A Boulder in the Road

This isn’t one of my gardens in Iowa. I never took pictures, unfortunately, but this could well have been mine.

I don’t know why but ever since I left Iowa in 1977 and tried to have a garden I’ve encountered one obstacle to success after the other. Could it be that Iowa is special and I am ignorant? Yes, and yes. It’s true that even though much of that luscious Ice Age topsoil has eroded down to the Gulf of Mexico it’s also true that there is plenty left and it makes it almost a given that you will have success gardening in Iowa. When you’ve had it easy like I did growing up and you go somewhere else where that soil isn’t like that you’re in for a big shock. I got a shock. A big ole shock!

Where I lived in Berkeley developers had graded off what little topsoil there was and all I had to work with was hardpan. At Grindstone Ranch the soil was akin to pulverized rock. Water did not percolate into it. Just ran off. In the Central Valley there was that all too familiar hardpan under the sandy clay loam. But the Central Valley soil makes Arizona soil look sumptuous.

If a person – not me – had their thinking cap on they would take one look at Arizona and think “not the garden state of the Southwest”. Except for a relatively small area in Southwest Arizona near the Colorado River. They have thousands of acres of truck farms there. Lettuce, broccoli, brussels sprouts, celery. All growing in the gorgeous effluvium of that redoubtable river. But I don’t live there, nor would I want to, because even though the climate is great in the winter it’s unbearably hot in the summer.

So, it was with great consternation that I found, having done a soil test, that my garden soil was depleted. Zip, zero, nada, bupkis, for nitrogen, potassium, potash. On top of that major alkalinity and high pH. Not good. Not good. A major boulder appears in the road.

This is what I saw for my gardening future when I realized that my soil was completely kaput!

But being the person I am, I am forging ahead just like I did in Berkeley and Madera. I should be used to this, right? And there are ways to fix it even though I’m irritated as heck that I have to. When you get lemons, you make lemonade. No matter that the lemonade will not be served this season. Maybe it might not even come until next season. But, and this is for sure, it will come!

COMPOST… in a word the solution to all soil problems. As I’ve said my long-term goal is no chemicals whatsoever, all organic and eventually no-till. Long before I get to planting I need my soil to thrive because it’s truly the only way to save the planet and make healthy plants that resist insects and disease. The documentary “Kiss the Ground” doesn’t tell you the details of how to do it, but it gives you as taste of what is possible.

https://www.netflix.com/title/81321999

So I ask myself, what is good soil? The answer is that there is no one-size-fits-all answer when it comes to soil. It depends upon the preference of the plant. If you learn how a species grows in nature, and then mimic those conditions, you will find success. A saguaro cactus grows wild in the Sonoran Desert where soils are sandy, lack organic matter, and do not hold moisture between scarce rain storms. On the other hand, a lush fern that grows wild in moist, cool forests with ample shade and rich soil would do very poorly where the saguaro cactus flourishes. Arizona native plants are adapted and designed to thrive in this soil and in the hot, arid conditions.

In my backyard I have Sonoran Desert soil, so the easiest plants to grow are those that are native to the area. This is what I’m doing – to a point. In my previous article I told about how I was going to plant things like amaranth, Navajo corn and tepary beans. They are plants that the native Americans in this area figured out how to grow.

So here are the high points for how I’m tackling my problem: (These are things my dad never had to think about when he grew his 1 acre garden behind our house in Marshalltown.)

Aeration is key: I’m making sure the soil drains well and is not saturated. I’m incorporating 50/50 existing soil and well-aged organic matter.

Then I’m going to insulate and cover the soil with mulch because this conserves water. By creating a barrier, mulch reduces evaporation from the soil and lowers water usage. It also insulates from extreme temperatures during both the winter and the summer. Did you know it can be 10 to 30 degrees cooler beneath a layer of organic mulch such as wood chips or compost? Furthermore, as organic mulch breaks down over time, it adds nutrients back into the soil.

Then I’m going to build up organic matter. Perhaps the biggest difference between desert soils and those of other parts of the U.S. is organic matter. There is a lot of rganic matter in the soils of Iowa if you don’t know. Rocks were pulverized by the momentum of the glaciers and then vegetation decomposed in the temperate climate. While most soils contain up to 10 percent organic matter, desert soils contain less than 1 percent! Yikes!

Lastly, microbes are my friend. They are the mediators of nutrient uptake and are critical to growing healthy plants and food. Pesticides, herbicides, and petroleum-based fertilizers can be detrimental to microbial life, disrupting the symbiotic relationship between soil and plants.

