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.

May Services in the Big Empty

Yesterday Bear and I sneaked out. The weather forecast promised the chance of rain and the word “breezy.” Breezy here means winds under 30 mph — perfect on a summerish day. It keeps the bugs at bay and the skin nicely cooled. There was little rain, but the breezy definitely panned out.

We had the Refuge to ourselves except for the legitimate residents who, during the day-time, this time of year, are nesting birds, raptors, ravens, garter snakes, frogs, and (you’re lucky if you see one!) tiger salamanders, along with the invisible small and large mammals.

Hither and yon (always wanted to write “hither and yon”) were the shells of duck eggs. In one spot, there were six broken eggs. That spot, a turn-out with several large boulders to keep people in their place, is a favorite of weasels. Judging from the interest my dogs show in the nether realms of those boulders, I’m sure a few weasels have snug little burrows down there. (Always wanted to write “nether realms”)

The dogs don’t get to explore the edges of the road until October. I have not seen a rattler at the Refuge, but if I were a rattler, I’d live there. There is lots of food, water, and hiding places. Bear and Teddy are used to the change and have stopped yearning to examine the road’s soon-to-be-overgrown grassy horizons.

A red-tail hawk observes the world and hunts from four trees across the Big Empty. In all likelihood — and hopefully — he has mouths to feed at home. He and his spouse nest in some old cottonwoods near an abandoned ranch. Red-tail hawks are my oldest raptor friends, and I love to see them. I get homesick for California (I admit it) and seeing this guy and his lady connects my worlds. He was trying so hard to find food, but the little birds — red-winged blackbirds, Meadowlarks, and the like were persecuting him almost beyond endurance. They’re right to be vigilant. Both they and their eggs are hawk food. The last I saw him, he was perched in a tree near my dogs’ favorite trail, one we take in winter.

On the other end of our walk, two ravens were fighting the same battle. While one hunted, the other drew fire. I don’t know if this pair — which has been here since last fall — nests nearby. I think they must.

It looked like the hawk and the ravens had a deal, “OK, Dude, you take the prey from that grove of trees west, and Harriet and I will take the east, sound good?”

Spring is hard. I watch it from start to finish, and I think it is exhausting for everybody. The birds arrive in March/April and follow their instincts, instincts that, to a human, look like “hope” and “love” in all its slow-greening beauty and libidinous frenzy. Bachelor birds preen, strut and call. Seeds beat their future against the still frozen earth. “C’mon! We only have a few months!” Raptors arrive adding an airborne danger to the ambient canine danger. Voles and mice shudder in their little shoes. Rising waters flood muskrats out of their homes. Everyone’s hungry — in the real world, food is scarce in spring. All the beings do the best they can. Summer’s bugs — which I hate — are somebody’s food. And then? Late summer brings the May Fly (sign, to me, of good things to come) and plenty to eat, seeds, harvest, and the whole show, and DAMN! After all that, we’re tired!!! I believe that nature welcomes winter as gratefully as I do.

I paused to look at the golden sedges I painted after a beautiful snowy walk with Bear this past February. The sedges are beginning to fall over, surrendering to the next sedge generation.

I watched the wild sky, with storm cells desperate to form, fighting high pressure and warmth and wind. Virga tried to reach the ground. Mammatus clouds built and dissipated. And there between earth and sky, the avian hunters, and lower still, my dog and I.

Mammatus clouds forming.

Then I came home and had a cup of tea 🙂

Welcome to My Neighborhood

The good news is that my neighbor, the little, old Hispanic guy who “goes walking” with a cane made it safely back from his 36 mile round trip walk to Alamosa. I saw him yesterday in his summer outfit (flannel shirt replaced by t-shirt) walking on my street. Seeing him reminded me of all the very interesting neighbors I’ve had in my life, one of whom LOVED to be driven — but only if you said, “Mr. Saysak, you want a ride in my new car?” If it wasn’t a new car, he wasn’t interested. The bright spot is that it didn’t have to really BE a new car; you just had to SAY it was. Mr. Saysak had dementia and was always taking off for his dream destination — Heidi’s restaurant which was about 9 miles from where we lived. Once I picked him up about a block away from that restaurant, but that’s another saga…

In his pre-dementia life he’d been a butcher and had a shop not far from our houses back in the 1950s and 60s when City Heights in San Diego was a quiet neighborhood. Sometimes Mr. Saysak would leave post-it notes on the neighbor’s doors referring to grocery orders, but the day my dog Maggie died I found a very strange and beautiful note. It said, “I have come like the prophets of old to say that I have gone because I have been found to be good and kind to all people.” I completely believe that message was from my beautiful golden dog.

