Narrowing and Focusing: Traveling Home

The Watchman, Zion National Park

I began teaching composition approximately 45 years ago.  In all that time, I am not sure that I  managed to help many novice writers become more effective writers of expository prose. However, I did read hundreds of essays and write many comments.  Over the decades, I found that the same few bits of advice remained constant: narrow and focus the topic, have a clear thesis, give specific examples, and do not overstate.

I am thinking of about expository prose today because I am struggling  (again) with my own writing.  How will I be able to distill a six week road trip into a narrow and focused thesis-driven post that includes specific examples and which does not overstate?  I don’t know–maybe I won’t be able to manage it–but I can comfort myself with a bulleted list. I don’t  understand writing, but I do believe words have power.*

  • Our Route: Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, South Dakota, Wyoming, Idaho, Utah, Arizona, Nevada, Arizona, California, Oregon, Idaho, Montana, North Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia
  • Birds: I hauled along my new binoculars (see Vision Quest), but I didn’t use them much. The binoculars seem a little heavy around my neck and they annoy me when they bang on my chest when I walk.  Still, I think I spotted a few golden eagles this trip, and perhaps a bald eagle.  We saw  hawks, Steller’s jays, a red-headed woodpecker in Wind Cave National Park, a hairy woodpecker in City of Rocks National Reserve, and more.
  • Favorite Set of Facts: “Roosevelt credited his Dakota experiences as the basis of his ground-breaking preservation efforts and the shaping of his own character. As president 1901-09, he translated his love of nature into law. He established the US Forest Service and signed the 1906 Antiquities Act, under which he proclaimed 18 national monuments. He worked with Congress to create five national parks, 150 national forests, and dozens of federal reserves–over 230 million acres of protected land” (From the National Park Service information pamphlet for Theodore Roosevelt National Park).
  • Not narrowed, not focused, not in proper order, but here is my thesis: We traveled home the whole six weeks of our journey.
    • Home was with my brothers and sisters-in-law.  We visited them in Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Michigan at the beginning of the journey. Later on, we were lucky to be able to travel in Nevada, Arizona, and Utah with two of these dear ones.
    • Home was with our friends in Salt Lake City and near Cromberg, CA.
    • Walking through mountains, forests, prairies, and canyons felt like home.
    • I am from Michigan: Water has always felt like home to me.
    • North Rim and Zion: it was old home week for the soul.
    • Kind strangers we met along the way made us feel at home. (Tom just suggested that I need to be more specific. Haha, see one of the bits of advice, above. I am talking about the bellman at North Rim, the tour bus driver in Zion, the server at the Duluth Grill, fellow hikers on the trail, people in line at the Huron Mountain Bakery in Marquette and many others.
    • Tom and I were on the road again, but we were at home together.

*NOTE: Because of the ongoing Kavanaugh debacle (my home is about 4.5 miles by foot from the U.S. Congress), I am somewhat sad and angry today.  Thinking and writing about beautiful places, family, and friends helps me feel somewhat hopeful.

In the Sierras

in the Sierras

Theodore Roosevelt National Park

Theodore Roosevelt National Park

Porcupine Mountain Wilderness State Park, Michigan

Porcupine Mountain Wilderness State Park, Michigan

Lake Superior

Lake Superior

Grand Canyon from the North Rim

Grand Canyon from the North Rim

Tom above Lake of the Clouds, Michigan

Tom above Lake of the Clouds, Michigan

reading in the van

reading in the van

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I Am in the Middle of a Mirage

Yes, I am at the Mirage in Las Vegas this afternoon.  It seems like an accurate name to me: This place is just a mirage to me.  The North Rim is what is real to me. I remember again the words of J.W. Powell in his The Exploration of the Colorado and Its Canyons:

Still farther east is the Kaibab Plateau [including the North Rim], culminating table-land of the region. It is covered with a beautiful forest, and in the forest charming parks are found. Its southern extremity is a portion of the wall of the Grand Canyon….Here antelope feed and many a deer goes bounding over the fallen timber. In winter deep snows lie here, but the plateau has four months of the sweetest summer man has ever known. (p. 102)

from Bright Angel Point

from Bright Angel Point

clouds and vegetation, North Rim

clouds and vegetation, North Rim

Deva, Brahma, and Zoroaster

Deva, Brahma, and Zoroaster

from Point Imperial

from Point Imperial

Transept Canyon

Transept Canyon

Transept Canyon sunset

Transept Canyon sunset

Traveling On

Tom and I like to go on road trips. We are on a road trip now. In the 25 days since we began this journey we have:

