Archive for March, 2013

Charlize doesn’t know we’re home. For over a month at six-thirty or so each morning she pressed her cold nose on my cheek and uttered a soft whine to get me up. I let her out and then get on with whatever the day has in store. We wandered for over a month, asking questions without answers but gradually discovering that decisions can be made unilaterally after almost fifty-three years of collaborating with Rosalie. Of course I discuss everything with Charlize but she has yet to voice a comprehensible opinion, except for exuberant enthusiasm for walks and playing ball.

I went through thirty-nine days of accumulated mail, paid the overdue bills I couldn’t identify on-line and restocked the refrigerator. Now what? During my travels I rekindled some old friendships, now I have to work at keeping them viable and active that will require both time and effort.

Frog needs some repair and renovation to improve her ability to travel rough roads. I was disappointed with how she responded to the rough spots we hit along the way. They are just minor things. She needs improved access to the storage space under the bed, clasps on cupboard doors and drawers to prevent them from coming open when I hit a bump in the road, a method of keeping the table from sliding and banging around loose and into the corner of the cupboard and the refrigerator. I should be able to get her in good shape for our next adventure planned for May.

I also have my writing projects. A novel, PSILOCYBE DREAMS, that I just finished editing for, I hope, the last time. Now I have to start submitting it to agents and publishers.

I am starting a new project that I am very excited about: Samuel Ha-Nagid was born near the end of the 10th Century. He was a Rabbi who wrote poetry of love and God and wine and war in both Hebrew and Arabic. Some of his poetry survives today. He became the Caliph of Cordoba’s right hand, his Viser, his Chief-of-Staff, the General of his armies. He was never defeated on the field of battle. They were a team, a Muslim ruler and a Jew in a time of enlightenment, education, literacy and tolerance that lasted over three hundred years. What happened? There’s a story to be told and a trip to Cordoba, Spain for research.

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IMG_0092 Taken on the road to Denver.

While driving in San Diego, Phoenix, and now in Denver I can hear my own voice speaking aloud, but it is as though I am out of body, away but close enough to hear clearly. I’m just another old geezer, complaining that everything has changed and not for the better. All this growth is not progress, or is it?

I have a good friend in Denver, actually in Littleton. His name is also Charley but without the weird spelling. I’ve known him since 1954. We were on the swimming team at what was then Colorado A & M and became Colorado State University while we were still in attendance. On road trips we were roommates. We also both got into veterinary school the same year so we are classmates as well. As I said, good friends, but how did we ever get this old?

Charlize and I arrived in Denver and spent three days and nights with Charley and his wonderful wife Jean. It was therapeutic. Charley is a natural politician. He remembers names. Names of those he meets, names of their spouses, names of their kids and he actually cares when he asks how they are all doing. During my stay we never went anyplace where he didn’t run into several people he knew and he always took the time to greet them. In every restaurant we went into the cute young servers and host or hostesses knew him by sight and came over to give him a hug and greet him and he immediately connected with each of them. I know he works hard at it, but the true gift is that he cares enough to do it. Charley’s grandfather was the king maker in Colorado politics in the 1930’s and 40’s, maybe longer. I guess that’s where my friend comes by this talent.

I woke up very early on the day we left Denver, well ahead of the predicted snowstorm. We were on the road by 4:30 am. It was very comfortable driving after the three-day hiatus so we pressed on all day and into the evening, avoiding the storm by driving north and west. We arrived at the home of another classmate in Nampa, Idaho about eight in the evening. A long satisfying day and Charlize and I were warmly welcomed. We spent the evening and more than half the next day visiting and catching up. All of these friends had just seen Rosalie the previous October and were surprised and saddened by her passing. She put up such a brave front when we were last all together.

Both Charley and my Nampa classmate, Lionel, built hugely successful equine veterinary practices that have now been taken over by veterinarians that they originally hired as associates then taken in as partners. Both of the practices provide specialized veterinary care for their own clients and for many referred to them by other veterinarians.

I am very proud of all of my classmates. They have made significant contributions to society and to the profession. At least six of us ended up in academia, teaching the next generations of veterinarians, Charley was president of the AAEP, the American Association of Equine Practitioners, and another classmate was president of the AVMA, many served at presidents of their local AVMA chapters and went on to more responsible positions at the regional level. All those who went into practice were successful and provided professional and state-of-the-art veterinary care for their patients and their clients. How on earth did we all get so damn old?

When I questioned them about this, none of us think we feel or think differently than we did just out of school. We all have the aches and pains and most of us are gimping around. The revelation is looking in the mirror.

