Monday, December 31, 2007

End of the year musings. So much to be thankful for. The sound of violin and viola that Rachel and Nick create, Rachel's face when she meets her students, Allen's beard, Mom's cheesecake (in spite of way too many calories), friends who e-mail from faraway home, keeping me part of their lives, the beautiful sun that seems to shine nearly every day, so far good health and a curious mind, my laptop which sustains me through good and bad writing days, our car that has two new tires, and libraries and museums everywhere.

The cusp tips though to some things I'm not thankful for. How could our government support waterboarding? Why haven't we signed the Kyoto Protocols? How dare the VA not provide the very best of care for returning vets. Everyday the newspaper reports violence, with gunfire a common solution, and the new year promises much talk about "the issues" in this presidential election year.

Yesterday we returned books to three libraries, and I saw homeless men sleeping behind the monumental sculptures on the grand boulevard leading to the Philadelphia Museum. It can dip down to 20 at night, yet some choose to live this way, I'm told. Free. They may choose to do so, but many suffer from mental illness as well. Are there enough beds in shelters?

We drove along the reservoir just off City Line and an older man, bundled up for winter, walked along the street, scattering bird seed as he ambled along the edge of the reservoir.

Generosity, compassion, kindness, peace. That's what I hope for the new year. And I wish good work days. Consideration for others. A sense of each day as a gift. Family time that nurtures each person. Appreciation for the wonderfully rich life that surrounds us and inspires us. OK and no boring movies. And maybe that my writing will go well. And if there is sadness in the coming year, which there will be, may it be surmounted in ways that heal the world.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

New Year's is coming closer, and with the turn of the year, we head south to Florida. Already I'm anticipating being back on the road and quiet days and warm sun. Already I'm letting go of family and friends, savoring these last few days, and watching the weather reports for snow. The news swirls far away, presidential campaign trails, murders and car crashes, the economic impact of high rate of foreclosures, all these seem issues from another country. Each morning I begin with writing, my characters have morphed into their own irascible selves, and the plot has shifted from mythology to history, 1840-1845, Scotland, the time of the potato famine and the infamous clearances.

On Christmas Eve, we went to the Free Philadelphia Library and found very useful books. Their system houses books in departments, each having some books freely circulate, while others, I guess among millions, are stored in places only librarians can enter. These books can only be read in the library. I found six essential books, so our requests were sent down somewhere via pneumatic tube. After a short time, we had the books and began pouring over them. Gold. Allen asked if we could check three of them out as I was writing a book. The librarian said yes! Once home, I checked on amazon to see if perhaps these books would be available, perhaps used on the secondary seller's market. Yes! $213 for one, $57 for another and $35 for a third. So I've skim read the three and later this week, it's off to Kinko's to photocopy select passages.

My sad conclusion -- internet doesn't really have all the research I need. But we'll be back in Philadelphia again in May. Now I know why so many writers thank librarians!

One tidbit from Linda Mahood's study. In the 1840s, syphillis had no cure. One solution in Scotland was to arrest those women suspected of prostitution, test them, brand them on the cheeks to warn others, and then isolate them on an island. Attempts were made to recruit doctors to work with them, but since most people felt syphillis could be "caught" on clothing, kisses, or breath, any doctor volunteering to search for a cure would also be branded on the cheeks so that others would be warned. No wonder few doctors volunteered. I'm not sure how this strand will work in yet, but one of my characters will carry those brands on her cheeks. Maybe.

No photos today. Just memories of a lovely winter day in Philadelphia, visiting the Friends of the Library bookshop and the massive library itself, and along a hall, finding an exhibit featuring pages from Godey's Lady's Book which was started by Louis A. Godey, a 26-year-old French expatriat, here in Philadelphia. Godey hired a female editor, Sarah Josepha Hale in 1837, a rare decision in that time. And then driving back home along the winding Schuylkill River Drive, sun sparkling, all's right with the world.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

The Upside Down Mermaid

This mermaid floats quite comfortably upside down,
entirely right in her watery world, scales flickering red,
carrying calla lilies so carefully at winter solstice.

Winged, she floats and soars in our imagination,
Transformed from the depths with her flowers
and innocent eyes and pink wings,
where up is down and right is left.
Direction doesn’t matter, nor age, nor place.
Only dark and light.

Every day her light filters everywhere,
like violin music weaving together the blue, blue water
and the blue, blue sky,
seamlessly, endlessly.
Even the night holds no terror.

This poem was inspired by a visit to Isaiah Zagar's Magical Garden, Philadelphia, December 2007.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Earlier this week, Lynda and I wandered through the American-Swedish Historical Musuem, headed to South Street for lunch at Govinda's, where Lynda ate soy perhaps for the first time, and then drove past several of the building-sized murals that have become a tourist attraction here in Philadelphia in the last several years.

Lynda kept telling me about the murals that glitter from glass tiles. We came to a complete stop at Isaiah Zagar's Magic Garden, miraculously open, and then toured his house, studio, and garden of more than earthly delights. Nearly every space in this rowhouse with sidelot garden was covered with art. Colorful tiles fired with Picasso-like drawings, earthy and exuberant, are all mixed together with chips from dishes, glassware, and found objects, from tires to vividly green and blue bottles to pottery and sculptures from Mexico.

I'm not doing justice to this amazing gallery, for every surface is covered: walls, ceilings, floors, doors, everywhere I looked, new vistas, ideas, themes resounded. Did I find a mermaid or two? Of course! We left awed. Here's an artist at 70 who uncompromisingly celebrates creativity.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Wednesday night, and all is well. I still can't quite adjust to the reality of Philadelphia. Where do all these people come from? Some 1.5 million people live in the City of Philadelphia proper. No matter what time of day or night we may venture out, the roads, byways and freeways are full. People are friendly but violence is an underlying theme.

Yesterday, we lunched at Larry's Steak Shop on 54th Street for the long-awaited Philly Cheese Steak sandwich. Imagine quick fried beef on a soft Italian roll, with melted American cheese and mushrooms with peppers. Add a generous dollop of Marinara sauce on top. One half of one of these footlongs is enough!

