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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Moving too fast

7. Moving too fast

I accidentally looked at the calendar and realized that somehow the summer is flying by. My response to this dilemma has been to move. I drove from the Olympic Peninsula of Washington to Idaho to spend three great days with great friends, Bill and Jan, but in route I again drove too far in one day. For me 420 miles pulling, up and over the Cascades, is too much when I leave after lunch and get in after dark.

I met Bill 15 years ago at a sky diving boogie in Montana, and we’ve been close friends since. Bill and Jan live in an enormous motorhome (45 feet = enormous) and pull a 22 foot cargo trailer. I would not want to drive something that long, but Bill handles it with ease and actually backs the cargo trailer with the motorhome. Me, on the other hand, well, I feel smug when I successfully back my truck and mere 29 foot trailer into a spot. Bill and Jan don’t have a car; their two trikes ride in the big cargo trailer that Jan jazzed up with some of her art work. Bill rides a triked Goldwing (motorcycle with two wheels on the rear); Jan rides a Spyker (two wheels in the front, one on the rear). They use the trikes for everything – shopping for groceries, tools, clothes, etc. You’d be amazed at the amount of storage space they have. And then because their home is on wheels, they don’t stay where it’s too hot, cold, wet, or windy for the trikes. Obviously, I had to ride both trikes. I was surprised — I liked the Goldwing a lot (I’ve harbored a prejudice against them, as the old folks’ toy that isn’t really a bike. In fact, it handled well and was fun. Another prejudice bites the dust.) I was surprised at the way the Spyder handled; it too was fun but would take longer for me to get use to the feel of the front end, the automatic transmission, and only one brake. Jan was seriously injured on her motorcycle several years ago; her response to that was to buy a bike identical to the one that had been totaled (and almost totaled her) and to begin riding again the moment the doctor cleared her. But after facing down that dragon for many miles and months, Jan and Bill decided to go with trikes. And I have to admit, it’s pretty cool not having to worry about tipping over.

On our morning walks, Jan and I enjoyed watching a herd of goats that had been hired to clean up a surrounding meadow. The goats came with two very focused Border Collies (who insured the goats did not get close to the highway or anything else the collies considered off limits), two labs (whose job it was to keep people from getting close to the goats), and a herder who meandered with the flock.

And because of that time-flying thing, I left after only three days. Then I did the too-many-miles thing, again and again. I drove across what was left of Idaho, then Montana and Wyoming, to finally sit down (briefly) just north of Denver. When I’m traveling from point A to point B, I often will spend the night in the parking lot of a WalMart. WalMart includes RV’ers in their marketing strategy; we are welcomed (at most) to park on the outer edges, they provide 24-hour security and then sell groceries and all sorts of stuff to the gypsies. I was one of 14 RV’s in the Missoula, MT, WalMart parking lot. And then I did it again and again – pulling too many miles in too few days. No one ever said I use common sense on a daily basis. Especially when I begin to feel that summer is moving too fast.

So after a few days visiting special friends in Colorado, I’ll go down to New Mexico before heading back to Florida.

Jan and Bill on their trikes

Jan and Bill on their trikes

Goats at work

Goats at work

Idaho - another beautiful place

Idaho – another beautiful place

Big Sky of Montana

Big Sky of Montana

WalMart in Missoula, Montana

WalMart in Missoula, Montana

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fleeting glimpses of the Olympic Peninsula of Washington

Fleeting glimpses of the beauty of the Olympic Peninsula of Washington

The Olympic Peninsula looks something like a big thumb stuck off the west coast of Washington, separated from the big city life of Seattle by a series of bridges and ferries that cross a network of waterways. Life on the peninsula even at its harried best is not city. The Pacific on the west coast dumps copious amounts of water there; the Hoh Rain Forest receives ten to twelve FEET of rain a year. But the Olympic Mountains wring the water from the sky, and the further east you go, the dryer the weather. Port Townsend averages only 19 inches of rain a year, thanks to Mt. Olympus who takes the brunt with an average of 220 inches/year (18.33 feet)

I’ve been at this RV Park near Port Townsend, WA for two weeks; I’ll pull out soon, heading to Idaho to meet my friends, Bill & Jan. I met Bill 15 years ago skydiving at the Lost Prairie Boogie in Montana. We became close friends immediately; time and distance have not diminished the relationship. I’ve not seen them since they made the effort and trip to see my new house three years ago.

