15. old people pounding nails

You can only spend 14 out of 20 days in a NM state park. It was that time, so I hooked the truck to the back of the motor home and took a short ride from City of Rocks State Park to Las Cruces, NM to join the Care A Vanners, nine other RV’s parked at the Mesilla Valley Habitat for Humanity.  Care A Vanners are a subculture of RV’ers who travel around the country with a purpose – to help Habitat build affordable, safe housing for strangers.  Care A Vanners can be a strange group – generally, as in Las Cruces, it’s not a group of spring chickens but a group that, with few exceptions, qualify for senior discounts and Medicare. The exceptions in this group were Jake and Angela, a couple in their early 30’s who choose to spend the majority of the year volunteering for Habitat; they work nights and weekends to support themselves and then go home, to regroup financially, by working harder still. There was much cross-generational banner, and the young couple added a different flavor of levity to the group.

As I said, Care A Vanners can be a strange group.  And so this gaggle of mostly old people came together for ten days to pound nails.  Forming a chorus line of limping, creaking, grunting, and stretching as we tried to work out charley horses, crunchy knees, bad backs, and blown shoulders, we worked HARD, framing, building walls, attaching sheathing, and lifting trusses.

Jake and Angela, the youngest and strongest, volunteered on the roof.  

Many days the core group of Care A Vanners was joined by volunteers from the local community. 

the officers with the Las Cruces Police Department were a big help. And, yes, we felt very safe!

We also had the great privilege of working alongside several future home owners. What a joy to watch their eyes sparkle as they talked of how excited their kids are! The houses Habitat is building are more than just decent housing – they are homes to be proud of, homes to raise children in.

This Habitat affiliate does not allow nail guns, so we pounded – by hand – every single nail. Actually, we pounded many more nails than were “necessary.”  The wood was hard, there were knots, and our aim wasn’t always good.  When there were two or three bent nails on the floor for each one securely in the wood, Pete and Dyana, the two supervisors, never complained or criticized – their goal was a quality product, and so they bought lots and lots of nails.  When the plates failed to line up flush, we pulled them apart and tried again. When the nails attaching the sheathing missed the studs and flashed “shiners” at us, we pulled them out and began again.  We used lots and lots of nails 😉

I hadn’t worked on a Habitat build in seven years, and something strange had happened.   Now 70 years old, I’m somehow not as strong and don’t have as much stamina.  What??  But my sudden onset of aging wasn’t obvious to the others; they were too busy dealing with their own.  So we made bad jokes and took pride in the fact that though we were all given the senior discount without having to ask for it, we weren’t home watching TV, or sitting on a bar stool complaining.  As the days went by, each of us hurt somewhere.  My “some where’s” generally woke me up for a conversation during the middle of the night.  Shooting pains across my upper right shoulder after a particularly long day of hammering, followed by red-hot pain between my right thumb and forefinger – right where I held the hammer. Ice, ibuprofen and wine seem to help. Collectively we went through almost as many ibuprofen as we did nails.

a can can? Well, what do you expect when you give grey haired women hard hats and hammers?


Pete helps out by adding his weight. Two men standing around, while a woman hammers.

Mesilla Valley Habitat stresses excellent product (let me repeat – they were NOT shy about telling us to pull something apart and begin again), safety, and, yes, FUN.  So there was much banter during the work day; those exchanges intensified as we sat around the camp fire after hours and were in high gear in the morning circle.  Pete and Dyana were serious if not a bit fanatical about safety 😉  (everyone, always, had to wear a hard hat – period – no exceptions)  Eye protection – but no gloves – when using a saw.  I consistently added hearing protection to the litany of required safety items, but I’m not sure it was enough, given my significant hearing loss.  I have an appointment with an audiologist this week; I hope to learn it’s a reasonable option for me to work other builds, with consistent use of hearing protection.  Somehow manual labor – for such an important purpose – is very good for me.  Good work with good people for a good cause.

Some of these Care A Vanners will stay at Las Cruces until March.  Others will move on, to see the country and aim their RV’s at another Habitat build.  Often Care A Vanners provide the backbone (though admittedly an old, creaky bone) for home construction.  Mesilla Valley Habitat will build five houses this season, a goal that could not be realized without a cadre of aging gypsies who enjoy working and playing hard.

we looked like an army of ants, but together it wasn’t hard

And up they go. Pete was part traffic cop and part conductor of a disjointed orchestra .Because he knew what he was doing & we did what he said – believe it or not, no one got squashed, and one more house has roof trusses

And Las Cruces does such a good job, there are no available Care A Vanner RV slots for the rest of this build year.  But there is always room – and work – for anyone who shows up

For more information see   https://www.habitat.org/            https://www.habitat.org/volunteer/travel-and-build/rv-care-a-vanners and



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14. You musta gone crazy out there

From the high deserts of New Mexico

Night rider’s lament:

Why do you ride for your money
Why do you rope for short pay
You ain’t a getting’ nowhere and you’re losin’ your share
You must have gone crazy out there

There are some things I just can’t explain. Like –

Why did you leave the Bench, your role as a Judge? Why would you walk away from a secure position that paid very well, with incredible power and prestige?  Before retirement age, long before the big benefits kicked in? You didn’t have to go! Why would you get rid of everything and ride around the country, alone, in an RV?  Why don’t you go back? You can make good money doing mediations!