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Charlize and I spent two days in the San Luis Valley trying to visit the places I identified while doing research for my historical novel MAN HUNT. The book is a fictionalized account of the intersecting lives of Tom Tobin, a frontiersman and the Espinosas, a family of New Mexicans. After the Mexican-American war the entire village in which they lived lost their communal property and became destitute. The Espinosas responded by turning to robbery, murder and a bloody vendetta against the Gringos.

Many of the places mentioned in the book were identified and described in historical accounts and records made during the lives of these real people. Several years ago my wife and I visited Taos and passed through some of the places I talked about in the book, but at that time I had no idea I would be writing about those venues in the future.

The reconstructed Fort Garland sits on the original site of that fort and some portions of the original buildings remain, along with historical records of what the fort actually looked like when it was an active army post. It was as I pictured it from my reading and study of existing drawings. The museum at the fort provides insight into the lives of the soldiers who were posted in that wilderness outpost. Charlize and I drove from Fort Garland south to Taos. Along the way I tried to identify the location of Tobin’s Trinchera ranch, but other than the general area where it was I could not identify a specific site. We passed through the town of Cochilla near where Tobin had a farm and kept his family. Nobody I asked knew where that farm had been located.

The museums at the homes of Governor Bent and Kit Carson were as I remembered them from our previous visit. I drove several back roads around Arroyo Hondo and even stopped to ask some local folks if they could direct me to the site of Turley’s mill, a prominent landmark of the book. I couldn’t find it and those I asked couldn’t or wouldn’t help. Maybe they just didn’t want another nosey tourist poking around in their neighborhood.

The next day we continued our hunt to identify some of the sites where the Espinosas did their deadly deeds, without much luck. Time and the new positioning of roads and highways have changed the landscape. Late in the afternoon we gave up that activity and made a side trip to the Great Sand Dunes National Park. It was interesting and informative. The natural forces of water flow, wind, the location in front of a mountain range with the necessary configuration to direct the prevailing winds and the geological rift effect all combine to create and maintain a reasonably large area of pure sand dunes. The size and shape of these dunes are in a state of constant change. The largest dune is over seven hundred feet above the floor of the valley. Charlize considered the place nothing more than a huge sandbox for her to frolic in.IMG_0099

The following day we drove over La Veta Pass and again I was unable to locate the landmarks described in my research on the nefarious activities of the Espinosas. This was explained on the eastern side of the pass when we saw a sign identifying the old La Veta Pass road. It took a different direction than the paved highway we were on and probably different than the wagon trail in use when Tobin was active in the area.

The changes of landscape, experience and life style of the people who live in the various environments we pass through seem to be a recurring theme of this odyssey. It seems I to focus on the changes during my lifetime piled onto the historical changes I have read about. Perhaps this is not so unfortunate. I find thinking about places and the events that occurred in those places in the past more comfortable. I don’t have to deal with things as they are now. As many have said to me and I have repeated too many times to count; growing old ain’t for sissies.

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Our journey from the Fruita Campground to the San Luis Valley took us over the upper reaches of Lake Powell. I assume the engineers and planners who designed, proposed and built the Glen Canyon Dam anticipated the amount of water borne debris that would end up in the lake. After setting up Frog for the night in Blanca, CO I Googled it (the source of all information, right or wrong) to find out how much silt and sediment goes into the lake and what the long term effects will be. Somewhere between 65,000 and 100,000 cubic yards of sediment reach the lake per year. A study conducted in the mid-1970’s, using sonar to measure the sediment, indicated the lake could hold about 700 years of accumulated sediment.

Not surprisingly I found many articles forecasting doom and destruction while vilifying the engineers and planners who promoted the project. All the arguments seemed well made, to me, and were supported by presumably scientific studies. There were an almost equal number of well-written articles touting the economic, recreational, agricultural and social benefits of the dams, also citing scientific evidence that although the dams could, eventually fail without mitigation, there is no imminent danger. These proponents of the dams argue that there are ways to “flush” the lake using the jet tubes and spillways of the dam.

I don’t have any idea how much accumulation there is at the dam but at Hick’s Crossing, with the level of the lake down considerably, the amount of silt and sediment deposited in the upper reaches of the high water marks was evident, and I could see places where that stuff was falling into the water. After reading those articles I feel strongly, …both ways. The controversy about the Colorado River dams and their long-term effects on the environment and water use rages on. What seems apparent is that predictions and study results are equivocal, nobody knows for certain what will happen. If political action or the inevitable progression of nature, take away the Glen Canyon and the downstream dams, many predict a domino effect, the mega concentrations of people in Southern California and Arizona, along with the agricultural and recreational enterprises of that area, will be desperate to find water.