So what have I been up to? Well, I’ve rested, taken lots of photos, written several poems, and put many miles on my bike. One of my favorite rides was up to Hurricane Ridge in the Olympic National Park. OMG! Twisties, sweepers, incredible views. But my enthusiasm and speed were tapped down a bit by lots of deer. On the ride up I saw five deer in less than five miles, each standing less than five feet from the road. I hit a deer on my Yamaha FJR north of Durango a few years ago – totaled the bike but was lucky enough to walk away with just enough road rash scars to prove it happened and a gimpy shoulder. The park brochures tout the presence of deer as a good, touristy thing, but one deer-totaled bike is all I really want to experience. I stayed on hyper-alert, kept my speed down, and relished the ride.

Hwy 101 makes a big loop around the Olympic Peninsula. Big as is a 320 mile loop. Obviously I had to ride it and decided on clockwise so the wind and sun would be to my back on the last lap. I headed south on Hwy 101 along the Hood Canal, then west to Aberdeen. By Aberdeen, the ocean winds were blowing the trees, and there was a heavy mist everywhere. I was glad to finally turn north and get out of the traffic and onto the kind of road I’d hoped for. Hwy 101 north from Aberdeen moves alternately through forest and along the Pacific coast line.

One of the joys of being on a motorcycle is that you ride through a kaleidoscope of smells. The smell of the mud flats along the Hood Canal are not the same as those found at low tide in the swamps in the Deep South; this mud is salty; the tidal surge is greater and with the water flush the bottoms, though muddy, seemed fresher, cleaner. Riding through the Hoh Rain Forest, the smell of old growth cedar and spruce was thicker than the ocean mist along the coast.

Another favorite thing about traveling on a bike is I get to feel all of the nuances of the weather. Aberdeen sits on Gray Harbor, which opens to the Pacific. The temperature dropped fast but the bumper-to-bumper traffic didn’t allow the luxury of stopping. As soon as I got out of the bedlam, I pulled over and added a long sleeve shirt and windbreaker under my cordura riding jacket. From there, I ducked in and out of weather – from almost too cold to comfortable as the road wove along the coast line and through forest. There are very few places to stop for gas or food on the west leg of Hwy 101, but the ride is excellent. I added the 30 mile loop into the Hoh Rain Forest – worth every moment, though I was beginning to get concerned about my time. I didn’t get back to the rig until 10:00 pm, which wasn’t a problem; it doesn’t get dark here until about 10:20.

There are many things on the “must-see list” for the Olympic Peninsula – more than I could get done, but I gave it a good try. For example, I went to the Dungeness Spit National Wildlife Refuge, one of the world’s longest sand spits, located on the northern lip of the Olympic Peninsula. The spit is a narrow stretch of beach within sight of Victoria, Canada, and it reaches out five miles into the Strait of Juan de Fuca. Sand eroded from steep bluffs on the mainland adds about 13 feet a year to the length of the spit and an array of driftwood helps secure the narrow coast line. The pictures give a glimmer of the magnitude and majesty of the drift wood. I’ll add it was also very windy and cold. There’s a five mile one-way hike out to the lighthouse, but you can’t start it at low tide. It was low tide and 5 pm when I got there; I was cold and not disappointed when the Ranger explained I couldn’t make the hike that day.

