Category Archives: Memoir

Peregrinations

Speaking of peregrinations: When I was child I wanted to be a falconer. I wanted to have a hawk, or perhaps a peregrine falcon on my arm. She would fly off my arm and circle the sky until she was only a dot and then, finally, fly back to me. I didn’t dwell on the hunting part of this fantasy–just on the bold, high flying bird who would come home to me. (I confess that I might have come up with this idea from reading The Hardy Boys: The Hooded Hawk Mystery). I keep alert for birds of prey wherever I am, but I have not had one on my arm. However, we’ve had Phoenix the orange-winged Amazon parrot in our family for the last 27 years, and I have been content to have him on my hand and in my heart, if not in the wild blue sky.

Phoenix Q. Terrill

Tom and I spent much of September 2022 traveling. This year our road trip was at least 4,300 miles and we loved it, as usual.* We only camped by one great lake this year, but we did travel through 12 states. We visited with loved ones and walked on beaches, in forests, and on prairies. We enjoyed our travel on foot paths, back roads, dirt roads, and highways. Tom and I lunched in prosperous Glen Arbor, relaxed in the egalitarian comfort of campgrounds, and talked about sights to see with couple of Wisconsin bikers at Kitch-iti-kipi.

beach, Lake Michigan
Fayette Historic State Park, Michigan
bison and prairie grasses, Tallgrass Prairie Preserve, Oklahoma
Sleeping Bear National Lakeshore
Kitch-iti-Kipi, Manitisque, Michigan

Besides, Michigan, Tom and I camped in Iowa, Missouri, Oklahoma, and Arkansas. We drank cold coffee and ate cold, but delicious, meals. Furthermore, for most of this trip, we didn’t even bother with putting up the tent; we just reclined on our the Subaru’s front seats and slept when the sky was dark.

dinner at the campsite

One thing was different this year: we had campfires at three different campsites. Tom and I are usually content to have the sunset be the dramatic display of the evening. It’s more environmentally sound, I think, than the big bonfires some campers build. Plus, who needs a campfire for cheese and meat sandwiches, especially when we weren’t packing marshmallows, Hersey bars, and graham crackers. This time it was different, though. I think–damn hot weather not withstanding–we needed the emotional warmth of the fire. The flickering yet steady light, the hopeful sparks flying upward, and feet warming on the firepit rim soothed us. Tom and I are grateful for the year we have had–we are still here and we are still okay. However, we continue to get older, and not so much wiser. How can it be that I have been tagging along with brothers Mike and George for 70 years? How is it that brothers Rog and Dan are missing somehow? Why do I still miss the stubborn and lovely beagle/basset, Randi? Now that I finally finished reading Will Bagley’s South Pass: Gateway to a Continent, I want to talk to him about it and where is he? I just read in the Washington Post today that the January 6th berserkers “…stashed weapons, ammunition and hand grenades in a Comfort Inn in Arlington County, Va….” That motel is a 0.9 mile walk from where I am now writing in my living room. What is happening to my beloved country? We needed that fire to comfort us at night just as the water, trees, and flowers did during the day.

Lake Michigan, September 2022
post oaks, Osage Hills State Park, Oklahoma
snow-on-the-mountain, Tallgrass Prairie Preserve, Oklahoma

We call them “roadtrips,” not just “camping trips.” We do so because although we enjoy camping in less frequented parks, forests, and the like, we also enjoy finding out-of-the-way museums and visiting little towns. I sometimes imagine the lives of the people who live on the farms and in the burgs we pass through. I imagine them to be mostly happy. Early in the trip, Tom and I stayed in Green Bay, Wisconsin for a couple of days. We went to the National Railroad Museum. I was prepared to be blasé about a museum dedicated to trains, but, if–in your peregrinations–you ever find yourself in Green Bay, I recommend it.

Near Pawhuska, Oklahoma
The Tree That Escaped the Crowded Forest, the Price Tower by Frank Lloyd Wright, Bartlesville, Oklahoma

Old food service people that we are, Tom and I also keeping trying to find good restaurants and bakeries along the road. I just counted and I find that Tom and I have traveled in 47 states together so far. That’s a lot of states for the number of good eateries we’ve found. That’s okay; we are still searching.

kolache and apple fritter, Rise N Shine Donuts, Amarillo, Texas

I have a list of places we’ve visited that includes, national parks and forests, state parks and forests, trails, monuments, historic sites, museums, restaurants and wonders of all kinds. So far, this document is five pages long. On the other hand, our still-need-to-explore list is eight pages long. It carries a heading that indicates the complexities and course changes of the current era: “Points of Interest for Trips Spring/Summer/Fall 2019/2020/2021/2022.” In fact, I probably originally started the list about ten years ago. We keep hoping and we do what we can. Speaking of course changes, Tom and I had planned on heading west to New Mexico, at least, and then north to see friends before we headed home, but that didn’t work out. Instead, we got to watch the sun rise in Arkansas on our way home.

dawn, Mt. Nebo State Park, Arkansas

I look forward to our next trip. Maybe it won’t be the months long trips we used to take, or maybe it will. I remain optimistic that we will hit the road again together. I feel like we–Tom and I, our family and friends, and our country–are on a challenging journey. My wish for us all may be expressed (yet again) by the Beatles. I wish you good sleep wherever you are.

