29 November 2010

Leaf duty

While we were away for the Thanksgiving holiday, great numbers of leaves fell in our yard. On arriving home we were struck by the fact that we could see the pond from the driveway and that had we not known where the driveway was we might have missed it! So, this morning everything but leaf duty fell by the wayside.

It was a great day, despite my current aching exhaustion. It's been a long time since I've participated in the raking, blowing, mowing, mulching, spreading involved in restoring the yard to neatness. I enjoyed it immensely. The relatively safe physical labor meant that I could let my mind wander to think about a host of other things -- furniture needing new upholstery, our Christmas letter, scheduling the dogs for grooming. I also tried to make myself remember all the comics I could that usually included leaf-raking in fall strips -- Peanuts, Hagar the Horrible, Calvin and Hobbes. Who knew leaf raking's such an iconic activity?

By the way, we did manage not to engage in one nearly essential part of those comics. We refrained from jumping in the leaf piles. "We" doesn't include Whiby, who spent lots of time plowing through them.

Before we returned all our tools and equipment to the garden shed I took a few minutes to prune the troublesome Abelia at the intersection of the driveway and the front walk. It had become brittle, overgrown, dreadfully misshapen since we planted it nearly six years ago. Plus, it was ugly and in the way.

You can tell I was tired, I suppose. But, I think it looks so much better than it did! There's alot to be said for simple, straight-forward, contained, small.

Fret not, the poor butchered thing will be moved shortly to a better, more open spot and be allowed to begin again.

26 November 2010

Thanksgiving and remembrance

My mother, Tal and I have arrived back at Mom's home after spending a portion of this week with my brother and his family in Mechanicsville VA. As I took my turn driving today, I kept my mind busy trying to recall how many Thanksgivings I've had the good fortune to spend with the Virginia Tarboxes.

Although I couldn't arrive at a firm number, as many of the family as could began gathering with them in the fall of 1989, when my sister was living in New York City, I was at Virginia Theological Seminary in Alexandria and our parents were still at Brookgreen Gardens here on South Carolina's Waccamaw Neck. It was the perfect place to rendezvous. So, more Thanksgivings than not during the past 21 years.

The numbers who sat down for the Thanksgiving meal over the years grew and diminished depending on the year. When the nine of us circled up to offer a blessing before yesterday's feast, however, the sadness which mingled with our thanksgivings was palpable. Not only is this the first major holiday since my dad's death, but three others who were part of the early gatherings in that household are also gone: my mother's father and both of my sister-in-law's parents.

The sadness did not overwhelm the occasion. First of all, new to yesterday's circle is my nephew's darling girlfriend. A new generation is coming into its own. Second is the influence the four who have died had on everyone who held hands in that circle yesterday. We are who we are at least in part because we knew those four people; we are better for having been part of their lives.  Each of them played a role in giving that circle life.

Thanksgiving was not the same without them. But, they are not entirely gone so long as we hold them in memory.  Our remembering gives them life.

20 November 2010

A celebration of syrup

Autumn in rural South Carolina is more lovely with every passing day. The yellow-leaved hickory trees in the woods around the house seem to glow with a light all their own. Tal and I are surprised by the vast number of leaves floating down and covering our yard again. When we walk Whitby and Belle on the promenade every afternoon, we cannot help but notice how much more of the opposite side of the pond we are able to see from the back of the house.

The scene as the pressing of the cane was being finished up.  The syrup was being cooked under the shelter behind the press.

The syrup-master, Ralph,
his tie with coveralls,
a festival tradition
Today was the 8th Annual Soggy Bottom Syrup Festival, a 10AM to 9PM event put on by Tal's niece, Beth, and her husband, Ralph. They live north of Columbia on the Broad River, the "soggy bottom" being the flood plain along the river. Dozens of people gathered on that flat stretch of land, friends and family, young and old. Wonderful food was served, early through late, and the syrup as it cooked smelled so good.

It was a day of real joy, a festival in the best sense of the word.

Bubbling syrup in a Rourkes Ironworks vat

Jars ready to be filled

15 November 2010

My world view

This is not going to be a long, serious post about how I sort past experiences, current activities and future possibilities into some workable strategy for coping with life.  I do think about such things, alot actually, but my thoughts at the moment are more local and immediate -- and literal.

Whitby is more and more a lap dog.  So, more and more I view my world with this delightful and demanding furry ear-to-ear frame.  And then, there's Tal -- pretty much the focus of my life.

11 November 2010

That twice-a-year visit

Not many people I know like going to the dentist.  Something about the expectation of pain, or being scolded, I'd imagine.  Not many people associate the word "pleasant" with having their teeth cleaned, filled, straightened, capped. 

Although I could not say with any surety how old I was, I do remember clearly my first visit to Dr Joseph in Georgetown -- the small waiting room just off Front Street, the line of examining rooms down the hall, Dr Joseph's efforts to allay my fears.  He even got down on my level to meet me, telling me step-by-step what was involved in having my teeth checked.  While the occasional filling and getting my one crown were not exactly fun, from my first encounter with Dr Joseph nearly 50 years ago I have looked forward to having my teeth cleaned.

Today was the day I've had marked on my calendar since last April.  Tal and I are home from Dr Adams' office in Greenwood; we both have slick teeth and new tooth brushes.  And, I have a day marked in a box on next May's calendar page.

10 November 2010

My favorite bridge, locally anyway ...

I don't know how in the world it happened.  How did I manage to arrive in Columbia over a half an hour early for a visit and lunch with a friend.  Given our capital city's traffic, there wasn't time to run any errands, thirty minutes not being quite long enough for anything on my list.

What to do?  Maybe I could show up that early.  But, I didn't want to test that maybe.

But, there's a beautiful bridge.  We have a Blue Sky print of it over our bed, a Christmas gift from Tal one Christmas nearly twenty years ago.  The new River Front Park is on US 1, where the bridge crosses the Congaree River from Cayce into Columbia.  I stopped there, enjoyed a short walk, sat on a bench with a great view of the bridge and made several pictures at the end of the morning on this pretty autumn day.
In the end I was only a minute or two late!  Lunch was good and our visit was better.  Getting to see the Gervais Street Bridge up close -- and not while driving a vehicle -- was an unexpected bonus.

