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On Being a Writer

Great blue herons on frozen Farmington Bay in Utah: One of the best things about being a writer is that it makes you more observant because you will want to put what you see with your eyes into words. This is just one way being a writer has enriched my life.

I Think of Writing as a Gift

  For 37 years, as a newspaper journalist, I wrote almost every day. It meant I often saw my name in print, and the thrill of this never dimmed. It’s probably why I write a blog, as I’ve eschewed having ads on it.

Author Anne Lamott, whose book Bird by Bird is one I’m currently rereading for the third time, says some writers need to see their name in print to know they exist. I think I am one of them.

Now retired and having lived over eight decades on Planet Earth, I still get a joyful satisfaction in seeing my byline, whether it is on the book I have written, on magazine articles that occasionally get published, or this blog.

 And I was overjoyed yesterday, when I learned that my blog earned third place in Story Circle Network’s blog contest for my post Then Being Then.  https://patbean.net/2021/11/03/then-being-then/ The well-deserved first place, in case you are interested, went to Stephanie Rafflelock for We Matter at Every Age https://www.byline-stephanie.com/post/we-matter-at-every-age

As an old broad, writing has come to be just about my only outlet to still try and make a difference in the world, however tiny it might be.

 To date, I’ve posted 1,499 blogs. I’ve often encouraged readers to be kind, to be more open-minded, to not believe everything they hear or read, and to get their news from multiple sources – and I’ve written thousands of words about birds and nature, two things that keep me sane when chaos reigns.

These days, I write a lot about past experiences, a validation for my own life, but hopefully the posts let others who have had similar experiences know they are not alone. And I also try to make readers laugh or be awed by some trivial fact – as I laugh or am awed.

I’m a writer. That’s what I do. I can’t imagine being anything else.   

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 emu dad is a candidate for father of the year. He takes care of chicks, even if they are not his own, for up to 18 months.

  In 1999, at a time in my life when I was slowing down, I took up birdwatching. It’s still been about the only thing I’ve ever done that absolutely requires patience, something I always thought couch-potatoes used as an excuse to Be lazy.

 In the beginning, I spent hours and hours on the Antelope Island Causeway in Great Salt Lake learning to identify ducks. The island was also the first place I saw a bird through a telescope. It was a western meadowlark, and the golden color of the bird’s throat took my breath away.

 As I learned more and more about these winged creatures, I became partial to the ones that seemed to be feminists, outshining or out-sexing the normally more colorful males.

First there was the belted kingfisher. I was delighted to learn that the female was the more colorful of the two genders. It sports a reddish belly band on its blue and white feathers which the male lacks.

 Then came the Galapagos hawk, which I saw in the Galapagos. The female, after she lays her eggs, leaves all the nest sitting and chick-tending to her male partner, while she goes off and finds another male to mate with.

 This somewhat made up for most birds, like sage grouse males whose only contribution to their female partners is to impregnate them, which takes no more time than two blinks of an eye.

The males gather in what is called a lek, and drum by expanding their chests to attract the females, who to my feminist delight were very picky and often walked away. I got to watch this action, after hiking before dawn to a blind on Desert Ranch in Utah.

Another avian feminist is the African jacana, a bird I saw during a 2007 safari to Kenya and Tanzania.  It’s a wading bird species in which the female also leaves all the chick rearing to the male while she finds another partner.

 Then there’s the giant emu. After producing an egg, the brooding, and then the care and feeding of the hatchlings is all the male’s responsibility, even if all the eggs aren’t his own. He has even learned how to carry a chick beneath his wings.

 You go girls?

 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.

C is for Cowabunga!

Howdy Doody and Buffalo Bob

The Meaning of Words

I came across the word cowabunga recently, and it brought Howdy Doody memories floating through my head. For those of you a bit younger than me, Howdy Doody was a puppet with his own television show, which my children loved to watch.

 Howdy was created by Bob Smith – known as Buffalo Bob on the show –when Smith was a radio announcer, and later given a puppet’s body for the television screen.

The children’s show was pure corn – and I sometimes silently groaned when my children turned it on – and sometimes laughed along with the craziness.

But it wasn’t Howdy Doody who first uttered cowabunga. It was a character on the show in 1953, one called Chief Thunderthud, who used the then non-existent word.

