6. From the deserts to the swamps

6. From the deserts to the swamps
Gypsies travel. We simply move from there to here. Not to run away, or to run to. Just to see what’s around the next corner. So I said goodbye to my favored spot at City of Rocks (south of Silver City, NM) without unloading my motorcycle ;-(

wide open spaces around City of Rocks State Park

wide open spaces around City of Rocks State Park


a Great Horned Owl at City of Rocks

a Great Horned Owl at City of Rocks

From New Mexico, I headed to central Texas to visit friends, Ray, Gary, and Paula. I spent time in several small towns similar to the one I grew up in – unlike the deserts of Arizona and New Mexico, these were Texas towns where trees grow large and grass needs to be mowed.
I parked my rig near Gary and Paula’s house in Beeville, Texas. Gary ran a skydiving center there for years and still has the hangar overstuffed with interesting things, like three Cessna airplanes (none of which fly at the moment), and every tool imaginable. Without the benefit of the very heavy paper weight in the rear of my truck originally designed as a motorcycle lift, the one that had been inoperable since Benson, AZ , Gary and Ray unloaded my bike the old fashion way (with an 8 foot solid door, a slight hill, lots of muscle, testosterone, and bravado ) so I was finally able to ride again.
Ray rides a full dresser Harley; Gary has a Triumph Rocket, lovingly referred to as The Monster. Gary only had to offer once to let me ride. 😉

Gary's 2,294 CC "dirt bike"

Gary’s 2,294 CC “dirt bike”


To give you an idea of the difference between our bikes, mine has 650 CC’s; Gary’s has 2,294 CC’s. Mine is 472 pounds; his is almost double that. The guys cautioned me to not let it get away from me, but I was satisfied I could handle it by coordinating the clutch and throttle. I once had a Yamaha FJR 1300 with 147 horsepower !! 😉 so I’ve had some saddle time with a very fast bike. Plus they’ve each dumped Gary’s bike, with scratches to prove it, so if I dropped it, I wouldn’t be the first. The Rocket is an interesting bike – tons of torque and well balanced – but it doesn’t have the long distance suspension/comfort of a Gold Wing. We left the hangar, just riding around. Ray was leading, and soon I was lost, happily following him down rural roads. But when we passed a sign on the narrow two lanes of asphalt that read “road ends ahead,” I was a little concerned. Check out the picture and you’ll see why I was not excited about turning that behemoth around without pavement under the tires. Maybe a mile later, another sign announced “pavement ends”; the sign wasn’t really necessary for anybody could tell the difference between the black asphalt and the chalky brown sand of the caliche road ahead. (Caliche is interesting; when it’s dry it’s as hard as cement, though it doesn’t mind crumbling into small rocks – when it’s wet, it sticks like wet cement. Luckily, it was dry caliche that day.) I stopped, on the pavement; Ray pulled onto the caliche and looked back at me with a “What’s the matter?” expression. I got off the bike, to make my point, so Ray turned off his bike and we talked. (Which at that moment seemed like a useless conversation – why would anyone ride a 900 pound, 2,294 CC motorcycle in the dirt?) As we talked, I saw movement about 50 yards down the dirt road; it was a herd of zebras behind an eight foot fence enclosing one of those exotic animal farms I’ve read about. But then I saw a horse and carriage approaching on the caliche road. That’s how I learned there are Amish living in the area. We waived the guy down and asked about the dirt road – how long is it, did it get any worse than this, will we get back on pavement at the other end? The young man explained he was heading over to work his beehives; he smiled a lot; his blue eyes were the color of his homemade blue cotton shirt. He told us about the road, where the bee hives area, where he lived, where the next pavement was, and the kind of work the Amish did. He made a few soft-spoken jokes, and then to my surprise, gave us a business card that included the address and a map to the Amish general store. We waited for him to ride away so the bikes wouldn’t spook his horses. While we waited, I wanted to walk the short distance to see the zebras but Ray wanted to ride over there; then he reassured me he’d help me pick up the Triumph if I dropped it on our off-road adventure, so …. With the carriage a safe distance down the road, Ray fired up his Harley; as he approached the zebras, they bolted into the brush. And I rode the well balanced Monster about 5 miles in the dirt, without incident 😉 And following the young Amish man’s directions, we returned to pavement and then to Gary’s.
A couple of days later, Gary, Paula, Ray, and I came back in their truck to the Amish general store, using the map on the back of the business card. What a delightful hodgepodge! We didn’t see anything there you’ll find in a predictable big box store. The Amish make and sale a variety of things needed to use a horse and carriage as your only means of transportation. They also sale beautiful furniture, geese, homemade pies and jellies, fresh eggs, honey, and lots of other surprising things. At the corner of the building, I walked over to watch two men trimming a horse’s feet, getting ready to shoe her. I asked if I could have some of the hoof trimmings for my dog (dogs love them, especially if they come heavily seasoned with horse manure, as these were). One of the men smiled a familiar smile and his blue eyes danced; he laughed and asked if I’d gotten lost on my bike ride. I left with a handful of “seasoned” horse hoof trimmings, a homemade pecan pie, and a reminder of the kindness of strangers. On the way back to pavement, we stopped where the zebra had been; none were to be found this time. So I settled for several pictures of bluebonnets in bloom.
on a quiet dirt road

