Wild Magnolias

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My friends and I were on an epic road trip to see Lou partway home.

Lou was in her car heading to Ohio to decide on her next move. Shortly before we left town, a friend of a friend said he wanted to go to the Midwest too, so Lou had agreed to take him on as a passenger.

Sheff and I and his dog Wednesday were in his car. Sheff did all the driving because I didn’t know how. I read aloud an article about glaciers to keep us both awake during the hottest part of the day.

Our first stop was in New Orleans, where we spent a few days crashing at the home of our sweet friend Kel. If she was surprised by a virtual stranger among us, she didn’t let it interfere with her hospitality.

It was the same with my former neighbor when the four of us went to her apartment for Cajun cooking. Of course, the neighbor had never met any of these friends, so she didn’t know who was close and whom I barely knew.

Our next stop was Mississippi. We spent a night at a state park. As was our habit, we didnt set up tents. Instead, we lay our sleeping bags on tarps and looked up at the stars until we fell asleep. It rained a little in the early morning, and, wanting to stay dry, I scrunched myself into the tiny back seat of Sheff’s compact car.  When I woke up again, the rain had stopped, but my muscles were kinked, and I felt grumpy and disoriented. Sheff handed me a bottle of Dr. Bronner’s peppermint soap and suggested I wash my face with it.

Nothing’s so bad that Dr. Bronner’s peppermint and a clean face can’t help, he told me. He was right. It’s a lesson I haven’t forgotten. Dr. Bronner and his peppermint soap have cheered me many times.

We drove for a couple more hours, then stopped for lunch at a Japanese restaurant. The interior of the restaurant was clean and cool, and the food was delicious. Still, I felt sad because I knew when the meal was over, I’d say good-bye to Lou. I had no idea when–or if–I’d see her again.

We parted ways in the parking lot amidst hugs and tears. I didn’t think even Dr. Bronner’s peppermint soap could mend the hole in my heart my friend’s absence was already causing.

Sheff and I journeyed on to the De Soto National Forest for a couple days of camping. I’d never been there before. I don’t think Sheff had either.

I wasn’t much of a hiker and backcountry camper (I’m still not), but I was basically along for the ride and willing to join in on whatever Sheff wanted to do. I followed him out into the forest, even though I was wearing a tiny dress and inappropriate shoes.

During our second day of camping, Sheff went on a long hike with his dog, and I chose to stay behind with the tent. Our whole time in the forest seems like a dream now, so many years later. Brief memories of the time flash through my mind when I try to remember those days.

Flash! I’m sitting against a tree, writing in my journal when an armadillo comes crashing into our camp. While we are surprised to see each other, the critter doesn’t seem scared of me and ambles away.

Flash! I’ve taken off my clothes, and I’m stretched out in a shallow, muddy, barely flowing body of water. The cool water feels good on my sweaty skin, but I worry someone will come along and see my nakedness. I slip my dress over my head and go back to camp.

Flash! Sheff is back and making dinner. I’m impressed by the way he can cook on his tiny backpacking stove.

Flash! It’s dark, and we’re all in the tent. Sheff’s in his sleeping bag, and I’m in mine. Wednesday the dog wiggles between us at some time in the night, and I wake to find she’s pushed me until I’m up against the tent’s side wall. Her dirty paws have left sand in my sleeping bag.

What I remember most about the camping trip are the magnolia trees growing wild in the forest. Before that day, I’d only seen magnolias growing in cities and towns. I’d assumed people had planted them. It had never occurred to me that magnolias would grow wild, that magnolias could be a natural part of a forest environment.

Those magnolias are growing just to grow, I marveled. No one planted them here.

I couldn’t stop looking at thse trees, thinking about them. They weren’t there to please people. Those magnolias belonged to themselves and were growing for themselves.

After all these years, I still think of those trees out in the Mississippi forest, growing just to grow.

 

 

Kill Your Television?

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Do people still talk about killing televisions?

