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I Don’t Understand

Perhaps I should take a long drive to the top of Mount Lemmon to clear my head after all my pondering to understand. — Photo by Dawn Lee

          I simply don’t understand all the hate toward people who are different or think differently going around in this country today.

          Why, why, why? I keep asking.

          Is it fear? Is it a lack of self-esteem? Is it greed? Is it a feeling of supremacy? Is it what people were taught or learned growing up? Is it narcissism? Is it plain old meanness? Is it a desire for political power?

Is it all of the above? Or none of the above?

It’s certainly not what I thought Christianity stood for – and I say that because I’m seeing some church leaders standing at the forefront of the hatred movement. What happened to loving one another?

America, and the world, is a melting pot of races, cultures, beliefs, genders and political leanings. We never will all agree on things, but that doesn’t mean we can’t respect one another – excepting, of course liars and cheaters and those who purposely do harm to others.

But what’s going on today goes far beyond those exceptions.

Will someone please help me understand.

Pat Bean is a retired award-winning journalist who lives in Tucson with her canine companion, Scamp. She is a wondering-wanderer, avid reader, enthusiastic birder, Lonely Planet Community Pathfinder, Story Circle Network board member, author of Travels with Maggie available on Amazon (Free on Kindle Unlimited), and is always searching for life’s silver lining.

Me in the Standard-Examiner Newsroom back in the 1980s, — Photo by Charlie Trentelman, another old journalism coot

          I had an interview this week for the Media Scrum, a podcast created by Don Porter and Mark Saul, whom I worked with at the Standard-Examiner newspaper in Ogden, Utah, for almost 20 years, I call them old journalist coots although they’re a good bit younger than me.

          They stayed on at the paper for a while after I retired in 2004 but both are now working in other fields, mostly I suspect because of all the cuts, downsizing and other diminishing factors the majority of newspapers have experienced in recent years.

          Two large newspapers, the Pulitzer-winning Dallas Times Herald that I grew up with, and the Houston Post that I was a stringer for back in 1970, no longer exist. And when I first went to work for the Standard-Examiner, it had a circulation of over 65,000 subscribers. Today, it’s circulation is below 30,000.

          It’s been a sad quarter of a century for journalists. And Don and Mark’s podcast project make me think they still have a bit of ink left in their blood. I know I do.

          The interview with them left me thinking about my first four years as a green-behind-the-ears reporter. No one ever had time to tell me how to do things right until I made a mistake. Then everyone told me how it should be done.

          I learned fast because I made a lot of mistakes, but never the same one twice.

        After sneaking in the backdoor of the Brazosport Facts, a small local newspaper on the Texas Gulf Coast, I started getting sent out to chase down insignificant, sometimes crazy, assignments but I always managed to come back with a story.

          Four months after I was hired in March of 1967 — for $1.25 an hour — I was promoted to reporter and given a 35-cent an hour raise. I didn’t learn until four years later that this was a fraction of what male reporters made at the paper.  

          But those four years I spent at the Facts, prepared me for what would become a 37-year career as a journalist. Those years, I sincerely believe, were equivalent to a master’s degree in journalism, certainly more valuable than the community college journalism classes I immediately started squeezing into my busy schedule.

 I went from a naïve mom of five, who retreated to the darkroom to cry when she was yelled at by then city editor Roberta Dansby, to a confident reporter who finally stood up and yelled back.

 Thinking back on those days, I recall a major power outage from a storm when everyone scrambled to put the paper’s pages together by candlelight. They were then rushed 50 miles away to a printer with operating power.

          No one missed their newspaper the next day…nor any other day at any one of the six newspapers for which I worked. These include, besides the Facts and the Standard-Examiner, The Herald Journal in Logan, Utah; The Fort Worth Star-Telegram in Texas, The Sun in Las Vegas, and The Times News in Twin Falls, Idaho

          If you’re interested in Don and Mark’s podcast, here’s the link. https://www.buzzsprout.com/1215551/8771914-pat-bean Just remember, I’m a better writer than a talker. In fact, colleagues used to say: “It’s a good thing Bean writes better than she talks.

But the interview was fun, and the three of us laughed a lot. Laughing is important at any age, but even more so when you’re my age.

