Monthly Archives: July 2017

Technical Difficulties

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Sometimes it feels like the Universe is against me. I’ve wanted to work on the blog for weeks, but every time I tried, something went wrong.

It looked like The Man and I would be in Flagstaff for a few days before we trecked off to Cali. I thought I’d find a nice coffee shop and use some of those days to hunker down and schedule a few weeks of posts before we headed up into the forest. However, The Man decided he really needed to be settled somewhere, so we didn’t linger in Flagstaff.

When we got to the forest, we tried to use the WiFi at the mercantile, but we couldn’t get it to work on our phones. It took The Man a couple of days to figure out we were trying to connect to the wrong server. We were both happy to finally have internet access. However, there’s no way I can write and schedule blog posts on my small phone, so I pulled out The Man’s old  iPad.

Several months ago I’d used the iPad before to type up a blog post, and it had worked fine. This time, however, when I typed in the text box, no characters appeared on the screen. When I previewed the post on a new page, I could see the characters, but on the page where I typed–nothing. So I pulled out my laptop.

To use my laptop, I had to plug it into an inverter I bought at a truck stop. The inverter plugs into the cigarette lighter and sounds like a lawn mower.

You may wonder why I didn’t charge my laptop’s batery, then use the battery as my power source. Unfortunately, my battery had crapped out months ago. It only charged to 40%, and that charge dimished rapidly. This was my laptop’s second battery, the one my computer guy bought me when the original battery crapped out. The replacement battery lasted just about a year.

I plugged the inverter into the cigarette lighter and the laptop’s power cord into the invertor. Once I plugged the mouse (bought at a small-town garage sale in Colorado for $1) into the laptop’s USB port, I was sitting in a tangle of cords, but at least I’d be able to get some posts scheduled.

Not so fast! the Universe said.

My laptop would connect to the internet, but although I was connected, I was also told I had no internet access. I restarted the computer. Again, I was connected, but I had no access. I shut down the computer and restarted it. Yet again, I was connected, but had no access. I seethed in frustration, but nothing I did gave me access to the internet.

The Man said he’d take a look at it, and he did. He ended up uninstalling an update and finally (!) I was able to both connect to the internet and access it. I was mighty grateful.

I typed up and posted a dispatch from the woods. Although working in the front seat was a little crowded and I kept accidentally sounding the horn, at least I was making progress. The working conditions weren’t the best, but I could handle it.

On my day off, I parked in front of the mercantile early, before it opened. I plugged in all my cords and tried to get on the internet. Once again, I was connected but had not access! I was frustrated but tried to remain calm.

When I’d turned on the laptop, an update had immediately uploaded. Maybe the update had messed up something? I uninstalled the update and again had both connection and access. Thank goodness!

I had alrady handwritten a post about the 2017 Rubber Tramp Rendezvous in my notebook. I just had to type it up and add a photo, and it would be ready to schedule. I’d moved to the passenger seat, so I had a little more room and typing was a bit easier.

I had the post almost complete when my laptop told me the battery was critically low. Battery? I wasn’t using the battery. I looked at the icon that tells me if the power cord is plugged in. It did not indicate I had a power cord plugged in.

I jiggled the power cord. The icon showed it was working. I relaxed a little and typed in a few more words before getting the low battery message again. I jiggled the cord a few more times but couldn’t get the power cord to work again. Bummer. The power cord had crapped out.

Reparo 19v 3.16a 60w Adapter Power Charger for Samsung Compatible With AD-6019R 0335A1960 CPA09-004ALaptop AC Adapter Power Supply Cord
The Rubber Tramp Artist went on hiatus while a new power cord and battery were ordered. I went to the post office (26 mile round-trip) last Friday before work and picked up the new cord. That evening after work I went back to the mercantile to get the blog show back on the road.

I plugged the inverter into the cigarette lighter, then plugged the new power cord into the inverter. So far so good. I turned on the laptop and waited for it to connect to the internet. No! I was again connected with no access. Sigh.

Then, before I could figure out how I might correct the problem with the WiFi (which has been a reoccurring situation for everyone who’s tried to use the internt there in the last couple of weeks), I realized the computer was not recognizing the power cord. What the heck!?!

