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Jellyfish at the Monterey Bay Aquarium. — Photo by Pat Bean

Connections

I just learned that when the Arizona Sonora Desert Museum renovated its hummingbird aviary in 1992, the new hummingbird nests kept falling apart. Museum workers scratched their heads for a while, but finally realized why this was happening.

 During the renovation, all the old vegetation inside the aviary was   removed, and replaced by new plants. The removal took away any spiders that inhabited the vegetation and the hummingbirds needed the web spiders produced to hold their nest materials together. The problem was solved by workers gathering branches that held such webs, and placing them inside the aviary until the spiders could reestablish their presence.

While digesting this bit of information, I came across a mindfulness tip about how to stay calm during these chaos-filled days when the news is all about Covid, political shenanigans and tornado deaths. It came from TV writer Cord Jefferson, who said traditional meditation didn’t work for him. What did, he said, was to just get lost in the gentle pulses of jellyfish for a short mindfulness break during his workday,” Cord then noted that Monterey Bay Aquarium has a jellyfish cam that can be bookmarked on a phone or laptop browser.

I’ve watched hummingbirds at the desert museum and the jellyfish at the aquarium in person, and found both these things calming. I think it’s just letting ourselves get out of our heads a bit that does the trick.

But reading these two stories back-to-back, made me realize how interconnected we beings on this world are. And by beings, I don’t just mean we two-legged sapiens. It’s certainly something to think about. Meanwhile, if you’re in Tucson or Monterey, you might want to check out the desert museum and the aquarium. Both are great places to visit.

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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Madelaine Albright and My Granddaughter

          I had an enjoyable conversation with my granddaughter and her wife last night about working women and overcoming myths about the female gender, long considered the weaker sex.

          Having myself given birth to five children, I find that idea seriously demented, but I’ve heard it hundreds of times in my 82 years.

          Then, this morning, as I was reading Madelaine Albright’s book, Hell and Other Destinations, I came across the chapter about her pins, and the suggestion that she write about them.

          Her answer was a resounding “No way,” noting how demeaning it would be for the first woman secretary of state to write about her jewelry. It would be like one of the male presidents writing about their ties, she wrote, despite the fact that she often wore pins to convey how she felt about an issue. Just as one president was known for saying “Read my lips,” she became known for urging others to “Read my pins.”

          Some years down the road, Madelaine relented. While the Smithsonian put together the pin exhibit, she wrote Read my Pins: Stories from a Diplomat’s Jewelry Box.

          In writing about this, Madelaine noted that in her day – and my day —   women emulated men in order to succeed. It’s time that ended, Madelaine suggested, noting that “punctured earlobes do not mean a leaky brain.”

          Now that’s a quote I’ll keep in my head for the next time my granddaughter and I have a gender conversation. But then she, and her wife, already know that women don’t have to emulate men to succeed.

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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I can’t count the number of Lassie books, movies and TV programs that have left me in tears. How many of you young oldsters remember this photo? And who the young boy is? And did you know that Lassie was usually portrayed by a male dog.

A Good Old Girls’ Club in the Making

I haven’t seen a movie or television show that has left me crying in at least a couple of years. Now, you should know, when I make this statement, that I have cried a water tank full of tears over the years, beginning with books like Lassie, Where the Red Fern Grows, and Black Beauty to a couple of Marvel movies.

Surprise of all surprises, the crying jag was restarted with Wednesday’s night’s episode of The Challenge All Stars, Season 2.

Now I know that people consider this peace-loving 82-year-old a bit strange — for someone who doesn’t like conflict, nastiness and mean people – because I’m a fan of both Survivor and The Challenge, whose weekly episodes usually display all of these traits.

I excuse myself because the participants are all playing a game, like Poker, in which dirty tricks, lying and outwitting your competitors are all allowed –Actual hitting gets you expelled from the game. I love the outdoor adventures and competitions. And amazingly, I also find memorable minutes of good sportsmanship and of finding some good in even the meanest people.

I’ve watched every episode, so far, of Survivor. I came late to The Challenge, but have watched as many episodes as have been screened.

So, what, you might ask, made me cry in The Challenge. It came at the end of a combined puzzle and weight-pulling competition, where one of the two female competitors simply wasn’t strong enough to do the weight-pulling, The other woman, by the way, outdid even the two men who competed in the same competition earlier, which, of course, thrilled me.