  • stopped in Pittsburgh to see our son Robert (Rebekah was working). Note: We saw Billy and Sarah and Mike before we started out. We just wanted to tell our children, “we love you.”
  • visited my dear brothers and sisters-in-law (in Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Michigan).
  • camped above the Straits of Mackinac and took the ferry to Mackinac Island.
  • smelled forest fire smoke through Minnesota, South Dakota, Wyoming, Idaho, and Utah.
  • visited the Ingalls Homestead in DeSmet, S.D. (Little House aficionados: we camped by the slough)
  • we took an “easy” 3.4 mile hike at Wind Cave National Park and discovered that all of our city walking really wasn’t the same as hiking a rocky track on a warm, sunny afternoon.
  • we listened to an Oglala Lakota NPS ranger from Wounded Knee tell us a strong story about the importance of naming. From now on, for us,  Devils Tower is Bear Lodge.

Note: I have many more items for this bulleted list, but I will continue it another time soon.

We are old now, but Tom and I like to keep traveling on. Now, the early mornings are cold (unless we are staying in a motel). We don’t even light the camp stove. We drink our coffee cold.

We keep traveling on because we want to see the country and family and friends along the way–while we are still on this side of the great divide. We want to keep learning. We see, listen, touch, and smell the beauty all around us.

Here are a few photos:

catbird in catalpa, Cuyahoga Valley National Park

catbird in catalpa, Cuyahoga Valley National Park

flower (?), St. Ignace, Michigan

flower (?), St. Ignace, Michigan

monarch, Mackinac Island

monarch, Mackinac Island

Lake Gogebic State Park, Michigan

Lake Gogebic State Park, Michigan

playing music, Ingalls Homestead, DeSmet, South Dakota

playing music, Ingalls Homestead, DeSmet, South Dakota

Devils Tower, AKA Bear Lodge, Wyoming

Devils Tower, AKA Bear Lodge, Wyoming

chokecherry, Sinks Canyon State Park, Wyoming

chokecherry, Sinks Canyon State Park, Wyoming

near South Pass, Wyoming

near South Pass, Wyoming

Bear Lake State Park, Idaho

Bear Lake State Park, Idaho

 

Vision Quest

For almost two months I have had an idea for what (I had hoped) would be a clever post.  In the  end of April, I bought a new pair of binoculars for bird-watching. These new binoculars promise to help my old eyes better spot the lovely birds that still remain among us.

Diamondback binoculars

Diamondback binoculars

Right away, I began to think of the other binoculars I’ve had.  About 18 years ago, Tom and I bought binoculars for our son, Billy, to take to the Amazon. I think they got wet there, but I am not sure. Note: Bill just told me that it was the camera he dropped in the water, not the binoculars.  In any event, those binoculars don’t work well.

Nikon binoculars

Nikon binoculars

Then, I began to think about my first pair of binoculars. I can’t find them to show you.  I may have finally recycled them. I haven’t used them in decades.  However, I brought those binoculars (Tasco, I believe) along wherever we went because my Dad had given them to me. Dad gave them to me for either Christmas 1970 or 1971, after I had begun my adventures on the Colorado Plateau. I remember trying out the binoculars on a hike with my Dad at Kensington Metropark near my home. The binoculars worked well and Dad and I had a fine walk and talk.

My idea was to write about double vision: seeing the world as it is here now; seeing the world as it was in my lucky childhood.

I can’t seem to write about my childhood as clearly as I want to.  I want to tell you about

  • the spyglass my Dad kept on the living room table.  I felt like a pirate when I used it to spy a great blue heron;
  • trilliums in the yard back when we still saw deer tracks by the shore;
  • moonlight on the water–night after night and year after year. I don’t have the words to share this vision;
  • the early morning fog out my window as I dressed for school, and so much more.

When I see photos of so many children and parents in pain because of the Trumpian practice of separating families at our southern border, I can hardly write about my childhood. When I look backward, I see my happy childhood with my mother and father there to care for my brothers and me.  I want all families to be safe.  That’s only a vision, I know, but I am not the only one.