Pat Bean is a retired award-winning journalist who lives in Tucson with her canine companion, Scamp. She is a wondering-wanderer, avid reader, enthusiastic birder, Lonely Planet Community Pathfinder, Story Circle Network board member, author of Travels with Maggie available on Amazon (Free on Kindle Unlimited), and is always searching for life’s silver lining.

Gila Woodpeckers favor saguaro cacti for their homes, which is one reason I’m always looking at them. — Photo by Pat Bean

          One of the many delightful things about living in Tucson are the Saguaros, a slow-growing cactus that at about the age of 50 develops tree-branch arms. The cactus then lives on for another hundred years or so, continuing to grow more arms and stretch up toward the sky.

          They are visible all-around Tucson’s Sonoran Desert landscape. In the area’s monsoon seasons– sadly absent the past couple of years – the trunks of the cactus take in and store water to last it during the dry spells. You can visibly see the saguaros trunk bulge after a heavy rain.

For the nine years I’ve now lived in Tucson, I’ve also watched these cacti sprout enchanting white flowers with golden centers on the tips of their arms for a few weeks each spring.

This spring the blossoms were more abundant than I’ve ever seen them, plus the blossoms were also growing elsewhere on the cacti. It’s something I haven’t seen before, and neither have others. The phenomena has been strange enough that desert ecologists are trying to come up with an answer for it.

 One thought is that the area’s drought and above-average heat are behind the changes in the saguaros.

Meanwhile, I’ve noticed another phenomena here at my apartment complex in Tucson’s Catalina Foothills. We have an abundance of house sparrow babies. I can’t step outside my apartment without seeing a host (the name for a group of sparrows) littering the grass where I walk. I would enjoy them more if my canine companion Scamp didn’t think it would be fun to try and catch one, an action I highly oppose.

I do, however, enjoy waking up in the mornings to their cheery chirp…chirp…chirps.  

I suspect that their parents took advantage of the many thick bushes around the complex for nesting and the abundance of water sprinklers that are used to keep two of the apartment’s three courtyards green. I also suspect the abundance of sparrows is probably why our resident great horned owls continue to raise their young in the tall trees that look down on those courtyards.

So what is Mother Nature up to where you live?

Pat Bean is a retired, award-winning journalist who lives in Tucson with her canine companion, Scamp. She is a wondering-wanderer, avid reader, enthusiastic birder, Lonely Planet Community Pathfinder, Story Circle Network board member, author of Travels with Maggie available on Amazon (Free on Kindle Unlimited), and is always searching for life’s silver lining.

An old saguaro that I thought looked like an old man, whose death I watched over a period of several months.
During my traveling days, I did manage a few train trips, like the one to the top of Colorado's Royal Gorge. I took this photo as the train curved around a bend while on the train itself. -- Photo by Pat Bean

          “There is nothing permanent except change.” – Heraclitus, an ancient Greek philosopher who lived between 535-475 B.C.

          I’m currently reading Paul Theroux’s The Great Railway Bazaar by Train Through Asia, which was published in 1975. It recalls a four-month trip the author took in 1973.

          Almost half a century has passed since then, which makes the book as much about history as travel. At times, it’s a bit confusing because names of countries have changed, and the places Paul visited are not the same today as they were then. Some sites have died out, while others have grown into giant cities.

To keep track of everything, and because armchair travel has become the most comfortable way for this 82-year-old-broad to continually be exposed to new places, my reading is constantly being interrupted with questions. I’m continually chasing down the answers to my curiosity by checking up-to-date maps (I have a good atlas) and internet resources, the latter being one of the reasons why I don’t long for the “good old days.”

Having the time to do this is one of the upsides of aging to offset the downsides.

But the changes that happened in the world since Paul’s book was written, makes me wonder about the changes time has brought to the places I visited in my own rambling journeys in a small RV between 2004 and 2013. My book, Travels with Maggie, is about a slice of that traveling life that took place during six months of 2006, but the book wasn’t even published until 2017.

I wonder if someone will read my book with questions, and if they will take the time to find the answers as I do? No idea how to answer this question.

Meanwhile, I noted that Paul’s journey began with him taking the 1530 -London to Paris Train, and him writing: “Ever since childhood, when I lived within earshot of the Boston and Maine, I have seldom heard a train go by and not wished I were on it.”

Those words made me think of when I was a young child and the Texas Zephyr that blow its whistle each day as it roared behind my grandmother’s home in Dallas.

