Sunday, January 31, 2010

A Test of Virtue

When my new friend Jerry tells me about the wooden head, I giggle. He says it's on a reclining statue of Saint Francis Xavier at the San Xavier Mission on the Tohono O'otham Nation in Tucson.

The statue looks like the long-dead Jesuit is lying in state, like his death occurred yesterday and we're here today to pay our respects. A blue cloth drapes over his  "body" and that wooden head sticks out from one end.  Jerry warns me to watch for the men who walk right up to that statue, slide a hand under that wooden head, then heft it three times. Smile. Turn and walk away.

Legend has it that only a virtuous man, a man of high moral standing, can lift that head. If a cheating man tries, the head turns to solid lead.

Jerry, laughing so his chests hops up and down, tells me to watch for the women who drag in their men to lift that head.

So I'm at the mission, and inside I find the sanctuary shaped like a cross and adorned with more than 300 painted or sculpted angels, 100 images of saints and a dozen portrayals of Mary, Christ's mother.

Straight ahead is the altar. To the left,  I spy my saint, stretched out just as Jerry described.

I walk over and notice a number of people in prayer. Candle shadows flicker across their faces.  Some nod as they pray, others stare. Men hold their hats in their hands.  When it's my turn to stand next to the saint, I see pictures pinned to that blue cloth, pictures of children, an ultrasound, families. There are a lot of Jesus-shaped charms pinned to the cloth, too. 

I'm not a Roman Catholic, but I understand faith.  My own, my faith in Jesus, is quite deep. So even though I don't know what these tokens mean, I know those who placed them here did so out of great faith.

So when a man slips past me, slides his hand under that wooden head, I smile, but I do not giggle. I smile because I know what he's here for. But I do not giggle. Because he's a man of faith, a man who believes.

And I'd like to think he's a virtuous man, because he lifts that head, once. Twice. Three times. Never does it turn to lead.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Scraps For The Poor

I'm standing at the cash register at the Community Health Foundation's thrift store in Truth or Consequences, NM.

Today's find is my "new" toaster, a white Sunbeam, tremendously clean inside and, yes, it works. I plugged it in to test it out. 

While waiting for the clerk I notice a sign on her cash register: "We're looking for people to drive bags to Mexico and to the reservation."

"Bags of what?" I ask the clerk.

"Clothes," she says, while counting my change. "We send all of the clothes that are ripped or stained to Mexico. Anything we can't sell, we send down there."

So, I think to myself, we toss them our scraps.

And she continues: "They, well the men especially, don't seem to mind wearing stained clothing."

I think I'm staring, wide-eyed at her. Then I just walk away. Ashamed.

First, that someone in my thrift store community (I LOVE thrift stores) gives unfit clothes  to the poor and considers it generous.

And second, for my  silence, which endorses the discrimination.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Chloride: A Gem of a Ghost Town

Chloride, a long-dead silver mining town in New Mexico, might strike it rich again, as a ghost town.

Its mother lode is no precious ore; it's the people preserving it.

They live there. They roll up their sleeves and get dirty to preserve, protect it and show it off.

And so far, there are only three of them: Don and Donna Edmund (in their 70s) and their daughter, Linda (40s, maybe 50s). The trio's standing in the middle of the main road when we drive up. They welcome us with laughter (for blocking the main road of a ghost town) and we fold right into their conversation, as if they were expecting us.

And, basically, they were. They say they get about 10 visitors a day (we are numbers seven and eight), and oh, about 250 a month. How?

It's amazing anyone finds this place. It's tucked inside the New Mexico mountains off desolate Route 52, a beautiful drive with stunning vistas, a funny little town called Cuchilla, where a speed trap is manned by a police car with a cardboard cop and a mannequin inside,  and where multiple ranchers raise cattle, which crisscross right in front of you. So, slow down.

We're visiting today because I read about Chloride on a travel blog.

"So how do 250 people find out about Chloride?" I ask Donna, a patient, slight woman, who tames her bits of gray hair with a baseball cap.

Oh, she says, "Word of mouth. The Internet. Ghost Town enthusiasts."

