Montana Wolf

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Courage to Quest

Not out of the wet woods yet!
Ready to Roll
Yes, it's been a loooong time since I've penned this page. Thanks for showing up. I'm in S. Arizona now. I departed Washington on 9/15. The odometer on the '99 Ford Pickup rolled over 150,000 miles as I departed Sedro-Woolley. You remember Sedro, the place I had intended to stay for three months and stayed just short of two years. The Skagit River wouldn't let go. I trusted the extension and even the broken elbow. It allowed me magical kayaks that culminated in a final exploration down the mighty River with friends and neighbors, dancing with community at the Old Edison Inn, and a final run at the next book. My departure was a leap of faith. I had no destination. I knew, however, I did not want one more gray damp PNW winter to envelop my body. I was dead set on being in the Southwest aspen forests in the autumn.

Shortly before departure I received word from Focus on Women Magazine that Drive Me Wild was finalist for the La Femme de Prose Books Quill Award. The awards gala was in Baltimore mid-October. Could I make it? I doubted it. I was in the homestretch of the next book, hoping for a fall book release in Taos. It would be a major diversion of time and money to go to Baltimore, but I didn't rule it out. Then I received word I had to move my 5X8 space of boxes from a friend's shed. I was Cortez, Colorado-bound, with stressful decisions ahead. Baltimore seemed a lifetime away. 

It was fabulous to be on the road again. Teak and Hobo took up the traveling rhythm with panache. Hobo waited patiently for the final day's stop when he could jump out of Perla and explore. He'd jump back inside in the morning, to travel to the next spontaneous stop. We dry camped the first night in Eugene to see Hope. Traveled east through Bend, across the Great Basin for a boondock of unbelievable beauty. We continued north to McCall, ID to see Ed Kral, a writer-friend. Then south to Twin Falls to see my ole RV buddy, Phyllis. Fate threw a new brake job into the mix before the momentous turn south into Colorado. I chose the slower mountain route through Orvis Hot Springs to meet Jacqueline from Boulder. The aspen were at peak as I crept through the neon yellow Rockies. I was ecstatic.

Across the Great Basin

Aspen in the LaPlata's - Mt. Herperus

I pulled into Mancos to park at Danielle and Tom's, gracious fun hosts. Fun to be around teenage boys again, learning the lingo, like "Netflix and chill." (Friends with benefits is so passe'.)

That blood moon eclipse shook the energy loose as friends offered spaces for my things. An heirloom sold to a member of the family who was willing to drive from Iowa to pick it up (bless you Tami and John). I was beginning to think Baltimore was in reach when Shanon, a friend in Prescott, offered a place to park and loving care for Teak and Hobo while I flew out of Phoenix. A friend of a friend offered me a place to stay at her AirB&B in Towson, Maryland. The universe conspired. I didn't dare say no. 

In the background of this movement was the new book, The Wild Road Home. I had put it aside in Washington and taken to the road. My critic was having a heydey. You need to get it done. You promised. You need the money. You're a slackard .... I told it to shut up. The name of the road was TRUST. Boarding pass in my Smart Phone, my die was cast as my savings dwindled. 

Aurhor's Night

The non-stop trip to Baltimore was a five hour meditation as I contemplated my invitation to be among a phenomenal group of women activists and writers from around the world. Linda Tucker, Founder of the Global White Lion Protection Trust in South Africa. Michele Rickett, founder of She is Safe, a global effort to rescue sexually exploited girls around the world. Consolee Nishimwe a survivor of the 1994 Tutsi Rwanda genocide. Joslyn Wolfe, the Publisher of Focus on Women Magazine. Bette Hoover, a radical Quaker who worked for peace across the globe and trauma victims in Nicaragua. And many many more women writing their stories from across the USA. Why me? I wondered. What was my contribution that spawned the invitation? 

I stepped out of the Baltimore airport to the curbside pick-up area. A handsome dude gave me a
w/ Joslyn Wolfe, Publisher
crash course in Uber. I should have asked if he wanted to share a car. My Uber driver was a man from Jamaica whose spirit and snow-white smile lifted the soul. I rode in front and we talked non-stop. He wrote poetry in his spare time. Worked at Comcast. Had a family. And he was working on a book of the most beautiful places in Jamaica for weddings. Forty-five minutes later he unloaded my suitcase as Jayne, the aerial dancer host in Towson, stepped from her door. We were sisters from the first glance. Her spirit tree loomed in the backyard, where she attached her apparatus and practiced her craft. Julia, my second host, loaned me some hiking shoes, led me into the deciduous woods and into the French Twist for succulent crab crepes and one of the best breves I've had. The Gala and book event was a two-night marvel. Joslyn did not call my name for a La Femme Quill Award. She called my name for something I didn't know existed: "The feminine energy espoused in Drive Me Wild: A Western Odyssey is surpassed by none. Christina Nealson brings us on an incredible journey to reach one conclusion: we must preserve, embrace the beauty and respect nature, the earth and all of its connectedness. For these reasons she has been chosen Focus on Women Magazine's AUTHOR OF THE YEAR." 