Cowabunga, like the frabjous words made up by writer Lewis Carrol, took root, and today’s dictionaries define it as an exclamation used to express delight or satisfaction.

 Surfers adopted the word as slang for a great ride, and the word was also adopted by the Cookie Monster and the Mutant Ninja Turtles. These are all fun memories.

  The word, however, holds yet another memory for me, one closer to my heart. It was the favorite saying of my oldest grandson David, who is now in his mid-40s. As an adorable young boy, he used to stomp around shouting the word when he was excited about something — or wanted attention.

Years have taught me that the meaning of words has more to do with the people speaking them, or listening to them, than a formal definition. Because of David, my mind translates cowabunga as meaning joyful.

I also like the feel of how the word cowabunga rolls off my tongue. What’s one of your favorite words?

 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.

Some of the best trails end at waterfalls, like this one in Idaho. – Photo by Pat Bean

“Yesterday’s the past, tomorrow’s the future, but today’s a gift. That’s why it’s called the present.” These words from Bil Keane, a cartoonist best known for his The Family Circus strip, had special meaning for me this morning when I reread words from a decade-old journal.

  At this time, I was still exploring this country, mostly on backroads, in the small RV in which I lived and traveled for nine years.

On November 10, 2010, I listed 100 things I was thankful for. On seeing this list again, I saw that some of those things, when I was 71, were not applicable to the 83-year-old I will be in just a few days.

 On the upside, I’m still thankful for belly laughs, good cream-laced coffee, being a writer, my zest for life and hot baths – and thankful for my family, which has grown by four great-grandchildren the past 12 years.

 But I still miss my canine companion Maggie, a mischievous cocker spaniel who spent eight years on the road with me, and my nature hikes, which have been curtailed by a bad back.

   While Maggie has been replaced by a spoiled Siberian husky/shih tzu-mix canine companion, whose name of Scamp perfectly fits him, my trail days have been replaced with short walks around my apartment complex with the Scamp. Some days I can comfortably walk an eighth of a mile, and on other days much less.

  While there are many blessings that have come with my years, including the gift of time to ponder as well as write, actually liking myself, and learning to slow down and really see Mother Nature’s wonders, I mourn my lost hiking ability.

 Thankfully, I seldom let an opportunity to go on a hike pass me by when I was younger. And thankfully I can still drive back roads and park in scenic spots where I can bird watch at a trailhead. In my younger days, one of my older birding colleagues did just that – and often saw more birds than those of us who took the trail.  

But take it from this old broad. If there is something you love to do, make sure you do it while you can. It makes it easier to continue being thankful for what you still have, and more able to see what you gain from the passing years.

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.

The Meadowlark and the Chukar: I wrote a bird column for three years back in the early 2000s, and a chukar I saw on Antelope Island in Utah’s Great Salt Lake was the first bird I wrote about. — Art by Pat Bean

 My mornings start with my to-do list, which is a carry over from the day before, and the day before that, and the days before those. Eventually a dreaded chore finally gets done because I’m tired of looking at it.

The daily list actually is two lists in one. The tasks I need to do, or simply want to do (like watch a bird cam located in Panama), and the list of the books I’m reading, or want to read.

As an old broad, my body appreciates many breaks during the day, and the reading list gives me something to fall back on besides computer games – which according to my self-imposed rule must not be played before 4 p.m. This rule, because I love playing games is often broken. So as a reminder I have a note taped to my refrigerator that says “You could be reading.”

 Besides the daily list, I keep lists of books I’ve read, places I’ve been, the proverbial bucket list, menu lists and an idea list, from which I always can find a topic to write about.

But one of my favorite lists is the one I begin on April 1, 1999 – the day I joined the world of avid (translate crazy) bird watchers.

 I keep a list of every bird I’ve seen, noting the place and the date. But thankfully, I’m not like the birder who once passed me on a favorite birding trail. I was dawdling along, watching red-winged blackbirds flash their scarlet marked wings while listening to a couple of breeding male meadowlarks trying to out sing each other.

Barely slowing his pace, a middle-aged hiker came upon me and asked if I had seen a chukar. I replied that I often saw this partridge-like bird in the rocks near a bend up ahead. About 10 minutes later, the man ran past me going the other way. 

