Blogpost Farm Blog

Gunning for reason

Just about everything has been said about guns in the past month.

Because everyone has an opinion.

Yup, I?m getting to mine. If I can just figger out what it is.

I am one of the few people in the middle of this. That is, not entirely decided. And you should be too.

Let me explain.

My friend, who we?ll call ?Brooke,? lives in Montana. We grew up together in the Rattlesnake Valley north of Missoula. She fed her horse in the morning then got on the bus. I fed my horse in the morning then got on the bus. The same bus.

Her dad was a doctor and my dad was a university professor, but at the time, that didn?t matter. I really looked up to her because she knew how to handle a horse. She was a professional. A barrel rider, the real deal. When you talk about girls who are horse-crazy you are not talking about Brooke. Brooke went beyond horse crazy. She was part horse. When she rode she actually became part of the horse.

While I lugged every Bronte sister?s book through the halls of Lincoln school where we both attended first and second grade, she was probably lugging horse pellets, those mechanically condensed lumps of green alfalfa that horses would nuzzle right into your coat pocket for. Brooke smelled like horses. I probably smelled like books.

My pop, well, we called him ?papa,? would go hunting every fall for elk, antelope, venison. That?s all we ate. I don?t remember ever having beef. So, yes, we had guns around. We lived at the end of a dirt road on a hillside. No one ever came to visit? except some of Papa?s grad students, who always showed up just before dinnertime. I can?t remember ever seeing his gun. Or guns. Yes, we had a black bear on the back porch once. And a couple times on the front porch. Although they never figured out the doorknobs, I?m sure it gave my mother some comfort to know we had a gun. But I never saw it used.

I don?t know about Brooke, because I never went to her house?only for 4-H meetings. I don?t know if she ate beef. It didn?t matter.


Fast forward 40 years and Brooke has two beautiful daughters I see on Facebook circling the barrels on what looks like an overgrown monster quarterhorse. Brooke sees my two boys, one on scholarship to music school the other directing his first full-length feature film.

Her daughters are growing up in northwestern Montana, mine grew up in the suburbs of Washington D.C.

You heard it coming: these are very different places.

I am posting encouragement to the kids protesting the death machines that have killed their classmates.

Brooke is railing for second amendment rights.

Yes, we live in different worlds. But are these mutually exclusive?


We are the same people inside. But she is talking about a hunting rifle for food or perhaps a handgun to deter the unknown?whether mountain lion, bear or burglar. People in cities must fear only humans. I can attest that when you live in a place where no one will hear your gunshot, your fears are different.

Living in the D.C. area I concluded that my family is safer if only one person has a gun. Because if two people have guns, whoever shoots first wins. And someone is going to lose.

I imagine my greatest threat in the suburbs is a burglar?a home invasion robber at worst?who will probably carry a gun. In the calm of the not-actual-situation, I imagine myself holding my hands in the air while the burglar takes my scant jewelry or worse, my children?s report cards off the fridge. I know that I may want to have a handgun so somewhere in the house, locked up, I might just have one.

What today?s discussion, perpetuated by the Parkland survivors, is a different tool. A gun that is a machine designed to kill scores of people in seconds. This is entirely different than what you see on a rack across the rear window of a Montana pickup truck.

THAT is why we are arguing. We are talking about different things.

It?s not the same out there, people. When you don?t hear the bus going by, you don?t hear the sirens or the metro or the traffic or the airplanes. When all you hear is the wind, it is really easy to have fears. Whether those fears are real is irrelevant. What you want is a gun. A simple device that will put you in charge. It actually will help you sleep. Even if you never use it.

So the threat of losing that, or the threat of losing your status as a law-abiding citizen because it is so important to you ? that is a huge deal.

Tell that to those brave kids from Florida who are telling the adults to act like grown-ups. To them, it is simple: Guns. Are. Bad.

So clearly, we need to draw a line here.

And let?s each of us think about it before we decide where we stand. Do we really want only certain people to have guns? Do we really want to allow anyone to buy any kind of gun? What exactly is a gun and how does it work?

I don?t know where the line is. But it is not a fine line. It is broad and easy to see.

Sure, people I respect ? a marine who knows more about repeating rifles and how long it takes them to melt from firing repeatedly than I want to know; a teacher who is terrified at the mere picture of a gun?- these are different people with different skillsets and different ideology. They are both my friends. They are both patriotic Americans. Neither wants to see children die. AND both are capable of higher reason.


