XIII — Summit, Continued, AND More Wild Dogs


Dusk. He tips the beer back and takes a swallow. The parking lot is emptying. “Well, Lucky, we better go on along home.” The big white dog barks. “Who is it? Well, hi there Maggie. Hi there, you.”


“Where’d you go?”

“Up there.”

“On the ridge?”


“That’s far. When did you get here?”

“3:00. What time is it?”


“It’s great up there.”

“I haven’t been up there in a while. Did you go to the wires?”

“I went to the top. It was wonderful. I could see forever, no houses, nothing, just chaparral.”

“Lucky you can git here so early.”

“I know.” 

“You want a beer?”

“Naw. I have to go home. I’m dirty and it’s getting cold. This poor dog.” She pointed at Truffle. “It was tough sledding for her.”


“She doesn’t like to go down hills, see. Her center of gravity is in her chest. I think she thinks she’s just gonna’ go down in somersaults.”

The hill down the fire road from the top of Fortuna is very steep. Along it are power lines. It was a lot of fun to run down, and I ran down it many many times in ensuing years. Ask me how that worked out for me long term… 🤣

Once coming down that road, my three dogs, the Good X, and I were stopped in our tracks by five coyotes. I held the dogs and the coyotes just looked at us for a few minutes before ambling up the canyon. We continued and turned into the side of the canyon the coyotes had just left. A woman was hiking along saw my dogs and said, “Well, THAT explains all these footprints!” But it didn’t. The coyotes had made the tracks, splashing in the stream. That’s when I realized we probably have no idea what’s going on.

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.

Part I No Title Yet

Yesterday morning, I finished shredding the stuff in the black notebook that I didn’t want to keep along with easily 300 sheets from the dark days of dot matrix. Some of those pages were instructions I’d printed out at school (the international school!!!) for programming an array in Apple BASIC. (“Let’s do the time warp again!”) Good grief!!! Anyway, I was determined to clean them out not put them away, out of sight out of mind, in a cabinet.

I have kept some pages from the black notebook. I’ve been typing them into a little book template, and I’m going to share some of it here because I think it made a good story. The back story is that in November 1987 the Good X and I visited *Mission Trails Regional Park (it wasn’t a park yet) for the first time. We had one dog — Truffle a lab/springer mix who was born at the end of our block. She was only five or six months at that time. I fell in love with Mission Trails that day and wanted to go back — and did with my big red puppy. Over the next couple of years I got two more dogs — Molly, a Malamute/Aussie puppy and Maggie, a Girl of the Streets who was a stray. The story I found in the Black Notebook begins when I had those three dogs and had been hiking at Mission Trails almost daily for a year. The entire story covers two or three years.

As I read it, I found I liked it very much. I don’t think it’s great writing, and maybe liking it is just a personal thing, but here I am now, 71 years old, reading messages in a bottle from a 35 year old who was just embarking on a journey that led here. That’s just pretty amazing. She wrote these as a story. They are chapters and the way she strung them together is really cool, so I’m going to post them here in order. I’m not critiquing that young woman’s writing or her thinking. The road she had set out on has been pretty long. She had no idea where it would lead. That I DO know is an unfair advantage. So, the first part. It’s NOT fiction, though she has “third-personed” herself.

Mission Trails

A couple of years ago she came down the hill to find a cowboy, leaning against a pick-up truck, reading Rodeo Magazine. She said, “Please hold your dog.”

He looked up with a face that said, “What dumb-shit L.A. Bitch are you?” But what he saw was her.

She said, “I’m sorry. But I don’t know what my dog will do.”

He told her he was from a small town in Wyoming.

“I love a hawk,” he said, suddenly. “I love to hear a hawk screech across the empty sky. So, what’a you been doin’ up here?”


“See any snakes?”

“Not today.”

“Boy, I’m tellin’ you, seein’ snakes ain’t no fun. One day,” said the cowboy, “Lucky got bit by a rattlesnake. Lucky’s my dog. I looked down and there this damned baby rattler had Lucky by the nose. ‘Lucky,’ I says, ‘course he wasn’t too lucky that day! ‘Let’s get to the vet.’ So there I was, carrying that big dog down to the truck. I got to the vet in time. Come to think of it, you look like a hiker.” He eyed her. She was wearing baggy old shorts, dirty with dust, a white 91X tank top, mountaineering boots. “That’s a compliment,” he says. “I hate wimpy women.”