One day Mr. Saysak saw a couple of kids trying to break into my house. He ran across the street and chased them off. There was really no one like him. When he died, his beautiful wife was both sad and relieved. I sent her flowers and a few days later went over with banana bread. She sat on her sofa with her hand on the flowers. I was stunned when she said, “No one ever sent me flowers before.” A couple of years later I gave her a ride to get her hair done. When I went to pick her up, she had a bowl of blooming paper whites for me. Mr. Saysak called her “my wild Irish rose.”

In Descanso I had an interesting neighbor, an Indian from a tribe north of Flagstaff. He never told me which. He had been in the Navy which is how he ended up in Southern California. He was wounded in Vietnam and, by the time I knew him, he was in a wheel chair. He had a beautiful big dog — a McKenzie Mountain Dog — who was strong enough to get him back up if he and his wheel chair fell over. He was an amazing dog. The Indian made jewelry, boxes and things made from leather and sold them in front of the general store in Descanso (this was California in the 2000s, folks, not the old west). I loved to hang out and talk to him and, of course, visit with the dog.

Over time, that amazing, beautiful and heroic dog died, and the Indian did not get another one. He did get a motorized wheelchair. That chair set him free to “travel” which bugged his kids because they liked knowing where he was. He carried a bag filled with milk bones for all the dogs he might meet on his way. He came to my house every day to visit the dogs who would go to the fence as soon as they heard the hum of his wheelchair. He especially loved Dusty T. Dog. It was a sad day for all of us when he went to join his McKenzie Mountain Dog. There is no official breed recognition for that dog but he looked like an immense husky and maybe McKenzie River Husky is his “real” name.

Here my neighbors are generally less colorful. Casey was the one really colorful neighbor — literally colorful because his mom made him wear a bright orange hunting jacket so he’d be safe on his daily walk to DQ and other points in the neighborhood. Casey was a severely autistic man probably in his early 40s. Casey had definite ideas about things; he was a little severe but likeable. He lived with his mother, and when his mother died, he had to move somewhere else. He had a border collie when I first moved here. He loved that dog and walked her in the park every day. When his dog died, he adopted my Aussie, Mindy. He came to see her twice a day, carefully letting himself into the front yard and closing the gate behind him. I let her into the front yard every afternoon to meet with her “boyfriend.” There was no way I could ever convince Casey that Mindy wasn’t a collie.

Everyone in town knew Casey. He was arrested once for staging a hold up at a local supermarket — the gun was a squirt pistol. The cops still hauled him to Del Norte where the jail is. Once, not long after I came to Monte Vista, I was having dinner at a local restaurant with my friends from Colorado Springs. We were listening to a local singer perform. Casey walked up to the stage and took a seat on a stool. When the song was over, he whispered in the singer’s ear. The singer nodded. Casey pulled his stool closer to the singer. The singer strummed a chord on his guitar, and broke into “Rocky Mountain High” which is, of course, Colorado’s state song. Casey joined him and they sang their hearts out. The people I was sitting with sang, too, because Lois and Michael CAN sing. My job when there is singing is that of appreciator, and I did well and appreciated deeply, with tears in my eyes over the beauty of the moment.

A while back I sent a query to an agent in New York pitching Martin of Gfenn. In my pitch was something to the effect that Martin was just an ordinary guy who ended up with leprosy and had to make something of his life and talent anyway. Something like that. The agent wrote back, “We are not interested in ordinary people. We are interested in extraordinary people.” That proved two things to me; 1) he didn’t know what made a person extraordinary, 2) he was the wrong agent for my book. The world is filled with extraordinary people. I don’t believe there ARE any “ordinary” people. How many little, old Hispanic men who need a cane walk 36 miles round trip to get a hamburger at McDonalds?

Featured photo: The Glorious Bean Field of 2023


The news and Facebook (social media) diet continues, and I don’t imagine returning though I haven’t deactivated my Facebook account. Even to me that seems a little anti-social since my FB friends are mostly really friends. It is NOT about them. It’s something else. Over this past month I’ve realized some things that surprised me.

My “habituation” (I call it addiction, but whatev’) started in 2020 though the slide began during the Presidential election of 2016 when I got the idea that I needed to watch the debates. I actually didn’t need to watch the debates. They introduced me to the evil, swirling vortex, or train-wreck, that is difficult to turn away from, impossible to stop, impossible to change. This wasn’t a real “problem” for me until 2020 when the ambient train-wreck reached a new level of horror in the reality of Covid 19. It was impossible for me NOT to watch TFG, Dr. Scarf and Dr. Fauci give their almost daily presentations on the “progress” being made against the virus. Then the news outlets made their comments and commented on each other and on and on and on ad nauseum. It seemed like yammering from an insane asylum.

