Monday, February 17, 2020

Abracadabra:The Womad-mobile!

Energy shifts often arrive with an air of coyote...sneaky, outrageous and efficient, the tricksters also blindside their prey. 

I met a fun-luvin' man in October, right before my birthday, at Faywood Hot Springs. I admit to asking the universe to fulfill a wish. Voila! We played well together: biked, soaked, explored and extended our reservations to fill a week. I'll call him Pinball for what I was soon to discover: his ability to propel himself from one place to another with projectile force. Three tasteful houses, three RV's, as many cars, more bikes, his retired life was a carefully constructed game plan of locations and toys to fit his recreational desires like biking and skiing. Early in our friendship he proclaimed I should have his van, which sat in his driveway in Santa Fe. He affectionately called her Ms. Day. (Score points for naming his vehicles.) Yes, there was a Doris in the van's lineage. Pinball explained she was a 2003 Chevy conversion van tricked out for camping.

I ignored the push. I was a big truck-4-WD-mamma. I associated vans with child molesters and rapists who drove up to the curb, grabbed a child or a woman and sped off. No thank you. But he kept saying it: Ms. Day should be with you. She's perfect for your life. He showed me photos. Hmm, beautiful platinum color; looked new and in excellent condition for an oldie with 106,000 miles. I knew the van would not be in my price range. He persisted. Comfy bed. Customized. Insulated. Swivel front seat.

Weeks later I broke down and asked How much; braced for the blow of impossibility. The price he quoted was a shock. Shockingly low. I could pull it off with selling ole Blue, my 4WD pickup with 204,000 miles.

My bones said do it. My intuition said do it. My brain said do it. I did it. I flew to NM in December and returned behind the wheel before New Years eve. She was such a smooth, easy ride --  complete with a homemade footrest that allowed for a bent leg -- that I drove straight through. It took time and concentration sort and move the possessions from truck and van. Friends helped shuttle me back and forth in order to put Blue on display with for sale signs. It only took a week to sell her. The heavens were smiling. Clutter cleared and the transition took hold. The floorplan allowed for space and easy loading for my ebike and kayak. There was lots of easily-accessible storage. The bed was surrounded by a great speaker system. I loved having large double doors on both sides! The vision coalesced: I would use the van to take short trips; easily stop for photographs and wildlife. She would take my travel passions to a new, seamless level. I named her VAN-essa. Vanessa, Greek for butterfly, the ultimate symbol of transformation.

double door Dulce ease
bed in back
nifty footrest in the door compartment

VAN-essa and Jera, my tiny house on wheels 

Excitement took hold. I ordered van-ity plates for the first time. I was shocked to find that WOMAD was taken, but fun to know someone had read my books and the word I coined in Wild Road Home. I chose WOMAD 03, a number of deep spiritual significance.

VAN-essa and I recently departed for our first camping overnight, complete with a cool little hassock toilet I ordered online. One night was a good start on determining what I need to add for travel. (Cutting board, potholder, headlamp start the list) My rules of eighteen years on the road applied: take only those things that speak to the soul or fulfill a multi-functions. Yes, Hobo has a covered litter box hidden away.

I've gone from a van? not me! to wow, this rocks! I sense a cascade of unknown changes will follow. Jera, my house on wheels, is not pressured into shorter trips. Although I haven't done so yet, VAN-essa can pull 25-foot Jera. She has a larger engine than Blue.

I am forever grateful to Pinball,. He's not shy in reminding me that he knew it was right. Perhaps our synchronistic meeting was as simple as this.

VAN-essa, Dulce, Hobo and I. Watch out back roads, the Meander-thals are fired up!

VAN-essa's altar

Meanderthal route up Gates Pass AZ

She's right at home ... 