“Thanks. Well, I better go home and cook dinner.”

“You married?”


“Well, see you around. I’m here a lot.”

“I’m here every day.”

“Every day?”


“Where do you usually go?”

“Up there.”

“You ever go that way?”

“Nope. Not yet.”

“You come out early some Saturday morning and I’ll take you back there and show you some nice canyons with big trees.”


“Yep. Oak. Sycamore.”

“I’d like that.”

“Well, you just come.”

*Mission Trails Regional Park is several thousand acres of coastal chaparral wilderness in the center of the megalopolis that is San Diego. I’ve written about it a lot here on my blog. In the late 80s it was pretty wild and woolly, but now it’s protected and developed somewhat and a very different place than it was when I first hiked there.

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.

Family Ties

Long ago I had a family in Switzerland. It’s difficult to explain and kind of a personal story, but among the treasures I’ve carried with me from that time are two plates. My Swiss family wasn’t exactly Swiss; they were Italian. They’d gone to Switzerland at the end of WW II when things in Italy were pretty dire. One of them was from Puglia, the other from Trieste. Pietro and Laura weren’t exactly “mom and dad” — “mom” could have been my mom, but “dad” only a much older brother. I’m still close friends with their son.

I didn’t speak Italian or any form of German, but my Spanish was decent, and my “mom” had taken care of a Spanish woman in Zürich when she first arrived in Switzerland so she and I spoke Spanish together. My listening comprehension in Italian was surprisingly good, I guess from watching Fellini movies over and over for years. My “dad” and I developed a unique language that drove their son crazy. He is multi-lingual as are most Swiss, but Pietro and I did fine with our language and spent hours wandering in the forest with Daisy the dog — talking! He loved cooking and taught me to make focaccia like that his mother sent him north with when he left Puglia at the end of the war. There were no opportunities in war-torn Italy and Pietro’s large family was very poor.

The story of the focaccia he traveled with is at least as good as the focaccia (which is amazing). His sister was already in Zürich and he was going north to join her and, hopefully, find a life. He said he only had a small bag of clothing and a giant focaccia that was supposed to feed him all the way to Zürich. Half was for him, half was for his sister in Zürich.

My experience with Italian trains is certainly different from Pietro’s back in the late 1940s, but one thing that remains is that they are prone to going on strike. When Pietro got to Milan, there was a train strike and he was stuck at the “Monument to Eclecticism and Fascism” — Milan’s main train station — for several days. All he had to eat was the focaccia so, when he finally got to Zürich there as none left for his sister.

My Swiss family was the “reward” for choices I made that were pretty crazy at the time, a leap of very blind faith. That leap took me exactly where I needed to go.

I wear my Swiss dad’s gold chain around my neck and wherever, I live, I hang two decorative plates they gave me for Christmas. The Christmas before my Swiss “dad” died of lymphoma (soon after New Year, 2000 😦 ) I was able to talk to him on the phone for a little while and speak Italian. Laura returned to Trieste after Pietro died, and I visited her there in 2004 when I went to Italy to study Italian. We spoke on the phone often, and, in the process of cleaning out all those old journals, I found her letters and noticed the linguistic evolution from Spanish to Italian. Family is where you find it and I miss them.

“Go Look it Up!”

Behind my dad was a book case he and I had built and on the bottom shelf were the 20 some volumes of the World Book Encyclopedia. Back in the day, encyclopedia salesmen went door-to-door in the post-war suburban neighborhoods, pretty certain the people behind those doors wanted the best for their kids, “Better than we had, that’s for damned sure.” My folks didn’t spring for the fancy white binding, but got the red library binding instead. *”Who cares how it looks on the shelf?” said my dad. “It’s what’s inside a book that matters.”

They had some pretty cool features like clear plastic (?) pages that you could lay one on top of the other and see continental drift — that kind of thing. I spent hours with it on the floor “looking it up.”

Fast forward, Boulder, Colorado, 1974. Fresh out of college, BA in English, married (shudder), employed by Head Ski for the Christmas production rush then laid off. Shit. I was the breadwinner. Not cool and very scary. Scanning The Daily Camera (which didn’t employ me because I couldn’t type fast enough) for job openings. Ah, here’s one. Publishing company. Call for an interview. A few hours later, sunny December day, I’m on Pearl Street, tromping up 20 some stairs, stairs right out of a Bukowski poem, complete with the bare light bulb hanging above the top landing. Knock on the door. There’s another young person — a guy — waiting. I sit down. “Hi.” “Hi.” We eye the competition.

