Snow Falling on Pines



Amazing how the journeys along the way feel as though they belong to another lifetime. Walking into the Grand Canyon? Yeah, we did that long long ago, right? The shimmering red rock of the Grand Staircase Escalante and Canyonlands? Kayaking outside Prescott? A walk on the immigrant trail, along the Mexican border? Las Vegas? Really? Even Death Valley seems years ago.

IMG_5973Now our world is beautiful snow and Christmas with family. Since the day after we arrived, the cold stuff has been falling.  Daily, Jack and I go Walking in Thigh-High Winter Wonderland. I have stopped Dreaming of a White Christmas for fear the Universe will respond with more!  It is good. It tells my body that So This Is Christmas—even though it has traveled through all of these diverse climates.

I can never fully shed the irony and paradox of Christmas. But here, with daughters and Will’s family, we are on the edge of Forest Service land, so the view out the window sweeps toward trees and river and mountains. The snow slows us from dashing to get one last thing, and makes us all feel cozy to be inside. And, cheesy as it can be, it is also somehow profound. This time of year has always been so sacred that not even the vast engines of commercialization can bulldoze it. The Winter Solstice is a moment on the wheel of time that simply stops in the northern hemisphere for just a few days. The Pause. We have passed through the portal of the longest night of the year and before the sun begins to really gather steam, there is just this one long deep breath where not much moves in the celestial reckoning of our lives. For us, this year, this is most definitely the Pause, the intermission of our travels. That is part of the time warp or head spin that I go through, for Solstice got unseated by Christmas, and so I always feel like I am secretly observing another holiday which is hidden in the Christmas language.

IMG_5979For thousands of years, humans have gathered at this time to hold each other close and dear, for the winter’s dark and cold remind us of how precious we are to each other. We struggle with the awkwardness of merging and preserving traditions and all the endless lists of what must be done, not to mention the over-spending of the season in an effort to say I Love You. And, for our family, at least , one of the favorite activities of the holiday, is the sitting around, preferably in jammies or lounging outfits, surrounded by food and drink and presents or wrappings. Every year, I simultaneously think—ack, ALL THIS STUFF and oh, it’s The Pause, as we snuggle in, and time slows.

The 2012 energy of the Shift of the Ages became trivialized, like the fierce and shining Irish tribe TuathaDanann that morphed into Leprechauns. And after awhile, we don’t even remember the original legends that fed and nourished us. We run around calling it the End of the World, either sarcastically or for real, and we lose the chance to really reflect on the Turning Point where we are now. Will it be business as usual or a shift to a future that could actually sustain our children? All I know now is that, though the prospect seems dim for thoughtful positive change, we must focus on the best in humans and the beauty of the earth. We must love it, even if it feels hopeless. Know it, love it, don’t be afraid to feel it. Move to what brings you joy and try to stay there as much as you can. Vow not to hurt yourself or the earth. Find a humble way to do service. And here, unexpectedly, this pagan-Jesus loving person finds deep comfort and inspiration in his story and life. Which brings me back to Christmas and the incongruity and congruity of the stories.

And So This Is Christmas (my favorite “carol”). Especially for all of those who lost their loved ones, I know this humble and familial scene is exactly the one we will all most miss when it disappears. For those who are alone, or in pain, or impoverished or homeless—it seems fitting to say God Bless, without even being one who thinks of an entity to match the God part, I think it is the way of saying the Divine loves you, remember that. Life loves you. The Earth loves you. YOU. All of you. All of us. And I feel you, touch you, and hold you too in my heart. I fold you into this scene and wish the same for you.


Through Death Valley and into the Snow

(This was written a few days ago, but we have been hemmed in by China Lake Weapons Station, Death Valley, the Mojave Desert and the Sierra and Inyo Mountains, in no towns bigger than a pit-stop and no wifi.)

IMG_5950Ah, it may seem as if we are away from the news, but we carry it with us. Steve loves his NPR, so it is our frequent companion. Like many of you, I woke up this morning trying to see my own life in perspective—how we all barely outrun the crazy man with the gun, metaphorically… and increasingly, in reality. We can feel the hot breath of the end of life on our skin every day; though whatever form it takes will inevitably surprise us: the pancreatic cancer, breast cancer, whatever kind of disease, the sudden accident, the drunk on the road, the precipitous fall off the roof, the sweet or sorrowful surrender, losing our mind, or our body slowly or quickly… it will surprise us. Because of that sure knowledge, we also understand that life is tenuous and fragile and precious. Today, along with the daily journey of our own existence, we carry the helpless and inconsolable heartache of a horrific school shooting, powerless to help the Syrian refugees struggling with the cold or the inconceivable tragedy of elephant families killed for ivory trinkets.