When the female winner finished, she went over to her competitor, and said “Come on, we’ve got this.” She then helped her pull her weight to the finish line so the woman could finish strong. It was one of the best female support actions I’ve ever seen. Even some of the bystander competitors even had tears in their eyes. (Just to note, I have seen men support their losing competitors in similar ways many times.)

But both these two women are mothers – and not so young anymore. The All-Stars episodes brought back players from 15 or more years ago. I found it very inspiring to see women staying active and supportive of their gender. Perhaps it’s the start of a good old girls’ club to compete with the good old boys’ clubs that have been going strong for way too long.

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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Chickadee and berries. — Art by Pat Bean

Fingers Take Over Brain

Amy Hale Aucker, in her book Ordinary Skin, writes about her choice to camp in a primitive area near a natural hot-spring pool despite warnings against doing just such a thing. While her mother only told her to be careful and not talk to strangers, others asked where she was going to plug in the hair dryer.

Even the campground host Jim, an older gentleman, asked if she was sure she wanted to do this.

She did, and she talked to strangers, even a rough-looking vagrant who joined her in the hot pool one night. Jim just happened to wander by, a few times, just checking out the campground. But Amy knew that he was making sure she was OK.

“He was taking care of me,” Amy wrote, noting that other men had also taken care of her during her life.

My first thought on reading this was the campground host, also an older gentleman, who daily checked up on me at a lonely Michigan campground during my solo RVing days.

It felt nice. Taking care of women was how most men were raised in my generation. And some of then took it very seriously. But then along came the female rebellion, when women decided things like opening doors for them wasn’t a good thing at all because it let the man feel superior.

Ha! Men have felt superior from almost the moment they were born, often simply because of the way they were treated by their loving parents, who gave them more freedom than their sisters, and made sure if there was only enough money for one child to be educated it would be them.

I was even told by a male high school teacher that females had no reason to go to college. They would be taken care of by a man. I remembered that clearly the day I realized nobody in my life would be taking care of me, but me. I had no problem with men opening doors for me. All I cared about was getting equal pay for equal work.

That, at least, was/is my generation, and I’m an American woman. In some eras and countries, female babies weren’t even allowed to live. Even today, in some countries, women can’t walk outside their homes without a male escort.

Hmmm. This essay took an unexpected turn, which often happens to me when I have my fingers on a keyboard and they take charge of the brain. My original thoughts were to compare Amy’s experience of Jim looking out for her, with the times men looked out for me.

And, like Amy, I, too, wouldn’t let the fear of being harmed by men stop me from doing the things I loved to do, like my solo RVing across America, or hiking a mountain trail alone because that was my favorite way to be in nature.

And also to note that if I saw a man with his hands full, I would quickly open the door for him. It’s the little courtesies between us all that make life more pleasant. And we don’t have enough of them in the world today.

Sorry for the detour from my first nice thought. But it’s hard escaping the real world.

Kindness, meanwhile, knows no gender.

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 storm’s brewing — but the sun will come out tomorrow. — Watercolor by Pat Bean

Trying to Think Positive

          Sometimes stuff – translate shit — happens that might be a blessing in disguise. At least that’s what I would prefer to think about losing a writing folder on my computer.

About a year ago, I started writing a book about my journalism years. I’ve titled the book Between Wars, because it’s how I see my 37-year newspaper career.  My first significant bylined story was an interview with a mom whose son had been killed in Vietnam – we cried together; and one of my last pieces was an editorial urging the president not to take us back into Iraq a second time – he didn’t listen.

          Anyway, I got about 10,000 words into it when I realized what I had written was garbage. OK, maybe not quite garbage, but I’m a writer, and like most writers, I usually feel that what I write is never good enough. But this time I believed I was right – my narrative bored me. So, how in the heck was it going to keep readers turning pages

I finally just put the project away because I couldn’t figure out a way to go forward.  Lately, I’ve been reconsidering tackling the project again. Perhaps you’ve even noticed that I’ve been using my blogs, writing about journalistic events in my life, to stimulate my thinking. And I started a new computer folder to keep track of research and ideas for the book.

          Yesterday, I decided it was time to go back and read what I wrote a year ago, and salvage anything usable. The folder, however, was missing – which had me saying that four letter S word numerous times.

          Had I accidentally deleted that old Between Wars folders when I had done a cleanup of my computer a couple of weeks ago? Maybe. Then I started asking myself if that was actually a bad thing? Or was it a good thing because it meant I truly had to start over?

          After a bit of wailing and hair-pulling, my silver-lining syndrome kicked in and I began thinking positive. But excuse me while I stamp around and rage, and maybe even cry, for at least another hour.  