on a quiet dirt road


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the bluebonnets were every where

the bluebonnets were every where


Ray and I took several trips and each put 1,000 miles on our bikes. But soon, it was time to see if the guys could get my bike back in the truck. I went inside; we were all happier if I didn’t watch. But they are good, and the bike was securely in my truck. I hooked up the trailer and headed east.
Driving east on Interstate 10 from central Texas, the world quickly changes into the one in which I was born. By west Texas, you see live oaks; Louisiana spreads its crayfish fields and swamps along the edges of the pavement; the ground in Mississippi squishes.
And so for now, I’m back in Florida. I returned the motorcycle lift; again I left the unloading of my bike to two large males. I’m shopping for a Rampage lift, something I used without incident for several years but later sold. I have to be able to load and unload safely by myself. And I will again, soon.
Already I feel a restless call – I’ll head West again in June. And today I enjoy the tall pines, wide-girthed live oaks, enormous magnolias, and squatty palmettos.

Mother Nature and her swamps

Mother Nature and her swamps


what a gift - going from desert to water and back again - and again

what a gift – going from desert to water and back again – and again

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5. my video interview and web site

My friend and mentor, John Woods, produced a video interview of me discussing my book, Footprints on My Soul – Journal of a Circuit Court Judge. You can watch the interview on my website, http://www.lauramelvin.net/ the book is available on Amazon and Kindle; signed copies can be ordered through my website. Check it out and share the link.

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4.listen to the wind of my soul

4. Listen to the wind of my soul

I am an Introvert. Some people are energized by parties and crowds. Not me. I enjoy people, one-on-one but am drained by the energy of crowds. I easily feel claustrophobic in crowds, even in fancy settings; OK, especially in fancy settings. When my surroundings are saturated with man-made things and lots of people, I have to pace myself, so I won’t just bolt. So it was that at times I had to breathe deeply, while in the crowded, fancy RV Park where I visited my friends, Bill and Jan; they are special people, and our time together was important and fun.

My bike had to remain quietly in the bed of the truck, waiting for help back in Florida. But I rode Jan’s Spyder trike (a three-wheel bike with two wheels in the front) for a couple of short trips and then took it to Tucson (about 150 miles roundtrip). It handles very differently than my motorcycle, and with time I got comfortable and then had entirely too much fun. Bill is a gifted welder who loves to play with fire; I now have a metal rack on the rear of my RV that holds my generator. Their RV Park is packed with amenities and people, which works well for Bill, Jan, and the cast of thousands who winter-over there. (There were 20 something of us on the hike at Lost Dutchman but that was do-able for me because we spread out over a large area of natural beauty). For me, being in a large, gated RV Park filled with amenities is something like being in a large condo, hotel, or subdivision, made up of RV’s. In Casa Grande, I made new friends, ate a lot of good food, and needed some quiet time, alone.

When I left Casa Grande, I headed straight to one of my favorite places – City of Rocks State Park, between Deming and Silver City, New Mexico (west of Las Cruces), to sit down and wait for my soul to catch up with me. At an elevation of 5,200 feet, the “city” is a square mile of incredible rock formations spit out by a volcano about 35 million years. Over time, erosion slowly formed sculptured columns separated by paths or lanes. As I walk in the rocks, it’s easy to find things – a fox, a face, a frog, made of rocks rather than clouds. I can’t get bored or lost (climb higher and I can see 360 degrees and find my rig).This is the park where last year the couple gave me Misty, my German Shepherd. They were very good to her but could not keep her; it’s clear she knows this land and sad because here she lost humans she loved.

There is a song by Cat Stevens that includes the lines “I listen to the wind of my soul. Where I’ll end up, well I think only God really knows.” And that’s fine. I don’t need to know. It truly is enough to be here, right now. Yesterday, my friend Marion came down from Silver City, and we hiked in the rocks, read poems, talked/listened, and enjoyed a quiet meal together. My soul is able to catch up with me here.

Today the world is gritty, raw and noisy. The winds are up and climbing; they’re between 25 and 35 MPH, popping the canvas cover over my slide out, rattling against the windows, and rocking the water in Misty’s dish. I looked out earlier to see my doormat across the dirt road; it’s now tucked under stuff in the bed of my truck. I’ve sat out high winds in an RV before, but I’m getting used to it, again. I’m glad I’m not in a tent! When a stronger gust slams into the side of the RV and flings dirt high in the air, I remind myself the wind blows like this often and I’ve never heard of an RV flipping in the desert. Plus, I’m parked nose into the wind. The forecast this afternoon is for increasing winds with gusts of 50+ MPH; winds that whirl the desert sand into dust storms capable of reducing driving visibility to zero There is no where I want or need to go, so I sit, pinned down by the winds. And “I listen to the wind of my soul.”