*You can read about last year’s roadtrip here.

August 2022: Both Sides Now

Clouds at Point Imperial, North Rim of the Grand Canyon, September 2018

Like some others, I have been thinking about Joni Mitchell this past week. Mitchell* performed at the Newport Folk Festival on July 24, 2022 after not performing an entire set for many years. Unlike some of my friends, I haven’t listened to her much this last week. Not sure why that is, but I think it might be because Joni Mitchell is already in my blood like holy wine.

Some of you have heard this story before (and some of you lived it with me), but I want to write about it again. I am writing this article sitting in my chair. No music now, but there are clouds off to the right through the balcony window.

my chair below the Joni Mitchell drawing**
our balcony with clouds and plants

I think I first listened to Joni Mitchell’s music in the fall of 1968 when I was not quite 19 years old. It is possible that I heard Judy Collin’s version of “Both Sides Now” before I heard Mitchell’s own version. I liked both versions–then and now. Soon after, I heard Mitchell’s albums, probably on one of my college roommate’s record player. Then and now, when I hear those words and that voice–or just think of them as I am doing now–I am transported to another place. There is pain in that place, but the words and the voice I hear sing a strong and healing magic.

For several years when I was young, I would sing Joni Mitchell, Judy Collins, and Joan Baez songs. This was quite a feat because I can’t–and never could–sing well, so I sang when I was alone. I sang Mitchell’s “Michael from Mountains,” “Tin Angel,” and “Blue” thinking of Tom. Sometimes I would sing as I walked at Lone Rock beach at Lake Powell near where I taught or while I drove the back roads of the Intermountain West, where I often didn’t have radio reception.

In 1973, I received a teaching fellowship for a Master’s degree in English at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City. That was great (except for the stipend, of course, which was a meager $2,000 per year). Many of my Grand Canyon friends were in Salt Lake at the time and I met another lifelong friend there, my fellow teacher, Laura. I was still bewitched by the songs of Joni Mitchell and, because I wanted to study the English words that meant a great deal to me, I decided to write a thesis on the lyrics in Mitchell’s songs.

Many things happened: I taught freshman composition classes including reviewing hundreds of essays, I got married and shortly Tom and I were expecting a child. My plan on the thesis was to finish it before our first child was to be born in May of 1975. With one thing and another, I finally finished the thesis not long before our second child was born in May of 1977. Our friends from back in the day may remember me listening, writing, rewriting, stalling, obsessing, and worrying about the paper. I had elements of the thesis in various states of readiness for months, but the final version came together when I was able to spend a week working alone at our friend Sally’s apartment. My thesis was accepted and I remember the kind words of Professor Phil Sullivan–an aging hippie among the more standard issue faculty I had at Utah. Phil agreed with me that music lyrics could indeed be poetry. Rest in peace, Phil.

Note: You can tell how long ago all of this was because my thesis only covers Mitchell through Hissing of Summer Lawns (1975). It was also so long ago that I needed to hire a typist to type/format my paper into a form that the university would accept. That cost some money. What I remember most, though is how much it cost to copy the thesis. I wanted to make a copy of the thesis to send to Joni Mitchell. Each page back then would cost about one dollar to make a good copy. At a little over 100 pages, I didn’t feel I could afford to copy the thesis to send. I didn’t really know where I might send it anyhow. A Grecian Isle, a red dirt road in Spain, or California? Years passed. Mitchell kept writing, composing, and painting. I kept parenting, gardening, working (mostly in education), and listening to music.

title page

Mitchell sang “Both Sides Now” at the Newport Folk Festival on July 24. I did listen to it and I loved the rendition. Both Joni Mitchell and I are old now, so we have had ample opportunity to look at both sides of our lives with all those illusions and that winning and losing. I don’t really know life at all, but I am okay with that. I remember and still believe what Mitchell said in “Woodstock”: “I don’t know who I am but life is for learning.”

With all the years of  loving, winning, losing, and learning in my life, I was happy this morning to see that I still agree with the final sentence of my thesis: “Joni Mitchell, for her part, writes song poetry the way Dylan Thomas would have it, as ‘the rhythmic, inevitably narrative movement from overclothed blindness to a naked vision.'”


*When I started writing this piece, I automatically started writing “Joni” instead of “Joni Mitchell” or “Mitchell.” I don’t write “Will” for William Butler Yeats and I realize I want to equally acknowledge Mitchell’s gravitas, so I have written about her here formally.