So this is my word of mouth, on the Internet: Check out these few pictures, then visit Chloride. And soon.

It's when we catch up with Donna later that I learn she's as much a treasure as Chloride is.

She's giving the tour of the Pioneer Store museum (mostly a 1923 general store) that she and her husband restored in the 1990s. And she smiles, caresses things and lovingly cups them in her hands as shares her stories with us.  She has intimate knowledge of every item in the store, every tin of food, every piece of clothing. She knows how and why they were used.

Not because she studied the stuff somewhere.

But because she spent three years scrubbing decay and rot away from yesterday so we can enjoy it today. And because she learned from the now-dead old-timers in town who grew up with this stuff.

And now, she turns around daily and tells us what they said, for free.

In brief, when she and her husband bought the boarded-up general store in 1989, they found the 1920s general store inside. Intact. But, covered with bat guano, rat droppings and animal damage. They cleaned it up so it shines.

Their accomplishments exceed amateur status. Everything's professionally installed. Don and Donna and Linda did this. Not a hired team of Merry Maids or guys from "This Old House" or historians from the Smithsonian. They did it. Don and Donna and Linda. A couple of retired 70-somethings and their daughter.

And they give the tours. So I'm standing next to and listening to one of the very people who scrubbed and cleaned and identified each item in this store.

My head swirls. What happens with Don and Donna are gone? Their daughter plans to carry on, but then what? Can she achieve her parent's dreams?

Most of the charm of this place is with Donna. Would the tour be as  rewarding with a paid guide? Or a volunteer?

I hope so. What a treasure this is and what a loss it would be if it fails.

So before I leave, I dig into my pockets and find $9 to leave behind as a donation. It's a paltry sum in light of what needs to be done to rebuild this place. But I leave it behind anyway, as a good investment. Because the people in charge are dreamers, who roll up their sleeves. And I want to see them succeed.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

So, why the fence?

My past meets my present today.

We head east across southern Arizona on I-10 when the desert landscape changes, dramatically.

Everywhere we look are boulders, huge, round boulders defying gravity, balancing on mountaintops, on other rocks, on ledges, just ready to roll. But they don't. They just hang in there.

Up ahead, a rest stop. Great! It makes it easy for us to grab a few pictures, read a bit of history, soak in the views. And find out where we are: Texas Canyon, AZ.

We walk around the gravel and sandy undulating landscape dotted with these boulders, very aware of the warning signs concerning scorpions and poisonous snakes.

What we aren't prepared for is the fence.

The rest stop is surrounded by a fortified metal chain-link fence reinforced with barbed wire, many rows of it, along the top.

Why, I wonder? To keep me out or keep me in?

We head back up the hill and find a weathered metal memorial to the Chiricahua Apache Chief Cochise and his surrender at Council Rock, just four miles up the road.

Council Rock. Here's my past. I did a report on Council Rock in elementary school, probably fourth grade. And, finally, here I am, more than 45 years later.

I remember lots of sadness about Council Rock. It was here in 1872 that Cochise signed the Broken Arrow Peace Treaty with the U.S. Government, which gave the Apaches the right to live on their own land. Four years later (two years after Cochise died), the government broke the treaty and kicked the Apaches out.


So back to the barbed wire. I think I'm being kept out.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Art in the Mule Mountains

We're riding higher and higher into the mile-high Mule Mountains, heading to Bisbee, a dried-up old copper mine town, I'm told, where old miners' shacks now house artists. Quaint, I think. A curiosity. Art in all this dust (it's still desert here.)

The drive from Tombsonte, AZ, goes southeast toward Mexico and take about 45 minutes. All uphill.

And in that 45 minutes, WOW! We enter a different world, but is it Italy? France? Maybe Mexico? I don't know, but I now know the meaning of Old World Charm.

This is not quaint. It's spectacular. It's no curiosity. It's serious living by creative artists, playwrights, singers, musicians. They've morphed this dried-up old copper mine town into a must-see gem of Southern Arizona.

To see it, we hold our breaths as we navigate up and down and around narrow lanes that meander over, around and through these mountains.