City of Rocks State Park, south of Silver City, NM

City of Rocks State Park, south of Silver City, NM

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City of Rocks State Park, south of Silver City, NM

City of Rocks State Park, south of Silver City, NM

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looking down at City of Rocks from a mesa

looking down at City of Rocks from a mesa

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3. dust devils

3. Dust devils
Leaving the rig and Misty at the RV Park in Benson, I rode with Mark and Renge on our bikes (Mark rides a GS 800 BMW, Renge is on a 650 BMW, my bike is a Suzuki VStrom) south to Patagonia to eat at the Tree of Life US, a holistic wellness and spiritual retreat center where they serve only raw foods. The office was just off a paved road (in a deeply graveled parking lot) where they collected our money, gave us name tags and the code to the lock on the gate across the road, and had us sign some kind of waiver; I’d left my glasses on the bike so I don’t know what I waived. I’m sure it wasn’t any more than required before making a skydive 😉 Mark is a serious off-road rider, and he assured the receptionist we were on off-road bikes that could handle the road. Renge has ridden with Mark a lot; I’ve ridden in the dirt a little, but don’t have the skills, confidence, or long legs that Mark has. After we rode up the steep hill on the rock-scattered, rutted dirt road to the restaurant, Renge assured me I’d now ridden more technical stuff than we would encounter on the next leg of the trip. I had no idea what I was getting into at the Tree of Life, after the waiver, locked gate, and rough road, but was delighted with the variety and excellent taste of their raw and obscenely healthy food. And the ride down was easier than the climb.

From the restaurant, we headed out into the desert on a dirt road, up to Canelo Pass. The ride was incredible and the views even better. It got dicey a few times with heavy gravel in sharp curves, but was well worth the effort, and it was a real confidence booster for me. It helped knowing Mark would help me pick up my bike if I hit a gravel gravity pocket. Even though I wore a full face helmet and stayed back from Mark’s cloud of dust, my lungs didn’t appreciate my enthusiasm, so they complained for a couple of days. Though I had a ball, perhaps, maybe, I won’t do that again – that way. Next time, I’ll wear a bandana or surgical mask – and ride in front. (Except then I’ll get lost.)

After three weeks in Benson, I was ready to get on the road again, though there were still many roads in the area I haven’t ridden. I loaded the motorcycle with major difficulties, hooked up the RV, and headed west to Casa Grande to visit my special friends, Bill and Jan. Casa Grande is hotter and dryer than Benson (here last night, low of 58, high today 84; Benson low of 48 and high of 76. So in Benson, I ran the furnace for a little while in the early morning and never turned on the AC. Here in Casa Grande, I don’t need the heater but I run the AC). Interestingly, this is an agriculture area where they grow cotton, pecans, dates, citrus, etc. When the farmers plow the desert (which, BTW, just doesn’t seem right), the dust cloud goes up several hundred feet, unless there’s a wind and then it blows across the highway and I practice holding my breath as I ride through on my bike. The dust devils love it here, dancing around like miniature, desiccated hurricanes.

Jan and I hiked with a group of 20 from this 55+ RV Park, up into the mountains above Lost Dutchman State Park near Apache Junction. I’m still amazed so many old people are in such good shape! They hike each Thursday, and they don’t pick easy strolls. This hike was just over four miles round trip, with a 1,000 foot elevation gain. We turned around at the Basin at 3,100 feet; to make the summit (Flatiron) was another 1,780 feet of elevation gain spread out over only one mile. The pictures don’t show how tired I got 😉

leaving Lost Dutchman parking lot

leaving Lost Dutchman parking lot


climbing higher

climbing higher


are we there yet?

are we there yet?


the Basin where we turned around

the Basin where we turned around


looking back at the mountain

looking back at the mountain

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2. the ass whisperer

The ass whisperer

I’m still at the delightful RV Park in Benson, AZ – still surprised how comfortable I feel here. The humidity remains low and I’m not coughing; today the winds are up. It’s not bad to be pinned down inside by high winds. So I sit comfortably, writing another blog.

I’ve been riding my motorcycle some & have pictures to prove it. Saturday I rode over to a Donkey Rescue, about 15 north of Benson. The ride included less than a mile of dirt road (and one dried up river bed) that brought me to 40 donkeys. Tish and John Hiestand, who live in this remote desert, slowly, without intending to, became a sanctuary for abused and neglected donkeys – they have become the “Forever Home”, the finally resting place above and below ground for fascinating, delightful animals who have run out of options. I would have paid big bucks for a t-shirt like Tish’s that reads “Ass Whisperer.” – but none are available. Please check out their website at http://www.foreverhomedonkey.com/ It explains how innocently it all began when John bought Tish a birthday present — Blackjack, an intact jack,

Sunday I rode my bike about 50 miles to Tucson to the Pima Friends Meeting. The Fairhope Meeting in Fairhope, AL is small, so I feel like I’m in the Big City when I get to sit with 30 Quakers. I realize most churches are so much larger, that it seems peculiar to view a group of 30 as noteworthy. But Quakers are not mainstream and seldom draw crowds. It’s fascinating to hear the things this diverse community is working on. If you’re interested, more detail is at various websites such as http://pima.quaker.org/, http://www.afsc.org/, http://www.fgcquaker.org/ .