**Artist and friend Howard Brough drew this portrait as a wedding gift for Tom and me in 1974. Howard also drew illustrations for Mitchell songs and two more portraits, which were included in the thesis. Thank you, Howard.

Happy New Year, 2022

When I first considered writing this article, I briefly thought about calling it just “New Year, 2022.” This would be my snarky comment about the state of the continuing pandemic, our national politics, climate disasters, and just about everything else. My terse title would say: nope, not expecting happy things this year either. Almost immediately, though, I remembered that snarky and cynical don’t look well on me. More importantly, I see that all jumbled up with my weariness and anxiety are bits of happiness (or contentment or, at least, acceptance).*

January 31 As it is, I have put off finishing this post until the last day of the month. Luckily, Lunar New Year is beginning, so I am coming in just under the wire. Here is a list of things that make me feel better about going into a new year. I need this list to remind myself of all the good parts of my life.

The people abide. I walk by playgrounds and I see children playing as they always do. Parents are keeping an eye on the kids as parents do. Every time we go to the National Mall, Tom and I see people enjoying the museums, gardens, the ice rink, and food trucks. Despite the continual dose of disturbing news–let alone the wars and rumors of wars–I see helpers and kind people around me every day. I see the workers at my condo and my local grocery store, and those who seek out and help all the lost and lonely ones.

Mosaic Park, Arlington, Virginia

My county still has heart. Tom and I first moved to Arlington County, Virginia in June 1978 and have lived here on an off since. Our children went to school here. In the 1980s we lived a couple blocks from Arlington CentraI Library where I worked part-time. Later I taught immigrants and refugees in Arlington. We were here on September 11, 2001 and saw the Pentagon burning. Again, three decades later, we live a couple blocks from Central Library. Now, in Covid times, Central Library has free WiFi for all in the parking lot, a food pantry, a vegetable patch, and is surrounded by a native plant garden. Most importantly, perhaps, is the library’s strong stand as a safe place for everyone in the community.

Arlington Central Library, Arlington, Virginia

Nature comforts me. I find both wonder and solace in the plants, animals, rocks, and sky that I encounter.

sycamore, Theodore Roosevelt Island
oak tree, Arlington, VA
frog at Long Branch Nature Center
Shenandoah National Park, 2021

Dawn comes. Every day we see the morning light. We follow that light through the day until it is evening. All the light warms us.

dawn comes

We have family, friends, music, and food. I remember the many good parts of my life. I also remember those who have gone. I have listened to Tom play Mozart sonatas almost every day of the pandemic and I feel lucky. It’s the time of year when I remember “Auld Lang Syne.” I shiver or cry or both when I hear the song. I want and need that cup.

For old acquaintance be forgot
And never brought to mind
Should old acquaintance be forgot
In the days of auld lang syne?

For auld lang syne, my dear
For auld lang syne
We’ll drink a cup of kindness yet
For the sake of auld lang syne

Hope is still around here somewhere. So many words from the wise ones exhort people to live for the day, be in the present, etc. I am on board with that-not that I can do it all that much. I still spend plenty of emotional time in the past and the future, and I am not sure that is all bad. Just a couple of weeks ago, I made camping reservations for early June in Arizona and Utah. Tom and I don’t know how we will feel or how things will be shaping up with the pandemic. We don’t know much of anything. However, we remember the places and people we love from the old days. Maybe we can get to the North Rim another time. Maybe we can visit Capitol Reef and camp on the Aquarius Plateau. Maybe we can go back to Fishlake National Forest and be near Pando (a clonal colony of quaking aspen considered by some to be the largest single living organism on earth) one more time. Maybe we will drink a cup of kindness again with the friends of our youth (now of our age). I am hoping.

I recently bought a new head lamp. I am hoping it will lead me through dark nights to bright dawns.

my new headlamp

*If I were grading this essay, I would comment on the need for more specific language than “happiness” or “contentment.” I hope the examples and the photos add some heft to the words. Happy New Year! (Added 1/31/2022: Chúc mừng năm mới).

Summer 2021, Part 2: Photos

This summer–like all the other summers I’ve known–seems beautiful.* Even with the loss, the sickness, the uncertainty, the worry, the fires, the floods, the wars, and all the rest of it, I am trying (fitfully, I admit) to see some good in this world. I do see it in my stalwart family and friends and in the sky, plants, and animals. I don’t have much to say, at least much that is new, but I hope you enjoy the photos.