09 November 2010

"Raking" leaves

I love autumn.  The colors, the swirling, drifting, rustling leaves, the drop in temperature.  There's nothing I can think of about fall that I don't like.  Spring, so much the favorite of so many, takes a back seat on my seasonal priority list.

Autumn, though, is a cause for some concern around here.  The leaves that have fallen have to be gotten up!  And, the sooner the better ... 

I'm reminded of friends we made while we lived in the Philadelphia area during the late 1990s.  There was a tradition in their household.  It was on Thanksgiving morning, after breakfast and before the feast, that everyone who had gathered there for the day raked the yard.  The fall before Tal and I moved to Pennsylvania had been the precursor to an early and hard winter.  During the week before Thanksgiving that particular year a considerable snow fell, keeping the traditional raking from happening.  After that snow, came rain which froze immediately, and so it went for months.  It was late March before those leaves were seen again, much less moved off the grass.

Anyway, the leaves were falling when Tal and I arrived home from our Utah adventure some three weeks ago.  There has been rain, appointments with doctors, rounds of golf.  The leaves were left to fall.  Until today.  Tal put the grass catchers on the big mower and set to work shortly after breakfast.  By lunch the yard looked so nice I had to commemorate the transformation by taking the camera for a walk about. 

Plus, here's the thing about fall. There are still leaves clinging to the trees, so this mid-day view won't last long.

I especially like this view of the side yard -- the shadows cast by the house and porch across the grass and that line of orange bald cypress trees.

07 November 2010

Determined accomplishment

It isn't much really, but I learned two new things today.  Both of them took more time than I had allowed and both didn't work out right on the first try.  Now that I see that last sentence, I realize that neither of those facts is anything new.  I did prevail, however. 

First, I learned through trial and error (many errors, in fact) how to merge a series of photographs into a panorama.  While involved in that process I also had to learn how to convert images from 16-bit color to 8-bit color.  Don't ask me why, but Photoshop Elements won't merge 16-bit images.  Until I passed that step, nothing worked the way the book said it would.  (And, of course, the book didn't even mention the program's preference for 8-bit.)

The pursuit of the panorama, which turned out to be passable, but not great, was so that I could at last finish what I had written from the last day of the Utah trip (13 October), a post entitled "Off the Colorado plateau."  Signing in to Blogger, I learned that several improvements had been made to the program since I had used it yesterday.  Improvements I had both to discover and to learn how to use.  Improvements that meant I no longer just "knew how" to post a blog.  I had to figure it out almost every step of the way. 

In total my teeth-grinding, hair-tugging, under-the-breath muttering went on for five hours or so.  But, as I said, I won in the end.  It took grim determination; it required a refusal to be stopped; it took being willing to start over, again and again.  Not precisely how I'd planned to spend the afternoon.  Now, we'll see what of it all I remember tomorrow.

Were that I were so focused on other, perhaps more vital, things ...

06 November 2010

Tourists at home

We've tried this before with a variety of events/situations keeping us home. Today dawned brisk bright and we put our provisional plan into motion: a visit to the Silver Bluff Audubon Center and Sanctuary -- about 45 miles away, in Aiken County, near Jackson SC.

It turned out to be a splendid outing. The center is remote, bounded on one side by the Savannah River and slightly west of the Savannah River Site (US Department of Energy), consisting of "3,250 acres of upland pine forest, hardwood bottom lands, open fields, lakes, and streams" (from the site's brochure). A quiet morning for a walk, we heard (more than spotted) birds, identified late-blooming wildflowers, especially enjoyed listening to the murmuring, sighing breezes high in the long-leaf pines.

While we were on the boardwalk over a sometime wetland, I noticed this fallen, turned up, spotted sweet gum leaf. I managed to get both the leaf and Tal in the photograph.

As we neared the sanctuary, Spanish moss became prevalent. I was surprised by the amount of moss in the pine trees along the trail we walked.

05 November 2010

Ordinary time

Back in the twenty years I spent bound up in parish life I used the calendar of the church year, or the liturgical calendar, almost as much as I used the daily/weekly/monthly/yearly one I carried. There is a rhythm to the church year, seasons of intensity and seasons that are less intense.

It is one of those less intense seasons that is the longest -- running from the Feast of Pentecost (about Memorial Day) to the beginning of Advent (shortly after Thanksgiving). Interesting is the fact that the liturgical color (that is, the color of the fabric hangings in the church's worship space and of the priest's garb) is green. Also, interesting? That long season is called "ordinary" time.

Green, the theologians say, helps the faithful remember that they are in a period of time dedicated to learning about the church and focused on spiritual growth, as opposed to celebrating the singular events of Jesus' life, the birth, death, resurrection, ascension. The scripture the church hears during ordinary time is about Jesus' life, how he worked in the world, what he did, who he talked to and what he said. That is, the getting up, the going through the day, the retiring for the night and the doing it all again the next day. Yup, Jesus did that, too.

Of course, the church doesn't have the corner on ordinary time. We all have ordinary time in our lives. In fact, just as it is for the church's liturgical calendar, we have more ordinary time in our lives -- the day-in-day-out stuff -- than we do special occasions -- birthdays, anniversaries, vacations.

Today was a wonderful day for me; it was comprised totally of ordinary time. Laundry, cleaning house, picking up a commissioned wedding gift from a favorite artisan (Jane Bess, an Edgefield potter), getting a few things from the grocery store, lunch for Tal after a round of golf, playing ball with and delivering treats to Whitby and Belle, checking and responding to email, planning supper. Just ordinary tasks, ordinary tasks that constitute supremely satisfying work. Like ordinary time in the church, our personal ordinary time is truly the stuff of life and provides us the time and space to work out who we are, what we're going to do, how we are going to spend our minutes and days -- our lives.

At the end of the day, at the end of one of these ordinary days, we can know we have, if nothing else, kept it together somehow, that, barring disaster (not ordinary time, by the way), tomorrow will come. How we handle ordinary time matters. It's what provides the foundation for the extraordinary -- both to deal with it when it comes and to process it after the fact.

Ordinary time is real life. I have loved this day.

04 November 2010

Knocking off the chill

We put this event off every autumn until we simply cannot stand it any longer. 
This week has turned cool, the wet weather making the chill intense and uncomfortable.  So, this afternoon we pushed the switch on the thermostat from "off" to "heat" and set the room temperature at a toasty 65 degrees.  We felt better instantly. 
The most recent Aiken Electric bill was the best -- at under $46.00.  The next time we'll see a total in that range will be next spring when we're seeing how long we can go without air-conditioning.
Silly, I know.  But, these little games are part of the fun.