At the next table, two construction workers exchanged cop stories. Story 1: A mugger raced up to an elderly man, screaming, "Give me your money or I'll beat you up!" The elderly man, formerly a professional boxer, decked the would-be mugger with a neat right hook. When the police arrived, the young man was ready to be handcuffed.

Story 2: Another would-be robber broke into a bar just before closing. "Hands up!" he cried as he pointed a gun to the startled patrons. Five guns were quickly pointed at the would-be robber who made his move at a bar frequented by off duty cops. The robber in this case simply put his hands up.

If I compare crime rates in Philadelphia to Portland, Oregon, for example, the crime rates in Philadelphia seem to be driven by violence -- with higher rates for murder, rape, and assault. Portland, on the other hand, has significantly higher rates for burglery and auto theft. Crimes against person vs. crimes against property. Neither makes me sleep better at night.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

So who does Joseph Stella remind me of (see below). How about Henri Rousseau, painter of The Dream, 1910, who painted quite a bit earlier than Joseph Stella, who wasn't born until early 1940s. This image is from Wikipedia but I'm noticing the same vivid colors, the flat images, and a sense of innocence.

We're in Philadelphia now, the dreaded snow is not here, and we had a lovely first night with family, brisket and lots of talk. Gordy and Lynda came over and all is well. How strange it feels to be in a house again, with an upstairs and a downstairs and lots of different rooms. This morning, we'll have a real breakfast, bagels and whitefish, and I can do dishes and cook. We can walk around the block and return to the same place. Later we'll explore a little of the city and, I think, get Allen's mom a library card so we can bring home piles of books.

How strange it feels to not be working a regular job, to disconnect from the routine of Monday through Friday. Perhaps this feeling is more pronounced when we're in one place rather than traveling about. But I have my writing projects, and a developing story, so all is well. Allen says my current project should take me about three years, one year for drafting, then two more for editing. I fear I'm not that patient, but I agree about the one year for drafting, at between 400 and 600 words a day, but the story is developing AND I do have about 14,000 words so far! And yesterday I may have found a useful online writing critique group. All is well. May it be so for you! Beth

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

With each day that we head north, the temperature dips a bit more. Yesterday, the temperature hit 81 in Burlington, North Carolina, but this morning, in Fredricksburg, Virginia, the high is 55. And tomorrow, Philadelphia. We're traveling four hours a day, so the pace has picked up as we venture north. Atlanta (see above) overwhelmed us with its modern architecture and freeways (7 lanes in one direction).

We stopped in Atlanta at the High Museum to find two lovely exhibits, one of artifacts Josephine and Napoleon had collected, and the other, simply the Impressionists. Upstairs, my favorite was this painting by Futurist Joseph Stella in the 1920s of the Virgin, called Purissima. The bright colors and nature images remind me of Mexico. The simple evocative lines make me want to learn more about Stella, who according to the note at the museum painted several images of the Virgin, mixing sensuality with innocence. As I looked through some of his paintings online, I notice a real contrast between pastel, minimalist type paintings and these richer, vivid almost "primitive" style paintings. One critic says Stella's paintings of the Virgin mix pagan beliefs, a hold over from his Italian heritage, but that doesn't ring true to me and almost sounds anti-Catholic. At first I confused Joseph Stella with the more well-known Frank Stella, more a minimalist abstract painter. But I like Joseph Stella I think more because of the mood his paintings evoke, of reflectiveness and beauty and inward peace.

Meanwhile, I'm looking forward to the next three weeks in a real house, with a real kitchen, upstairs and down. The writing on my current project continues to go well, and I seem to be following my characters as the story unwinds in the Orkneys, of all places! Be well and enjoy each day. Beth

Thursday, December 06, 2007

As we watch the weather beat up the West Coast, and with temperatures plummeting to 20 in Spokane, I'm feeling a little guilty about temperatures in the 80s predicted for Jackson, Mississippi as we move east to Philadelphia, adjusting our route to accommodate the weather.

I feel relieved to hear from friends that all is well, despite horrendous winds over 125 mph on the Oregon coast. The flooding along the I-5 corridor in Washington near Chehalis is enough to dampen anyone's travel spirits.

What else is new? I'm feeling rather at loose ends as former colleagues sweat out the last of Finals week back home. The weather and culture here conspire against a sense of reality -- southern accents sometimes hard to decipher, Cajun food, everyone called honey, dear, or sugar; welcoming smiles suggest genuine Southern hosptiality, grits at breakfast, my first sight of the mighty Mississippi, broad, blue and under a sunny sky; road signs that really say MOM'S DINER or BUBBA'S BAR-B-Q, and endlessly straight freeways through flat lands and fall leaves everywhere (fall leaves in December?).

I'm thinking of the many beautiful cactus gardens we visited in Tucson (including this one from the Sonora Desert Museum in Tucson), and the tremendous natural diversity we've seen on this trip. Perhaps I will adapt to retirement life -- and the discipline of writing every day. Make it a good week! Beth

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

I'm finally caught up, thanks to an excellent internet connection! Photos are up-to-date on webshots if you want to go take a look. Allen dared me to post this one, BUT since it will be my birthday in two days, AND my fortune cookie says, "Your dearest wish will come true within the month!", I couldn't resist posting my favorite picture here, taken while we hiked near Apache Junction in Arizona. I found this warning sign more compelling than those Park Service signs that say, "Protect the dirt. Don't step on the emerging ecosystems!" Beth

On this sunny day in Dallas, we hiked our feet off at the Dallas Museum of Art, spending most of our time in the Americas collection. We were fascinated to see a wonderful collection of vessels and bowls from Mogollon and Mimbres cultures here from the Southwest, as well as pieces from Peru (Moche and Paracas) and Mexico (Veracruz).

The two women shown here are from the Early Classic culture in Veracruz, Mexico, about 450-600 AD. The colors on their robes are clear red, but little information was available. A little searching on internet ties the elaborate costumes to a high status and suggests the women may have also had face tattoos to show a connection to the god of wind, BUT more information is needed here.