Bartholdi Fountain, Bartholdi Park, Washington, D.C.
milkweed longhorn beetle (genus Tetraopes) Mt. Cuba Center, Hockessin, Delaware
garden–inside and outside of our condo
Regional Garden, U.S. Botanic Gardens, Washington, D.C.
bee on pickerel weed, Regional Garden, U.S. Botanic Gardens, Washington, D.C.
New York ironweed (Vernonia noveboracensis), Hillside Park, Arlington, Virginia
bishop’s hat (Epimedium brachyrrhizum), Mary Livingston Ripley Garden
tawny (?) skipper on unidentified flower
wingstem (Verbesina alternifolia), Hillside Park, Arlington, Virginia

*Sometimes I find it difficult to be hopeful without sounding like some superannuated, prissy Pollyanna. I really don’t think I am a Pollyanna; I think I am more of an inveterate idealist. Whatever I might be, I still find myself sad and angry quite often. For example, yesterday I discovered that someone had ripped out the two pink fuzzybean plants off a trellis in Hillside Park. I had transplanted these plants from Arlington’s native plant nursery last fall. I watched the plants as they came up in late spring and cheered them on as they grew up the trellis and spread wider and wider flinging out their green leaves to the wider world. Did someone think they were getting rid of noxious weeds? Was some person or persons just wreaking a little casual cruelty on the park? I don’t know, of course, but I was sad and angry. It was a petty little anger amid the current sorrows of the world and of humankind. However, the hopeful part of me is wondering now whether the plants will grow back from their roots in another season. I wish them well.

Summer 2021

Shenandoah National Park, August 2021

I tried to write a post before the summer solstice in June, but that didn’t work out. By July 4th, I wasn’t even thinking of writing anything. Because Labor Day is coming up in a little over three weeks, I am shaking the dust off my mind and heart and trying again.

Please don’t get me wrong. Things are okay for me. This summer Tom and I met up with family members and ate lunch in Milford, Michigan, my hometown. I walked in sunny meadows and shady forests with Tom and with friends. I heard frogs, barred owls, and other birds. Day after day, I have listened to Tom play Mozart sonatas on the piano. I saw the dragonflies by little ponds, but they moved too fast for me to photograph. Many of the native plants Tom and I planted last year in Hillside Park are thriving (blue mist flowers, New York Ironweed, golden ragwort, blazing star, forest stonecrop, and pink fuzzy bean). We ate lunch at the Bayou Bakery today and Tom is making paella for dinner.

blue mist flower (Conoclinium coelestinum) at Hillside Park, Arlington, Virginia

Still, I am older than I was before the Trump administration befell us and the pandemic began. I miss my brothers and my mother and father. I tell myself to live for the day and to be grateful while I spend more than enough time in reverie of earlier days–of sun on the lake where I grew up, and on the snow, and on the ponderosa needles at the North Rim.

For the last few days, I have been thinking about Dylan Thomas. Although Thomas is not one of my favorite poets, I have always liked him well enough. Today, I remember one who loves poetry and, I do believe, may have once declaimed “Fern Hill” for me. Today, I send the poem back to you, my dear one.

Now as I was young and easy under the apple boughs
About the lilting house and happy as the grass was green,
     The night above the dingle starry,
          Time let me hail and climb
     Golden in the heydays of his eyes,
And honoured among wagons I was prince of the apple towns
And once below a time I lordly had the trees and leaves
          Trail with daisies and barley
     Down the rivers of the windfall light.

And as I was green and carefree, famous among the barns
About the happy yard and singing as the farm was home,
     In the sun that is young once only,
          Time let me play and be
     Golden in the mercy of his means,
And green and golden I was huntsman and herdsman, the calves
Sang to my horn, the foxes on the hills barked clear and cold,
          And the sabbath rang slowly
     In the pebbles of the holy streams.

All the sun long it was running, it was lovely, the hay
Fields high as the house, the tunes from the chimneys, it was air
     And playing, lovely and watery
          And fire green as grass.
     And nightly under the simple stars
As I rode to sleep the owls were bearing the farm away,
All the moon long I heard, blessed among stables, the nightjars
     Flying with the ricks, and the horses
          Flashing into the dark.

And then to awake, and the farm, like a wanderer white
With the dew, come back, the cock on his shoulder: it was all
     Shining, it was Adam and maiden,
          The sky gathered again
     And the sun grew round that very day.
So it must have been after the birth of the simple light
In the first, spinning place, the spellbound horses walking warm
     Out of the whinnying green stable
          On to the fields of praise.

And honoured among foxes and pheasants by the gay house
Under the new made clouds and happy as the heart was long,
     In the sun born over and over,
          I ran my heedless ways,
     My wishes raced through the house high hay
And nothing I cared, at my sky blue trades, that time allows
In all his tuneful turning so few and such morning songs
     Before the children green and golden
          Follow him out of grace,

Nothing I cared, in the lamb white days, that time would take me
Up to the swallow thronged loft by the shadow of my hand,
     In the moon that is always rising,
          Nor that riding to sleep
     I should hear him fly with the high fields
And wake to the farm forever fled from the childless land.
Oh as I was young and easy in the mercy of his means,
          Time held me green and dying
     Though I sang in my chains like the sea.

Spring 2021

spring near the Arts and Industries Building, National Mall, Washington, D.C.