Wish me luck my friends. At this time I am feeling hopeful. I caught the problem before the baby plants and seeds went in the ground.

Making the Desert Bloom

Anyway, that’s what they say.

I think they say this usually in the context of applying liberal amounts of agua. But I am not making the desert bloom doing that. I’m applying just enough water and then doing a lot of other things to make liberal amounts of water unnecessary.

When we bought this place the garden looked like this:

It was in April after a unusually dry summer and winter. Looks pretty bad, doesn’t it? You need imagination to see potential.

Whoever lived here before had put up chicken wire fencing, a gate, a rickety two by four shade structure and the shade cloth covering it had deteriorated in the sun giving it a Pirates of the Caribbean look. The grape arbor had grown completely out of control.

I’m improving this to make it a flourishing vegetable and flower garden. I’m trying to work with the environment as best I can so I’m growing vegetables and flowers that are adapted to this high desert climate (for the most part). My indigenous crops are going to be Santo Domingo melon, Mayo watermelon, Mexican amaranth, Blue speckled tepary beans, Navajo copper popcorn, and Anasazi sweet corn. Crops that aren’t indigenous but are desert adapted are the Windsor fava beans, Armenian cucumbers, Red Russian kale, broccoli raab, and Parris Island cos lettuce.  My flowers are a mix of Southwest natives: Desert bluebells and marigold, lupine, fire wheel, penstemon, Desert senna, Globe gilia, Mexican hat and more.

All that black stuff is the tons of compost I’m incorporating to enhance the sandy soil. My long-term goal is to farm using no-till methods but first I need to get the soil to where it will be receptive to that. Shouldn’t take too long. I hope. The soil will tell me when it’s ready.

Lucky looks on wondering if he’ll get to eat any of it when it grows.
My gardens never look like Martha Stewart’s but what I grow tastes good just the same!

When and if we get the monsoon rains, I will be utilizing the ak-chin method that the Tohono O’odham peoples have used for millennia. That is to say, I will be creating shallow ditches to funnel the rain where it needs to go. The worked-in compost will help the soil hold moisture. In addition to that I will use mulch spread on top, both sheet and straw.

To counter the “pests” (I know, pests have to eat, too, but….) I am reinforcing the fence, making below-ground caging, and companion planting. We had a lot of rabbits when we moved in, but I haven’t seen many for a long time now. However, I saw rabbit pellets the other day so I know they’re out there. The good fencing should keep Peter out! I have one short row of straw bales to raise the tasty roots away from the gophers and homemade hardware cloth cages will deter the gophers from eating the other plants.

Top photo: Upright cage secured with zip ties. Bottom photo: The cage bottom is kinda hard to see but ya gotta cover that, too.

Mint planted next to the brassicas with deter flea beetles and make great mojitos later on. Thyme around the bean plants will deter black flies. French marigolds near the tomatoes will deter white flies. You get the idea. It’s a multi-pronged approach!

The more alert of you will now be getting exhausted reading about all my preparations. This leads me to the last comment I want to make:

Gardening is fun. Once the garden is established.

By and large I would say that projects are the most fun in the beginning. You know, the newness of it. The excitement of trying something new. In gardening this is not true. I want my garden to flourish and not be overrun by insects, rabbits, and gophers. The soil has to be right. If I neglect the soil, it just spells trouble later on. Good soil grows strong plants that resist disease. All this preparation and planning needs to be done up front. Yeah, you can go ahead and throw seeds on the ground and hope something grows but chances are it won’t very well and even that small amount of effort will be wasted. No, gardening is not fun in the beginning if you’re doing it right and this is the phase that I am in right now. The laborious, not fun phase. But it will be worth it. And I can see it all now.

Ten Months In

A short update on our Arizona progress

Why do I do this? I’m long in the tooth and not getting any younger! As a matter of fact, I’m now four months into my seventy second year on this wonderful planet and what do I do? Do I sit down and relax? Oh, no! Here we are in Arizona on our third ranch project. Somedays I wonder if I’m completely nuts. Other days I realize that to relax and sit on the porch gazing at the scenery… well, that’s just not me. I’m the one-foot-moving-one-eye-open gal! I cannot sit still!

Okay, I will admit one thing. I might still be moving but I’m moving a little slower. I’ve earned it. I might still be under the command of the Can’t Sit Still Club but the club is letting me ease off a bit.

