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Great Horned Owl — Art by Pat Bean

          The western sky was glowing orange and purple as I walked down the stairs from my third-story apartment to give my canine companion Scamp his last walk of the day. I stopped to watch — while Scamp watered a couple of trees — as the fiery scene slowly vanished below the horizon. Never have I lived where such a late evening sight happens most nights of the year.

          And just as the colors coalesced into the dark hues of night, our resident female Great Horned Owl silently swooped across the courtyard to land in the giant Ponderosa where she often sits for hours. She and her mate have raised chicks here in the apartment complex all but one year since I moved here in 2013. It’s easy to tell the genders of the pair because the female is about a third larger than the male, a common trait of raptors.

          The night felt magical, as if the Sun and the Owl had put on a special performance for my eyes only. Such moments seem to happen to me a lot, but I never tire of them. While I still have itchy feet that wants to explore all the places I’ve never been, I’m glad my own backyard can still thrill me.

          Richard Bode, author of First You Have to Row a Little Boat, said he once met once met a man who had visited every exotic place from the Grand Canyon to the Great Wall, but then admitted he hadn’t seen the songbirds in his own backyard.

          I met quite a few people like that when I was traveling this country in a small RV. People, like me, came from all over to visit some waterfall, cave, or other wonder of nature, and the person who lived just 10 miles away had never taken the time to view it. How sad.

          If ever there was a time that we needed to be given proof that beauty and wonder can exist amongst chaos, these days are it. I need sunsets and owls, and colorful flowers and fall leaves, and hummingbirds and coyotes to keep me sane.

And thankfully, they’re all just outside my apartment door.

          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.

Keeping Busy With Birds

A bit messy but I never would have tried this Black-Capped Chickadee post without taking the art class.

I took a bird history/drawing Atlas Obscura Zoom class yesterday afternoon. The instructor noted that birds evidently had a lot of fans, judging by the number of participants who signed up for the short course.

She’s right. According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Survey, 51.3 million Americans watch birds, and the hobby is the fastest-growing outdoor activity in this country.

I became one of the addicted in 1999. And my life has been richer because of it. My latest way to watch birds, given that Covid’s isolated me from taking field trips with other birders, are live bird cams. Check out explore.org if you are interested.

This morning I watched a bald eagle sitting on a snow-filled nest near Decorah, Iowa, a blue-gray tanager at a Panama fruit feeder, and puffins in a burrow off the coast of Maine. I especially like watching the fruit feeder because I personally have to identify the birds that visit it, which often involves an extra bit of research.

I’ve kept a life list of birds I’ve seen personally in the field for 22 years now – 700 plus different species. The list grew rapidly in my early years of birding, but now grows only by one or two birds a year, if I’m lucky.

So, I’ve started a second list of virtual birds. The criteria for this list include a good visual observation, location of the bird, and a bit of research about any bird I list. My impossible goal is that the list will eventually grow to 10,000 bird species, which is almost as many birds as there are on this planet.

As an avid list maker, and an old broad who is retired, it’s an ideal activity, as is drawing birds. It was a fun class that began with the instructor noting birds evolved from dinosaurs. I already knew that. Did you?

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.

Keeping Busy with Birds

A bit messy but I would never have attempted this Black-Capped Chickadee pose if not for the drawing class.

          I took a bird history/drawing Atlas Obscura Zoom class yesterday afternoon. The instructor noted that birds evidently had a lot of fans, judging by the number of participants who signed up for the short course.

          She’s right. According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Survey, 51.3 million Americans watch birds, and the hobby is the fastest-growing outdoor activity in this country.

          I became one of the addicted in 1999. And my life has been richer because of it. My latest way to watch birds, given that Covid’s isolated me from taking field trips with other birders, are live bird cams. Check out explore.org if you are interested.

          This morning I watched a bald eagle sitting on a snow-filled nest near Decorah, Iowa, a blue-gray tanager at a Panama fruit feeder, and puffins in a burrow off the coast of Maine. I especially like watching the fruit feeder because I personally have to identify the birds that visit it, which often involves an extra bit of research.

          I’ve kept a life list of birds I’ve seen personally in the field for 22 years now – 700 plus different species. The list grew rapidly in my early years of birding, but now grows only by one or two birds a year, if I’m lucky.

So, I’ve started a second list of virtual birds. The criteria for this list include a good visual observation, location of the bird, and a bit of research about any bird I list. My impossible goal is that the list will eventually grow to 10,000 bird species, which is almost as many birds as there are on this planet.