02 November 2010


Oh my, what a day.
We were pretty clear when it began. There were three things to do.
  1. Vote.
  2. Drive to Augusta for an appointment with Tal's dermatologist.
  3. Drive to Columbia for a meeting with our financial planner.
The voting part went well and we arrived in Augusta early enough for a great cup of coffee at Mocha Mahn, a coffee shop in the same building with the doctor's office.

Before we'd finished sipping, though, things ceased going so well.  The appointment time came and went, by quite a while.  The receptionist could offer no hint as to how long we might be kept sitting there.  After two hours Tal's name was called.  I breathed a sigh of relief and settled back into the book I was reading .  After forty-five minutes he reappeared and with a "let's go" headed for the elevator ... still not having seen the doctor and no one "in the back" able to advise him where he was in line.  I don't think we'll be going back.

A comfort lunch of BLTs, sweet potato fries and milk made the day look better.  And, the Columbia portion of the day went off without a hitch. 

Waiting.  Being kept waiting is hard; sometimes it's unavoidable.  I don't know what happened today in Augusta.  I do know that Tal kept his cool and in the end did what he needed to do.  So, all things considered it, was a good day from start to finish.

01 November 2010

A new place to sit

Between the time this little project started and our moving the table and chairs this afternoon -- just a week, we have had almost three inches of rain. It was a warm and soggy string of days.

But, this afternoon move the table and chairs we did. From the bottom of the backporch steps to a spot in the woods in sight of the pond onto a 10X10 concrete pad tinted to match the house brick. Feels good to move this long-term goal into the completed column.

Plus, it's a pretty and comfortable spot.

... who from their labors rest

The message waiting light was flashing yesterday afternoon when we arrived home from Columbia. A colleague needed to arrange supply coverage for tonight's All Saints' Day liturgy. At the time we talked he wasn't certain he would need to be away, but he wanted to have everything ready if he did. So, I agreed to be on call and began thinking through a sermon.

A flood of memory. A long night. And, that hymn* -- William Walsham How's words and Ralph Vaughan Williams' music, Sine Nomine -- that monumental, soaring hymn in my head.

All Saints' Day, the day the church has set aside to commemorate and remember "all the saints, who from their labors rest." For years and years that list, my personal list, has included four grandparents and an array of people, family and friends alike, who played a part in my life during their days. I always listed them for the prayers offered during liturgy. I always let mind have free reign, recalling each one, a sweet and sad process on November 1st.

This year I added too many names to my list, among them my father. He rests from his labor this All Saints' Day and I miss him.

I just heard from my colleague. He's going to be able to officiate tonight. The sermon doesn't need to be finished. But, my remembering can go on.

*Hymn #287, The Hymnal 1982, Church Publishing

31 October 2010

Familiar but different

Today is a day long-awaited by the people of Trinity Episcopal Cathedral in Columbia SC. After two and a half years of worshipping on the basketball court (a very nice court, mind you) in the Trinity Center and after a restoration of the cathedral in advance of its bicentennial in 2012, the space reopened this morning. The music was magnificent, the processions long; the prayers were heartfelt, the sermon inviting.

Those present for worship at each of the four services -- three in the morning and one in the afternoon -- celebrated the end of a long project and enjoyed a feast not only for their souls and bodies, but for their eyes as well. The cathedral is still the cathedral. And, when the dean at the beginning of the liturgy welcomed everyone home, enthusiastic applause was the only possible response. But, that very familiar space is also quite different -- more polished than before, a little rearranged in places. There was an exuberance I cannot quite explain, but perhaps this photograph looking up into the apse will illustrate. The sea of Trinity crosses in the red ceiling is a wonderful, new feature.

Our day after the 11:15 service included a delicious and leisurely lunch date while still in Columbia and a long walk once back at home and in comfortable clothes.

It's been a day of Sabbath time for the two of us. It's been a treasure of a day -- for us and for the people of Trinity Cathedral.

30 October 2010

An entire day outside

And, I earned it! Yesterday was all about house cleaning. Even the fringe on the rugs was combed out straight before I went to bed.

Today's event was Women in the Outdoors, a division of the National Wild Turkey Federation (headquartered in Edgefield). The weather was perfect -- crisp and sunny -- and about half way through the day I came to understand a wonderful and welcome feeling. I was breathing deeply and thriving!

Four classes: Dutch oven cooking (over a fire), an introduction to fly fishing (all equipment provided), survival skills (no reality TV scenarios) and air rifle (aka BB gun). What great fun. And, of the 50 or so people in attendance, I only knew one. So, new, interesting, people -- most of whom with talents I do not possess.

I actually went because of the fly fishing class. It was taught by Molly Semenik, master casting instructor, Montana outfitter and owner of Tie the Knot Fly Fishing in Livingston MT. Oh, what a teacher. I cannot say enough.

Tal's pleased with my new fishing knowledge and survival skills. And, he cannot believe his wife hit the target with a BB from an air rifle. But, imagine his bewildered surprise the day I build a fire in the backyard when it's time to start supper!

29 October 2010

An answer for VTS

Photo by B. Cayce Ramey, VTS Class of 2012

Over this week following the devastating fire which destroyed Immanuel Chapel at Virginia Theological Seminary, the school's the Dean and President, the Very Rev'd Ian Markham, has led a worldwide community through their surprise and sadness over the lose of that long-prayed-in space. Today he announced that officials of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) along with members of the Alexandria Fire Department during their six-day investigation determined the fire which began in the sacristy to have been accidental.

I appreciate his clear, concise, compassionate words taken in part from his daily commentary posted on the seminary's website.

We have learned the cause of the fire. It was an accident; no one is to blame. So we take a breath and offer the entire tragedy to God. There are some moments which are transforming. This is one of those moments.

Now we start the hard work of moving on. Last night we gathered in Scott Lounge for worship. Scripture was read with passion; we sang praises to the Lord God; and we bowed our heads in prayer. God was present in that place.

Everyone who has been associated with VTS since that building was built in 1881 has memories. And, most certainly, those who watched it burn last week will have what they saw imprinted on their memories forever.

But, he's exactly right. We now know what we need to know.