It was amplified in my state by news focusing on anti-maskers crashing restaurants, the local outcry against closing businesses, and the campaigning for the 2020 elections when it became very important for people to let everyone know their politics. Then the election, all of that drama, then the still unbelievable events of January 6, 2021.

And then….the ONLY information about Covid vaccines that was relevant to me was posted on Facebook. Facebook is the daily news of rural communities.

It wasn’t like I could DO anything except find the vaccine bus and roll up my sleeve.

I realized the other night what had happened. I was watching a film. A character was dying of cancer. It suddenly hit me that more than 1,000,000+ Americans have died of Covid, never mind the world. I KNEW that on an intellectual level, but had not KNOWN it on the level on which it should be known, the level of horror and sorrow. I wept. Poor Bear was looking at me like, “Why? Everything seems pretty good to me, Martha.” I remembered the acrimony and politics surrounding the spread of a virus which was/is basically out for its own survival. All of it was irrational, and in that irrationality the equivalent of half the population of Denver died.

Allegedly scrolling releases dopamine into our brains. Maybe that’s true, but I don’t think it’s the scrolling; I think it’s the distraction and that we share it with a bunch of people who are in the same “cyber place,” creating a kind of community.

Why didn’t that hit me before?

I thought about what it has all been. “What food did your grandmother fix that you wish you could have again?” “What was your favorite outfit in high school?” “What were you doing 50 years ago?” “You’ve been tagged.” Scroll, scroll, scroll, click the news, “Classified documents have been found in TFG’s posterior aperture” “MTG opens her idiot malicious mouth yet again and garners reactions because she’s what she is.” “Your Congressional representative persists in whoring, and you can’t stop her or make her care about what matters to you.” Etc etc etc etc.

Distraction, distraction from hopelessness with the illusion of being informed, of belonging.

Driving home from the Refuge yesterday I found myself behind a guy on a bicycle. The bike was laden with full panniers, orange, matching the guy’s sweater. The road is 65 mph, two lanes, narrow, with ditches on both sides, and is the province of hay trucks and the like. I slowed way down behind him, looking for the chance to get around him safely. My opportunity came and I pulled around him. When I regained my lane, I looked back. He was a bearded codger in a cowboy hat — yeah a helmet is probably smarter, but… I waved at him in my rear view mirror and he waved back. I got misty. Why?

I thought of the early days of the pandemic when everyone was sheltering and isolation was the thing. I remembered leaving the Refuge and passing one of the farm houses. A guy sitting on a picnic table caught my eye. He waved and smiled like “Hi, human!” as if we were each on a deserted island. I waved and smiled back with the same spirit. I then thought today (as the speed limit went from 45 to 30) and the guy a retreating orange dot in my rear view mirror, “It’s easier to be angry than it is to be sad, easier to be angry at outside things we can’t change than to face what’s happening inside us that we can’t understand or change, either. Anger is a good emotion for cloaking sadness and fear.”


Before I saw the bike rider, I passed a farm house. The woman was walking the long driveway to her mailbox, followed by a very happy Border Collie. She was staring at her phone. In real life, she was surrounded by a lovely afternoon with a wild sky and shifting shadows. Her dog imagined going somewhere. But…

We humans seek it. I’m distracting myself by writing this now, but I’m also expressing myself and, god-willing, I’m doing a half-way decent job.

I thought that the whole thing might — for me — come down to the quality of our distractions. Ideally the distractions we seek GIVE us something. Just a personal example, finding that folder, sharing and typing those stories about dogs and Mission Trails was, for me, a positive distraction. Today I got a comment from someone who wrote, “That’s my back yard!” Wow. To learn that another young woman is hiking there and loves it?

Going to the Refuge with Bear and Teddy, and writing articles are also, for me, positive distractions. Getting rid of stuff is another positive distraction. My yard and garden are positive distractions. My blog here is a distraction and, I think, a constructive one. I think my grammar and typing are improving slowly, anyway. 😀 My survival doesn’t depend on any of these things.

The reward to me so far of the changes is I’m less depressed. That’s important. So what’s depression? It’s a lot of things, but one of the things is it can be the result of shoving emotions into inappropriate pockets in the soul. Some people have defined it as “anger turned inward,” and I think that’s an explanation some of the time. I am angry over quite a few things but anger is information and needs to be questioned. It’s so unpleasant that any reasonable person would want to get away from it (IMO). I’m sad, scared and angry. It’s so much better to recognize this, I think.