The Paracas mantle , also from Peru, is beautifully preserved with dazzlling colors and over 2,000 years old, with formalized images of condors embroidered throughout.

Another especially beautiful piece, one that brought a smile to our faces (and introduced a new culture), came from Ecuador, the Jama-Coaque culture of approximately AD 200-400. This jolly drinking vessel, possibly used for ritual, had bright blue and orange original paint still visible.

The tradition of compelling portraits can also be seen in this last vessel from the Moche culture in Peru (450-550 AD).

So we came home to the Harrison Suites, our hotel with kitchen, and are looking forward to a quiet dinner of chicken scallopine with rice as the sun sets over Dallas. Tomorrow we'll be in Louisiana. May your week go well. Beth

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Texas. Flat country. We traveled to Big Spring, Texas, on our way to the Dallas, Fort Worth area, with a winter storm filling the sky ahead of us. We took Route 176 the back way, a two lane straight highway through endless washes, cotton fields, oil rigs pumping right in the cotton fields, and cows wandering through sagebrush and grasslands, occasional signs saying EAT BEEF, the smell of oil surprising us, and the sunset behind us turning the sky red.

It was a good day for hiking into the bowels of the earth at Carlsbad Caverns. This national park (established in 1923) still allows anyone to take pictures of the fascinating formations, shields, staligmites, stalactites, pillars, walls of popcorn, draperies, and amazingly large caverns (see Hall of Giants above). We hiked about 800 feet down through the original entrance on a switchback trail, then along a trail throughout the Big Room the equivalent of 14 football fields or about 8 acres. Whew! Early visitors to the cave went down a ladder; in the 1920s, they climbed down wooden steps and then had to climb back up. Most visitors take an elevator 780 feet down and up. No matter how you arrive here, the views are dazzling.

A little information posted here and there helped us to understand whether native Americans knew about the cave or how they may have used it. Just above the natural entrance to the cave, a sign points out a large stone circle used for cooking, perhaps mescal. I found out online that archaologists estimate paleo Indians have been living in this area since 12,000 BCE, and that the Apache lived here as well. Pictographs have been found and dated some time in the Archaic period (6,000 BCE to 800 CE), and bits of sandals have been found at the bottom of the drop-off just past the entrance. Since caves are sacred to many native peoples, perhaps the cave was treated as an important site, regardless of whether it was explored as fully as we can today.

This morning the sunshine makes me bolt out of bed to an impossibly blue sky. Winter in Texas and the south. I wish you all a warm (if not sunny) week, though the USA Today map shows too much blue coming down from the north. Beth

Sources on the discovery of Carlsbad and the native American role there.

Friday, November 30, 2007

We left Tucson with a sigh yesterday, fond goodbyes to relatives (Wynn and Alfredo), one early trip to the airport to drop friends off (Gordy and Lynda), and continued appreciation for the warm weather here in Arizona, hovering around 70. Within one week, we cooked and baked and cleaned and toiled with amazing results: Alfredo's unforgettable Turkey and oyster stuffing, cornbread stuffing, garlic-mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, and the rest fades into oblivion before the pies, Wynn's fabulous cookies, and the conversations between football games. The table groaned and so did our tummies before we finished with justice to all. I think we left a pie behind in our little bed and breakfast, but I knew some cookies made it to the airport for Gordy and Lynda's trip to Philadelphia.

Within one short week in Tucson, we experienced Thanksgiving, and visits to the University of Arizona's Center for Creative Photography, the Arizona State Museum, the Arizona Zoo (see the lion's reaction to Thanksgiving), Fourth Street, the Heard Museum, the Amerind Archaeological Museum, Tohono Chul, the Sonora Desert Museum, the mission chuch at San Xavier del Bac, and Fourth Street. I found mermaids everywhere in every time, including an outrageous mermaid costume at a thrift store on Fourth Street (don't worry; it stayed there).

We're back now with good internet connections. Thursday, last night, my computer was tied up with the streaming live Packers vs. Cowboys so graciously provided by Sprint via internet. We laughed, we cried, and we finally, finally slept. This morning we leave for Carlsbad Caverns. It's raining off and on, a perfect day for hiking into the bowels of the earth. May it be a good week for you all! Beth

Friday, November 16, 2007

On Thursday, we tackled the freeways of Phoenix where people routinely drive at 70 miles per hour to visit the Heard Musuem's collection of native art. The exhibits were fascinating, pairing ancestral Pueblan pieces with pottery from the turn of the century with more contemporary pottery.

For the first time, we learned of the Pueblo Revolt. When the Spanish came to the southwest in 1540, approximately 40,000 to 50,000 Puebloan peoples lived in 80-100 separate communities; by 1696, about 14,000 lived in 22 communities. As in other areas in North and South America, European diseases took a heavy toll as did forced labor. Religious conversion was a primary goal of the conquistadors; natives risked charges of witchcraft and burnings at the stake if they followed their own religions. In 1680, the Puebloans revolted, driving the Spanish from their homelands, a rebellion that lasted 12 years, until the Spanish restored "order" in 1692.

Another interactive exhibit documented the U.S. attempt through the 1960s to assimilate the Pueblo peoples by forcibly removing children to dormitory schools where they were not allowed to speak their native language or practice their beliefs. In some ways, this makes the survival of Puebloan culture more important, for through the pottery, weaving, and silverwork, and through conscious efforts to preserve and protect designs, techniques and materials, the Puebloan people are retaining and strengthening their culture.

After walking our feet off, we relaxed in the museum patio cafe, enjoying pozole and cool water as we sat under the ironwood trees. On reflection, my favorite pieces from the museum were those that compared several generations of work on the same theme. Birds, parrots from Mexico, decorated great communal bread and stew bowls; the butterfly bowl above is dated 1976.