I always wondered where it had been and where it was going, and yearned to go along for the ride. Perhaps that’s why I’m enjoying my trip across Asia with Paul.

Photo: Train to the top of Colorado’s Royal Gorge, which I rode in 2007. I took the photo from the train as it curved around a bend.

Pat Bean is a retired journalist who lives in Tucson with her canine companion, Scamp. She is a wondering-wanderer, avid reader, enthusiastic birder, Lonely Planet Community Pathfinder, Story Circle Network board member, author of Travels with Maggie available on Amazon (Free on Kindle Unlimited), and is always searching for life’s silver lining

Seeing is Identifying

Male House Sparrow in breeding colors -- Wikimedia photo

          Three weeks ago, if I covered my left eye, my vision became quite blurry. Today the blur is gone and I can see better with just the right eye than I could with both eyes before – which means the Lasik and cataract removal procedures on my right eye were a success.

          Monday, I get the same procedures done on the left eye and my vision hopefully will be even better. We live in a wonderful age, especially for avid readers and enthusiastic birdwatchers like me.

          Six months ago, I had to enlarge my computer point from 12 point to 16 point to be able to see it comfortably. And reading small print was beyond me. As for identifying birds, that has been getting more difficult for the past few years.

          I could easily tell a sparrow from a dove, both of which are plentiful around my apartment complex, but I couldn’t tell what species of sparrow I was seeing.

          There are over 35 different species of sparrows in North America, but all the tiny markings that distinguish one species from another weren’t visible to my eyes. All I was seeing was one grayish mass.

          That has now changed, I realized, when a few days ago I clearly saw all the details that make a common house sparrow beautiful. Because it’s so common, I think people don’t give it the credit it deserves. Perhaps that is also why, truly seeing it for the first time again, is why I was so thrilled to be able to identify it by its markings. .

          Since then, I’ve also seen the yellow marking on the verdins that eat at my hummingbird feeder, and clearly seen, through my binoculars, the yellow eyes of the great horned owls that call my apartment complex home.

          I’ve been updated. Yea!

Pat Bean is a retired journalist who lives in Tucson with her canine companion, Scamp. She is a wondering-wanderer, avid reader, enthusiastic birder, Lonely Planet Community Pathfinder, Story Circle Network board member, author of Travels with Maggie available on Amazon (Free on Kindle Unlimited), and is always searching for life’s silver lining

Missing a Beat

Annie was right. The sun came up tomorrow. — Photo by Pat Bean

          Ten days ago, I was prepped and ready to be rolled into the operating room for surgery to remove the cataracts in my right eye when everything came to a screeching halt.

          Seems the wires I was hooked up to had given the surgery team the idea that I might be having a heart attack. They were all set to call an ambulance and bundle me off to the emergency room. I insisted I felt fine, and they reluctantly released me into the care of my friend Jean to take me home.

        I was pissed. I cussed. I cried. My friend stopped and bought me a special white chocolate raspberry cupcake. It helped a little.             

I got in to see my primary care doctor’s nurse practioner the very next day. A second EKG – a test that tracks the beats and electrical impulses of your heart – was also abnormal and she made an immediate referral to a cardiologist.

Between the time I left the doctor’s office on Tuesday of last week and yesterday, when I saw the cardiologist (a delightful man whom I called Dr. B because I couldn’t pronounce his name), I was a bundle of nerves. I fumed and I cried. But I continued to feel fine.

That’s because, while my third EKG in a little over a week also came back abnormal, the cardiologist said it was a benign normal-abnormal and that I had a great heart. It had no blocked arteries and a good beat. The problem was just that one electrical impulse had gone rogue, so to speak.

People who know me sort of said, Duh!

Dr. B wrote a letter to my eye doctor saying I was good to go for my cataract removal – and I go in tomorrow to get the right eye done.

Wish me luck.

Pat Bean is a retired journalist who lives in Tucson with her canine companion, Scamp. She is a wondering-wanderer, avid reader, enthusiastic birder, Lonely Planet Community Pathfinder, Story Circle Network board member, author of Travels with Maggie available on Amazon (Free on Kindle Unlimited), and is always searching for life’s silver lining.

An insignificant watercolor that also marks the passage of my days. — Art by Pat Bean

I just completed the last page of my current journal, whose first page was written Nov. 9, 2020.  Before I put the book away, I perused back through it.