28 October 2010

Best laid plans

We went so far as programming the GPS this morning. Our intention was to visit the Audubon sanctuary in lower Aiken County today. That is, if the weather got no worse. It was only overcast; the rain of the past few days seemed to have ended. Seemed to have ...

It was during a particularly intense downpour that the telephone rang. It was the person coordinating the work in our backyard. His message? Had he known pouring concrete for us would cause a week of rain he'd have pushed our project to the top of his list long ago.

No hiking for us today. But, the Garmin's ready.

27 October 2010

Clean sleeping bags

We arrived home from our trip to Utah on Monday afternoon, over a week ago. By the end of the week the house was clean, the pantry and refrigerator had been replenished, Whitby and Belle were used to being with us again after their two and a half weeks at All God's Creatures, the accumulated mail was sorted and handled and the laundry was all done. Well, almost ...

When we returned from canoeing on the Allagash in mid-September, we went through every task listed above. The major thing left undone before heading west was dealing with our sleeping bags. They had provided warmth and comfort for our nine nights of camping. They had been damp. They had hit the ground more than once. We'd crawled into them not always as clean as we would have liked. And, morning after morning -- including our last morning on the river -- we stuffed them tightly into their compression sacks, where they remained during the ten days we were home between trips and while we were in Utah.

Yesterday was the day for taking care of those bags, a project requiring commercial machines. After breakfast I made my way to Ridge Spring to the new laundromat where the washing and drying got done -- and my eyes were opened.

Commercial machines -- both front-loading -- are wonderful and fast! I wonder ... could I get a set in our laundry room?

26 October 2010

Let's all celebrate!

Two weeks ago at the John Wesley Powell Museum in Green River UT I bought a copy of John McPhee's "Basin and Range" (1980 Farrar, Straus and Giroux), which focuses on the area of the continent we know as eastern Utah to eastern California -- a portion of which we were traversing with our Road Scholar group. Although McPhee handles geological science, the impact of plate-tectonics on the study of the earth, the strata and time scale of geologic evidence in a way even I can follow (but, heaven help me if I were to have to repeat any of it in a coherent way), it was something else entirely that I would give the prize of "Most Memorable" between the softback covers of his book.

In the late 18th century a quiet revolution, based on the observance of layers of rocks, was beginning. Following is the paragraph that startled me so:

According to conventional wisdom at the time, the earth was between five and six thousand years old. An Irish archbishop (James Ussher), counting generations in his favorite book, figured this out in the century before. Ussher actually dated the earth, saying that it was created in 4004BC. The Irish, as any Oxbridge don would know, are imprecise, and shortly after the publication of Ussher's Annales Veteris et Vovi Testamenti the Vice-Chancellor of Cambridge University bestirred himself to refine the calculations. He confirmed the year. The Holy Trinity had indeed created the earth in 4004BC -- and they had done so, reported the Vice Chancellor, on October 26th, at 9AM. His name was Lightfoot. (95-6)

Now, I recognize that paragraph to be flippant, even impertinent. And, I have to admit that I looked up Ussher and Lightfoot. McPhee doesn't get the story's details quite right. But, he captured the gist. The resistance to geologic scientific discovery some one hundred years after these gentlemen completed their calculations was fierce and bombastic and authoritative and long-lasting.

In some ways not much has changed. We resist what threatens the who, what, when, why of our daily lives, the stuff on which we've built our world view. And, there's really no reason to expect human response to ideas which frighten to start being different.

There's nothing keeping us from celebrating, though. After all, it seems today's the 6014th anniversary of our earth's blessed event ... Enjoy!

23 October 2010

It's only a building

Spent a few damp minutes mid-morning today as I struggled to take in the news of the chapel at Virginia Theological Seminary in Alexandria -- lost yesterday afternoon in a catastrophic fire. No one was in the building at the time, blessedly, and none of the other buildings on campus were affected, thanks to the determined efforts of Alexandria firefighters.

The photographs here are all borrowed, the one of the chapel's interior (immediately below) from a photograher identified only as Ronnie R on flickr and those of the building as it burned from the online album of an individual who witnessed the scene, known on Facebook as bcramey.

The most stark view, however, and what brought the building's loss into deep reality for me is from the iPhone of Dr Stephen L Cook, professor of Hebrew Bible/Old Testament. His steady, silent movement from the vicinity of the library toward the chapel, the only commentary footsteps through the dry fall leaves and the wail of approaching emergency vehicles, chilled my blood and brought on the relief of tears.

Click here for Dr Cook's video (it's a safe link): Biblische Ausbildung: Fire at Virginia Seminary!#links#links

While it is only a building, it was a place of refuge, of comfort, of challenge, of inspiration, indeed, a memory-maker for many thousands. Everyone of us will grieve the trauma of its destruction.

19 October 2010

Small satisfactions

It's early in Edgefield.

After 4274 safe miles, plus the 1250 we enjoyed with the Road Scholar group on the coach in Utah and Arizona, we have come full circle.  That is a big satisfaction.

The small ones?
  1. Waking up at home.
  2. Tal making coffee.
  3. Coffee in bed.
  4. Whitby and Belle on the bed with us.
  5. Knowing I don't have to get everything on the "to do" list done today, or even this week.
I like those five, so I'll stop there. 

18 October 2010

Hell bent

After I wrote the title for this post I took a  moment to check out what the dictionary had to say about the term.  "Impetuously or recklessly determined to do or achieve something" is the definition given by The Free Dictionary on line.  So, OK, maybe hell bent is a little strong, especially considering Tal's former career.  Let's say we are intent -- intent on getting home.  Hell bent is edgier, though.  And, a catchier title.

We drove from Shawnee OK to New Albany MS -- and the same hotel we stayed in on the trip west -- without incident yesterday and arrived here just before 4:00 to be greeted by an energetic desk clerk and to find our room ready, the key cards already coded.  Not having stopped for lunch (well, maybe I'll rethink the hell bent thing), we didn't even go to the room, but set out to find a late afternoon meal -- which is hard in New Albany on a Sunday.  Having done Wendy's last night, Captain D's anyone?  As Tal said, after the fact, it was quick and satisfying.

Now that we're east of the Mississippi (negotiating Memphis on a Sunday morning is a good thing, by the way), I am missing the long vistas and the long trains.  And, roadside trash, sadly, seems to be a deep south thing.