Sunday was my birthday – I don’t need an excuse for a long ride but this was a good one. At 69, I am definitely “too old to die young.” So it was 50 miles on the bike west on I-10 to Tucson, but it was 150 miles back to Benson. After Meeting, I rode I-10 eastward a ways, and then headed south on Hwy 83 to Sonoita through beautiful rolling desert. From there I worked my way back to Benson — east on Hwy 82, south on Hwy 90 to Sierra Vista, east by north up to Tombstone, and then north on Hwy 80 back to the RV and Misty, my German Shepherd. I thought I’d eat lunch in Sonoita, but when I stopped at the crossroads regular gas was 2.29/gallon. I didn’t want to find out how much they charged for a meal; I skipped the restaurant and bought juice, a banana, and some nuts in the filling station. When I pulled up, I’d seen a guy in the parking lot standing beside a beat up motorcycle; on the seat was a blue plastic pad that suggested it was also his bed. His hair was matted; his clothes very dirty and his face and hands were caked in smoke. He had a bewildered and faraway look in his eyes that suggested resignation and/or mental illness; I was a little uncomfortable around him. He came into the store after me; I spoke and he responded, “I’m fine. I’m also hungry. But that’s my problem.” He had a $1 in his hand and a pack of peanuts. As I walked away, I handed him $10; he looked at me curiously. I said, “Buy yourself something to eat.” He responded, “You don’t have to do that. But thank you, ma’am.” Then I sat down at a picnic table outside. He was moving stuff around on his bike as I returned to mine. He pushed his bike to the gas pump and explained as he passed, “I’m gonna buy me a little gas. Need to get to Phoenix”. He was still at the pump when I rode away. I’ve thought of him often; the temperature dropped into the 30’s Sunday night. His luck hasn’t been as good as Blackjack’s.

home of the ass whispererr

Home of the Ass Whisperer


do you think the blue shirt makes her ass look bigger?

do you think the blue shirt makes her ass look bigger?


a mother/daughter team

a mother/daughter team


That's one way to take a picture

That’s one way to take a picture


On Hwy 83 in route to Sonoita

On Hwy 83 in route to Sonoita

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1.whew, back in the wayward winds

Whew. I’m finally back on the road, with the wayward wind. I love being in Florida but – more than one thing can be true — so I also love the pull of the open road and particularly enjoy the high desert. The timing of this trip was set by my long standing upper respiratory problem; I headed west to dry out my lungs. Misty (my German Shepherd) and I left Florida with my motorcycle in the bed of my 3500 diesel Chevy truck, pulling my 29 foot travel trailer. After spending several days visiting a friend west of Fort Worth, I pulled the RV to Benson, AZ, thinking I’d stay one night & head further west. But this park is delightful & I’ve settled in – as settled as a gypsy living in a tin can on wheels can get. This is the desert, so these February nights range from low 30’s to low 40’s, & after the sun has been up a couple of hours, it begins to warm up into the 70’s or 80’s. The humidity is crazy low – it may get as high as 30 early to mid-day but in the afternoons it drops to 7 – 9%. And the dry desert air is doing its magic. My cough had been at least 90% better, until I washed the rig – stirring up Florida mold from some crevices. But a few days more to dry that out, and I’m back to 90% improvement.

The people in the park are friendly, there are miles and miles of desert to hike, and at least 30 varieties of cacti beautifully landscaped into the park. I’ve ridden the bike down to Bisbee, AZ, and over to Fort Bowie (a trip that was Interstate and then about two miles of gravel road) for an interesting hike.
They have a writers’ group & yoga class in the park 😉 Most of the people here live full-time in their RV’s; they represent a wide swath of humanity and move in and out like on the wayward winds. I simply never know the interests or plans of the person I may talk with next. For me, it’s something like being perched in the desert by an artesian well

Sunday I took the truck up to the small Quaker Meeting on Cascabel Road north of Pomerene, AZ. (Thanks to QuakerFinder.org). It’s only 35 miles from this RV Park but it took just over an hour because the last 10 miles is rough dirt road. Perhaps I’ll try it next on the bike – if someone rides with me to help with the heavy lifting if I lose it in the loose gravel. In addition to a rich Meeting for Worship and delightful company over coffee, I encountered another fascinating aspect of desert life. More detail is at http://www.saguaro-juniper.com , but a short version is that this is a community located in Hot Springs Canyon, a major tributary of the central San Pedro River in southeastern Arizona, in the heart of what The Nature Conservancy calls one of the world’s “Last Great Places” The Saguaro-Juniper Corporation began modestly in 1988; today the group consists of some sixty share-holding “associates” holding the deed or lease to about 12,000 acres. They work by consensus to conserve the land in community with man; their work includes a cattle operation and a communal garden. They even have cabins to rent. This remote community was founded in part by Jim Corbett (a Quaker, co-founder of the sanctuary movement, and author of several books including Goatwalking and SANCTUARY FOR ALL LIFE: THE COWBALAH OF JIM CORBETT.

the stark beauty of the high desert

the stark beauty of the high desert


cactus come in a full palette of color and variety

cactus come in a full palette of color and variety


my RV and  motorcycle with Misty lying in the shade

my RV and motorcycle with Misty lying in the shade


southeast Arizona

southeast Arizona


along Cascabel Road in Hot Springs Canyon

along Cascabel Road in Hot Springs Canyon

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The inside of my God box

11.THE INSIDE OF MY GOD BOX
I am well acquainted with the impact of alcoholism on family members and have spent many years in AlAnon Meetings. One AlAnon Meeting I routinely attended discussed the concept of a “God Box” The easy part was to find something, anything, to be the box. The idea was to write out those maddening life events over which you have no control and put them in the God Box as a concrete gesture that you’ve turned the problem over to God. I found a small plain cardboard box and soon had it stuffed with scraps of paper often damp with tears or torn in anger. The deal I made with myself was – if I put something in my God box, I couldn’t continue to worry about it. If I chose to worry, then I had to take that particular slip of paper out of the box since obviously I hadn’t turned the problem over to God.