Homes, many of them small and dating back a century or so,  stepladder up and down steep mountainsides. How do they not fall down?  Most of the homes display some form of architectural or artistic creativity. It is, after all, an artist colony, not just a place where artists live.

I see tiles decorating lampposts, walking bridges, door frames. Hand railings of polished curved wood. Bells and birdhouses dangling from trees. Welded sculptures hanging out on rooftops, in side yards, atop fences and at front doors.

And the colors! Purples. Greens. Reds. Visually superb.

There are numerous fine art galleries in town and an excellent historical museum about the town's copper mining past (well worthy of its affiliation with the Smithsonian).

But to consume art, to absorb it, to savor its rewards, there's no need to park.

Bisbee is art.

(Go here to see the picture above by Elizabeth R. Mitchell and other photographs from Bisbee.)

The Most Famous Boothill

What a hoot.

I'm in Booothill Graveyard (link to more pics), Tombstone, AZ, and all hail cuts lose. Literally. Hail a little bit smaller than pea gravel shoots down on us, scattershot. It's like God's picking us off with shotguns.

How appropriate. Most of the 250 to 300 people buried in Boothill died because of a gun, or knife or some kind of  weapon or trauma.

I duck (how do you duck hail?) then run for the wooden structure that separates this historical treasure from the rest of the wild West town.

And it is a treasure. Not just a tourist trap. But it exists because of tourists. 

Nature reclaimed most of the original cemetery after its closing in 1884. In the 1920s, a group of locals spiffed it up in hopes of attracting tourists.  That "spiffing" continues  nearly a century later, but the people involved no longer aim to please tourists.

Their passion is history. And it shows.

Remember the hailstorm? Well, after a ceasefire, the clouds depart and I return outside and visit my first grave.

The freshly painted marker says "Unknown." (All original markers were pinched or disentigrated.) I check my Directory to Graves and learn that this unknown fellow was found in 1882 at the bottom of an abandoned  mine shaft. And, because he was well-dressed, it's assumed he was no miner. 


Then there's Chas. Helm  shot in 1882 in an argument over how best to drive cattle, slow or fast. Kansas Kid was a cowboy killed in a stampede. Geo. Johnson was hanged by mistake (he innocently bought a stolen horse and suffered the consequences.) Delia William, an African American proprietor of a lodging house on Toughnuts Street, killed herself by taking arsenic in 1881.

The stories go on and on.

Each grave is numbered and the numbers refer to a listing in the directory that's handed out to all visitors. In compiling the list, the historians interviewed family members, old town residents and Arizona Historical Society records. 

All of the graves listed are documented as Tombstone residents, as the outlaws and their victims, infants, housewives, painted ladies, people who killed themselves, people who were hanged, legal or otherwise. The three men who died in the gunfight at the O.K. Corral are buried here, side by side. Some people even died of natural causes.

Morbid? Not at all. The graveyard is neat, tidy. Almost Disney-like. Each grave is dressed in a cairn, those piles of rocks that make it hard for coyotes and other predators to scavenge the remains.  Some graves are landscaped with cacti. All have markers, either simple crosses or more elaborate epitaphs, such as this well-known verse:

Here lies Lester Moore
Four slugs from a .44
No Les, no more.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Tombstone: Tired, Dated or What?

Maybe it's the chill in the air, or the sideways wind carrying grit and gravel. Or the rain. I don't know. I'm just not loving my time in Tombstone, AZ.

How could I NOT love Tombstone? Wyatt Earp, Doc Holliday, Johnny Ringo, Bat Masterson (I was in LOVE with Gene Barry in the '60s when he played Bat Masterson on TV.)

The O.K. Corral. Cowboys. Indians. Stagecoaches. It's all here. And original. Not a recreation.

While more than 40 movies feature Tombstone, it's not a Hollywood town. It's an original. It's not a re-creation of the Wild West, it IS the Wild West,  renovated, with an acceptable amount of  modern-day thrown in for comfort.

But I'm not loving it.