I started writing a post in early April–it is still in my drafts file–but I got annoyed by WordPress’ new publishing format and let my words and photos dangle in the airless vault of the Internet. Even though “technology” was featured in two of my most recent job titles, I am somewhat of a Luddite. However, I do think that as programs, platforms, applications, and what-all become more streamlined and standardized, it is possible that creative work can become overly lockstep. Enough of my carping excuses for my procrastination: I want to write about spring before Memorial Day!

I might have shaded the truth a bit (above) about the reason/s for my procrastination. What is slowing me down is that I keep thinking about the almost 600,000 people who have died of Covid-19 in the United States and the millions more around the world, and about those who loved and cared for them. Also, I live 4.5 miles away (by foot) from the U.S. Capitol and I was under curfew on January 6, 2021. That spooked me and saddened me. Before the Inauguration, Tom saw an armed gunboat patrolling the Potomac River near Georgetown. When the celebratory fireworks began on Inauguration night, I worried that our country and its institutions were under attack again. I continue to be gobsmacked by lies, disrespect, viciousness, and what-all. Also, I feel somewhat discomfited about how lucky I have been through all this mess and about the–mostly–good spring I have had.

cherry tree, Arlington, Virginia
tulips in Rosslyn
golden ragwort

Some Paragraphs

  • I have been wanting to tell you this for awhile: For months, I got through each day by getting the next day’s coffee ready ridiculously early, like at 1 p.m. I wasn’t sure I had the emotional energy to get the coffee machine ready before bed, let alone the next morning. Not a solution to any problem, but, and this is the truth now, having the coffee ready to go helped me feel ready for whatever might be coming the next day.
  • I don’t usually pray, but I do try to send good thoughts and love to our children and their families every night. Some nights, I fall asleep before I finish my good thoughts.
  • It has been almost nine weeks since our second vaccinations. Tom and I have been lucky to see and hug many family members and friends. We have been to Shenandoah National Park, Williamsburg, Pittsburgh, and Shaker Heights, Ohio. We have more jaunts in the works. Now, we are staying fairly close to home. Later, we don’t know where we will go. We are still waiting to find out which way the wind is blowing.
Shenandoah National Park
  • We have had a beautiful spring here. I think we always have beautiful springs wherever we are, but this season has been another one. On April 26 on Theodore Roosevelt Island I noted these flora and fauna: Carolina wren with oak catkin in mouth, another C wren?, another wren or warbler???, mallards, heard red-winged blackbird, several birds I couldn’t identify, turkey vultures, robins, sparrows, lots of minnows from bridge by the marsh, cabbage butterflies, other butterflies–slight possibility of a zebra swallowtail?, pawpaws-no flowers, tall meadow rue, lots of garlic mustard, Virginia waterleaf, Hartford fern?, horsetails. As usual, I had a few questions about what I observed. I can report that I have now seen some blooming pawpaws and that the tall meadow rue is going into flower. Note: All these nature words aren’t just small items on a useless list; they keep me close to the ground where–even in difficult times–I feel safe.
Virginia waterleaf, Theodore Roosevelt Island
trees and sun, Theodore Roosevelt Island

Spring did come after that difficult winter and now summer is about to follow. The 17-year cicadas are tuning up around here and the roses are coming out. I hope to see some of you soon. So long (as my Dad would say) and best wishes.

Winter 2021

I started this article a week ago during Arlington’s small bout of snow and ice.  I couldn’t seem to figure out how to effectively reconcile my homebound (from weather and pandemic) current self with younger versions of me who always loved to be out in the snow and ice. I didn’t want to have to find the words for all those winter feelings I didn’t feel this year. (See Winter: January 1, 2019 for some of my words about winter). Today, I realize that I don’t need to dig for those words and feelings anymore. I have received my first Covid-19 vaccination, I have walked five miles today, buds are plumping up on the witch hazel in Hillside Park, and spring is coming soon.  Before spring arrives in earnest, I want to share some words and photos about my favorite refuge during this winter of our pandemic and social disunion.

witch hazel, Hillside Park, Arlington, Virginia

This winter, I have been walking often on Theodore Roosevelt Island, which is 0.8 miles from our condo.  It’s not the ponderosas on the North Rim or the slickrock in Canyonlands, but I do love this tiny little bit of the national park system, just as I love the other parks.

While TR Island is only 88.5 acres, heavily visited (over 160,000 people visit yearly), and cheek by jowl with our hyper-urban Rosslyn, Arlington neighborhood, when I am on the island I find respite from this distressing time. I would have thought that walking here on this island–a little over a stone’s throw across the water from the Kennedy Center–would be much different from walking on the North Rim or in Canyonlands, but, somehow, it feels much the same. I glimpse a red-bellied woodpecker, I see the mallards paddle around the marsh, and I marvel at the fungus on the stump. I want to hug the beech trees. The underbrush all mixed together with water, snow, and leaves reminds me of the lakes of my childhood. I find solitude on the island’s Upland Trail. Seeing the Paul Manship statue of Theodore Roosevelt lifts my spirits.  None of the U.S. presidents have been without flaws, but, still, on every trip to the island, seeing the statue, of Theodore Roosevelt, who signed the Antiquities Act of 1906, eased some of my pain related to the presidency of Donald Trump. Time after time in these last months, while my mind and heart were filled with worry and sadness, my feet headed toward the island where my body, mind, and heart revived.