Allen was fascinated by a mug decorated with a snake pattern; the potter put small stones in the base of the mug to simulate the rattlesnake's rattles. These three mugs (about 1300) show differences in Chaco Canyon and Mesa Verde pottery. We also studied a seasonal map showing the cycle of Katsina dancers and spirit guides to help us understand the complexity of beliefs and how they shaped the Hopi communities. Allen likes Mudhead, while I'm drawn to Crow Mother and Blue Corn Maiden.

And in the very last room, when we were tired and feeling we could learn no more, we found this clay mermaid from Mexico, which fits right into the stories I'm working on.

Then, last night, desert thunderstorms, lightening crackled across the sky in great bolts. This morning, sunshine, clean, clear air, and we're headed back into Phoenix to go to a petroglyph musuem. Make it a great day! Beth

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

The sun is shining. Weather about 85 degrees today. Last night we went swimming at 8 pm and eased our feet in a hot tub after a day's walk around the Boyce hompson Arboretum. We're in the suburbs of Phoenix, back in the big city, and today hope to visit the Heard Museum to investigate Puebloan culture.

On our way here, we stopped at the Petrified Forest and Painted Desert, a fascinating walk through geologic time clear back to the Turassic (sounds like Jurassic and is about that far back, counting in millions of years). Once this inland desert was part of a great sea with trees several hundred feet high. A volcano exploded, these immense trees were knocked down, creating a logjam and a great lake. Then the dam broke, all these trees were washed away and covered with sediment and more volcanic eruptions. The whole mess just settled down deeper and deeper, with greater pressure, and then minerals began to seep through the decaying trees, petrifying them.

The results are miles of petrified trees scattered over a desert landscape, their colors glowing green, purple, white and gold, attesting to the high mineral content. Of course, people have been carting chips and chunks off even before this park was approved in the early 1900s, but enough remains to thoroughly enjoy. Even now, park officials estimate they lose about one ton a month from people who just want a little rock to take home. But they are beautiful. Equally beautiful are the badlands here (see photo of Blue Mesa badlands above), heavily eroded sandstone hills that once outlaws hid in.

Local color? Yes, we saw an authentic roadrunner just before leaving the park. Another memorable day. Make it a good week wherever you are, despite rain and snow and . . . I think I may want to be a snowbird when I grow up. Beth

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Grand Canyon. Breathtaking vistas. We hiked along the rim trail for about 4.5 miles, encountering hundreds of people. T'was a smoggy day, perhaps from Southern California fires; the canyon below in purple, pink and gold, seemed almost other-worldly. Bright Angel's trail, a drop of about 7,000 feet to the canyon floor, in a maze of switchbacks, drew us, but our feet, bodies and finally minds, said no.

We wandered into the Hopi House, ducking our heads to enter this trading post originally designed by Mary Colter in 1905 to sell Navajo crafts. We found it unchanged, three story traditional adobe brick construction with mud-plastered walls. Even the roof retains a traditional cribbed log design. A few old showcases highlight Puebloan pottery and jewelry, but most of the store is crammed with tourists, beautiful and expensive pottery, weaving, and jewelry.

Many lodges and hotels dot the Grand Canyon's rim today, thanks to Frank Harvey, an English immigrant who partnered with the Sante Fe Railroad to upgrade services and attract tourists to the Southwest. Here begins the saga of the Harvey Girls, thousands of young women hired as waitresses who came West to work, with most of them marrying and settling down. The Bright Angel Lodge has a neat little room with momentos (china, uniforms, photographs) of this turn of the century era.

We also wandered into the Cameron Trading Post where we learned about the difference between Hopi and Navajo kachinas. Originally, Hopi dancers, in full mask and costume, would dance through villages according to the season or to instruct the tribe. Small "dolls" called kachinas were given to the children. Today, those kachina dolls are highly prized. According to our spokesperson, the Hopi kachinas are authentic, carved from cottonwood, and embued with religious significance. The Navajo kachinas are dramatic and designed more for storytelling and tourism. We saw a lovely Hopi Cornmaiden kachina ($800). Phew! Look and don't touch! But for many, these kachinas are an introduction to Hopi beliefs and an understanding of these masked kachinas.

One last tidbit. The ancestral Puebloan people used stones called manos (Spanish for hand) and metates, a flat slab of a stone, used as a mortar and pestle to grind corn to cornmeal. We saw several of these at Mesa Verde and Chaco Canyon, and here on display at the Grand Canyon. The corn was ground to cornmeal in a kind of communal activity, 2 or 3 women working together. What surprised me is that these women spent 2-4 hours a day, grinding corn, and actually wore the stones down. These manos and metates lasted about one month. The resulting cornmeal had a signficant amount of sand-sized stone in it that worked equally powerfully on the teeth, grinding them down to stubs. Perhaps a dentist would find this a paradise, but I think of nerve pain and say "Ouch!" Make it a good week! Beth

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Tuesday morning, we're truly in Arizona now, and I'm feeling sated after a scrumptious breakfast at Hampton Inn, complete with the best hot coffee in weeks, fresh fruit, yogurt, and biscuit. Today, we are headed to the south rim of Grand Canyon, a first for me, and a chance to explore some of the cultural history of this great hole in the ground.

Yesterday might be considered an "off day", though we visited the stunningly beautiful Monument Valley, a Navajo Tribal lands park. North Window, seen above, seems to float above the desert floor; we drove along these massive buttes along a winding dirt and gravel road. Can you see the car in the picture to the right? The road was the greatest challenge facing us; most people elected to drive a jeep with four-wheel drive or take a tour. We drove our little Toyota right along this 17-mile challenge. Signs said we could drive at 15 mph; but unexpectedly big potholes, rocks, and shifting surfaces meant we crawled along at 5 mph most of the way. But, the views and monumental buttes were worth every moment of heart-stopping maneuvering past what we called "craters of Monument Valley".

