Humble Rumble

The choices of campsites in eastern Colorado are slimmed by the wind.

Also, only towns seem to have campsites, far-apart kinds of towns, and they are not really campsites, they?re RV Parks.

And so, it is with a ?giving up? attitude that I decide to check out the Shady Grove RV Park in Seibert, Colorado.

Sometimes you have to ignore the Yelp reviews and look at the other side of things.

The man who greeted us from behind the worn ?50s era counter?when I finally squeezed through the door that opened only about 60 degrees?wore no shirt. More eager to chat than he is to shave, the man listed the remaining campsites, which numbered three, adding that we could camp in his backyard if none of the options was satisfactory.

I had walked the converted residential lot and concluded only one space remained so I was surprised to learn I?d missed two. Where were they?

He was eager to retain us, to detain us, to succeed in his little venture. I got the feeling that if I asked to borrow a pie pan to accommodate the peaches I?d just picked up, he?d find one for me. An oven too.

He offered to show the sites to me. I expressed enthusiasm.

But instead of going out himself, he summoned his daughter, who we would learn, was returning to college in Minnesota the next day. He did this by calling over his shoulder into what appeared to be the family’s kitchen.

The delicate, beautiful girl with slightly messy, long dark hair, apologized for her pajama pants and showed us a ?gimpy? (her word) space between the family home?s boxy add-on that was the office –and a restroom.

I preferred the slim space between a ridiculously large RV and the street. Street? It was really a dirt road, which I couldn?t imagine anyone really used, it being less than a yard from our picnic table.

How wrong I was.

But the people using the road seemed friendly.

The young woman had seen the outer world, knew that we had also, but stood her ground in defense of her father. It was adequate for a tent.

As we walked back I was greeted by a ruddy-faced white-haired round short man not too busy removing his motorcycle helmet to invite me to share a drink later.


After I paid my $21 fee, I assessed the situation. The motorcycle guy seemed to be parked on the opposite side of the world?s largest RV from me.

I cooked dinner and tried not to look in the windows of the RV just a few feet away. But I couldn?t help noticing a sewing machine in the window, and I couldn?t help feeling this was a good sign.

Sure enough, an elderly man emerged as I began washing dishes with the?dry sponge and a quart of water at our picnic table. He greeted me politely, asking where I was from.

This is always a difficult question for me.

I grew up in Montana, was born in Hawaii, now live in Virginia?it?s a long story.

And you?

He spent his entire career as a research scientist for Ralston-Purina.

I did not want to know the details.

I just wanted to know that he was between me and the motorcycles.

He confirmed that the?motorcyclists?were planning to leave very early in the morning.

I asked about the sewing machine and the man told me about his wife?s hobby.

Soon we said good-night and retreated to our choices of abode.

Truck tent by Chance.

Chance, who had been on the downhill side of our tent the prior night, said our tent was too cozy. He wanted to sleep in the truck. I asked the neighbor how wet the grass had been this morning and was warned: lots of dew.

So Chance quickly figured out how to rig a tent using our emergency tarp, propping up the rear end with my lawn chair. Then he climbed aboard and began to snore.
About 5 a.m. I heard boots on the dirt road a few feet from my tent. Then voices. I figured they were at the intersection of the two dirt roads. I reviewed what I had left out on the picnic table. And I listened hard.

Soon I heard a quiet motor start. Several vehicles left slowly, in first gear. I heard tires of something big squishing the gravel very close by.

Then it was quiet and I went back to sleep.


Hours later, as I fell into my lawnchair with a plateful of scrambled eggs and sliced peaches, just as I set my plastic coffee cup on the uneven dead lawn, the window of a SUV slid down and 60-something man addressed me as he might a neighbor. He seemed to enjoy our little camping adventure and asked where we were from and where we were going.

IMG_2029?Chance? wore his Universidad de Salamanca shirt, bright red, as he observed our simple conversation. I felt exposed, vulnerable, as the man observed us from his shiny late-model SUV, but I sensed a jealousy. Was it my?rootlessness? Or that I am okay chatting with a stranger stopping by on his way to whatever on a Tuesday morning. What do I have to lose ? that he knows about?

He was on his way to his job at the grain silo that had emitted groaning sounds all night? Or to the coffee shop to gab with other retirees? I didn’t ask.


When I returned from the?restroom I realized a space had opened up; the motorcycle people and their giant RV had left. The voices I?d heard at the crack of dawn had to have been a discussion of how to get the behemoth vehicle out without running over our tent.