Back in the late 90s and early 00s, when I ran around in activist circles, every 4th of July, there would be talk of killing, smashing, destroying televisions. It was an appropriate day for getting rid of televisions because it was U.S. Independence Day, and activists were promoting independence from the TV.

I don’t hang out with many activists these days, so I dont know if getting rid of televisons (by smashing, destroying, or any other means) is still promoted on July 4th. I did a few quick Google searches; “July Fourth smash your television day,” “kill your television day” and “smash your television” didn’t bring up much. The best thing I found was a blog post by The Happy Philospher (http://thehappyphilosopher.com/kill-your-television/) with a lot of information about why getting rid of one’s television might be a good idea. I also found links to the Kill Your Television Theatre (https://www.facebook.com/killyourtelevisiontheatre/) and references to the songs “Kill Your Television” by Ned’s Atomic Dustbin ( https://www.discogs.com/Neds-Atomic-Dustbin-Kill-Your-Television/release/782296) and “Smash Your TV” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QuMofeS7b7Q), “Track 8 (of 54) from the forthcoming [as of December 2014] album Et Mourir de Plaisir.”

A life without television seems like a good life to me, but who am I to tell other people what to do?

I haven ‘t owned a telvision since I moved to a new state in 1998. I’ve livined in houses with other people who’ve owned them, I’ve been in cheap motels with them, and I’ve house sat in homes with them. I’d be lying if I said I never watch TV, but I don’t do it every day or even every week.

The commercials are the worst. Often I’m confused, and many seconds go by before I figure out what the advertiser is trying to sell me. Sure, I know I’m supposed to think I’m being sold happiness or sex (or sex leading to happiness), but I often wonder, What’s the real product? I know it’s strategic when the product isn’t shown until the last moment.

Most network programs are terrible. I’ve sat through bad acting and stupid plots (I’m looking at you, NCIS: New Orleans) while visiting friends and relatives. I’ve honestly seen better acting at a small-town fundamentalist Christian church Easter program than I’ve seee on primtime TV.

But yes, I will admit, there are times when I like to have a television on. It’s good company when I’m cooking, mending, crafting, or cleaning. When my brain is simply too tired to read, a decent television program is a nice distraction.

I mostly watch television when I’m house sitting. My favorite shoes are Chopped, Cupcake Wars, and Beat Bobby Flay. (I once spent a three-week house sitting gig flipping between Food Network and Cooking Channel.) I like the Travel Channel food shows too: Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmern, Man v. Food, and Man Finds Food. For a time I was really into History Channel’s Pawn Stars and got really excited whenever I stumbled upon an all-day marathons of the program. However, after vistiting Gold & Silver Pawn Shop in Las Vegas, NV and seeing the $2 price tag on a postcard, the thrill was gone. (Read about my visit to the Gold & Siler Pawn Shop here: http://www.rubbertrampartist.com/2015/11/23/tourist-day-in-las-vegas/.)

In any case, who am I to say people should kill their televisons? I think people should make their own informed decisions.

I do know people who watch the tube for several hours a day would have more time for other activities if they smashed the television or just clicked the off button. If you can’t imagine what you’d do if you watched less TV, here’s a list of 50 activities you’ll have time for if you’re not distracted by your television.

Read a book

Read aloud to kids or adults

Teach someone to read

Garden–food or flowers, it don’t matter

Ride a bike

Feed hungry people

Run through the sprinkler on a hot summer day

Visit new places

Write a sonnet

Write a letter

Write the great American novel

Play ball

Make music

Wash the windows

Wash the car

Wash the dishes

Meet your neighbors

Soak in a hot bath with candles around the tub

Walk the dog

Walk without the dog

Learn a new language

Call a friend

Meditate

Mediate

Watch the sun set

Dance in the moonlight

Talk to an elder

Talk to a child

Raft down a river

Build a treehouse

Build a bookshelf

Build community

Make love–to yourself or your partner(s)

Play board games

Create art

Take deep breaths

Think deep thoughts

Throw a costume party

Swim

Wage peace

Bake bread (or muffins or cookies or cake)

Paint a portrait

Paint the walls

Cuddle

Make jewelry

Look at the stars

Run a marathon

Fix what’s broken

Mend what’s torn

Dream

I took this photos of the (popular?) sticker.

