The Frigate

I’m reading a beautiful book, The Desert and the Sown by Gertrude Bell. She was a fascinating woman, most notably (for me) she was an archeologist. This book is her journal about her travels in Syria and Palestine and was originally published in 1907. I want to be her when I grow up. 

Her journey — as she relates it — is captivating and mildly incomprehensible. I recently traveled (with her) to spend some nights at Krak des Chevaliers. A crusader castle I came to “know” through T. E. Lawrence’ thesis Crusader Castles and the research I did on the Crusades for my book, Savior.

Krak des Chevaliers

After wandering with this incredible woman for a couple hundred pages, it was a relief to reach a place I “knew.” Not that I really care all that much, but a little grounding is nice. She is welcomed by the resident political leader and housed in a beautiful room in one of the towers. After the formalities are completed, she’s able to retire to her room. She is soon visited by the man’s wife and a Christian woman who speaks English. Gertrude Bell spoke fluent Arabic which sets both her hostesses at ease. Dinner is brought in for the women to share. Then, “When dinner was over we returned to my room, a brazier full of charcoal was brought in, together with hubble-bubbles (hubbly-bubbly) for the ladies, we settled ourselves for an evening talk.”

And I’m thinking, “This long-ago British archeologist whom I admire is sitting with Arab women and a hubble-bubble in a tower of the Krak des Chevaliers.” Hubble-bubble is a hookah. 

When I started this life journey — I consider it to have begun not when I was born, but when I was ten — I had a lot of dreams of traveling the whole world and getting to know the people in it. I didn’t appreciate then how big the world is or how many people there are. I didn’t even seriously consider languages. Then that other reality I didn’t know about — money. And, as we grow up and experience life, we are ourselves transformed. That 10-year-old girl is still me but with a little more knowledge. She also wanted a dog and we know how that turned out. 😉

Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and Syria were the location of my 10-year-old girl dreams because of David Lean’s film, Lawrence of Arabia which I loved beyond logic. “I am going to be T. E. Lawrence when I grow up.” Yep. I said that. It was my first fixation. I went so far as to go to school wearing a sheet on my head… From Lawrence’s book, Seven Pillars of Wisdom, I learned some Arabic, along with customs and history. In China, many of my closest friends were Chinese Muslims from the Turkic part of China, and, oddly enough, I learned a little bit more Arabic in Guangzhou along with MORE customs, greetings, and their significance. 

Back in the US, teaching at the international school, I taught many Arabs — employees of Saudi Airlines, various Middle Eastern governments, some teachers, and some businessmen. My affinity — sympathy? — must have been obvious because pretty soon the Good X and I were invited to dinner at my students’ homes. In San Diego, far far far away from a castle in Syria, I shared dinners very like the one Gertrude Bell described. 

I imagined Gertrude Bell sitting on the floor and the women passing the pipe between them, smoking tobacco mixed with apricots. I know that sweet aroma and how lovely the custom is. I could imagine being in that tower room in Krak des Chevaliers. In my experience, the hubble-bubble was passed in a mixed, family group, and the women didn’t join. It’s OK. I didn’t want to, but the hospitality was the same. 

Reading about the dinner and the hubble-bubble, I saw that, in a way, my dreams came true. Teaching international students for 15 years, the whole world came through my classrooms. I got to spend time with Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Jordan, the Emirates, Yemen, Qatar, Kuwait, and Egypt. 

But to have been Gertrude Bell? To travel on horseback through the Middle East with various guides and protectors so long ago? Before oil, before the current boundary lines, before the ambient continuing horror? Wow. The complexity of political relationships she writes about — and navigates — is beyond my understanding. But…every time she stops beside the road or enters a home she is welcomed with coffee. I understand that…

For years I wore around my neck a tiny, golden dallah, a coffee pot, given me by Salem who jokingly called himself the Epic Legendary Hero. He was a brilliant, hilarious minister from Kuwait who spent two years in the US and got an advanced degree in business. I appreciated Arabic coffee in itself and in the ritual so much that it got to be kind of a joke, but the sweet kind of joke that you love. When Salem gave me the golden dallah he was returning to Kuwait for good. 

Gertrude Bell quotes a 10th-century poet that I had never heard of, Al-Mutanabbi. It’s a verse in which, Gertrude Bell writes, “…the poet puts from him the joys of youth”

Here goes: 

“I have longed for age to still the tumult in my brain, 
and why should I repine when my prayer is fulfilled? 
We have renounced desire save for the spear points, 
Neither do we dally, except with them. 
The most exalted seat in the world is the saddle of a swift horse, 
And the best companion for all time is a book.”

I’ve thought a lot about the difference between the striving years, the holding up the sky years, and these years that I’m now having the good luck to live. I’ve begun a lot of things at “this late date” — I could never “be” an artist before. I could never “do” journalism before. I moved here without knowing anyone and made a life. Maybe those things are the equivalent of Al-Mutanabbi’s “spear points.” I’m no less curious about things than I was when I was 10, but I have a better handle on geography. 

