Tag Archives: Milford Michigan

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.

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.

July 4, 2020

Most of my life, I have loved the 4th of July.  As a child, It wasn’t just the swimming, hot dogs and ice cream, sparklers, and the fireworks later on at the high school. I loved (and do love) my country and I was proud of it. I became interested in social studies in junior high and high school (thank you, Mr. Bohl, Mr. Torrance, and others). I got a degree in political science and one in English with an emphasis in American Studies. On this particular 4th of July, I am sad and fearful (more on this below).

For years, I have embraced the idea of being an active and outspoken citizen. I

  • butted heads occasionally with teachers whom I deemed were unfair: I got sent to the principal’s office for not backing down to a teacher, paddled by another, etc.,
  • co-wrote a letter about unfair labor practices at my first job (Camp Dearborn, Milford, Michigan) that resulted in some changes. My proudest moment there was when I refused to wait on Orville Hubbard, then mayor of Dearborn, Michigan, who at the time refused to allow African-Americans to live in that city,
  • marched against the war in Vietnam,
  • canvassed for the Poor People’s March after Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated,
  • supported the  BAM  (Black Action Movement) student strike at the University of Michigan–except when I crossed the picket line to go to my urban politics classes,
  • sent to Congress my comments related to the possible drawbacks of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline for native peoples, submitted as part of ENACT’s (Environmental Action for Survival) testimony in 1971,
  • spent years explaining to adult immigrants and refugees about civil rights and responsibilities in the United States (Note: I wrote a textbook on these matters: Community Experiences: Reading and Communication for Civics),
  • voted,
  • watched, tears in my eyes, decades of Rolling Thunder rides in D.C.; didn’t like the war, respected the warriors,
  • visited/loved scores of national parks, monuments, memorials, forests, and trails and worked in two (Zion National Park and Grand Canyon National Park),
  • volunteered in my community, from helping children learn about the watershed and planting American elms for the U.S. Park Service to working at programs that feed the hungry.

Reviewing this list, I see the smallness of my efforts. I think I need to do more for our tattered social fabric and for our endangered natural world.

Today and yesterday and these last months and three years have been difficult for me. I am sad about the continuing (possibly escalating) pandemic, and some of the responses to it. I am sad about those who died and their loved ones. I am sad about the current and uncivil strife, within the government and everywhere else. I want the American promises I believed in so much when I was young to be true and available to all. I used to extol the power and goodness of our laws, government, and social system to the adult immigrants I taught. I don’t think I could do that today. I am fearful of catching Covid-19 from those people who sashay past me without their masks. I am fearful of continued undermining of the concept of three equal parts of the federal government and a descent into authoritarianism.

However, writing this article has cheered me up.  From my window, I see the flag of the U.S. Marine Corps War Memorial blowing in the wind. The mockingbird who flies around here  landed on our balcony a little while ago. On our walks, many people in this diverse National Capital Area give us hearty, happy greetings and we send our goodwill back to them. Tom is making pizza for dinner tonight.  I think we will watch another episode of The National Parks: America’s Best Idea tonight.  I am feeling hopeful now, so I am ending with a few national park photos.

Canyon de Chelly

Canyon de Chelly National Monument

Chisos Basin, Big Bend

Chisos Basin, Big Bend National Park

Lava Beds National Monument

Lava Beds National Monument

Grand Tetons

Grand Tetons National Park

wild horses, Assateague National Seashore

wild horses, Assateague National Seashore

View of Cape Royal and Wotan's Throne, Grand Canyon

View of Cape Royal and Wotan’s Throne, Grand Canyon

 

Page, AZ

I’ve been thinking about Page, Arizona quite a bit lately. That’s because I read about the closing of the Navajo Generating Station, located on the Navajo Nation near Page. In 1972, Page was booming as the generating station with its three 775 ft. stacks was being built. The school population was also booming and I was hired to teach eighth grade literature. Through the years, I’ve told you a few stories about Page and there are more.

My parents took this photo at 4:45 A.M., August 12, 1972 as I headed west–Milford, Mi to Page, AZ–in Pippin the VW

I’ve been reminiscing about Page lately,  but I think about education pretty much all the time. That comes from being the daughter, sister, cousin, aunt, and friend of teachers. Tomorrow many students and teachers are returning to school after the winter holiday, so I am thinking about them.  I’m not sure what the students in my classes learned, but my year in Page was a goldmine of life lessons for me.