Let?s just cool off and listen to each other.

Let?s think about what the insurance industry has done for car safety.

Let?s think about why people take guns to schools.

Let?s think about the role of government as a force for good?a road builder, a protector of the whole. Let?s just think this through a little more.



Blogpost Farm Blog

Ernesto, in earnest

Our Prius has 235,000 miles on it.

And I?m giving our 13-year-old Subaru (nicknamed ?The Mothership?) to our son, who we?ll call ?Chance? in Colorado. Not only because all Subarus belong in either Colorado or Montana when they are let out to pasture, but because my son actually needs a car with a sun roof and a retractable moonroof to shoot movies?or control his filmmaker buddy?s drone through.

But as I?m wont, I digress.

I found a used pickup truck on Craigslist last year and after my mechanic dutifully troubleshot it full of holes, I talked the shiny-shoed owner down a couple K and relearned how to drive a stick.

Now I?m preparing for another Grand Canyon float trip, this one on my very own luck-induced permit, so I?m thinking maybe I should drive to the put-in. The last time I drove across the country, in August, I found that no number of straps could prevent the flapping of stuff? and the threat of rain, dew, snow, and theft ? well, this is how dorkiness begins.

Yes, my husband, who we?ll call ?Lars,? suggested it first. Maybe I should get a lid for the pickup.

So this week, while Lars, who travels overseas a lot, NOT for the CIA, was in Argentina, I tried different search terms on Craigslist. ?Camper top,? ?pickup lid? and variations thereof produced lots of mattress accessories and RV parts.

The key words (make a note of it) are ?camper shell.?

Sure it?s obvious — now that I?ve said it.

It seems that Chevys are the best at shedding their lids; they clutter the search results. Bottom of the list are Nissans. Below that, to the point that they become ?Wanted: Camper shell for Toyota Pickup? are what I was looking for.

But today, having caught a cold and having dried out my mouth by breathing through it all night because my nose is clogged up, I arose early enough to be able to respond to an ad for a camper shell that had come off a truck very much like mine. And rise early enough to get it I did.

Meh. It almost matches.
Meh. It almost matches.

Despite a slight color difference (the shell is silver, my truck is white) I agreed to drive a half hour to the suburbs to an address without knowing the name, religion, race, size, weight, gender or name of the seller. But I told my kid where I was going. Just in case.

When I arrived, I found myself in a circle of townhouses in rural Manassas, Virginia. A woman was smoking on a porch, some guys in neon vests were messing with a fire hydrant. And a very young Latino guy in a ?Nabisco? shirt was washing a lowrider pickup truck. But it was a color I know as ?shiny dust,? not silver.

He was watching me.

I glanced at the address number above his garage. He was my man.

?Hola,? I guessed.

We spoke Spanish until he had taken me around back and I had forgotten the name for ?string? which was keeping the tarp on the camper shell. Actually, it was dental floss.

?Do you work for Nabisco?? I asked.

?Today was my last day,? he said.

?Are you looking for a job?? I couldn?t help but follow?

?I have plans,? he said, shaking his head.

I wondered if his plans were to import marijuana from Colorado, where, I had noticed on my last trip, it seemed in plentiful supply.


The lid was pristine.

In rapid-fire Spanish, Ernesto explained to me how I could paint it to match my truck, ?no problema.?

Maybe his new job was selling cars.

I told him in Spanglish that I liked the mismatch, it meant my truck was less likely to be broken into.

He found this hilarious.


Soon I was in front of an ATM machine.

I called him and he gleefully accepted my offer of about 90 percent of his asking price (and 55 percent of a new one.)

When I returned to the circle of townhouses, the fire hydrant was surrounded by neon vests and a sense of tension was in the air.

Ernesto was on the phone.

I had a wad of cash. A wad.

I left it in my purse on the front seat and resting my forearms on the bed of my truck, I checked my email.

Ernesto was deep in conversation with someone who was questioning him. It was serious.

I deduced that it was an exit interview. Why had he quit his job?

I troubleshot the situation.

If the lid fit on the truck but he didn?t have the clampy things to attach it, I couldn?t drive off with it.

I would leave the money in the truck.