          Where do you live?

          When are you coming back to Florida?  Where are you going next?  Where will you be in February? Where are going when you leave here?

A motorcycle friend had a T-shirt with the emblem of a Goldwing.  Under the Wing, it read “If I have to explain, you wouldn’t understand.”

This is the best I can do today to “explain.” Right now my RV is parked in western New Mexico at City of Rocks State Park, south of Silver City, NM. This is the view from my kitchen window.  Early yesterday I saw several jack rabbits; the low rays of the sun illuminated their ridiculously large ears that rotated like large radio antennas. (Very Large Array on not so large rabbits). This morning, as Misty and I were out walking, we visited with a delightful Canadian couple who had stopped here for a few nights as they travel in a conversion van.  Gordon and Ginny are close to my age (I’m 70).  They are bright-eyed, engaged with life, and enthusiastic about their shared passion for birds.  And they are respectful, humorous, and gentle with each other.  Still – after 20 years!  Gordon volunteered that they share “a great partnership.” Shortly after we talked, they rode away, heading to southeast Arizona to look for more birds, as they amble back to British Columbia.  We swapped contact information, and I hope to visit with next summer in British Columbia. Check out his amazing photography at his website, www.f8at125.com

“Why do you rope for short pay? “ Why do I prefer to ramble, observe and listen, instead of being fully engaged in the legal world?  Maybe I’ve gone crazy out here.  But it’s a good crazy.  Sunshine to saunter in, in this forever-changing  wide-open world of the high desert.  A world in which I can see forever.  Further than my eye can see.  So from the mesa top, I look southward til my eyes get tired; then I like to pretend to mark that furthest spot.  Take a break, then begin looking southward from there. Each morning I sit to watch the sun rise behind the mountains out the rear windows of my small motor home. The west side of the mountains is black/purple as the sky behind it begins to lighten.  Soon above the mountain peak, there’s a subtle plume of blue in the orange/pink sky.  Something like a cloud wisp in the cloudless sky.  As the sky gets brighter with the sun inching closer to the edge, the blue/purple plume undulates slightly.  It looks too magical to be real, but I can’t blink it away. Then the plume disappears as the sun pulls itself up over the mountain, throwing light daggers and quickly changing everything, But I have another appointment tomorrow, just before sunrise, to see that the plume reappears.

Last week, I spent time with special friends, Marion and Jamie Newton as they worked on the annual fund raiser for KURU, the small, local radio station in Silver City, NM.  Jamie interviewed on the air a fascinating couple – Phil and Kathy Dahl-Bredine – to discuss their book, Milpa, from seeds to salsa, and their vital work of sharing with the world the wisdom of the indigenous people in the Mixtec region of Oaxaca, in southern Mexico.  Like the book, the interview was bilingual – Spanish and English.  Marion and I listened to the interview on her car radio, parked in the shade with the windows down. Yesterday I rode back into Silver City to meet with Phil and Kathy.  They have lived in southern Mexico for 17 years, and their respect for the people and the culture is palpable.   Over a glass of iced tea at a restaurant known as The Toad, Phil and Kathy talked of their work with the team who wrote Milpa.  Their book, of coffee table size,  explores through a blend of essays, recipes and documentary photography how the ancient agricultural knowledge and the wealth of 1000 year-old seeds and planting practices still in use among the Mixtec peoples of southern Mexico can help meet the worldwide ecological and food crises of today. I’ll do a separate post with more details about the book. This is their Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/milpafromseedtosalsa and their blog is at http://sustainablemilpa.blogspot.com/

Like me, Phil and Kathy are no spring chickens.  They have seven grown children state-side, and they have lived primarily in the Mixtec region of Oaxaca, in southern Mexico for 17 years. They leave the U.S. in two days, going back to southern Mexico, near the Guatemala border.  They will travel by bus.  Not a big motor home or a chartered bus.  They will take the ordinary bus that ordinary Mexicans use to travel across their country.  Like the people they will travel with, Phil and Kathy are both ordinary and extraordinary.

