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Archive for the ‘Books’ Category

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.

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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.

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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.

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Butterflies have invaded Tucson. I love it.

        

Poet and Novelist May Sarton believed that the best artists were androgynous, and that it was the masculine in a woman and the feminine in a man that gave creativity its spark.

Coming across that idea while reading Journal of a Solitude this morning, at a point in life when so many new terms for gender identity are being tossed about, brought my reading to a pause for a brain-think.

Just a few weeks ago, I had to ask a gay granddaughter and her wife, who were treating me to lunch at a downtown Tucson restaurant, what the waitress meant when she asked what pronoun we preferred. He/She, Him/Her, They?

“She/her,” my granddaughter had replied.

Back home, I did a little gender identity research on my own to reinforce my understanding of the issue. The research added the term non-binary to my brain cells. That’s the “they” of the waitress’ question. Some people, I learned, didn’t identify as either male or female.

Being as I’m 82 years old, and was quite unworldly until I was well-past 30, learning about differing sexual realities of humans was something that came late in my education.  Fortunately, I had a good teacher, a gay journalism colleague who struggled with sexual discrimination back in the 1970s.

He was a religious person, and we were good enough friends that I asked him how he felt about religion’s stance that being homosexual was wrong. His reply was: “God made me this way, so who am I to disagree with him.”

I agreed, and never had a problem from that point forward with accepting people for who they were. The only thing that matters to me is whether you are a caring person who does no harm to other people.

But what stopped me while reading Journal of a Solitude this morning was thinking about what May said about creativity. While I’ve always been thankful I’m female and not male, I’ve often thought that I also have what many might consider some strong masculine traits.

I think that’s true. And I think they have served me well. Perhaps it’s time to simply let people be who they are without any judgment. What do you think?

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.

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Stupid Birds … Or Not

I sketched this red-winged blackbird on an outing to Antelope Island in Utah’s Great Salt Lake on one of bird outings.

An old friend, whom I often dragged on many of my bird outings, told me that he only liked seeing the big birds. Translated that meant such birds as great blue herons, tundra swans, bald eagles and double-crested cormorants, all frequent sights around Northern Utah’s Great Salt Lake and Bear River areas where I frequently used to go to watch birds.

His comments were also a gently hint to me that he didn’t enjoy standing around for hours trying to get a glimpse of and identify any small bird that preferred to stay out of sight – like the tiny ruby-crowned kinglets that never stopped moving as they flitted between thick tree foliage, or the marsh wrens that sang duets from their hiding places in a patch of phragmite or cattails.

I thought about that while reading May Sarton’s Journal of a Solitude with my morning coffee. She was an avid gardener and also one who kept a supply of seed on hand to feed wild birds. But for this April day entry, May had noted that there were only starlings, red-winged blackbirds and cowbirds at the feeder. “Too stupid,” she wrote.

Now as much as I’m a May Sarton fan, I think she misspoke here. I think her disgust was not because these are stupid birds, but because they are some of the birds that everyone can see almost daily in this country, from ocean to ocean and border to border.

 Here in Tucson, I have three bird species that I see every day: house sparrows and mourning doves when I take my canine companion Scamp for his first walk of the day, and an Anna’s Hummingbird that tries to guard the nectar feeder hanging on my balcony every day from all intruders.

 When I also catch a glimpse of a bright yellow and black American goldfinch, or a Cooper’s hawk skimming overhead, my morning walk seems more special. Like this morning when a broad-billed hummingbird visited my balcony feeder. While the broad-billed is not as brightly colored as the Anna’s – the male of which has brilliant magenta head feathers – I was more thrilled because I don’t see this species every day.

 We humans are a funny lot. Perhaps we are more stupid than the birds. For sure we’re not so fond of the saying: “A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.

And just what does that mean anyway?

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.

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A page from an earlier journal containing quotes from another author.

I’m listening to Madeleine Albright’s Hell and Other Destinations, and finding lots of wisdom, humor and thoughts that I want to add to my journal. It was my book of choice with morning coffee today.

One incident Madeleine, who narrates the book, said, had me laughing. So, I turned off my Kindle and wrote down what I recalled about it. I wrote: “When a woman asked Madeleine if she were proud of herself for not getting a facelift, Madeline said she wished she had asked the woman if she was proud of the results of hers.”