I keep meaning to go to the island early in the day with my binoculars. I want to sit on a bench on the boardwalk and listen to and watch the birds. I think I will go next week. Soon enough, I will be hearing the frogs.

 

sycamore along the river

mallards, theodore Roosevelt Island

forest floor, Theodore Roosevelt Island

stump and fungus, Theodore Roosevelt Island

beech leaf, Theodore Roosevelt Island

leaves and log with snow, Theodore Roosevelt Island

marsh, Theodore Roosevelt Island`

Theodore Roosevelt statue, Theodore Roosevelt Island


I hope you are vaccinated or will be soon. I hope you will be able to visit loved ones soon. I hope spring will come soon for us all.

 

 

 

Going to Zion

View from the Watchman Trail

View of West Temple from the Watchman Trail

On this last day of 2020–this annus horribilis that we have struggled through–I find myself looking backward.  I do not want this year to end without celebrating the occasion of my finding my way to Zion National Park fifty years ago.  Those of you who have been reading this blog for the last nine years may recall that I make fairly regular references to Zion in my posts (see, for example, Staircase to Heaven,Part 5: Words).  Many who know me personally know my abiding love for this place. I love Zion, not only because of its adjective-defying beauty, but because of the peaceful, happy, and worry-free season it afforded me in the spring and summer of 1970.  I could use another such season now, but I think the memories will be almost enough.

Why I went to Zion and how I got there*

In the spring of 1970 I signed on for summer work in Zion National Park in Southwestern Utah. This was fifty years ago, and Zion was not the trendy park it is now; it was more like the back of beyond. I was tired of my local summer job at Camp Dearborn in Milford, Michigan. Also, I had been fired up about environmental issues and the west by, among others, my young zoology lab instructor from Teton Country Wyoming. I had never been farther west than the eastern shore of Lake Michigan and I knew nothing about Utah. So, I went to the undergrad library at my college and I found and then was mesmerized by Wallace Stegner’s Mormon Country. Before I knew it, I was spending the summer in Zion Canyon. I can say that summer and (mostly)** ever since, just being in Zion makes me happy and as close to content as I have been so far in this life.

In April 1970 I flew from Detroit to Omaha, Nebraska. I somehow found my way to the train station where I boarded a train bound for Las Vegas. I was decked out in, I think this is true, a suit and a raincoat and, as enjoined by my mother, I had an iron grip on my purse. I immediately met another girl, Pat, similarly attired and gripping her purse. Pat went to my college and was also heading out west to spend the summer working in Zion National Park. As it turned out, she hailed from Walled Lake, a little town seven miles from Milford. This must have been the summer for small town mid-western girls to head out into the wilderness.

I hired on as–what was called then–a salad girl and Pat hired on as a cashier at Zion Inn, inside Zion National Park. Our train ride was free because the company that employed us, Utah Parks Company, was a subsidiary company of the Union Pacific Railroad Company. Of course, I never forgot the ride. The trip was long, cold (we had only our raincoats as covers), and somewhat sparse in meals (they were pricey for our budgets, but I still remember the dining car). Otherwise, the ride was transformational. All that land I had been reading about and watching on Bonanza was becoming real.

After a while, maybe a day and a half, I can’t remember, we ended up in Las Vegas. I am chagrined to notice that I am forgetting some of the particulars, but I think we found the bus that was to take us to Cedar City, Utah, where we would be met by a man with the unlikely name of LeMar Snyder. (Note: This only seemed like an unlikely name until I became familiar with a traditional Mormon naming convention—they seemed to like adding prefixes to both male and female names. Tom told me that families sometimes took part of the father’s name and part of the mother’s name and to make up the new name. I don’t know the provenance of LeMar’s name). However it happened, Pat and I did come to find LeMar, a big comfortable sort of man, who drove us to Zion where we were going to work at the inn, now gone these many years (Not really gone, the wood-and-sandstone building is now used by the U.S. Park Service). I don’t know what I was expecting, but Zion in all ways surpassed my preconceptions.

I had been going to parks all my life—municipal parks, state parks, national forests, and even Shenandoah National Park (my only national park before Zion)— but they had not prepared me for my first view of Zion Canyon. Inside the canyon, I was almost surrounded by red, grey, white, green, and black rock walls up to two thousand feet tall. An apparently inconsequential (to my eye) but restive river, the Virgin, flowed through the canyon. The narrow canyon was filled with grass, cottonwoods, many kinds of desert plants, birds and lizards, rocks and sand in an abundant jumble. On my first day off work, I walked from the inn, near the mouth of the canyon, to the end of the road about six miles to the Temple of Sinawava and back. I think this walk took me all day, and my jaw must have gotten tired because I was open-mouthed at the magnitude of everything as well as the unfamiliar beauty. I stayed in Zion from April to July, and I never got over the feeling of awe.