I carried the deeply humbling moment aboard the return flight to Arizona. The question, "Why me?" blinked neon red as the answer crystallized. I stood, I hoped, as an example for women and men to break free of the tethers that separated them from the quintessential germ of their souls. That they might feel their way beyond rationale - through faith and intuition - to their spirit home. For myself, to communicate the wildscapes vital to spirit and survival. For all of us, I hoped, I radiated the COURAGE TO QUEST. 
On the Edge of Canyon de Chelly

And with that revelation, the title of the next book changed.
There was a reason I didn't push the baby out in September.

I'm back to the book and planning a spring release. I pause in the Arizona sun, steeped in the warm reality that a quest, while a solitary soul venture, is never accomplished alone. The heart and generosity of loved ones throughout the years buoy me, sustain me and make every word I write, every step I take, every bird I identify, every snap of the shutter, possible. To YOU, my tears of thanks.

For the wild, Christina

Monday, May 18, 2015

How Hobo 'n Me Came to Be

I’d zipped along the British Columbia highway for a good hour before I pulled over to peruse old gravestones. I slowed the truck as a sharp squeal emanated from underneath. A kick at the tires and a walk-around garnered no clues. The next time I braked it happened again. Was it the bearings? Nervous, I decided to turn around, but not before I bit on a yard sale sign. I pulled in front and was walking towards the goodies when it happened again. I stopped dead in my tracks. Nope, not the truck. 

I scooted underneath the pickup on my back and there, huddled into a space on the frame of the truck, was a teensy golden kitten. Unbelievable survivor.  Hey Sweetie, I coaxed. I reached and she leapt. Took off running through the woods, stopped briefly at a stream where she lapped feverishly before she jumped in and swam away against the current. This was not just any cat.

I returned to the sale and paid Sandra for a rug. When I explained the kitten’s escape she said it wouldn't last the night in the critter-packed backwoods. Then I made a move that defied all common sense. I took out a business card and handed it to her. If she shows up again, please call me.

A cat, Christina?  Are you out of your mind? A seasoned author and photographer, I’d sold the house and been on the RV-road for seven years. Teak my Lab and I were doing just fine. But I’d also learned to pay attention and trust signs; this little scrambler was a huge bit of magic. 

I awoke with a dream of the kitten around midnight. My phone range at 7:00 a.m.

The kitten is here … showed up meowing beneath our bedroom window at midnight

I smiled and returned to the edge of the forest.

The long-haired hitchhiker was around four weeks old. She had made herself at home on the garage couch; cast me a what-took-you-so-long look as I picked her up and whoops! -- felt two little boy knobs beneath the tail. His eyes were matted with yellow gunk, his sinuses were congested, he sneezed and his marmalade coat was scruffy as heck. The last thing I needed in my adventure travel life was a feline. True that. Too late.

I named him Hobo. He joined the ranks of the undocumented when we crossed the Canadian border. Since then he has hitched the back roads of every western state with Teak and me, staring down deer and escaping coyotes. He draws a crowd and photobombs magazine covers; plops himself down in landscapes, lets loose with a gaze and nails your soul. With aplomb.

Hobo says this story balderdash. He had this all planned out. His Highness watched me from afar before he methodically climbed into that dark greasy spot underneath the truck and clung for dear life at seventy miles per hour. But that’s a tale for another day. 

Now ... let's get this show on the road ...

Friday, April 24, 2015

Death by Mouse

Road-ready La Perla is my definition of spring. While lilacs and new-born foals are ecstatic seconds, my bottom line is the open road. Roadtrip dreams that took a nightmare turn last week when I began to fill the freshwater tank. Water in, water out ... through the bottom of the rig. Niagara falls where it shouldn't be; the tank was empty within minutes. Online search prompted me to hope it was a joint or connection to the freshwater tank as opposed to a cracked tank. I hoped for an cheap fast fix when I dropped her off at the RV repair. Verdict: mice had chewed through the waterline. Not bad I thought: waterlines were cheap. Very bad, I found out. Getting to them --- lowering the water tank, disconnecting propane lines that crossed through the area, replacing lines and putting the tank back --- was four hours labor. It was going to cost $500 to fix what the little gray fkers did. $19 in parts. And there was more. The suspension system needed to be replaced. The wheels needed a bearing pack. The water pump had a slow leak. And the roof ...