Ernesto apparently heard my thoughts and as he answered questions about a truck, a citation, an accident, he produced some clamps, placed them in the bed of my truck and without looking at me, started unscrewing them to attach them to the rail mounted on the inside of my truck bed.

I tried to figure out how the clamps worked and grabbed another clamp, imitating on the left side, what he was doing on the right.

By the time we had them all mounted he was off the phone and apologizing.

?No worries,? I said, figuring that a conversation that was worth more than $650 cash was probably pretty important to this guy.
?It was an accident I was involved in months ago and finally the insurance is calling. Right now of course.?

Ernesto said we would have to hurry because we would need his wife?s help to get the camper around from the back and she had to go to work.

I counted the money and handed it to him, telling him to count it. “You counted it,” he said, tucking it away in a pocket somewhere.

A beautiful woman in pink scrubs appeared at the back door when we got through the back gate.

Together, Ernesto lifted one side and I the other. It soon became apparent that I was stronger than the much smaller Ernesto. His wife tried to help, but soon, seeing that she was in the way, she stepped back.

I asked if she were a nurse, in Spanish. She didn?t understand so I repeated in English. She suddenly understood all and smiled a big beautiful smile.

?No, dental hygienist,? she said. I smiled, glancing at the floss on the ground.

Ernesto asked me three times as we walked the shell around the bank of townhouses, whether I needed a rest.

I did not.

I thought we?d just place the camper on my truck, clamp it down and I?d go.

How wrong I was.


The fire hydrant was now spewing water across the street away from us and the large gringoes in neon vests were leaning back on their haunches, watching it as though expecting an alligator to emerge.


It was two full hours before Ernesto had cleaned the windows, glued the rubber gasket in place, enlisted the help of a neighbor, a gringo named TJ who happened to have clear caulking (I?m terribly sorry, all I have is white,) to finish the edges.

I asked Ernesto what part of Mexico his family was from, enjoying the opportunity to practice my rusty Spanish.

?El Salvador,? he said.

I laughed. ?Oh, that is a part of Mexico now??

I guess maybe that wasn?t funny. I apologized.

Our conversation continued. He has lived his whole life in Virginia, he owns his home, he and his wife have a four-year-old and a one-and-a-half-year-old.

?You are not looking for a job??

He smiled a special smile, ?no, gracias, no.?


In his excitement, he ruined the threads on one of the clamps and he tried to redrill the threads using a DeWalt impact driver. Finally, with a bright look of glee, he remembered he had the clamps from his first truck somewhere in his garage.

After a few minutes, Ernesto had successfully clamped the shell on my truck using half of an aluminum clamp from the prior rig.

I was good to go.

After I shook his hand, he noticed the back window had not been cleaned. He looked for his Windex and cleaning rag.

But I put up my palm. ?That?s enough, Ernesto,? I had to say. ?Relax.?


I drove home, wondering if he thought I was crazy to put a silver cap on a white truck. And how could I have possibly for one instant thought he was turning to the drug trade? I was embarrassed enough in my own sole presence to feel my face flush.


It is now seven hours later and my phone vibrates.

It?s Ernesto.

?I think I didn’t tight up the left front bolt on the camper. Try double checking them if you can.?



Blogpost Farm Blog

Full Bloom

The Jefferson Memorial looking over the tidal basin in southwest D.C. during full bloom. Cherry trees gifted by Tokyo.

I’ve been warming up to pink.
Never a fan, to me the smarmy color represents nausea and forced gender roles.
But I had to get into the pink ribbon thing when it meant something to cancer strugglers I know. And now that forced cheer has turned to real cheer. It’s the Cherry Blossom Festival in Washington D.C., celebrated with pink flags and pink petaled logos. There’s pink apparel, pink ice cream, pink backpacks . . . persistent pink paraphernalia.

By sheer coincidence, that’s actually the color of the cherry trees this week, the trees gifted by Yukio Ozaki, the mayor of Tokyo, in 1912. I don’t know how many of the 3,000 trees delivered survived, but enough to attract a whole big bunch of visitors every year.IMG_3693

I’m glad to learn our government reciprocated by sending flowering dogwood trees to Japan in 1915.

But I wonder what comments a blog like this might have offered in spring, 1942, a few months after Japan bombed Pearl Harbor. Let’s not reopen wounds, let’s take a look at the effect the trees, planted around D.C.’s tidal basin, have on the atmosphere of place.