So many things in our daily life are mysterious. The old Hispanic guy to whom I have often given rides around town? Once he told my neighbor he’d walked to Del Norte. My neighbor didn’t believe he’d really walked to Del Norte (14 miles), but somehow I didn’t doubt it.Last week I was in Alamosa. He was there and he was walking home. That’s 18 miles. I wanted to stop for him, but something he said to me one morning stopped me. I had asked him that day, “Where are you off to?”

He said, “I don’t know. I’m just going walking.”

When I saw him so far from home last week, I began looking for a way to pull over but there was none. Then I thought, “Maybe he’s just walking.” He looked peaceful, purposeful and happy. Now, though, naturally, I’m on the lookout for him. It’s entirely possible he just wanted to go to McDonalds and went.

Seeing him there made me think of a poem I saw in the late 80’s in Tijuana, written on a red board with white letters in Spanish and English. I cannot remember all of it, just the last 2 of four lines,

“Y ni lo me detengo,

but still walking can be real.”

(…and I don’t even stop it, but still walking can be real)

It doesn’t make a lot of sense like that, but the idea stayed with me, that all kinds of shit happens, but “still walking can be real.” As I drove past this person I wanted to pick up, but didn’t, that was in my mind. Anyway now I’m on the lookout for him.

BUT — my grandmother made the best apple/raisin pie. My favorite outfit in high school was a long, wool vest, a navy blouse, navy and white plaid culottes that hit mid-thigh, navy tights and oxblood shoes that defy description. In the featured photo I’m wearing that outfit. Fifty years ago I was probably in an American lit class at the University of Colorado in Boulder. I was unhappily married and scared shitless. In other words, situation normal; all fucked up. 🤣

Quotedium Update 91.007.10×8

This spring has been wet and yes — even — imagine — foggy. All the rain has been sweet and surprising. The fog came up from the ground after a wet snow on warm streets and rose from plowed fields to meet with low clouds.

Now summer seems to be determined to arrive and I have spent two days “farming.” Not really farming, but out there farming. All the beans are up. I planted zucchini yesterday. Mowed the front yard and dealt with last years and, possibly, this years, front yard wildflower gardens. The iris is blooming, the lilacs are extraordinary this year and very fragrant in the night air, especially the white lilac by my front door. I had a poetic thought and a first line. It might have been done before, but here goes, “White lilacs now by the front door bloom…” I dunno’. There’s an echo there somewhere, hmmmm…

Elise (my esteemed colleague in the laundry area, a new washer/dryer combo) continues to perform beautifully which makes me think of clothes. The way she works I could do fine with two pairs of jeans and four shirts unless I had a social life for some reason.

I’m still on a mission to get rid of things. Among my souvenirs is a large manila envelope with a bunch of stuff I published over the years. Why did I save all that? I know why — I was proud of myself and happy to have gotten my words out there where people could read them. I hope people DID read them and, more important, enjoyed them or took away a little something. BUT that pile might have to surrender to the shredder.

I had an interesting conversation with ChatGPT the other evening based on this Rousseau quote,

“As long as we desire, we can do without happiness: we expect to achieve it. If happiness fails to come, hope persists, and the charm of illusion lasts as long as the passion that causes it. So this condition is sufficient in itself, and the anxiety it inflicts is a sort of enjoyment that compensates for reality” Part 6, Letter VII, Jean-Jacques Rousseau,  Julie or The New Heloise

ChatGPT is pretty cool to have a philosophical discussion with because it has no emotional investment in anything. When I first heard that passage read in a film I saw a month or so ago, it resonated strongly with me. I have never “gotten” anywhere. It expresses the idea of being unable to “…get there from here” and it struck me that for some people (me?) what ultimately matters is doing something. Every effort leads to another effort. What do people do when the “get there”? I don’t believe anyone CAN get there. For one thing, the person who set out is not the person who arrives. So now I think I might dispute with Rousseau; that the enjoyment of striving (so-called hopelessly) doesn’t COMPENSATE for reality; it’s enough in and of itself.

I remember some point in school having had to read Keats’ “Ode on a Grecian Urn.” I don’t remember how old I was, but I think it was 9th grade or so when we had to read such (to 9th graders) incomprehensible horrors as Old Man and the Sea, MacBeth, Great Expectations and The Pearl.

I loved Keats’ poem and I think I have just written a little ode of my own to unrealized possibility:

Heard melodies are sweet, but those unheard
Are sweeter; therefore, ye soft pipes, play on;
Not to the sensual ear, but, more endear’d,
Pipe to the spirit ditties of no tone…

XVI — Ravens and Hawks

Mission Trailed

“What’re they doing?”

“I don’t know. It doesn’t look like a road. Those cuts seem random.”


“Remember those flags we were seeing all winter? Here’s one. ‘RT 173-24’.”

“Weird. Wonder what it means.”

“I don’t know.”

“Look. It’s here.”

