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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.

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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.

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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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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

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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.

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Bluebirds

Western Bluebird — Wikimedia photo

 If you’re as old as I am, you might remember the popular World War II song, There’ll Be Bluebirds Over the White Cliffs of Dover.

       If you’re an ornithologist, that phrase might make you chaff. England has no bluebirds. But if you’re just an enthusiastic birder, like me, it might bring a smile to your face.

That’s what it did when I read this piece of trivia. It’s amazing the things you learn if you’re an eclectic reader. As a birder, I do know that America does have bluebirds, three species. The Mountain Bluebird, which is bright blue and resembles images of the Blue Bird of Happiness, and Western and Eastern Bluebirds, which also have a bit of white and rusty-red hues in their feathers.

          But in defense of idea about Bluebirds flying over England’s White Cliff’s of Dover, some say the bluebird in the song refers to English war planes flying over the cliffs, others that it refers to swallows and martins, which do fly over the cliffs, and which have a blue sheen.

          Anyway, in case you remember the song, which was written in 1941 by Walter Kemp with lyrics by Nat Burton, and made popular by Vera Lynn’s 1942 recording, the lyrics go like this:

There’ll be bluebirds over
The white cliffs of Dover,
Tomorrow, just you wait and see.
I’ll never forget the people I met
Braving those angry sky’s
I remember well as the shadows fell
The light of hope in their eyes
And though I’m far away I still can hear them say
Sun’s up
For when the dawn comes up
There’ll be bluebirds over
The white cliffs of Dover.

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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Curlew Day

Long-billed Curlew in flight. — Wikimedia photo

          Today, April 21, is World Curlew Day.

On reading this bit of trivia in Bird Watcher’s Digest, I immediately thought of being dive-bombed by Long-billed Curlews while traveling across the eastern causeway to Great Salt Lake’s Antelope Island in the late 1990s.

          I was researching a series on the lake and had gotten permission to travel the little-used, non-public causeway with a photographer. We were carefully making our way down the rutted road when we came across a bunch of curlew chicks dashing back and forth.

       . We stopped and got out of our four-wheel vehicle to investigate — and immediately found ourselves being dive-bombed by birds with long pointy bills.

          I immediately got back into the vehicle, but the photographer stayed a few more seconds to try and snap a few photos. One of the birds knocked his hat off, and as I recall, he didn’t even try to retrieve it.

          I consider that day one of my best off-the-beaten-track adventures.

          There are eight species of curlews in the world, but only the Long-billed makes its home in North America. The other seven are Little, Eurasian, Bristle-thighed, Slender-billed, Whimbrel, Far Eastern and Eskimo, which is thought to already be extinct. One hasn’t been sighted since the 1980s.

Only the Whimbrel, Long-billed and Little curlews are not considered endangered. The Long-billed Curlew is actually fairly common in the western half of North America.

          Bean Pat: If you want to know about curlews, check out curlewaction.org. or read Curlew Moon by Mary Colwell, who walked 500 miles — from the west coast of Ireland to the east coast of England –, to discover what is happening to the UK’s much-loved Eurasian Curlew, whose population had dwindled 50 percent over the past 20 years.

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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Gila Woodpecker at my hummingbird feeder

          With few exceptions, you can only find saguaro cactus in Arizona, and the same can be said for the Gila (pronounced heela) Woodpecker’s appearance above the Mexican border. Saguaros and Gilas go together like apple pie and vanilla ice cream. If you see one, you’ll find the other nearby

The plant and fauna duo share a mutually beneficial relationship. The saguaro provides shelter and food for the woodpecker, and the woodpecker rids the plant of harmful insects. I’ve seen the two together often around my Sonoran Desert Tucson apartment complex, including from my third-floor balcony, where the birds sometimes hang upside down on my hummingbird feeder to get at its nectar content. It’s a rather comical sight.

Since I live next to some undeveloped patches of land that have been left to Mother Nature’s whims – and her whims include saguaro cactus — I’ve also been privileged to see a pair of these brown and zebra-striped woodpeckers raise three chicks in a hole pecked out in a tall, three-armed saguaro that most likely was well over half a century old. Saguaros grow slowly and don’t grow arms until they are in the neighborhood of 50 years old.

          I probably wouldn’t have discovered the nest if it hadn’t been for the young ones clamoring to be fed. I saw them about a half dozen times after that, and then one -day the nest was quiet and deserted.

          I wonder if one of those young Gilas will one day visit my  humming bird feeder?

Cat No. 12: Pirate Cat

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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          “I want there to be no peasant so poor in my realm that he will not have a chicken in his pot every Sunday.” – Henry IV (1553-1610)

          I grew up knowing where food came from. My grandmother raised pigs, chickens and rabbits, had an apricot and a peach tree from which jam was made, and a large vegetable garden, the produce of which my mother and grandmother preserved to see us through the winter.

We ate well all week, but Sunday dinner was always special, and it began with my grandmother wringing the head of a chicken, which would then spasm around on the ground for a bit before joining its passed-on kin. .

The dead bird would then be dropped into a bucket of boiling water for a few minutes before its feathers were plucked out. Once that was done, the bird was cut into pieces, dipped in a seasoned egg, milk and flour mixture and fried until they had a golden-brown crispy exterior and a juicy interior.

I’ve never tasted better fried chicken, so delicious it would turn the Colonel and Popeye green with envy.

                   ***

Cat No. 11: Alice’s Loony Cheshire

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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Lake Pend Oreille — Wikimedia photo

“Forever is composed of nows” — Emily Dickinson

It was a sunny June day in 2010 in Northern Idaho, where from my RV window I was watching a multitude of animals scampering about.

  Rabbits were hopping among the shadows of the trees, which were full of noisy squirrels chattering above. Mourning doves and dark-eyed juncos were pecking at the bird seed I had scattered about, while colorful butterflies flitted to-and-fro among a patch of wildflowers not too far away.

Closer still, a black-chinned hummingbird was drinking from my small nectar feeder.

The animals would come and go for the next three months, just another perk to go along with the free camp site and utilities provided in exchange for being a volunteer at Farragut State Park.

Located in the Idaho Panhandle at the tip of Lake Pend Oreille near the Canadian border, the 4,000-acre park was a Naval Training Station during World War II – and Lake Pend Oreille, which is over a thousand feet deep, is still used by the Navy for submarine research.

I got to spend an afternoon and evening on the lake, which included watching Rocky Mountain Goats scamping high on the cliffs above the lake.

When I wasn’t animal watching, or greeting and registering visitors and campers at the park’s entrance kiosk, I spent my days bird watching and exploring the park.

I saw my first chestnut-backed chickadee here. These birds were frequent visitors to the bird feeder at the park’s visitor’s center.

And from one of the park’s permanent workers, I learned to identify Douglas Firs from Grand Firs. The Douglas Firs could easily be spotted by the new growth of bright green on their tips, which gave them a lighted Christmas tree appearance.

            Park Ranger Errin Bair told me I could also tell the two trees apart by their cones. The Douglas’ cones are light brown and hang down; the Grand’s are greenish or even purplish and grow upright.

          It was a grand summer.

          Meanwhile, I know I’ve been off the grid for a bit, but I haven’t forgot my 30-cat challenge. Here is Cat No. 10: Fierce Cat.

Cat No. 10L Fierce Cat

          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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