17 October 2010

What!? ... what sermon?

My Tal does know how to get a girl's attention. 

This morning, after a fitful night here in good old Shawnee, Tal nudged my finally-sleeping body and whispered, "Got your sermon done?"

No longer sleeping, heart pumping, scrambling awake, completely panicked.  Sermon ... the sermon ... what sermon?

Until retiring three years ago, I was used to that question.  No matter how hard or how early in the week I worked on that recurring task, it was rare for me to go to bed on a Saturday night at the same time Tal did.  I stayed up to finish (admittedly, sometimes to rewrite, sometimes even to start) the sermon.

It's been a long -- and a blessed -- time since he's asked me that Sunday-at-dawn question.  I think he's really ready to go home and wanted me up. 

It worked.

16 October 2010

All days are not created equal

The title of this post is more an observation than a complaint. 

We left Albuquerque early and in high spirits this morning.  The Flagstaff to Albuquerque day had been a really good one.  Add to that a room with a view, our almost two hours of hiking amongst the petroglyphs and a signature dinner experience.  It was a great day among days.

Every high requires a coming down.  Period.  Consider the exchange between Peter and Jesus on what is now called the Mount of Transfiguration.  One doesn't have to be a Christian to understand that story to be an illustration of the point.  It's a fact of human experience. 

Today, more specifically our stopping for the night, was our coming down, not only from yesterday, I suspect, but from the whole of the Utah trip -- and probably September's canoing trip as well.

Picture it.  An attractive, four-floor hotel just off I-40 at Shawnee Oklahoma.  Situated at the end of the same complex as an overrun Super Wal-mart and a pulsating Buffalo Wild Wings.  (Obviously, it's Saturday night.)  A hotel, full for the evening, where, for reasons sort of obvious after a conversation with the manager, the housekeeping staff is in revolt, only two of them having worked that day.  Rooms not clean.  Trash bags piled high in the elevator lobbies.  The voices of wedding party and wedding guests -- all irate -- rising to a crescendo in the lobby.  The desk clerk flummoxed, helpless.  Janet and Tal with no place to go and too tired to drive on.

Supper consisted of Wendy's.  College football on the television.  Although the carpet hasn't been vacuumed and there's only one towel in the bath (we can share), the sheets are clean.  I'm going to go to bed and fall asleep remembering this morning's view.  There's no need to let the troubles that reside here have any more sway on this day than they already have.

Lights at dawn

Here you see what I saw mere moments after the alarm clock roused me from a deep and satisfying sleep:  the lights of Albuquerque in front of the Sandis Mountains on a Saturday morning.  This is likely to be the last photograph of the trip, since we're heading for home in earnest today.  Ending on a high note!

15 October 2010

Ancient faces

We left Flagstaff this morning just as the morning rush was ending and made good time on I-40. Truck traffic going east has been heavy so far. The trucks were sort of obnoxious at times, a couple of drivers running side-by-side, their speed dropping slowly but steadily over the miles, trapping traffic behind them. There was nothing to do about it, but try not to be irritated (yeah, right) and try even harder not to make any mistakes as the situation grew dicier.

For most part, though, it was a pretty day. I must say, too, that the train traffic more than made up for odious truckers. Since catching myself actually counting the cars of mile-and-a-half long trains and making myself stop it on the trip out, I contented myself with simply counting the trains themselves. Today's total? A whopping 16! Each of them very long with multiple engines at each end.

We arrived in Albuquerque late enough to check in to our hotel immediately. We have a room with a view of the Sandia Mountains. So very lovely.  The hotel is also close to the Petroglyph National Monument, our reason for the stop in Albuquerque, although a couple days earlier than planned. 

It was too late in the day to go to the visitor center and also to have time to take in any of the three major petroglyph sites, so we opted to walk in Rinconada Canyon, a 2.5 mile circuit along the base of the West Mesa escarpment of basalt boulders.  The petroglyphs were fascinating, maybe not as old as those at Capital Reef, but closer and easier to see.  And, these petroglyphs illustrate a continuity of culture which I found very interesting, as they were made not only by the ancestors of today's Native Americans, but by Hispanic clergy and sheep herders of the 1600s, as well as explorers moving through during the 1800s, and even modern-day graffiti artists.  This locale has been well-travelled over the centuries.
This is the view from the trail in Rinconada Canyon, looking east toward the parking lot and Albuquerque in the distance.  The petroglyphs are on the escarpment to the left.

Sadly, there are some who cannot leave
well-enough alone, bearing arms without
anything better to do than blow the surface
of the basalt and the art on it to bits.
We had an early -- and delicious -- supper across the street from the hotel at the Pueblo Harvest Cafe, part of the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center.  The dining space was breath-taking and the service superb.  Tal had blue corn encrusted chicken and it was my last chance for one more Navajo taco.  Oh, yum!

We're planning to head for home in a serious way in the morning.  Today has been a sweet and fulfilling culmination of a season of memorable travels. 

Near, but yet so far ...

We've had a disappointment this morning.  Since signing up last May to tour Utah's national parks and monuments with Road Scholar, we have been looking forward to seeing friends we've not seen in years -- a wonderful couple, Chickie and Pat Harristhal, who used to own and operate Canadian Border Outfitters east of  Ely MN, where Tal first met them, and then Shining Falls Lodge in the Atikaka Provincial Wilderness Park north of Bissett Manitoba. 

A wrinkle in the plan to visit them came during August with the impending sale of their home and the new house not being ready for occupancy.  Not to be discouraged, they (with their two dogs) set out in their travel trailer to enjoy the best part of autumn seeing the western part of the country.  Today we were to have rendezvoused with them for breakfast or lunch, perhaps for a trip to the Grand Canyon South Rim. 

Pat awoke this morning way under the weather.  So, we are preparing to head east.  Chickie's email with news of their situation provided the title for this post.  We, the four of us, are indeed "near, but yet so far."

14 October 2010

On our own again

Bringing order out of the luggage chaos, having a last breakfast with the remainder of our Road Scholar group in the comfortable lobby of the College Inn, running a load of laundry, communicating via email with the friends we are planning to meet in Arizona, plotting our course to Flagstaff ... that was the order of the morning.  By 11:00 we had set out to reverse yesterday's travel, comfortably familiar:  ascending the Colorado Plateau at Hurricane; pausing again at LeFevre Overlook with its all-encompassing view of the Grand Staircase; leaving out the side trips to Kanab and the Grand Canyon North Rim and not stopping as we traversed Marble Canyon and the Navajo Bridge for the third time.