People have been friendly everywhere. Last night's dinner at the Navajo-run Blue Coffeepot included fry-bread with honey, somewhat like a flatbread, puffy like the lightest doughnut. Ah, traditional foods, with Thanksgiving just a few weeks away now. May the week go well for you. Beth

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Sunday morning. We are back in the land of cell phone and internet connections after camping in Chaco Canyon (last night a mere 28 degrees), an unforgettable experience. Our tent backed up against massive boulders; when the sun came up, the temperature immediately jumped 20 degrees. Canyon Towhees hopped around camp as if we would feed them, but all is protected here, ruins, animals, even the ground we walk upon. In fact, Chaco Canyon is a sacred place, made nearly inaccessible by the heavily washboarded gravel road of 16 miles (rangers want the road to stay as is as they live in Chaco Canyon or drive government cars; workers prefer a paved road, given their experience of rattle-me-bones rides and break-downs in private cars).

Chaco Canyon resonates in the imagination. We continued our study of Puebloan peoples, hiked along Petroglyph Trail and the challenging Pueblo Alto canyon rim trail to the Pueblo Alto complex (4.5 miles). Imagine a stone trail straight up. Ancient Puebloans climbed to the tops of the mesa using toe and hand holds. We clambered over large stones, slowly, at every step thanking any spirit who listened for our walking sticks. No one can explain with any certainty what motivated these peoples, why they came and why about 1100-1200, they simply left. Over 150 great houses were built here, complete with many circular underground rooms (kivas), used primarily (archaeologists say) for ceremony, prayer and community meetings. Most of the hundreds of rooms in the great houses do not show evidence they were lived in, though hundreds of thousands of hours of work went into building these massive stone building complexes, perhaps somewhat like our urban areas, where people live in one place and work and pray in others.

The researchers know quite a bit about what materials were used, when buildings were built, and they are beginning to understand how the buildings were connected in some larger patterns. Astroarcheologists discovered three great stones at the very top of Fajada Butte (see picture at top of this entry) that cast sunlight onto a stone circle carved on the cliff face in such a way as to predict the winter and summer solstice accurately. Fajada Butte is now closed, though, as the added weight of people visiting this site (primarily researchers) compacted the soil, leading to erosion. The three great stones settled, throwing off how that splinter of light that crossed the stone circle, after so many hundreds of years, no longer a predictor of the solstices.

Hiking along the Pueblo Alto Canyon Rim trail, we were able to see Pueblo Bonito from above, its half circle architecture setting a pattern for all of the great houses in the canyon and beyond. This is the oldest great house (850 to 1150), oriented to the sun, the moon, the sacred mountains and mesas, and to other shrines and great houses throughout this region. The photo I took doesn't do justice to the scale of this Great House, comprised of over 100 ground-floor and upper-story rooms with between 3-5 kivas in its first phase of construction (850-950). Even the ways the walls were constructed is fascinating, finely shaped bricks chipped from stone, arranged in beautiful patterns at times, covered with a mud plaster veneer and painted, though the paint and designs are long washed away. What remains are the bricks. Any wall is made of two outer walls of carefully shaped stones; inside the two walls is a "fill" of mud and sandstone rocks roughly shaped into bricks. And the great plaza all encircled with protective walls.

Also along the Pueblo Alto rim trail, we saw the famous hand and toe holds ancient Puebloans used to climb to the mesa top, and a very old stone circle high on the mesa top overlooking the canyon floor, about 20 feet in diameter, used for ceremony. Offerings of turquoise were sometimes left in small hand-sized round polished holes cut out of the sandstone. And then we saw petroglyphs which have only partial descriptions in guidebooks. Our favorite petroglyph, 35 feet high above the Petroglyph trail, and thankfully free of conemporary graffiti, shows a human/supernatural figure, a mountain goat and a Katsina mask.

Which brings me to muggles. We saw muggles in Chaco Canyon. Despite clear signs posted everywhere that these sites should be treated as sacred, people touched or sat on kiva walls, spoke loudly, and hiked off trail. The worst muggles we saw let dogs loose in Casa Rinconada. The first we knew, three large dogs were chasing a rabbit right through this Great House site and up the side of the mesa wall, despite signs that said no pets. Even the earliest researchers were unwittingly muggles as they burned kiva ladders for firewood in the cold mesa back in the 1900s. So I have sympathy for the rangers who advocate keeping that gravel road as a deterrent to too many visitors and those who insist on covering up these ruins to protect them. No excavations are planned; today, researchers use a kind of technology that allows them to analyze the contents under the soil without digging.

The films about Chaco Canyon were useful; one summarized archaeological finds, the other focused on the Native American view of Chaco. A good first introduction to Chaco could be People of Chaco by Kendrick Frazier. Chaco Canyon can be romanticized, but what remains for me is a sense of the beauty of this place; it marks history, philosophy, architecture, and rich spiritual beliefs (even if we cannot decipher them) of an ancient people. The site is still revered as being the ancestors of many native peoples in the Southwest, starting with the Navajo. And so it should be.

Today we head for Four Corners and then to Monument Valley. May the week be a good one for you. Beth

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

The last three days have been awe-inspiring! We've hiked throughout Mesa Verde National Park. Although the high desert mesa populated with sagebrush, scrabble Pinyon Pines and Juniper, is compelling, the history here that we can walk through, touch, and come to understand is complex and very rich. First I learned that Anasazi is not quite the correct term to use. Ancient Puebloan peoples is far more accurate, since many different cultural groups have lived in this four-state area (Utah, Colorado, New Mexico, and Arizona), stretching into northern Mexico, and connected by trade. The Ancestral Puebloans moved into Mesa Verde about 600-900 AD and lived here until about 1300, with many changes in architecture and lifestyle. And then they simply left Mesa Verde.

This history is so complex, I don't know where to begin. We did start with the Classic period Cliff Palace (c. 1190-1280), admired the stone masonry in this complex of 150 rooms and 23 kivas tucked under a sandstone cliff. We climbed down a 8 foot ladder into a kiva, a ceremonial underground room reconstructed for tourists to explore, complete with wooden roof. Above the kiva, its wooden roof covered over with adobe, the pueblo village life would have gone on. At the museum in the park, some of the artifacts recovered included this kiva jar, purpose unknown; I can only admire the pure lines of this beautiful piece.

