Abide With Me

Fatima. I should have visited when I was in my 30s or 40s. Unfortunately, cynicism is one of the by-products of age and experience. I watched a woman of about 40 circumnavigating the Shrine of the Apparition on her knees yesterday, with a friend walking beside her to offer aid if needed. There was also an area where there are so many candles and wax body parts burning that it smelled like a holiday cook off at the beach. At one time, I might have been one of the supplicants — buying indulgences (and a wax foot) to throw into the flames. Now I try not to let my mouth fall open in shock or show my sadness at these extreme displays of superstition.

I took this morning to take the local tourist tram around to the various sites, including he birth places of Lucia, Francisco, and his sister Jacinto. Of the three, Lucia was the only one who lived to adulthood; but Francisco is the one that fascinates me. I want to know why. Why Fatima? Why these three illiterate children? I  want to understand how these little children from simple families in what was a remote village came to create such notoriety. 

I don’t accept mystery anymore. It is a lazy way to explain faith. A cop out.

I spent the last hour icing my left foot and then taping toes. I came into Fatima nearly lame and in pain. I’ve self-diagnosed my issue: acute Metatarsalgia. One of the side-effects of walking many days on cobblestones with old feet. So rest, elevation, NSAIDS, ice. And an appointment with a podiatrist when I get back to Maryland.

Fatima is as good a place as any to attempt some rest/recovery. Other than the basilicas, shrine, the sites of the miracles, and the humble homes of Lucia, Jacinto, and Francisco, the rest of it is lodging and souvenir shops. One hundred and four souvenir shops in one square block, and there are many blocks surrounding the grounds of the shrine/basilicas. It makes me sad; but also inspires me to want to know more about how this happens, and to want to write about it in a way that brings some discernment, for me if no one else.

As you may be able to tell, there is some psychic conflict going on. Pilgrimage is not bringing answers, just more questions.

“Thou on my head in early youth didst smile,
And though rebellious and perverse meanwhile,
Thou hast not left me, oft as I left Thee.
On to the close, O Lord, abide with me.”


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On My Way to The Way

19 June 2019

Notes from a train somewhere in Iowa.

I boarded the California Zephyr to Chicago yesterday evening in Denver. In Chicago, I will transfer to the Capitol Limited to Washington DC. A few days in the DC suburbs with my lovely daughter and her husband, a baseball game, a haircut, a prenatal appointment with the lovely daughter and her husband, a few lunches and happy hours with friends, and then on to a plane to Lisbon, Portugal.

Somehow the “Lisbon, Portugal” as I wrote it sounded in my head like the description of the Showcase Showdown on The Price Is Right: Lizzzz-bon PORT-you-gull. Seven days and nights under the guidance of trained REI tour guides, you and a companion will walk from Porto, Portugal to Santiago de Compostela, Spain!

From what I can see, there are no city sidewalks in Osceola. A few houses have sidewalks which are in very poor shape and a real danger for an elder trying to get around. I don’t know that I would want to attempt the buckled, cracked, and weed-grown mess! Perhaps it’s the flooding that Iowa gets every year, but especially this year when the weather has gone crazy all over the globe. At least some are beginning to admit there is real climate change going on, even if they won’t accept responsibility for causing or changing it. That tends to happen when the weather starts costing big dollars in losses, not to mention lives. So Iowa is sodden, the sidewalks are broken, and the corn has not yet been planted in the marshy fields.

Speaking of wet, it rained a good bit of the night, and it is a gray and sodden morning. It makes the greens of the various trees (and there are SO many) just brilliant. Verdant. Lush. Every now and then the train passes an area that has seen a tornado in the distant past. The trees there are shortened sometimes a lot, sometimes not so much; the angry, broken and bare limbs at the tops of the trees, poking through the new lush growth are the script of the story.

I’m being challenged by no connectivity today. I cannot even read the books on my Kindle, since I did not think to download to my device. I’m trying to be philosophical about it. After all, I’m going on Camino, a pilgrimage. I should be prepared to detach from the internet, and the news, and emails from precious friends. I can see this is going to be more of a challenge than I had thought.

I’ve already met and talked to so many interesting people, beginning on the train platform. People taking trains are taking a trip and they want to tell you about it, and they want to hear about yours. These are people who travel, and read, and know how to make proper conversation at a dinner table without delving into politics or religion.
People taking airplanes are often just getting from here to there with no other thought about it and no concern for the miles and visions passing under their seats. I know. I have been one of them. These days, I always take the window seat on the plane so I can look out and see where I’m going. Sometimes it’s only clouds, but sometimes I get super lucky. The Grand Canyon from above on an early clear morning is one of the only ways to appreciate how enormous and stunning a treasure it is. I will never forget glimpsing Greenland and the ice floes on one trip home from Europe, or the emotions I felt coming down the Potomac into DC, past Arlington and the monuments — glimpsing the WWII Memorial for the first time as we were dropping in to land.