It took a couple days for the greenback reality to sink in. La Perla needed several thousand dollars worth of attention. I couldn't go there so I allowed the work she needed to be roadworthy: all systems working and the trailer in safe towing condition. $1600.

Just do it.

When I picked her up I was shown the parts that were replaced. Truth was, I was dangerously close to a serious accident with worn bolts in the suspension. It was one thing to look at the shiny new ones affixed near the tires; quite another to hold the rusted worn ones in the hand. I was danged blessed. And I reckoned I had the mice to thank for it. I would not have taken La Perla into repair had it not been for the water tank. It's not a stretch to say the mice saved my life.

Okay. I take back the f-word. But I can't have a $500 waterline job every year and "Death by Mouse" is not a preferred epitaph. There's no Hobo option. It's pretty clear he was distracted by the multitude of outbuildings and woodpiles. Yesterday I picked up some botanical rodent repellent. It's called Fresh Cab. It's balsam fir oil, a botanical pesticide mixed with fragrance oil and plant fibers. It's from a company called Earthkind and has a money back guarantee. La Perla smells like a forest.

In the spirit of Plan B I bought a couple of mousetraps, just in case my mice take a liking to deep woods' fantasies. I'll wait to use the Victor traps. It wouldn't make sense to attract Speedy Gonzalez with cheese and peanut butter while trying to repel him. Sadistic I'm not.

Axles, roof, awning ... La Perla needs more attention up the road but I'm alive to do it. I hope Teak and Hobo like balsam. May The Wild Road Home be finished soon.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Truth Be Told: The Granite Mountain Hotshots

She stood apart. I imagined the ancient alligator juniper always had, but this Spring Equinox day her prowess was even more pronounced as she rose from charred landscape; stood stately along a wash that flowed with recent rain. Almost two years had passed since the Doce Fire swept through the urban Granite Mountain Wilderness, compliments of a cowardly shooter and incendiary targets. The fire ripped over mountain ridges destroying 6,767 acres of wild lands. It was my US Forest Service supervisor who contacted the Granite Mountain Hotshots to alert them to the tree's significance. At least 1000-years old, she and another alligator were the largest in the country. Flames would have taken this tree had it not been for the Hotshots named for her Wilderness. While some secured a fireline and removed ladder fuels at her base, others climbed with water bottles to dowse a burning limb. They strode away hoping for the best. Days later the Hotshots would abandon the safety of their mountaintop black zone and perish in a firestorm on Yarnell Hill. One of twenty would survive; the lookout, affectionately called Donut, would live to tell the tale. Or not.

"Oh my gawd Dave --- Yarnell just blew up." Summer temp employees for the USFS, we were collecting campground fees with an eye to the surrounding forests in the wake of lightening-fed thunderstorms. We had already called in one lightning hit when the Yarnell inferno, thirty miles south, turned on a dime and moved towards town. In its path were nineteen men who had mysteriously descended into a incendiary dry brush box canyon. I was haunted. I didn't buy the shallow explanations. "Fog and friction?" God's "other plan?" Convinced of deeper truths, I sought information and wisdom from sources who intimately knew hotshot culture and had faced climactic situations. I came to believe that someone ordered those men out of the safety of the black on Yarnell Hill. So it was, with these intuitions, I hiked to the tree. I longed to sit under her seventy-foot canopy, in quiet reverence with the unspeakable events that had unfolded on Yarnell Hill. This Grand Dame was one in a long line of arboreal entities with whom I had sought solace over the years.  I don't have to tell you, she was riled. She wanted to know, as did the world, What happened to my boys? I penned a thirty page article and put it away. I moved to the Pacific Northwest but the final line of the article persisted in my brain: There is no grace without truth.
Lawsuits were filed; I waited for revelations to surface.

I made a return sojourn to the tree last month, Spring Equinox, March 20th. Fifteen months after my last visit, I was surprised to find a stone and mortar monument at her eighteen-foot diameter base. It was a memorial to the Hotshots but it seemed too big, too close, strangely out of proportion. It didn't mention the historic and biological significance of the ancient tree. I couldn't help but wonder if their memory was better served by the myriad photos of them laughing, hanging from her branches, building a human pyramid. Or by the symbolic kerchiefs that hung at her base; the quartz heart geoglyphs that etched the dirt.