What would you add to your life if you subtracted your televison? Feel free to share your ideas in the comments.

 

The Last Rest Area in New Mexico

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The Man and I were in Las Vegas, NM, and we decided to go to Trinidad, CO. We got on I-25 and headed north.

It was late afternoon by the time we got started, and I was tired of driving well outside of Raton. I knew we had the Raton Pass ahead of us, and I didn’t want to make that mountain crossing in the dark. I’d looked at the map before we left Las Vegas and seen the last rest area in New Mexico on I-25 was less than twenty miles south of Raton. I needed to pee anyway, so I decided to stop at the rest area and check it out.

I knew there was a Wal-Mart in Raton, and we could probably park there overnight. However, I wanted to cook dinner, and I always feel weird cooking in the parking lots of stores. Even if we decided not to spend the night at the rest area, we could certainly cook dinner there. No one tends to blink an eye at people having a picnic at a rest stop.

I pulled into the reast area on the east side of the highway and found a spot to park. I walked briskly to the toilets while The Man took the dog out. The restroom was really clean, with flush toilets and sinks complete with running water for hand washing.

When I went back outside and had a better look around, I realized everything in the rest area was really clean. There was no litter on the ground and no graffitti.

In addition to the building housing the restrooms, there are several covered picnic table there.  The picnic pavillions have low stone walls to block the wind and there are many trees throughout the rest stop, making the area pretty and providing shade.

As I looked around, I saw The Man and the dog in a flat, treeless area at the back of the rest area, so I walked out to meet them. Beyond the flat area were train tracks. As we stood there, we heard a train a comin’. It got closer, and I saw it was an Amtrack.

It’s a people train! I exclaimed. I stood tall and waved vigorously as the train passed. I couldn’t tell if anyone waved back–or if indeed there were passengers on the train–but I had a great time waving and imagining  passengers wondering who I was and why I was there.

We walked back to prepare our dinner of eggs and cheese and onions and zucchini on tortillas. We decided to cook next to the van instead of hauling all our supplies and equipmemt down to one of the picnic pavillions. In minutes, we had a table and our stove set up, and onions were sizzling in our cast iron skillet.

After eating and doing my share of the cleanup, I didn’t want to drive anymore. Let’s stay here tonight, I suggested, and The Man agreed.

While the rest area is developed and well-lit, it seemed better than a Wal-Mart parking lot. Maybe the trees helped. Maybe it wasn’t quite so hot because there wasn’t so much asphalt. Maybe I was just dog tired. In any case, I slept well, despite the idling big rigs parked rigth behind us and the comings and goings of drivers who needed to stretch their legs or take a bathroom break in the middle of the night.

In the morning, I snapped a few photos. I’ve noticed there’s often at least one historic marker at New Mexico rest areas. This stop has a marker with information abouth the nearby Clifton House site. According to Wikipedia (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clifton_House_Site),

The Clifton House was an important overnight stage stop on the Mountain Branch of the Santa Fe Trail. It was located in Colfax County, New Mexico about six miles south of Raton, New Mexico, on the Canadian River. The site is located at mile marker 344 of U.S. Route 64, just off of exit 446 on Interstate 25.

Tom Stockton, a rancher, built the Clifton House in 1867,[2] using furniture, glass, and shingles that were brought overland from Dodge City, Kansas.

The Clifton House was a stop on the Barlow and Sanderson Stage Line

The Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe Railroad arrived in Otero, two miles to the north in March 1879, and stage service on the Santa Fe Trail ceased. The Clifton House was quickly abandoned, and the building was destroyed by an arsonist in 1885.

The other side of the marker shows a “Points of Interest” map of the area, and I saw we were quite close to the mountain branch of the Santa Fe  Trail. Neat!

When I finished taking photos, I found The Man and the dog were ready to go. I climbed into the driver’s seat, and we headed to Raton in search of coffee.