What I learned*

  • Consider how you label people. I was reading aloud one of the stupid memos from the office (see Up the Down Staircase, Bel Kaufman, 1965), which said something like “all the Indian children should go to the office.” E_________ , a Navajo, or perhaps more correctly, Dine, said, “I am not from India.” Got it.
  • Keep your own counsel. I was so enthusiastic and idealistic that I didn’t realize that it’s generally best to keep one’s cards close to one’s chest. I still have a little trouble with this one, but I am savvier than I used to be. Now you wouldn’t find me (without support from others, at least) asking the principal to let me have someone come in to talk to the kids about drugs. No matter that a number of the kids likely were more familiar with drugs than I was and that I despised drugs then, as I do now. It just made me look like a druggie/hippie, and it didn’t help the kids.
  • There is a place for decorousness. There is a uniform. Speaking of chests: I needed to work on a bulletin board one Sunday after I had been away somewhere in the country. On such journeys and under my camping outfit I did not usually wear a bra. I remember I was just wearing my trusty flowered thermal long-underwear shirt. As I was working on the bulletin board, one of my male students showed up. He was a nice kid—I forget his name, but I can almost see him. “Hi, Mrs. Schmedlen,” but his eyes were on the shirt. I had thought no one would be around, but I am still embarrassed about the encounter. Even now, contrariness makes me not want to wear the uniform. Still, I was raised right and I do know what uniforms go with which cultural encounters.
  • Beware of shopping baskets full of wine. Because school started in August and the North Rim (see Cookies on the North Rim and Ain’t No Reason to Go in a Wagon to Town) stayed opened until mid-October when the snows came, I occasionally still got up to see my Grand Canyon friends. In fact—shades of the Zeitgeist—twice that fall semester, Friday classes were called off early because of bomb threats. I never knew who called in the threats—student, teacher, administrator, or outside agitator. There were no bombs, no one was in danger, but I was able to head up to the rim early. I am mentioning this because I had become a traveler between the isolation of the rim and the fairly poor excuse for civilization Page was back then. My North Rim friend—everyone’s friend—Paula happened to be in a cheap wine phase. So, she asked me to stock up on Annie Green Springs to bring to her the next time I went up to the rim. Being an agreeable person, I went to Babbitts and picked up many bottles of cheap wine. I was just completing that one errand, so I don’t think I had anything else in the basket. Since Babbitts was the main grocery store in town then, it was not surprising that I met a student with parent in tow. I don’t think they failed to notice my shopping basket half full of wine. Maybe that’s why, some months later, after I took a day off to get Pippin the Volkswagen worked on in Flagstaff, a rumor surfaced. One of the kids told me that some kids thought I was home drinking to “celebrate the end of the war in Vietnam.”
  • Mental health days are occasionally appropriate. Like serious teachers everywhere, I got up early, worked hard all day, bought extra supplies, made materials, prepared for classes, and corrected papers. I used to correct papers and prepare lessons on the bed in my bedroom in the school system owned apartment I shared with the school librarian. As long as I owned those sheets, they carried the pen marks where I had done my school prep. Another thing I did with those sheets was get eight hours of sleep every night. I think if I hadn’t enough sleep, I wouldn’t have been strong enough to carry on. Maybe you are laughing a little bit now and maybe I am, too. I have by now done many more difficult things in my life than teach eighth grade literature. However, in my defense, it was the hardest thing I had had to do so far in my life and I think I acquitted myself well enough. I remember that when my mother was teaching she would on rare occasions take what she called a “mental health day.” Teaching is emotionally and physically demanding, and, yes, we teachers owe it to ourselves and our students to be up to the challenge. I think I took one mental health day that year in Page. No, it was not to get drunk to celebrate the end of the war in Vietnam. I don’t even remember the day specifically, but it was good to be able to follow my mother’s example.
  • Arm-wrestling was useful then, but is not currently advised. Because of my tom-boy (as we called it then) childhood tagging along with my four brothers, I had spent my share of time arm wrestling. It turned out I could usually out arm-wrestle the boys in class who challenged me. I don’t know how it started, but I do remember that almost all of the boys were taller than me and my arm-wrestling prowess seemed to give me a smidgeon of credibility. One day a likeable, talkative boy was goofing around too much. Holding on to his shirt, I picked him up out of his seat, told him to stop and put him back in the chair. He calmed down after that and was even friendlier to me than before. Another time, another charming, lively kid was goofing off around by my desk. I gave him a friendly poke with my pencil, but I was holding the pencil backwards, so I gave myself a little puncture wound and I still have the mark on my right palm to remember the incident. What am I saying–that violence is good? No, I was the only teacher there who wouldn’t use a paddle on the kids. I am saying that engagement on some non-academic level can break down barriers and build trust for both teachers and learners. I don’t disagree with rules that have been put in place to protect children. I think those rules need to be in place, but adults need to know what is reasonable, appropriate conduct for teachers, not ban them from putting a friendly hand on an arm or having a friendly arm-wrestle. This looks like a slippery slope that can be argued longer than I care to think about it.
  • I almost didn’t tell you this story, but I was encouraged to put it back in the narrative. The kids used to come up around my desk sometimes to ask and tell me things. Looking back, I think there was a certain amount of low-pitched pandemonium in my classes, but the desk routine plays pretty well in my memory, except for this episode. One time, S____, a Navajo with cowboy boots and bowed legs, was one of the kids around the desk. I gave him what I meant to be a jocular and affectionate mild little push on his arm and he fell down on the floor. What—from all my years of watching TV westerns—I had imagined were bowed legs from riding horses (maybe like Gabby Hayes) were something else. I now believe the child had rickets and I knocked him down as if he were a feather. I am so sorry. Sorry that I was so stupid and sorry that any child in the 1970s (a much better economic time than we have now, BTW) could be suffering from such a malady. I wonder if I have learned anything except that remorse is a stubborn emotion. Be careful and be tender, but I’ve found that a little difficult to keep in mind all the time.
  • Children need to learn how to control themselves. In the years before and after Page, I have seen many kinds of discipline. Discipline is still not my strong suit, and I have been glad that I have hardly ever had to apply overt discipline to an adult ESL student. Plus, I’ve seen strong disciplinarians who were kind, effective, and who always had the learners’ best interests at heart. I still believe what my dad once told me: that children need to learn how to control themselves and overly hard discipline by the teacher won’t help them to get there. Someone recently asked me, what does help children learn self-control? I think I have learned to be a quite self-controlled person, but I don’t have an answer for this question. I think maybe our experiences teach us things (e.g. stoves are hot), but I don’t think that gives teachers the right to be preemptively and overly strict to try to teach children life lessons. I don’t know; I just don’t like bullies. We all have to learn to control ourselves. I continue to work on it, with some success and with some failure.