The stereotypes surrounding “old age” have never been wholly true. Reading this bit of a poem written more than a thousand years ago, I thought of how literature opened a larger world to me than time, money, a profession, and destiny (spelled d-o-g-s) allowed. And I thought of how my friend Lois — who’s in her sixties — bought a beautiful horse last year, a horse she helped train and loves with all her heart. ❤️ 

There is no Frigate like a Book 

There is no Frigate like a Book
To take us Lands away
Nor any Coursers like a Page
Of prancing Poetry –
This Traverse may the poorest take
Without oppress of Toll –
How frugal is the Chariot
That bears the human soul

Emily Dickinson

The prompt for today is “Chautauqua” — And I wrote about that here! Chatauqua

P.S. A movie was made about Gertrude Bell not that long ago. It stars Nicole Kidman. I found it unwatchable.

X — Denoument

Montana Answers

“Yeah, our dogs used to get bit by rattlers. You never knew ’til the dog got sick. I’d say to my dad, ‘What’s wrong with the dog?’ Dad’d say, ‘Oh, he’s just been snakebit.’ Sometimes the dogs’d make it; sometimes not.”

“What happened then?” she asked her uncle. He’d grown up on a ranch west of Billings, Montana.

“Oh, they’d swell all up, here, around the neck. They’d be real sick for a day or two, maybe bleed from the nose, seizures. They’d make it or we’d shoot ‘em. It all depended how much venom they got.”

That conversation with my uncle told me what had killed my dog Maggie. The city vets in San Diego wouldn’t expect a dog to be snakebit, but here in rural Colorado every vet would expect that. Now there’s a rattlesnake venom vaccine. I don’t know how good it is — even vets have given me mixed reviews. I guess its one main advantage is that it slows the progression of the venom so a person has a longer to get the dog help. I also understand that the antivenin has to be matched to the exactly type of rattlesnake.

I was out pretty early this morning with Bear. As we walked I passed a dead garter snake. I had probably run over it. I felt bad for a moment then thought, “Hungry birds.” A raven flew overhead. Later we passed a living garter snake. Bear is no longer interested in them, and I’m glad of that.

I thought of all the snakes I saw back in the day. Most often it was one of the three kinds of rattlesnakes that lived there — but sometimes king snakes — the yellow and black California Kingsnake and the rare and elusive Laguna Mountain Kingsnake with his red, black and yellow/white stripes. Gopher Snakes were always nice to see as were my favorites, the Desert Rosy Boas. Ring-necked snakes are small and beautiful. I guess it was lucky that I have no real aversion to snakes though a snake on a trail will make me scream. Even the skinny little garter snakes I see out at the Refuge.

Rattlesnakes will never be my favorite critters, but I learned about them. Most useful is that they are territorial, and I could expect to see one in certain places along the way. As much as I truly miss my little house in Descanso, CA, I don’t miss living in a place where there could be rattlesnakes in my yard.

These are all stories from a folder I found in an old trunk. As I was busy shredding them, I stopped to read. This turned out to be something I didn’t want to shred. I’m sharing it here and I have also put the stories into a little book. The stories are from the very first years I lived with dogs and hiked on my own, with dogs, in the California Coastal Chaparral of San Diego. The stories are a kind of record of the beginning of the best things I’ve done in my life — hiking in nature with dogs. I wrote these stories in my late 30s.

In other news, Tu Fu, Lao She, and Pearl Buck — the Scarlet Emperor Beans — and now Li Ho!!! have emerged and I am very happy to see them. I recently read an artlcle about genetically modified — what does the O stand for? — anyway GMOs. The writer is a farmer and he explained that all seeds are genetically modified just by being grown and harvested. It’s true. I look at my beans, see who is busy pollinating them, and (to me) it appears pretty random. The writer explained the obvious, that hybridization is genetic modification, and people have been doing that as long as they’ve farmed, even unwittingly, just by harvesting what grows. He said that using the seeds that come from the previous year’s crops isn’t such a great idea and that buying new seeds every season will give a better yield. He gave a litany of reasons all of which made perfect sense. But every year my beans (so far) have been very very happy to grow from the seeds of the previous summer. Maybe his assessment doesn’t hold for a handful of beans grown by a lady in a 4 x 8 garden but it should be even MORE true when there aren’t many plants. This is the sixth generation from the TWO seeds I planted from a packet that was a year old. Anyway I will give them my best. They are wonderful beings. Or beans.

Lao She

VIII — Perspective

Born Again

“Onward, Christian Soldiers! Marching as to war! With the Cross of Jesus, going on before.”
Fifteen college boys.

“Dogs, look! Oh, no. Let’s hurry. Maybe we can beat them to the top.”

Running, running, the group comes closer, closer, closer, singing, louder, louder, her heart beating faster, faster, too fast, too dry. “Damn! Why are they here? There’s a whole world for them, such a little space for me! Come on, we can do it, Molly, Truffle.”