Maybe I can only see the present clearly right now.  Below, are some photos I took yesterday on the Summer Solstice at the United States Botanic Garden in Washington D.C.

See you later, I hope.

bee on Stokesia laevis (Stokes' aster)

bee on Stokesia laevis (Stokes’ aster)

 

Cephalanthus occidentalis (common buttonbush)

Cephalanthus occidentalis (common buttonbush)

Cercis canadensis (redbud)

Cercis canadensis (redbud)

Asclepias tuberosa (butterfly weed)

Asclepias tuberosa (butterfly weed)

Hypericum (St. John's wort)

Hypericum (St. John’s wort)

Pontederia cordata (pickerelweed)

Pontederia cordata (pickerelweed)

 

 

 

April 2018

Arlington House, April 2018

Arlington House, April 2018

I told you four years ago that I didn’t think that April was the cruelest month (April: Cruelest Month (?), Earth Day, Earth Mother, and the Possible Limitations of Agnosticism). I am still on board with that thought, but T.S. Eliot’s words, the beautiful flowers, and gravestones are keeping me on some emotional edge. Maybe it is because Tom and I have taken to walking through Arlington National Cemetery–just a few blocks from where we now live.

redbuds (Cercis canadensis) and gravestones

redbuds (Cercis canadensis) and gravestones

unknown citizen and old cherry tree

unknown citizen and old cherry tree

I keep thinking of the ones I love: here and now and way back when.  The young, the old, the healthy, the sick, the troubled, and the dead are all crowding around in my head. I remember the day Martin Luther King, Jr. died, in April. I remember when our youngest son was born, in April. That year, the spring tree green was just starting when we came home from the hospital. My baby son and I sat together on the couch hour after hour and day after day until the spring green turned to full green. I first went to Zion National Park in April. It was spring, and  through the night, boulders rattled down  the canyonsides in the spring runoff.

A week or so ago, I was at my friend Kate’s place and her lilac was blooming near her Zen garden. First lilac of the season for me.  (I didn’t get a photo, sorry. My hands were dirty with planting the lettuce and Swiss chard seedlings). Since then I have been thinking not just about T.S.Eliot, but also of  Walt Whitman: “When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d,”  which was written after Abraham Lincoln was assassinated.  I remember Lincoln’s words and I think about mercy.

“With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation’s wounds; to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan—to do all which may achieve and cherish a just, and a lasting peace, among ourselves, and with all nations.” (from Abraham Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address)

Today, Tom and I walked to Fort Bennett Park and Palisades Trail–about a mile from our condo. We found what we were looking for: two bald eagles in a giant nest taking care of their young. Until today, in all my years of wishing and searching, I have never reliably seen bald eagles flying free.  I am hopeful today that we may yet bind up the nation’s wounds.

My April wish: May you be well. May you be happy. May you have peace. Or as “The Wasteland” has it:

Shantih   shantih   shantih

tulips near the Netherlands Carillon

tulips near the Netherlands Carillon

 

 

March 2018: Washington, D.C.

Happy spring!

daffodil

daffodil

gulls, people, and Potomac River

gulls, people, and Potomac River

Potomac, Key Bridge, and Rosslyn

Potomac, Key Bridge, and Rosslyn

clivia, National Gallery

clivia, National Gallery

forget-me-nots (?) Rosslyn

creeping speedwell (?), Rosslyn

arms are for hugging

arms are for hugging

March for Our Lives, Mach 24, 2018

March for Our Lives, March 24, 2018

cherry bark, Tidal Basin

cherry bark,Tidal Basin

blossoms from the bole

blossoms from the bole

magnolia blossom and sedum

magnolia blossom and sedum

reflection, Tidal Basin

reflection, Tidal Basin

Tidal Basin

Tidal Basin

Enid Haupt Garden, March 24, 2018

Enid Haupt Garden, March 24, 2018

Statue of Sakakawea, U.S. Congress

Statue of Sakakawea, U.S. Congress

view eastward, U.S. Congress

view eastward, U.S. Congress

Lincoln Memorial

Lincoln Memorial

Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial

Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial

daffodils near Arlington National Cemetery

daffodils near Arlington National Cemetery

Excuses, Spring is Coming, and One More Staircase Story

day planners old and new

day planners old and new

Excuses Although it is March, I still haven’t transferred all of my phone numbers, passwords, and other data from my 2017 Audubon Birder’s Engagement Calendar to my 2018  Audubon Birder’s Engagement Calendar. This transfer usually happens early in January (see Old Year, New Year: Flexibility, Part 3). Part of the delay may simply be that there is so much minutia scrawled in the 2017 book that I am daunted by the task of transferring it to the new book.