As I share a picnic lunch with my husband, who works in a federal office a few blocks away, we watch a slowly-moving, mostly-smiling, current of diverse people traipse along the edge of the tidal basin during the lunch hour today.

Driving in to D.C. is always a refresher course in ‘why I hate America’ as the gentrified drivers of Northern Virginia, who will always cede me space when I use a turn signal to enter traffic, are replaced by bleeping?mini-vans, agressive dark-tinted SUVs and taxi drivers. The latter seem to blame me personally for their Uber troubles.

But these people we watch now, delirious with the scent of cherry blossoms, seem to have left their aggressions in their cars. We catch the stream to the Jefferson Memorial and meander up the steps.

I can’t help but wonder what this place looked like in 1942, just 30 years after the arboreal gift was transplanted, as we, the Americans, locked up anyone Japanese in internment camps. What conversations occurred here then?

I can only give you these pictures of the conversations that are occurring here now. Listen closely:IMG_3687 IMG_3688 IMG_3675

IMG_3690 IMG_3670 IMG_3691

Blogpost Farm Blog

Mowing Pictures

Large lawnmowers seem blunt instruments for sculpting art. But here, Missouri?s Arrow Rock State Park meanders over rolling green hills mowed with dexterity, precision, grace; it is art. Our campsite is quiet, partially shaded, exquisite. When we arrive we have our choice among a dozen carefully placed spacious sites in the rustic section where no electric or sewer hookups mar the mowing lines. I choose one, step out of my truck and breathe. A small brown bunny with a white tail hops across the road.

Each site features a fire ring and a cement pad with lengthy picnic table whose ends reach past the seats so no one can sit too close to the campstove?… also, a cement tire stop and a vertical post made from a six-by-six with a simple sturdy straight hook near the top. We try to guess what this is for. At first I guess it is for hanging food out of reach of bears, a purpose for which it is inadequate. But we are not in bear country. Maybe a lamp? No, my son, who we?ll call ?Chance,? decides it is for hanging one end of his hammock.

When I have returned from my stroll through the sauna that is the climate here to pay for the site, Chance?has set up the tent, the stove and is preparing to sack out in the hammock with a book.IMG_2011

Campgrounds like this are designed for sheer bliss. Of course they?re not always entirely empty.

Our neighbor four sites away is an aging couple lounging in campchairs like ours next to a tidy van. They are pleased as punch and restrain themselves little to share with me their brilliant retirement plan. ?We got ourselves a National Parks Pass,? the friendly gray-haired woman tells me. ?We just go state to state.?

?We gonna keep goin? ?til we run outta money,? the man states. ?They gonna hafta pry my cold dead hands offa that steering wheel,? he adds with a toothy grin.

When I head for the shower in the morning they have already taken off. It is 7:30 a.m.

And when I get to the shower, I find out maybe why they left so soon.

The best thing about the shower at Missouri Department Natural Resources? historic Arrow Rock Park is the light green frog tucked into a crevice between a broken window and the steel door. I think the frog is actually smiling.

As well it should be. This shower is divine.

From a frog?s perspective.

It?s the water-saving kind of shower head so no actual water comes out of it, just a fine mist delivered at one speed: Warp.

I cannot get too close to it, close enough to say, wash my oily visage, because the mist stings so hard I think it will remove my face.

The angle of the shower head is likewise fixed. It sprays water directed at the passageway anyone needing to merely use the toilets must traverse to reach her goal. Ah, I discover, I must close the curtain. The curtain is of heavy plastic, cut from one flat piece of industrial strength sheeting, already tinted dull beige. But it is not heavy enough to stop the spray from soaking anyone who might want to pass.

Fortunately no one else is in the campground at all so I feel permitted to use the single hook on the back of the toilet stall to hang my clothing, towel and toiletry bag. No other hooks were thought of.

The water is warm and after about 20 minutes standing under the spray I decide that I am clean enough.

I prop the steel door open with the heavy garbage can and say goodbye to the lovely green frog. She is grinning even more now.

An owl hoots?me awake at 2 a.m., so close I cover my head. It hoots once more and leaves me wondering for an hour if it is still lurking. I remember how quiet owls are, and hope it has not discovered?my welcoming bunny.