City of Rocks State Park is one of my favorites and I return here almost every year. The views are varied – long vistas across rolling plains, punctuated by mountains.  Nightly, there’s a jaw-dropping star party in the ink-black sky.  Silver City, a 45 minute drive to the north, is a fascinating, eclectic place with a wide range of people.  I have close friends in the area. The Gila Cliff Dwellings can be a day’s outing.  Yet as I sit in the quiet, writing, I hear rocks crunch under the tires of a lone truck heading out. The sounds of leaving piqued my interest – where are they going? My intrigue with the sound suggests I’m getting ready to go, too, to see what’s around the bend.

OK, but – really, “Why do you rope for short pay?” Every day I speak with kind people and experience Mother Nature. Every day I have time to sit, without words, and look out the window.  I write and most days I take a nap. Misty and I spend time outside, exploring.  Yes — expensive things break, I get stranded, I get lost.  Some days I get down on myself for not “accomplishing” something.  Yet life is good, people are kind, and Nature is awe-inspiring.

She asked him why does he ride for his money
Why does he rope for short pay
He ain’t getting’ nowhere and he’s losin’ his share
He must have gone crazy out there
But she’s never seen the Northern Lights
Never seen a hawk on the wing
Never seen Spring hit the Great Divide
And never heard Ol’ Camp Cookie sing

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13. Beginning again – again.

Beginning again – again

Somehow, I get tangled up when I cross back to the Adult World, and things take much longer than I plan.  So it was that my short time planned in NW Florida turned into a long time, full of responsible adult things.  But, after sifting and shifting minutia I was finally able to get back on the road.  And again, I find myself, leaving to be me.  A sojourner, a gypsy, a lover of open roads.

Misty (my German Shepherd) and I drove the motor home with the truck in tow and motorcycle in the bed for 1,200 miles to New Mexico and spent nights with Wal-Mart to offset the startlingly high cost of gas. I tried a new approach – driving only 300 miles a day, rather than the 400+ I always drove before.  It was less tiring, but still a very long way.  In route, I conducted a scientific experiment and determined I do not enjoy a 4,000+ foot decrease in altitude, going down the mountain from Cloudcroft to Alamogordo, NM.  Nothing bad happened, but it was not fun.  Stopped in at White Sands National Monument for a photo op, and then began a tour of some of my favorite NM State Parks. Though this looks like the beach along the Gulf of Mexico, it’s the desert.  See the mountains in the background?

After almost a week in one place, I’m settling in, settling down.  And I’ll leave again soon.  That’s what gypsies do.

I love the high desert, the low humidity, the plateaus, the mountains.  The changing light, the varied bird sounds, star-gazing without city lights.   Early this morning, I heard coyotes singing themselves home from a hunt.  It was the closest, loudest and longest song I’ve heard, from what seemed like several dozen coyotes.  It was happy magic. Yesterday I was at the kitchen sink when a LARGE roadrunner landed on the water facet outside the window.  He left as I picked up my camera.  Like the coyote songs, the roadrunner image is only recorded in my heart.

I’ve begun to play with my camera – a good measure of my contentment.  I took a hike above the Mimbres Valley with my friend, Marion, today, and share a couple of pictures from that outing.

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12. My best imitation of a responsible adult

It’s been a long time since I’ve written —the cast of “reasons” is legion and irrelevant.  Today, I begin again. Today, my photos won’t transfer to my PC.  But I begin again, with photos to come later.

I’m at a RV park in southeastern Arizona – in a 27.5 foot Lazy Daze motorhome, with my German Shepherd, Misty.  I’ve had some health/aging issues, and in my best imitation of a responsible adult, I’ve downsized and even left my motorcycle in Florida.  I’ll go back to Florida in May for a month or so; after lots of PT and expensive tests, I’ve been cleared to ride again.  Whew!  And before it gets impossibly hot and humid in Florida, I’ll head to the mountains of the West; the bike will be riding in the bed of my truck, which I’ll tow with the motorhome.  And when I stop, I’ll unload the bike to ride.

There are untold numbers of RV parks in Arizona, a testament to the sub-culture of motorized gypsies moving around our country, often under the radar of main-stream awareness. In the world of Arizona RV parks, this one is neither large or small; it has about 360 lots and there are no vacancies.  I’m one of many who are renting a spot; others have bought a life-time lease and spend as much of the year as they choose on their lot with a casita (“little house”, in Spanish).  The casitas are as eclectic as this group of aging nomads. Winter is the peak season, so lots of Snow Birds are here.  Though they had a major blizzard in the Northeast last week, in SE Arizona the high today will be 87, the low tonight 54.  There’s not a cloud in the sky, and the wind is 4 MPH.  Humidity is 13%.  It’s warming up rapidly as the sun climbs over the mountains and marches high over the desert.