Happy back to school, teachers and students!

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

Facts and Photos

A seldom recalled fact (except by me) is that for three years in mid-1960s, I wrote the column “Milford High School News” for The Milford Times in Milford, Michigan. Through my teen years, I also wrote articles for other junior and senior high school publications. I mention this here because the title of this post reminds me of high school verbiage: you know, “Roses and Cabbages” or something.  If I remember my columns accurately, I used plenty of passive voice, such as, ” the French Club had their spring dinner and a good time was had by all.”  I want now to write about the  hikes Tom and I have taken, the clear skies north of Sierra Vista, the kangaroo rat that jumped into our camper shell on a dark night, the Arizona sycamores, and much more.

However, I haven’t been able to clear my mind  sufficiently to write because, when I have access to the internet, I keep taking looks at my Facebook feed, The New York Times, and The Washington Post, and then I fret instead of write. We have so many problems: the attempted Muslim ban, the environment, the judiciary, the wall, women’s rights, and deranged tweets about Saturday Night Live, for god’s sake. I need to focus on what I know: There is truth and there is beauty (AKA facts and photos) and I am striving to hold onto both.

Facts I learned

  • It is generally agreed that there are four distinct desert regions in North America: Chihuahuan, Sonoran, Mojave, and Great Basin. Arizona claims to be the only state that  contains parts of all four deserts (for more information, see the article from The Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum).
  • “By the time Big Bend National Park was established in 1944, there were virtually no resident bears in the Big Bend area.” However, in recent decades black bears have returned and there are approximately 8 to 12 adult bears living in the park now. (for more information, see Black Bears in Big Bend).
  • “The San Pedro River [near Sierra Vista, Arizona] is one of the last free flowing rivers in the Southwest. In 1995, the American Bird Conservancy recognized the San Pedro as its first ‘globally important bird area’ in the the United States, dubbing it the ‘largest and best example of riparian woodland remaining’ in the Southwest–from a brochure of the San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area.”
  • The Arizona sycamore (Platanus wrightii)  grows in the Sonoran desert “in riparian washes and canyon bottoms between 2,000 and 6,000 feet in elevation in Arizona, New Mexico and northwestern old Mexico” (see Arizona State University online publication for more information).