Man in a cheap tan suit comes out, cigarette in his hand, and beckons us into his office — together??? We take seats facing his desk. He begins to explain that we will be going door-to-door selling educational materials. In very oblique language (which I don’t totally get, being a very weak aural learner) he explains the nature of the educational material. Suddenly the “competition” stops him. In the lilting tones of Flushing, NY, he says, “So, you want us to go door-to-door selling pornographic encyclopedias?”


The “competition” takes my hand. “C’mon. Let’s get outta’ heah.” We ran down the stairs and into the bright afternoon, still unemployed, but also not pushing pornography on unsuspecting parents. What?

Fast forward, 1992. My best friends are adolescent boys who live in my “hood,” a whole gang of them (5). We’ve spent all day at the BMX jumps working on our movie, then one of them, Jimmy, says, “Martha, can you help me with a report for school?”

“What’s it about?” He tells me.

I look at my watch. We have an hour before the library at San Diego State closes, and we’re only a few minutes away. “Sure.” I think of all the encyclopedias in the reference section. We park and run across the campus. We have 45 minutes.

These boys’ lives have never imagined a university. One of them even said once, “You’re just like us, Martha, even though you’re a lady, and you’re smart, and you work at a university.” That’s a compare/contrast essay I would LOVE to read. So, there you go. I was just like them even though I’m a lady, I’m smart and worked at a university. Fact is, I agree with that. I never had a group of friends with whom I felt so comfortable and authentic. Go figure.

As fast as I can, I teach them to use an encyclopedia and they — in all their post-bike riding afternoon blood and dust fall on the books in wonderment. Jimmy takes notes on the little papers left on the desks for writing down call numbers. He uses the stubby little pencils that go with the scraps of paper. It’s all we have.

A librarian, seeing us, comes over with a troubled expression. “Can I help you?”

I smile and say, “My son has a report for school.” She nods and hovers, but never bothers us again. A voice comes over the loudspeaker “The library will close in 10 minutes.”

“You about done, Jimmy?”

“Yeah, mom.

*Looking online for a photo of these books, I find they sell for $200 on Etsy as “shelf decor.”

Memoir vs. Autobiography

Yesterday when I wrote about memoir, I didn’t think about the difference between memoir and autobiography, but there is one. Generally, a memoir is a story or collection of stories from one’s life. An autobiography is a life story. Just to make sure that in the fullness of time, since I last taught this, that hasn’t changed, I checked. “An autobiography is a first-person account of an entire life, while a memoir uses a person’s life story to elevate a larger theme or idea.” (Source)

That’s an interesting explanation of the difference and not exactly how I have always seen it, but it works.

Every year when I do my job as a judge for an Indie book contest, I end up with a LOT of memoirs (and a few autobiographies). Usually they fall apart exactly there, on the “larger idea,” and are recitations of events that the author doesn’t want to forget (?) or wants her (it’s almost always a woman) grandkids to know. They often fall into the category many of my oral stories do, “Stream of tediousness,” a genre no one wants. Luckily for me, I’m not a judge specifically of memoir, so I get to evaluate them based on one of the categories I DO judge.

The source above makes this point, “A reader might pick up a memoir because they’re interested in the theme, rather than because they want to read about the writer.” That’s exactly it. My little memoirs are very tightly focused. As a Baby Duck Listens to Thunder is ONLY about one year of my life and the focus is my own personal experiences teaching in the People’s Republic of China just a few years after China opened to Americans. It’s a verbal photograph of China and the people I knew, a moment in time.

My Everest is focused on my dogs and hiking trails during the years I lived in Southern California, “exiled” from Colorado. People who’ve read it — and commented — get the bigger picture, and one comment called me a “Modern day Emerson,” leading me to one of those “take me now, Lord, it doesn’t get better,” moments. Memoirs focus on the reader at least as much as they tell a person’s life story.

My other memoirs? They are strictly for me. Back in the late 1970s when I realized I was a writer, I started writing. I’d actually been writing all my life. My life was maybe a typical late 20’s life, maybe not, but I knew I had to write about it and I did. That story was a teething ring for me as a writer. Sometime after I moved here, I found that old manuscript and read it. I thought about that young woman — so far from the woman I am now — and I felt tremendous love for her and this effort of hers, something she’d entitled, “A Vast Chain of Dancers,” quoting Aristotle, as it happens. My boyfriend at the time — to whom I sent a draft — wrote that he liked it but had problems with a “chain” being “vast.” OH well, you can’t please everyone.