What I did there

My first actual Zion hike was on the short, moderate Watchman trail that started close to the campground near the inn. I had been on trails before at state and local parks in Michigan, but I didn’t know what to expect from a trail in a national park in the west. (Note: I checked online and the Zion National Park website claims that the Watchman hike is 2.7 miles round trip and climbs 368 feet.) I must have started out in the early afternoon after my morning shift. I was surprised how wide and well maintained the trail was. I think I was expecting a trail where moccasins could tread quietly and carefully single file—not a freeway for tourists to huff and puff up in expansive style. The trail followed the contours of a small side canyon— first heading east toward the cliffs and then back westward—for a view of the canyon floor and the little town of Springdale. After I got to that overlook point, finding the trail onward was more difficult. Here the trail was more like my single file ideal. In fact, sometimes I was a bit confused about where the trail was and where it was leading.

I took the trail upward and back eastward toward the cliffs and followed it as it continued around again onward skirting around the small side canyon. It seemed like (and maybe was) hours later my path stopped dead at the sheer cliff face of the Watchman itself. It was beginning to occur to me that I might possibly have made a wrong turn somewhere. I turned around and tried to retrace my steps. This was not so easy because there were faint trails crisscrossing everywhere. It had been dawning on me for some time that I might not be following human trails, but those of deer or other animals. Luckily, my general destination was clear: to wend my way back from where I had come along the canyon walls and scree. I did this and I finally found myself back at the overlook, where I now understood the human trail ended. I had been somewhat scared at my inadvertent bushwhacking to the sandstone ramparts of the Watchman, but I was also exhilarated at my small adventure. There was no time to waste in reflection for it was getting dark and I didn’t have a flashlight. Thinking back, I hope that I had been smart enough to have acquired a canteen by this point. I headed quickly down the now-wide trail. A bobcat crossed the trail very close in front of me trotting purposefully somewhere. Then and now, I read this as some sort of minor miracle or at least a benediction. I was a fool who had almost gotten into serious trouble, but, instead, some deep magic crossed my path.

The Watchman and the Virgin River

Any chance we got, Pat and I went hiking together. We hiked the Virgin Narrows, the Kolob Canyons, the West Rim Trail, and even Grafton***, the little ghost town below Zion that was featured in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.

Kolob Canyons, Zion National Park

Kolob Canyons, Zion National Park

Note: It is already December 31, 2020. and I want to finish this before the anniversary year ends. I have so many words already, but there is so much more I want to say about this season of grace. I will tell you a couple more stories and then be done for now.

Time passed and farewell

I needed to go back to Michigan before the end of the summer to be maid of honor for my friend Priscilla’s wedding. That was going to be exciting, but it was hard to leave Zion. For one thing, Pat and I were taking Senior Lifesaving at the Zion Lodge Pool but, luckily, the examination was scheduled for the day before I had to leave. If you’ve been to Zion Lodge in the last many years, you are probably saying what is she talking about, there’s no swimming pool in the canyon. Not now, but back in the 1970s there was a pool situated where the Zion Lodge lawn is now. The lifeguard at the lodge decided to offer a lifesaving class, so Pat and I would hitchhike the three miles from the inn to the lodge for instruction and to practice. The experience of swimming in Zion Canyon is worth recalling. We would swim round and round in the small pool surrounded on all sides by red Navajo sandstone cliffs and with the almost unbelievably blue skies—a dome of heaven—above.

It was already getting dark when Pat and I passed our swimming exams at the lodge. When we got back to the inn, we were whisked away somewhere outside for a going-away party for me. I remember three details about the food we ate. After I had asked for a well-done hamburger, one of my Mormon friends said he knew why I didn’t like rare meat. He said it’s because you are so civilized. Maybe yes and maybe no, but I appreciate the thought. In fact, the comment and the party highlight the civility and the hospitality that the people down there in Southern Utah showed to us and which I have never forgotten. We drank root beer—homemade for the party—and we ate Mrs. Cope’s spudnuts. She was a baker for Utah Parks Company and the mother of one of my friends. As Zion is to a municipal park, so Mrs. Cope’s spudnuts were to commercially produced donuts.

What I’m trying to say: I was entranced by the stories told by the older people I met at Zion. I met people whose own parents knew Butch Cassidy. There was my supervisor in the pantry, Mary, whose family—if I am remembering this right—had run cattle in what is now Bryce National Park. There was Chef Brown, who’d been a cook on the Union Pacific when doing that was really something. The people in Zion were hospitable in a way that seems uncommon these days. In that canyon and during that summer it was like I had fallen into an earlier time—a time my father would have understood. Plenty of the hospitable people that summer weren’t Mormons. Some were Jack Mormons, some were other locals, and some were outlanders drawn to this land. I want to sound grave and respectful here, but I think I might be babbling. Thank you for your part in my happiest summer (so far). Thank you for the spudnuts. Thank you, Zion.