The quotes indicated the exact words I wrote in my journal. After turning my Kindle back on, and relistening to the incident, I realized I hadn’t quoted Madeleine correctly. Here’s what she actually said about the incident.

“When at a party, a woman, half socialite half journalist, told me how brave she thought I had been for not getting a facelift, I was tempted to comment on the courage she had shown in dealing with the results of hers.”

I relistened to the recording several times to make sure I finally got it correct.

This incident brought up one of my former journalist mantras. “Just because you heard what I said doesn’t mean you heard what I said.” Much less understood what was said.

It also reaffirmed my understanding of why the stories of my five children, who all participated in the same activity or incident at the same time, varies in five different ways — and all five are different from mine.

It’s a miracle the world is not in more chaos than it is.

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.

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Refinding My Mojo

Watching — and drawing — birds is good for my mojo. Art by Pat Bean

          My mojo is in the toilet because of Covid isolation – for the second time given the Delta variant going around strongly here in Tucson. Because I’m 82, even my good friends and family, who are daily out in the world –including one who is a teacher and had had six students come down with Covid within a week of school starting – are staying away from me.

          I’m a social person and it is getting to me. And then there is what’s going on in the world with war and politics. Keeping up with current events is a downer, but closing a blind eye is not an option for this former journalist.

          Ok. Enough is enough.

It’s time to start counting my blessings. That always helps.

          Beginning with the basics: I have a comfortable roof over my head, more than enough food to eat, air conditioning to keep the Sonoran Desert heat at bay, money enough to at least buy a book when I want it, decent health insurance, and I’m loved.

          I have a fantastic canine companion, beautiful views of both sunrises and sunsets, heated water for a bath every night, internet access to the world, birds to watch from my third-story balcony, and an inquisitive mind that usually keeps me from ever becoming bored.

          I’m the last person in the world who should be feeling sorry for herself.

           Even isolation hasn’t been all bad. It’s given me time to learn how much I do enjoy my own company. I just don’t want it to go on forever. Plus, I still believe in silver linings.

          One has to be out there — somewhere.  

           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.

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Scamp, all zonked out after a round of ball chasing

Like Dorothy Martin’s cats – I’m currently reading her take on life in the cozy mystery Trouble in Town Hall – my canine companion Scamp makes sure I lead a balanced life. I thought about that this morning as we took our 6 a.m. walk around my apartment complex.

Scamp is an almost three-year-old Siberian Husky/Shih Tzu mix who is finally learning my only speed these days is slow. I make up for it by extra walks and lots of soft-ball throwing down my hall, lasting until he gives out and doesn’t retrieve the ball.

Scamp’s the most social dog I’ve ever owned, and a handsome fellow who charms almost everyone he meets here in my large apartment complex. Most of them stop to say hello and give him an ear scratch, which makes his day. Some even carry treats especially for him.

Because of Scamp, I’ve come to know a lot of people I wouldn’t have otherwise.

 I also have to get up and get dressed to walk him every day, whether I feel like it or not. By the time we get back from our walk, I’m ready to face the day.

If I didn’t have Scamp, I would probably sleep in and stay in my pajamas all day. Sounds lovely, but I think taking a walk, enjoying the birds and flowers, and smiling at my neighbors is much healthier for this old broad.

Later, when Scamp curls up in my large recliner beside me while I read, the human need for touch is fulfilled. They say petting a dog or cat reduces blood pressure, and since I’ve had to take high-blood pressure pills for 40 years now, this has to be a good thing.

My vocal cords also get daily exercise because I talk to Scamp. And he never disagrees. He simply tilts his head and gives me a questioning look, as if to say: Oh. I understand.

And sometimes I read out loud to him – like Qwillian does with Koko in Lillian Jackson Braun’s Cat Who books.

Come to think of it, a lot of fictional characters have pets that make their lives better: like Tank, in Tinker Lindsay and Gay Hendricks’ Tenzing Norbu’s murder mystery series; or Nick and Nora Charles’ dog Asta in Dashiell Hammet’s Thin Man novel; or Little Orphan Annie’s dog Sandy.

I guess you could day Scamp and I are in good company.

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.

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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

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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.

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