The question seems to be more when than if. Opponents say it could happen two generations from now and could be sudden and catastrophic. Proponents say nothing will happen for many lifetimes, maybe as long as 700 years. I have no idea what to believe but the longer I live the more I feel that way about most things.

DSCN0433 Charlize checking out the water levels at Hick’s crossing the inlet to Lake Powell.

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We traveled through yet another red rock canyon. This one the product of wind and the Fremont River, flowing gently in early March but still the color of the sand and silt it is transporting to help clog Lake Powell.

The Fruita Campground is on the site of some old homesteads and features several fruit and nut orchards. Apricot trees, for certain, but I was unable to find out what other kinds of fruit and couldn’t tell from the bare trees. Charlize and I saw many deer during our evening and morning walks and three, unconcerned, wild turkeys that Charlize wanted desperately to catch, …fat chance. The fruit trees are protected from the deer by two lines of defense and there are supposed to be elk in the vicinity as well. The trees were well cared for, I presume by BLM personnel. We were visiting too early for the well- publicized explosion of flowering trees, but by all accounts it is a spectacular display. The micro-climate of this more than red rock canyon, there are also yellows, oranges, purples with moving shadows and blazes of sunlight, all gently watered by the river. The place attracted Mormon settlers in the 1880’s. I am tempted to return to find out where these people came from, how they acquired the fruit trees they planted and what their lives were like. This will be one more addition to my expanding, rather than retracting, bucket-list.

While taking Charlize for her evening constitutional we met an interesting young couple, Charlize, of course, initiated the contact. The couple work as counselors at a type of boot camp for juvenile offenders. Most of the juvies have drug problems. They told me they are currently working with sixty-seven of these youngsters teaching them wilderness survival skills as well as how to cope with today’s real problems. They were preparing their dinner, burritos wrapped in aluminum foil, heating on a grate over a too large wood fire. The young lady kept moving the three burritos around, presumably to keep them from burning up. They offered me the extra one, but I explained that Charlize and I had already had our dinner.

DSCN0424The Fruita campground, pretty place, mostly empty!

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Growing up in Arizona and spending significant time camping at and in the Grand Canyon and Oak Creek Canyon, along with a whole summer working on the Navajo Reservation produced in me a serious flaw. I am less than overcome by emotion when viewing wind and water sculpted red rock formations.

Charlize and I spent the night in Springdale, Utah. Early the next morning we did a quick tour of Zion National Park. It is beautiful, but as I said.

We followed the Zion-Mount Carmel highway through the mile-long tunnel carved out of the rock and stopped at an over view just outside the East Entrance. There I talked with three very friendly young folks; Jim, who is about to graduate from nursing school and two female nursing students from the same school in St. George, Utah. Charlize initiated contact and the conversation flowed easily. All three were bright, interested, committed and determined to do good and make a difference. Jim wants to be involved in a medical program that helps underserved patients in third world countries. Nice!

Charlize and I arrived at Bryce Canyon about noon and did a very quick tour. We weren’t allowed to take Frog beyond the first viewpoint, Sunrise Point. To tour the rest of the Park we would have had to unhitch and leave Frog unattended. Charlize was not happy with that idea, nor was I, so we departed.

Rather than back tracking we made a command decision and headed east on state highway 12. We stopped in Tropic, Utah for a quick lunch and pressed on. The road was free of all but occasional other vehicles and we didn’t see a single eighteen-wheeler. We stopped for a panoramic view at the mountain pass between Escalante and Boulder. The CCC constructed the original “Million Dollar Road” with “skill, sweat and dynamite” finishing it in 1940. The view spanned from Navajo Mountain on the Utah-Arizona border to the east, the Henry Mountains in the center and west to the Aquaris Plateau and Boulder Mountain. The distance encompassed, from east to west must be well over a hundred miles. The vista includes a cornucopia of deep, winding canyons that form the Escalante River Basin.

We traversed at least three summit passes after leaving Bryce the highest was about 9,600 feet, with snow on the ground. We arrived at the beautiful Fruita Campground in the Capital Reef National Forest about four-thirty in the evening. With my Senior National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands Pass it cost me five bucks for the night. I was tired from all the mountain driving but pleased with a full day. It was an awesome reliving of the past driving on mostly empty, two-lane highways, very reminiscent of the way driving in the west used to be when I was young.

DSCN0417 Here is Charlize checking out the view of the “Million Dollar Highway”

DSCN0415This is what she was looking at.

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For two days Charlize and I drove through the Mohave Desert. It’s different, different than the Sonoran Desert of my youth. I grew up in that desert, hiking and camping and loving the harsh environment that required skill and knowledge to survive.