A wish: May we all have more  beauty, peace, hospitality, grace, and deep magic in the new year. Thank you for listening and Happy New Year.

Zion Canyon

Zion Canyon

The Altar of Sacrifice, Zion Canyon

Virgin River beach

Virgin River beach

Zion near the East Entrance

Zion near the East Entrance

Entering Zion Wilderness, Coalpits Wash

Entering Zion Wilderness, Coalpits Wash

 



*(Some of these words are adapted from Losing It: Deconstructing a Life, unpublished work © Lynda Terrill, all rights reserved)

**The crowds almost everywhere in Zion these last years discomfit me.  An important element of being in Zion was the feeling of peace, quiet, and of being in a back of beyond sanctuary. I do not feel that much now.

*** I haven’t been back to Grafton since 1970.  I understand that the town may be a destination spot these days.  When Pat and I visited, it was an empty, overgrown actual ghost town.

Observations: Words and Photos

Note: Since I last posted on November 21, 2020, about 60,000 more Americans have died of the Covid-19 virus.  Despite the title of this article, I don’t have any words or photos able to deal with that.  I do, though, have the need to keep on– to crouch here close to the ground and reach upward–and to feel (much of the time) hopeful. So, here are the words and photos I do have.


Sentences

On Wednesday, I heard the Kings College Choir, Cambridge  rendition of  “Hark, the Herald Angels Sing” including the words, “peace on earth and mercy mild.” Of course, I know the lines–I have been singing that song for over 60 years.  I can see myself in my bedroom back in Detroit singing carols alone in my bedroom. I don’t know why the words like peace, mercy, silent, holy, gloria, and the rest seemed so important to my earnest little self, but they did.  What struck my heart this time around were the words  “mercy mild.” In this year and in this time of year, I am wishing for mercy. The word sounded fine enough when I was a little girl and I didn’t understand it; now I believe mercy is what all we humans need. Mild, too–what a concept–for these dragon-ridden* times. Mild like the touch of a little dog’s leg reaching out to pat my arm. Mild like the rustle of oak leaves on a walk through the woods in Shenandoah. Mild like the sounds of children playing outside.

holiday CDs**

leaves, Shenandoah National Park

Tom and I having been spending a great deal of ( I might say, “too much”) time at home, but it has been okay.  We have Zoom meetings with our children and others. Tom plays bridge online once a week with friends. We’ve also started playing games at the kitchen table that we used to play at campground picnic tables: Upwards and Boggle.  On the table we have a tiny hydroponic garden, which gives off a full spectrum, but mild, light. Tom has always been an excellent cook, but now he is outdoing himself.  For example, last night he made Pati Jinich’s tacos bravos and Sam Sifton’s chile crisp green beans! All I can say is that when we can host guests again, we will be ready.

Zoom platform

garden and light, December 2020

tacos bravos and chile crisp green beans

Tom and I  watch more TV than usual, but we also read, volunteer, and exercise (most days, I take walks and/or do my weights and stretches, but maybe not today).

planting black chokeberry

I hope you have happy holidays, and a more merciful and mild new year.

Rocky Mountain National Park

Rocky Mountain National Park

*”Dragon-ridden” just came to mind. Then, I realized the word came from a favorite poem from my favorite 20th century poet: “Nineteen Hundred and Nineteen” by W. B. Yeats. I recommend this poem in reference to Two Thousand and Twenty.

**For an agnostic, I have a surprisingly large collection of winter holiday music!

Autumn 2020

Note: I dithered so long that the title of this article originally was “September 2020.”

I think of my mom and dad every day and–almost without exception–that makes me feel happy and as contented as I am able to feel these days. Autumn is a little bit different, though. Sometimes, in the fall, I really miss them and I feel sad. This feeling doesn’t usually last long, but this year it is worse.  No surprise there, I think.  I miss my brothers and their families. Tom and I see all of our children in Zoom meetings and–every couple weeks–most of them outside at a park. I pet the little dog, Randi, but I also want to hug the children. Tom and I–socially distanced/masked–see some of our friends, but I miss our dear ones far away.

I am fine enough, and I think I am lucky. I mostly try to be grateful.

I don’t want to leave you with the memory of my carping, so below are several photos I’ve collected in the clouds, mist, and sunshine of September and October. Love, Lynda


clouds, Blue Ridge Mountains, Virginia

U.S. Capitol from Bartholdi Park, Washington, D.C.

Mathews Arm Campground, Shenandoah National Park, Virginia

bee and flower after the rain

pearl crescent on white snakeroot

strawberry bush, Hillside Park, Arlington, Virginia

milkweed and milkweed bugs, Bluemont Park, Arlington, Virginia

eastern hemlocks, Cathedral State Park, West Virginia