IMG_0281It isn’t that we can heal our hearts with this travel. It’s more like we take this pain, all of it, all the land ravaged and the humans and animals so carelessly killed, and we carry it out to the sky and the air and the earth and scatter it like ashes. We burn the grief with our campfires, and we live a simple life. We live a life now more like the rest of the world than when we are home; more elemental, uncomplicated and somehow, more right. We can’t make bad things go away. At home, we would gather with friends and family and hold them close. We would share the anguish. On the Road, we balance the sorrow with the goodness, the beauty, the surprises and the unexpected generosity and the gift of public spaces.

IMG_5791Ash Meadows National Wildlife Refuge, Nevada, was such a find. A sacred place of the Piute and Shoshone peoples, it is a natural desert oasis, full of life. “It was a place we used to waterski and have a great time”, I was told by a local. “Now, it’s all Government Protected.” The tone in his voice was scornful. So we went out to see it. We walked on a boardwalk that allowed us to see the place up close and personal. Non-native species are being taken out. Native species, from the smallest pupfish to the mountain bluebird and verdin thrive; migratory birds have a place to rest and feed. Interpretive signs opened up what we were seeing, illuminating things directly in front of us that we could so easily miss. The Great Basin AmeriCorps young adults work in keep the boardwalk in good shape. Once again, I think this is an under-sung and under-appreciated aspect of our country. I urge everyone to get out and enjoy and support efforts like this, and let the sentient and deep wisdom of this continent heal the injuries inflicted by our culture and our times.

IMG_5816Our caravan is small, our camps minimal in a way only Strider could conceive of as luxury. At the same time, we are surrounded by the enormous prosperity of this country in every way, from the obvious to the more precious and the more subtle wealth of a campground like this one we inhabit for the night in Furnace Creek, Death Valley. Each campsite is its own nation; from humble tents to rigs so big a whole extended family could call it home. But we are all here, in this astonishing place; protected, interpreted, restored by a cast of characters in the epic tale that is the creation and preservation of the National Parks of this country.

IMG_0216We have been through some harder times since leaving Phoenix. Got stuck in soft sand so deep I really wasn’t sure if we’d just driven Into the Wild or what. That was outside Parker, California. Lucky us, the tow company came prepared for Cheechakos (Alaskan term for idiot beginners). They happily hauled us out with their oversized four-wheel drive rig and collected their $300. Steve and I got off kilter for awhile, and had those moments when you both wish you were somewhere else with someone else. Then the hard rains came, ironic . . . since we were in one of the driest parts of the world, approaching Death Valley. IMG_0244We had a magical morning in a natural hotsprings outside of the tiny town of Tecopa under clouds gathering and coming in darker and darker, then ran for the comfort of Vegas in the downpour. Steve had a nephew he wanted to see, and that evening, we rubber-necked our way around Paris, Las Vegas—not gambling, but just looking around like the flabbergasted tourists we were. It rained, but at least we weren’t stuck in the van!


IMG_5930Now, things have smoothed out again, and here we are on a warm December evening, in a Death Valley campground. The stars are spread across the velvety black sky. A new moon is beginning its circuit. Death Valley is awesome; one of those places that has a name like legend and plenty of character. It holds the record for the hottest place on Earth (134 degrees; 40 months without precipitation) but after all the rain and cold, we loved and needed every minute of relative warmth (about 62 degrees during the day and 38 at night). IMG_5846The salt flats of Badwater, at 282 feet below sea level, is officially the lowest place on the American Continent. Often, the perception of the places you get to are completely shaped by the places you’ve just been through. With that in mind, I sure appreciated this rocky, earth-toned palette with eternal autumn colors, an impossibly dry low valley, framed by brown mountains, tipped with snow and a radiantly blue sky.


Soon, we will be in snowy South Lake Tahoe for my birthday, Solstice 2012 and Christmas with both kids. It will be good to stop for awhile though the weather will be COLD and snowy. It will be great to be with our loved ones. After that, we have a month still left on our journey! We both agree, we must find a location to rest and sit, somewhere relatively warm and cheap, or more preferably, free, for a couple of weeks in January. The travel has been good but the nights are nearly 14 hours long. We need some interior time. Anyone have a place they know of? We can take of pets or other things, do work exchange, manage/caretake an area, cook, etc. Mid or southern California, most likely.


IMG_0217This is Jack and my voice has been silenced by my two human travel mates, who want to hog all the attention.  I’ve got about 5 minutes while they slurp a 2nd cup  (the first one is always way strong,  made by steve in the French press with heated water from the Coleman stove) of java at the Longstreet Casino located on a desert springs just east of  Death Valley and Ash Meadows NWR (where I am sure I WILL HAVE TO BE ON A LEASH).  Not sure how to encapsulate 6 weeks of travel in 4 minutes, but here goes;  My highlights have always been my times of walking in the crazy varieties of natural settings I find  myself with my Alpha male and female.  The long hikes with them in the CanyonLands of Utah were terrific, minus the sore pads I got on the abrasive sand and limestone formations—-I had to take a couple day break from walking with them as a result, but then they left me in this god awful cage with other howling dogs at a kennel on the South rim of the Grand Canyon—I  call it a Gulag!—while they went traipsing out of sight for a couple days.