A fellow RV’er gave me directions to a Troll Town between Port Townsend and Sequim. What a magical delight created by an artist with a child’s heart. Dozens and dozens of fence posts carved into various trolls, an enormous dragon or two, a metal Kokopelli that stood at least 15 feet tall.

Port Townsend is a Victorian sea port on the northeastern lip of the Olympic Peninsula – an eclectic place with a long history and modern focus on the arts while scorning big box stores. A ferry runs every 30 minutes between Port Townsend and Whidbey Island – I rode over twice to visit a friend. I was a bit daunted at first with the motorcycle on that metal deck moving through open water, but it was wonderful! Whidbey Island is home to Deception Pass – another must-see place.

KPTZ 91.9 is a local radio station in Port Townsend, one that is as diverse as the community it serves. Marcia Perlstein interviewed me with a focus on my book, Footprints on my Soul – Journal of a Circuit Court Judge. The interview will be edited and then available by both stream and podcast. I’ll let you know the release dates.

One of my greatest treasures from this time on the Olympic Peninsula is a new friendship with an incredible woman named Nancianna, who is a resident at a local nursing home. The Port Townsend Friends (Quaker Meeting) holds a mid-week Meeting in Nancianna’s room, and that’s where we met. Nancianna is only 54 years old but is now a quadriplegic as the result of MS. In her earlier years, she was a professional dancer and dance instructor; now she is Tinkerbell, caught in a cruel jar, unable to even lift her finger to push the call button. Somehow, while living day to day a horrifically unfair life, her eyes remain clear and her mind bright. Her poetry, like her life, doesn’t reek of cocktail talk. I wrote a poem for Nancianna, in a meager attempt to describe/honor her. Let me know at Comments or by email if you’d like to read it. More information about Nancianna is available at http://www.friendsofnancianna.com/ Marcia with KPTZ is going to schedule an interview Nancianna; based on my conversations with Nancianna, the interview will be everything – funny, deep, playful, with lots of straight-in-your-eye reality.

Hurricane Ridge Road in the Olympic Peninsula NP

Hurricane Ridge Road in the Olympic Peninsula NP

everyone else thought the deer on Hurricane Ridge road were cute

everyone else thought the deer on Hurricane Ridge road were cute

On Hwy 101 on the western edge of the Peninsula, with the Pacific in the background

On Hwy 101 on the western edge of the Peninsula, with the Pacific in the background

the Hoh rain forest on the west/wet side of the Peninsula

the Hoh rain forest on the west/wet side of the Peninsula

the Dungeness spit

the Dungeness spit

a growing land line held together by drift wood

a growing land line held together by drift wood

erosion moves sand from cliffs on the mainland to the spit

erosion moves sand from cliffs on the mainland to the spit

the magic of an imagination

the magic of an imagination

DSC_0526DSC_0509

DSC_0516

ferry that runs between Pt. Townsend and Whidbey Island

ferry that runs between Pt. Townsend and Whidbey Island

seals sunning on a dock in Pt. Townsend

seals sunning on a dock in Pt. Townsend

enough of that - time to eat

enough of that – time to eat

I didn't know lavender came in white

I didn’t know lavender came in white

Nancianna stuck her tongue out at me - because she could ;-)

Nancianna stuck her tongue out at me – because she could ;-)

Nancianna and I, cutting up like two giggly eight-year olds.

Nancianna and I, cutting up like two giggly eight-year olds.

bridge at Deception Pass on Whidbey Island

bridge at Deception Pass on Whidbey Island

from end of bridge at Deception Pass, Whidbey Island

from end of bridge at Deception Pass, Whidbey Island

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3,000 miles from NW Florida – strangers who become friends

3,000 miles from NW Florida – strangers who become friends

On a Sunday afternoon, I left Ghost Ranch, New Mexico, on another mission – drive my heavily leaden truck to a small town just north of Tacoma, Washington, to pick up my new-to-me travel trailer. I pushed hard – something I seem to do, even when the energy level gets low – and arrived before dark on Tuesday with 1,500 miles more on the truck.