Always take the window seat. There are lessons in the clouds, too.


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Who Do You Think You Are?

For years I’ve been referring to myself as a “Writer, Wanderer, Crone, and Snappy Dresser.” It’s on my calling cards and my LinkedIn Profile, as well as a tag line on my bio. And for almost as many years, I’ve felt it was a lie.

There is no question that I am a Wanderer. The wandering comes naturally. I come from a family of wanderers and explorers and adventurers. The mileage I’ve put on the Hovel in the past five years is a testament to strength of that DNA. From the edge of Glacier National Park in Coram, Montana to the edge of the Gulf of Mexico in Port Aransas, Texas to edge of the Pacific in Long Beach, California, I’ve pulled my home on wheels from one adventure to another.

That I am a crone is not in question, either. I’m 69 years old. Just because the picture of a crone in YOUR head is old, gray haired, warty, and sallow-skinned, bent from sin and osteoporosis does not mean that this is a reality. There is a long tradition of the crone in various forms and traditions as the elder wise woman of the tribe. I’m willing to claim that for my tribe. I’m the oldest and I’m not too stupid. How wise I am may be open to debate; however, it’s a skill I am always working on. So, there’s that.

Snappy Dresser was always kind of a joke. It began when I asked my oldest dearest friend to help me with some adjectives for my calling card. This one was on the list as sort of a dance-off line; and I loved it.

Am I a snappy dresser? Probably not, if you’re thinking in social influencer or red carpet runway terms. I’m mostly clean and not sloppy, and I know how to put colors together. I’m not one of those folks that causes other folks to go “Whoa! Will you look at that!” Whether that means “Oh. My. God. Did she not even look in the mirror?!” Or “Wow! That’s just stunning!”
I do get dressed pretty quickly, however. Comes from years of AF training and mommy hardening. So, Snappy Dresser is not really a lie.

It’s the Writer thing.

How can I call myself a writer? Do I meet the criteria? What is the criteria? Is it being published? If so, I am kind of sad. I have one poem published in an anthology I helped fund. Is it audience? Is it volume?

It occurs to me I don’t have this trouble when I describe myself as a reader. I read. Therefore I am a reader.

And THERE is the problem. I feel uncomfortable calling myself a writer because I am not writing. Audience or no. Published or not. If I am not writing, I am not a writer.

I suppose I could just take a Sharpie to my business cards (does anyone ever run out of those things?) and edit my moribund LinkedIn page; but, I thought I would try something else. Writing. Daily. Some of it will end up here. I thought it only fair to warn you.

I’ll be going on another big adventure soon, and I hope to have a lot to write about! A train ride from Denver through Chicago to Washington DC and then a trip to Portugal to walk the Camino de Santiago, visits to Lisbon and Fatima, Madrid and Barcelona. Places to go, people to see, things to do…the life of a wanderer!

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A Day Off!

It was a chilly (31º) but beautiful morning here on the West Thumb, and I enjoyed staying in bed until just after 0630. I lifted my head from the pillow at 0430 to see the rim of the caldera highlighted by the predawn oranges and pinks in a clear sky, casting their reflection on the calm waters of the lake. Glorious!

And then I went back to sleep for a while. Even more glorious!

It’s my first day off in 12 days, and I started off with a good-sized list of chores to take care of: vacuuming, washing the truck and doing the windshield treatment (already too late to save the warranty, but a good protectant), adjusting the level of the Hovel, and checking the air intake under the refrigerator for evidence of a rodent.

The dogs went nuts right around bedtime last night, running through the trailer sniffing the corners, back and forth. They were especially intent on that air intake. So, I unscrewed the hinge closure and swung it open to have a look, thinking to myself that I should go ahead and get the vacuum cleaner out now because I’m going to need it.

It was readily apparent to even the most casual observer that I was going to need the vacuum; however, there was no such readily observable evidence of a rodent. I pulled out the vacuum and used every attachment to clean out the space, and then I inspected one more time.