          As an avid list maker, and an old broad who is retired, it’s an ideal activity, as is drawing birds. It was a fun class that began with the instructor noting birds evolved from dinosaurs. I already knew that. Did you?

          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.

 

Reminders to Live Fully

And always remember to take time to smiell the flowers. — Art by Pat Bean

Life is too short.

Play with your dog. Eat that extra piece of chocolate pie without guilt. Don’t hold grudges. Walk in the rain. Don’t put off exploring your own backyard. Take that day trip to Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge that has been on your things-to-do list for months.

Stop procrastinating about writing your memoir. Laugh at yourself often. Accept that you’re old and that the mirror tells the truth – you’re not looking for a lover so who else would care?

Speak your mind more, but remember to be kind. Don’t take your friends, or your family, for granted. Write more snail-mail letters. Stay awake until 4 a.m. listening to that great book you’re enjoying. Simply sit for a while and watch hummingbirds flit around a nectar feeder.

Buy a new pair of shoes and throw the old ones away. Stop censoring your own journal. Paint a picture of a rainbow, or a bluebird, or the flower that’s blooming outside your window. Cook a special meal. Sit under a tree and read a book. Learn something new.

And always remember to be thankful for being the CEO of your own wonderful life.

Just a few reminders when one’s years ahead are shorter than the years behind.

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.

Is being a chameleon a strength or weakness, I was asked.

How is your greatest strength also your greatest weakness?

This question is the October writing prompt from my Story Circle Network writing circle, which I’ve been a member of now for over ten years. Every writer should belong to just such a supportive group, and I feel blessed to have found mine.

As to the prompt, I immediately thought of one of my traits that for most of my life I thought of as a weakness, but in recent years have concluded is actually a strength.

I consider myself to be a chameleon because I have no problems fitting in with many types of people and groups. I, almost instinctively, can adjust my actions and speech so that I fit in. It’s as if I’m many persons. While I don’t verbally agree with things I don’t believe in, I work at not making statements that will give offense.      

That’s not to say it always works. While it does keep disagreements and controversies to a minimum, I’ve become known as the dolt who suffers from foot-in-the-mouth disease. Sometimes it leads to hard feelings toward me from someone I dearly love. And then my attempted explanations usually make things even worse.

The truth is, especially in the earlier days of my life, being a chameleon was all I was. I envied people who knew who they were and stood up for things they believed in. My problem, or so I thought, was that I never seemed to have those same strong feelings about one issue or another.

I could see the point of view of those who took a hard stance on an issue, but just as easily I could also see the point of view of those who took an opposite hard stance. No issue ever seemed to be black and white. I thought this made me a weak person.

At some point, as a working journalist, I came to understand this chameleon attitude served me well. I always kept both sides of a polarized issue talking to me because I didn’t slant my newspaper stories one way or the other. I stuck to the facts only and fairly represented both sides equally – because I usually could see both sides, especially involving the issues I wrote about as an environmental reporter.

It took me much longer to see my chameleon qualities with friends and family as a strength — and not until I accepted myself and actually found a few issues on which I couldn’t back away from, even if they offended someone. It took me a long time but I finally came to know who I am, and that includes being a person with chameleon traits.

And those traits are an asset because they give me easy access to many different kinds of people and situations that broaden my horizons.  Being a chameleon means I’m not stuck in only one mind set.

So, what are your greatest strengths and greatest weaknesses?

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.

When I look at this color sketch I did some years back, I see a Zion Canyon Cliff Wall behind the tree, although I did the sketch from memory. It’s how I perceived a Zion Canyon wall to look.

          Dictionaries give the definition of “perception” as: The ability to see, hear or become aware of something through the senses … a way of regarding, understanding, or interpreting something … a mental impression. …intuitive understanding and insight … and memory, by which an organism becomes aware of and interprets external stimuli.

          Hmmm…

This makes me think that the multi-polarized perceptions rampantly raging across America today are blurring facts and truths. But what facts. and whose truths?

          I recently watched the second episode of Season 41 of Survivor, a television series that I’ve been a fan of since it first premiered over 20 years ago. The person who outwits, outplays and survives everyone else walks away with a million dollars.

          The program has evolved over time, with contestants better understanding that it’s a game in which lying is almost always crucial to winning. As this is part of the game, it doesn’t bother me, unlike how I feel about liars who don’t speak the truth in real life. To put it bluntly I abhor them.

Anyway, on this recent Survivor episode, three women on the challenge-losing team were discussing who to vote out of the game. Their choices varied, prompting one of the women to note that it was all a matter of individual perception, because each of them viewed what was in their own best interest differently.