I think the real reason might be more fundamental, though. I have been sitting here — each day at once agitated and inert–waiting to see what happens next to our country. My own version of Potomac fever, I am afraid. And I am afraid: I used to tell my children that our country had had difficult times before and had gotten through it. Now, I believe the current regime and its attendant problems are by far the worst in my lifetime.  I went to one march so far this year and will soon go to another. I sign petitions. I walk. I do my weights and stretches, and sometimes I even do my planks.  I photograph flowers and trees.  On TV, I watch cooking shows and basketball games. I think spring is coming. I believe my hibernation is ending and my hope is growing.

oak leaves and crocus

oak leaves and crocus

scilla, Mary L. Ripley Garden

scilla, Mary L. Ripley Garden

Happy Interlude  In early February, Tom and I camped for three nights in the Big Cypress National Preserve and for one night in Everglades National Park. We saw alligators and manatees; anhingas and egrets, mangrove islands and dolphins, and much more.

gulf fritillary, Big Cypress National Preserve

gulf fritillary, Big Cypress National Preserve

great blue heron, Shark Valley, Everglades National Park

great blue heron, Shark Valley, Everglades National Park

Spring is Coming Wood frogs are mating in vernal pools here in Arlington, Virginia. Salamanders are on the move. Daffodils are blooming and so is the witch hazel and some forsythia. Almost two weeks ago a cherry  tree was blossoming at Arlington National Cemetery. Tourist groups are massing on the National Mall. I think it is time to put aside my 2017 almanac and rejoin this year, this fight, and this life.

sign, Gulf Branch Nature Center, Arlington, Virginia

sign, Gulf Branch Nature Center, Arlington, Virginia

witch hazel, Mary L. Ripley Garden

witch hazel, Mary L. Ripley Garden

early cherry blossoms, Arlington National Cemetery

early cherry blossoms, Arlington National Cemetery


Staircase to Heaven, again

1972–1973 (North Rim and environs)

Did I ever tell you about the time I got dropped off at Pipe Springs National Monument? I was on my way from the North Rim to my friend Anita’s wedding reception in Salt Lake City. Someone drove me to Pipe Springs–on the Arizona Strip–87 miles from the Grand Canyon Lodge where I worked.  I tried to hitch a ride from Pipe Springs to Cedar City, Utah so I could catch a plane to Salt Lake.  At least back then, Arizona State Road 389 was not a well traveled road.

After some time, Pipe Springs National Monument closed for the day. It got dark and I felt forlorn and probably a little scared.  I settled down in the ditch beside the road. I wasn’t about to take my chances standing on the side of the road through the night. I worried some and I slept some.  Morning came, someone picked me up, and I made my flight to Salt Lake and the wedding reception.  I was an idiot back then, no doubt, but all that expansive sky, sand, canyons, and forests made me feel that all was possible, all was good, and I would not be harmed.

Angry and sad aside: Most of my life now, this Grand Staircase, this Colorado Plateau, has been for me not only the land of the beautiful, but also of the good and hospitable. I want to scream and cry and kick and yes, hate, as I see people and entities want to destroy this land. I don’t do those things: I am still trying for the beautiful and good.

So many more stories to tell, but I think I am finished for now.  I wanted to tell you about Hop Valley, the double rainbows on the snowy road to Bryce, pine nut gathering at Cape Royal, the smell of the ponderosas in the sunlight, and Chesler Park in late winter.

Now, I will march, I will sign petitions, I will walk.  In the end of summer, we may be at North Rim again, and, in November I will vote.

Thank you for listening.

Here are some photos:

aspens, La Sal Mountains

near Chesler Park, The Needles, Canyonlands National Park

near Chesler Park, The Needles, Canyonlands National Park

In the Needles District, Canyonlands National Park

In the Needles District, Canyonlands National Park

clouds, Natural Bridges National Monument

clouds, Natural Bridges National Monument

our camper in Capitol Reef National Park

our camper in Capitol Reef National Park

ponderosas on the North Rim

ponderosas on the North Rim