When I look east, out the window of my motorhome, I see mountains off in the distance with miles and miles of desert in between.  When the sun goes down behind me, those mountains come to life in the afterglow. To the west of the park, the desert goes on and on and on.  It’s open to hiking, biking, and off-roading vehicles.  I heard you can walk through the desert about 2 or 3 miles to breakfast in town; I haven’t done that, yet.  You can’t see town from the paths I’ve been on; someone promised to show me the way.  Apparently you climb down a side arroyo and then wander north a bit.

I love the stark beauty of this high desert (we’re at 3,600 feet).  Last night the train was blowing its whistle as it passed through the small town (Amtrak comes through here), and the coyotes began to answer – like dogs in town talking back to a siren.  The Gambel quail are everywhere in the park, scurrying across the rocks with what looks like an ever-so-tiny parasol bobbing over their heads. There are lots of doves, cooing from above.  I’ve seen a few hawks and pyrrhuloxia (the first cousin cowboy of the cardinal).  I haven’t yet gone on a specific birding hike but will soon.

Having lived my life in Florida here are some desert rules I’m learning:  ALWAYS walk after dark with a flash light, even if the moon is full (rattlesnakes like to keep warm after dark on the dark asphalt).  Don’t hike in the desert in tennis shoes.  The ground is crumbly, the terrain uneven, and the rocks hurt your feet through those flimsy soles.  And that trendy footwear won’t even slow down the desert thorns designed to slice and dice.  ALWAYS wear a hat and sunglasses with lots of sunscreen between sunrise and sunset.  Don’t ever go off for the day and leave the awning on your RV out – the winds can do amazing things, rapidly.  A dust devil is like a pint-sized hurricane without the water or tree limbs. And don’t forget your water bottle.




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11. life lessons from my motorcycle

As I struggle to deal with the many faces of the unleashed hatred following Trump’s election – including but not limited to bigotry, misogyny, racism, homophobia, Islamophobia  I’m reminded of how I’ve been taught to handle curves on my motorcycle.  OK, those of you who do not ride may think I’m straining for this analogy but bear with me.

In single vehicle crashes, more bikers are killed in curves than any other scenario. The biker fails to negotiate the curve and runs off the cliff, into the guard rail, the mail box, etc.  And dies.  Basically, the biker looks at what he’s afraid of, at what he doesn’t want to hit, or what he suddenly finds fascinating, and wham!  It’s over.

The Motorcycle Safety Foundation stresses the proper technique for handling a curve.  One shorthand version of the lesson is – slow, look, press, and roll.  Slow down to an appropriate entry speed. (Get on the brakes – don’t try to go into the curve at a break-neck speed)  Look through the curve, look where you want to go. (Do NOT look where you do not want to go.  Yes, the cliff is right there, with no guard rails and the edge of the pavement is crumbly.  But don’t look at it!  You are going to go where you look.  Head and eyes up – Look through the curve, look where you want to go)  Press – lean into the curve.  (You’re at the curve now and there’s no more time.  Lean into it.  Commit yourself. )  And roll on the throttle – speed up. (Yep – speed up.  If you brake in the curve, the front end of your bike will dive, you’ll lose traction,  and you may well die. Speed up and you will be stable).  You can stop and change your pants when you’re safely on the straight away – but there is no time to be tentative on this side of the curve.

Sometimes I see a curve coming and have no trouble slowing.  Other times I find myself going too fast and have to really get on the brakes.  That’s where I am right now, watching what feels like the unleashed worse, emboldened to act and threaten our connected humanity, and it’s closing fast.   I’ve needed to really get on the brakes. I can’t see how to handle what’s coming next, but I can remember what to focus on.

Side note – for those familiar with the Myers Briggs Personality Inventory Test, I’m an INFP. I’ve been in tears with my heart racing as I seriously slow down and reassess pretty much everything.  Others respond with anger, by sulking, or analyzing,  We each do the best we can.

For me, the fear is not of a change, or lack of change, in politics.  The fear is for our humanity in the face of the legitimization of hatred, bigotry, homophobia, misogyny,  racism, Islamophobia .  My fear is We, The People, may just surrender and placidly follow the roads being drawn that lead to divisiveness.  My fear is we will focus on the negative, the hatred, and become part of it.  Like a biker becoming part of a guard rail.

Martin Luther King reminds us what to focus on – “Let us not wallow in the valley of despair, I say to you today, my friends. And so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream. I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.” http://www.americanrhetoric.com/speeches/mlkihaveadream.htm

Isaac Penington,  imprisoned for the crime of being a Quaker, wrote from a brutal jail cell in 1667, a reminder of what I chose to aim for  “Our life is love, and peace, and tenderness; and bearing one with another, and forgiving one another, and not laying accusations one against another; but praying one for another, and helping one another up with a tender hand, “ bday skills2 2010http://www.qhpress.org/texts/penington/letter20.html

Things are going to change rapidly around this blind curve in our shared road.  Right now, I need to slow down and keep my head and eyes up – focused on what I value, where I want to go.  I refuse to lose control and fly over the cliff or crash into the guard rail. I refuse to let hatred trump love.  Love is bigger and better than that.  American is better than that.

