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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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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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