I take the dogs for a walk and a REAL stagecoach passes by. How cool! The driver's a cowboy toting a sidearm, talking into a mic inside his vest (out of the wind) giving a history lesson to the only rider inside. The cowboy looks, well, bored. (Maybe he's just cold.)

We walk into town on dirt roads, down wooden sidewalks, passing by real saloons. Men in 10-gallon hats and leather chaps pass us by. They ignore us. (Maybe they're hurrying to work.)

An elderly cowboy, his face deeply creased by the southwestern sun, sells trolley tickets, but he's tired. So he sits and stares. At what? (Maybe he's just trying to remember the answer to a question a tourist just asked.)

I'm not loving Tombstone because it's tired today. Its  people weary. That's my guess, anyway.

We push on, touch adobe structures built back in the day, when a Chinese woman named China Mary was queen of the laundries and bordellos. We tour the original newspaper presses and see pictures of Geronimo taken by the famed Camillus S. Fry.

We dine in an honest-to-goodness saloon,  named after  Doc Holliday's woman, Big Nose Kate (surely Doc didn't call her that!).

Two of the saloon waitresses, in period garb,  dance around to entertain us.  One smiles and laughs.  The other, our waitress, looks, well,  bored. (She could be just embarrassed, you know, a little stage fright.)

We attend an amateur theatrical reenactment of the gunfight at the O.K. Corral ALMOST at the site of the real O.K. Corral. The actors compete with screaming winds winds and rattling roofs.

The actual site of the famed fight is fenced off. Inside the fence, very tired looking, life-sized mannequins in period garb face off in a slightly animated version of the fray. Press a button and a commentator discusses the fight. And the animatronics begin. A little bit. Not a lot. A head turns, an arm raises, gun in hand.

It's so old. All of their shoes bend upwards, so they look like magic slippers. The mannequins appear tired of dying all the time.

Next door, at the "Historama," Vincent Price narrates a 50-year-old story about the town in a 50-year-old way. Very tired. (The ticket-taker is a bright spot. He's funny, engaging,  informed. And, not tired at all.)

But I'm still not loving Tombstone

Maybe I'm the one's who's tired. Or maybe I'm spoiled, looking for the cowboys and waitresses to entertain, to dance or sing or at least say "Howdy" enthusiastically. Like Disneyland.

Or maybe I'm ignorant.

A girlfriend wrote to me of her love for Tombstone, of how she grew up watching the movies and when SHE got here, she felt those movies come to life.

I never watched those movies. When I got here, I knew nothing about Tombstone.

So maybe I'm not loving it because I didn't do my homework. So I don't know where to look for all the fun.

It's like going to Dealey Plaza and knowing only that Kennedy was shot there.

How bored would you be if you didn't know about the grassy knoll, or the Book Depository window where the gun was fired from, or the spot where Jackie climbed onto the back of the convertible ... well, you'd be very bored.

Kinda like I am in Tombstone.

But now I know more. I've toured the town. Watched the reenactment. Listened to Vincent Price. Had saloon girls dance for me. So today I'll give it another shot, and go to the famous Boot Hill Cemetery and try have a GREAT time.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Exposing An Ignorant Foodie

I'm at the Sistine Chapel of the New World, the White Dove of the Desert. And all I can think about is food.

It's not that I'm hungry. It's that I love to explore a new place through its food, its people and its history.

And some of its people already told me that THE PLACE to get GREAT fry bread was at the Mission San Xavier del Bac, a place steeped in 300 years of histories of many peoples, of Americans, Native Americans, Mexicans, Spaniards, Jesuits and Franciscans.

I'll absorb the history later, I think to myself. Show me the food!

Now, I really don't know what fry bread is, except it's a food found in Native American culture. And I imagine it's bread, maybe a whole grain or multi-grain bread, that's been fried. I don't know. I just want to eat some.

So I go in search of this food. I visually scout out the grounds of this impressive  working Catholic mission near Tucson, AZ, where people still pray and children go to school. To my left, I hear Mexican cantina music from a loud speaker. Ahead of me is the church itself, an impressive white beacon of faith, a source of comfort to thousands of Catholic pilgrims.