Thursday, February 6, 2020

Welcome Dulce! The World Turns

It was destined.
It was almost a year since I had assisted my Lab, Teak, into the next world. Her cancer had spread beyond comfort and dignity, while at the same time my soul sister Carole was dying of bile duct cancer ... my closest friend in life and my dog companion of twelve years exited my life within weeks of one another. Both were interwoven with my essence ... travels, writing, my movement across wild landscapes. I'd lost two tethers and my sense of who I was in a world, They were my co-pilots. Then, I broke my ankle, fibula and foot. I literally limped through it all. Carole's death overshadowed Teak's. I had never been so painfully positioned -- a physical, emotional and spiritual deluge. The brain fog of grief lifted enough for me to function through another season at Devils Tower WY and a shortened summer park ranger stint. Hobo and I waded through. He'd been grieving Teak for months. It took me until summer's end to work my way to the full force of her absence. Never so poignant as when I hooked up Jera and started down the road, my travel companion absent. 

I began to consider another dog this winter.  I had always chosen a pup at eight weeks and raised her. A litter of fun-loving cockapoos was available down the road. I could use some fun and laughs; I put down a deposit. Over the next few weeks, however, I decided a little dog, albeit a cute companion, was not the best choice for my adventurous life. Think: coyote cookie. Most importantly, it was a huge revelation to feel that adventure would return to my life. I visited the animal shelter weekly seeking a medium-sized dog. I attempted to adopt twice but both times the dog went to someone ahead of me. I was disheartened. Careworn. 

Then I saw her photo on a website. Her name was Neesy, short for nise. She was a short- haired, medium sized (55 pounds), lab mix. I clicked off the boxes of my preferred dog. She had been raised with a cat and was not an alpha personality. It was her story, however, that clinched it. The one and half year old dog had been rescued from her dying owner. Cancer prevailed within a few hours of the rescue.

The rescuer's dog did not take to Neesy. Several attempts to merge the dogs failed. Regretfully, they surrendered her to the Humane Society. She immediately contracted kennel cough. Within days she went from her owner's bedside to sick and quarantined; I couldn't visit. I called everyday and developed a relationship with one of her caretakers. Two weeks in, I received a call late the next day that she had been cleared by the vet and they would forego adoption for 90 minutes, providing me a window. It was rush hour. I made my fastest trip ever to north side Tucson.

I entered the building and was met by the staff person I had talked to many times. All went  smoothly. I departed into the night with a folder of paperwork and a confused dog spirit on the end of a new green leash. The little golden one was afraid to jump into the truck. I climbed into the seat and called to her. She obliged. I hugged her and assured her all would be well. She was silent and still for the ride home.

Three days, three weeks, three months. That's the formula for the adjustment of a dog into a new home. The first hurdle was Hobo. I had assured Hobo I would not bring an entity into our home that would not work for him. The newcomer displayed no bad habits. No chewing. Fully housebroken. No excessive barking.  And she respected Hobo's presence. Intent to bring out the best in her, I changed her name to Dulce. Dul-say ... Spanish for sweet. 

The unfolding proceeded. I was determined not to put perfect-Teak expectations onto Dulce. As much work as puppies were, I was glad to not start at the beginning, yet anxious that some hidden neuroses would surface in an older dog and ruin the effort. End in broken hearts. As much as I could muster, I put myself in Dulce's place. What did she hear in my wild world, knowing that dogs hear high pitches 100 X more, and softer sounds we can not detect. She loosed coyote warning barks at yips I didn't hear until I opened the door. How must my world smell to her, whose olfactory map is scattered with 10 to one million times the smells and stories detected by her wet nose? Love and treats led the way.

One week in, Dulce's remained painfully shy. She hid in the bedroom when a friend showed up and wouldn't show her face to anyone but me. But oooo, she loved the life. Walks on leash became off- leash adventures. She came when called. She blossomed. Three days, three weeks, three months. My mantra.

Week Two. I coaxed Dulce into VAN-essa (new van, another blog coming) and we headed for a public trail. She saw her first deer and watched with intent, no inclination to chase. This was followed by a trip to Arivaca Lake. Dulce approached the water gingerly and within minutes was standing up to her chest watching ducks and coots. Javelina encounters followed, as she and Hobo tagged teamed on announcing their arrival.

