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I was taught, when I was growing up, that it wasn’t polite to talk politics. But perhaps it’s time “nice” people should start doing it. — Photo by Pat Bean

“I want a kindle, gentler nation,” Geroge W.H. Bush

I Agree

Where are all these hate mongers coming from? People like the 18-year-old guy who just killed 11 people because he believed only whites should occupy this planet.

As a former journalist, it goes against my grain to call him a killer instead of an alleged killer before a jury convicted him, but this sadist filmed himself committing the murders.

And I’ll probably read in the news tomorrow something just as horrible. It’s disheartening.

There is no one in my circle of friends who spouts such hate as that coming from the mouths of some of our politicians and white supremacists these days – and they’re not all bleeding-heart liberals either. While I consider myself a moderate independent, I have friends – and family members – who lean far to the right. They’re still nice people.

Maybe it’s time we threw this partisan bullshit into a garbage bin and started basing our voting choices on whether candidates believe in the Golden Rule or not — the only one in my opinion that matters. Even if they support our own political agenda, we shouldn’t be electing bullies, racists, liars or narcissists, especially those who encourage, or commit violence to get their way.

I can’t help but think that we nice people are handing over control of this planet – I say planet because America isn’t the only country being destroyed by hateful actions. It’s way too easy for those of us who don’t have goals of a world ruled by a single class of people to just go about our daily business, hoping things are going to change.

It’s time for nice people to let their voices be heard. And for those of us who are nice, which the optimist in me still wants to believe is the majority of us, to take back control.

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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1953 House of Wax Movie Poster

Back in the mid-1950’s, I watched a movie called “House of Wax,” starring Vincent Price, whose character created his wax figures using people he killed. The part of the movie that stayed with me for months afterwards involved a missing head.

 Every time I went into the garage, which held a freezer and a washing machine, I feared I would come across that head. Perhaps the fact that the movie was presented in 3D had something to do with my fright, but I’ve not watched a true horror film since then.

But I have children, grandchildren and friends who love nothing better than going to a scary movie. I thought about the reason behind this willingness to be scared this morning. It popped into my head while I was reading Ann Lamott’s Bird by Bird, in which the author talked about the fear of letting oneself be imperfect when writing that “first shitty draft.”

Before you ask, I have to say I don’t know why my brain made this odd connection. It just did. And then it jumped to what I have done over the years that gave me a fright. For one thing, I loved riding roller coasters, the bigger, faster – and scarier – the better.

And then in my 40s, I took up white-water rafting. There was nothing I enjoyed more than sitting in the front of a raft facing a roaring rapid – even after I fell out of the boat in Granite Rapid floating the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon. When I was pulled back into the boat, after being thrashed through the racing water quite vigorously, I was still eager to take on the next stretch of rapids, of which there were many ahead.

 Was I afraid? Yes. But adrenalin coursed through my body and I felt more alive than ever. Remembering this, I might have just answered my own question of why people want to be scared.

But no way will I watch a horror movie.

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

“Getting up too early is a vice habitual in horned owls, stars, geese and freight trains,” said Aldo Leopold.

I could easily be added to that list. For most of my working career, I reported to the office no later than 6:30 a.m. – and I wasn’t beloved for doing so. 

There would usually be one or two other reporters who had come in early to meet their early-morning deadline for a story they had covered the night before. They would be sitting in the dark in front of their computers.

As a light-loving, morning person, I would turn on the lights and utter a cheery “Good morning!” All I usually got back was a snarl or a groan.

Scamp, my current canine companion, insists on a walk at the first sign of dawn, often when stars are still visible. He usually wakes up even before I do, but this morning the tables were turned. I had taken him for a later-than-usual last walk yesterday, and he was still snoring away when I awoke at 5:55 a.m.

I let him sleep until 6:10, when I couldn’t stand it anymore and roused him for our morning walk. We came back and he promptly went back to sleep while I enjoyed drinking my cream-laced coffee and watching the birds from my third-floor balcony. There were sparrows, mourning doves, hummingbirds and house finches, but no geese.

As for trains, when I was traveling across the country in my RV, I often heard a train somewhere nearby blow its whistle right around 6 a.m. I wondered if it was just coincidence or if all train engineers had a pact to took their horns at daybreak.

Then there are the great horned owls. We have resident ones who yearly raise chicks here in the apartment complex. I often hear them hooting in the early mornings, and sometimes I even see them zooming overhead between tall Ponderosa pines and the red-tile rooftops. Their silent, broad-winged flight always leave me awed.

