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Is being a chameleon a strength or weakness, I was asked.

How is your greatest strength also your greatest weakness?

This question is the October writing prompt from my Story Circle Network writing circle, which I’ve been a member of now for over ten years. Every writer should belong to just such a supportive group, and I feel blessed to have found mine.

As to the prompt, I immediately thought of one of my traits that for most of my life I thought of as a weakness, but in recent years have concluded is actually a strength.

I consider myself to be a chameleon because I have no problems fitting in with many types of people and groups. I, almost instinctively, can adjust my actions and speech so that I fit in. It’s as if I’m many persons. While I don’t verbally agree with things I don’t believe in, I work at not making statements that will give offense.      

That’s not to say it always works. While it does keep disagreements and controversies to a minimum, I’ve become known as the dolt who suffers from foot-in-the-mouth disease. Sometimes it leads to hard feelings toward me from someone I dearly love. And then my attempted explanations usually make things even worse.

The truth is, especially in the earlier days of my life, being a chameleon was all I was. I envied people who knew who they were and stood up for things they believed in. My problem, or so I thought, was that I never seemed to have those same strong feelings about one issue or another.

I could see the point of view of those who took a hard stance on an issue, but just as easily I could also see the point of view of those who took an opposite hard stance. No issue ever seemed to be black and white. I thought this made me a weak person.

At some point, as a working journalist, I came to understand this chameleon attitude served me well. I always kept both sides of a polarized issue talking to me because I didn’t slant my newspaper stories one way or the other. I stuck to the facts only and fairly represented both sides equally – because I usually could see both sides, especially involving the issues I wrote about as an environmental reporter.

It took me much longer to see my chameleon qualities with friends and family as a strength — and not until I accepted myself and actually found a few issues on which I couldn’t back away from, even if they offended someone. It took me a long time but I finally came to know who I am, and that includes being a person with chameleon traits.

And those traits are an asset because they give me easy access to many different kinds of people and situations that broaden my horizons.  Being a chameleon means I’m not stuck in only one mind set.

So, what are your greatest strengths and greatest weaknesses?

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.

When I look at this color sketch I did some years back, I see a Zion Canyon Cliff Wall behind the tree, although I did the sketch from memory. It’s how I perceived a Zion Canyon wall to look.

          Dictionaries give the definition of “perception” as: The ability to see, hear or become aware of something through the senses … a way of regarding, understanding, or interpreting something … a mental impression. …intuitive understanding and insight … and memory, by which an organism becomes aware of and interprets external stimuli.

          Hmmm…

This makes me think that the multi-polarized perceptions rampantly raging across America today are blurring facts and truths. But what facts. and whose truths?

          I recently watched the second episode of Season 41 of Survivor, a television series that I’ve been a fan of since it first premiered over 20 years ago. The person who outwits, outplays and survives everyone else walks away with a million dollars.

          The program has evolved over time, with contestants better understanding that it’s a game in which lying is almost always crucial to winning. As this is part of the game, it doesn’t bother me, unlike how I feel about liars who don’t speak the truth in real life. To put it bluntly I abhor them.

Anyway, on this recent Survivor episode, three women on the challenge-losing team were discussing who to vote out of the game. Their choices varied, prompting one of the women to note that it was all a matter of individual perception, because each of them viewed what was in their own best interest differently.

          The older I get, the more I come to understand how people, who even can  have the exact same experiences, can see those experiences and events quite differently. This has been especially notable among my own family of five children, who all seem to have grown up with five different mothers. The truth is, time combined with the wisdom of years, has totally changed my own perception of the mother who I thought I had been.

          Another simple example of my coming to understand the power of perception came to me during a recent visit to my doctor because of back pain. One of the first questions I was asked was: On a scale of 1 to 10, how would you rate your pain? I’ve actually been asked that question on many occasions, including when I was giving birth to my children.

          I always thought the question was a silly one because it had no specific comparison value. This time, I actually voiced the thought, and the nurse quickly agreed with me.
          “You’re right. Its only value is how the patient feels about pain. Some never rate severe pain higher than a four, while other patients rate a hangnail as a 12.”    Enlightening, I thought, as my perception of the value of the question changed with the answer. Perceptions, I realized, continually flow like water instead of being poured concrete that hardens as it dries.

          Sadly, thinking about this gave me no answers as to how to solve the destructive, polarized beliefs and actions roaring across America, and the world, today. Perhaps it will have to begin with simply being kind to one another – well, at least that’s my perception. What’s yours?

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.

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.