IMG_5518The visits with other humans has been entertaining and given my keen interest in the new things that come my way with these two humans, quite varied.  Try these on for goofy:  Hours of me sitting in the van with vehicles swooshing by and neon lights flashing while they party on the ‘Strip’ in Vegas—talk about trying to find proper toilet facilities for a four legged!  Finding a proper chunk of wild, ungroomed grass to do my business was equally challenging  in Sun City outside of Phoenix—also the 80 degree weather sucked—way to warm for this black haired  North- Westerner!  Meeting up and hanging out with family (Deb and Peter Ciani, Bill Porten) and friends (Deborah Neff in Tucson, Dave and Kim in Bisbee, Tim and Raimie in Prescott) has been comforting and easy as they have welcomed me into their homes for an opportunity to roll on my back and stretch out my legs—life in the van with two others gets to be confining sometimes.

O—dang it!  Here comes Steve and he is going to want to push the ‘send’ button and push off further into the Funeral Mts and Death Valley—-word has it I’ll get a walk about with an opportunity to sniff around at some of the varied sized holes in the ground that house everything from red diamond backs, to kangaroo rats.

Signing off for now, and until I can sneak my paws back onto their computer, I remain faithfully yours,  JACK

The Outdoor Life


The night after we climbed out of the Grand Canyon, we hustled ourselves out of the busy parkland, with all their (necessary) regulations. This reminds me of a tangent, so hold on. Debbie from the Phantom Ranch told us the average time spent looking at the Grand Canyon was 18 minutes. All the rest boiled down to shopping and whatever else you came all the way for. I read a description of the hardworking backcountry ranger that unexpectedly brought me to tears because it was so true. All of us looking and asking the same dumb questions, and trying to get ourselves killed (and too often succeeding) and figuring that we ought to be able to get away with something. Them, trying to protect us from our macho fantasies,  and more importantly, protect the sacred ground they have sworn to defend from the hordes who love it. Okay, enough of the rant and rave. But I thought it was worth saying.

ANYWAY! We drove a short distance, still covered by the dust of the Grand Canyon into unfettered National Forest land where “dry camping” is allowed. Nothing like a campfire with an old deer hide next to it and no neighbors to make Porten happy. So we nursed sore muscles and toasted our Canyon trip and enjoyed the starry sky surrounded by Ponderosa Pine and no infrastructure.

We used the busy crossroads of Flagstaff as a working stop, settled in for a few hours at the library, went to see Lincoln, enjoyed the local brew pub and slept at the Wal-Mart parking lot.

IMG_5650Sedona was OMG kitsch, an incongruous study in contrasts: the stunning beauty of the landscape diminished by the commercialization of the Disneyland-like feel of the town. A 15-minute stroll through downtown Sedona was more than enough, so we beat feet out. HOWEVER, one must at least try to experience the vortexes. Right?

IMG_5681IMG_5662Small black and white map in hand, we went out to the Bell Rock to find the energy vortex that was reported to balance the male and female energies (this seemed like something we could use).  Looking for the twisting of Juniper trees as our guide, we walked in, and partway up the red rock flank of Bell Rock. Not knowing what to expect, we both just kind of wandered around, senses open, searching. I can’t say exactly what Steve felt, but I could tell by the look on his face as he leaned up against “his” Juniper that he was experiencing something pleasant.

IMG_5663I didn’t feel much until I sat down. Stillness may be the catalyst for these subtle forces to find us. The voice of nature is always drowned out by the noise of our own minds, and more so, the more delicate shift in the emanating energy of the earth. As for “woo-woo” well, I am a sucker for it. I figure we live on this magical planet where most of what we see and experience as “real and solid” is plain wrong. After all, the true reality is that I am a bag of water—hydrogen, oxygen, carbon, nitrogen, etc. –working in unison, illuminated by some kind of mysterious sentience, walking on a seeming solid surface, which is really a moving planet that is mostly space! So why would I think an energy vortex would be outlandish?

IMG_5687Still,  believing something and feeling it are two entirely different things. But when I sat down, I wasn’t thinking about anything in particular. A feeling of peace and connectedness descended upon me. It truly felt like a rush of pleasurable sensations buzzing in my head. While Steve sat by his own tree and then explored his way back with Jack, I sat by this small little spot on earth, took my shoes off and dug my toes into the crumbled frosting of granite and let myself rest in, and by rejuvenated by, whatever was happening. So, that is really what Sedona is about  . . . and I get why so many people are attracted to this lovely spot. Just skip the town.