It was at the intersection of US89A and US89 that we entered new territory of stark and inexpressible beauty.  The Vermillion Cliffs gave way to the Echo Cliffs, which were noticably tilted down on their east side.  After a while it seemed odd that the road wasn't slanted, too.  Tilting my head was an option I had to resist!

Further south past Cameron (the turn off the the Grand Canyon South Rim), the terrain changed to mounded Chinle (low rock formations that look like mashed potatoes).  Then, basalt cropped up, seemingly emerging from (and randomly scattered across) the rather flat ground.

As the basalt became more plentiful, I noticed on our Four Corners/Southwest USA map a national monument north of Flagstaff -- Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument.  Tal seemed game to take a look.  At the entrance I even managed to find in our over-stuffed travel folder his park/monument pass. Whew!  After touring the visitor center (where staff members wore black arm bands or had a black stripe across their badges for the Glen Canyon rangers killed earlier in the week) we drove about nine miles into the park getting a good look at the Sunset Crater (photo above left), the lava flows, fissures in the valley below the cinder cone, a long view of the Painted Desert in the late afternoon sun and colorful fall wildflowers. 

The Painted Desert in the late afternoon from the Painted Desert Vista
in the Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument

Apache plume (Fallugia paradoxa)
These are the plumed seeds, not the flowers
 -- which are rose-shaped and white and bloom earlier in the year.
We couldn't have asked for a more interesting place for brief exploration before entering the fray of late afternoon I-40 traffic around Flagstaff to find our hotel for the night.

13 October 2010

Off the Colorado Plateau

Oh, my. I was determined today "to be where I am" at every moment. I entered into each stop, engaged my surroundings and the people involved; I relished the scenery, staying present to what we were doing. I succeeded, perhaps too well, in refraining from thinking ahead.

Once we left the Grand Canyon North Rim and began the final leg of our journey back to St George, we enjoyed two final stops.  The first was at Jacob Lake where restrooms, a lovely gift shop and delicious homemade cookies and hot coffee awaited.  (I made this photograph of the signature red Ponderosa pine bark at the edge of the parking lot.)  The second was at LeFevre Overlook where we could gaze out on the whole Grand Staircase.  (See the long, thin photograph at the bottom of the page, my first abysmal effort with photo merge software.)  It was a fine conclusion to be able to view from that vantage point the west-to-east progress we had made at the beginning of the trip. 

Our guides, seeming to understand that many of us were struggling with our time together coming to an end, worked at keeping the mood aboard the coach upbeat and fun.  Since we were going to pass through the northern Arizona town of Fredonia, Chrystal and Marc played video clip of  "Duck Soup," a Marx Brothers comedy about the fictional, bankrupt country of Freedonia.  And, Geri drove us through the town where she resides when she's not driving a bus, Kanab UT.  It's known as "Little Hollywood," a popular location for movies and television series.

But, the moment came when we had to make our descent from the Colorado Plateau at Hurricane Ridge and admit that our travels together were over.  I had to face a sudden encounter with the depression I knew would come. I was, indeed, present even to that wrenching inevitability.

And, it went from bad to worse! For not only were we back to interstate travel and the bright lights of malls and stopping centers, we went straight to what was by then a late dinner at Chuck-A-Rama. It was noisy and overrun on this Wednesday night. Truly a rude reentry -- into another sort of wilderness altogether!

We're in our room at The College Inn, our only real accomplishment after stepping off the bus and getting our key having been retrieving all the stuff we left locked in the car. Thanks to our efforts the place looks like a bomb went off and I'm too tired to deal with any of it.

Things will look lots better in the morning. 

Posted by Picasa

The Colorado's work

I have a thing about bridges, so was thrilled at the prospect of visiting Navajo Bridge again. Geri stopped on the south side where the vendors were set up. We stepped off for a geomoment with Marc, followed by a gander at the jewelry for sale and then a walk across the old bridge to the visitor center where Geri was waiting with the coach.

There were two major differences today from our October 3rd stop:
  1. The Colorado, with all the rain in the region during the 10-day period, was muddy rather than the clear, greenish-blue we saw before.

  2. Three rare California condors were there to entertain us (and to thrill the birders in our group), settling on the canyon walls, soaring and circling, flying back and forth under the bridges, bothering each other, showing off their wingspans which can be up to nine and a half feet. Endangered and counted, each known California condor bears a number on its wing; those with binoculars could read those numbers.

I don't have enough focal length power to zoom in very far, but there is a condor 450+ feet down just above the water in the center of this photograph (near the tallest part of the reflected cliff).

The drive from Navajo Bridge to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon was extraordinarily beautiful -- along and under the Vermillion Cliffs, into groves of red-barked Ponderosa pine around Jacob Creek and then at higher elevations the wonder of the aspen, their autumn gold peaking and contrasting strongly with the deep green of the firs and pines. The photograph to the right is one I made as we were leaving the park mid-afternoon.

We arrived at the lodge just in time for lunch. In fact, we were the first seated in the rustic and very elegant dining room (photo to the left), the canyon just outside the windows. It was hard to live into my "be where I am" intention -- enjoying the whole experience, not longing to be outside already! But, I managed. Warm company, good food, attentive service helped greatly.

Finally, off to Bright Angel Point (named by John Wesley Powell, by the way). Honestly, the experience of getting to the point reminded me of Geri driving the coach over the hogback on Boulder Mountain -- sheer drop on both sides of the very narrow trail. I'd not realized before how troubling heights are for me. I ended up only walking, looking at my feet which I was placing very carefully. If I wanted to look around, I had to stop and do only that! The dizzying discomfort was worth it, though. What a view up Bright Angel Canyon!

This photograph was made from Bright Angel Point. The Colorado River is just out of sight.

The water that passed through Glen Canyon before it was dammed, the water that found its way through Marble Canyon was a significant player in creating "the grandest canyon of them all" (a John Wesley Powell quote?). This location, so beautiful in the afternoon sun today, weathered and carved, has to be seen to be believed. Honestly, now that I have spent an hour or so looking out over it and down into it, I know full well I don't yet grasp the enormity of it all -- either of what I witnessed this autumn 2010 afternoon or of the long-term relentless forces the landscape's transformation required.