“This is the worst place. They don’t even know, do they? They don’t know what’s in this canyon.”

“Well, if it’s a road, it can’t go here. This is granite.”

“Have you ever heard of dynamite?”

“Then the road really will go here.”

“Why here, do you think?”

“This is the end of Mission Trails Park. Miramar starts just a little further on.”

“I thought all of this was the park.”


“Well, let’s go home.”

“Look, in the dead tree. That mourning dove, all in shadow, except for that one glowing spot where the sun is shining on her chest. Last December I was standing right here. The hawk was chased by the raven. He landed right where that dove is perched. He didn’t move when I passed; he just looked at me with golden eyes.”

“How many times have you seen him?”

“I don’t know. Almost every time I’ve been here, he’s been here. How many miles did we figure I put on those Raichles in the last two years?”


“So I guess 2500 miles of times. Once, I was up ahead, in the oak grove. It was in the winter, just before the Gulf War started. I’d stopped to give the dogs water. We sat beneath the trees. I ate an apple. The ravens came. They were everywhere!”

“How many?”

“Maybe a dozen! It was like a Hitchcock film. They circled down, lower and lower, cawing. The dogs were frightened. They refused to drink and flattened their bellies to the earth.”

“Were you afraid?”

“I didn’t know what to do. I was fascinated, and I thought if I got up to go, I would threaten the birds, but I couldn’t stay. I leashed the dogs so they wouldn’t get any crazy ideas of chasing the ravens.”


“I started up the trail. I noticed the ravens were leaving.”

“That must have been what they wanted.”

“Yeah, it seemed like it, but that wasn’t it at all. After I went about 20 yards, I looked back. The ravens were tiny black spots high in the sky. Above me were two hawks, flying low. They had chased the ravens away.”

“Were they protecting you?”

“I can’t say that was their intention, but that was the result. I gave the dogs water and this time they drank. The hawks flew low over us. I could see their feathers. When the dogs were done drinking, I got up to move on. The hawks circled higher, but stayed above me for two miles or more.”

The two walked back in silence. The crude, shapeless scrapes violating the hillsides into a road stretched into the distance, portending a future that would make this moment a flicker in a different world.

The graders came in. The Good X and I went around pulling out stakes every weekend in imitation of the “Monkey Wrench Gang” but it didn’t make any difference. Following the indefatigable laws of human progress, the road was built, the bridges were built, the traffic came through. I avoided driving on that road unless I had no choice. Let me tell you, my boycott made as much difference as my monkey-wrenching. 🤣

Looking down at the road cut from the top of North Fortuna Mountain

One good thing about the bridges is that they were shelter from the rain. One afternoon Lupo (a dog I got in 1994) and I went out for a ramble. It started to rain, and, for a while it was great. Among the things we saw — or I saw — was a rainbow above a hill in Spring Canyon. A hawk flew under the arc of the rainbow while I was watching. Later in that adventure the sky opened up. Lupo and I made a run for the bridge where we met three mountain bikers. All of us were laughing — maybe even Lupo was laughing. We were all very wet, very muddy and very happy.

Lupo and Molly at Mission Trails. Lupo was a prince among dogs.

One awesomely cool and serendipitous post script…

It took a while for the road to be built and longer still for it to open. There were some long pauses, such as when fossils of prehistoric horses were discovered during the digging of the roadbed on the west side, just at the base of North Fortuna Mountain.

One December evening in 1993, I took some friends up to a solstice circle I had found on South Fortuna Mountain. They wanted to stay there, and they had their own car, so Molly and I headed down the silent mountain in ocean mist and dim moonlight. We stopped a couple of times to take everything in. That was my first night hike and after that?

The next morning the new segment of Highway 52 opened. In the following years I often thought about that, how the fates had led me there to savor that last silent night. 

On the matter of boots. Within two years, I had worn out the Raichle Eigers. In 1991, I got the best boots I’ve ever owned, Merrell Wilderness Legends. The soles were stitched to the tops (Norwegian Welt construction) and in our lives together, I resoled them 3 times. I had to say “goodbye” to them in 1997 when they could not be resoled any more.

Here they are at Zion Natl. Park.
Here they are in Zürich when I had to tell them goodbye. The laces for these boots are supposed to be blue, but when I couldn’t replace the broken laces with blue ones, I got red ones.

“Thank you for reading all this! I hope you enjoyed it.”
Yours truly,
❤️ The woman pictured below and her much beloved dog, Molly ❤️

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’ve shared them 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. I wrote these stories in my late 30s.