  “Got it … that’s 713 birds for me now.” His voice was like the rumble of a passing freight train.

How sad, I thought, that he didn’t take a minute to admire the flashy scarlet markings on the blackbirds or to enjoy the melodic voices of the two meadowlarks.

 Numbers and names on a list are only that. It’s being present in the moment – seeing the golden yellow on a meadowlark’s throat as it tilts its head toward the sky in song, or the magic of a sunrise slowly coloring the sides of a canyon – that make my heart beat faster. And I’m thankful I enjoy such wonders whether I’m seeing them for the first or the hundredth time.

 Seeing birds is always delightful – but then so is getting my oven cleaned after seeing the chore on my to-do list for three weeks running.

  I’m glad I’m a list-maker.

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. 

Star-Filled Nights

Night sky over the Grand Canyon

Mother Nature’s Silver Lining

 here are places in this world where, when looking up at the night sky, you can clearly see portions of the Milky Way, the galaxy we live in. It’s a magnificent sight. But those places get fewer and fewer every year because we humans are fond of lighting up the dark, creating a light pollution that dulls our view of the stars.

 Some cities, including Tucson where I live, have ordinances that limit artificial-light pollution. Supposedly, Tucson’s location in the heart of the Sonora Desert, has the darkest sky of any city its size in the country. And because of this, astronomers come from all over the world to visit nearby Kitt Peak National Observatory, home to some of the best sky observation telescopes in the world.

 I’ve visited the observatory, but only during the daylight hours. The best sky watching I’ve ever experienced came when I was rafting down the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon, especially in places where the canyon was tall and at its narrowest. As I lay in a sleeping bag on a sandy beach, I could actually see the stars move across the thin strip of visible sky.

 It was magical, a moment in nature that connected me with the whole of the universe. Thinking about those Grand Canyon nights still leaves me awed.

 Sky watching here in Tucson doesn’t compare. But I’ve never seen more spectacular sunsets than the ones that I see most nights from my third-floor balcony here in the city. They, too, are magical, a silver-lining for surviving the daily news.  

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.

Possum Tribute

The Possum Monument in Wausau, Florida, the Possum Capital of the world.

Quite Tasty

These days I often scratch the itch of my wanderlust soul from the comfort of my living room recliner, but it’s large enough so that my canine companion Scamp — who thinks 45 pounds is the perfect size to be a lap dog — can curl up with me.

 From this seat, books and the internet take me all over the world. This morning it was to Wausau, Florida, a small town of only 400 where possums supposedly outnumber humans, and which is home to the Possum Monument.

Erected in 1982, the monument’s inscription reads: “…in grateful recognition of the role the North American possum — to be technical correct possums only live in Australia, America has the opossum — played in furnishing both food and fur for early settlers and their successors.

 Possums were also a great source of protein for residents during the Great Depression, the article said.

On reading that, I remembered the time in the early 1940s when my dad went hunting and brought home a possum for dinner. My grandmother cooked it with sweet potatoes, and as I recall the meal was pretty tasty.

If you want to taste for yourself, you should visit Wausau on the first Saturday in August, which is the day the Florida Legislature designated as Florida Possum Day when possum and sweet potatoes will be on the menu.

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.

Politically Speaking

Sketching and watching birds, like this Gila Woodpecker, is one way I get my mind off the chaos of daily news headlines.

Agreement is Rare

Political speaking, when it comes to certain things, especially politics, my family pretty much has America covered – and for peace’s sake we usually keep our views to ourselves.

 With a great margin for error, this is how I see things among my five children.

I have one child to the left of me, one child to the right of me, one child that knows without a doubt that their side, whatever it is, is always the right side, one child who gets quite passionate about their particular side, and one child who appears not to follow the political arena at all.

That last may be the lucky one. I tried not reading a newspaper for the first four months after I retired from being a newspaper journalist. It was a relaxing, but not a satisfying time, in my life. I came to the conclusion that sticking my head in the sand and ignoring what’s going on in the world is not for me.

These days, reading the NY Times, and then the varied and even conflicting news on my computer’s home page while I drink cream-laced coffee in the morning, gives me plenty to think about — and fume about — for the rest of the day.