We’re thinking ten more years and THEN we can sell off and move to a Hawaiian lanai and really do some serious porch sitting. My inner voice says Yeah Right! So, we’ll see.

Short and Sweet

So, when we got here ten months ago, we bought a somewhat run-down manufactured home on four acres. Half of acreage was cleared. The other half was solidly socked in with mesquite and white thorn acacia. At least it was all fenced even if half the fencing was not visible. The interior of the home was pretty nice, open and spacious. It needed painting so wall by wall I painted it. The carpet was, and is, a spotted, stained disaster like a tenement slum. At least it wasn’t stinky. We’re letting that be for the time being as we constantly track dirt and thorns in and out. Leaving it means I don’t stress over making it dirtier. Someday when the outdoors is under control then we’ll replace it.

This isn’t our furniture but how it was staged when we first saw the house. Our furniture looks pretty much the same in size and layout.

We increased the tile area in front of the fireplace so we could set firewood down on something sturdy and have a larger fireproof area for popping embers. But besides paint, and replacement of worn out ceiling fans and windows in the 2 bathrooms that’s about all we need to do to the inside.

I have blue sky designs for a Japanese soaking tub in the master bathroom and pie in the sky dreams to replace the windows throughout because the windows are crap.

Once we finally got the backhoe here from California Marty was able to (pretty much but not 100%) clear out the rest of the acreage.  Mesquite, yucca and white thorn acacia are tenacious! For example, you scrape off badly placed yucca and it just grows back! Marty has to dig down 3 feet and nearly break the back hoe to get the mother yucca root out of the ground! Now I know why the Native Americans had an endless supply of yucca shampoo. You can’t get rid of the stuff! Well, you can but you have to have pretty damn big equipment to do it!

The deck is now big and not baby poop yellow. There’s going to be a fence around the back yard and the crappy gate and fence are going to be gone pretty soon. There’s going to be a big round pen on the right, a tack room next to a riding arena and horse pens in the middle.

I’m working on the garden area to improve it. I’m taking out the ginormous ramshackle shade structure that the previous owners cobbled together with 2x4s, wire and what-have-you. I’m building a real grape arbor California style and am hoping that my severe pruning hasn’t shocked the life out of the ancient uncared for grape vines. Somehow, I think not. I think that in the spring the ancient vines will come back even better than before. They were allowed to vine all over the place and weren’t putting out many grape clusters last year. Then I’m going to plant a big kitchen garden and sell my leftover produce at the farmer’s market. Since the garden area is big (40’ x 80’) I’m going to put my chicken run and henhouse in there, too.

What a mess! Grape vines are now pruned back and half the ramshackle arbor is gone. Future site of kitchen garden and henhouse.

I also trimmed up the giant Arizona cypress that had been planted too close to north side of the house. Let the Sun shine, let the sunshine in, the Sun shine in! I did the same with two mulberries on the east side of the house. Now they all look like real trees instead of overgrown gigantic bushes.

Marty is going gung-ho on building horse pens, tack barn, riding arena and custom round pen with slanted sides. Slanted sides eliminate the accidental toe catching on the sides that is nerve racking on straight side pipe corral round pen fences. Makes for happier and safer horse training.

He also increased the size of the back porch so it’s actually a place a person can grill on the Weber and not feel crowded.

We’ve planted 20 trees so far: 16 eldarica pines, 2 Chinese elms, and 2 Arizona cypress. We’ve also planted evergreen salvia in front of both porches. We’re going to fence in the back yard and build a traditional ramada out there for backyard bbqs.

That’s Blue’s temporary horse pen beyond three of the 20 trees we’ve planted.

Are you tired yet? I am.

But I’m really seeing progress

Thanks

For all my friends and family who I dearly love and wish I could be with on this day of giving thanks for what we DO have.

By W. S. Merwin

Listen
with the night falling we are saying thank you
we are stopping on the bridges to bow from the railings
we are running out of the glass rooms
with our mouths full of food to look at the sky
and say thank you
we are standing by the water thanking it
standing by the windows looking out
in our directions

back from a series of hospitals back from a mugging
after funerals we are saying thank you
after the news of the dead
whether or not we knew them we are saying thank you

over telephones we are saying thank you
in doorways and in the backs of cars and in elevators
remembering wars and the police at the door
and the beatings on stairs we are saying thank you
in the banks we are saying thank you
in the faces of the officials and the rich
and of all who will never change
we go on saying thank you thank you

with the animals dying around us
taking our feelings we are saying thank you
with the forests falling faster than the minutes
of our lives we are saying thank you
with the words going out like cells of a brain
with the cities growing over us
we are saying thank you faster and faster
with nobody listening we are saying thank you
thank you we are saying and waving
dark though it is.