I'd like to buy a book that explains the symbols and styles of these very diverse forms of pottery and basketry (actually baskets were woven before the Puebloan peoples learned how to make pottery), but I'm not sure yet which book is most "true" to what we are seeing. Perhaps this next story will tell why.

I had picked up a book on petroglyphs earlier, one written by an author well steeped in Western tradition, who explained that raised hands meant prayer. But, yesterday we hiked a 2.8 mile Pictograph Point trail, so named for the petroglyph wall that awaits after a somewhat ardous climb up rock steps and following sliprock ledges overlooking the canyon far below. We actually did climb a portion using toe holds, although these were far easier than the toeholes that appear on the two level Tower House (see photo to the left). When we reached the wall of petroglyphs, a maze of symbols greeted us. I could pick out figures with hands raised and could make some assumptions. Then I read the Petroglyph Trail Guide to find an explanation of a portion of the wall provided by four Hopi men from northwestern Arizona, back in 1942.

The line of petroglyphs they translated shows the emergence of the people from the earth (Grand Canyon) to the end of their migration, with kachinas helping them as the different clans (Eagle, Parrot, Mountain Sheep, Horned Toad) were formed. Here's a picture of the Kachina instructing the people.

I'll keep looking for a good book on how to "read" the pottery and the petroglyphs (Ha, an excuse to hit the library and used book stores). Tomorrow morning, we head south to Chaco Canyon, over a 16-mile gravel/dirt road, to further explore the Puebloan culture. Make it a good week! Beth

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Thursday and Friday we traveled to the southern part of Canyonlands National Park in Utah, the Needles District, where mountains rim the horizon like finely honed spires. Just on the spur of the moment, we ended up camping in Squaw Campground near mushroom rock formations. We saw the moon rise early, and cottontail rabbits hopped right through our campsite. In the morning (after surviving the 36 degree night), we hiked through several fascinating and short trails, stopping to admire an ancient Pueblo peoples' granary made of clay and packed right underneath a mushroom-shaped rock.

At Cave Springs Trail, we hiked over slickrock and through waist high Big Sage, as well as up two ladders, to visit red paint petroglyphs that remain near a permanent spring. Some time between 400 and 1300, the Pueblo peoples would stay here, building fires, planting and harvesting, and then, perhaps depending on the amount of rain, would stay or move on, leaving their rock art behind. We also visited Newspaper Rock nearby Canyonlands and were amazed at the complexity and number of "messages" left there that we can no longer decipher.

Several people have asked me to post travel tips so here goes!

ON-THE-ROAD TRAVEL TIP #1: Create an overnight bag for each person with 1-2 changes of clothing, robe, slippers, and a ditty bag (toiletries and medicines). This enables you to leave the big suitcases in the car and quickly settle in to your hotel room or tent.

Make it a good week! We're headed to Mesa Verde in Colorado tomorrow to visit more Puebloan (Anasazi) artifacts and ruins. Beth

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Yesterday we hiked about 5 miles through Canyonlands National Park, just 30 miles north of Moab, Utah, a park of canyons as far as the eye can see, with blue haze marking the distance. Here the distances are great, and the hikes take us along the rim of deep canyons, with drops of 1500 feet common. We're hiking in the Islands of the Sky district, to the west of the confluence of the mighty Colorado and Green Rivers. We hope to explore the Needles district tomorrow. We can't go into the Maze District; the only roads there are restricted to experienced four-wheel drivers! There, we could have visited even more ancient petroglyphs, some 4,000 years old.

We did see this coyote along the road yesterday at Canyonlands. What a intelligent looking animal, not at all afraid of cars. In fact, coyotes can beg, simulate injury or illness to motivate humans to give them food. We saw this young coyote early in the day, working the road with tourists eagerly taking pictures. We saw him again in the afternoon, looking a little tired and perhaps hungry, for the Park Service warned against feeding him. I had thought that coyotes lived in packs but found this interesting article giving a bit more background on coyotes. I learned that coyotes approach the "alpha" animal in the pack with ears lowered and tail down. This looks somewhat like the pose he took in approaching our car. Coyotes tend to travel in packs when together they can pull down a cow or deer. Because this coyote was alone, he most likely will exist on a diet of rats and chipmunks. No wonder he was scrounging food from tourists. Make it a good week. Beth

Monday, October 22, 2007

Monday morning, argh! I took way too many pictures yesterday as we hiked about 5 miles in Devils Canyon in the awesome Arches National Park. Each day we say today can't be as good as yesterday, but each day proves us wrong. I finally took a picture of the Double Arch in Arches National park (near Moab, Utah) that shows the monumental scale of these geologic formations. I've learned so many new terms -- spires, fins, columns, hoodoos, arches, bridges, balanced rocks, monoliths, rock islands. But none of these somehow communicates the awesome impact of the sizes, shapes and colors. Perhaps this picture does.

Yesterday pressed the limits again of our hiking skills, right up the spine of a rock fin, several hundred feet gain in elevation, and only an occasional cairn of stones to mark the way. But the views were rewarding, and while we didn't go completely to the end of this primitive trail, we were able to hike to the far reaches to see Navajo Arch and Partition Arch, our favorite.

Ah, what wonders in nature that seem very far from a Monday morning office. My office just now is in a cozy KOA cabin, internet access, heater chugging right along, and stunning views of the La Sal Mountains out my window. Maybe a hot breakfast later. Make it a good week! Beth

Friday, October 19, 2007

We're in Moab, Utah, just this week, dividing our time between Arches National Park and Canyonlands. Today we visited the Wolfe Ranch, a one-room log cabin built by a veteran of the Civil War. Just up the hill from this historic place was a wall of petroglyphs that scientists estimate were created sometime between 1650 and 1850. Notice in the picture how the Paiutes are mounted on horses, with bighorn sheep and a dog. The drawing is lifelike, brightly painted, and very clear. Central Plains Indians rode horseback starting with the explorations of the Spanish in the 16th Century.