There are more stories about hiking with dogs in my book, My Everest. The little book with these stories is titled The Beginning of Everything. I saw that the hikes and dogs in those stories were, for me, the beginning of everything. I want to say, “I don’t have words to describe how I feel about my experiences with dogs in nature” but I clearly have a LOT of words for that. The bottom line? It’s been the best thing in my life and that’s saying a LOT.

XV — People Gotta’ Get from Here to There, Dammit!

Mission Trails



“Is your dog friendly?”

“Oh yeah. She loves children. Your kids can pet her.”

“Nice evening.”

“Sure is.”

“Did you see any deer?”

“Just tracks.”

“I haven’t seen deer up here since three years ago.”

“I saw some last December, there on that hill.”

“Well, that’s good. It’s good to know they’re still here. Who knows what will happen when the road comes through.”

“What road?”

“Oh, they’re joining up with the 52.”


“Back there someplace. Near the boundary with Miramar.”


“Well, they’ve had it the works for ten years or more.”


“To ease the traffic on Mission Gorge. Of course, what’s the point? Those people in Tierra Santa keep voting down the bridge, so they’ll never get Jackson Drive through.”

“What if this road is built?”

“It’s being built. Go on down to Santee. You can see how they’re doing it.”

“They’ll be building it all winter? They’re going to have equipment here all winter?”

“Yep. They don’t want to have those workmen walking around here now with snakes all over the place.”

Boring factual background: The “52” was a highway that ended up going from Santee — a burb east of San Diego to La Jolla, by the ocean. The western part had existed for a long time and until the eastern suburbs started to grow, I don’t think anyone thought it would need to be longer. But those suburbs DID grow, and so the 52 “had” to extend WAAAAY out there.

Tierra Santa was a comparatively new community just west of Mission Trails. People in that community did NOT want the traffic going through their community. I don’t know what deals were brokered to make that happen.

When Mission Trails became a park, and I began working with the board, I learned how deals like this work. There was another place where a different major road was supposed to cross the landscape from north to south. It was never built. That turned out to be part of the deal. Another part of the deal was a “mitigation area” where the highway department had to pay for returning a damaged part of this landscape back to its original state. In my stint on the board, I learned that deals like these are complicated and take years to finalize.

The road also had to provide significant animal crossings which were, of course, under bridges. Because of the mitigation agreement, the bridges had to be built a certain way to provide for the happy prowling of ungulates, canids, bobcats, and mountain lions. Part of the mitigation was a long section of a new (to me) canyon, Spring Canyon. It was a beautiful canyon and I got to know it well.

In late spring of 1992, after the Good X had moved out, I hurt my left knee — an ACL tear that, because I had no insurance, was treated “conservatively” rather than surgically. Grrrrrr…. The immediate upshot was I was not allowed to hike for 3 months. The long-term upshot is that I have a fucked up knee. I spent half of those three months in a knee brace and walked with crutches. When those six weeks were over, my “doctor” cleared me to walk cautiously BUT I was allowed to ride a bike. I get that a bike is low-impact exercise and easy on knees, but I got a mountain bike. One bright spot of that period of my life was learning how fun THAT is. Because of my knee, I absolutely refused to fall. Spring Canyon became my favorite place to ride, and I never fell. 🙂 The only bad thing about mountain biking was that the dogs couldn’t come along.

No nettles in Mission Trails but plenty of poison oak.

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. There is one more story remaining. I may post it later today, who knows. 😀

XIV — Time’s Museum


In the canyon, ghosts of ancient Indians grind dreaming acorns on timeless stone morteros, ghosts and grandsons of ghosts, the granddaughters of ghosts, pounding the yucca to fibers, stretched across the water, woven into baskets, sandals. The memory songs are sung, the fires built, the rain caught in the stone-carved cisterns, the soft invisible footfall past rattlesnakes. 

She approached past the fading blossoms of the lilac, the green grass, now tall, no longer the surprising short lawn of early spring. From the beginning, her heart beat fast and cold. The dogs barked ahead of her, surprising a man sunbathing on a rock. They went ahead. The big snake was there, in front, stretched in the middle of the trail, his sand-red body warming, moving slowly beneath the feet of the running dog. “I will lie quietly beneath this foreign coyote.”

A quick inhalation. A scream. “Stay. Cody, Molly, come!”

The big dog danced over the head of the snake who looked up, hissed, and rattled a slumbrous, half-hearted rattle. The dog barked. The snake lifted its head, lulled out of its apathy. 

She turned and ran, the dogs followed. 