Yesterday, a great horned owl was sitting on a large tree stump near my path. I’m pretty sure it was a juvenile because of how close it let me come. After spotting it, I took Scamp back to the apartment and grabbed my camera.

With each snap, I got closer to the owl until I was only about 10 feet away. The bird didn’t move, just stared straight at me with golden yellow eyes. I snapped a few more shots before retreating so as not to disturb the owl more.

I was excited about the photos I had taken, but later I discovered the memory card in my camera had been missing. It was still in my computer from the last time I had downloaded my photos.

I guess my brain, if not my body, decided it wanted to sleep in.

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 morning sunrise in Tucumcari, New Mexico chases the darkness away. — Photo by Pat Bean

I recently read Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s New Year’s poem, which was written in 1850. It quickly struck me that he could have well written the poem as an ode to 2021.

“… Ring out the old, ring in the new. Ring, happy bells, across the snow:
The year is going, let him go,
” wrote Tennyson.

Ring out the grief that saps the mind, for those that here we see no more. Ring out the feud of rich and poor … And ancient forms of party strife … Ring in the love of truth and right … Ring out old shapes of foul disease … Ring out the thousand wars of old, Ring in the thousand years of peace …Ring in the larger heart, the kindlier hand. Ring out the darkness of the land.”

In 1850, America was heading toward a Civil War that would pit families against their own families, even brother against brother. In China, the Qing and Han Dynasties were fighting each other, and India was beginning to revolt against Britain – just the bare surface of a world seemingly gone amok – sound familiar?

It’s as if history has taught us nothing.

 I kept thinking about this yesterday until I watched a show about the life of Rita Moreno, a Porta Rican actress who survived sexual abuse and discrimination to win an Oscar, a Grammy, an Emmy and a Tony. Her Mantra: “Damn the shadows, here’s to the light.”

  Hey Rita, here’s to you. And to the light. May we all find it in 2022.

 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 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.

 

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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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Goose Head Rock: One of my favorite Mount Lemmon hoodoos.

          Monday my granddaughter Shanna and her wife Dawn took me for a drive up to the top of Mount Lemmon. I’ve made the drive a dozen or more times since moving to Tucson in 2013, and always found it enjoyable. This day was no exception, except the passing landscape was greener than I had ever seen it, thanks to the fact that this year the Sonoran Desert got its summer monsoon season back.

          It was so dry last year that part of the mountain areas suffered wildfires, some of the worst in Arizona’s history. The three of us got to see some of the devastation caused by the blazes from one of the upper overlook pullouts.

          The 25-mile drive up the Sky Island Scenic Byway winds upward from mile zero at just about 3,000 feet elevation to more than 9,000 feet at its end. Six life zones are crossed along the way. We lost the saguaros at 4,000 feet and were into Douglas firs by the time we reached the top.

          As an avid birdwatcher, I took along my binoculars, but the only birds we saw were a raven and a turkey vulture, and one unidentified small black and white bird that flashed past us as we were driving.

          Partway up the mountain, we stopped at one of the pullouts where a short trail skims along a canyon ridge, below which flows a small mountain stream. The girls went right on an unpaved section of the trail and I went left, partly because the trail here was paved and I’ve reached a stage in my life where my legs aren’t always stable, but also partly because I simply wanted to be alone for a few minutes in Mother Nature’s company.

          The pavement ended quickly but I decided to venture a little farther, deciding I could handle the unevenness of the rocky path. I did quite well, and was proud of myself. On the walk back, however, I came to a spot where, while I had easily made it up the rocks, I now felt I would fall if I tried to step down them.

          I was frustrated but tried to take it in stride until my granddaughter came along and gave me a hand down. What goes up should be able to come down – or not, I laughed. That was good, not all that many years ago I had cried when my old broad’s body couldn’t handle a much harder spot on a trail without help.

          This day, having finally begun to accept the consequences of being 82 years old, I pushed the incident out of my brain and went on to enjoy a marvelous day on Mount Lemmon with two marvelous companions.

Now if I could just push the image of that unidentified black and white bird out of my brain … maybe it was a downy woodpecker – or not.

           Pat Bean is a retired award-winning journalist who lives in Tucson with her canine companion, Scamp. She is a wondering-wanderer, avid reader, enthusstic 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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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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