Arctic Fox is a brand of trailers manufactured in Oregon and not readily available in the East; it’s something like the Subaru of RV trailers – incredible quality without the flash in the pan found in many that offer less quality. I lived in a 30U Arctic Fox for three years, so when I found exactly what I was looking for, the fact that it was located in Washington didn’t seem a problem. I love the Northwest and I’d be in New Mexico anyway. So I finalized the purchase, after a pre-purchase inspection and a delightful “walk through” via FaceTime – without actually seeing the rig. I bought the rig from a couple, Barb and Gunther, about whom I can’t say enough good things. They stored the travel trailer on their property for me; when I drove in late on that Tuesday, I unloaded the truck to spend the night right there. The next morning, Gunther knocked on my screen door and handed me a travel mug of coffee, and explained Barb would have breakfast ready soon. Gunther is a retired engineer with Boeing; skills he would soon need.

On Wednesday, Gunther made minute adjustments so the fancy hitch would match the exact angle of my particular truck while I fluffed my nest. The RV is comfortable, pleasant, and easy to call Home. He drove me to several stores so I could buy a few needed items (water and sewer hoses, etc.); I took them to dinner and spent a second night on their property.

Thursday, I asked Gunther if he would stand by while I unloaded motorcycle using the new motorcycle lift, the one that came without any written instructions. An engineer at heart, he was intrigued. Turns out the day was not a good one. First the tire chock caught on the front fender of the bike when it came down on ever-so-slightly uneven ground; not a pretty sight. Without getting upset (I was the only one who cussed), Gunther analyzed the problem and figured out how to correct it (a fix the included taking his dremel to about two inches of broken fender). Then the winch cable wrapped itself around the housing, down deep in a hole – so deep that Gunther had to cut the cable to free it. So we went to another store, bought what he needed, and returned. But Gunther didn’t have the massive tool needed to swedge (sp?) the cable loop; and as we soon learned, repeatedly hammering it wasn’t enough. Using the electronic winch, I brought the bike up again into the truck. As it reached the cab, the cable broke and the bike was catapulted off the truck. My reaction was to freak and say more four-letter words; Gunther had positioned himself to deal with such possibilities and actually managed to catch the bike – safely – as it came by him. Another trip to the store, more parts, and finally the bike went up into the truck with no drama. I spent my third night on their property.

Friday, after yet another breakfast, I left my new friends – motorcycle safely in the truck with earlier issues resolved, detailed written instructions in hand and with my new travel trailer following behind. It had been three years since I pulled a trailer of this size, but it was not a problem, even in the crawling traffic, lining up for the U.S. Open that weekend. I pulled a short distance to the Olympic Peninsula to an RV park I knew from years past.

And I just sat down. I’ve been pushing hard for too long, and the problems with the motorcycle lift took the air out of my balloon. But two days later, I asked a neighbor at the RV park if he’d like to see how my motorcycle lift worked, and offered to show him – provided he promised to stand to the side and do NOTHING if the bike got squirrelly. I unloaded with NO problem and have ridden many a mile since.

I’ve begun a new FB page, gypsyjudge, and invite you to check that out. https://www.facebook.com/AGypsyjudge?ref=bookmarks   I still haven’t figured out how to create a hyper-link!

the people standing in this arch look tiny

the people standing in this arch look tiny

incredible red cliffs of Utah

incredible red cliffs of Utah

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Changing titles, changing roles – from Florida to New Mexico, again