Read about the Raton Pass Scenic Overlook here: http://www.rubbertrampartist.com/2017/05/30/raton-pass-scenic-overlook/.

I took all the photos in this post.

 

Heavenly Father

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When I worked in the National Forest parking lot, I often overheard visitors saying strange things.

One day a car pulled into the parking lot with three people inside. A young man in a green t-shirt was driving. A woman of middle age sat in the backseat. A very old, rather feeble-looking man occupied the passenger seat. I wondered idly about the relationships of those three people. A mother, son, and grandfather?Was the young man the son of the old man, the product of his late middle age? Maybe they weren’t related at all. Maybe they were friends or business associates.

The old man wanted to use his Golden Age pass to pay the parking fee. I explained I couldn’t accept the Golden Age pass in lieu of the $5. I could tell he wasn’t happy about the situation, but he didn’t argue. The young man drove the car off to find a spot to park.

Later, as I sat in my chair between approaching new arrivals, I heard a woman’s voice from behind me.

I’ve been thinking about it, she said. The Heavenly Father is a record keeper. First day…Second day…

What in the world is she talking about? I wondered. Is she talking to me?

I looked over and saw the young man in the green t-shirt. Next to him stood the middle-age woman. She was the person I’d heard talking.

I took this photo of the iron ranger the old man was using as a writing surface.

The very old man was standing close to the iron ranger. He had a small piece of paper or perhaps a tiny notebook on the flat top of the iron ranger, and he seemed to be writing something. Perhpas this note-taking was something he did often?

Even a heathen like me could figure out the woman meant God when she said Heavenly Father. But record keeperFirst daySecond day? I assume she was referring to the Book of Genesis where a list is given of what God created on each day of the week. Was she equating the old man and his note-taking to Ulmighty God? (Also, if God is an all-powerful being, would he really have to keep records? Wouldn’t he just know what he created and when? Is it even possible for God to forget?)

I thought what the woman had said was interesting (and weird), so as soon as they walked off, I wrote down her words verbatim. When The Lady of the House visited me at my campground, she saw the piece of paper upon which I’d written the words. What’s this? she asked.

I told her the story of the very old man and the young man in the green t-shirt and the middle-aged woman who said the words.

Mormons, The Lady said.

What? I asked, confused. What did Mormons have to do with anything?

Mormons call God “Heavenly Father,” she said. The Lady has two best friends who belong to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, so she is my go-to for all questions related to the religion.

I had no idea, I said.

Yep, she said. If you hear people refere to the Heavenly Father, they’re probably Momons.

She’d just cleared up part of the mystery. Even though I’d already been pretty sure the Heavenly Father was God, it was good to have confirmation. But why was the old man taking notes? To assist a failing memory? Was he planning to write a book?

I have a theory that if a person lives long enough, all questions will be answered, but I’ll probably die before I understand what was going on with those three people that day in the parking lot. I doubt those mysteries will ever be revealed.

 

Penguins

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Between Socorro and Truth or Consequences, NM lies the small town of San Antonio. If a driver exits I-25 at San Antonio and takes Highway 1 running parallel to the interstate, one will pass through the Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge.

According to Wikipedia (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bosque),

A bosque (/ˈbskɛ/BOHS-ke) is a gallery forest found along the riparianflood plains of stream and river banks in the southwestern United States. It derives its name from the Spanish word for woodlands.

In the predominantly arid or semi-arid southwestern United States, the bosque is an oasis-like ribbon of green vegetation, often canopied, that only exists near rivers, streams, or other water courses. The most notable bosque is the 200-mile (320 km)-long ecosystem along the middle Rio Grande in New Mexico that extends from Santa Fe south past Socorro including the Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge.

I took Highway 1 once and stopped at the Refuge’s visitor center. It had a clean women’s restroom (I can’t vouch for the men’s room), a gift shop, and exhibits aimed mostly at kids.