Running, running, running, marching, closer, closer, Bibles held against the chests of the boys like Mao’s Little Red Book. They don’t look down, they don’t look around, they don’t see morning sun backlighting the froth of seeded weed heads, the cool, damp places beneath the stones where small green things grow, where snakes linger.

“Wait, dogs! Wait. It’s a big one. Damn. What should I do? If I don’t tell those boys, they’ll step on it. If I tell them, I’ll have to wait here and I want to go up, ahead, away. Sit, girls. He’s still sleepy. They’ll walk right on him. They’re walking blind. DAMN!!!”

“Onward Christian Soldiers, Marching as to…”

“Hey, wait a minute. STOP. There’s a big rattler in the trail four feet in front of you.”


“A rattlesnake. In front of you. I don’t want you to step on it. It’s still kind of sleepy.”


“Not two steps from here.”

“Oh! I see it! Man, he’s big! Give me that rock,” the leader called to his buddy.

“Before you kill it, I want to see it,” said another boy. “I’ve never seen a rattlesnake.” 

“Where’s the rock? That’s perfect. Yeah. OK, that does it. Let’s go. Onward Christian Soldiers, Marching as to War, with the Cross (the rocks? the sticks?) of Jesus marching on before.”

The woman looked down at the broken, bleeding, dying snake. “Look at you, look at you. There was no need. I never meant them to kill you. They come, they march, they sing, they pray, but they are blind. Damn, damn, damn, damn them.”

“Hey down there! Come on! It’s safe now!”

The “woman” felt it was far from safe.

The mythology in the book those boys were carrying made snakes the embodiment of evil. And the boys? Ignorant and arrogant. I was prepared to move the snake with the long stick I hiked with, but I didn’t get the chance. I just wanted the boys to stay back until I could do that. Truffle and Molly were sitting, patiently, some distance away. They got it, but the boys didn’t. I went back down the trail — well, actually straight down the hill. I heard shouting and beating, sticks and rocks and then a whoop of victory. Victory over a sleeping snake. All this in less than 5 minutes.

Just because a thing in nature is potentially dangerous to us doesn’t make it evil or malicious. It means its interests might come in conflict with ours. It doesn’t mean it does not have an equal right to pursue its interests. It means we should be aware.

Rattlesnakes turned out to be a major part of my apprenticeship. More than a decade later, when I no longer lived in the hood, but lived in the mountains east of San Diego, my apprenticeship continued. After losing two dogs — Lupo and Ariel — to rattlers that were hiding in gopher holes in my yard, I had to find a solution to this. I didn’t want to lose my two new dogs, Lily and Jasmine, or any other dogs who might come into my life.

My yard was a snake food supermarket. There were mice, gophers, lizards, frogs, and ground squirrels, AND there were rattlers and gopher snakes. There was NO WAY — living out in the country as I did — that I could possibly get rid of the snake food. The dogs had to learn that snakes were dangerous and had to be avoided.

There was a guy at the time who offered Rattlesnake Avoidance Training. A big Irishman — Patrick Callaghan (RIP) — from a California town where, it was conceivable to me, snakes outnumbered people. He had devised a training method to teach dogs to avoid snakes. I signed up Lily and Jasmine, and out we went to a hunt club not far from Descanso.

I was driving a red 2002 Ford Ranger with a topper. I was told to bring in one dog at a time, so I brought out Jasmine first as the more mellow of the two Siberian Huskies. Here’s how it worked — a review from a website from the time:

Patrick holds a rare license from the Department of Fish and Game for handling the snakes. The rattlesnakes are either muzzled or defanged for the training session. The snakes are rotated through the sessions so that they do not become stressed or tired out. The approach is safe and humane for both the dog and the rattlesnake.

The training appears simple at first glance. A handler leads the dog into the presence of the rattlesnake. Patrick uses a remote training collar to administer a low level aversive stimulus (shock) when the dog becomes aware of the presence of the snake.

Avoidance response stimulation is administered for each of the three senses – sight, sound, and smell. After the visual and auditory recognition experience, the dog is presented down wind to a concealed snake whose rattle is taped so that it cannot rattle. This experience isolates the sense of smell for the dog. Snakes give off a strong and pungent odor that a dog can recognize from some distance. Again, the aversive stimlus is administered so that the dog associates it with the smell of a rattlesnake.

Does this procedure sound simple? It is actually extremely complex. Patrick explains that every dog is different, and the size and amount of reinforcement must be administered according to each dog’s unique make up to be effective. Patrick is able to read every nuance of the dog’s breathing, posture and body language as the dog approaches the snake. It is important that the negative stimulation be tied specifically to the presence of the snake and not to other factors in the environment. Some dogs will require multiple experiences of approaching and leaving the snake to get the conditioning


After the third snake, the dogs were let loose. Well, you don’t let huskies loose as there is no way to know WHERE they would go, so I positioned myself so Jasmine would HAVE to pass me. I caught her and put her in the truck. I brought out Lily.