Our last full day

I cannot believe it. Tal and I have looked forward to this adventure for months. This morning, though, we are packing our things here in the Best Western Lake Powell, will walk across Lake Powell Boulevard for a breakfast at the Glen Canyon Steak House just as we did yesterday (though later, thank goodness) and then board the coach to head back to St George, for one night in a room at the College Inn, our car, I-40 east. It's over.

But, of course, it isn't. We have today -- all day -- and many wonderful miles. On the itinerary are at least five notable places of interest: (1) Navajo Bridge (see the blog of 3 October for my first impression of that location as we travelled to St George), the North Rim of the Grand Canyon with (2) lunch in the dining room of the lodge and (3) a walk to Bright Angel Point, (4) the trading post at Jacob Lake, (5) the Le Fevre Overlook for a view of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. So, what's the problem. Why am I -- as usual -- anticipating the negative rather than simply living what is before me?

I have taken up keeping a journal of favorite quotations. It's helpful in many ways. Today I have found a few words that may help keep me from anticipating too much what tomorrow is going to bring. These are words written by Thomas Transtromer, a Swedish writer, poet and translator, from a work "Sentry Duty," which he wrote after being taken into the Swedish army for several weeks:

Task: to be where I am.
Even when I’m in this solemn and absurd
role: I am still the place
where creation does some work on itself.

So, my task for today is to be where I am. That's it. After all, creation is at work. Thanks Mr Transtromer!

12 October 2010

Another new name

Well, on Saturday (as I think I wrote) I found myself a little embarrassed at having never heard of John Wesley Powell. And, this afternoon it's happened again.

We arrived back at the hotel following our five-hour Rainbow Bridge boat tour on Lake Powell and the stop at the Glen Canyon Dam with a couple of hours free time before the coach departed for supper. Free time is most unusual on this trip; Tal and I wanted to take advantage of having a choice! We headed up Lake Powell Boulevard to take in the John Wesley Powell Memorial Museum two blocks from the hotel. Unlike the museum at Green River this one is small, even cramped, doubling as a visitor information center. Like the museum in Green River it's full of interesting detail -- some of the detail different from that Saturday stop, too.

While there we came upon an exhibit about a young man, Everett Ruess, an artist/explorer who wandered the uninhabited wilderness southeast of Escalante UT in the early 1930s. His poetic letters home nearly sang, so captivated was he by the beauty of the land. He disappeared without a trace in 1934, probably dying before his 21st birthday.

The exhibit left me wanting to know more. Like the museum in Green River, this museum had an attractive and comprehensive bookstore. Believe it or not, I refrained from purchasing a book on Ruess, as I have two books (which we're carrying around) on hold already while I finish "Desert Solitaire." His is a story, though, I will explore -- and soon.

We had dinner at a busy-to-chaotic oriental restaurant and then were treated to a star-gazing opportunity. Geri took us on a short drive away from town to a point where we could stand in an open field and see the stars in a way most of us never have. Without competition from other sources of light the heavens were alive with twinkling stars and the steady radiance of planets. The Milky Way is, indeed, a swath of white across the sky.

The combination of these past few days in the bigness of the west and now having stood outside under the bigness of the nighttime sky leaves me here at bedtime with the one best word I can scrape out of my vocabulary: unfathomable. One thing I know for sure in this moment ... nothing that bothers me, none of the problems I think I have matter in the face of all this boundless space, the space on which I have been walking since coming west and the space into which I gazed tonight.

I've written about Geri for days now. Here's a face to go with the name, this photograph taken as I approached the coach while we boarded before dinner this evening.

With heaviness of heart

This has been a most difficult of days. Something of a surprise, given the beauty and memorability of yesterday. And, one would think that a day long cruise on Lake Powell would be a highlight rather than a challenge. Too much reading, perhaps.

We were up incredibly early. Breakfast at a great little diner, the Glen Canyon Steak House, across the street from the hotel before 6:00 and on the bus by 7:00 in order to be at Wahweap Marina before 7:30 to board our boat. Getting there from Page required crossing the Glen Canyon Bridge and a good view of the Glen Canyon Dam, a long-time controversial project. (Go to the link for a really great photograph.)

The marina is beautiful and so is Lake Powell. For most of the morning I listened to the on-board commentary through my headset, but could not bring myself to venture outside the cabin, not wanting to find the 186-mile-long reservoir alluring.

As I have written before, through this trip I have been reading "Desert Solitaire," by Edward Abbey -- an outspoken, abrasive misanthrope who loved and advocated passionately for the environment. Following is a paragraph from the essay in "Desert Solitude" about Abbey and a friend traveling the through Glen Canyon on the Colorado River before the dam was finished.

Once it was different there. I know, for I was one of the lucky few (there could have been thousands more) who saw Glen Canyon before it was drowned. In fact I saw only a part of it but enough to realize that here was an Eden, a portion of the earth's original paradise. To grasp the nature of the crime that was committed imagine the Taj Mahal or Chartres Cathedral buried in mud until only the spires remain visible. With this difference: those man-made celebrations of human aspiration could conceivably be reconstructed while Glen Canyon was a living thing, irreplaceable, which can never be recovered through any human agency.(152)

All I could think about as we moved up the lake was all history, the art over which we were moving.

We were headed to Rainbow Bridge National Monument, the largest natural bridge in the world -- 290-feet tall, spanning nearly 275 feet across, a spot long-sacred to the Navajo people, accessible only by water or a long, difficult hike. I realized that refusing to see Lake Powell, hiding from it, couldn't make it not exist, wouldn't lower the water. My heaviness of heart is something of a gift, requiring engagement, inviting introspection. I certainly didn't want to miss Rainbow Bridge, a treasure that because of its elevation survived the rising water.

On our trip back to Page we stopped at the dam for a turn through the desplays in the visitor center. It's quite an impressive structure, that dam (check the first link above). Five million cubic yards of concrete which took 24-hours a day, 7-days a week for three years to pour. Enough for a four-lane highway from Phoenix to Chicago. It was a subdued location today, law enforcement chief for the Glen Canyon Recreation Area and another National Park Service ranger having died in a small plane crash over the weekend.

Subdued. A good descriptor for the day.

11 October 2010

Swirling color

Our first evening in Page was a treat -- an immersion into Navajo life and celebration. How beautiful and inspiring it was!