Changing titles, changing roles – from to Florida to New Mexico – again

I retired from the Bench in 2000 and last taught in the judicial ed program in Florida in 2001. Going back to the Advanced Judicial Studies’ (AJS) week-long program as an instructor was many things. For one thing, as the photos show, the hotel accommodations were not the same as the (very comfortable) housing at Ghost Ranch in Abiquiu, New Mexico.
As with many professions, judges must complete a certain number of continuing education hours during a specific time. While continuing judicial ed hours are available in the much larger venues of the annual conferences, attendance at the Advanced Judicial Studies is sought after by many judges because of the small class size and variety of topics. For the same reasons, instructors particularly enjoy working at AJS.
Over lunch and breaks, I saw some familiar though older faces. Which raised again the question – how did it happen? That we got old? Knowing intellectually that I’m now 68 years old doesn’t change the fact that – most of the time – I don’t feel the change. Nor do the facts regarding my year of birth justify what is certainly just failing eye sight on the part of others. With coffee in-hand, I walked over and spoke to a judge I last saw 15 years ago. He looked puzzled, read my name tag, and said, “Oh, yes. Laura. I recognized your voice.” Seems he thinks everything else has changed.
I was one of a three-person panel for a day-and-half presentation, working with Rob Atkinson, a law professor at Florida State, and James Sheehan, retired attorney, law professor and author of several books including The Mayor of Lexington Avenue, a novel focused on the wrongful execution of an innocent defendant.
There were 25 judges in our class, titled “Law, Justice, and Morality through the lens of literature;” most were Circuit Judges, some County Judges, and a few Magistrates. They sat throughout Florida in Civil, Criminal, Family, and/or Juvenile. After a day and a half of spirited and open discussion, I left Orlando with a sense of pride for our judiciary. These judges bring integrity, focus, hard work and dedication every day to a job assignment the enormity of which few can imagine.
I knew when I wrote my book that the title, Public Secrets and Justice – journal of a Circuit Court Judge, wasn’t quite right, but it was the best I could do. Several months ago I was explaining to a friend my motivation for writing the book. As I described the enormous impact the children I met in Court have had on me, I said, “They’ve left their footprints on my soul.” He smiled and said, “That’s the title of your book.”
So I’ve tweaked the story ever so slightly, changed a few quotes, and the book is fresh off the press with a title that better captures the importance of the children’s stories – Footprints on My Soul, Journal of a Circuit Court Judge. There are hoops to jump through but it will soon be available under its new title through Amazon and Kindle, and I’ve launched a Facebook page, Footprints on My Soul. It remains available as Public Secrets and Justice.
I had proofs of the new book shipped to me in Orlando without giving any thought to how I’d get them back to Albuquerque. But suddenly the class was over, it was noon on Friday, and I was facing the kind of organizational detail that I don’t handle well, especially not when – as it were – the game was over, I was tired and simply wanted to leave. The staff at Court Admin recognized my deer-in-the-headlights look, provided adult supervision along with a few bad jokes, and we managed to get the books into my roller board and everything else into a pink striped beach bag from the hotel’s boutique. Later in the day, as I began to hoist my much-heavier roller board into the overhead bin on the airplane, a woman in her 40’s said in a concerned voice, “May I help you, ma’am?”
What’s going on? People recognize my voice after 15 years but not my face, staff rallies to help me, and a kind woman is concerned I can’t lift my own suitcase. Did I get old? How did that happen?
I spent Friday night in Albuquerque and drove back to Ghost Ranch on Saturday for the last two days of Intermountain Yearly Meeting (IMYM), where 300+ Quakers from various mountain states gather each summer for wide-ranging programs. I’m particularly drawn to the high desert and red cliffs of Ghost Ranch, a Presbyterian conference center in the area in which Georgia O’Keefe lived and painted; her house is on adjoining property. It was important to spend time with my Quaker Friends in that magical space, enjoying the light and scenery that has held O’Keefe and many others spell bound.
Quakers are uniquely difficult to pigeon-hole; one of the best explanations I’ve read is at the web site for the Port Townsend, Washington Friends Meeting – http://ptquaker.org/what-is-a-pt-quaker. It is significant to me that Quakers have a long history of providing “silent assistance from the nameless to the nameless”, “working among friends and former enemies” to simply, quietly help those in need. Quakers were very active in the Underground Railroad and remain active today in a variety of social concerns. The Quakers were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1947 for their work after World War II, helping whoever needed a meal without regard to politics or country alliance; the award ceremony speech provides further insight into Quakers in action. http://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/peace/laureates/1947/press.html
More information about Quakers is available at http://www.quaker.org/ Information about Ghost Ranch and its programs can be found at www.ghostranch.org/  And for some reason, I can’t create hyper-links here.  But I tried 😉