On the very first page, I had written the definition of the word pedantry, which means an excessive concern with minor details. A good word for a journal keeper, I wrote.

Here are a few other insignificant details and thoughts I wrote to mark the passage of the days.  

The estimated number of insects in the world is 10 billion billion, according to David Attenborough’s book Life on Earth. He also wrote that an ancient split in the ancestry of fish means humans are more closely related to a cod than a cod is to a shark. Hmmm?  

A coxcomb is a jester’s cap.

In this day and age, doubt is the only way to read social media. Duh.

Socrates lived from 470 to 399 B.C. and yet already understood that we are all in this chaotic mess together.

You can use your knuckles as a memory aid to remember what months have 31 days. You learn something new every day.

It is a shame everyone else is an idiot.

More than two dozen cars got towed because their owners ignored, or didn’t get, the memo that our apartment parking lot was being repaved.

Today, December 21, is supposed to be the shortest day of the year. But I see that the sun came up and went down at the exact time as yesterday.

The first Amazon Kindle came on the market in 2007, and sold for $399. I love my Kindle.

          My good Tucson friend, Jean, was exposed to Covid. She’s a teacher. (P.S. Two weeks of isolation from her, but she didn’t come down with it, and now we both have gotten the vaccine)

Get over it. Just do it.

“Let me live, love and say it in good sentences,” – Sylvia Plath.

And with that said, I think I will now go start a new journal.

          Pat Bean is a retired journalist who lives in Tucson with her canine companion, Scamp. She is a wondering-wanderer, avid reader, enthusiastic birder, Lonely Planet Community Pathfinder, Story Circle Network board member, author of Travels with Maggie available on Amazon (Free on Kindle Unlimited), and is always searching for life’s silver lining.

It may look like a dark day, but the sun is out there somewhere. — Photo by Pat Bean

I cried as a kid because other kids made fun of me, because I didn’t have a boyfriend, because I foolishly married the first one, because my kids were sick or had been hurt, because after the divorce I couldn’t find my true soul mate, at Lassie movies, because my teenagers had minds of their own, because I made a mistake at work and got yelled at.

I really could go on and on.

But then my kids grew up, I had great friends, and I realized I was my own soul mate and a dog was much easier to live with than a man, even if I liked or even loved him.

I came to appreciate not having to listen to music or TV programs I didn’t like, of being able to get up on a weekend morning and go exploring only where I wanted to go, to eat cold fried chicken or listen to audible in bed at 2 a.m. without earplugs, to not have to cook if I weren’t hungry, to not having to share a bathroom, and simply to enjoy having some solitude.

Suddenly there were no more tears, well except at sad movies — but those tears dry out before the movie’s credits end.

While I don’t miss the reasons for my other tears, I realized this week that I do miss the feeling of release that flows through the body after a crying jag ends.

That’s because I experienced one. Like Alexander, I had A Horrible, Terrible, No Good, Very Bad Day. And I cried about it.

But, as Annie predicted, the sun came up the next day.

Pat Bean is a retired journalist who lives in Tucson with her canine companion, Scamp. She is a wondering-wanderer, avid reader, enthusiastic birder, Lonely Planet Community Pathfinder, Story Circle Network board member, author of Travels with Maggie available on Amazon (Free on Kindle Unlimited), and is always searching for life’s silver lining.

These days, I have time to not just smell the flowers but to paint them. Life is good.

What the heck! Who have I become?

I asked myself that question this morning as I carefully zipped closed Scamp’s package of peanut butter doggie treats after our morning walk.

          The bag hadn’t fully closed the first time I zipped it shut, and I was taking the time to redo it, and then checked a third time to make sure it was truly closed.

          This time-consuming action made me think of the person who was always in too much of a hurry to even close cabinet doors, a habit that annoyed orderly people.

          Following this memory, I remembered myself merrily tripping up and down stairs as if they were flat ground. Hand holds – well except when I was climbing to the top of Zion’s Angels Landing – were mere architectural doodads.

Today I hold onto stair railings for dear life and look for other handholds anytime I have to maneuver uneven ground or floors. What happened to that person who ran instead of walked from place to place, I ask myself?