Descriptive on a Grand Scale

A view of the Grand Canyon and the Colorado River below from one of the many view points. The canyon is too big, and awesome, to be captured from a single point. — Photo by Pat Bean

          My latest travel book read is To Timbuktu by Mark Jenkins, an author I came to love over 20 years ago because of his articles in Outside Magazine, of which I’m a great fan.  

 Mark has a great way with words, such as his description in To Timbuktu of an equatorial mountain range: “…rumpled geology smothered by the octopus of botany,” he wrote.

As usual when reading, having one thought often cycles me to a related thought. This morning, I wondered how writers would describe the Grand Canyon, which I revisited for about the dozenth time this past week. So, I went searching for just such descriptions.

Most quotes that I found about the Grand Canyon echoed, in one way or another, the phrase that the author didn’t have the words to describe it.

But as I kept searching, I came across what John Wesley Powell, the first man to go down the entire length of the Colorado River through the entire Grand Canyon in 1869, had to say about this Arizona hole that was carved out over six million years ago. He wrote:

“The glories and the beauties of form, color, and sound unite in the Grand Canyon – forms unrivaled even by the mountains, colors that vie with sunsets, and sounds that span the diapason from tempest to tinkling raindrop, from cataract to bubbling fountain … The elements that unite to make the Grand Canyon the most sublime spectacle in nature are multifarious and exceedingly diverse.”

Another of my favorite authors, Ann Zwinger, whose trip through the Grand Canyon is described in her book Downcanyon, had this to say: “The astonishing sense of connection with that river and canyon caught me completely unaware, and in a breath, I understood the intense, protective loyalty so many people feel for the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon. It has to do with truth and beauty and love of this earth, the artifacts of a lifetime and the descant of a canyon wren at dawn.”

Having paddled through the Grand Canyon on the Colorado River twice, I well understood Ann’s words, especially about the impact of hearing canyon wrens welcome the day.

If you haven’t visited the Grand Canyon, above or below, you might want to add it to your bucket list, or at least read about it in books such as Zwinger’s Downcanyon or Powell’s journals of his epic 1869 and 1871 adventures.

Meanwhile, I’m going to get back to Jenkins’ Timbuktu adventure.

Pat Bean is a retired award-winning journalist who lives in Tucson with her canine companion, Scamp. She is a wondering-wanderer, avid reader, enthusiastic birder, Lonely Planet Community Pathfinder, Story Circle Network board member, author of Travels with Maggie available on Amazon (Free on Kindle Unlimited), and is always searching for life’s silver lining.

Actually, I made many wrong turns during my nine years of traveling this country full-time in a small RV. Above is where one of those wrong turns ended up. — Photo by Pat Bean

My good friend Kim and I were on our way to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon from St. George, Utah, last week.

“We go through Hurricane and Colorado City on the way to Highway 89A, then we turn off at Jacob’s Lake Junction,” I told her as we left her brother’s house. She was driving, but I knew the way because it’s the route I had followed, minus the Grand Canyon detour, to St. George from Tucson.

So, off we went, laughing and talking, and catching up on each other’s lives since last April, when she had flown down from Ogden, Utah, to help me celebrate my birthday.

This day we were beginning a three-day road trip to celebrate her birthday. And we made it a good five miles down Interstate 15 before we realized we were headed to Las Vegas in Nevada instead of the Grand Canyon in Arizona.

We both laughed about it, and she did a U-turn. That’s what I love about road trips with Kim. We laugh instead of rant and whine about mishaps and imperfections – which seem to happen often when the two of us are together.

 In fact, we had a second oops when we pulled up in front of our Flagstaff hotel late that afternoon after our visit to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. Seems we were at the wrong Days Inn, and had to drive all the way back across town, during rush hour, to get to the right one.          We laughed about that, too.

Both this day’s wrong turns, however, were minor compared to the misadventure we had some years back when we explored Utah’s Nine Mile Canyon on an unpaved road after a heavy rainstorm. We missed a turn and kept going and going — much farther than nine miles — before we finally decided we had to retrace our route.

As if my magic, although it hadn’t rained any more, the muddy puddles we had earlier driven through in Kim’s four-wheel drive vehicle, seemed to have grown larger and deeper. At one point, Kim had to get out and wipe mud off the headlights with a T-shirt she found in the car so she could see to drive on.

It was almost midnight when we got back to our camp. It took us a couple of days before we could laugh about that one.

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.

Old Age is Not for Sissies

A page from my sketchbook

When I young, too many years ago, I would occasionally hear one well-matured person or another comment “old age is not for sissies.” I heard it more often as my own mother struggled to retain her independence.