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10. a long mechanical whine

10.A long mechanical whine

It’s mid-September & I’m still here – at the moment here is a delightful RV park in Baldwin County, in southeast Alabama.  And it feels like I’m the ping pong ball in a swift moving challenge between two mean spirited mechanical gremlins.

The game began a couple of weeks ago when I drove the motor home into my son’s subdivision (remember I had only the motor home and motorcycle – no car).  I turned too sharp – my bad – and hit the curb.  The same curb about a million others had hit, breaking large chunks of cement and exposing the ends of multiple pieces of rebar, one of which gave me a side-wall puncture about 6 inches from the ground.  My son rattled off the names of several people – including my son – who had been skewered on that rebar. A mere $409 later, the wrecker was gone & I could leave, too.

I was fostering a small dog in the motor home; my German Shepherd Misty was tolerate but obviously preferred being an only child.  I had parked the RV under some oak and pine trees, near Blackwater Bay.  While I was riding, a nasty thunderstorm blew in.  Living in a motor home is something like living in an igloo ice chest; the noise of a pine cones and acorns hitting the roof takes on new dimensions and heavy rain sounds like castanets.  Now, Misty, aged 10, had lived only in the desert before she came to live with me in June, 2015 and we’ve enjoyed a lot of time in the desert. In her defense – and she was certainly going to need some defense – she didn’t know much about life in an ice chest in the fierce summer thunder storms of Florida.  The insult of being left alone with a fluffy white dog princess only slightly larger than her dinner plate was too much when that storm rolled in – Misty freaked out.  She ate the backup camera, both sun visors, and the windshield wiper knob; she decided the screen door needed no screen and would work better shaped like a chaise lounge.  Jeff W, my Geico claims adjuster, has been great — no bad jokes and he even assured me he had seen worse.  After my $500 deductible, they’ll cover the rest of the $1,200 in damage. The little dog has gone home.

who needs to go backwards?

who needs to go backwards?




This was a sun visor, in a previous life

This was a sun visor, in a previous life


Misty thought the screen door would work better as a chaise lounge

Misty thought the screen door would work better as a chaise lounge

The vet recommended Prozac. As Misty and I were in route to pick up her meds and newly delivered crate, a man pulled up beside me at a stop light and said, “Do you know your steps are out? “  Seems that the electronic monitor that automatically retracts the steps when you start the engine was attached to the chaise lounge, formerly known as a screen door, lying back under the pine trees by the water.  Good news is – I didn’t take anyone out at the knees or rip the steps off on a curve.  I went back to the Bay, afraid to drive further but not afraid to ask a friend to deliver Misty’s meds.  And then we waited for the Prozac to kick in.

The crate just wasn't big enough for Misty to want the door closed

The crate just wasn’t big enough for Misty to want the door closed

BTW – Misty first thought the heavy metal crate was an interesting bed or cave, but she obviously never intended to be locked in it, alone, during a storm.  I left on my bike, in need of some road therapy, relieved she and the motor home were safe, but a storm blew in so she let herself out by bending the door, leaving blood behind to prove her point.  Now the folded crate sits on its edge, an effective roadblock so she can’t get into the cab.  Neither can I. Three days later, I called the vet’s office because Misty was still swinging from the rafters, so to speak.  THEN they said it could take three weeks to see any improvement, so we went to town in the motor home to get her a sedative.  And decided to move to this lovely RV Park in Baldwin County, Alabama, where I’m parked in the open – no pine cones or acorns here!   She is much better, and I’m cutting back on her meds.   She hasn’t eaten any more motor home parts, and we talk about going back to the desert, where there are no trees and it seldom rains.

It’s important to remember, as you read my whine, that I’m by myself, I know no one in this RV park, and I don’t have a mechanical bone in my body.

So – I decided I needed to buy a truck for my dog.  This idea of driving the motor home when Misty needs to go to the vet, or when the weather is – or may get – bad – well, it’s just too much.  So I did tons of research and identified a truck that is not too heavy, that will flat tow behind the motorhome and hold my motorcycle. I found a good one on-line – arranged a pre-purchase inspection, and am now the proud owner of a 2009 Chevy Colorado extended cab, 4WD, automatic (all required to flat tow) But the gremlins were still restless.