And then, to my right, there she is. A Tohono O'odham grandmother working under a hut with a thatched cactus roof, selling fresh fry bread. I'm so close, I'm giddy.

"Hi," I say, nearly breathless after hurrying up to see her. And I'm sure my grin looks stupid. "One fry bread with, um," I quick read the handwritten menu nailed to the hut support, "beans and cheese, please."

She nods, then turns away from me and washes her hands. She then picks up a ball of fresh dough and slaps it back and forth in her hands, working it like a small pizza crust. She then drops it into a vat of sizzling vegetable oil.

While the dough sizzles, I laugh to myself.  How naive I can be! It's just Fried Dough, the decadent State Fair dessert. Fry bread. Fried dough. Fry bread. Fried dough. Same, same. Only the State Fair delicacy NEVER wears beans and cheese, right? Only yummy sugars (which, by the way, is also on the menu here).

After the dough fries crispy, grandma puts in on a paper plate, ladles a generous helping of pinto beans on top, and sprinkles it with cheese. She then folds it over like a taco, only a huge taco.

That's my prize. My fry bread.

I savor the dish, then head to the church to feed on the history inside.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

When You Walk Through a Storm

We limp out of Quartzsite, AZ. Our shoulders slumped. Our heads low. The wind kicking us twice as we leave.

We spent the past day and a half  looking for needles in a haystack (our friends in the desert) and too many hours driving blindly (also in the desert, in Bouse, maybe Parker?) looking for a store to buy a new one. 

 You see, our motor home's not charging its batteries so we need a fix. A fix a friend can manage even in the middle of the desert. If we can find him. But we can't.

And we can't call him because our phone's broken. So we depend on the Internet. Which we  use only sparingly because our batteries are weak because the motor home's not doing its job of charging them.

We finally find a  phone store up the road in Blythe, CA., where we also find a  couple who live in the Quartzsite desert. Their knowledge combined with e-mails from our friends lead us to the right desert door. But our friends have moved on because there's a storm brewing and everyone knows you don't stick around in the desert when a storm comes to town.

We drive away, too, with a new phone but the same sick battery problem. So we head to Yuma, down on the Mexico/Arizona/California border for a repair shop, where they've left the gate open for us to pull in and park for the night.

We get there. We sleep. In the morning, we go, in our car, away for the day while the repairmen tend to the motor home.

We walk along the Colorado River, enjoy lunch and grocery shop, all the while we watch the sky darken, feel the wind pick up speed. Another storm. In the desert.

We're told to expect flash floods with those high winds.

Time to get out of this town, too.

We pick up the motor home and leave, aiming for Tucson. The wind and rain follow. A sprinkle at first, then a deluge. Blinding rain. Belting wind. It looks foggy.  But it's not fog. It's dust and sand and pebbles. Whacking us. Smacking us.

The night turns black black black, The wind pushes and shoves and jostles us. Kicks us again and again. We're hurled left and right. Relentless. Overpowering. Lightening. Rain. Wind. Immense sustainable power.

Now we know why naming a war operation Desert Storm was a fierce move. A line in the sand, A powerful message.

Now we know.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Cell Phone Culture

I wake up this morning to find our cell phone drowned. Yes, drowned.

We left it overnight on the counter in our motor home near the sink
faucet. Which sprung a leak. And drowned our phone.

Now that I don't have a cell (for what, all of five hours?), I think
about how cell-phone culture offends me. About how some people live
on their cells and miss the world around them. About how teens text
instead of talk. About how you don't know if people are talking to
you or their cells.

And about how my cell-phone arrogance that came back to smack me a few
weeks ago.

Here's the story.

I'm in Fresno, CA., eating lunch at a Cheesecake Factory. I know, it's
a chain, and we should seek out a local eatery to support the local
marketplace. But we've never eaten at a Cheesecake Factory and I want
the experience (OK, I really want cheesecake, too.).

We're escorted to our seats by a smiling young woman with white white
teeth. She introduces us to our server, another young woman with
those teeth. Everyone is smiling.

All around us people smile, talk and enjoy themselves as they dine on
sumptuous, freshly prepared fare (I savor my veggie dish in a spicy
peanut sauce.)