Several months later, a member of the group visited New York City and sent me a postcard with the picture of the interior of a massive, ornate Catholic cathedral, with gilded statutes and stained glass windows. His note was short. “This is what the inside of my God box looks like.” Let’s just say that wasn’t the inside of my God box, but the card was a great motivator. Now when I catch a glimpse of Nature, particularly through the lens of my camera, I say to myself, “Yes! That’s what the inside of my God box looks like.”

And so I’ll posted pictures to give you a glimpse of the inside of my God box. What does the inside of yours look like?

sugar white sands on the Gulf of Mexico

sugar white sands on the Gulf of Mexico

sunset across Blackwater Bay

sunset across Blackwater Bay

Gulf Fritillary

Gulf Fritillary

white topped pitcher plant at the pitcher plant bog on Weeks Bay, in SE Alabama

white topped pitcher plant at the pitcher plant bog on Weeks Bay, in SE Alabama

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10. trying to stuff two tons of fertilizer into a quarter-ton pickup

10. Trying to stuff two tons of fertilizer into a quarter-ton pick up

When I got back to Florida, I stepped into a whirlwind. Not a dust devil or the dilemma of dealing with too many miles. This was a whirlwind of change – figuring out “what to leave in, what to leave out” – how to downsize from a three bedroom, two bath house with an oversized double garage and outbuilding, into a 280 SF of RV. Obviously, this was going to require getting rid of stuff – lots of stuff. I’d lived in an RV for 10 of the last 15 years, but for those 10 years in an RV I also had extra storage. For several years, I had used part of a friend’s storage shed, then I leased an RV lot in SE NM that included a large storage shed and a second building referred to as a casita (little house) where I kept all my books, a couch, desk, chair… You get the idea. Then three years ago, I sold the RV lot and RV and bought the house. Which I began to fill up. I never acquired as much “stuff” as most folks (friends referred to my home as “Spartan”) but I clearly added to my stash.

I enjoy living small and having to deal with less. But moving from way too much to only what I need and/or truly cherish is no small chore. The furniture and clothes were not hard to part with. But after the first large purge, I was facing piles and piles of perfectly good stuff that I could/would/may use. Good stuff, much of it small stuff, stuff I have no room for. Trivial examples – I had three bottles of dish washing soap. Under the kitchen sink in the RV there is room for one. Period. There were many bottles of spices – good ones that I might use one day. But I don’t cook much, if ever. And then there was all that Tupperware, the baking pans. But my nemesis is paper – books, photos, my writing, personal business… Things I have yet to work through. Gratefully, a friend offered me space in an empty room in an empty house, and I randomly stuffed stuff there, in order to get out of the house in time for closing. Delaying for now the pain and frustration of dealing with these last layers of minutiae. I promise myself to complete the purge by Christmas. This Christmas.

And now I’m happily ensconced in my 280 SF travel trailer, parked near the water. Misty loves chasing her ball across pine cones and hiding in the palmetto. We’ve watched osprey feeding near the RV, a raccoon washing breakfast from a log over the bayou, and a great blue heron hunched on a gnarled piece of drift wood. We studied bear scat and an as-yet-unidentified squashed snake.

I’ll stay in the area for most of the school year. In the mornings, I write or otherwise deal with life. I keep my granddaughter in the afternoons and thoroughly enjoy my job as taxi, homework monitor, and maker of snacks. Now that my house is again on wheels, I’ll hook up and make short trips during the school year and then spend the summers out West.

The Bible explains that we “see through a glass darkly.” But lately I’ve noticed that my glass has gotten a bit darker. Ah, another sign of aging. I’ll have the first cataract removed next week and the second a month later. It’s only been in recent history that we’ve had the privilege of science improving aging eyes, and it is a privilege available in limited locations in the world. Without cataract surgery, I would finally become an old woman who can’t see to drive – I’d lose one of my most favored senses and loved activities. I look forward to the doctor changing out the “glass darkly” in my eyes. I’ll remain an old woman, but one who drives a big pickup and loves to ride her motorcycle.

Misty in the backyard of the house

Misty in the backyard of the house

fog across the Bay, live oaks and palmettos

fog across the Bay, live oaks and palmettos

another incredible sunset across the Bay

another incredible sunset across the Bay

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There are too many miles in Texas

9. There are too many miles in Texas

I was stuck west of the Pecos – Van Horn, Texas, is on Interstate 10 and close to absolutely nothing; I’d had a flat Friday afternoon and needed a spare tire for the RV. There are no tire dealers in Van Horn and the few in Fort Stockton are not open on Saturday or Sunday. So I waited Friday night, Saturday, and Sunday. You have to be flexible AND patient when you travel a lot, because a lot will go wrong, slowly. I was at Luera Tires in Fort Stockton, TX, before it opened on Monday, with my fingers crossed. Other early customers waited in cars scattered like children’s jacks across the parking lot. A lady watched as I slipped between her and another vehicle, threading the needle with my large truck and trailer. Funny the things that challenge and amuse me now – things so very different than when I had a day-time job. Jorge, the owner/manager of Luera, was dressed in a casual shirt and slacks, ironed, and impeccably clean, when he rolled up the heavy doors on the bays to begin another week’s work. Though there were others waiting, he took me first, to get me back on the road. When he slid up under my RV to unhook the flat, I laughed, “I can’t believe how clean your work clothes are. I bet your wife hates it when you get all greasy.” He replied, “Give me another hour or two and they won’t be clean.” As he worked, he explained, “I was born on a ranch about 40 miles from here. There’s nothing up there.” In less than an hour, Jorge had mounted the spare and checked the air in the tires on the truck and RV. I pulled out, stopped at a Subway, drove across Interstate 10 and headed due south on Hwy 285.