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Buzzard's Return

It’s a joke that garners a wild west guffaw: you’re sitting with friends taking a break and along glides a buzzard aka Turkey Vulture. Her featherless head points down as her slow, tippy flight circles ‘round, casting a shadow across dirt and rock. Better get movingshow signs of life! laughs the group.

Mercifully, we’re not the target of their fly-bys. Their chicken-like feet aren’t designed to carry food. Their preference is soft rotted skin that’s easy to tear with sharp talons and eat immediately. Evolution has equipped them well: they have the largest olfactory system of all birds and can smell death over a mile away.

Small perch not a problem!
It’s March. Arivaca’s dozens of migrating, red-leathery-headed vultures have arrived from south of the border, perhaps from as far away as South America. Whether you call them committees, venues or volts (all correct), they soar in on blue-sky days, eschewing clouds and rain for warm sunny thermals. They land in various tall trees and snags around town, and roost in the rocks that surround Arivaca Lake. Further afield, their migration flocks can number thousands. Their routes are overland, avoiding large bodies of water in favor of land-birthed thermals to aid their five to six-foot wingspans. Their wing flaps are few and far between, lending to the mesmerizing quality of their flight. While their day time foraging is solitary, they gather in groups to feed on carrion, eating one at a time.  A group of feeding vultures is called (are you ready for this?) a wake.

I’ve camped for weeks under an old growth mesquite TV roost and it’s a sight to behold. Silence pervades their lives. No songs, no calls, only soft hissing or an occasional cluck. The rush of their dark brown wings is magic. Even their roosting arguments are silent, as those already positioned for the evening are displaced by late-comers. The jockeying for position on tiny branches amazes. A full-grown vulture with a 67’’ wingspan, 26” long, weighs only three to four pounds.

The Turkey Vultures passing through Arivaca will roost, replenish and show off that wingspan in early morning stretches from tree tops, cliff edges and power poles. When they nest further north, they lay eggs on ledge recesses, in caves, hollow logs or even on the ground. They take over abandoned nests but do not build their own. They are monogamous and return to their nest site yearly. Nest sites from which you want to keep your distance. When adults or chicks feel threatened, they will vomit in your direction.

Barring projectile vomits, Turkey Vultures and I share commonalities. We prefer seclusion and silence. We are drawn to tree snags … them to roost, me to photograph. We fancy juniper berries and grapes, theirs on the vine, mine in a bottle of gin or wine. We even have similar migration routes. I’ve pondered if the TVs catching thermals at the top of Devils Tower WY, my recent park ranger locale, were Arivaca familiars. While I’m not one for rot and never owned a roadkill cookbook, I like to think, in a nod to Darwin’s survival of the fittest, we agree that roadside guard rails should go away.  

Turkey Vultures are named after wild turkeys, who also have a red, featherless head. They are related more closely to storks than hawks or eagles. Perhaps we need a version of a buzzard delivering a baby to desert-dwelling parents? Okay, maybe not, but Arivaca’s harbinger of spring begs for acknowledgement. A shindig. A parade. While Hummers and Meadowlarks are resplendent, nothing jerks our chain like a buzzard’s morning statuesque wingspread facing the sun; or their circling hundreds kettling up and up to catch thermals as they go about their daily mop-up of roadkill and desert death. They fill our sky with silent grace and continue on, leaving us to ponder empty skies.
Worthy of a toast, I say.

Thursday, December 13, 2018

Killing Grace

It’s hunting season in Arivaca, a yearly ritual of anticipation, tags, fees and designated locales that bring hundreds of men and a few women into our village. The autumn wave of camouflage is a welcome economic boon to our few stores and campgrounds. Pick-up trucks multiply; rare lines form at the only two gas pumps.