And then there's the fellow in the booth next to us. I'll call him
Fred, because he looks like Fred Flintstone. He's not smiling; he's on
his cell, repeatedly. It rings (like an old-fashioned wall phone) and
he answers "Royers Hauling Service. (I made up the name, but it was a
hauling service). And he does business between bites. Between my
bites, too.

The man's business is booming and ruining my lunch. Because it annoys
me. Geesh!

And then there's his 5-year-old son, who has nothing to do because his
dad's on the phone so much, so he's standing up in the booth, playing
peek-a-boo with me.

But I love it. Now I'm having a great time because I love kids. I'm
thinking, though, that any minute, this man, who's rude enough to
invade my lunch-time space with his work-place phone calls, is going
to tell his son to "SIT DOWN AND DON'T BOTHER THE LADY." HA! I think
to myself. What a dichotomy. He's the one being rude, not his son.
But it doesn't happen.

The man, still on the phone, makes eye contact with me and raises
his eyebrows and nods his head, as if to say, "Hey, lady, it is OK
for my son to play with you?" HOW KIND!

I nod YES! And the kid and I giggle.

And here's the rest of the story. As we pack up to leave, we learn
it's winter break for the kids (even kindergardeners) and this dad
has to take care of his son all week.

This was their lunch break.

So what's a working dad to do? Well, I think, I guess you just keep
your cell phone turned on to do business when you can, even during

Get Out and Hike!

When in Death Valley, you have to hike.

Even when you are miserably out of shape, you have to hike.

So we turn left just past Stovepipe Wells and start our long journey
UP to the mouth of Mosaic Canyon, where our two-mile hike is to begin.

Inside this canyon, I'm told, we can touch 800 million-year-old
dolomite that's been pushed up out of the ground by perennial seismic
activity. Give dolomite long enough and it turns into marble.

So up we go (still in the motor home), driving on a pathway dug into
an alluvial fan (lots of gravel and silt washed out of the mountains
by ancient rivers). Rumble. Rumble. Rumble.

The man-made road is a washboard and rattles my jaw for what I thought
was a few hundred yards. It turns out to be maybe two miles before we
reach the parking lot at the canyon's mouth.

Distance is deceptive when everything's so big, and in Death Valley,
everything is big.  (Pictures.)

As we begin our hike I realize we're still heading UP. We're walking
UP the canyon into the mountains. There is no DOWN until we head back
down. Did I mention I was out of shape?

We're walking UP for about 20 minutes when I realize I'm no loner
struggling against myself to enjoy this hike. I'm more limber, my
muscles settle in for the ride and I can enjoy the scenery. I pause to
see the different kinds of rocks under foot and inspect the thorny
plant life clinging to the sides of the canyon walls.

And then we come to the first of what turns out to be many places we
can no longer walk; we have to climb. On dolomite. That's the stuff
that turns into marble. And it's smooth already, just like marble.

Did I tell you it's smooth? Which means no toeholds. Allen leaps from
side to side, using his feet to somehow suction onto the smooth
dolomite and lift himself upward. Effortlessly.

I stand and stare. Dumbfounded. How can I, a very out-of-shape woman,
CLIMB up this pass? I can't LEAP like Allen just did.

I stare at this geological structure that looks like a vanilla caramel
sundae. Can you visualize that? THAT'S what I'm supposed to climb up.
An ice cream sundae.

What inspires me to at least try is not my adventuresome nature. It's
my pride. I cannot let the other people hiking behind me see this out-
of-shape woman fail.

And fail, I do not. I take a hundred baby steps and climb this way and
that and get to the top. Ta Da!

Allen beckons me on (what? We're not done?). And we walk some more,
then climb some more.

I scale other dolomite sundaes along the way with ease, even the ones
demanding I step waist high to clear them. After all, I'm experienced

At the big clearing, we rest, catch out breaths, and consume the
beauty of the mountain's canyon. We're tired. And why not? We must
have climbed a mile or more up into the sky to reach this breathtaking

But remember I said distance is deceptive when everything's so big? A
fellow hiker ambles by and mentions, casually, that's we've climbed .6
of a mile. Not 1.6 miles. Just six-tenths of a mile.