I-10 is more “efficient” route to Florida, but Hwy 285 to Sanderson and Hwy 90, and then east on 90 at Del Rio to San Antonio is so much prettier, vast, and remote. From Fort Stockton to Del Rio, Texas, it’s 185 miles of two-lane, lightly traveled road– a drive I’ve enjoyed many times over the last fifteen years.

The land is rolling desert – miles and miles and miles of mesquite, cacti, and rock, stitched together on broad vistas and topped with endless blue skies. The land has its own rhythm and is as soothing as a train ride. For stretches, the road and railroad track run neck and neck; on good days, I get to watch a freight train heading north or south, adding a bit of man-made color to this desert pallette.

Sanderson, TX, a mid-way point between Fort Stockton and Del Rio, is known as the Cactus Capital of Texas. There’s not much there other than cactus – a filling station with a large parking lot where I always stop, a mom-and-pop motel across the street, …

South of Sanderson is Langtry, TX, home of the famous/infamous Judge Roy Bean. It’s a stop worth your time – at least once. Judge Bean was a rough-handed, salty figure who created his own versions of “justice”, versions that often ignored the Constitution and other legal trivia.

North of Del Rio the Pecos River cuts a gorge under Hwy 90; there’s a rest area on the southwest corner that’s one of my favored views. Misty, my new German Shepherd, travels like a champ and is great company. In deserted places like this remote photo op, she also gives me a sense of security.

I said I wouldn’t push too hard this time – drive too far, too late. But there are stretches of Texas where there are just no options, once you’ve gone past the one good pull out. And it can be hard to know when I’ve over-shot my luck. I’m not good at making reservations; how am I supposed to know where I’ll be when it’s time to stop for the day? I had no way of knowing when I’d be able to leave Fort Stockton, so I didn’t know how far I’d get that day. Or the next, or the next. Flying by the seat of my pants is easier when the weather cools down; I just stay at WalMart if all else fails. But in
the summer I have to have AC to survive the night (for example, it finally got down to 84 at 2AM in Fort Stockton), so in the summer I have to find an RV park.

I bolted south and then east from Del Rio on Hwy 90 to San Antonio where I picked up Interstate 10 again. After too many mind-numbing miles on the Interstate, I finally reached the eastern mile marker 888 and crossed into Louisiana. And more than once, I drove too hard, too long, too far.

As I headed East on I-10, the mesquite began to share the landscape with squatty oaks, then the oaks grew in diameter as the grass began to fill in the sand; by eastern Texas there were trees and the ground was covered in grass, though the ground was split by large cracks — proof I was not totally out of the desert. But when I stopped for the night in Louisiana, Misty laid on a thick blanket of green, the kind that grows near swamps.

After several days of driving east, it looked like I was going to get back into Florida around 2 pm – until the traffic on I-10 came to a dead stop at the Mississippi/Alabama line. I sat on that boring slab for three hours while the police worked a wreck that involved a semi that had flipped, closing east-bound traffic for over twelve hours. Finally, I inched off the Interstate with about a million semi-trucks; everyone else turned east but I headed west, figuring anything was better than the east-bound gridlock, even if I had to go to Kansas. I worked my way west, north, then south, and finally got back to my house five and a half hours late. Oh well. Patient, flexible, sense of humor. When possible. And when that’s not possible, it’s good to travel alone.

8,700 miles later, I’m back. And now it’s time to sell the house and get rid of all of this stuff.

loading my bike at City of Rocks SP in western NM

loading my bike at City of Rocks SP in western NM


Misty and the mesquite in Van Horn, TX

Misty and the mesquite in Van Horn, TX


bridge over Pecos River gorge, north of Del Rio, TX

bridge over Pecos River gorge, north of Del Rio, TX


Pecos River and endless desert

Pecos River and endless desert


a cactus in the desert

a cactus in the desert

the grass begins to grow in eastern Texas, but cracks prove it's still the desert

the grass begins to grow in eastern Texas, but cracks prove it’s still the desert

there are no cracks in the green blanket of grass in Louisiana

there are no cracks in the green blanket of grass in Louisiana

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Resting in an eddy

8. When I find myself in an eddy, it’s time to rest and write

My friend Marion shared a lesson from her experience on a 16-day rafting trip through the Grand Canyons. “One afternoon we almost overshot the last pull out, and the guides had to row mightily to make it into the calm waters of the eddy and then to shore. It can be hard work to get out of the rush of the current, to safety and rest.”

Sometimes I need to work hard to get out of the strong currents of my life; other times, I find myself thrown up on an unexpected beach.