My Pecan Sticky Buns Recipe

Good things must be shared, don’t you think?

This recipe isn’t quick and easy but it’s definitely worth it!! I have been told time and again that I need to make these commercially and that people would drive miles for them and pay almost anything but I’m too lazy. If you want to go ahead and make these to sell, be my guest but know I will be demanding royalties… not!

Makes 8 big buns or 16 small buns or whatever fits in your pan

You have to make the dough first. The dough is the hardest part but is integral to what makes these so good. Sort of like when you make a pie. To be the best pie it has to have the best crust. I’ve had many a cinnamon or pecan roll and if the bun part is not good I spit it out. Too bad for the baker. Sorry. It has to be good dough and that’s the end of it. I have tried store bought Pillsbury dough and other recipes and all failed the Renée Taste Test. This bun recipe is the piéce de résistance.

Oh, you should be aware that this whole process will take a few hours so you might consider starting in the morning so you can bake your sticky buns that night.

Beautiful dough for the buns

¼ c warm water (feels warm – not hot – to touch)

1 pkg (2-1/4 t) active dry yeast

Combine these 2 things in a large bowl (or in a bowl of a stand mixer) and let the yeast dissolve. About 5 minutes.

Add to the dissolved yeast:

½ c all-purpose or bread flour

1/3 c sugar

¼ c milk

1 t vanilla

1 t salt

Mix this by hand (or on slow in the stand mixer) until blended. (I’ve done this by hand but after Marty gave me a stand mixer for Christmas I really would rather use it than do it by hand. I’ve been spoiled.)  Once that is mixed, gradually add in 2 to 2-1/4 c all-purpose or bread flour stirring all the while. Mix until the dough comes together. Now dump it all out on to a lightly floured board or smooth counter and knead by hand (you know how to knead bread dough, right?) for about 10 minutes (or if you have a dough hook on the stand mixer knead with that on low for about 7-8 minutes). We want the dough to be smooth and elastic so it’s not sticking to your hands or the bowl.

Add 6 T (3/4 stick) butter, very soft, not melted just soft

and vigorously knead it in. It will be messy but keep working and it will blend. Trust me. I’ve done this many times. It will work. Endeavor to persevere. Knead until completely incorporated and smooth and elastic again.

Now place the dough in a large lightly buttered bowl. Cover and let rise in a warm place (like 75 – 85 degrees) until doubled in volume, about 1-1/2 hrs. May take shorter or longer depending on how lively your yeast is.

Now punch down and knead briefly. Just a few times. Then refrigerate, covered, until doubled again. 4 – 12 hrs.

The hard but important part is over!

Finishing. Going for the Gold.

Butter a 13 x 9 inch baking pan. Or iron skillet, whatever you have, pie plate, doesn’t really matter. Just something not too big or small that you can bake in.

Mix together in a small saucepan:

1 c dark brown sugar

½ c (1 stick) butter

¼ c honey

Bring this to a soft boil over medium heat stirring to dissolve sugar.

Remove from heat and mix in 2-1/2 cups chopped pecans.

Pour this lovely hot mess into the buttered pan, spreading evenly. While you’re letting that cool a bit roll the dough out to a rectangle shape approximately 16 x 12 inches and about a ¼ to 1/2 inch thick. This is all approximate. It can be thicker but generally since you want it to roll up in a robust spiral you’ll want it thinner rather than thicker.

Brush that flattened part with 1 T melted butter.

(You realize, at this point, we’re far beyond healthy and low calorie. Who cares?)

Sprinkle evenly with 1/3 to ½ c packed dark brown sugar and 2 t cinnamon

Roll it up into a cylinder from long side. Cut crosswise into however many rolls you want. Obviously cut thin you get more rolls but thinner rolls. Arrange the rolls cut side down in the pan spacing evenly. They can touch or not touch. Not touching is better so they cook more evenly. They’ll definitely puff up in the oven. But first cover once again and let rise at room temp until doubled. About an hour.

Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 350.