Having found this thing I felt I owed her something. So much had happened in the looonnnnngggg interval and yet? I sat down and edited, having resolved not to change her voice or reveal anything about “what happened next.” In a way, it was like ghost writing. I ended up with a beautiful little book I don’t especially want anyone else to read. I sent a copy to the ONE person who would appreciate it as it was and understand the project. She read it in one sitting and definitely “got” it. Part of the book, now, is what she wrote to me.

Two copies. That’s the entire publication run. Another one, the same, a compilation of essays about hanging out with the Boys on Bikes. I recognized it as an amazing, unique experience even as it was happening and I was having fun. How many 40 year old English teachers “belong” to a group of 14 and 15 year old boys? It was strange but it was wonderful. I was called upon to explain it many, many times (like when they rode their bikes to my school and went looking for me) so I wrote about it. I was going to send a copy to one of the boys (now a 45 year old dad with his own company and kids of his own) but I haven’t sent it. Reading through it in its “book” form I saw it was less about the boys than it was about me. Another VERY limited publication run.

Early this year I compiled and edited my blog posts into a memoir about my experiences dealing with the Pandemic. Someone asked me to — who? I don’t even remember, honestly. Since I spent a LOT of time alone at the Refuge, I naturally named the book, Finding Refuge. Is it a good or useful book? I don’t know. I think I sold 3 copies, and so far it has no reviews. It’s fine with me. It was a project I did mainly for myself, but I also thought, “You never know. Someone else might find this useful, helpful, meaningful.”

Writing is sometimes an end in itself and that’s fine. However a person might hope for fame and/or fortune from their writing, ultimately, anything we write is self-expression. Even an autobiography, which seeks to tell everything factually in chronological order, is going to fail at that. Every human being has a voice and an editor (self) who is going to regard some events as more important than others. Some things people write are expressly for a particular market, but markets change over time. Back in the day, I was very interested in American popular literature of the early/mid 19th century. That journey is where I learned how ephemeral is popular art, and, at the same time, recognized how perfectly popular art reflects the people living along the vast chain of dancers. In writing about my life, I haven’t found myself reliving anything, but I have understood events more deeply.

And, of course, there are stories I will never ever ever write — at least I think I won’t. 😉

Learning to Langlauf

The first time I went X-country skiing was with the first-X. Our marriage was over, but we hadn’t divorced each other or even faced the reality. He was a terrible husband who hit and kicked me from time to time, but we got married young and never sought the help we needed. I was in graduate school in Denver and he, believing I would use his money to get my MA in English and then leave him (because an MA in English leads to SO MANY lucrative careers), left me for grad school in Laramie at the University of Wyoming. Up in that wild and woolly world, he started X-country skiing. When I went up to spend a weekend, he rented me skis and took me to the Medicine Bows west of Laramie.

I hated it like I’d never hated any sport before. I don’t know if it was just that I didn’t know how or the company I was with, but I ended up soaked to the skin (back then long johns were cotton waffle weave = sponge).

I vowed never to do it again.

A few years later I read about “skinny skis” in Outside Magazine and it struck a spark. I decided it might be fun if I had lessons. I found lessons in the flyer for Denver Free University and signed up. I bought skis from the LLBean Catalog (Karhu Bear Claws fish-scale skis) poles, boots and the bindings — 3 pin bindings — came with the whole thing. Strangely, the day they arrived, my X showed up at my apartment. His new wife was visiting friends and he decided to visit me. We had three or four such visits over the years and I saw — and he saw — that it probably should have worked. We just didn’t know how. I’ve known him since the 9th grade.

The first class met in a classroom and the teacher was great. He was friendly, passionate about X-country skiing. When the actual DAY came, we all got in a big Chevy Suburban and headed up to Devils Thumb Ranch over Berthoud pass and more or less across the street from Winter Park Ski Area. Devils Thumb Ranch is pretty fancy now, but back in the late 1970s it was a big one story wood and log building with a few motel rooms, a kitchen and a dining room. Out the back was a deck, a “bunny slope” where little kids could learn to downhill ski and a rental area. Behind it were miles of X-country trails, none of which were groomed trails (I never saw groomed trails until I moved here in 2014) but all of which were well marked. The trails wound around meadows, through aspen groves and pine clusters.