I can’t remember why I went up to the information desk, but a very nice lady was working there. While we chatted, a man–another visitor–joined us. The info woman showed us on a map where to find the scenic-loop drive good for bird watching. I decided to skip the scenic loop drive. The $5 entrance fee didn’t seem worth it because it was almost dark, I’m not a birder, and I was the only person in the van. Better to have a scenic-loop companion and get our money’s worth.

Before I could say thank you and walk off, the nice information desk woman mentioned the penguins that come to the Bosque.

Penguins? I asked.

Penguins? the tourist man next to me echoed my confusion.

Penguins, The information woman said firmly.

How do they get here? either the man or I asked.

Have you ever seen a penguin? the information woman asked.

I thought about it. On TV, I said. Then I thought about it more. I’d seen penguins at an aquarium once. That was real life, albeit through glass. The penguins swam around a huge tank. One wall was glass so visitors could watch them diving and paddling.

I considered what I knew about penguins. They didn’t fly, right? They couldn’t possibly fly to New Mexico, right? They lived where it was cold, right? Southern New Mexico–even Southern New Mexico in winter–couldn’t be nearly cold enough for penguins, right?

All of those penguin thoughts flashed through my mind. Maybe everything I thought I knew about penguins was wrong. Maybe they did fly to New Mexico and hang out at the Bosque del Apache.

The information woman was still talking, but the tourist man interrupted to ask again, Penguins?

Penguins? the information woman asked as she realized her mistake. Did I say “penguins”? I meant pelicans.

I knew she was embarrasses, and I felt bad for her. She’s seemed so sure, but she’d been so wrong.

Elephant Butte Lake State Park

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One day when I was in the computer lab, The Man and Jerico walked over to Wal-Mart. Once they got there, The Man needed a place to leave Jerico while he went inside to do his shopping. He attached Jerico’s leash to a tree and told the fellow in the RV parked nearby that he’d be back for the dog shortly. That’s how The Man met Mike.

I met Mike a few days later when The Man and I returned to the Wal-Mart. Mike seemed like a nice guy, but he was one of those talkers who seldom quiets long enough for anyone else to squeeze in a word or two. He was in his late 50s, maybe early 60s, and chain smoked while he talked. As far as we could tell, he stayed in the driver’s seat of his old, battered motorhome all day and watched the world of the Wal-Mart parking lot unfold.

On a subsequent visit, Mike told The Man he was waiting to be able to go back to Elephant Butte Lake State Park. The park allows campers to stay for 14 days, after which they must leave for at least a week. Mike was waiting out the time he couldn’t be at the park.

Mike had a New Mexico State Parks Pass. For $180 a year, New Mexico residents can buy this pass allowing them free developed (non-electric/no sewer) camping at any New Mexico state park. (The cost of the pass for residents of other states is $225.) The pass is good for 12 months from the month of purchase. (Learn more about the New Mexico State Parks Pass and/or order one here: https://newmexicostateparks.reserveamerica.com/showPage.do?name=common&commonPath=/htm/NM_AnnualPasses.html.)

Pass holders can stay at any New Mexico state park for up to two weeks before they have to leave, but they can go directly from one state park to another. I asked Mike if he ever went to nearby Caballo Lake State Park (15 miles from the Wal-Mart) or Percha Dam State Park (23 miles from the Wal-Mart). He said because of his motorhome’s poor gas milage, he couldn’t afford to drive to these parks. Instead, he sat at Wal-Mart in the days between his weeks at Elephant Butte Lake.

A couple days before he was to go to Elephant Butte Lake, Mike invited us to visit him there. He actually had two pass cards, one for his motorhome and one for a passenger vehicle. The second pass would go to his buddy who shared the campsite with him, but the buddy wouldn’t be in town for a few more weeks. In the meantime, we could use it to get into the park.

Mike really wanted us to camp on his site with him for two weeks. We considered the option, but ultimately decided not to take him up on his offer. The Man really didn’t want to pack up his entire camp, nor did he want to leave all his belongings unattened on BLM land for one night, much less for two weeks. I know Mike was disappointed when we showed up and said we were only going to stay a few hours. We could tell he was a really lonley guy. We hoped he thought our short visit was better than no visit at all.