Aha! A mouse-sized hole in the ducting leading from the furnace to my bedroom! That could be why I’m not getting much air-flow or heat in there. The little bastard! What he doesn’t know is that I have three secret weapons: a roll of duct tape, a packet of Fresh Cab, and Gidget — a proven mouser and possible Rat Terrier, but definitely not a chihuahua. The Fresh Cab will drive him away from the area, and if he’s in the ducting, the easiest way out now is the vent in the bedroom. If he comes out there, he’s toast!

So, there’s one I can add to the “To Do” list for the day and cross off.

Now, for another cup of coffee while I gaze upon this glorious day in Yellowstone. The rest of the list can wait for a bit. I’ve already accomplished a lot on my day off.

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Sunday Morning in Parker

I’m on my second cup of coffee, just finished my second day-old scone with strawberry preserves from The Brown Palace, and we have Toy Story on the telly. Rosie and I are communicating in sentences; and she has a flair for the dramatic, I’m proud to say.

It’s a lovely Sunday morning.

The grasses in the fields outside the window are turning green, and there is a chartreuse blush on the flowering bushes. The birds are in riotous form, with meadowlarks and blue birds and robins and warblers. There is a red-tailed hawk that guards it all from above in lazy figure eights.

I arrived back in Parker on Friday afternoon and spent yesterday unpacking the bed of the truck (Big Red) so I can get the hitch back in and move the Hovel up closer to the house. I need to get busy setting it up for another summer in the park.

The uncomfortable sleeper sofa that came with the rig is gone, as is the broken down swivel rocker/recliner that was heavy as homemade sin. In their place I have the Poang chair I bought for my bedroom in the early 2000s, and a lovely light sage green chaise that I will have to reposition every time we move the rig, but will make such a lovely place to sit and read and look out the window at the West Thumb of Lake Yellowstone.

I’m also getting a new mattress and a new toilet. I’m buying myself one of those memory foam mattresses that ships for free, lets you try it for 100 nights, and will come and get it if you hate it. I don’t think I’m going to hate it. The toilet is a composting toilet. I like that I won’t be using so much water to flush body waste into a sewer system, and is a fraction of what it would cost to build a septic system to support the Hovel when I winter in Colorado this coming year.

I’ll be wintering in Colorado rather than in Yellowstone because the family is about to get bigger again. There will be a new baby, soon, and I want the chance to be a grandma and a good mother-in-law and lend a hand this winter.

This will be a good place to spend a winter. Gardiner was also a good place to spend the winter. Such a quiet little town in the off-season and the walk to work and back every day under the watch of Electric Peak, in all kinds of weather, was a treat. I never knew what animals I would see in the field across from the building. Would it be bison, or elk, or pronghorn. Some days it was a trifecta. I could do another winter, there.

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It’s been a tough few days. Another school shooting with 17 dead and revelation that a foreign power has interfered in our democracy and created chaos in our elections. Depressing and awful news. The kind of thing that gets me obsessing and second guessing my life choices. Is this really the country that I devoted 35 years in defense of? It’s also the kind of thing that makes me grateful that I have chosen to spend this winter in Montana, just outside the north gate of Yellowstone.

Today, I got the opportunity to step away from the news and the TV and immerse myself in the environment I am living in. I got invited to join a small group, led by an expert, to go looking for wolves. Wolves were once native to Yellowstone, but were hunted to near extinction in the early decades of the 20th century. They were re-established in the park in the mid-90s and now there are several packs that are doing their job of contributing to the health of the Yellowstone eco-system.

It was a very cold morning and there were several inches of fresh snow overnight with winds and drifting. The most popular areas in the park for sighting wolves are the Lamar and Hayden Valleys. The original plan was to go to Lamar. Because of the weather, driving conditions were pretty sporting. The roads between Mammoth Hot Springs and Tower Junction and out to Cooke City were closed today, so we did not get to the Lamar Valley.

Instead, we took an old highway along the west side of the Yellowstone River. We got perhaps two miles, maybe three, down the road when our guide (Emil McCain of Yellowstone Wild) pulled over and said, “I’m going to get some glass out and take a look.” Within minutes, he’d spotted a big gray settled down in the snow on the top of a hill about a mile out (towards the west). We all got a chance to look, and it did not appear any others of his pack were around, but Emil was sure they weren’t far off.

Toes and faces hurting from the cold, (it was -4º and -15º with the wind chill), we got back in the van and went a little further on, passing some bison, and then Emil pulled over again.  Now he was excited. “Hurry! They won’t be here long!” The rest of the pack, 15 wolves (including the white alpha female and a very large black male wolf who stuck to her like Velcro) were crossing the field about 1/2 mile to the northwest of us. We could see them with our naked eyes. Not well enough to describe them, but well enough to know they were canine and they were moving together. He got the scopes set up and we watched and counted. At one point, they were in a lovely line, with no more than 15 or 20 feet between any of them.