All over California, wherever there are oak groves (almost everywhere) and rocks (almost everywhere), a person can find morteros where the various Indian tribes ground acorns into meal. Mission Trails has two prominent sites. There are several in an area that’s been named “The Grasslands” where there is one large flat patch of gneiss or a gneiss flat patch of stone. There are more in the place I named the Indian Kitchen in Oak Canyon where there is a seasonal stream, only a few yards south of a large oak grove. The Indian Kitchen is along a small fissure. The morteros were dog water bowls. 🐾❤️

Kelly O’Dog, my golden retriever, drinking from a mortero in the Indian Kitchen. Molly is looking off somewhere thinking profound Molly thoughts or watching a lizard. Hard to say.

The first morteros I ever saw were on the way up to the Hale Telescope on Mt. Palomar. The juxtaposition of THAT with the grinding holes was a little mind-blowing.

The Indians who lived (live) in San Diego County in the “olden days” wandered from the sea to the desert, an annual migration for food and warmth. Their primary food source (acorns) grew all across their range. Their shelters and containers were made of willow branches. In my time working with Mission Trails Regional Park, I got to work with some of the leaders of the Kumeyyaay tribe to whom this land “belonged” before the Spanish. If you’re interested, here’s a good film.

The snake in this story didn’t strike. I think he was offering Cody a kind of Rattlesnake Avoidance Training. It didn’t work. I realize NOW that observing all these snakes was teaching me a little something, though.

It seems that when I wrote this Cody the First had come to live with us. He was a very good dog — German Shepherd and??? — but somehow I never fully bonded with him even though we did a lot of fun things together. I liked rollerblading on Fr. Junipero Serra Trail (two miles of paved road with little traffic) and Cody the First was a great companion for that. Thinking about it now, I think it’s because he became my dog shortly before my marriage broke up. He was supposed to have been the Good X’s dog, but…

I had him for only a couple of years. He died from something like 16 snake bites from baby rattlers. He was bizarrely attracted to rattlesnakes and ran into a nest. I now think he could smell them and the smell attracted him. The day he got bit, he was leashed, but pulled furiously away.

The snake in this story was a red diamondback taking a nap, maybe following lunch. They are beautiful and, as a fellow hiker and I agreed, they are very mellow. The snake in the Onward Christian Soldiers Story was also a red diamondback. Rattlesnakes are really NOT interested in putting their venom into something they can’t eat. That’s one thing that makes baby rattlers so dangerous. They don’t KNOW anything. Other rattlesnakes were not as “chill.” The Southern Pacific Diamondback Rattlesnake and the Speckled Rattlesnake are more venomous and more “aggressive” — or defensive?

Reading these stories — which are so rattlesnake centered — I wonder what I was trying to work out and whether I worked through whatever that was. In time, I more-or-less accepted them, but when I wrote this?

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.

XII — Summit

Fortuna Mountain — Hawks

“Come on!”

Pant, pant, pant. 

“Truffle, Maggie! Look. This waterfall! I bet water cascades down this in winter. Come on. You want a drink? Before we climb it? Watch for snakes. Here. Good, huh? I’ll have some too. Come on. You ready? You ready? Let’s go! Up. OH ROCK! How great! Where, put my foot here, here, here — I feel like flight — like a Dharma Bum! Up, up, up, the sun is flaming at the top. Let’s go dogs. No, Truffle, don’t follow me. You don’t want to mess with these rocks, there are easier ways, better dog ways. This is a silly people way. Watch ahead of my hands. Now what? Foot, there, down — oh shit! Now I’m falling — god, if I put out of my hand, I’ll probably break my arm, my heart, beating, beating, my head. Now this is stupid. Time really does stop! What if I get hurt? Who’s going to call an ambulance? Who’s going to know? The dogs? I’m on the mountain’s terms. I’m OK, dogs. I’m OK. Let’s go. This time I PAY ATTENTION. I bet in the spring this place is covered with shooting stars! Through this mess. I hate this part, bang, bang, bang on the ground with the stick. The breeze, finally. Let’s go come on dogs, all the way! I’ll give you a drink once we’re up there. This is good, this is hard, but it’s good, look, everywhere! Feel the wind! What’s the top? Bang, bang, bang the ground. What? A rabbit? Be careful, Truffle. Such a place — wow! Out there! Wow! I can see real mountains! Up. Up. Up. A hawk! Look at YOU!

I caught this morning, morning’s minion, kingdom of daylight’s dauphin, dapple — dawn — drawn Falcon, in his riding of the rolling level underneath him steady air, and striding High there, how he rung upon the rein of a wimpling wing in his ecstasy! then off, off forth on swing like a skate’s heel sweeps smooth on a bow-bend: the hurl and gliding rebuffed the big wind. My heart in hiding Stirred for a bird!” *

Come on Maggie. Climb up here. He has a baby! Incredible! He’s teaching it to avoid ravens! He dives for it; if the baby evades the dive, the big bird lifts it on a wave of air from its wing; if it fails? The big bird bites it! Look at that baby! He seems to be in love with the sky! The sun is getting low. Come on. Down the road. I know it’s hard, Truffle. It’s steep, but you can do it — MAGGIE! Stay out of the bushes! Stay here — oh look at the sycamore trees! They seem lit! And the field! It’s glowing! What? What’s that? Louder. Again. What do you mean, “What will happen can’t be stopped: what won’t happen can’t be forced.