Both dogs did great. The next spring, I took them back for a refresher. At that time, I was driving a Scion with a hatchback, not the red truck any more. Again I started with Jasmine. After the third snake, she ran faster than I imagined she could run, and not toward me, but to a red truck parked in the parking lot. She tried to get in, too, much to the surprise of the driver and the golden retriever in the back. 🤣🐾❤️

The side benefit of this training is that dogs will then alert their human to the presence of rattlesnakes.

A few years later, after Jasmine had gone to the Enchanted Forest, I realized that there was a large snake in my yard, hopefully a gopher snake (bull snake) not another rattler. I was confident that my dogs would avoid the rattlesnakes, but Siberian Huskies are hunters. Lily — who had the prey drive of a hungry Sabre Toothed Tiger — caught the enormous snake. She didn’t let me near enough to identify it. She held it high in the air and ran around the yard with her trophy. It seemed that from what looked like a narrow, pointed tail, she’d caught a gopher snake. A shame. Gopher snakes were my allies in diminishing the number of ambient vermin.

Here’s Jasmine with a far more benign trophy; a ground squirrel and Lily on Garnet Peak. I put them here just because they were so beautiful, and I loved them so much. Jasmine died of cancer and Lily died of very old age, at 17, here in Colorado, where she got to experience one real Colorado snowstorm.

But many times before that, Descanso turned into a snow globe for my huskies (and me). It was never all rattlesnakes. Sometimes it was:

These are all stories from a folder I found in an old trunk. As I was busy shredding them, I stopped to read. This turned out to be something I didn’t want to shred. I’m sharing it here and I have also put the stories into a little book. The stories are from the very first years I lived with dogs and hiked on my own, with dogs, in the California Coastal Chaparral of San Diego. The stories are a kind of record of the beginning of the best things I’ve done in my life — hiking in nature with dogs. I wrote these stories in my late 30s.

VII — the Apprenticeship


It was December. The rain had ended and the valley was green. She looked down on it from the halfway point on the ridge, moved by its beauty, its softness. “God,” she spoke aloud, “why are you so beautiful?”

“So you would love me,” came the answer.

“I do love you.”

“You love me now. I’m green, I’m beautiful, but can you love me later, in my hot months when my ground is hard and my plants are dry and sear?”

“I can love you then.”

“Can you love me with my snakes, my tarantulas?”

“I can love your snakes.”

“Will you come?”

“I will come. I will not miss a day.”

“I will show you things.”

“You don’t need to bribe me. I know that you will show me things. You always do.”

“You will come?”

“Don’t doubt me.”

“Nor you me. This is the real thing. Can you understand it?”

“Not really. What you offer is beyond me, but I will try.”

That was it. I got my job description that December day. Then I went home and set up a pretty Christmas party with toothsome treats for the Good X and his Toastmaster group.

Yesterday afternoon, I was in the front yard raking. I hate yard work, but I do it. I filled four bags with dead leaves and grass, and I will probably fill two more. My street is noisy now with semi-trucks and motor homes. I had my phone in my pocket and I was listening to music. A couple of guys walked past — one heading east, one heading west. We exchanged friendly words. I plan to refresh the wildflower garden I started last year and plant another one soon, adding some iris as anchors.

As I raked, I thought about what happened AFTER this conversation with God. I hadn’t even meant to talk to God (when I write God what I imagine is the great unknowable mystery of the infinite. It’s just a lot easier to spell God). It was just an exclamation like, “God what a beautiful day,” or “Oh God, I spilled a whole gallon of milk.”

When I saw Kris Kristofferson in the mammatus clouds one afternoon, I understood how people got the idea that the Great Infinite Unknowable Mystery was a guy in the sky.

I was pretty shaken, honestly. I told a friend at work who said, “Don’t tell anyone. They’ll think you need to be locked up. That’s schizophrenia.”

It wasn’t schizophrenia. I don’t know what it was — my imagination? Likely, but I took it seriously. I didn’t realize that I had already served part of an apprenticeship. I’d gone blindly into it with no idea where I was going or what would happen. I only knew I’d promised not to run away. I had promised to love it.

Love is terrifying and dangerous. God (Nature?) spelled out the hazards pretty clearly that day, and over time I came to know them well, and more. I learned that two things were required of me in that love relationship. Courage and acceptance/faith. No one who is not afraid needs courage. Acceptance/faith? That’s just keeping your eyes open to the existent hazards so you can keep going.

My marriage was falling apart because there was no love. In time I saw that, holding up my marriage to the promises God made me that day, and what I had agreed to in agreeing to that love. In this apprenticeship, no one is ever a master.

Maybe the same is true of any real love.