the comfortable accommodations at Ghost Ranch are not condo-styled

the comfortable accommodations at Ghost Ranch are not condo-styled

red cliffs at Ghost Ranch

red cliffs at Ghost Ranch

After lunch on Sunday, I pointed my over-stuffed truck towards Washington. Another 1,500 miles to go, and I need to be there by Wednesday.

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Running around and around – ’cause that’s what gypsies do

June 11, 2015  Orlando, FL

Running around and around – ‘cause that’s what gypsies do
I left NW Florida on June 4 in my new-to-me truck – a VERY big truck – the kind that makes a man proud. It’s a Chev. 3500 diesel, crew cab, eight foot bed, 4 wheel drive dually with a specially designed motorcycle lift on which my bike rides. I packed/crammed into the cab everything I think I’ll need for the next two or three months; I’m not sure a snake could have joined me by the time I slammed the last door.
I drove up to Ghost Ranch (1,500 miles away and northwest of Santa Fe, NM) for a week-long Quaker gathering that began on Jun 7. Ghost Ranch is one of my favorite places in the universe, and Quakers are an amazingly diverse and kind group of people. How-some-ever, to quote Br’er Rabbit, my life is seldom simple; my only two commitments for the summer (again) fell in the same week. So Tuesday, Jun 9, I drove down to Albuquerque, NM, to catch a 6 AM flight on Wednesday to Orlando (yes – the exact same Florida I left on Thursday of last week to drive 1,500 miles). Today (Thursday, Jun 11) we completed day one of a one-and-a-half day seminar, Law, Justice and Morality. It’s great being back with old friends from the Bench and challenging to teach again. After lunch tomorrow, I fly back to Albuquerque, then drive back up to Ghost Ranch Saturday morning. When that conference ends at lunch on Sunday, Jun 14, I’ll head towards Tacoma, WA, to pick up a new-to-me RV on Wednesday, June 17. Makes me tired just typing it.
Tonight, in this very fancy hotel in Orlando, I do not have access to my big camera, so I’ll just post a couple of pictures from my phone.
Now that I’m officially back on the road for the summer, I look forward to writing more. Right after I catch up with myself and get some sleep.
the desert in SE New Mexico

The desert in SE New Mexico

my truck and red cliffs near Ghost Ranch, NM

my truck and red cliffs near Ghost Ranch, NM

two days later, I'm with a Bird of Paradise in Orlando

two days later, I’m with a Bird of Paradise in Orlando

The motel in Orlando is a bit fancier than my truck

The motel in Orlando is a bit fancier than my truck

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March, 2015 Is it Spring yet?

March 7, 2015 Is it Spring yet?
I’m back in Northwest Florida where Spring is dancing with Winter. The red buds are beginning to bloom, and the azaleas are considering it. The lawn grass hasn’t gotten into the green yet but will soon. Mother Nature hasn’t made up her mind; it’s warm then cold (temperatures changing from the 70’s to the 40’s and then back again); wet/dry (relative terms but it knows how to rain here, unlike Arizona and New Mexico); days may be windy or calm (winds labeled here as “high” are called “breezy” in the desert.)
On March 6, I was at the Author’s Event at Page and Palette, an Independent Book Store in Fairhope, Alabama, in conjunction with Fairhope’s 1st Friday Art Walk. I love independent book stores, and Page & Palette is a reason why. It was a delight to talk with friends – old and new. Plus there was free wine 😉
I speak at the Unitarian Church of Mobile on April 12 and am part of a three-person panel presenting a day and half class at the Advanced Judicial College in Orlando in June. Our class is Law & Literature – law, justice, and morality; the class will be all judges, so there is great potential for divergent conversations there.