From Indio to Lake Havasu and from there to the Zion National Park we drove through the Mohave. In my book, Man Hunt, I wrote about a trip taken by Tom Tobin from the Taos area to Los Angeles in the 1850’s. As was always the case in those days the trip through the Mohave, from one watering place to the next, was brutal, the way marked by the skeletons of man and beast.

Our trip was a piece of cake. Old Blue, with Frog closely following, clicked off the miles of pavement at a steady pace. The uninitiated might consider the Mohave dull, repetitious, mile after mile of sand, rocks, sagebrush and monotony. It isn’t. The flora is constantly changing as you travel through a wide variety of eco-zones. Late February is too early for the desert to burst into bloom but there are no fewer than two hundred different wild flowers and cacti that bloom in that so called wasteland. I did spot early Mojave gold poppy along the roadside, it’s bright yellow flowers waved to us on narrow leafless stems oscillating in the slipstream as we blew past at sixty miles per hour.

The most common plant I saw was the creosote bush, I know it as greasewood, an evergreen that can grow to more than four feet tall. We stopped to stretch our legs and for Charlize to water the desert and I spotted green ephedra, also known as Mormon Tea. In the southern part of our trip the land was full of sagebrush, salt brush and greasewood. As we travelled north we passed through various, fairly well defined eco-zones dominated by several varieties of yucca, including tall yucca that were almost tree-like, and just beginning to form blossoms. I saw chaparral and, in the washes, paloverde and mesquite.

From Temecula, CA we followed highway CA74 diagonally across the desert to Indio, passing through the Santa Rosa and San Jacinto mountain ranges. Above 3,500 feet I saw some California juniper. In lower areas, where there was water, there were tamarisk trees and palms. The tamarisk I remember from when I was growing up. We had several on one corner of our lot. They were at least forty feet tall, with dark purplish bark. The leaves aren’t leaves, more like scales, and salt encrusted, dirty. We used to climb those trees, but always needed a bath afterwards. You don’t see those dirty, trashy trees much anymore they have been replaced by modern landscaping.

The Mojave Desert is, somehow, more forbidding, more stark, more desolate, than my familiar Sonoran Desert that is full of many varieties of cacti. It must have been a fairly wet fall and winter though, I saw a lot of grass.



The plaque Charlize is sitting next to says:

“In this place of Solitude and Beauty, please take time to show respect for both the natural surroundings and those who share this highway.”

“Maintain a grateful awareness of the Time given you To share with your Loved Ones and remember those who innocently lost what you may take for granted.”

“Please Drive Safely.”

I had to wipe the tears from my eyes. 



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I’ve been re-reading John Steinbeck, returning to his books after a thirty to forty year hiatus. I read differently now, not surprising with so many additional years to experience life and interpret and perhaps even understand what I am reading. Steinbeck points out that good human qualities include wisdom, tolerance, kindliness, generosity and humility. Good humans live moral, ethical lives, practice the Golden Rule, deal honestly and transparently with others, do not cut corners or press to see how much wealth, power and/or prestige they can accumulate without having to answer for their methods.

Bad people demonstrate cruelty, greed, self –interest, graspingness and rapacity. They \do their best to take advantage of others and believe their worth is determined by how much wealth, power and/or prestige they accumulate. They are sharp dealers who take advantage of every opportunity to accumulate more and don’t seem bothered by moral or ethical issues. They ignore or avoid ethical and even legal issues whenever they believe they can get away with it. They push the boundaries of acceptable behavior.

Steinbeck reckons our American society almost always judges the second group to be successful while the first group, those millions lacking wealth, power or prestige are considered unsuccessful. I fervently hope this jaded view is not true, although our society does seem to idolize those individuals who accumulate, through whatever means, and considers them to be “successful”. The rub is that these accumulators, especially as they age, often become philanthropists and re-discover morality and ethics. Sometimes they even re-discover the greatest teacher of those values, religion. Think of Carnegie, Rockefeller, Kennedy, Astor and the various railroad and mining robber barons. The list could include many more recent examples. Their lack of morality and ethical behavior while acquiring massive wealth is overlooked by society because they were or are judged successful, and they managed, for the most part, to avoid prosecution. We anoint these individuals as smart business people and respect, if not adore them.

The probable truth is that all of us have some characteristics of both groups, the division is not so stark, not so black and white. Perhaps our society does accommodate shades of gray behavior that allow an individual to make minor trespasses but, for the most part, live a moral, ethical life and still be considered successful. But then I believed in the tooth fairy for a long time.

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