I climbed to a vantage point above the tree. Ravens drifted against the azure sky, a falcon with a kill perched on a far-away boulder. Someone had planted a crystal-like angel on the hilltop, her wings spread, as if protecting the tree. It was solar powered, I guessed to illuminate the night. An angel dreamcatcher I mused, to catch the truths that passed in the night. To snag the answer to who gave the fate-full order to descend into hellfire.

I traversed down the hill and back to the tree. I sat spread-eagled on a horizontal limb and leaned back, my eyes on her branches above. I was lost in reverie about the time I heard bees. Lots of them. I followed the sound to the tree's inner sanctum, where several limbs spread apart and begged to be climbed. No more. I smiled. Angels come in many forms. Grandmother Tree had bees to protect her. She was doing just fine.

Stirred several times to tears, the day brimmed with the spirits of the men who saved her. All the while I kept hearing her voice: We are closer to truth. And we were. A story broke within a month. Donut had confided to his Wildland Division Chief Daryl Willis last October that he had listened in on the Granite Mountain Hotshot radio channel and heard an argument between Superintendent Eric Marsh and Captain Jesse Steed. Eric supposedly ordered Jesse to bring the men to his position, down the hill to Boulder Springs Ranch. Jesse resisted the order to lead the crew out of the ridgetop black where they were safe. But the power dynamics were complicated. Jesse was Superintendent that day since Eric was assigned Division Supervisor. Jesse was a natural leader and seasoned ex-marine; Eric was a founder of the Hotshots; both were revered by the crew. We know who won that disagreement. The final exchange:

"We're not going to make it," said Jesse.
"I know. I'm sorry," responded Eric, as he rushed toward his crew.

They deployed their emergency shelters in a very tight area as flames bore down, devouring forty years of dried thickets at the rate of one hundred yards in nineteen seconds. It takes nineteen to twenty-five seconds to deploy a fire shelter. 

The ancient tree was correct in her foretelling. Some truth has shaken free, but Donut and his confident/Daryl Willis have not come forth. Imagine a closed clam with a lawyer perched on top. If Eric Marsh was below the mountain at the Boulder Springs Ranch, why was he there and why did chain of command not know he was there? Was he ordered there? Someone knows the how and why.

The plaque at the base of the sacred tree ends with these words -- 

"... This tree represents their devotion to the job and the survival of their memory. It is in their honor, all twenty of the crew members, that this plaque and the alligator juniper are dedicated to their legacy. Esse Quam Verderi." 

Esse Quam Verderi: To be, rather than seem (to be). 
Paraphrased: it is better to be something than to pretend to be something.
An interesting choice as it pertains to truth. 
What seems "to be" is that the truth of June 30, 2013 remains elusive. 

There is no grace without truth.

Night time visitors.

Solar powered angel overlooks the tree.

One A-J expert says she could be as old as 1800 years. 

Recovering landscape

Cross at the base of the tree.

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Rapt in Down: Eclipsed

Do you think I woke you at 5:05 so you could ignore the spectacle? Muse can be a rowdy bitch.
The eclipse was due to climax at 5:05. The auspicious wakeup hadn't escaped me but I had glanced outside to a no-star drizzly morn. Even if clouds miraculously parted, I would never make it. This was to be the shortest eclipse on record, total fullness to last just five minutes. I might drive miles, climb a hill and see nada. I nestled my lazy self between the covers intent to close my eyes. It didn't work.

as she first appeared - like a skein of yarn
Up I popped. I donned down and a wool hat and headed into the Puget Sound morn. If nothing else I would listen to that eerie silence that accompanied vanishing planets. I placed my ass atop the soggy cold picnic table. I bargained that several inches of rain had rendered the splinters soft. Teak barked into ebony at invisible threats; Hobo's silhouette appeared on the rooftop. All was dark except ... except ... there it was ... the eclipsed ghostly moon through the trees. I gazed full on at the ochre pearl before launching from the table. I grabbed my camera and pointed my slipper-clad body down the gravel road. Apparition, indeed, to anyone up at that hour.

She remained visible. I strode towards her, mesmerized, like some mysterious tide she beckoned from afar. She held me rapt, squeezed
every ephemeral moment, as storm clouds heaved and tumbled, closed in and magically separated.

The shadow across her blood red brow receded. I turned my back as dawn slowly -- or was it quickly -- crept up from behind. Luna, lost to my horizon. Me, fondling the metaphor of parting ways.