And they?d done it somehow. And quietly.?Why am I always surprised by the integrity of people?

I spoke comfortably with the SUV man, almost ready to offer him a paper plate and scrambled eggs.

He seemed to realize the ridiculousness of his envy and put the car in gear. “Y’all have a good trip,” he said. “And be sure to come back to Seibert.”

I tried to conquer the ridiculousness of the idea of returning to this spot.

“You betcha,” was all I could muster. I mean, who knows?

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.


Moving Pictures

My son, who I like to call ?Chance,? has loved the art of film since he discovered its power in eighth grade.

As a bored 13-year-old he complained every week his history class was the same: read the chapter, answer the questions on the last page.

With some prodding, he asked his teacher, Mr. G, ?if he could, instead, make a movie to show what he?d learned about one week?s reading.

?Sure,? his Mr. G?replied.

It was the Civil War. Chance recruited some classmates. Well, just one classmate, the son of the science teacher.

With his brother, the three boys dressed up in period costumes improvised from jeans and t-shirts and a length of blue fabric I contributed to their cause.

They set up a soldier?s camp and practiced shooting each other with sticks, dramatically clutching their torsos and falling out of trees.

Chance didn?t actually appear in the movie, except for one scene where he rushes across the lawn with an air-gun in his arms and a desperate look on his face.

He used plastic plates and some moldy bagels from the depths of our fridge as props in a camp scene.

He drew the camera in and out and across to liven stills of real Civil War battles and rows of white and sepia brown tents.

And he narrated, providing details he found interesting: he talked about prostitutes in the camps.

He turned it in and returned the following week from school ecstatic. The teacher had not only praised his work, he?d shown it to all six history classes.

The following week, Chance held auditions for his Gold Rush film. He chose two pretty girls and headed for the creek with a gold pan.

This time he added a brief advertisement to the feature; he was running for class representative. If the teacher was going to use his work to teach his class, he was going to pay for it.

?Give Chance some Pants? became his catchy campaign slogan. Wearing only his Mickey Mouse underwear and a button-down shirt, he emerged from behind his podium, shrubs in the backdrop, to announce his candidacy.

The prior year he had offered to shave his shoulder-length blond hair but had lost by six votes to a popular kid.

This time he won.

Fast forward six years. He?s been in film school at Colorado College two years but he?s taken all the film classes and blown up the school?s fastest computer trying to render his films. He?s moving on to the University of Southern California with buildings named after donors like Spielberg and Lucas.

And mom?s job is to get all his microphone stands, camera boxes and backpacks of outdoor gear from central Colorado to Los Angeles.

Road Trip!


Kentucky Home Stretch

Sometimes a series of logical events or decisions, quite logical and sensible at the outset, leads to a condition of absurdity. As a friend stated recently, ?I am so far behind that I am leading.?

That is how I end up voiceless in a hotel in Kentucky wearing a Churchhill Downs sweatshirt on a hot day in June.

That doesn?t seem absurd, does it? Not really.

It started, I think, when I got rolled by a wave onto my mom?s beach on Maui. That was January.

Some small grain of sand, or I suspect, coral, lodged in my nose as I was beaten about the head, clutching my swim fins, mask and snorkel. When my feet, having gotten more air than my head, once again felt sand, I pushed to emerge into oxygen just as I was sure my lungs were going to implode. I survived, stood up, walked ashore. I had saltwater and sand in every orifice.

This happened to me once before, when I stepped on the reef near my tutu?s (grandmother?s) home on Oahu. Oh, not the getting rolled, that happens every time I go swimming in the ocean I think. But the coral.

The coral started to grow. I had been a child that other time. The coral grew and festered for a year before my father cut it out with his Swiss Army knife. But that had been in the thick skin of my foot. It didn?t even bleed.

This time it was, best I could tell, coral was growing deep in my maxillary sinus. Soon Nemo would be swimming around in there.

Nemo: Found.
Nemo: Found.

I?m not 100 percent certain, but I?m pretty sure that?s why I had to have a big glob of yuckiness surgically removed from my sinus Friday. Don?t stop reading, that?s it, it doesn?t get worse than that. And it?s gone now. I can breathe again.

SO back to Kentucky.

My kid, who we will call ?Seth,? a high school graduate (as of last week) headed for a career in jazz with full tuition scholarship to a great music school, has wanted to go to the Aebersold Jazz Summer Workshop held in Louisville every summer for as long as he can remember.

We signed him up and he was super excited to learn a hot saxophonist named ?Chris Potter? would be here this week.