It was a crystalline clear Colorado mountain winter day with ice crystals in the sky and virgin snow everywhere. The teacher took us through exercises so we got used to the skis. We played tag running with those boards on our feet, falling, laughing and learning. Best class of my LIFE. Then we skied. We learned to kick and glide, how to do a stem turn and even had the chance to try the beautiful and classic telemark turn.

My dreams started there. The next class was in the Indian Peaks Wilderness Area where I loved to hike in summer. That was the day I met the Good-X, but that’s not what this post is about. The snow was front range snow which isn’t really easy for me to describe other than to say it had been through more changes than the holy snow at Devils Thumb Ranch had been. It was a wonderful day.

I wanted to go all the time, and began experiencing the reality that most people I knew didn’t want to go all the time and NONE of them wanted to X-country ski. It wasn’t “cool” and it wasn’t fast. Most people thought Nordic skiing was just walking around in snow, but it’s so much more than that and it CAN be fast. Most of all, it can take a person into the “real” mountains away from the crowds. I’d been reading A Moveable Feast in which Hemingway decries ski lifts and lauds the times when people were strong skiers because they had to make their way up the mountain under their own power. I thought getting up the mountain under my own power was the definition of cool.

So, one Sunday morning I got up, looked at my 1970 VW bug with its low-tech ski rack (basically giant rubber bands stretched against a frame that held onto the car with hooks that went inside the doors) and thought, “Fuck it. I’m going to ski to *Lost Lake.” I got dressed (I had learned about wool long johns by then), put my precious Karhu skis in the rack and headed to Boulder, then up Boulder Canyon to Nederland, to the Fourth of July Campground and parked as far up the road as it was safe to park. VW bugs had very high clearance. I took my skis off the roof, put them on and headed up the mountain.

I’d hiked this trail dozens of times. I knew it well. At first it’s essentially a gravel road that turns into a stream in spring. It goes past a ghost town and an old campground. After the road, there’s a trail head and soon the trail goes up very quickly, does a little turn and then a person is on the main trail which is a steady climb, part of it up an old corduroy mining road. It runs beside then crosses a stream over a small waterfall. A little while later, there’s a fork — go straight to several glacial lakes or up to Devils Thumb. Turn left, Lost Lake, the lowest of this cluster of glacial lakes.

I made my turn and skied the sweet flat trail to the lake which was frozen and covered with snow. The mountains that held the lake as a cup holds tea were too steep to hold any snow themselves and the tracks of small avalanches were apparent on the eastern slopes.

There wasn’t much to do up there when it came to it. The main event was getting there. I drank some water, ate a granola bar, considered my adventure and turned around. The only challenge of the experience was getting down the steep little bit at the beginning of the trail, but I did it. I loaded my skis back on the top of my VW Bug and headed home to Denver.

It was my fourth time on X-country skis.

That winter there were more experiences on my skinny skis. My neighbor (guy in the photo above) and I headed up to Devils Thumb ranch one Saturday and had a blast that included me falling forward into four feet of snow and burying my arms. I laughed so hard I couldn’t get up. My friend came whizzing by, saw me, cracked up and nearly hit a tree before he crashed. BUT it also happened that day that in the stillness of the snowy forest a jay ate a bit of granola from my hand. I lived in momentary hope that this neighbor — newly moved into the apartment across the hall — would want to go ALL THE TIME but he didn’t. It was the first lesson I had that guys will do stuff with you not because they like what you’re doing but because they have a condom in their wallet. Dark times. 😉

My Karhu skis were not back-country skis. They were just simple and cheap waxless skis. I would own more appropriate skis as time wore on and ski some other dramatic places, but never that adventure again.

I’m not that girl any more — not physically, obviously, but in more profound ways. I understand where she wanted to go back in 1979/1980 and I’ve been there. That’s enormous. When I think of how long it has taken me to learn what anything actually IS I’m dumbfounded.

And maybe I still don’t know.

*There are at least three lakes named “Lost Lake” in Colorado which could explain how they got lost. This is the Lost Lake I’m referring to here. It was once fairly remote but a lot more people live in the towns around it now, so the trails are now sometimes closed due to over use.


“I hope all your students are deep and funny.”

If you’re read my blog for a while you know there are twenty-something large books in my “studio” — journal/scrapbook things that I don’t want to keep but can’t throw out. They take up a LOT of space, and I don’t “use” them at all. (How would anyone “use” them?) A few of them are spread out on my work table now. If you open one and start reading, well, for the most part, they’re just awful.