Photos I took

Arizona sycamore (Platanus wrightii), Ramsey Canyon Preserve

Arizona sycamore (Platanus wrightii), Ramsey Canyon Preserve

American kestrel (Falco sparverius), Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum

American kestrel (Falco sparverius), Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum

Tom among the sacaton, San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area

Tom among the sacaton ( Sporobolus airoides), San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area

birds (I don't know their names), San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area

birds (I don’t know their names), San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area

sunset, Joshua Tree National Park

sunset, Joshua Tree National Park

Observation

I see turmoil, anger, confusion, and sadness in our public life now. I saw a great deal of scat on the desert trails where Tom and I walked.  I am an organic gardener, so I know that scat and other organic debris enriches the soil so beautiful plants can grow. I am going with that: We have scat now, but beautiful flowers will bloom, I do believe.

scat, Murray Springs Clovis Site, Arizona

scat, Murray Springs Clovis Site, Arizona

brittlebush (Encelia farinosa), Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum

brittlebush (Encelia farinosa), Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum

 

The Wedding Quilt

To me, the title of this post sounds like these words should be in an anthology of sentimental pioneer stories written in the late 1800s.  This is the title I want, however, so I am wondering where these words will lead me.

Looking Backward: Forty years ago next June, my sister-in-law, Betsy, made my husband, Tom, and me a quilt as our wedding gift.  It took many months for the whole project to come together.  Tom drew Hopi designs (or at least what Frank Waters thought were Hopi designs) on squares of cloth and Betsy embroidered them. She patched these squares together with squares of cloth she had taken from old shirts, skirts, and jeans.  The skeleton around the patches was dark blue broadcloth (I think that’s what you call it). The quilt warmed our beds in our dumpy Salt Lake City apartments. The quilt was bright, bold, and strong, just as we all felt back then.

quilt detail: turtle

quilt detail: turtle

I gather now that I wasn’t supposed to wash the quilt as much as I did. However, there were  the two of us and two babies (mewling and puking), and I  like things clean. Please keep this in mind for a few paragraphs.

quilt detail: Hopi figure

quilt detail: Hopi figure

Way Back: I never could sew and I can’t sew now. I mean, I can sew on buttons and fix little rips and that is  it.  Because I wanted to make Christmas gifts by hand for my kids and because I was poor, I did piece together a few  flannel nightgowns, some stuffed animals, and, I believe, a Superman cape for Robert, and sleeping bags for Martha the doll and Railroad Dog the stuffed animal.  Way Way Back: I’m so old, I was required to take Home Ec when I was in 7th grade.  I made the worst, the ugliest, the craziest-pleated kilt in Milford (MI)  Junior High  history.  I kept it for years, although I do not know why.  Please keep this mind, too.

quilt detail: sun figure

quilt detail: sun figure

Fifteen Years Ago: Some of the patches on the wedding quilt were falling apart. Maybe I had washed it too much.   A few patches almost disappeared along with some of the embroidery. We bought bright—but not as bright—quilts and coverlets at L.L. Bean and  packed the wedding quilt away.

Not Too Many Years Ago: Tom and I started thinking about what we might do when we retired.  We planned to travel back to Utah and explore the places we’d missed, like Capitol Reef and Escalante.  We told Betsy we’d pick her up from her little Utah town and go adventuring together again.

Capitol Reef

Capitol Reef

Five Years Ago: Betsy just up and died and we miss her.

2013: A) Tom and I went adventuring on the Colorado Plateau. We saw Black Dragon Canyon with Blaine and Bonnie, but Betsy, their dear friend, wasn’t there.  We camped in Capitol Reef and it was even better than we had imagined. B) We got back to our house in Charlottesville, Virginia. We took some paintings out of storage.  The wedding quilt was protecting one of the paintings.  We lay the quilt on the lawn and saw that, really, only a handful of patches needed to be repaired.

quilt on lawn

quilt on lawn

Two Weeks Ago: I can’t sew worth anything, but I finished repairing the wedding quilt.  It lies now on our bed and we will put it in the camper to go back to Utah when the new year comes. Although the quilt, and we ourselves, are not as bright, bold, and strong as when we were young, it’s alright, and, this time, Betsy will come along with us.

quilt repaired

quilt, repaired

Here’s the song that always reminded us of Betsy:

Oh, had I a golden thread
And a needle so fine
I’ve weave a magic strand
Of rainbow design
Of rainbow design.

In it I’d weave the bravery
Of women giving birth,
In it I would weave the innocence
Of children over all the earth,
Children of all earth.