          The older I get, the more I come to understand how people, who even can  have the exact same experiences, can see those experiences and events quite differently. This has been especially notable among my own family of five children, who all seem to have grown up with five different mothers. The truth is, time combined with the wisdom of years, has totally changed my own perception of the mother who I thought I had been.

          Another simple example of my coming to understand the power of perception came to me during a recent visit to my doctor because of back pain. One of the first questions I was asked was: On a scale of 1 to 10, how would you rate your pain? I’ve actually been asked that question on many occasions, including when I was giving birth to my children.

          I always thought the question was a silly one because it had no specific comparison value. This time, I actually voiced the thought, and the nurse quickly agreed with me.
          “You’re right. Its only value is how the patient feels about pain. Some never rate severe pain higher than a four, while other patients rate a hangnail as a 12.”    Enlightening, I thought, as my perception of the value of the question changed with the answer. Perceptions, I realized, continually flow like water instead of being poured concrete that hardens as it dries.

          Sadly, thinking about this gave me no answers as to how to solve the destructive, polarized beliefs and actions roaring across America, and the world, today. Perhaps it will have to begin with simply being kind to one another – well, at least that’s my perception. What’s yours?

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.

Fishlake National Forest … Wikimedia Photo

Sometime back in the early 1970s, when I was exploring Utah’s backroads as part of research for a story about Utah State University’s rural extension programs, I found myself in Fishlake National Forest. Named after Fish Lake, the largest mountain lake in Utah, the forest covers 1.5 million acres and is home to an abundance of wildlife and birds.

          I thought about my long ago drive through that peaceful forest this morning as I listened to and read about Pando in an Atlas Obscura article. Podcast: Pando the Trembling Giant – Atlas Obscura

Pando, which was discovered by researchers Jerry Kemperman and Burton Barnes in 1976 –just a year or two after I first discovered the forest – is a clonal quaking aspen stand. Aspens grow from a connected root system, with each tree being a genetic replicate of all the others. 

          In 1992, the huge Fishlake quaking aspen stand was re-examined by other scientific researchers who named it Pando, Latin for I spread, and who claimed it was the world’s largest organism. It is spread out over 106 acres and weighs an estimated 13 million pounds, and consists of about 40,000 trunks.

Wow! That’s the word that went through my mind as I read that Pando was also 80,000 years old – the stand, not the individual trees, which rarely live longer than 150 years.

I’ve long-loved aspen trees, especially in the fall when their leaves turn golden and shimmer in sunlight, as they were beginning to do near the summit of the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, where I saw them just this past week. I’ve rarely seen aspen trees below an elevation of 8,000 feet.

In 2015, I took a road trip to Grand Canyon’s north rim just to see these awesome trees. But on last week’s drive through, I saw many more aspens than earlier, probably because a fire had moved through the area and the aspens were the first trees to grow back. Their root systems survived the fire. In their fall colors, the young aspens, which grow about two feet annually, also stood out more prominently than other foliage.

My feet are now itching to revisit Fishlake National Forest. But since that’s not on any nearby agenda, perhaps I’ll just do a return trip up to the top of Mount Lemmon, where I saw aspens a few weeks ago. Those hadn’t yet assumed their fall colors, and maybe they have by now.

I know that if you look for it, beauty can be found in your own backyard just as easily as anywhere, like the broad-billed hummingbird that visited my nectar feeder this morning. The secret is simply to look with an observant eye and a heart attuned to nature’s wonders.

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.

Descriptive on a Grand Scale

A view of the Grand Canyon and the Colorado River below from one of the many view points. The canyon is too big, and awesome, to be captured from a single point. — Photo by Pat Bean

          My latest travel book read is To Timbuktu by Mark Jenkins, an author I came to love over 20 years ago because of his articles in Outside Magazine, of which I’m a great fan.  

 Mark has a great way with words, such as his description in To Timbuktu of an equatorial mountain range: “…rumpled geology smothered by the octopus of botany,” he wrote.

As usual when reading, having one thought often cycles me to a related thought. This morning, I wondered how writers would describe the Grand Canyon, which I revisited for about the dozenth time this past week. So, I went searching for just such descriptions.

Most quotes that I found about the Grand Canyon echoed, in one way or another, the phrase that the author didn’t have the words to describe it.