There's still nearly half a mile to go. UP. We hesitate briefly,
smile, then turn and head back DOWN.

Remember all those 800 million-year-old sundaes I climbed to get UP, I
now slide DOWN to get down. What fun.

And we still stop along the way to marvel at God's handiwork. Stuff
we would never have seen if we hadn't gotten out of the car to hike.

Monday, January 11, 2010

An Unexpected Visitor

After being away from home for nearly a month, we're finally camping:
10 days (or so) in Death valley.

The thermometer this Jan. 10 day reads 75. In the shade. I keep moving my reading chair around to find that shade, because in the sun it's pretty hot.

Allen and the boys (our two Standard Poodles) go back inside the motor home for a nap. A lunch-time nap, leaving me with my book, cup of cold coffee and, hot, dry air.

I'm alone. Reading.

A flitting off to my left catches my eye. Oh, look. I think this to myself because there's no one here but me. A bird, drinking out of the dog's water bowl. I watch, casually, as she drinks. Oh, isn't that cute. She's bathing in the water!

THEN WOW! LOOK! About 20 birds come in for a landing, all arguing over who gets to drink next. I settle the score a little by (shame on me) tossing out some crushed graham crackers. They scittle around, grabbing the crumbs farthest away from me, first, then gain courage to
steel closer.

They are all pretty familiar birds to me. I don't know what they are, but I see them a lot at the coast. Big, black birds with yellow rings around their eyes. Others are multi-tan colored birds. They are big, about the height of a parrot, but slender, with long tails. A few morning doves visit as do a dozen or so little black birds (robin-sized) with yellow eyes.

Something else then catches my eye. Coming straight-arrow at me from
across the desert. Speedy. Is it kicking up puffs of dust? What is it?

It arrives, about three feet in front of me and halts, nearly
wobbling itself in its sudden stop.

Oh, My Goodness! A Road Runner! And she's looking up at me with puppy-dog eyes. She's come running over to say, "Hey, I see your serving lunch!"

Look are her! She walks with her neck outstretched, her head feathers
erect, her tail feathers parallel to the ground, pecking at the crumbs
right under my chair. When she stops, her feathers retreat, her tail
turns upwards and her neck goes perpendicular. Walk, she outstretched.
Stop, she's a touch rounded.

But she's never stopped for long. She's in constant motion, eating (shame on me) bits of graham cracker.

 I notice her arrival scatters the other birds, who I see hiding up in the mesquite trees (yes, there are trees in the desert, near an oasis, which I am, I guess).

When Speedy leaves, I feel like Wile E. Coyote, dumfounded by her speed. And those sweet eyes. And her whirlwind feet and legs, that, when stopped, look like chicken legs. When in motion, a blur.

She follows a straight-arrow path, back into the desert. In a puff, she's gone. The other birds return and resume.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

When in Portland, Soak It Up

We're back in Portland, OR, to continue needed (and planned) repairs to our motor home.

And, of course, it's raining.

We've been in the Pacific Northwest since Dec. 22 and so has the rain. I suspect the rain lives here. We're just visiting. And, apparently, I announced our visitor status when I popped open my umbrella. Or so I've been told.

Here's what happened.

While our motor home was in the shop for repairs, we spring a leak, then a flat on our toad. A toad is a car that's TOWED behind a motor home.

Anyway, our toad (in real life our Kia Soul), has a flat tire, so we stop in at Goodyear for a fix. Goodyear, while very friendly, is not pet friendly, so we unload our dogs and walk them around and around the block, in the rain that never stops.

The rain doesn't pour here. It spits and spittles, drips and fizzes. Sometimes, it drizzles. A lot of times, it comes sideways. It lets up for a few minutes, then starts again.

During one of these drizzles, I pull out my TOURIST BULLHORN (um, the umbrella). Within minutes, the drizzle fizzles to a spit and a pop and I drop my umbrella.

 Well, shoot. The rain picks up and I open my umbrella again, then the rain spits into drips. Close umbrella.

