the end of his life, probably second only to his love for his wife and baby daughter. I read most of the book with tears prickling but not falling. It was his wife’s epilogue that brought on sobs, when she wrote –


I expected to feel only empty and heartbroken after Paul died. It never occurred to me that you could love someone the same way after he was gone, that I would continue to feel such love and gratitude alongside the terrible sorrow, the grief so heavy that at times I shiver and moan under the weight of it. [I added the emphases.]


It never occurred to me, either. It was a complete surprise. I was astonished and amazed at the gratitude that washed through me along with the grief, almost immediately, and now, a year later, I continue to be amazed by – and grateful for – the gratitude itself, because it is not something for which I can take any credit. If I’d had to work to feel it, I might well never have gotten there. 


Other widowed persons, men and women both, have had experiences different from mine. Some lost beloved partners so suddenly that there was no time for a single moment to acknowledge the final parting, while others went through years and years of gradual and painful diminishment and loss. Just as every relationship, every love affair, every marriage is unique, so is every experience of losing someone to death. The last gift of time, and the gratitude for that time, is one more way that I was blessed. One more gift, after so many, and I continue to be grateful to be able to feel it. 




Let me be clear. Gratitude doesn’t mean I feel any less grief. The poet Saeed Jones said in a recent interview, reflecting on the loss of his mother (to whom he was very close), that happy memories and the pain of loss form “a loop that you live in” after the beloved dies, that loop a part of you from then on. We are forever changed. I don’t feel less grief, but I have, I think, probably been spared much of the anger that other mourners sometimes suffer.


My grief has also made me more open to the grief of others. Much as Dr. Kalanithi learned from his own experience as a patient the feelings his own patients must have felt all along, the shattering experience of losing a beloved can make us aware, in ways we could never have known before, what it means for others to lose those closest to them. This probably does not always happen – one might totally shut down to others instead – so maybe the opening is what someone who calls grief itself a “gift” (Stephen Colbert) was talking about.


“The loop you live in.” “Love and gratitude alongside the terrible sorrow.” “The bitter and the sweet … forever paired.” 


Loss without love would be trivial: “It didn’t work out.” Whereas deep love entails, in most cases, eventual piercing loss. Mais l'amour vaut bien la chandelle. (Or, to quote Billy Joel, “I’ve been a fool for lesser things.”)


This is who I am now: someone who was loved deeply and loved deeply in return and still love. But,  “My travels have changed me.” There is no "closure." There is no "recovery." Loss does not end. We just go on, changed.


Friday, March 17, 2023

No, Not Excavating, But Yes, in a Canyon

One of the most remarkable characteristics of the Earth is that the rates of its interior (tectonic) and exterior (climatic) processes are approximately balanced. Erosion can dismantle mountain belts nearly as fast as they grow. …No mountain is exempt from erosion, and the steepest slopes are subject to the fiercest attacks. 


-      Marcia Bjornerud, Reading the Rocks: The Autobiography of the Earth



We are once again in the Dos Cabezas Mountains -- right in our backyard, so to speak, “we” being Therese and I and our dogs, Yogi and Sunny. Therese has explored part of this territory before, long ago, but it’s completely new for the dogs and me. The open-looking ground in the lower left-hand corner above is, once again, what remains of a former mining road, and our hike will take us back into the picture, past that big tree on the left and eventually deep into a canyon we can’t see at all yet. What looks like a road high above on the right, below the rocky summit, is an old mining scar, but we’re not going there. We will take what remains of the old road paralleling a rocky wash, descend into the wash where rains have washed away sections of road, and explore the canyon not yet visible – because while the land looks quite open in this initial photograph, most of what we will encounter on the ground is still hidden from view, only gradually revealed as we penetrate farther into the picture.

These massive, towering promontories, for instance, so close at hand! Did you see them coming?

The light, bright green plant in the foreground here is Mormon tea, Ephedra viridis. Early Mormon settlers to this region followed the Native American practice of making tea from the dried plant stems, for use not only as a beverage but also to treat colds. Commercial cold remedies are made from an Asian species of Ephedra; the Arizona species does not contain ephedrine, its effect derived instead from tannins.

Going is not fast or easy in a boulder-filled wash. Great forces were necessary to bring the boulders down in the first place, and yet not all monsoon floods were strong enough to keep pushing them. Sometimes the water had to go around the rocks instead, crumbling and eroding and bringing down soil from the banks of what was temporarily a stream to fill the bed with sediment and widen the whole course – except where the bed is bedrock rather than soil, and then the way remains narrow and rockbound.


We humans with our short lifespans and human-centric views of nature usually tend to think of erosion in negative terms, and yet structural geologist Marcia Bjornerud explains it as part of a constantly repeating cycle, the growth and erosion of mountain belts “keeping [the] planet on an even keel,” unlike other planets where volcanoes spew forth unchecked lava flows, growing and growing. “On earth,” she writes, “there are limits to growth, imposed largely by running water.” Bjornerud’s explanations and descriptions take her beneath the ocean, where sediments collect on continental shelves, but I’m sticking to the neighborhood at hand: mountains, rains, and periodically flooded washes.


Sunny and Yogi’s interests are even more locally focused than mine. A bone! They have found a bone! Trust those dogs always to find something thrilling – and better a bone than partially decayed rabbit carcasses or bloody deer legs left behind by coyotes!


I wish you could see how this boulder really looked. It sparkled in the sunlight, but my phone photo does not capture the sparkles. 

Our course has altered by about 90 degrees now, and we are getting into the canyon we wanted to explore today. These views are looking back the way we came, through that sunlight into the background and into deep shade. 

It was exciting to come upon a pool of water. 

Later at home, examining topo maps, I decided we had probably been in Walnut Canyon, and had we gone farther up we might have come to Walnut Spring. Maybe. (We saw no walnuts.) Whatever the name of this rocky slot canyon, it is not anywhere you would want to be during a summer monsoon. As our way narrowed, with massive rock walls on either side, the cowpath and/or game trail became more and more what I would call a precarious goat path. But the rocks were beautiful! --If only I knew their names! That will be in my next life, when I begin in girlhood to prepare for a career as a horseback field geologist….

Our way came out into the sun again eventually, but boulders lay thicker than ever ahead, and we agreed to turn back and call it a morning.

One main theme I have taken so far from Reading the Rocks is that the history of the earth, like the history of the universe, is a story of alternate mixing and sorting. (That, in fact, is the title of one of the author’s chapters.) Stars explode, and eventually planets and their satellites settle out of the chaos. Volcanoes erupt and jumble things again, but in time the boulders and rocks and stones sort themselves out. Tectonic plates collide and give us a new reconfiguration of land and sea. Maybe we need periodic upsets in our brief, small personal lives, unwelcome as they often are, to give us reason to reassess and re-sort, finding a new (though always temporary) equilibrium. What do you think?


Be that as it may, another satisfying mountain expedition has whetted my enthusiasm for further adventures off the beaten path and provided food for thought to accompany my reading.