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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I never felt like a fish out of water when I was in a newsroom, but there were many times I felt like I was alone in a fish bowl with everyone keeping an eye on me simply because I was often a woman doing a man’s job. — Art by Pat Bean

A Shared Past

I’m listening to Madelaine Albright’s latest book, Hell and Other Destinations: A 21st Century Memoir, which she reads herself. As I read, I find myself greatly identifying with the author because of our shared years of experiences. She’s 84 and I’m 82.

Although I never reached the fame Madelaine did, we were both working mothers during a time when that was looked down upon; we both survived working with men before the Me Too Movement; and we both side-stepped inappropriate work-involved situations so as not to hurt our chances of advancing in our jobs. 

Madelaine, I thought, summed it all up with her comment after an incident involving a male chauvinistic quip while she was seeking campaign funding during a Dollars for Democrats fund drive. One man told her he had “No money for Democrats, but five dollars for you babe.”

“Then being then,” she said, she chose to simply ignore the comment and move on with her task. It made me remember the many times something similar happened to me and I, too, ignored it.

Madelaine and I also both lived through a time of female firsts, like the first woman to become a Fortune 500 CEO, the first woman to drive in the Indy 500, the first woman on the Supreme Court, and on and on. As a working journalist when these events and many others on lesser scales happened, I wrote newspaper stories about the achievements – to the point I never wanted to do another first woman story in my life.

On my own personal level, I was the first woman to infiltrate several, all male newspaper editorial decision-making meetings. I quickly learned that the first words out of one of the men’s mouths would be: “OK guys. We have a lady present. We have to watch our language.”

Translated, I understood that to mean she can’t handle our world, and considered it a big put down.

While I’m not exactly fast on the uptake, I think I got this one right for then being then. I, who never cussed, followed the man’s comments with my own. “That’s right. You mother #@&*%#* sons of a #@^%&* just better watch your language.” That got a laugh, and the point across that I could handle just as much as the men could.

And that’s kind of how I handled most of my career. While I one hundred and ten percent supported the equal rights movement back then, I never talked about it at work, or complained when I wasn’t treated equally, (well, except for equal pay for equal work) because I saw that feminist-talking women were thought uppity and the Good Old Boys Club – why in the hell isn’t there a Good Old Girls Club frustrates me — edged those women out of advancement. I saw it time and time again. Meanwhile I stood by feeling helpless … Because, as Madelaine said, “Then being then.”

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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These tiny purple flowers grow all around my apartment complex. I try to always take the time to stop and enjoy them. — Photo by Pat Bean

          I just started reading Ordinary Skin: Essays from Willow Springs by Amy Hale Auker, and it touched my soul before I had even finished the first page. Amy talks about imagining her wings and fins and claws and then catching the light of the day and snuggling back into her ordinary skin.

I read books for many reasons: To learn new things, to escape to new worlds, to discover that others can feel as much of an outcast as I have most of my life, to share experiences, and to be inspired to live better and write better.    

          Amy’s book is a series of essays inspired by her life on Spider Ranch, which covers a sprawling 72 square miles of Central Arizona landscape whose elevation ranges from 3,400 feet to 6,100 feet. It is full of canyons, bears, cactus and cactus wrens.

          It’s about a woman finding its beauty and her place in this landscape, just as it was in her first book of essays, Rightful Place. That book’s setting was the Texas Panhandle’s Llano Estacada.

          Books like these, and the many others I’ve read that involve wild, rural and isolated lands as inspiration, inspire me to write my own essays about finding my own place in the landscape, like I sort of did in my book Travels with Maggie.

          But instead of living on a sprawling ranch today, I live in a large apartment complex. Thankfully, its located in the shadow of the Catalina Mountains, is surrounded on one side by a tiny bit of undeveloped desert, and has three landscaped courtyards where flowers grow, and giant Ponderosas, Russian Olive, tall Palms and other trees provide shade for the Sonoran Deserts’ blazing hot summers.

          Living alone provides me with all the solitude I need, and daily walking my canine companion, who wants to say Hello! Please scratch my ears! to everyone he meets, fills my need for human interaction.

          Hummingbirds daily dance around my two third-floor balconies, a pair of Great Horned Owls serenade my evenings with their hoos, while coyotes sometimes howl in harmony. As an old broad who has had her fill of yard work and owning homes that had to be maintained, apartment living suits me.

          Life is good. Especially since I have books to let me imagine different landscapes and lifestyles.

          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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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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