These are all stories from a folder I found in an old trunk. As I was busy shredding them, I stopped to read. This turned out to be something I didn’t want to shred. I’m sharing it here and I have also put the stories into a little book. The stories are from the very first years I lived with dogs and hiked on my own, with dogs, in the California Coastal Chaparral of San Diego. The stories are a kind of record of the beginning of the best things I’ve done in my life — hiking in nature with dogs. I wrote these stories in my late 30s.

Compassion Seems Like a Viable Approach…

After the Storm -- double rainbow

The wetlands are full, but the wind is so determined that instead of ripple marks in the ponds we have pretty decent sets coming at regular enough intervals for the spring big wave surfing finals, coot division.

OK, raise your hand if you’re single. 🙋‍♀️

The news this morning alerts me to the fact that the Church of England says being single is OK because Jesus was single. That headline piqued my curiosity (good job, journalism!), so I looked into it. It seemed — at first — a little anachronistic with some odd logic.

The church’s report acknowledged that a growing number of people elect to be single as a result of divorce, separation, the death of a partner, not having found a suitable partner, or as a deliberate lifestyle choice. It said that loving relationships matter to single people just as much as they do to those who are married with families.

“Jesus’ own singleness should ensure that the Church of England celebrates singleness and does not regard it as lesser than living in a couple relationship,” the summary report said, adding: “We have an amazing opportunity to reimagine a diverse society in which all families and loving relationships are valued and strengthened…” Source

I thought about this a little bit and remembered how defensive my Aunt Martha was about her choice not to be married, how many times she was taunted for being “the old maid aunt.” I thought back into a more recent geologic age when my mom pleaded with me to stay with the Good X because “the family likes him.” She even pleaded with me back in the day to stay with the (abusive) Juvenile X because, “you chose him.”

Thinking about this a little more it hit me that this might be the church’ way of moving the thinking toward a generally more inclusive perspective on human beings and their infinite and varied coupling choices/drives. Then I thought of the Bible and the bit about “Judge not lest you be judged also.”

Then my brain started to hurt because I’d only begun drinking my coffee, but it turns out I was right in my conjecture. The Archbishop of Canterbury had more in mind…

The report also acknowledged the increased sense of loneliness and stigma to which LGBTQ people, especially youth, are prone. Noting the heated debate surrounding the discussion of LGBTQ and gender issues in schools, the report took a stance: “Not teaching about these issues isolates the young people for whom this is part of their life experience.” This came after the Church of England issued a statement in January 2023 making clear that, while its churches wouldn’t offer marriages to same-sex couples, they would offer prayers and blessings

“Both personally and on behalf of my fellow bishops I would like to express our deep sorrow and grief at the way LGBTQI+ people and those they love have been treated by the Church which, most of all, ought to recognise everyone as precious and created in the image of God,” Stephen Cottrell, the Archbishop of York, said at the time.

It’s interesting to me as a non-participant — a straight, happily single female with no religious affiliation — that these entities — churches, political parties, etc. — have opinions about this stuff. But I get it, too. People seek approval and permission; those are elements of belonging and community. During the past 10 years, I’ve seen how strong this need is among people because…

Hell’s Half Acre in Actuality and in Metaphor

I don’t have a bucket list. When I first heard of the idea of making a list of stuff I absolutely wanted to do before I died, I was a little confused. Who has that much certainty that they can KNOW before they do something what they want to do next? “Yet all experience is an arch wherethrough. Gleams that untraveled world whose margin fades. Forever and forever when I move.” (Alfred Lord Tennisball, “Ulysses”)

I don’t even know what’s going to happen on a simple trip to pick up my groceries or to visit Del Norte. The major journeys I’ve taken in pursuit of a particular outcome never panned out the way they were supposed to, either. That and the actual reward of a journey might not be clear for decades. Lord Tennisball was completely right when he wrote, “…margin fades forever and forever when I move.” I just don’t ever get there, wherever I’m going so how can I have a bucket list?

There’s a town in Wyoming by the name of Chugwater. Back in the 50’s when family road trips took us from Denver to Montana we often stopped there for gas. There was a drugstore there with great ice cream, but that’s a blog post for another day when the prompt is “ice cream.” My dad wanted a shortcut to Hell’s Half Acre (now that’s a line deserving of some meditation!) and the guy pumping gas said, “Nope. You can’t get there from here.”

My dad started to laugh and thanked the guy. “You can never get there from here,” my dad said in the car, and laughed again. I’m not sure what my dad thought was so funny or even meant by “you can never get there from here.” He might have just meant in Wyoming which can be a difficult place to travel in. 

But…I think when you stand at a gas station in Chugwater, Wyoming, you’re not the person who left home at an ungodly early hour that morning with two cranky kids. The journey — or part of a journey — has transformed you. The person asking the question won’t be the same person who arrives at Hell’s Half Acre. The journey ITSELF might have physical obstacles like washed out roads or car wrecks. You might see something along the way that captures your attention and you decide to forget Hell’s Half Acre altogether. Who knows? 

Life is constantly transforming us, that “arch leading to the untraveled world.” 