What fascinated me about this set of petroglyphs is in comparing them to petroglyphs we had seen at Capitol Reef National Park. This next picture shows petroglyphs painted some time between 700 and 1300 by the Fremont people. Some consider the Fremont People to be ancestors of the Anasazi or Puebloan peoples further south. Notice how much more abstract the drawings are -- although people and animals are clearly shown. Signs say we don't know much about the meanings of these petroglyphs, although additional information on these older petroglyphs is at as well as another article on decoding petroglyphs at by the controversial Martineau who was raised by Paiutes after being orphaned.

The country here is so beautiful, inspiring arches, magnificent mountains, sweeping vistas, and yet the land is also harsh, arid, dry desert, and difficult to live in. These drawings in stone, along with cliff dwellings help us understand the past, even if we cannot fully reconstruct it. Just one more picture (with more to come in WebShots) to show the amazing geography here. Today we climbed a "moderately strenuous" trail to Delicate Arch, over steep slick rock with ravens swooping down. A person stands underneath the arch in this picture; check the scale. It's monumental. Whew! Make it a good week. Beth

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Tuesday morning and I'm looking out the window at a desert scene, gnarled juniper, pitted lava rocks, sage brush and yellow-flowering Rabbitbrush slowly warming as morning gray is replaced by sun. I realize that I don't have to rush off to a meeting or a class and that any schedule I make is pretty much my own. At first this feeling is relaxing, exhilerating, and like a dog shaking off obligations like water, I feel free. Of course, living between our tent and hotel rooms offers a certain anonymity. Sue Monk Kidd, author of THE SECRET OF BEES, talks in an afterword about the importance of place as healing, yet what about the absence of place. Do those "things" we've collected over our lives give us our identity, a sense of connectedness, routine as peace?

The place we've lived in this last week has been eye-opening. We spent a week tenting in Zion, hiking everywhere, sometimes on truly challenging hikes, where we clung to climber's chains and looked straight down. The picture below shows our view of Zion on our last day. Park officials have shifted over to a shuttle service to handle the some 5,000 visitors a day -- the result is quiet in the canyon, although we pass each other on the trails, always polite. From our campsite, we could see a massive red mountain. Later in the week we hiked to an outcropping there to discover it had been used for grain storage by ancient peoples. High above the valley, the site was defensible, yet surrounded by unforgettable views.

We then drove over to Capitol Reef National Park, a geologist's dream. Apparently many millions of years ago (65 million), the tectonic plates of east and west met here. The resulting "crash" led to an uplift in the earth of between 4,000 to 11,000 feet and created a kind of fold in the earth's crust that is visible for about 100 miles. The rock formations here are formidable, massive, heart-stopping. We wandered through the Narrows at Grand Wash Trail to find canyons closing and then another corner, another canyon, yet narrower, massive cliffs on each side. Weather warnings told us to watch for flash floods; the evidence was everywhere -- wash outs, giant boulders dumped haphazardly, undercuts on the sides of the canyon -- and yet we saw junipers with berries, their bark so worn and twisted we wondered how they could survive. I don't see how any picture could do justice to this. The early Mormons farmed here isolated and safe; locals are a little displeased as they were displaced when Capitol Reef became a national monument. Tourism doesn't quite make up for the loss of land.

Yesterday, coming out of the canyon, we heard soft bird calls and discovered a covey of six chukkers hunting for food through the grasses, calling to each other. I stood quietly and photographed them, mystery birds until we got back to Sibley's Bird reference. Ah, birds. So these are the small pleasures of daily life, unexpectedly good coffee, a good view out my window (wherever that may be), and the chance to write. May your week go well. Beth

Saturday, October 06, 2007

We’ve just spent our third day at Bryce Canyon National Park, and today a light dusting of snow capped our last hike along Inspiration Point. As we drove to our motel, we spotted four pronghorn antelopes bedded down in the grasses for warmth. Yesterday, we hiked the famed Navajo Loop trail, through the Queen’s Garden and up to Sunrise Point, a total of 3.5 miles and a descent of 580 feet down switchbacks into a tight box canyon, with the ascent at the end of the trail an equally challenging 580 feet back up at roughly 10,000 feet elevation. But along the way, what vistas! Those hoodoos, shaped over 10 million years of erosion, really pillars of rock colored by mineral content to gold, white or iron rich red, dazzle the eyes. Everywhere we look, these fantastic shapes invite photographs. Check Webshots (see link at the right) to see a few.

According to the Park Service, people have lived in this valley about 12,000 years. The Paiutes say the hoodoos are ancient peoples (perhaps Pueblo or Fremont) turned to stone by Coyote. Sometimes I can see faces in the stones, but mostly I am in awe at the grand architecture of this place that no photo can capture. The play of light, the range of color, and the sweep of intricate formations constantly change. Snow and rain freeze and then thaw, with runoff leading to new fantastic shapes, while tall pine trees compete for space, growing somehow in marginal spaces.

We are adjusting very well to being on the road, although gusts of wind up to 60 pushed us into a lovely motel, Bybee’s Steppingstone in the nearby town of Tropic, complete with quilts, satellite TV, and some access to internet. Allen has been enjoying baseball playoffs as well as college football. We have now invested in sturdy tent stakes and are hoping the lower elevation and calmer weather at Zion will lead us back to camping. We're seeing more RVs and mini-vans everywhere; what a different way of life. I miss family and friends, maybe work, certainly my books and computer, but each day is such an adventure. Experiencing these parks is humbling in a way with such a profusion of natural beauty. We have had so many days in which I thought this surely will be the ultimate highlight of our trip. And then another day comes along with experiences so amazing, that they eclipse what has gone before. May your days be as bright. Beth

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

This last week has been spent in Spokane, visiting with Rachel and Nick for Rachel's birthday (see Mario the cat at the birthday party), and repacking for our now 8-month trip through the rest of the United States, starting with Nevada and the Great Basin National Park. Tonight our tent is pitched on a grassy lot with trees nearby. We can see a desert landscape and the beginnings of the Rockies with a dusting of snow. We fixed the tent in Spokane with a wonderful welder who spent about an hour firing up much complicated equipment (and he recorded the tent pole