So when my Doctor told me I?d have to have surgery a few weeks ahead of this, no worries, I?d still be able to drive Seth out there, go camping for a week and finish my book, then drive him back.

But my surgery got delayed because, oh, you have to have a physical and a bunch of blood work, a chest xray, an ekg ? this is surgery.

I learned this the day after I landed in California where I?d flown to accomplish a few familial tasks. Tasks including repairing the irrigation system around our former home following the kicking-out of a disastrous tenant. In the 100 degree F+ heat. The other task was destroying the files of my mother-in-law?s medical office, which had been sealed up for ten years post-retirement.

As I worked on these tasks I waited on calls and appointment requests to get the surgery-prep done right there in California. Turns out there?s health-care crisis going on in rural northern California. No appointments until late July.

So long story short my surgery is postponed until June 26.
Seth has to be at the jazz workshop June 27, 9 a.m.

No problem, I?ll get out of surgery at 5 p.m. at the latest and he can drive. I?ll just sit there and enjoy my pain meds.

The doctor was not happy.

But really, sit at home by myself with a shedding dog worrying about my 17-year-old driving to Kentucky by himself? No, I don?t think so.

But luck I have still. I arrived at the surgical place before 7 a.m. There was Nemo, swimming around in a big tank in the waiting room. As omens for sinus surgery go, this was pretty dang good.

Sure enough, by noon:thirty we were on the road to Kentucky.

Fast forward to current dilemma.

I can?t talk, I have no voice. This can happen after a two-hour surgery during which a breathing tube is forced down your throat. I know, I read about it on the internet. It can take a year to recover.

OR it can happen when you read aloud for 8 hours trying to keep your teenager from closing his eyes while driving.

Either way, not talking is not actually a problem in itself.

The problem is, the best I can see, Kentucky has to offer three main things: bourbon, horse racing and an absolutely charming way of talking, a southern drawl. Of those three, the one item to which I am succumbing completely is that last one.

So how do I get them to talk, without having a voice of my own?

I have to recover.

Having given my sweatshirt to Seth, who complained the seminars were being held in a refrigerator, I tried to figure out the temp control in my hotel room. I had it just right for about 15 minutes. Did I mention that I?m perimenopausal? That means I have hot flashes. So for about 15 minutes the temp was perfect.

Then I was freezing.

I needed a break so I headed to the Churchhill Downs Museum and Gift Store. Maybe I could get a nice sweatshirt from the clearance rack, one in blue with horses on it.

Turns out the gift shop is all about dinner table-sized ladies? hats and Big-Gulp sized mint julep cups. But I did find a tomato-red sweatshirt. No horses.

Couldn?t say I like it. Couldn?t say anything actually.

I just handed over my cash and smiled when the cashier asked if odd lock my receipt in ma bayag. Bag–two syllables.

Y?all havva nahss deh.



Eastman School of Music, Part I

Catching up… originally written Late August, 2014:

Since we visited Oberlin when my youngest son, who we will call ?Seth,? was a wee freshman, the gangly teenager (is that redundant?) has completed every homework assignment with the geeky college in mind, hoping only to become an Obie.

One day in June he realized that the acceptance rate is pretty dang narrow and it might be wise to come up with plan B.

So we find ourselves at Eastman School of Music in Rochester, New York. Applications are due soon.

A friend and former bandmate with the Blues Alley Youth Orchestra, a hipster we?ll call ?Arjun? was eager to give my now-skyscraping kid a tour.

?Watch your head? he said as we dropped into the dungeon-like catacombs below the Kodak theatre where we find Arjun?s practice room, littered with sheets of music, half-empty beverage containers and other detritus familiar to every teenage mom. Arjun shares the chamber with two other students.

I am soon lost as we retreat to the rear mezzanine of the Kodak theatre, where Arjun urges us to try out a velvet blue couch. The building?s centennial is approaching and the d?cor has been maintained.

We do not get off the couch for an hour.

We learn that Eastman now outranks Juilliard among music schools worldwide. Seth?s face pales in the usher lights.

Arjun recalls his first visit to the place he now calls home, halfway through his classical bass bachelors program.

?The guys showed me the practice rooms and then said ?let?s see if we can smoke some cigarettes and set off the fire alarms,? he recalled.

This sounds like the Arjun I know.

But he has changed since then, he clarifies, now he isn?t even willing to show us the dorm room, for fear of getting busted.

I sense a lesson has been learned.

Or his room is a mess.

Soon he reveals a truth.