Show my brothers and sisters
My rainbow design,
Bind up this sorry world
With hand and heart and mind,
Hand and heart and mind.

(The Judy Collins version (from Whales and Nightingales, 1970)  of “Oh, Had I a Golden Thread” by Pete Seeger, 1959)

You Can’t Take It With You

ticket stub, YCTIWY

They say that you can’t take it with you, but I’m not so sure that’s true. Right here on the arm of my chair I have a ticket stub from a production of Kaufman and Hart’s You Can’t Take It With You. This evidence suggests that I have been, in fact, taking this scrap of paper with me for decades.  The play was performed at Milford High School, Milford, Michigan in my senior year, 1967. I was a member of the drama club, but I only did mundane things like sell tickets.  What dramatic impulses I do have blossomed years later when I became a teacher.  I see by two old tape marks, that this ticket must have been part of the scrapbook that stayed at my  home for years. However, the scrapbook has traveled with me at least since my parents moved away from Milford over twenty years ago. About seven years ago I discovered that the scrapbook itself had mildewed. I tossed it out, but carted with me the actual photos, ticket stubs, and other souveniralia when we moved to Charlottesville, Virginia.  As part of my ongoing deaccession project, I saved many of the photographs, but jettisoned most of the odd bits and pieces. The items I abandoned include:

  • 7 junior high and high school attendance, achievement, and academic certificates
  • Camp Cavell (YWCA of Detroit) Birthday salutation
  • Henry Ford Museum Brochure
  •  2 “Installation of Officers” pamphlets from the Milford Bethel No. 68 International Order of Job’s Daughters plus my  purple and white Job’s Daughters headband (don’t ask—really)
  • 3 high school playbills: A Thurber Carnival, Diary of Anne Frank, and Twelfth Night or What You Will (1963, Pontiac Northern Senior High School, “in Commemoration of the Bard’s 400th Anniversary”)
  • various report cards and other school mementos
  • enigmatic broadside, “Satan’s Herald” from July 3, 1967 including the Blue’s Heaven Library books for loan that month, Hell’s Angels by Hunter S. Thompson and The Variety of Psychedelic Experience by R.E.L. Masters and Joan Houston
  • blue Romney (George) bumper sticker
  • Receipt for $84.05 from Robinson Auto Service Kanab, Utah, 4-1-73. The so-called mechanic put in a new generator and/or regulator, apparently backwards (which caused the car to stop working in the Sierra Nevada mountains 20 miles from Reno—another story)
  • and much more

Preserving these relics (and, pathetically, there were many) of my ordinary life must have been my attempt to take it with me.  My childhood was generally happy. I did a few memorable things in my happy, ordinary life. I have wanted to keep this happiness with me in my cozy nest of memorabilia, books, and papers. I think my husband and I are getting each other Kindles for Christmas. My nest is almost gone now, but I think I am okay with that.

Maybe what I can’t face is the meaning of the word “it” in you can’t take it with you.  I did take the corporeal ticket stub along with me. I did take the memories of my home in Milford, my family, my friends, and my school with me, too.  Last week I had yet another (in a long series) birthday and wrinkles have recently broken out in a new quadrant of my face. Today, I realize my nest of words and oddments were supposed to fend off the contemplation—let alone the fact of—death.  Really, I’m not gloomy; I’m just striving to face facts within the constraints of my sort of touchy-feely, but agnostic worldview.  I don’t have clouds with angels, I don’t have a great wheel that turns, but I do have poetry.  This morning, finally finishing up this blog that has been sitting on my table and my mind for two weeks, I have words in my head. I hear Yeats and Easter, 1916, the last lines of A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, and a Meskwaki poem, from The Little Square Review (Number 5-6, Spring-Summer 1968) that my friend Jan gave me for my birthday over forty years ago. Oh, and a touch of Tennyson’s Ulysses, and I bet my contemporaries know which lines I am hearing.

Tis not too late to seek a newer world.
Push off, and sitting well in order smite
The sounding furrows; for my purpose holds
To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths
Of all the western stars, until I die.
It may be that the gulfs will wash us down:
It may be we shall touch the Happy Isles,
And see the great Achilles, whom we knew
Though much is taken, much abides; and though
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven; that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

Alfred, Lord Tennyson, 1833

I’m done. I will either throw the ticket stub in the trash or pocket veto it in my top dresser drawer.  Thanks for listening.

Next: Trying to write about death bogged me down some, so my next blog—in time for the holidays—will be about New Orleans pralines and other old recipes. See you then.