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Jan 5, 2015 from the desert

Jan 5, 2015 from the desert
The desert is a good place — to end one year and begin another. I realize that not everyone is attracted to this stark beauty but I feel the draw it has held for many throughout the ages – mystics, artists, eccentrics, loners, outlaws, naturalists, those who are well-grounded, and those who are not. The desert may be a bit like skydiving and riding a motorcycle – if I need to explain it to you, you wouldn’t understand.
These are some pictures of a fascinating rock arrangement someone set up out in the desert within walking distance of where we parked with other boondockers west of Yuma. Art – unannounced, unmarked, not explained. Just there. Like the cacti, the sand, the sunrise …

art in the desert

art in the desert

We also rode over to watch the dune buggies go crazy on the sand at the Imperial Sand Dunes. It looks like fun, but I’m sure all that sand would play havoc with my lungs.
But we needed to come back to Tucson for an appointment, so we drove the truck camper to town and moved back into the 40 foot motorhome parked at the Air Force Base in what they call “over-flow” – meaning there are no hookups (no electricity, water, or plumbing), but that’s Doug’s preference. He has enough solar power for half of Tucson and enormous holding tanks for the other essentials. His solar powers the coffee grinder, coffee pot, tea pot, microwave/convection, and computers, so it’s not like we’re roughing it. The RV park on base is particularly comfortable – the lots are large and the area is quiet. Not the wide open spaces of the desert, but a good compromise when you need to be in town.
Early this week, I woke to snow on the palm trees. Apparently that is as remarkable as snow in NW Florida.

snow on the palm trees

snow on the palm trees

We’ve begun a culinary study of chile rellenos – one that could take a long time, especially since the study requires a parallel review of margaritas.
To insure we leave few stones unturned, we went to Saguaro National Park West, having been to the sister East park several weeks ago. SNP West has more dirt roads than SNP East, but both are beautiful and worth a trip.

a dirt road in Saguaro NP West

a dirt road in Saguaro NP West

Today we rode up to the ski lift on top of Mount Lemmon – this ski resort is in the Arizona desert, at just over 8,000 feet, so it’s not Vale or Steam Boat Springs. But for someone from Florida, it was impressive. This was the first time I watched snowboarders – what a blast my grandkids would have!

There were a number of bikers heading up Mt. Lemmon

There were a number of bikers heading up Mt. Lemmon

the 1st time I've watched snowboarders - not much of that in Florida

the 1st time I’ve watched snowboarders – not much of that in Florida

As we drove down the mountain, we stopped at several overlooks, each with an ordinary stone retaining wall, yet there was one which is anything but ordinary! It was hard to capture with the camera something of the soul that went into the stone work, hard to catch a glimpse of this art through the lens. But what a gift that stranger left, for strangers to enjoy.

a work of art, in stone

a work of art, in stone

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December 28, 2014 after Christmas in the desert

