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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   While Maggie has been replaced by a spoiled Siberian husky/shih tzu-mix canine companion, whose name of Scamp perfectly fits him, my trail days have been replaced with short walks around my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.

Tic-Yock-Tick-Tock

About eight years ago, my then 13-year-old grandson Tony, gave me a kooky clock, one with a brightly-colored bird representing each hour. On the hour, the clock chimed with a representation of that bird’s voice.

In order from 1 o’clock, the birds were Mallard (quack-quack), Mourning Dove (coo-coo), Ring-Necked Pheasant (kok-cack), American Woodcock (chirp-chirp), Northern Bobwhite (bob-white, bob-white), Canada Goose (honk-a-lonk), California Quail (chi-ca-go), Ruffed Grouse (cluck-cluck), Wood Duck (oo-eek, oo-eek), Wilson’s Snipe (wheet-wheet), Green-Winged Teal (krick-krack), and Wild Turkey (gobble, gobble).

At first, all was well. Each bird sounded out on its hour – or so I thought, Then I realized that while a bird sounded on each hour, it was never the right bird according to the pictures on the clock.

After a while of this, the bird sounds began to resemble no bird sounds I had ever heard. It was a cacophony of rumble, grumbles and even low roars – well except for the voice of the Bob White, which while not on the right hour always comes out a clear bob-white, bob-white.

When I have visitors and the clock grackles and roars, the guest always jump and ask “What was that?”

My granddaughter Shanna and her wife Dawn, who are frequent visitors and always trying to look out for me, finally said they were going to buy me a new clock.

“No!” I firmly told them. “I have a one-of-a-kind-of-a-clock that fits my eclectic apartment and lifestyle. It fits me – and it keeps perfect time. It’s not broken, it’s just odd – and odd is OK!”

I love my clock.

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.

Blackberry Memories

The neatly wrapped packages of deep purple blackberries in my local grocery store tantalized my taste buds – and took me three-quarters of a century back in time to the 1940s and my grandmother’s home in the community of Fruitdale on the outskirts of Dallas, Texas   

The home was a square, white frame two-bedroom dwelling with a large backyard, behind which was a fenced off area for the rabbits, pigs and chickens my grandmother raised for the dinner table. My parents and I moved in with my grandmother after her husband died when I was just three-years old. Two younger brothers soon were added to the household, but as I remember, the small house never felt crowded, even though I shared my grandmother’s bed or was put to sleep on the living room couch.

On one side of the house was a large garden, mostly tended by my mother, in which each year was grown potatoes, peas, cucumbers, tomatoes, green beans, okra, onions, beets, green peppers, carrots and corn.  My short. petite mother, whose weight never exceeded a hundred pounds, and my grandmother, a tall, plump woman, spent hours in the kitchen canning the garden’s bounty.

Images of these two women whose genes I inherited were suddenly as clear in my mind as the blackberries stacked in front of me. As was the dark dirt-floor cellar where the canned goods and things like potatoes and onions were stored. The cellar was assessed only by an outside entrance next to the steep cement steps leading from the kitchen down to the backyard. I hated being sent down there for something, but quickly learned it was useless to resist. I grew up when children did as they were told, and if they complained, they usually were given additional tasks.

When we first moved into my grandmother’s home, our ice box was just that. A man driving a horse cart came around twice a week with big blocks of ice for it. I was usually given slivers of the frozen water to suck on, a treat during Texas’ hot summers. The icebox, however, was soon replaced by an electric refrigerator. I missed the iceman, but enjoyed the frozen Cool Aid pops my grandmother made for me when she thought I had been good.

Good to her meant things like bringing home a bucket full of the blackberries she had sent me to gather. The huge wild patch lay behind my grandmother’s animal enclosure and the railroad tracks. Knowing what I know now about such places, I’m surprised I didn’t get bit by a rattlesnake hiding out in the thicket, especially since such snakes were occasionally found in our backyard. But that thought never entered my mind.

I knew that if I picked enough my grandmother would give me a bowl of blackberries sprinkled with sugar and milk before she made pies from the rest. The berries always turned the milk purple.

Another bonus of picking blackberries was that sometimes I used to get a good look at the Texas Zephyr, which roared just beyond the blackberry patch once a day. I always waved at the train, wishing I was on it going off on an adventure. I think that might have been the beginning of the wanderlust that has kept me on the move for much of my life.

All these memories flooded through my head in the few seconds I stared at that package of blackberries – before I added it to my grocery cart.

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.

As butterflies track flowers, so do sellers track me. Art by Pat Bean

One of the crazy myths going around about the Covid vaccine is that the shots contain a microchip that will let your movements be tracked by the government. Just the thought of this idea makes me laugh.

I recently ordered tuna fish from Walmart. The next time I went online, my home page featured three ads for tuna fish. When my car turned five years old, suddenly I was inundated with phones calls wanting to sell me an extended warranty.

By the way, if anyone has discovered a way to stop these particular calls, please let me in on the secret. I’ve now been getting them for several years. I scream take my name off your list and never call me again – and it hasn’t worked.

One of my friends engages the caller with time-wasting tall tales of her Porsche, her Lexus, her Jaguar, and her BMW. The caller finally catches on and hangs up. But I don’t have five minutes of that kind of patience.

When I was traveling around the country in an RV for nine years, I used one of my son’s homes as my permanent address. Soon he and his wife were getting phone calls asking for me even though I had never given out their phone number. It’s been eight years since I retired from the RV life and have my own permanent address, but they are still getting an occasional call.

Fortunately, there is usually a dead giveaway because the callers ask for Patricia – and I’ve never done business of any kind using that name.

I buy a pair of pajamas online, and I’m bombarded with pajama ads. I buy a book and suddenly ads for books in that genre pop up all over my computer.

People know I’m an old broad, and so I get all sorts of ads for weird medical miracles, not to mention hearing aids and funeral plans. I actually got an ad in the mail about cremation plans yesterday, which irritated me no end.

Perhaps you can now see why I laugh at someone wanting to implant a microchip in me. Not only is the cost of doing so unimaginable, it’s simply not needed. I’m already being tracked. And for those who want to know, I’m also vaxed and boosted.

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.