I bought this 2017 Jayco class C motor home in June and had noticed sporadic water puddles but couldn’t figure out there source.  I took it back to the dealer; they couldn’t duplicate the leak.  This week I finally realized the hot water heater was leaking.  OK, I can handle this. I’m fully covered by the Jayco warranty.    So I arranged for a mobile RV mechanic to come to me; he pronounced it was not just a loose fitting – that the hot water heater was bad and had been leaking since new, and that I would also have to have some flooring repaired, something he couldn’t do from his truck. He ordered the new hot water heater and installed it on Monday.  I paid him $1,200 (“check, please, ma’am, no credit cards – then you fax my bill to Jayco and they’ll reimburse you”)

Next the mechanical gremlins tried to trash my truck. I bought it on Wednesday. On Saturday, water began pouring from under the dash on the passenger side; then as I drove back to the RV after dark, down a narrow country road – my head lights went out.  I turned the knob and they came back on, on bright.  Only on bright.  Several people on that quiet road seemed irritated with me, but there was nothing I could do but trudge on.  Several lights on the instrument panel came on. No choice but keep going. Then Sunday morning, the truck wouldn’t crank.  By that point, I was doing my best impersonation of a rational adult, but it wasn’t pretty.

Monday morning, while the RV tech was changing out the hot water heater, the wrecker came for the truck.  Of course, when the burly wrecker man turned the ignition, the damn thing started right up.  I said, “I don’t care.  Load it up and take it to the shop!”  And so he did.

The truck repairs were a mere $500.  The positive post on the battery had broken; the vents to the AC were stopped up; the fuel sensor was bad.  It’s still the truck I want.

In 10 days I have an appointment to have the slide removed on the motor home so they can repair the flooring.  The following day, I’ll take it in for repair of the dog damage. I’m still satisfied with the motor home.  And Misty is still the dog I want.

OK – the rational adult in me says — it could be much worse.  I could be a mother with children in Syria. I could have lost everything in the recent flooding in Louisiana. I haven’t been attacked by a shark or mauled by a lion, but I’m tired of dealing with these mechanical gremlins.  They are not life altering but about as much fun as a siege of fire ants.

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9.I’m not sure why my back hurts.

In early June, as I was getting ready to head West, I was suddenly grounded in NW Florida with serious back pain – bad enough I had to postpone my road trip.  Because if I took off, I knew I might get only half way across Texas.  And I didn’t want to be stuck in Texas, especially in the summer.  Not alone, with miserable back pain.

Dr – “How did you hurt your back?”

Me – “I’m not sure.  Maybe it was 69 birthdays, 600 skydives, over 100,000 miles on a motorcycle, some of which was off-road and a deer in the Rockies who totaled one of my favorite rides.  All well-seasoned with large doses of stubborn.  Do you think that may have done it?” The doctor didn’t even smile as she ordered a bunch of tests, and I began to reassess what really matters to me.

I’ve grown somewhat accustomed to the lines and droops I see on my body, but I was deeply offended to see on the MRI & X-rays that even my insides are OLD.  Damn!  So now what?  Well, I do not have to drive a 4×4 dually diesel pickup; I don’t have to wrestle with a travel trailer or a motorcycle lift to get my bike into the back of that big truck.  But I REALLY do need to travel.  And I’m NOT ready to give up my motorcycle.

So I traded in my beloved Arctic Fox travel trailer and Chevy 3500 diesel truck for a setup that an aging gypsy can handle – a 31 foot Class C motor home by Jayco.  And to my amazement, my back is so much better now that I’m not climbing into and out of the cab or bed of that tall truck.  IMG_1332

I’m not willing to give up the bike, so I’m experimenting with ways to make lemonade from aging lemons.  And for me, it’s the idea of NOT having a car or truck.  Just the motor home and my motorcycle.  I’ve borrowed an open trailer from a friend to pull the bike behind the motor home.  So far – it’s all good. (The logic includes a mitigation of my huge carbon footprint with the motor home at 10 MPG, since the bike average 53 MPG.  Plus, I love the bike and am willing to ride it almost anywhere, anytime.  And when I need to take my dog to the vet, etc., we’ll just go in the motor home.)

Right now, I’m back in Northwest Florida in August – they’ve had 48 inches of rain this year; 8 inches in the first 15 days of the month.  I’ve ordered new rain gear. Today I rode into town in a misty rain.  It felt good – fun — like walking in mud puddles.  When the rain is horizontal or the lightning strikes make me duck and cuss, I sit it out.  I have large bags or panniers on the side of my bike.  Tacky friends refer to them as my metal filing cabinets.  Call them what you may, I can carry groceries though I do keep an eye on the volume.  I have a cargo net that secures boxed wine to the rear seat but crushes potato chips. I don’t have a washer/dryer in the motor home, so I’m learning to not let the laundry pile up.  I go the Laundromat on the bike, with clothes in the side bags and strapped to the back seat if needed.  They come back to the motor home clean and seriously compressed. So far, my attitude and patience are intact.  I’d like to be able to buy an enclosed cargo trailer for the bike, but I may abandon this plan and get another truck – pull the truck with the motor home and put the bike in the back of the truck.