Dec 28, 2014 After Christmas in the desert

in Mexico you can find a pinata for every occasion

in Mexico you can find a pinata for every occasion

my new friends enjoyed their photos

my new friends enjoyed their photos

IMG_3603

so many smiling faces

so many smiling faces

On December 26, we crossed the border into Mexico at Algodones and met some boon docking friends. After I picked up my new glasses, we had lunch (margaritas and chile rellenos) and then I went back to find my new friend, the crippled street vendor/grandmother. She said, in Spanish, that she had told her granddaughters on Christmas Day that I would be back “manana.” As before there were children playing all around her. I brought her copies of the pictures I had taken of them, and then Doug took pictures of us all. I hope you can see something of the joy of life in her eyes and the eyes of the children. Too soon, it was time to leave. She asked when I would return, and I explained I live in Florida and simply didn’t know. She replied with a smile, “I’ll be here waiting for you.”
For years I’d heard about Quartzsite, AZ, a sleepy town off of I-10, 22 miles east of the California border and 100 miles north of Mexico. This non-descript spot in the desert is surrounded by Bureau of Land Management (BLM) land and sustains a population of maybe 3,000 during the brutal heat of the summer. However, in the winter Quartzsite becomes an RV’ers mecca. As many as 500,000 RV’s come in from all over the country to park in private RV parks and the open Bureau of Land Management property. It’s still a bit early in the season, but the snowbirds are migrating in, gathering for the annual RV swap meet in January. It sounded like the RV version of Sturgis and Daytona, and I’ve skipped both of those big motorcycle rallies because I don’t like crowds.
But then Doug casually mentioned the naked man who runs a bookstore in Quartzsite who when it’s cold, wears three socks. I googled “naked man, bookstore, Quartzsite” and quickly decided the crowds wouldn’t be that bad. Among the things I learned from Google about Paul Winer is that his daughter, Celia, died at the age of 8; he and his wife set up Celia’s Rainbow Garden as a memorial and the town as well as RV’ers actively support it. The garden continues to grow as a memorial to various loved ones.IMG_3632 (1024x683)IMG_3618
It was in the 50’s, unusually cold; as Doug and I bundled up, we made bad jokes about what a naked man wears in the desert in this kind of weather. It was about 80 miles from our boon docking site to Quartzsite, and once in town we headed straight to the Reader’s Oasis Books. It’s a bit unusual – ahem – and has an incredible variety of used and vintage books. After we’d been browsing the stacks for a few minutes, I saw a man hurry by in a coat, cowboy hat, and bare brown legs. I recognized that face from my computer research, so I walked over and introduced myself to Paul Winer and asked what he had by Herman Hess; he responded quickly, “Nothing. I had Siddhartha, but I sold it. It was right here.” When he walked away, I saw a totally bare behind that looked like sagging leather, or maybe like a very skinny elephant butt. I looked at more books and then began another conversation with Paul. He’s articulate, fascinating, and very intelligent. He stocks over 180,000 titles. He does not own a computer, has no website or email address; he doesn’t own a smart phone. If you want to contact him, you call him on the phone at the bookstore. I asked if I could have my picture taken with him; when he took off his coat, I swallowed hard. His strategically-placed sock had two little turquoise stones sewn into the top lip; the sock/pouch was tied around his waist with nylon fishing line; the sock stones matched the turquoise necklace he was wearing. While I was checking all of this out, I couldn’t help but notice that he shaves his pubic hairs. I gave him a copy of my book, Public Secrets and Justice, and he invited me to participate in his Author’s Fair in January/February. Paul is an accomplished musician, playing boogie blues on the piano; he keeps a baby grand piano in the middle of the bookstore. Paul has many tales to tell, including long legal battles to be able to perform as Sweet-Pie, in the nude. He also explained that in the 1970’s his sing-along boogie anthem contained the phrase “fuck ‘em if they can’t take a joke” – a line that was picked up later  by Bette Midler. While Paul is out-there, literally and figuratively, he is also compassionate, quick-witted, well-read, and someone with whom I could spend much time talking.IMG_3619

no caption is necessary

no caption is necessary

Paul at work

Paul at work

cauliflower plants just after harvest

cauliflower plants just after harvest

cauliflower too small to harvest

cauliflower too small to harvest

lettuce

lettuce

and more lettuce

and more lettuce

On Sunday we rode over to Yuma – what an amazing variety of crops are grown here! Acres and acres of – cauliflower, lettuce, and beets; groves of lemon trees and Medjool dates.
Monday, we head back to Tucson. Soon I’ll head back to Florida.

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