That impatience gene that once ruled my body, driving me to constantly sprint to get somewhere, to jump from one task to another, to always come in first, has clearly taken a vacation to Timbuktu — and decided to stay.

I guess it’s what happens to you when you’ve lived on this planet for 82 years. The funny thing is that life is still rich and exciting. I’m more observant when I get out in nature, sometimes seeing more on a short walk than I did on a 10-mile hike.

I take time to satisfy my curiosity. My home stays neater. I explore the world through travel books. I bird from my balcony window. I piddle around with watercolors. Sometimes I just sit and connect the dots of my life. My writing is richer because of my experiences and I get to write what I want to write. And I feel closer to friends and family than I ever did during my younger years.

That person who never had time to make sure packages or cabinet doors were closed is gone. I miss her. But I love her replacement.

Pat Bean is a retired journalist who lives in Tucson with her canine companion, Scamp. She is a wondering-wanderer, avid reader, enthusiastic birder, Lonely Planet Community Pathfinder, Story Circle Network board member, author of Travels with Maggie available on Amazon (Free on Kindle Unlimited), and is always searching for life’s silver lining.

Sleeping with Dogs

Scamp: What do you mean that I snore?

          There is something warm and comforting about having a warm body lying next to you that makes sleep come easy and feel safer. But it’s been some time since I’ve had a regular human bed companion – which is probably why my dogs are allowed on the bed.

          I’ve been a single, happy, free spirit now for over 30 years, so given that dogs’ lives are shorter than humans, I’ve slept with four dogs. The first after my divorce was Peaches. She was a golden Cocker Spaniel and five years old when I got her. We bonded on sight. She was my protector and enthusiastic hiking companion – and would have given her life for me.

She would always go to sleep at the foot of my bed, but would creep slowly up toward its head. I would awake with her nose just inches from my face, her eyes telling me she needed to go outside. .

 Maggie, a black Cocker Spaniel with a mischievous bent, came to me after a year of being abused. At first. she was afraid of almost everything. It was a full year before she felt safe. But then, she decided she was queen of the castle and it was my duty to give my live for hers.

 I loved her very much, and she and I spent the last eight years of her life traveling the country together in a small RV.*

She, however, was the least satisfactory of my bed companions. She would always curl up next to me when I went to bed, but if I were restless during the night, and I usually was, she would huff that she was going to go sleep on the couch. And so she would.  

Pepper came next, a black Scottie-mix, whom I got when she was only four-months old. I hadn’t wanted a puppy because of all the work I knew puppies required. I thought about that when I saw her barking and running around in an animal shelter yard. Nope, not for me.

She had other ideas.

I was sitting on a bench when she saw me. She ran over, jumped up on my lap, locked my blue eyes with her shining chocolate ones, and emphatically communicated that she was going home with me. And so she did, but she also zapped my fears about puppies right out the window.

Pepper already knew her potty was outdoors, and understood the meaning of the word “No!”  Unlike Maggie, she loved pleasing me and was the perfect sleeping companion. She would curl up next to me, forming her body to my shape, reforming it again and again, without complaint, each time I changed positions.

Her only fault was that she fooled me into thinking I could adopt an eight-month-old, 18-pound Schnauzer-mix – or so the shelter personnel, who also erroneously listed him as female, said.

I don’t know if he had a gender change or what, but he was clearly an unneutered male, and as rambunctious as a teenage boy when I brought him home.

I named him Scamp, which fits him perfectly. I had him neutered and house trained – never once did he hit a puppy pad that I had carpeted my floor with – within a hard month. But he’s still a big adventurous wild one. His saving grace is that he is friendly and loveable.

When he kept growing, my daughter had his DNA tested and it turned out that he is 50 percent Siberian Husky and 37 percent Shih Tzu with not a single gene of Schnauzer.  He is now almost three years old, and weighs 40 pounds. He’s also a cuddler and thinks he is a lap dog.

Scamp sleeps beside me on top of the covers at night, a warm presence that comforts my body. The first glimmer of dawn — be it 5 a.m. in the summer or 7 a.m. in the winter here in Tucson — is his alarm clock.

If I’m not stirring when the light creeps into the room, he begins a low moaning. Then begins a routine of kisses and hugs and scratches before he finally convinces me to get out of bed and take him for his morning walk.

Thankfully I’m a morning person. And thankfully I don’t have to sleep alone.