Prescott was based in the great oasis of new friends Tim and Ramie, with their handsome standard poodle, Ringo. With amazing hospitality and generosity, they welcomed us and let us re-coup our tired bodies and restore our disheveled van. I can’t even begin to do justice to the incredible feasts we enjoyed, created by Tim with the flair and polish of a professional chef and avid foodie.

IMG_5702IMG_5727Years ago, when Mariya was just a baby, we passed through Prescott and found it to a sweet spot. Nearly 26 years later, we have returned and we had the same attraction to this town and the surrounding landscape. Facilitated by the tremendous hospitality of our hosts, we explored the cohesive downtown, went hiking near Thumb Butte, and kayaking at Watson Lake. I have a feeling we will be back to this place next winter!







We crossed over the land of the Saguaro, winding down into low elevations and traversing the crazy busy freeways between Phoenix and Tucson, headed for Bisbee, along the Mexican border, in SE Arizona. We were glad to only pass briefly through the Phoenix smog and jumble. I write this outside on a sparkling Bisbee afternoon, while guitars play and people chat casually.  OUTSIDE. I love this. Today’s daytime temperatures will hover around 75 degrees. For the first time, I will put away my down coat and hat for the evenings. I could get used to this kind of December.


Steve’s Post through Arizona



Sitting at the public library in flagstaff, Az.,  fresh from a delightful, (at least for me and Jack–Shann got too chilled and didn’t sleep well) camp site on forest service land just south of the s. rim of the Grand Canyon National park.  After coming up  (5000 ft and 7 hours of hiking in the most amazing of geological formations) from our overnight at the Phantom Ranch, we were all three pretty pooped (jack had been  in ‘jail’ at the kennels on the south rim and was howling with pleasure to see us and get some quiet time away from the howling dog inmates).  We found a dirt road, pulled in a mile or so into another dirt road, and there was our site!  Complete with a deer hide for jack to lie (somewhat suspiciously) on, and a fire pit with some wood and an old extra large men’s vest (which is now an integral part of my ensemble).  I got a fire cracking and some dinner cooking (chicken thighs, onions, greens, garlic, and a side of garbanzo beans we got as a gift in our ditty bag at the national grange meeting in Boise), and of course a jug of wine opened up for our drinking pleasure.

IMG_5697The sky turned a most amazing series of crimsons and oranges and shortly after night fell (about 6pm), the full moon started to make its appearance through the pine forest we were camped in.  A little ring on Shann’s Iphone indicated a new message and cell phone connection (go figure!?) and when she opened the facebook entry, there was a newly sent picture of Mariya and Kylie Foster at the wedding of islander friend Leith, taken from a small town in Argentina; holy shit new technology!  A few seconds later there is another text message coming through the airways, and it’s Elena in Manhattan with a request to know which of two Broadway plays she should go to with her 18 cousins!  From the bowels of the earth on the Colorado River, to a camp site up on the rim in the pines, to a tele-transport to Argentina and N.Y.C.—emmmm!

It’s now 4 days later Dec. 5:  Shann and I are sitting at the Bisbee Coffee Shop, in S.E. Arizona.  We pulled in at dusk last night, after stops in Tombstone and Fairbank on the San Pedro River (once a gold/silver mining booming enterprise, now a ghost town).  There was this sign posted on the outskirts of town; “no digging or removing of artifacts”—made me flash on my old friend Bruce Haldeman, (a notorious rapscallion when it came to collecting old mining artifacts).  We also had a couple days stop over in Prescott, a place we had visited briefly 26 years ago with Shann’s family, deciding then that it was a community we could live in.  IMG_5693

We had a marvelous stay with Tim and Raime, two very gifted and interesting folks that came to us via facebook and a Mexican beach connection with our F.H. friends Steve and Nan Simpson….so interesting how connections are being made these days, with google and facebook and all these other new fangled electronic thingies that replace so much of the face to face networking that I have mastered as the rambling traveler in less technological times.

I digress, and Shann would like her machine back, and this is getting too long;   soooo, to wrap this up, this coffee shop is filled with a dozen codgers talking all nature of eclectic stuff that could be right out of Julia’s Cafe in Fairbanks.   I feel at home, after a fit sleep last night in our eco-van, parked in an alley way behind the downtown post office.  We had fresh, hot tamales purchased from a Mexican street vendor, for dinner last night.  Sitting in our van, drinking a beer, eating and sharing the remnants with Jack, as he sits in ‘his throne’ in the driver’s captain’s chair.  We, of course, went to a local eatery for our salad and another ‘glass’ to finish the eve and to do our toiletries.  Now, it’s explore Bisbee time.

cheers all, from the road——steve