But as I kept searching, I came across what John Wesley Powell, the first man to go down the entire length of the Colorado River through the entire Grand Canyon in 1869, had to say about this Arizona hole that was carved out over six million years ago. He wrote:

“The glories and the beauties of form, color, and sound unite in the Grand Canyon – forms unrivaled even by the mountains, colors that vie with sunsets, and sounds that span the diapason from tempest to tinkling raindrop, from cataract to bubbling fountain … The elements that unite to make the Grand Canyon the most sublime spectacle in nature are multifarious and exceedingly diverse.”

Another of my favorite authors, Ann Zwinger, whose trip through the Grand Canyon is described in her book Downcanyon, had this to say: “The astonishing sense of connection with that river and canyon caught me completely unaware, and in a breath, I understood the intense, protective loyalty so many people feel for the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon. It has to do with truth and beauty and love of this earth, the artifacts of a lifetime and the descant of a canyon wren at dawn.”

Having paddled through the Grand Canyon on the Colorado River twice, I well understood Ann’s words, especially about the impact of hearing canyon wrens welcome the day.

If you haven’t visited the Grand Canyon, above or below, you might want to add it to your bucket list, or at least read about it in books such as Zwinger’s Downcanyon or Powell’s journals of his epic 1869 and 1871 adventures.

Meanwhile, I’m going to get back to Jenkins’ Timbuktu adventure.

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.

Actually, I made many wrong turns during my nine years of traveling this country full-time in a small RV. Above is where one of those wrong turns ended up. — Photo by Pat Bean

My good friend Kim and I were on our way to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon from St. George, Utah, last week.

“We go through Hurricane and Colorado City on the way to Highway 89A, then we turn off at Jacob’s Lake Junction,” I told her as we left her brother’s house. She was driving, but I knew the way because it’s the route I had followed, minus the Grand Canyon detour, to St. George from Tucson.

So, off we went, laughing and talking, and catching up on each other’s lives since last April, when she had flown down from Ogden, Utah, to help me celebrate my birthday.

This day we were beginning a three-day road trip to celebrate her birthday. And we made it a good five miles down Interstate 15 before we realized we were headed to Las Vegas in Nevada instead of the Grand Canyon in Arizona.

We both laughed about it, and she did a U-turn. That’s what I love about road trips with Kim. We laugh instead of rant and whine about mishaps and imperfections – which seem to happen often when the two of us are together.

 In fact, we had a second oops when we pulled up in front of our Flagstaff hotel late that afternoon after our visit to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. Seems we were at the wrong Days Inn, and had to drive all the way back across town, during rush hour, to get to the right one.          We laughed about that, too.

Both this day’s wrong turns, however, were minor compared to the misadventure we had some years back when we explored Utah’s Nine Mile Canyon on an unpaved road after a heavy rainstorm. We missed a turn and kept going and going — much farther than nine miles — before we finally decided we had to retrace our route.

As if my magic, although it hadn’t rained any more, the muddy puddles we had earlier driven through in Kim’s four-wheel drive vehicle, seemed to have grown larger and deeper. At one point, Kim had to get out and wipe mud off the headlights with a T-shirt she found in the car so she could see to drive on.

It was almost midnight when we got back to our camp. It took us a couple of days before we could laugh about that one.

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.

Old Age is Not for Sissies

A page from my sketchbook

When I young, too many years ago, I would occasionally hear one well-matured person or another comment “old age is not for sissies.” I heard it more often as my own mother struggled to retain her independence.

          These days I find myself muttering the same words, and also those of Dylan Thomas who wrote: Do not go gentle into that good night, old age should burn and rave at close of day; rage, rage at the dying of the light.

          I’ve worked hard at keeping my brain sharp and up-to-date with what’s going on in the world today. And I joke that my third-floor apartment. with no elevator, and a dog to walk five times a day, are my fool-proof exercise plans.

          That’s all good, but my recent inability to take a small step down on uneven ground, because I was afraid I would lose my balance and fall, had nothing to do with stairs or walking.

          “Try Tai Chi,” my former journalism colleague Charlie Trentelman, told me.

          So, I ordered a digital video copy of Tai Chi lessons that focuses on balance for older people. I participated in the first class this morning.

          In it, we beginners got to hold on to a chair, or even sit in it for some exercises. Piece of cake, I thought, as the demonstrations began. Ha! I had to sit out a couple of the exercises because I pooped out. I was straining muscles I didn’t even know I had.

And when it came to the point in the video where the instructor said we could end our first lesson here if we were tired, or continue on, I opted to halt the video.

          I’ll try again tomorrow. I’m not a sissy.

           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.