Today I find I have time to write from an unscheduled eddy, also known as an RV park in Van Horn, Texas (on Interstate 10, 140 miles east of El Paso but west of almost everything else in Texas). I had planned to pull into Balmorhea SP (between Van Horn and Ft. Stockton TX) yesterday/Friday to swim at my all-time favorite place. Balmorhea, built by the CCC, is the world’s largest spring-fed swimming pool; the San Solomon Springs flow at 15 million gallons of water a day and the water temperature is 72 to 76 degrees year round. Treat yourself to a glimpse now and a swim whenever you can fit it in. http://tpwd.texas.gov/state-parks/balmorhea

“How-some-ever” to quote Brer Rabbit, instead of continuing on to swim at Balmorhea, I took the time to have a flat tire along Interstate 10. Then I took time to wait for a kind mechanic with an easy smile to find me, put my spare on the ground, and send me on my way. Next I took time to stop just before dark at the first available RV Park to work out this detail of having no spare tire while traveling alone across remote stretches of desert. Then this morning, I learned that in Van Horn, there are no tires to match the others on my RV and that the larger dealers in Ft. Stockton are closed today/ Saturday. And so instead of bolting out across the country, I sit in an RV Park carved out of the desert, with mesquite close by and blue-purple mountains on the horizons. I enjoy the gritty starkness of the desert; there’s an openness in the long views and strong winds that are good for my soul.

With my last blog, I explained that I had driven too hard, too far, too fast – through Idaho, Montana and Wyoming to spend time in Colorado. So it was that I pulled my RV into the Boulder County Fairgrounds in Longmont, CO, too tired and in dire need of a “time out” or eddy in which to rest. I guess my fatigue had something to do with me not having done the hard work earlier to get out of the current to rest, something to do with fear I’d miss something if I hit the pause button.

There are few campgrounds near Boulder or Denver, and those are expensive. The fairgrounds worked well for me; the spaces are small with only water and electricity; the price is reasonable. I watched some of the 4H horse competition and visited the adjoining Longmont Humane Society, just in case they had a German Shepherd I couldn’t walk away from. There are many dogs there; the facility is clean and well managed; I left without a dog.

I write extensively about my large male German Shepherd, Bruin, in Footprints on My Soul – journal of a Circuit Court Judge. He lived to be 11 years old and left a huge hole in my heart and life. Two years later, a friend sent me a picture of Grace, a small-built Princess who graced my life until she died at age 12. Roxie was a Dutch Shepherd who was with me too briefly and died in April of 2014 at the age of 13. I’ve known for the last few months that I’m ready for another dog. Recently, with a laugh I told my buddy Joe, “I won’t be surprised if I just walk around the corner and find my next Shepherd.” But my dog wasn’t at Longmont.

I was in the Denver area for nine days and spent time with special friends. I went to the Quaker Meeting in Boulder, one of my favorites; I played with my nieces in Golden, had my heart broken, moved the RV to a farm on the eastern plains where my buddy Joe is staying, and spent not enough time writing or playing with my camera.

When something is happy or sad – joy-filled or painful – my gypsy reaction may be “Wow! I think I’ll leave now.” And so I after nine days, I pulled the rig from Colorado to Storrie Lake State Park in Las Vegas, NM – one of my favorite places. But perhaps because I was trying to outrun that broken heart, or because the guy in the RV next to me came over with a beer in hand to beat on my door because he wanted to talk, or because shortly after that several loud motorcycles pulled up at his rig and they rode off together, with beer in hand. For all or none of the above reasons, I didn’t stay at Storrie Lake; I left early the next morning, heading to City of Rocks State Park, in southwest NM (north of Deming, NM and south of Silver City). City of Rocks is my absolute favorite place – a place that has been pulling on my heart for months.

I’ve lived in an RV for 10 of the last 15 years; though I own a very nice house in Florida, I do not need or want a home without wheels. I don’t want a house cemented to the ground, surrounded by grass I’m supposed to water and then mow. I prefer living small, with fewer things. Financially it makes no sense to keep the house AND the RV, so I put the house on the market just before I left in June. I’ll return to Florida to my favorite job assignment as taxi/homework monitor/play mate for my granddaughter during the school year, but the job description does not require I own a stick-built house.

As I was driving southwest towards City of Rocks, I got a call from my realtor. I pulled over in a gravel parking lot by a chili stand in Hatch, NM, and we went through the details of the offer to purchase she had just received. She made the few changes we discussed and prepared a counter offer as I continued west. At City of Rocks I leveled and unhooked the RV, plugged into electric and set the AC blowing; then I went on-line and docu-signed the final agreement. We close the end of the month, and I need to adjust my travel schedule a bit.

After I hit the “send” button on my computer, I began to breathe deeply and enjoy this most amazing “eddy.” I stared without words at the rolling hills, scattered rocks, and dark blue mountains so many miles away. I felt such relief, peace to simply, finally be there.

City of Rocks was formed by a huge explosion more than 34 million years ago known as the Kneeling Nun eruption. The park is a fantasy land of wind and water sculpted pastel rock columns, resting on open plains, with mountain borders. In a visceral, animal way, I need that expansiveness.