 My children grew up in the 1950s, 60s, and 70s’, and we often talked about world events. We seldom agreed back then on anything either.

I actually take pride in that. It means I raised independent children who mostly took an interest in the world they lived in and learned to think for themselves.

 With my own family as a role model, I know it’s possible to get along without chaos, ugliness or war — even if there’s no way in hell, we’re ever likely to agree with one another.

I suspect it works because we all care about and love each other – and have the sense, at least most of the time, to keep our political opinions to ourselves. 

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.

Or a Cowboy Hat

   “Whatever you do today, do it with the confidence of a four-year-old wearing a Batman T-shirt.” I came across this quote while reading my email recently. I don’t know who said it, but the words say everything you need to know about having confidence.

It wasn’t a Batman T-shirt but a stick horse and a cowboy hat that gave me confidence when I was very young playing a battle game with the neighborhood gang. My weapons were the small pea-size green chinaberries from the tree in my grandmother’s backyard, and I remember flinging them with great energy as I raced back and forth into enemy territory, which was just the other side of a ditch. My comrade was the sister of the two brothers who were our enemies. We had all the confidence needed to rule the world.

 This was a time when kids were sent out to play unsupervised with only the instructions to be inside the house before dark. I don’t think most kids today have this kind of freedom – and so must find other ways to shore up their own confidence.

But gaining confidence as a child doesn’t always mean one will take it with you into adulthood. I didn’t.

I made some bad choices, and then felt stuck with them. I let others take over my life. It wasn’t until the threshold of the 1980s that I started reclaiming that childhood confidence, I can’t help but think that, like it or not, I became a better role model for my children, especially my daughters, when I did.

I know, from many years of experience, that education and skills are important. But I also know that having the confidence that one can achieve a dream is the first step to making it come true. So, believe in yourself and begin your journey by perhaps wearing a Batman T-shirt – or even just a cowboy hat.

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.

In Left at Oz, a profusion of flowers at a farmhouse represents Dorothy’s Oz. — Photo by Pat Bean

It’s All About the Tiny Details

I just started reading Left at Oz, a Jennie Connors cozy mystery by Sandra Carey Cody. It was a free Kindle book, and since the title intrigued me, I downloaded it.

Occasionally I’ll read a book and never really understand what, if anything, the title has to do with the story. For some as yet unknown reason, this bothers me. But I knew before I had read half a dozen pages why this book had been named.

Jennie, the protagonist of the book, was following directions to find her lost car, and one of those directions, given to her in an anonymous phone call, was to turn left at Oz. As a fan of L. Frank Baum, she immediately recognized Oz when she came upon it after passing a gray and dusty landscape. Oz was represented by a white farmhouse surrounded by a profusion of brightly colored flowers.

Clever, I thought. And my writing brain wondered how Sandra had come up with such an idea, especially after finding her car with a dead body in it. Perhaps while taking a shower, or a walk, or as often happens to me simply through my fingers as I type on my keyboard. Such little details are what makes reading, or watching a movie, delightfully enjoyable for me.

My wandering-wondering brain than jumped to Death on the Nile, a movie featuring Kenneth Branagh as Hercule Poirot that I recently watched, and which is based on Agatha Christie’s book of the same name.

Long an Agatha fan, I knew to watch for unexpected and trivial clues as a way to identify the killer. One of my goals in reading murder mysteries is to figure out who done it before the killer is revealed. In this case, one of the clues was simply a missing tube of red paint. I don’t think I’m giving much away as it happens early on, and it takes a lot of other details to make the connection to the killer.

The clue was something totally different in the 1978 movie version of Death on the Nile, in which Peter Ustinov played Hercule Poirot. That version also starred Maggie Smith, Angela Lansbury, Bette Davis, Mia Farrow and David Niven — of whom I’m sure many younger readers are asking: “Who were they?”

Other than the primary setting – a boat floating down the Nile River – the two movies are quite different. I enjoyed them both, but Ustinov was my favorite Poirot. And because I watched closely for insignificant details, I successfully figured out who the killer was before the end of both movies.

Meanwhile, I’m still trying to figure out who done it as I continue to read Left at Oz, which I think must be a clue in itself. Or perhaps it’s just a red herring. I’m not far enough along in the book to decide.

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.