According to Wikipedia (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elephant_Butte_Reservoir),

Elephant Butte Reservoir is a reservoir on the Rio Grande in the U.S. state of New Mexico, 5 miles (8.0 km) north of Truth or Consequences. This reservoir is the 84th largest man-made lake in the United States and the largest in New Mexico by total surface area…The reservoir is also part of the largest state park in New Mexico, Elephant Butte Lake State Park.[1]

The name “Elephant Butte” refers to a volcanic core similar to Devils Tower in Wyoming. It is now an island in the lake. The butte was said to have the shape of an elephant lying on its side.

Elephant Butte Lake State Park offers primitive (dry) camping on the shores of the lake, as well as developed camping with and without electric and sewer hookups. The sites in developed areas include a covered picnic table, and drinkable water is available throughout the park. (To learn more about the park, go here: http://www.emnrd.state.nm.us/SPD/ElephantButteLakeActivities.html.)

There are multiple restrooms in the park, some with pit toilets, some with traditional flush toilets. In addition to restrooms, there are shower houses throughout the park. The way things are set up, I don’t think anyone would notice (or care) if someone from the primitive camping area used the facilities when necessary.

After visiting with Mike and some other Elephant Butte Lake campers for a couple of hours, I drove the van over to the nearest open showerhouse. (Our visit was in February 2017, before all the showerhouses were open for the busy summer season.) The Man went to the men’s side of the building, and I went to the women’s.

It was a standard New Mexico state park shower. I had to push a button on the wall to make the water flow. After a few minutes, the water stopped flowing, and I had to push the button again. The water was warm but never got hot. I was chilly the entire time I was in there.

It wasn’t a great shower, but it was a free shower, and to this van dweller, a free shower means a lot.

Panoramic view of Elephant Butte Lake

I took the photos in this post.

Purple Mountains (A New Mexico Story)

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It was my first time in New Mexico.

I was in an AmeriCorps program in Texas. I was offered the opportunity to go to New Mexico on Memorial Day weekend to work on a trail building project in the Gila National Forest. I was excited to go, to visit a new state, to get out of the Texas heat.

Our caravan made it as far as Las Cruces on the first day of our trip. I grew up in the flatlands of the Deep South, so this trip to New Mexico was one of my first experiences with mountains. Oh how I loved them! I’d barely been able to take my eyes off them since they’d come into view.

The plan was to spend the night at a state park outside Las Cruces. We arrived in the late evening, not very long before sunset. We began the business of settting up our tents.

At 29, I was the oldest person in my AmeriCorps program. (How impossibly young 29 seems now!) I was even older than the AmeriCorps boss on the trip, who was only 23. The other AmeriCorps folks on the trip ranged in age from 16(!) to  early 20s. Also, I really only knew two other people in the group, two guys who, like me, worked in the building program. The other people in our AmeriCorps group did trail building and maintence, and I hadn’t mingled much with any of them.

During my struggle with my tent, I glanced over at the mountains. They were purple, really purple, just like in the song! They were part of one of the most beautiful landscapes I’d ever seen.

I started jumping up and down. I was literally jumping up and down and shouting, The purple mountains majesty! The purple mountains majesty!

I’d been hearing and singing “America the Beautiful” for 20+ years, and I’ll be damned if I had any idea what “purple mountain majesties” was all about. How could mountains be purple? Here was my answer! Now I understood. These were the purple mountains majesties.

I looked over. It seemed as if all the young people had stopped assembling their tents and were staring at me. Who is this old woman, I imagined them thinking, jumping up and down and yelling about purple mountains?

I stopped jumping and shouting and went back to pitching my tent. I was a little embarrassed at my outburst, but mostly I felt grateful to have seen those purple mountains.

I first tell in love with New Mexico that evening, and I’ve been in love with the state ever since.

Unfortunately, I have no photos of those purple mountains near Las Cruces, but I did take this photo of Taos County mountains.