Night comes. Men in camo head for La Gitana, the local cantina, entrance granted only to the gunless in a town that contends with borderland militias. They take a place at the old wooden bar and order up. Hunter humor beams from tired eyes and unshaven faces. They mix it up with the locals and are glad to be here. Depending on the hunting season, they travel to our spacious outback to shoot a grazing mule deer; a wary whitetail.

Deer drape our high-desert grasslands. So do a few Pronghorn. A special species that belongs only to North America, they are not as plentiful as deer. Their prairie grassland evolution did not equip them to jump fences. Manifest destiny and the introduction of barbed wire delivered them to near-extinction as their numbers plummeted from over 15 million across the west to 13 thousand a century ago. There are now 10 thousand in Arizona, and a short hunting season by lottery. Deer, on the other hand, are ubiquitous, bedding down in tall grasses, wearing down game trails to waterholes. They browse woody plants. Think mesquite leaves and beans --- profuse around here.

I have witnessed deer, pronghorn and the mountain lion that preys upon them. Get too close to a deer and you will hear it stomp and snort. They will attack as well. Most anything can happen during rut. As for the elegant pronghorn, I once watched a one give birth outside my cabin. That wobbly baby was up and trotting with mom in minutes, followed within seconds by a coyote to chow down on the afterbirth. Close in on a pronghorn and you will be awed by its take-off and speeds nearing 70 mph, as fast as a cheetah. As for lion, I have watched a mother and her three yearlings eschew my sudden presence and leap across a creek on the strength of their thick tails. Yearlings first, then mom, who cast me an incisor snarl.  Whether deer, pronghorn or lion, their presence catapults one to another reality; grants an opportunity to witness grace and power; evolution’s perfection.

The hunters exit the cantina and return to RVs that dot the surrounding public lands. They rise in the early morn, eat a hearty breakfast and go in search of a doe or buck. They do not hunt out of hunger. At least not physical hunger. The hunters scout ravines with scopes and high-powered rifles along our winding roads. They drive to get closer; crouch and wait. With rare exceptions, they shoot from an assassin’s distance, sometimes 300 yards.  That’s three football fields. Their prey browses one moment, falls the next. One can only imagine the four-legged’s split-second explosion of confusion at what fluke of nature overtook their evolution; what sensory failure allowed for their demise.

Modern hunting ritual begs the question: How has it evolved not so much to kill a deer, but to kill grace --- eons of evolution --- through acts that holds no risk? There is nothing brave in taking down an animal that cannot catch your scent. No challenge in filling the ATV gas tank at the Mercantile. Hunting has transformed from an intimate knowledge of landscape and a skilled act of survival to feed family and community into a video game played outdoors. Like the teen who sits for hours at the computer screen and fights off dragons and demons, there is no real risk. Without risk one does not learn how to live. One takes without sacrifice, avoiding a central tenet of a healthy society.

The ritual of the hunt begins with reverence for the hunted and their landscape. Deference to the those who track, stalk and shoot from short distances, gun or bow. Who crawl on their bellies and risk exposure to prey and the elements in a complicated rite of equals. Ever aware of their place in the food chain, they wander rugged terrain in search of a sustenance, exchanging sacrifice for sacrifice. They sit down to their savory venison meal knowing ritual without risk has no validity. That killing grace deserves better.


This piece was previously published in the Connection and the Crestone Eagle. With thanks. 

Photos by Christina Nealson

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Tasmania Goodbye

White wild wings came a-callin' ...

Entrance to MONA 

I felt assured, in the wake of the forest giants, that the revelations had run their course.  I was wrong. We returned to Hobart for a rip-roaring 24 hours that included MONA art gallery -- a dip into the outrageous borders of the creative mind ---

Velocity of Death=Fate over Will

Women Thru Time

Travel and MONA converged into exhaustion. Too tired to eat out, we checked into our sweet hilltop cottage. I ran a deep, hot bubble bath (yes, I'd brought my own and still had some left!) and we ordered up a fresh prawn/oregano/garlic pizza that took its place as a ten out of ten on the delicious scale. We fell dead tired into bed ... the most comfortable bed I'd ever slept in. No exaggeration. That night I dreamed I walked into that very room and Greg was in the bed reading my journal. I yelled and grabbed it out of his hands. The dream woke me, a shocking image that needed further scrutiny.