?My professor,? he states, ?totally saved my ass.?

Arjun apparently missed a cue during a rehearsal and did not make it to the third movement of some piece.

They wanted to give me a C, he said, a failing grade at the elite school.

?But my professor was like, ?I?m the only one who gets to punish him, he?s my student.??

Arjun waxed on.

Professors, he explained, take ownership of students. But it?s not like it sounds.

A professor recommended a student to the exclusive (100% full tuition paid) Curtis Institute.

The student committed suicide.

?It was like, ?I gave you my student and you killed him,?? he said.

I have never known Arjun to be serious so I?m surprised to find him at this erudite institution. But I soon see that maybe the application process is not as flawed as I had thought.

If Eastman can see through the goofy grin of our dear friend, Arjun, accepting him despite the grades he doesn?t mention (whatever they are) and the struggle to focus associated with the ADHD he does mention, identifying I am guessing, the passion and ear, maybe my kid will end up where he is supposed to be.

Maybe it really isn?t up to him to decide.


Maui No Ka Oi

Paniolo grave near Makena, Maui.

Translation: ?Maui. There?s nothing better.?

That?s one motto.

Another is ?Maui: the Haole Isle.? (Haole?is the Hawaiian version of “Gringo.”)

But it?s the place my mother, who grew up on Oahu (The Meeting Place) chose to retire.

She said, when she bought her place near what would become the swankest tourist destination west of Dubai (or east of Dubai,) that she wanted to live in a place her offspring would be likely to visit.

I would, of course, visit my mother wherever she lived.

I have been visiting Hawaii regularly since my birth at Kapiolani Hospital (yup, same place as Barry) back in the late 60?s.

As a child sent by my tutu to the beach from her condo at the end of Waikiki, I learned to make deep ruts in the sand with my fingers to protect the elaborate sandcastles my older siblings and I would intricately design, build, renovate and destroy before the tide inevitably rose to wipe clean the slate.

Then from my mom?s new digs on Maui I watched weddings on too, too green lawns next door as Japanese couples legally bound themselves often to people they?d never met.

Then I watched my kids make deep ruts in the sand with their fingers to protect the elaborate sandcastles they would intricately design, build, renovate and destroy before the tide inevitably rose to wipe clean the slate.

It seems our traditions are as dependable as the arrival of the next wave.

But a walk down the road has me thinking Hawaii, and perhaps especially Maui, has not always been this way.

I hope Hawaiian children, before Captain Cook discovered their home back in 1778, would play in the sand. I doubt they envisioned European-style castles we emulated.

We know they rode logs, surfing the waves, for fun. And before Cook arrived, there were no?mosquitoes in Hawaii. Or snakes.

Keawala 'i Church
Keawala ‘i Church

My walk just two miles along the shore south from the modern swank resorts of Wailea leads me to the oldest Christian church on Maui, Keawala ?i Congregational Church, which stands in volcanic glory between Makena Road and the sea. As though creating a buffer from the waves I can hear crashing just beyond a barrier of rock and lush vegetation, lay three, and in places, four rows of graves.

Plumeria trees drop blossoms on these concrete rectangles, some also draped with kukui nut leis or feeding poinsettas, that don?t seem, suddenly, to evoke Christmas.

My mom could pronounce this name. But I'm not going to even try.
My mom could pronounce this name. But I’m not going to even try.

Each headstone suggests a story. A story of the island of Maui far more interesting than those now unrolling on the verdant turf of the Sheraton hotel.

It seems that in the recent past, as recent as the lives of those whose headstones still cast shade, inhabitants of Maui were paniolos. Yup, cowboys.

Beef were raised on the dry leeward slopes then herded into chutes formed of black volcanic rock straight into the sea at Makena landing, about a quarter mile north of this church. The cattle were swum to boats that would take the live commodity to Honolulu.

Trends are trendy in Hawaii. Apparently about 100 years ago, the fashion was to place a photograph on the gravestone of the beloved deceased. And so, we have a real glimpse into the past.

As I sense the cattle fences lurking among the Kiawe trees, I wonder what this new swank resort will look in 100 years.

And what will the new motto be?? ?A?ole pilikia??

‘Good-bye troubles’ seems as enduring a characteristic as any.




United Lives Up to its Name

This may not be news but a couple long-haul (5-6 hours each) flights this past week showed me that inflight entertainment has peaked and waned.

From the ceiling-mounted movie screens of my childhood to drop-down versions to the little mini screens on each seat back, to ? well, to absolutely no screens at all, I?ve watched the evolution (devolution?) of inflight movie-watching for 40 years.