As soon as my back pain tapped down a little, I left in the motor home with my German Shepherd, Misty, pulling the bike on the open trailer.

at City of Rocks, one of my favorite places

at City of Rocks, one of my favorite places





it's easier to get the bike off and on the small trailer

it’s easier to get the bike off and on the small trailer

But then after only a couple of weeks out West, a much-loved friend became critically ill, and I turned the motor home back to the East.  Sadly, Hilda died.  I’m staying around a little while to help Tom, with an eye on the road and maps.

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8. Thin lines

Have you noticed how many thin lines there are in life?  Today, I’m feeling the very thin line between strength and vulnerability.

I love to ride my motorcycle – down winding roads, over mountains, across deserts, along the coast.  Following that yellow brick road known as the center line. The line is not very wide.  On the 4th of July several years ago, I was happily riding my Yamaha FJR in the mountains north of Durango, Colorado.  Feeling strong, confident.  Until I rounded a curve and saw a herd of mule deer milling around in the on-coming lane just across that double yellow line.  FYI mule deer are huge, weighing  200 to 250 pounds, compared to their spindly Southern cousins known as white-tailed deer who weigh a mere 100+ pounds. And when you rapidly approach a mule deer on a motorcycle, they grow bigger, fast.  I got on the brakes hard and had a fleeting image of getting safely by these deer whose heads were higher than mine.  But one of them bolted, and in a Nano-second I was down with my left shoulder on that double yellow line.  I’m a flat-lander from Florida, but I understood immediately that it’s never a good idea to lie down on a double yellow line in the mountains.  So, though part of my rational brain said I shouldn’t move in case I had spinal injury, my louder, animal brain screamed “Get outta the road!”  And so I sprinted – straight to the narrow, grassy strip that capped one of the many steep cliffs in the area.  Then, I sat down.  Just in case I was hurt.  The bike went on down the road about 30 feet without me and then did a 180.  Neither the bike nor I were where we belonged.   I was glad to be out of the road and that my bike hadn’t launched over the edge. That would have made for a really bad day. I had T-boned a very healthy mule deer; he got his hooves caught under my front fender and kicked loose, dropping me and the bike.  At that point the deer was nowhere in sight. But honestly, at that point I wasn’t worrying about deer. My shoulder, knee, and wrist hurt and I didn’t know about my bike.

I didn’t realize how much traffic was on that road, until I stopped it with my quick dismount.  Several people got out of their cars or trucks to help.  I asked some guys to pick up my bike and point it with the traffic (I didn’t relish having to do a tight U-turn at that moment.)  The FJR was gouged and bent in places but appeared to be functional. I was pleased to find that my left arm and leg still worked, though seriously stunned and stiff.  So, I got back on my bike and rode it to my RV, about 10 miles away, with my left leg straight, using it and my left arm only when essential.

I was leaving the RV Park the next morning, so I loaded the bike, hooked up the trailer, and headed south.  But when I unloaded the bike, releasing the pressure of the tie-down straps, things didn’t look so good.

Short version – I had some impressive road rash on my left knee and shoulder – leaving enough permanent scars to qualify as bragging rights and a gimpy left shoulder. I learned to not wear a cuff bracelet while riding (it gouged my wrist, leaving a big knot).   The insurance company totaled by bike.  I cried when they loaded it up on the wrecker.

And several years later, I’m still reminded of lines.  Lines that can delineate my vulnerability; lines that separate the past from the present.  Lines on my face as I somehow have aged beyond recognition.  The moving line between what I could once do without a thought, but now??? Maybe I better slow down and look at it before I launch.

In a recent intense yoga class, my brain (or was it my ego?) assured me I could still do a back bend.  And I could, too.  Except the next day, I began to seriously pay the piper.  And now weeks later, I still move gingerly through doctor appointments and tests. I’ve had to delay my departure to New Mexico, and otherwise begin acting like a responsible adult. I asked my friend Michael, “How do I know where the lines are now?  I don’t know how to get old.  I don’t want to pull up short ‘cause I’m scared.  I don’t want to miss something.”  He responded with a laugh, “Run over the lines and kick ‘em as you go by.”  Riding the motorcycle means a great deal to me – in a way I cannot explain to those who don’t ride, those who ask me to carefully stay behind the lines, now that I’ve hurt myself.  I’ll be careful –but I’m gonna keep riding my bike over the lines  😉

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7. A few things that matter – chicken livers, DNA, and perseverance

A few things that matter — chicken livers, DNA,  and perseverance

There’s so much going on in the world – such violence, fear mongering, deceit, pig-headed focus on profit and the mighty dollar … That I need to remind myself of the good.  The things that matter.  Things that matter can come in elaborate packages – and simple ones.