We got to Hell’s Half Acre an hour or so later, after backtracking substantially (and using more gas). So what is it? Researching it this morning so I could tell you, I learned a lot. In the interval since I was last there (1957 or so) it’s gone through some changes itself. 

I thought it was pretty big for a half-acre so I challenged my mom on that. “Oh honey, it’s just a name.”

Adults are/were seriously confusing.

I’ve thought of that trip pretty often, even including the story in a reader I made for my international students. Our destinations and our destinies are not the same thing. We can’t get anywhere from here, so what’s the point of a bucket list? How could I possibly know where the Martha of tomorrow absolutely MUST go before she kicks the bucket? 

I guess it might have been in China that I first got a glimmering of the real (to me) meaning of travel which is, in simple terms, “go with the flow.” Even taking off on my bike, self-directed and independent, didn’t mean I’d ever get where I thought I was going. And, with the government pretty much in charge of me? Even then I couldn’t know. It was a university car that took me to the bank by Shamian Island, but it had nothing to do with the grandfather and his son who stopped me on my way and tried to sell me a baby. 

Still the idea didn’t really hit home until I was on a train  returning to Milan from Venice. At first I shared a compartment with a young couple who were obviously in love. Venice is renowned as a romantic city and it’s full of luv’. The couple got off at Pescheria, and I was alone. I dozed off, my head against the window. The conductor came by to look at my ticket and gently woke me up. He came back later and sat down with me. He wanted to chat which was great. 

It had been a hard trip in which my dreams hadn’t come true and I hadn’t been able to get to the metaphorical Hell’s Half Acre. I would be returning to the states in two days. I’d wandered around Milan for 10 days with a broken heart, angry and confused. BUT I was staying with kind, sympathetic people, and I had an incredible Italian city to get to know. Most of that hadn’t sunk in, but as we talked something happened. 

“Do you like Milan? Most foreigners don’t like Milan.”

“I like it very much.”

“What do you like about it?” It was the conductor’s home town.

“I…” We were speaking Italian. What I wanted to say might be beyond my ability to say it. 

“Say it in English,” he said, seeing I was struggling.

“No, no, I can do this. I can say it in Italian. Wait.” I took another minute and assembled my thoughts. Until that moment, I hadn’t realized I had had a GREAT time in that city. I hadn’t realized that I loved it and I hadn’t perceived all it had shown me about art, history and myself. “OK,” I said. “I love the mix of the classical and the modern energies. They live together in Milan.”

“Wow,” he said. “What do you do? You’re not an ordinary person.”

“I’m an ordinary person.”

“No. Ordinary people do not say ‘mix of the classical and the modern energies.”

I would get out of the train at a station built by Mussolini. I would get on one of the fastest and most modern subways in the world. I would get out at a gate built by the Romans. 

I never did get to “Hell’s Half Acre” on that trip. Maybe it would have been wonderful, but it wouldn’t have been that journey. So, no bucket lists for me. 

Hell’s Half Acre photo by By Carpenter, Kenneth – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,

Featured Photo: Wyoming Sign: Howenstein115</a> – <span class=”int-own-work” lang=”en”>Own work</span>, CC BY-SA 4.0, Link

Hell’s Half Acre from Wikipedia — whoever wrote this was GOOD!!

Hell’s Half Acre is a large scarp located about 40 miles (64 km) west of Casper, Wyoming on US 20/26.[2] Encompassing 320 acres (1.3 km2), this geologic oddity is composed of deep ravines, caves, rock formations and hard-packed eroded earth. Hell’s Half Acre was used as the location for the fictional planet of Klendathu in the movie Starship Troopers.

The location was known as “The Devil’s Kitchen”, “The Pits of Hades”, and “The Baby Grand Canyon” until a cowhand appeared and thought he was at Hell’s Half Acre, an area southwest of Casper full of alkali and bogs.

Native American tribes used the ravines to drive bison to their death during their hunts.

As of December 2005, the roadside restaurant and motel/campground sitting atop the ravine were closed. The motel and the abandoned restaurant have since been torn down.[3][4] The area is fenced off and there is no public access to the cliff edge nor the valley itself, but there is an interpretive sign west of the former restaurant. As of July, 2021, the fencing was still in place, but two gates in the fence were open, allowing vehicular access to a large gravel lot (with potholes) and a closer view of the topography.

Top o’ the Mornin’! ☘️

It’s finally happened. I’m OVER winter. Done, finished. It’s a sadistic whore, and I’m not playing any more. 3 inches over night. Whoopdeeedo. “Too little too late, Sweet Cheeks,” I said to it as I looked out the window and you know what IT said?

“It’s not about you,” said the snow on the lilac bushes.

The nerve…

Still, after our not–all–that–great saunter at the golf course yesterday, Bear was a happy dog.

“It’s about Bear,” said the snow on the deck.

“Shut up snow.”

“Yeah? Well YOU shut up. I challenge you to find something quieter than I am,” said all the snow everywhere.