On both my recent lengthy flights, one on a six-year-old 302 airbus (yup, same model number as that Air Asia one that dropped into the sea a few days before my flight) and the other an ancient 757 I had no video entertainment options.


The airbus featured thin seatbacks with the seat-back pocket lifted to chest level to quite blatantly pack more cattle into the car. The older one had the old-style 4-inch thick seats with sticky tray tables. Neither flight offered screens but if I had charged my device, I would be able to use it as long as I wanted.

So long as the battery lasted (mine barely an hour).

And no, no outlets in cattle-class.

And, as long as I was willing to pay for inflight wifi ? which wasn?t actually available on either flight.

So the dreadful result was that we all had to read books and talk to our neighbors.

Yup, United was uniting us.

Kinda frickin? awesome actually.


Got Horror? Try Antietam

Antietam now.
Antietam now.

I?ll never understand my husband?s interest in Civil War battlefields. What is interesting about the least civil activity known to mankind?

But at his urging, while he attends a training seminar in Shepherdstown, West Virginia, I agree to take my morning walk on the other side of the river, along the ?Final Attack Trail.?

And I choose that only because ?Bloody Lane? is not by the river.

What ghosts would I find, what remnants of the 23,000 blue and gray-clad men who died here?

And why is it called ?Antietam National Battlefield: Recreational Park and Historic Monument??

By recreational, surely they mean place where history is re-created.

Antietam today: reality is not a pretty picture.
Antietam today: reality is not a pretty picture.

Because ain?t nothin? fun goin? on here.

I begin my walk early, before the visitor center opens (9:00 a.m.) and before the dew has evaporated from the lovely grass that lines the trail. Aware my shoes would dampen, I take a quick spin through the cornfields that are now apparently leased to some lucky farmer. The lines of the cornfields follow the undulations of the hills and slip around the interruptions of stone — showing the farmer?s grace and technical skill.

Shadows here are long, tall and ominous, even on this clear bright October morning.

Soon I arrive at the southernmost parking place onsite and slip into a spot next to a Fed-Ex truck where a driver is apparently napping.

The Final Attack Trail
The Final Attack Trail

As I stumble along the unworn trail through fields of millet that appears almost ready to harvest, I imagine the bodies that fell here. Young men at the primes of their lives, dying, willingly or not, for the causes of freedom from slavery or for freedom of southern lifestyle, whisper here.

Oh, wait, is that what the civil war was about?

I re-create the arguments, the perception of rebel cause, freedom from northern tyranny, from economic hardship, from wearing expensive clothes because cotton-pickers must be paid.

These issues, which remain clouded today, caused the unfathomable pain, heartache and grief of misery that has been perfected it seems, only by man. Suffering imposed on 23,000 families from this battle alone.

My children, upon reaching the age of reason (age 7 in most humans) figured out right away ? as most children probably do ? that war is not the answer. One of my kids stated, somewhat obviously, ?why don?t the leaders just sit down and play chess instead??

Geese over Antietam
Geese over Antietam

As I seek the answer to these interminable questions, I focus on the lettering on the signs. Recognition, nay, glory, is herein handed to the victorious and vanquished alike, (with considerable political skill.) Is that why they went to war? Or was it truly to achieve the result ? a little population control?

Why is this so interesting to my husband? I know he doesn?t watch horror films, that?s not the appeal.

All he can tell me is that it is fascinating?and that Antietam is beautiful.

So, it is a lack of imagination that makes it pleasurable to him? An inability to see the horror?

As I stride among the falling yellow leaves of sycamore and hickory trees, wonder when in the intervening 152 years since the bloodbath the cypress groves were planted and watch geese heading south, for just a moment I get a glimpse of the answer.

I pause to read a sign by the river. Rodman?s men climbed up this gulley, an action that saved many of Burnside?s men who were being picked off by riflemen on the ridge ? it?s about strategy.

That is what is fascinating about war.

And if so, if my husband in his maleness finds this strategizing fascinating, is able to put aside the horrors my imagination won?t let me put aside ? and if this is truly a part of what evolution has made the male human to be, then aren?t video games the answer? Suspend the reality and indulge — thus suspending also the need to exercise war in reality?

Antietam Creek runs slowly enough that even a canoe with a Labrador puppy aboard would not flip. It offers reflection, a need to find an upside.

He is right, it is beautiful.

Antietam Creek reflections
Antietam Creek reflections