In three summers in Yellowstone, I’ve seen perhaps five wolves. One on the road between Norris and Mammoth and a den of pups at Specimen Creek (through a scope and a looong ways away). I never imagined I would get such a treat as this. Emil acknowledged that we had been very, very lucky (“blessed”) with this sighting. It was the Wapiti Lake pack and they were trespassing on the Eight-Mile pack territory.

We saw other things today, and I have photos of bison and big horn sheep that will make for very nice prints. My friend got some photos of the wolves, as well as some nice shots of prong horn on the river, but my day was complete with the incredible treat of seeing the Wapiti pack and watching them move together across the hills and fields, just inside the Yellowstone park boundary. We were sworn to silence, not to talk about it in town, because there are still wolf haters in these parts and they haven’t yet caught the assassin that shot the white alpha female in the early spring of 2017, the mother of the beauty we saw leading the pack today.

What a day!

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There’s a pretty sounding word 



And it’s a pretty time of day.

The colors 

and the way the light is dispersed across the top of the lake

I can see the lake for the longest time

After all the pink of the sunset has turned to gray

And the trees begin to lose their shapes

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They Don’t Call Them Grand for Nothing

I drove down to Jackson WY, today. It was my first day out of the park since late May. I picked a beautiful day to do it. A still and cloudless day that showed off the best features of the south end of Yellowstone and the Tetons over the lakes. I wrote about wildflowers yesterday, but today was a wildflower bonanza! It makes me wish I was a real photographer with a legitimate camera. I’ve never seen the wildflowers like this! So many varieties and such abundance. Even in last year’s burn area (the forest on either side of 89 south of Flagg Ranch is gone — nothing but black poles), the flowers are magnificent. And then there are the Tetons…

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Following the Wildflowers

It was a little frosty this morning. That’s a good thing. That means I can take that first walk with the dogs without breaking out the DEET. The mosquitos have been ferocious, especially in the evening when I want to be outside watching another magnificent sunset behind the West Thumb Geyser Basin.

This morning, we were the first ones out. The sun wasn’t yet over the Absorakas, but the sky was getting pink and light and the littlest songbirds were already out, dipping on the air like tiny winged porpoises. The lake, calm and blue against the dark green forested shores. 

The lupine is finally blooming here at 8000 feet. So are the yarrow, goatsbeard, spiny phlox, wild strawberry, and heart leaf arnica. All of this in the meadow above the lake. It’s so odd to be seeing these blooms after enjoying some of them (i.e., lupine) since the 1st of April. Of course they grow lupine bigger in Texas, and they call them Bluebonnets. It was April when I left San Antonio to begin the journey north for the summer, and they were bountiful through the hill country. I enjoyed them again in early May in the Grand Canyon, and again in late May in Missoula during my Avalon retreat,* when they were just beginning to bloom, along with the Camas. 

It’s not a bad life, following the wildflowers. 

* I have friends who have nicknamed their Montana home Avalon. This in recollection of the sanctuary and healing provided by King Arthur’s home in The Idylls of the King. My visits there, over the past few years have been healing and restorative. Their home is well-named.  

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It’s been nearly a month, since I last wrote. It’s been a busy month. In between, I met my crew for 2017; we trained; we cleaned; we set up shop; and we opened for the summer, amid frequent power outages and systems failures and personnel shortages. It’s been wild. Some of it has been brutal. This is my first day off since before we opened on June 9, and more than a couple of those days in between were close to 16 hours. 

These summers never fail to be a wake up call for my physical condition. There’s always a point when I wonder if I’m physically up to it. I reached that point last night. But, here I am again, on the right side of the grass. I guess I’m going to make it.
So I’m sitting at my window, watching the lake and the trees and the mountains and the sky, and taking a breath. 

There are things to be done, for sure. I’m running out of underwear and I’ve run out of socks. I haven’t had a chance to do laundry since the first week of June. My Hovel is starting to look like one, as I have barely kept it clean and straight — ok, mostly not at all — as I’ve come and gone these past three weeks. The holding tanks on the Hovel need to be drained, an act that makes me very aware of my impact on the environment, both in what I use and the waste I leave behind.

But I’m sitting at my window, watching the lake and the trees and the mountains and the sky, and now a bird going by, and taking another breath.

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