I was half-hoping yesterday we’d at least see the tracks of some ungulates, but no luck. It would have been difficult, though, since we were out there while the snow was falling AND melting. I am not sure Bear found tracks with her nose, but she may have. She’s very quiet about her discoveries.

In St. Patrick’s Day news, yesterday I was cleaning out emails and I found a treasure. Back in the day, my cousin Linda set up my Aunt Jo and Uncle Hank with a computer and an aol account. They wanted to use it, but the learning curve was steep. When I went to Montana for Christmas in 2000, I spent a lot of time teaching them because, 1) that was part of my job in CA and 2) it snowed all the time.

They got pretty OK using it. The typing was the hardest part, and they both knew that it was just going to take practice. Sitting at a computer wasn’t really their style, but they tried. I got into emailing them once a week and sometimes they answered with a letter. Sometimes they emailed me back, but not often. ☘️

> Date: Saturday, March 17, 2001, 10:11 AM
> Dear Martha Ann,
>      Time to let you know that we are
> still around. Jo has has been a bit 
> under the 
> weather lately.  I took her to the doctor yesterday
> hope that gets her going 
> again.
> We both wanted to wish you a Happy St Patricks day.
>      I finialy got around to building a
> table for my kitchen table top. 
> didn”t turn out to badly. will use it on the  patio
> that is if  we should 
> ever again have warmer weather.
>      Your aunt Martha is doing okay
> about the same. Your Aunt Jo isn:t as 
> fiesty as usual but says she still likes you and will check
> with you later.
>     Hank

When I was a little girl I lived with Uncle Hank and Aunt Jo for four months. Sometimes I’d get in trouble, and I would think they didn’t love me any more. My Aunt Jo figured that out and after she lectured or punished me she’d always say, “I still like you, Martha Ann” and she would hug me. It became our code for “I love you.” ☘️

The featured photo is St. Gall and the Bear. St. Gall is the patron saint of Switzerland. He was an Irishman who came across the channel with St. Columbanus. I first learned of him from How the Irish Saved Civilization, by Thomas Cahill. I expected How the Irish Saved Civilization to be a satire but it turned out to be legit history that set me on a life-changing course of discovery.

Oh, and as for me? Ancestry has recently let me know that my folks came from central Tipperary during “the starvin'”. I knew when; I didn’t know where so that was cool. My great granddad worked on ships in the Great Lakes where he met my French Canadian great-grandma from whom I inherited a droopy left eye. I can’t find their photos but here’s my dad looking like a Leprechaun. He got the droopy eye, too. In color he had black hair, a red beard and snow-shadow blue eyes. ☘️

Chain, chain, chain, chain of fools…

“Hey guys!!” iPhone 12 zoomed in. At this moment about 100 cranes were over the car, too.

Aretha Franklin sang, “chain, chain, chain, chain of fools…” I don’t know about it being a chain of fools any more. Maybe just ONE fool and a chain of mistakes. Last night I had a really un-fun dream. I dreamed about the men I’ve been married to or lived with. If you’re wondering about the number, it is 4.

The dream was no fun. I woke up at the point where I was remonstrating with the Evil X over something. Normally anything having to do with the Evil X means it’s time to get up. Shudder. My subconscious knows perfectly well that I don’t want to keep sleeping to see how “things turn out.” Ugh.

I guess all older people look back on their lives and see their mistakes and where they could have made a different, better, choice. Such back looking is unfair because THAT person who made those choices doesn’t know as much about life as does the person looking back. They haven’t lived through it and found out the ending. I know NOW what I only sensed back then that what I really wanted from life was dogs, hiking, nature, wild animals, travel, painting and writing. A fella’ who could jump into that would have been great, but I didn’t know myself well enough and, maybe, there’s no such fella’. It took 60 years for me to know/accept this about myself.

Ultimately the most important relationship in our lives is the one we have with ourselves.

In relationships that HAVE worked out, Teddy and I headed out to the Big Empty yesterday because 1) it wasn’t especially cold, 2) there was little wind to speak of. When we arrived a car was parked in the middle of the road and my first reaction was normal, “WTF?” but then as I got closer I remembered the season and, sure enough, not far from the road a small group of cranes was doing whatever it is they do at 10 am. The car moved ahead and then I saw, on the other side of the road, a bigger group of cranes. I stopped to roll down my window and take the featured photo, and just then dozens flew over my car.

Teddy and I had a beautiful time and, to confirm that, the last song playing on Mohammed’s radio was… You have to look at the radio but you might be able to guess from Teddy’s smile.

Books, Beauty, Cranes, Mystery

I’m not a birder. I now know what birders are and generally do, and that’s not me. Partly because with my glasses binoculars are hugely challenging and I don’t have and can’t afford a fancy camera. I think birding is a wonderful thing, but it’s not my thing. Still, I like knowing what I’m looking at and when I see a new animal I try to find out what it is, and what its habits are. One reason is so I will know how to look for it and the other is so I will understand the world we share a little better.