At this point in the file folder — after everything had seemed more-or-less in chronological order — I realized things WEREN’T in chronological order. The young woman writing this (aka me half a life ago) was doing something else, trying to write the kind of “order” that we all actually live. We go through life, always forward, one step at a time, but our minds are all over the place. Her dog’s death was ever-present in her mind, and on hikes she would ruminate about what happened. In this story, she’s hiking somewhere but remembering the first time she hiked up Fortuna Mountain. That day she had Truffle and Maggie. Why no Molly? No idea and she wasn’t telling.

Until that early November day she had hiked up ONE mountain — Kwaapaay. For some reason that afternoon when she pulled into the parking lot at Old Mission Dam she felt ready to tackle a new trail, a higher hill. She ended up going straight up a dry waterfall., bushwhacking. She fell at one point and caught herself, only scratching her hand. Meanwhile Maggie, whose existence exemplified “joie de vivre“, ran madly through the overgrown brush chasing scents.

Once the young woman was on her feet, the three went on their way. She felt happily impelled to keep climbing and ended up on top of Fortuna Mountain. From there are views in all directions, and back then a lot of the country was still virgin chaparral. Luckily, Mission Trails DID become officially a park and it acquired a lot of the land around it so people in San Diego can still see the REAL Southern California if they want to.

She didn’t come down the way she’d gone up. All the trails were obvious from the top and she went down a fire road. In later days she often wondered if that was the day Maggie had been bitten so that was on her mind as she took the hike that led to this bit of story. The reality is she never figured out when Maggie had been bitten, but the message she got,”What will happen can’t be stopped, what won’t happen can’t be forced,” quieted her mind. She realized she’d probably never know, and it didn’t matter. Knowing wouldn’t change anything.

Even today she remembers a thought she had as she headed up the waterfall. She had looked down at Truffle and Maggie and thought that her dogs were young and they’d be able to have great hikes like that for a long time. She stops herself now from thinking that because we don’t know. Jim Morrison was right. The future IS uncertain, etc..

Our ties are both permanent and impermanent, accurate and mistaken, concrete and illusory. Thirty years after this hike, Bear leans against my leg, and Teddy licks the remaining cream and coffee from my cup, every moment so very precious.

View from the top of Fortuna Mountain looking back at the trail. The trail goes to South Fortuna Mountain where there was a solstice circle. In the middle distance is Kwaapaay and then Cowles Mountain.

*Gerard Manley Hopkins, “The Windhover”

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.

XI – Mom

Easter Sunday

“You call that a snake stick? You could beat an army with that.”


“I use a dandelion digger.”


“You should get a dandelion digger. How far do you plan to go?”

“Oh, an hour.”

“I can’t walk that long. I’ll sit here and wait for you.”

“You don’t mind, mom?”


“OK. We’ll see you in an hour.”

They followed the trail along the stream. The dogs splashed in the water. 

The old woman sat on the bright green grass of the hillside which, in August, had been burned brown and barren with drought. Now the whole world was washed and reborn. Flowers bloomed one on top of the other, amazed at their own being. The sun dipped quickly, it was March. The two turned back before they wanted.
Truffle was the first to notice the woman who watched the direction her child had taken away from her. She stood on the hillside, a pale shape against the glowing green grass, the sun behind her, lighting her hair.
“Go find Helen, Truffle. Go get Helen!”

The dog ran ahead, dragging her leash.

My mom only visited the Good X and me in San Diego three times. She didn’t like the dogs much, but she did like Truffle who was calm and strangely humorous — something I can’t explain. My mom thought house dogs should be small and manageable, not the giant, hairy beings we lived with. She didn’t understand much about me or my life, but there she was. She was crazy about the Good X.

The snake stick debate continued at home. My mom had the idea that a long-handled dandelion digger would allow her to kill a snake by stabbing it behind the head. Maybe that would work. My theory was that a long hiking stick would make it possible for me to warn the snakes ahead of time that I was on my way so I wouldn’t have to see them at all, and, if I did, a long enough stick would make it possible to move them away. Her dandelion digger was only about 3 feet long. My stick was about five feet long. I’d learned by then not to get into a dispute with my mom because it would end with, “Well, Martha Ann, I guess you know everything.” And, of course, I do. 🤣

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.