The final morning in Tas was fresh and glorious. I gazed through heart-shaped branches at parrots and a view of the harbor. Leaving the island was wrenching. I placed my traveling flower bouquet in the room as we packed for the flight to the mainland. We arrived at the famous Salamanca street market with only an hour to sample what easily could have taken a day ... an impressive array of foods, beers, hand woven and hand crafted goods. I selected a handwoven wool hat from one of the countless Tas sheep on the island. We returned the van; no discount for the leak that had drenched the bed. We slept on the short flight to Sydney and Uber-ed to the original bed and breakfast. Full circle.

Three days until departure. We ferried to downtown Sydney to see a Broadway version of The Wizard of Oz, tickets Greg purchased weeks before. What fun! Little kids decked out in costumes. Poignant to revisit the metaphorical journey of Dorothy, her three sidekicks and the delusional Oz. A reminder that the wisdom one seeks outside oneself is found within. The hero's spiritual journey.

With one day to go we headed to famous Taronga Zoo to photograph the elusive Tasmanian Devil who had shown up unexpectedly that magical eclipse night. An early start was desired; the universe had other plans. First, we waited over an hour in pouring rain for a ferry that did not come. We hopped a couple of buses, a ferry and landed at the zoo near noon.  I hurried uphill to find the Devils and Koalas but the zoo was under construction with poor signage, a difficult combination for an already-rough day. We missed the last ferry back and had to re-route once more with hurried runs to buses.  I'd hoped for a short nap before we walked to dinner but that didn't happen. Exhausted. Hungry. Ready for a rest, meal and a gin and tonic, we headed for one final seafood dinner.

I sprinkled malt vinegar over crispy fish n chips; watched the sun set over the waters and downtown Sydney as Greg appeared on the beach to photograph. I let go into the tangerine world as I recalled the recent dream and hectic day; sought balance in the wake of challenges and then ...

Large and black, it resembled a raven as it dipped and landed in a nearby tree.  Then, another. And dozens. Fruit bats! I never imagined bats so large and there they were, filling the twilight sky, landing in nearby fruit trees. Flying Foxes transformed the landscape, wiped the energetic slate clean; revitalized the air. (Click on the link!) It may have been nightfall but it was a new day.

I departed for the US the next morning and Greg headed back to his Australian home. I watched Greg get smaller and smaller as the Slovakian Uber driver asked about my trip. Where to begin? When the subject came down to the wild he smiled wide. You must go to Slovakia, he said, for the wild. His enthusiasm for his home country was infectious.

Tasmania memories flood my soul. As with many past journeys, a part of me can not believe I was there. Photos verify. Parallel universes abound. What portal did I slip through?

Greg did go to Guanjuato MX to finish his book. He continues the project while I savor memories of the jaw-dropping island journey. In retrospect, the eclipses exaggerated energies already set into motion. As the trip progressed we headed in different directions. Prominent events were not experienced together, like my Bay of Fire walk when I met the aboriginal couple; the full moon eclipse and seeing the Tas Devil. And, many magical moments were shared -- the Fairy Penguin night! The wallaby's, kangaroos and cuolls! Wombat encounters, platypus, echidnas. Sydney theatre nights. Hikes to unforgettable views. Spirit puts us where we need to be, together or apart.

Our over-the-rainbow is a precious friendship.
Thank you, Dear Man "Mario," for the wild ride. Now get that book done!

Thank you, Tasmania and your soul-sparking wild ones.

Slovakia, eh? The High Tatras ...

Tasmania ... forever in my soul