My “way” in nature is to get to know some small place. The reality is there are no “small places” in nature, so that’s kind of a paradox. Also, most of the time I’ve been alone with a dog or dogs in nature, so it’s not social in the normal sense.

Right now, besides the contest, I’m reading a beautiful book — The Desert and the Sown by Gertrude Bell. The title is lines from the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam. Another beautiful book came in the mail today, Peter Matthiessen’s book, The Birds of Heaven. It’s about cranes and has beautiful illustrations.

Gertrude Bell’s book tells of her travels in the Arabian desert before WW I. She writes prose that’s pretty much the opposite of mine, but so beautifully done that it’s never wordy, never redundant, never pedantic. I love it. Maybe if I could write like that, I would.

Today I read some of the most beautiful words I’ve read in my whole life.

The setting is this. She is in an Arab tent at, I believe, the edge of Jordan sharing a meal with a sheik and entourage. Someone comes out of the night to the tent. Though he is an enemy of this tribal leader, he is not there with ill will or ill intent. Some of the other guests go out to meet him. They bring him inside and the host says,

“Good? Please God! Who is with you?”
The young man raised his hand and replied, “God!”
He was alone.

That passage struck me as significant in the context of the narrative — “I know we’re enemies, but I have come by myself, in peace, trusting your hospitality, not with an armed crew to do you harm.”

The words could be read in a different way. What is a solitary ramble but a journey in the company of *God?

I took that out to the Refuge with me today and thought of it when a solitary crane broke from the flock and flew, circling above me, calling out to his comrades. Why he did this, I don’t know, but I loved it. I believe he was checking me out, asking, “Good? Please God? Who is with you?”

You can guess my answer.

*God to me is a word that means the Great Universal Mystery in which we exist and that exists within us. I am a panentheist and I believe that everything, all of everything, together is God. God is just the name I learned and it works for me. It could be Lamont but we know Lamont died, run over by a dune buggy at Puerto Peñasco, and came back as an Albatross.

To find out what that silliness means, go here...

Valentine’s Day Reprise

I wrote my ultimate Valentine’s Day post back in 2014. I’m re-posting it here.


I should not be so cynical about Valentine’s Day. In fact, I got a lacy, beautiful and perfect Valentine from none other than God.

I was in love with a fella’ who wasn’t in love with me. Valentine’s Day came with the usual feelings of failure and confusion. At about 1 pm I decided to take my white Husky/Wolf, Ariel, for a hike up in the Laguna Mountains. We reached the trail head and, the moment we did, it began to snow, the particular gentle, wet and lacy flakes of a Southern California snow shower. The loop we hiked was three miles. It went across a small forest of Jeffrey Pine, up some rocky hills, down through more pines, up a wonderful outcropping to a pond. From the pond we returned across a meadow and then we reached the truck.

It snowed the whole time, dream snow, perfect snow, white, gentle, sweet and ALL MINE. No one else was there — and, at the moment we returned to the trail head where we’d begun, the Valentine snow shower stopped.

In spite of having no particular religion — and not liking religion much — I really love God. I don’t actually know why and don’t think I have to. It’s things like that, small miracles in nature that appear just for me, just because I go out there where I’m more likely to see God trying to communicate.

I’ve had a couple of other amazing Valentines, too. One miserable day I got home from school (back when I lived in San Diego). It’d been an awful day. Frustrating, annoying, disputative, bleah. I drove up to my house disgusted with things, life and people and saw my porch was covered with red and pink flowers. Someone (I had a good idea who) had stripped every geranium, every hibiscus, even the thorny bougainvillea to do that. I was enchanted. I melted. I stepped over it and went inside. Soon there was a knock on my door, at about the height a 6 year old could reach. I knew who it was. Danny, a little boy being foster-momed by my wonderful neighbor. Danny was different; he liked his foster sister’s clothing and played with Barbies. His foster mom made no fuss over that, just left him to be himself. I opened the door and there he stood wearing pop-beads, carrying a purse and wearing lipstick. He’d been sent over to apologize. His head hung in shame. I said, “Did you do this, Danny?”
“Yes. I’m sorry.”
“Sorry? Don’t be sorry. I LOVE it. You made me so happy!”
“I did?
“Yeah. It’s beautiful. I had a bad day but you made it all better!”
He climbed up on my lap and hugged me, then jumped down and danced around the yard, his purse flapping, singing, “I did it! I did it! I did it!”

Valentines are everywhere, actually. I got a great one the day I originally wrote this post. I was outside with Brownie T. Horse of Song and Story and the little boy next door who was almost four. When I said I had to go in, he said, “I need to give you some water, Martha!” I told him I was OK, I didn’t need any water (he’d learned to keep Brownie watered).
“OK,” he said. “I love you, Martha!”

What card could possibly equal any of these Valentines!


Meanwhile we got a skiff of snow and there is more on the way.