The land around Ely is a sweeping barren vista of sagebrush, occasional cows, and mountains. In town, buildings from the 1930s and 1940s are overlaid with Las-Vegas-like casino lights. Cowboys, hunters, and lots of trucks complete the scene. And I almost forgot to mention that everywhere we see RV's, mobile homes (big ones!), and snowbirds heading south. We were told to look for circles of light in the desert as the RV's gather round camp fires, but this may be an urban legend. That's it for tonight. The stars are coming out, and all is well. May it be so for you and yours. Beth

Monday, September 24, 2007

Monday night, Baker City, Oregon. Yesterday we explored Craters of the Moon, a 75-mile national monument park in Idaho where astronauts once trained because of its moon-like barren environment. At Craters of the Moon, a series of volcanos erupted about 15,000 years ago and have continued to erupt about every 2,000 years. The last eruption was 2,000 years ago, so geologists predict the next eruption could be any time, that is geologic time, any time within 100 or 1,000 years. Not exactly next week.

After Waterton, Glacier, and Yellowstone, I was not prepared to be wowed. But, wow! We learned about the two types of lava, named after Hawaiian lava, aa (rough rocks) and Pahoehoe (smooth stuff). The pahoehoe forms in long ropy lava tubes, some small and some large enough to form caves. We climbed down into Indian Cave, a very large lava tube that extends about 800 hundred feet long and in places 30 feet high and 50 feet wide. The Shoshone used this particular cave to shelter from the severe snowy winters in their travel across the lava expanse; some of the stones inside the cave may have ceremonial significance, though no additional information is available. The trail was not marked through this cave, and we had to scramble over lava rocks about 20 feet high. Two ravens flew through the cave, and parts were dark, but rest assured, we could see the light at the end of the tunnel. We emerged from the other end to find again no trail back. We hiked now along the top of this gigantic lava tube, using markers for bearings. This was almost too much adventure! We also stood inside a spatter cone, hiked up a cinder cone, and walked around several trails, admiring the tenacity of life, as trees and shrubs somehow find a niche and survive the extremes of temperature and soil.

Today has been the first day of school at Linn-Benton, and I find myself thinking of colleagues and students starting classes for the first time. Instead of teaching, today we spent at the Oregon Trail Discovery Center in Baker City. I have renewed appreciation for those pioneers who headed west in covered wagons. We hiked around the hill outside the Center and stood in the old trail ruts for a moment. All the pictures showed great privation as people mostly walked the 2,000 miles along the Oregon trail. At least I’m back in Oregon, but headed tomorrow for Hell’s Canyon, then north to Spokane. Each day is sunny. May it be so for you! Beth

Friday, September 21, 2007

Friday morning, West Yellowstone. These past two days we've hiked Mammoth Hot Springs and the Norris Geyser Basin. It's hard not to realize the interconnectedness of all things in nature, even to the micro level, as the temperature of some of these hot springs affect what can live in any pool as does the mineral content, so colors range from rich orange to purest blue. For example, yellow has more sulphur (smelly eggs) between 140-181 degrees F, while emerald green is mostly algae at below 133 degrees F.

The entire ecosystem is a scientist's dream! Signs everywhere warn people to stay on the trail, for the crust of the earth is very fragile. Every year some people are scalded and some die because they fall through the crust; sometimes the boardwalks themselves must be changed because vents, pools, and mudpots shift. We can see sturdy pine trees growing right to the edge of the basin, and as we walk through, hear the puffs, huffs, and gurgles of different kinds of water and steam pushing up from underneath the ground.
Our absolute favorite at Mammoth Hot Springs was the Orange Mound with its mysterious white, orange and green coloring. Who could forget at Norris Basin the Emerald Pool, the Blue Mud Steam Vent, the Pearl Geyser, or the Steamboat Geyser (it's last eruption of some 300 feet was in 2005, with an unpredictable cycle sometime in the next 40 years or so).
Yes, we continue to see lots of animals everywhere. Yesterday a bison was trying to cross the road, but a river of slow-moving cars prevented him, so he headed down one lane, backing up traffic, while we moved in the opposite direction. I'll try to post more pictures in WEBSHOTS (see link to right), but our connection with internet is tenuous, and starting tomorrow, we'll be on the road again, headed for the Tetons. Ah for the days of comcast! The writing is going reasonably well, but the hills around us as we enter Yellowstone are starting to be dotted with the deep red and brilliant yellow of true fall. That must mean school is soon starting. Make it a good week! Beth

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Thursday, September 18, 2007. Last night the weather turned cold, 32 degrees, but Yellowstone is simply overwhelming in its beauty. Formed by a series of three immense volcanic eruptions millions of years ago, the entire park (approximately 35 by 45 miles) is really the caldera of the last ancient volcano. As we travel throughout the park, we see sweeping forest and mountain views, bison, a herd of elk, lots of tourists, and, thankfully, no bears, except Brownie, our gift bear for joining the Yellowstone Association, which preserves the park.

Yellowstone is recovering from the disastrous fire of 1988. We can see evidence of the damage everywhere. Blackened Lodgepole pines spot the forest floor here and there, but the forest floor is crowded with new growth. Apparently, the pinecones of the Lodgepole pine are sealed shut until a fire opens the cone and 50,000 seeds spring out from just one cone. This rich new growth covers the hills, with trees already 6-10 feet high.

Our goal this first day is to hike through the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone and view its Upper and Lower Falls. This is no small feat at an elevation of about 9,000 feet (breathe deeply!), and drops to the canyon floor of about 300 feet. The views are spectacular, the rock colors white, red, black, orange and brown, all depending on the level of iron and minerals, and all hewn into fantastic shapes by erosion. By the end of the day, our feet are tired, but we are ready to return tomorrow for more exploration. I can't believe these pictures as everywhere I look, I see a postcard view! Beth