We arrived at the Navajo Village Heritage Center -- a small, unassuming complex behind a gas station at the intersection of Coppermine Road and Arizona Route 98 and within sight of the Navajo Generating Station -- just as the sun was setting, a golden time of day, the evening breezes refreshing, even cool.

We were treated to powerful personality (on the left), story (a people's past), dance (theirs and ours), food (Navajo Tacos, consisting of a plate size piece of fry bread, smothered with chili, cheese, lettuce, tomatoes, onions, and salsa), tradition (demonstrations of rug making, silversmithing), music (Native American flute). The entire evening was about movement, sound, taste, an evening of impression rather than of thought. Once back at the hotel I drifted off to sleep, the evening's experience an internal, visual lullaby.

They danced for us, several lovely, lively stories in movement ...
... and we were encouraged to dance with them. Tal, on the left margin of this photograph (grey jacket, red hat), is the last of our group and the leader is all the way to the right, head of a long, undulating line/circle dance.

I was using my Panasonic camera without flash. While the photographs are grainy (digital noise), I like this cropped version of one of the first dancers performing a shawl dance. An abstract, graceful swirl of color.

Time's relentless march

Leaving Moab this morning we travelled south into the four corners region, the evening's destination being Page AZ. We had a wonderful mid-morning stop at Edge of the Cedars State Park in Blanding UT. It's a museum and archaeological site focused on pre-Colombian Puebloan culture. Like so many of the other places we have visited, Edge of the Cedars has a captivating introductory film, which we viewed in a room also housing a photography exhibit of Dave Manley's black and white images. And, like so many other places the exhibits were simply too much to take in -- words and images, artifacts and history.

For relief from that overload I retreated to the outdoors, admiring the landscape of distant mountains, the 1000 year-old ruins, the gardens and sculpture. Pictured here is a time piece, "The Sun Marker," by sculptor Joe Pachak. It is an illustration of archaeoastronomy, the study of prehistoric cultural connections with the sun, moon and stars. The images do, indeed, march across the open spaces of the sculpture, depending on the time and the time of year. (I particularly like the addition of the contrail in the upper right corner.)

This is a very special place, deeply silent, drawing the visitor into contemplation, even located as it is in a residential neighborhood. I sort of envy them, the people living nearby. But, do they visit any better than I do the places of interest near where Tal and I live? Probably not. Sigh ...

Time marched on, though, and we had to re board the coach and hit the road. Our lunch at Goulding's Lodge awaited. But first, an entrance into Monument Valley! Huge and wide-open ... Although I've always at some level understood and embraced the concept of honoring the wilderness just because it is, now I know that I claim it.

Stopping on this stretch of road through the tribal park is, let's say, not encouraged. Geri pulled the coach off the road at this spot -- where Forrest Gump decided to go home -- and I leapt off, to take a shot for the group. Tal, ever helpful, declared the he finally knew why he'd lugged the Canon all the way across the country!

Lunch was great, both the food and the welcome from the staff. Goulding's was interesting to the max, the museum detailing the (many) films made in Monument Valley; the contributions of the native people to the United States -- the WWII "code talkers," for example; the rich history of the valley, geological as well as human. And, the view ... well, this image was made from the dining room.

We arrived in Page in the late afternoon, at the Best Western Lake Powell. Sumptuous, luxurious and inviting ... meaning for Tal and me: nap. So nice.

The days are passing too fast. I am trying with all my mental might to pay attention, not to miss anything. But, oh, how swiftly our time is making its way into the past. Our return to St George will be too soon to suit me. Sigh.

10 October 2010

Among the arches

I know this is going to sound irreverent, but it is the truth. Since Tal and I began planning to come on this trip I have not been able to think about Arches National Park without having Jean Stapleton's Edith Bunker invade my head, that signature, fingernails-on-chalkboard, "oh, aaa'-chie." I got over it today, though, as we immersed ourselves in arches (with the requisite "R" inserted in the word) and I was infused with a huge dose of awe.

This is the view back toward the Visitor Center after the long climb (by coach) into the park when we stopped to see the view and for a geomoment. US191 and the Denver and Rio Grand Western railroad tracks come through the Moab Canyon -- a major fault.

North Window and South Window

Turret Arch viewed from the North Window

Double Arch is a pot-hole arch, formed by water erosion from above rather than the more usual erosion from the side.

The park, today being Sunday in a holiday weekend, was very busy. Geri had gotten permission for us to eat our lunch and have a geomoment in the solitude of the Amphitheater near the campground. Skyline Arch formed a stately backdrop for all that nourishment, the back seats in the amphitheater meeting the dead tree in the foreground of the photograph.

A very obviously "in process" Pine Tree Arch, losing squared-off chunks and slowly forming a rounded arch.

Landscape Arch and contrail. Newsworthy as the longest arch in the world, Landscape shed a few pounds in the 1991 -- an over 7o-foot piece from its underside, making it even more graceful and a little closer to the end of its existence. The link in this caption is to a great photograph, my efforts hampered today by the angle of the sun.

We viewed Delicate Arch from the lower viewpoint -- very far away. Our day by this time had grown long and hot, the hike up to the arch over three miles with an elevation gain of 400 feet and exposure to unprotected heights. This arch is the last one standing in what was once a long line.

This spot is called Park Avenue, reminding the person who named it of the building-lined street in New York City, I suppose.

At the end of the day, even though I was weary, it was hard to leave this park. I don't think it's my favorite -- I still have fresh in my mind the drama of Dead Horse Point, but there is something haunting here. I'm reading Edward Abbey's book of essays, "Desert Solitaire," written during and about the first summer he spent at Arches as a ranger, predating its development for "industrial tourism." Here's a bit of what he says about Delicate Arch, a few words that I think hold true for the experience of wilderness in general and more generally and universally for life itself:
For a few moments we discover that nothing can be taken for granted, for if this ring of stone is marvelous that all which shaped it is marvelous, and our journey here on earth, able to see and touch and hear in the midst of tangible and mysterious things-in-themselves, is the most strange and daring of all adventures (37).
Enough for today. Tal and I had more of our fabulous and generous lunch for supper here in the hotel, since we shared one at mid-day in the presence of Skyline Arch. Our after supper stroll along the main street of Moab as dusk draped itself across the desert was a quiet end to a good, tiring, satisfying day.