The next morning I watched a man walk from his van to his car with a black and tan German Shepherd off lead. I’ve had German Shepherds most of my adult life, but have never had one I would trust to stay at heel off lead. In fact, I had trouble walking them at heel on lead if they got distracted. Later when I went out to the trash can, the wife was sitting at the picnic table with the dog. I began with “What a beautiful German Shepherd and so well-mannered.” She laughed, “I wish I could say it was our training. But it’s just how Misty is.” As I began to pet Misty, the woman dropped her eyes and her tone changed, “I hate to admit this but we have to find her a new home.” There was a long pause; my head and heart were spinning. Then she went on, “My husband is not well and is going into hospice in a few weeks. He doesn’t have long. I can’t help him and give Misty what she needs. But I can’t believe I just told you this! We’ve been watching for a special home for her for a year, but I’ve never told anybody we were looking. We’ve met lots of people who talk about how pretty and well-mannered she is, but we haven’t met anyone we could trust with her.” I went back to my rig and returned with pictures of Bruin, Grace, and Roxie. She offered me Misty; she cried; I cried. Her husband came out; we talked more. And we agreed I’d take Misty for the next few days to see if it would work.

While at City of Rocks, I spent many hours watching the light play around and through the enormous rock formations; I found many figures hiding in plain view in the fluffy white clouds – blink and they’d change shape; I stared across the desert as the wind rustled; I studied the far horizons. I breathed. I sat. And of course, I walked Misty a lot. She can spot a bunny or lizard 100 yards away. She loves kids and is easily bribed with treats. She has no hip or spinal problems so she can jump and run like none of my other Shepherds could. The only issue is she is 9 ½ years old, so she too may break my heart, leaving too soon. And that’s a risk/reality I’m willing to accept.

I went to my first Quaker Meeting five years ago in Silver City, so going back to the Gila Meeting was a bit like coming home. After Meeting, I had lunch and dinner with special Friends, Marion and Jamie, whom I met at that first Quaker Meeting. They are each gifted cooks; their meals are beautiful, healthy, and delicious. A great treat, since I don’t cook.

Marion and Jamie drove down to City of Rocks on Wednesday to tent camp in celebration of her 65th birthday. Mother Nature made it a bit spicy, adding a thunderstorm and hard rain to their plans. We were able to almost finish our grilled hamburgers before the bottom fell out; we bolted to their small truck where we stuffed three adults and one wet German Shepherd. Between us we balanced plates of left-over hamburger out of Misty’s reach and then retreated to my dry, spacious RV for only slightly wet hamburgers followed by birthday cake (chocolate zucchini with walnuts and apple sauce) and some to-die-for ice cream. After dessert, the rain had slacked off some and they bravely returned to their tent, in spite of my offer to let them have my queen-size bed with me on the comfortable couch. It rained a half an inch that night (a huge amount for the desert) but had stopped before sunrise. Only some of their stuff got wet, and they had many more tales to tell. The next morning we did a three-mile hike up a near-by mesa for expansive views that included purple-blue mountains seated in Mexico. What a gift! Time with intentional, gentle friends who both share and challenge my world view.

On Friday when I loaded the motorcycle and hooked up the trailer to leave City of Rocks, Misty’s people remained steadfast in their decision that she is better off with me. Neither my head nor my heart can wrap around the words they used to justify their decision to let Misty go. I offer other options that would allow her to stay with them; they do not agree. I have to remember that I’m not in charge of the lives of others.

So Misty and I take off on our next adventure.

I decided to return to Florida early to work on the details involved in selling my house and had planned to go from City of Rocks to Balmorhea State Park (in western Texas on I-10, between Van Horn and Ft. Stockton) for the first night on the road. And that brings me back to where I began this blog – Saturday night in an unscheduled eddy that looks like an RV park in Van Horn, Texas, waiting for early Monday morning, when I’ll head to Fort Stockton to buy a tire for the RV. Hopefully I won’t be there too long and can continue my journey east. BTW, the most eastern mile marker in Texas on I-10 is #888, at the Louisiana/Texas border. Van Horn is at mile marker #140. So I have a ways to go. If I go that way. I could also head south out of Fort Stockton on Hwy 285 to Del Rio and then take Hwy 90 to San Antonio, to get back on the most boring Interstate there. But I need an extra tire, for backup, before I get that adventuresome. There are remote stretches on Hwy 285 with no radio stations – much less cell phone services. So why go that way? Because the world is beautiful there.

images in driftwood

images in driftwood

seed head beside a pond in Longmont, CO

seed head beside a pond in Longmont, CO

a rainbow my first night at City of Rocks

a rainbow my first night at City of Rocks

the view out the back window of my RV - City of Rocks

the view out the back window of my RV – City of Rocks

magical rock formations and mysterious clouds

magical rock formations and mysterious clouds

photo 1 (2)
a cactus the size of a pool table

a cactus the size of a pool table

Misty is regal

Misty is regal

Misty quickly claimed the couch and my heart

Misty quickly claimed the couch and my heart

on the climb up the Mesa with City of Rocks below

on the climb up the Mesa with City of Rocks below

Marion and Jamie on the Mesa

Marion and Jamie on the Mesa

Marion swore she was in Heaven

Marion swore she was in Heaven

wonderfully gnarly tree on the hike up the Mesa

wonderfully gnarly tree on the hike up the Mesa

cactus bearing fruit

cactus bearing fruit

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