          These days I find myself muttering the same words, and also those of Dylan Thomas who wrote: Do not go gentle into that good night, old age should burn and rave at close of day; rage, rage at the dying of the light.

          I’ve worked hard at keeping my brain sharp and up-to-date with what’s going on in the world today. And I joke that my third-floor apartment. with no elevator, and a dog to walk five times a day, are my fool-proof exercise plans.

          That’s all good, but my recent inability to take a small step down on uneven ground, because I was afraid I would lose my balance and fall, had nothing to do with stairs or walking.

          “Try Tai Chi,” my former journalism colleague Charlie Trentelman, told me.

          So, I ordered a digital video copy of Tai Chi lessons that focuses on balance for older people. I participated in the first class this morning.

          In it, we beginners got to hold on to a chair, or even sit in it for some exercises. Piece of cake, I thought, as the demonstrations began. Ha! I had to sit out a couple of the exercises because I pooped out. I was straining muscles I didn’t even know I had.

And when it came to the point in the video where the instructor said we could end our first lesson here if we were tired, or continue on, I opted to halt the video.

          I’ll try again tomorrow. I’m not a sissy.

           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.

Imagine: A World at Peace

From my Sketchbook

          Fifty years ago, just before we got out of Vietnam, pretty much the same way we got out of Afghanistan last month, and how England got out of Afghanistan in 1842, John Lennon sang a song that brought tears to my eyes every time I heard it.

          It did the same again this morning as I listened to it on my car radio while running an early morning errand.  The song is titled Imagine, and it’s a call for world peace and brotherhood, and asks listeners to imagine what that would be like.

          As my tears flowed once again, I tried hard to imagine such a world, and also thought of Peter, Paul and Mary’s words of 50 years ago as well.  “When will we ever learn …” they sang.

          Lennon was denigrated because Imagine asks that people imagine a world without religion, without heaven and without hell. But looking around, one can’t help but see how religion has created wars, not peace.

          Just as an example, I recall one of my favorite childhood hymns, Onward Christian Soldiers.

          Lennon’s song doesn’t ask for us to imagine a godless world, at least as I understand the lyrics, just that it not be an organized thing in which everyone is expected to believe the same thing – and if they don’t, they’re bad.

Lennon ends Imagine by singing that he may be a dreamer, but that he is not the only one. I hope someday you’ll join us and the world will live as one.

           I admit it. I’m a dreamer. And thinking about the possibility of world peace makes me cry. I know I’m not going to see it. But it sure would be nice if my great-grandchildren could.

           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.

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.

Gender Bender

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.

Stupid Birds … Or Not

I sketched this red-winged blackbird on an outing to Antelope Island in Utah’s Great Salt Lake on one of bird outings.

An old friend, whom I often dragged on many of my bird outings, told me that he only liked seeing the big birds. Translated that meant such birds as great blue herons, tundra swans, bald eagles and double-crested cormorants, all frequent sights around Northern Utah’s Great Salt Lake and Bear River areas where I frequently used to go to watch birds.

His comments were also a gently hint to me that he didn’t enjoy standing around for hours trying to get a glimpse of and identify any small bird that preferred to stay out of sight – like the tiny ruby-crowned kinglets that never stopped moving as they flitted between thick tree foliage, or the marsh wrens that sang duets from their hiding places in a patch of phragmite or cattails.

I thought about that while reading May Sarton’s Journal of a Solitude with my morning coffee. She was an avid gardener and also one who kept a supply of seed on hand to feed wild birds. But for this April day entry, May had noted that there were only starlings, red-winged blackbirds and cowbirds at the feeder. “Too stupid,” she wrote.

Now as much as I’m a May Sarton fan, I think she misspoke here. I think her disgust was not because these are stupid birds, but because they are some of the birds that everyone can see almost daily in this country, from ocean to ocean and border to border.

 Here in Tucson, I have three bird species that I see every day: house sparrows and mourning doves when I take my canine companion Scamp for his first walk of the day, and an Anna’s Hummingbird that tries to guard the nectar feeder hanging on my balcony every day from all intruders.

 When I also catch a glimpse of a bright yellow and black American goldfinch, or a Cooper’s hawk skimming overhead, my morning walk seems more special. Like this morning when a broad-billed hummingbird visited my balcony feeder. While the broad-billed is not as brightly colored as the Anna’s – the male of which has brilliant magenta head feathers – I was more thrilled because I don’t see this species every day.

 We humans are a funny lot. Perhaps we are more stupid than the birds. For sure we’re not so fond of the saying: “A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.

And just what does that mean anyway?

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.