I went at 1988-89 (Volume I of that year, seriously) yesterday with scissors and an x-acto knife. I cut out sheafs of pages, laughing, thinking that even if I don’t do anything more with it, and never manage to throw the books out, at least I’ll leave behind the “expurgated” version of “The Examined Life.”

For many years I wrote my personal thoughts and struggles in these books. I suppose it’s a pretty common human thingamajig to struggle over and over with the same aspects of personality or the walls that spring up in life, the stuff you can’t get over, around or through. For me, apparently, it was “luv’,” specifically a marriage that wasn’t working and my desire to have a romantic companion. I don’t know why that didn’t seem to me at the time a good reason to sit down and talk with my ex about our “non” relationship. Maybe I did and it just didn’t make it into “The Examined Life.”

There are greeting cards, photographs, funny things students said (like the title of this post) circular meditations on the meaning of life (didn’t find the answer, so circular). On the other hand, some of it is accurately self-revelatory. I did not purge the book of those bits of elaborate cursive.

Those are not trivial problems but, good god, are they boring to read about.

Mixed in with all that verbiage (rhymes with “garbage”) are some good insights, descriptions of moments which I could not have known at the time were major life moments, like seeing my first rattlesnake, watching the swirling gyre of seagulls rising from the ocean, being looked in the eye by a red tail hawk, the beginning of my hiking life in the chaparral, the beginning of my life with dogs and my first dog, Truffle who was then a puppy, getting my second dog, Molly. I could not know in the midst of 1988-89 how important these things were and how unimportant the other stuff was.

I think, though, this whole thing could be compiled into ONE that I really CAN use, another volume called, “How it All Turned Out here in Heaven” or something. Maybe just denouement. “Getting found almost always means being lost for a while.” Annie Lamont

But it struck me this morning how weird it all is. Here we are, more-or-less consigned to our domiciles, as if this were a second winter without the glorious compensation of snow, relegated to tasks our usual “busyness” would have made it easy for us to avoid.


In other news: if your blender breaks and you want a smoothie, the best tool? The lowly dinner fork.


Teen Daze

“Honey, I’m not hemming this skirt way up there. It won’t even cover your behind. People will get the wrong idea.”

“What’s the ‘wrong idea’?”

“That you’re cheap.”

“What does that mean?”

“No man wants used merchandise.”

Elizabeth shook her head. That didn’t make sense either.

The usual fight with mom over fashion. Elizabeth was petite. Any dress or skirt she bought at the store had to be shortened. On top of that, she made a lot of her own skirts and dresses. Mom HAD to mark the hems. There was no way out. Elizabeth shrugged. They’d reached a compromise; the middle of Elizabeth’s knee. Elizabeth wasn’t exactly happy about it, but the option was somewhere below the knee and seriously?

Elizabeth had found a way around mom’s puritanical totalitarianism.

By 7 am every morning she was out the door, books in hand. She raced down the short cut through the yards to Kathy’s — Kat’s — house. They had 20 minutes to get to school, a daily adventure that took them over an old trestle, across an open field, sideswiped the new mall, down two neighborhood streets, into the high school’s back door.

It was cold. February was fusty and ambivalent as ever, shooting them sharp snowflakes one minute, gusts of cold aggression the next, and blessing them with sun the next. Halfway through the field they looked around to see if anyone was looking. But who would? They lived in the furthest reaches of the city in a brand new neighborhood with brand new schools. They set their books on the ground and put one foot on their book pile in case the wind came up. They heisted up their coats, grabbed the waistband of their skirts and carefully rolled them. “Is it straight?” asked Kat, turning so Elizabeth could see her back.

“Yeah. Mine?”

“Looks good.”

They were set. The only danger was if they happened to sit on their skirts during some class or another, unrolling the back.

It was years before they understood why the boys liked sitting in discussion circles so much or why they were so clumsy with their pencils, always dropping them on the floor.


T-N-T Boxes

Wooden boxes with T-N-T stenciled on the ends. I wish I could tell you what my dad was doing exactly. I can’t. I was just a very little kid, but I THINK they were using balloon bound radio receivers to determine how far into the atmosphere sound waves traveled. All I really KNOW about it is that the by-product of this research were these boxes which formerly held high explosives. My dad thought they were GREAT.

What’s also great, is that I wrote about them three years ago. It’s a good story. And here it is. T-N-T boxes.