When the oven is preheated and the rolls puffed up, put them in the oven and bake until top is golden brown and the syrup is bubbling. By the way you might want to put a cookie sheet under the pan in case of any boil overs. Spare the oven.

Anyway, bake for about 30 minutes and keep an eye on them so they don’t burn. Remove from oven and let them cool about 5 minutes. Now you have to flip the whole business over on to the serving plate. To do this place a plate or serving platter over the pan and grasping both sides of the plate and pan (oven mitts help here) flip the whole business over so the buns come out.

Step back and feast your eyes. Not too long though because it’s now time to feast your mouth. Try not to eat too many at once. Try to save some for later.

Beautiful October

October is my favorite month and it’s not just because my birthday is on the 13th.

Oak Creek Canyon near Sedona. An amazing place to hike.

Some of my best memories are wrapped up in October. Riding horses into the timber near the river with my dad and sister as well as hiking along the river and sometimes wading in because the river is very shallow in October. Hunting for hickory nuts on a windy day. The crunch of fallen leaves as I purposely step on each and every one as I walk down the sidewalk. Watching the starlings wheeling in the sky like a school of sardines. Clapping my hands like a gunshot to make the starlings dive away. Chomping into a ripe pear fresh off the tree on an Indian summer day. Magic seems to meet me in October.

I open the windows and let the cool breeze in. Such a welcome relief after the hot days of summer. I spend more time outdoors doing chores. Getting everything just-so in the house because there will be days ahead when we don’t feel like going out. Thinking about my reading list. Putting up canned tomatoes for the chili I will make.

October means making way for seasonal shifts inside our home, planning time together, and, of course, a first taste of fall cooking in the kitchen. Pots of beans, cinnamon sticky buns, homemade bread.

What’s your favorite month?

Near the Iowa River
Leaves waiting to be crunched
They look like a school of fish
There’s nothing better than a ripe pear right off the tree
I make the best sticky buns if I do say so myself

Eldarica

Now begins a new adventure. An adventure in place – but not really – because I always feel best when I light out for the Territory Ahead kind of like Huck Finn. I’m calling our new home Eldarica (el-duh-ree-ka)  for the sixteen pine trees we just planted.

There’s a hummingbird sitting on her nest outside my window. Barely 2 feet away and I try not to disturb her. She sits, flies away to where I do not know and then comes back. Now, there’s no way I’m going to remove any more limbs from that tree! A large Arizona cypress. It’s going to stay the way it is until she hatches her eggs or leaves because something happens. I have to let her do her job. The white thorn acacia that is now blooming everywhere must be nourishing her. Maybe this place will nourish me, too.

Can you see her? Smack dab in the middle of the picture on her nest.

We’ve settled in for the most part. I have my important kitchen equipment now and my desktop set up. I’ve made cookies in the oven. I’m making sauerkraut in the Kilner fermentation jar. I’m working on a story about yucca shampoo for Mother Earth News. The days are hot, the mornings and evenings cool and the nights cold. A gray fox barks outside our window in the dark. Early in the morning a western tanager alights in the mulberry tree and then flies on.

We decided to explore the Huachuca Mountains yesterday. The Huachuca’s are a mere 10 minute drive to the west of us. The highest peak is Miller Peak which is 9,466 feet above sea level. Its next-door neighbor is Carr Peak at 9,237 feet. There’s a road that goes up there that ends at a campground we’re told. The campground is at a respectable 7,200 feet and the road is passable when dry. So we go. It’s six miles and mostly one lane. For the first mile and a half it’s easy going.

Carr Peak is just out of the picture on the left. We’re headed for the top of that mesa on the left.

Pretty soon though it gets rough. Plus, there’s a big drop off nearly straight down into trees. A voice inside my head says quit but I can’t so both hands on the wheel we go slow unrelenting up, up, up.

North Yunga Road in Bolivia gives you a taste of what we experienced on the uphill climb to Carr Peak. I’m not kidding. We weren’t prepared.

I can’t take a picture on the way up because I can’t stop and certainly not let go of the wheel. No place to turn around either. Just keep on keepin’ on. We haven’t turned the trip meter on, so we aren’t sure how far we’ve gone or how much farther we have to go. Then we see a van coming down from above. It scrunches over to let us by and as we go past, waving thank you, we see the van is full of people. Are those people crazy, or am I? Then a Razr off road vehicle comes down the road, too, and passes us. Those people have the right idea! A van? A Toyota? No. A Razr, yes!