First, my ordinary, every-day example of the kindness of strangers.  Traveling across the country, I watch for gas stations that have a small deli or hot food section. The ones out West serve incredible Mexican food; here in the South, you can get great fried chicken, turnips and cornbread.  (My favorite serves tomato gravy at breakfast!)  I enjoy going to places where I meet real people – working people – people without airs.  And I often encounter them at these small food delis (as well as laundromats, truck stops and rest areas).  I was in my truck, on the way to look at RVs (another story), and too hungry to keep going.  I knew this particular Circle K had really good food, so I stopped.  It was 12:30, and I was #7 in line, with that many more behind me.  With one exception, the line was made up of men with sweat-stained shirts, weather-worn faces, and bodies that spoke of hard manual labor.  They included friends and strangers in their friendly banter and ordered hearty, inexpensive meals. I stood behind the only other woman; I was in my standard jeans and T-shirts; she was wearing a nondescript green cotton uniform with a couple of letters, of no significance to me, embroidered on the front. She stood about 5ft 2 inches tall and was built like a stump – a strong body that in generations past would have plowed a field beside the toughest male.  I asked this stranger if she knew how many sides came with a dinner.  She explained she was in the area on a job assignment but she’d heard the food was good; she was going to order fried chicken livers.  I responded, “My mom loved chicken livers.”  We joked; she explained she was in the food service business and could tell from the smell that these were good livers.  After she paid, she opened her Styrofoam container and said, “I’ve got plenty.  You gotta have one of these.”  And she handed me one of her chicken livers!!  I took it with a surprised laugh and said, “I haven’t had one of these since my mom died in 1999.”  She said, “Hush.  You gonna make me cry.”  I stood right there in the middle of the gas station and ate the fried chicken liver; it was full of memories, smells, and tasted just like my mama’s did.  She was sitting in her car when I went outside; I stopped to say thanks, again.  We talked a bit.  Samon introduced herself and explained she works at the prison in Bay County, teaching cooking, and was in this area overseeing the food service at the local prison.  Samon explained that she feeds the men, helps them learn a trade and manage their finances, and talks with them about how to live without crime.  She said, “It matters that someone listens to them.”  When I told her I was a retired Judge, she just laughed.  We talked about how, in our professions, we each tried to treat those we met with dignity and respect.  I said I seldom had a problem with an inmate in the courtroom. She laughed and said, “I tell them – I have 7 brothers.  I grew up with professional boxers, kick boxers.  What you gonna do to me?  Give me your best shot.”  I had a bailiff; she has confidence and an easy laugh. We share a respect for their humanity, regardless of the circumstances that brought them to that place.  Standing in the asphalt parking lot of a gas station in the Deep South, I met a real person.  As I walked away, I said, “I love you, lady.  And I just met you.”  She called back, “We could be good friends.”  I called out, “Yes! And I’d love for my granddaughter to meet you!”  I came home to my dog, Misty, and told her with a big smile, “She gave me one of her chicken livers!”  Real people matter.

And then a couple of good things, on a much broader scale.  I read today in the Florida Bar News about the Innocence Project of Florida, a nonprofit group that provides legal representation for the wrongfully imprisoned.  This was the story of James Bain who was released after 35 years in a Florida prison for a rape that DNA testing and legal defense clearly demonstrated he did not commit.  He went into prison at age 18.  It’s easy to get lost in the horror of those years lost; it’s important to applaud and support those who do the hard work to bring such injustices to light.  Mr. Bain’s story ran on page 18; for me, it was more real, more important than the preceding pages of stories about elections and politics.

Today I read about the El Salvador Projects, sponsored by the Palo Alto Friends (Quaker) Meeting, Palo Alto, CA.  El Salvador holds the grisly title of the most violent country in the world among countries where no war is going on; it leads the world in violent deaths per capital.  And, rather than returning to live safely with us State-side, Robert Broz chooses to live in El Salvador to follow through with the work his mother Carmen began which includes initiatives in child care, maternal and child health, early education, community development and support for higher education for young people from poor rural families.   Robert does not try to understate the problems or risks in El Salvador, yet he explains “Every child whose dream is made real, every family that takes a significant step away from the desperation of poverty into a more secure future, every young adult whose path leads to a role of positive service and leadership in the community – each of these demonstrates to others that there are realistic alternatives to despair.” More info at Facebook Palo Alto Friends Meeting El Salvador Project and www.pafmelsalvadorprojects.org

It’s good to be reminded that there is good out there.  And, Samon, thanks again for the chicken liver; you never know what a simple act of kindness can mean to a stranger.

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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

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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