Oops. Here's the rain again. Open. Oh. Rain ends. Close. Repeat ad infinitum. So frustrating.

I end up pumping my umbrella like a bellows before a dying fire.

That's when I notice no other umbrellas. I see lots of people -- walkers, shoppers and delivery people, but no umbrellas.

Later, at the dog park, I also see NO UMBRELLAS. Amazingly, to me anyway, lots of doggies and people prance and play around the dog park IN the rain with no worry ABOUT the rain as it continues to spit and spittle, drip and fizzle.

I give up and stash the tourist symbol in the back of the car. Later, when we pick up the motor home, I mention this interesting absence to the storekeeper. She's not surprised. Portland people use two things against the rain, she says: their fortitude and their hoodies.

Only tourists, she winks, use umbrellas.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Banish the Bully!

A gazillion dogs pack the fairly small dog park in Aloha, OR.

Good? No. Not good. Because one or both of my two Standard Poodles, Joshua and
Jacob, inevitably misbehaves in a crowd. Both boys play sheriff --
they insist on nosing into other dogs' rows. And Jacob picks out the
youngest pup on the lot to bully. Shame on you, Jacob!

I stop several yards from the gate. And assess. There are Pits,
Boxers, Labs (one a puppy), two big furry things, a little barkie
thing, some bird dogs, Huskies and lots of happy guys (one a puppy).
They play at the front of the lot.

OK. My guys last saw freedom a week ago. They need to run.

Against all logic, we go in. And walk away from the crowd toward the
back of the lot.

Everything's great, smooth, no problem. Oh, a few riffs here and
there beckon my sheriffs, who do little more than bark before the
quarrel's settled. I relax. Even enjoy a little social time with the
dog park's people.

But no. Oh, no. Jacob catches sight of the happy puppy, a little red
guy wearing a tan halter. Jacob lunges, and Happy Puppy instantly goes
down and rolls over. Jacob dances in a circle around the pup, his nose
to the baby's belly, his barking incessant.

"Jacob, Jacob!" I probably sound as awful as he does. "Stop it! Stop
it!" Was I shrill?

I grab Jacob's collar and haul him away; all the while he continues
to bark bark bark.

I'm so embarrassed.

"Jacob is a good dog." I turn toward these wonderful, almost
whispered words. I see a Hispanic man, sort of rotund, kinda tall,
with gentle eyes and that peaceful voice. "Some dogs just like to
teach the younger ones how to behave."

But, but, I say. Teaching is one thing. Bullying is another. Jacob
won't give up once he's targeted a puppy, for whatever reason,
teaching or tormenting. He won't give up so I have to yank him away.

But, no, this peaceful man speaks softly: "Do not yank him. Be
peaceful, yet stern with him.

"I learned when I was a security guard, that if I was rough with
people, I'd get decked." To demonstrate, he pinches my shirtsleeve,
jerks it and barks "LET'S GO." Startles me; angers me.

"But if I was calm, people were cooperative." He pokes my shoulder
gently, only once, and suggests "Come on."

Nicer, much nicer.

But, but but. I'm a person. Jacob's a dog.

"How can I STOP Jacob when he insists on bullying this dog?"

"You body block him. And if he tries to break through the block, you
poke him gently and say 'No.' Calmly."

OK. I can see it now. Me poking Jacob all afternoon. But, I'll give
it a try.

I situate myself between Jacob and Happy Puppy. Jacob tries to pass
me. I poke and say, calmly, "No." Jake tries to go the other way. I
body block, he tries to pass, I poke. He's confused.

He makes eye contact with me, questioningly. He cocks his head.
He goes for a third pass. Block, Poke. He gets it. And goes on to
play with someone else.

No more bully!

This man is a miracle worker. A dog trainer extraordinaire.

My husband Allen strolls by and I pull him in to meet the man who
helped turn Jacob around.

"Honey, I'd like you to meet, um, um," I turn to this magical man.
"What's you name?"

"Cesar," he says.

No. Not Cesar Millan, THE Dog Whisperer.

Someone even better: OUR Dog Whisperer.