Finally, I find a slight turn out that is somewhat flat and let Marty have the wheel. We are closer to the “top” than we realize because there it is. Reef Townsite campground, thank God! The end of the road at Ramsey Vista CG is only a mile and a half further.

OK. Deep breath. Lunch time. Let the Toyota have a break.

Reef Townsite CG is nice and cool. No good views of the valley below because of the many pine trees. We think if it wasn’t such terrible road to get here this would be a nice place to camp. Site of an old mining camp. I wonder how those miners got their equipment up there in the mid 1800s before true roads. Burros maybe? Too steep for horse drawn wagons.

On the way back down, Marty goes in low gear and super slow. Great views.

Yes, you have that right. That’s the road we came up on in the foreground. The San Pedro River Valley out beyond with the Mule Mountains in the distance.
Ah! Mexico. It sounds so simple I just got to go. The sun’s so hot I forgot to go home. Guess I’ll have to go now.

When we get back down to the valley we decide to drive over to Tombstone and try the root beer.

All drunk. Homemade sarsaparilla. Say “sass-pa-rilla”.

A Fish Without Water

Feeling like a fish out of water? Almost literally, I am. This part of Arizona is constantly windy and wind sucks the moisture out of everything including you. I think, “Why did I come here? This place is not me.” So many good things about it but so many bad. I don’t feel at home in such a dry place. Alienated.

Then passing through Johnson Valley, CA in the Mojave on the way to Yucca Valley near Joshua Tree National Park I see a sign written in some pictographic language. Cambodian? How alienated must people from the jungle southeast Asia feel in the desert? And yet they adapt and endure. I can adapt and endure, too. The choices I made in my life up to this point put me in this position and I had to make a decision that I would not necessarily have made if all things were perfect. But since when was life perfect?

****** 

We saw that Nomadland won best picture. We had already seen the movie a while back. Our reaction? The movie glamourized that existence. We’ve been “nomads”, so we know what that life is actually like. Even the name “nomad” is glamorous.  C’mon. We call ourselves “full-timers”.

For one thing they didn’t show what it’s like when the weather is crappy and you’re stuck in your van for days. You could move to better weather but what if you don’t have enough money to pay for gas to drive somewhere else? Better weather is invariably far away maybe the next state over. And maybe the place where there’s better weather is already full of other campers and you have to stay in a rest stop with 16 wheelers rumbling all night long around you. It happens.

And another thing. Where do you go to the bathroom? They didn’t show that. Your option is what? A porta pottie which may or may not be clean. Which brings up the question what if you need to go in the middle of the night? How far away will that porta pottie be and maybe the weather is not so good or it’s dark and you can’t find your flashlight. So, you resort to a pottie bucket in your camper and don’t knock it over by accident. They didn’t show that.

You get the picture. And this is just the small part of the picture. Nomad existence is just like life. Long periods of no-so-nice punctuated by brief moments of glory.

If given the chance to live in a very nice house on the coast in Northern California any full timer in their right mind would jump at the chance! It’s not realistic that she decides not to stay. What? She likes bad weather and pottie buckets? Thumbs down. Hollywood blows it again. Great performance, though, by one of my favorite actresses (France McDormand). She deserved the Oscar.

******

Let’s say this about Arizona though: When Arizona has clouds, they are spectacular. When I lived in the Bay Area my dad would say “send me some sunset pictures!” And I would say, “Dad, they don’t have sunsets here. They have fog.” Now I wish Dad was alive and I would send him all the sunsets he wanted and more.

Fair weather cumulus in the Wilcox Basin
Sunset over our neighbors

Out of Arizona

Huachuca Mountain at sunset

I had a ranch in Arizona at the foot of the Huachuca Mountains. The border with Mexico runs across these highlands, for hundreds of miles to the east and west, and the ranch lay at an altitude of over four thousand feet. In the daytime you felt that you had got high up; near to the sun, but the early mornings and evenings were limpid and restful, and the nights were chilly.*

(*These are the immortal words of Isak Dinesen who wrote about her coffee farm in Africa. I bastardized them to describe our acreage here in Arizona because they fit pretty well with minor alterations.)

The best thing about this place are the clouds! Oh, the clouds! Very much like clouds you might see in the mid-west and I’ve missed them very much until now. Cumulus, cirrus, lenticular, lots of lenticular because it’s pretty breezy here. Sometimes windy! I hear the clouds will get even more interesting when monsoon season hits. Apparently in July and August the weather can get humid and the thunderheads will build until in the afternoon it will dump! Sometimes, I am told, up to 2 inches an hour. And then it quits and air is nice and things grow and get green. I’m looking forward to this.

Last night we had a visitor. We had just crawled into bed and I was dozing off. What is that sound? Not a coyote. I know coyote yipping. Instead, strange rasping kind of bark. I immediately thought fox. Sure enough, it was a gray fox. Marty got the flash light to shine a light on it because our dogs are outside dogs. In a nice pen and pretty safe, I would think, although I know foxes can climb. But why would they climb into a dog pen with 2 big dogs? For food maybe. For food left out but we don’t leave the food out.

Monsieur Gray Fox!

Anyway, it left right away and we haven’t heard it since but I would like to. I like that the wild is still out there and doing all right. At least I hope it’s doing all right. I feel that when the wild is doing all right then we are more likely to be doing all right, too.

Speaking of the wild we’ve had some nice hikes along the San Pedro River. It’s flat and shady and now there’s a bit of water. Someone said don’t wade in the water because the river originates in Mexico and you don’t know what “those people” are doing over there. Harumpph “those people”! I want to say you don’t even know those people so how can you say anything? So, I’m not concerned. Even if “those people” were polluting the water by dumping raw sewage or chemicals we’re miles from Mexico and by the time it gets to us the wild will have strained it and made it better. I’m not going to drink it! Just wade in it. There’s no industrial down there. It’s all Sonora Desert.

The San Pedro River originates in Mexico, flows north and joins the Gila River in Arizona

This area is chock full ‘o’ history! It was right here in 1540 that Francisco Coronado walked or rode north out of Mexico with 1,000 men, 3,000 cattle and 23 horses on his way to the Great Plains. I think that’s pretty trippy. In the map that I attached there’s the brown line of San Pedro River so it’s easy to determine that we are right in the path.

Way before that all happened, maybe 30,000 years ago, paleo-indians killed mammoths and other animals within 2 miles of our home. There’s a bone pit excavation site a stone’s throw from here. If my dad was still alive he would dig that (not literally) because he loved hunting for arrowheads in the plowed fields around Marshalltown. He would say, “It fascinates me to think who the last person to touch this might have been.”

Now we turn our efforts to improving the place. This is something we always do. This time it’s mostly going to be landscaping because the inside of the house is pretty fine the way it is. A little paint here, a little carpet or tile there. The cat is thrilled to have miles (to her) of room to run. She’s an indoor cat (you recall Mr. Fox of whom I spoke earlier) and so giving her all this space is making her a very happy cat.

Time is a River

I don’t have any travelogue to offer today. Just a simple musing on life and time.

“Time is the substance I am made of. Time is a river which sweeps me along, but I am the river; it is a tiger which destroys me, but I am the tiger; it is a fire which consumes me, but I am the fire.” – Jorge Luis Borges

I am older now. I just turned 70 last October. I can’t believe it. That sounds wise. It sounds sage but I don’t feel it. And I don’t feel particularly old but now when I contemplate starting a new exercise regime I think it might be best to visit my doctor and see what she says. My brother-in-law just keeled over dead in an instant of a heart attack. No warning. No nothing. He was 66.

I don’t remember when I was a baby but I do remember my youth. Youth was a time of gaining. Everything increasing. Getting more. Physical prowess increasing. Mental acuity increasing. I can remember when running up stairs meant nothing to me. I can remember when I could catapult into the saddle or sit for hours in lotus position or bend over backwards in the plow and think nothing of it.

There’s one thing. I think I’m still getting smarter. But I’m more forgetful now and then. What was that called? Who was that? My hearing is going and I have tinnitus. I have a cataract developing in one eye and glaucoma in the other. I had better than perfect eyesight until I was 55 at least. I also have high blood pressure. I used to have low blood pressure. I mean really low. Nurses asked, “Do you faint a lot?” I’m under a doctor’s care for all this and thank god for modern medicine or I’d probably be dead already.

The older a person gets the more it becomes a process of letting things go and then comes the ultimate letting go and death of the body. It’s the opposite of youth. A bell curve. Up and then apogee and then down. I was reading about Ernest Hemingway and thought, “He really needed a spiritual practice.” Because it was clear he clung to his robust life, bacchanalian, and when it started to fade, he could not adjust. He could not imagine living a life of letting go. So, he killed himself at what I would have considered a young age. Sixty-one.

Can I imagine living a life of letting go?