I was demoralized, to say the least. I put everything away and went back to camp in defeat.

Since then, I’ve determined the power problem was with the inverter, not the power cord. That was a relief. So now I have a new inverter on my wishlist for next payday.

I don’t know if I will be able to overcome the internet problem.

Currently I am at Panera planning to work for another five hours, to get as many posts scheduled as possible because I don’t know if or when I’ll be able to work again from the mountain. In any case, I’m nothing if not resiliant. I’ll keep posting, even if I have to come down from the mountain to do it.

 

Help

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The technology at the store had let us down.

The internet had glitched out around 10am, and we lost our cash register system. We waited around for it to reboot, and when the situation didn’t take care of itself, The Big Boss had The Man unplug and replug some equipment. When that didn’t work either, we put in a call to the company’s cash register maven. She wasn’t in, so a messagw was left, then we sat around the store hoping for a technological miracle.

Luckily, it was a slow day. It was actually a really slow day. When it was all said and done, after 8 hours, we’d only sold a few stuffed toys, a map, a couple tubes of sunscreen, a few t-shirts, and a handful of parking passes.

We had to do each sale the old-fashion way. We wrote a customer’s items down on a paper receipt. Next we added together the prices of all the customer’s items, then multiplied the total by 1.08 to get the total with tax. If the customer didn’t give us exact change, we used the calculator to figure how much money to hand back. In 2017, it felt like a long and antiquated process.

The Man had been handling most of the sales transactions. I was happy enough to talk to people and avoid the math.

The young woman came into the store late in the day. She had several young children in tow. She asked if we sold sunscreen. I said yes and brought her right over to the (admittedly small) sunscreen selection. I showed her the small tubes and the two varieties of sunscreen sticks. She was immediately unhappy.

Don’t you have anything bigger? she asked.

I told her I did not.

Then she looked at the price, which increased her unhappiness.

I admit, $3.95 for a tiny tube of sunscreen is kind of steep. However, I didn’t set the price. Besides, what did she expect up in the mountains? When you leave civilization, you have to expect to pay more for luxuries.

I guess I shouldn’t have left the sunscreen at home, she said in a nasty tone of voice.

I agreed with her in my head, but kept my mouth shut. I knew anything I said would only make the situation worse.

She took two tubes of sunscreen up to the counter while her kids ran around the store. The Man began to write up the sale while I pretended to by busy nearby. I didn’t really want to deal with her bad attitude anymore.

The Man was punching numbers on the calculator when I heard her ask him in a voice dripping with disdain, Do you need help?

He very calmly said, No, and completed the transaction, but when the store was empty again, he was hopping mad.

I didn’t blame him. The woman had insinuated he was stupid because he was going slowly and making sure he did the transaction correctly. Sometimes even when we know people’s nasty attitudes are about themselves and their own unhappiness, it can be difficult to let the negativity slide off our backs like water off a duck.

Gone

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We were camping alone a river, or maybe it was a stream or a creek. I’ve been unclear on the difference for years. Anyway, we were camping on the bank of a flowing body of water.

This is the flowing body of water next to where we were camping.

Of course, Jerico had his ball. The Man had been tossing it in the direction opposite from the water. The highway was opposite the water, but our campsite was below the road, and there was a driveway area serving as a barrier too. The Man was being careful where he tossed the ball in order to keep Jerico safely in camp.

After he chased and retrieved the ball for a while, Jerico got tired and decided to take a rest on the ground between where The Man and I were sitting. He dropped the ball on the ground there too.

Jerico rested for a while, then got up again and started exploring our campsite. Sometimes when we are out in nature, Jerico can forget about the ball for a while and do regular dog things like sniffing rocks and grass and peeing on trees.

I got up from my chair and went into the van to dig my camera out of my bag. Camera in hand, I walked along the edge of the water, taking photos for future blog posts. As I walked around, I noticed Jerico’s ball was no longer on the ground between the chairs. I figured he had it in his mouth at the moment since sometimes he carries it as he runs around.

I looked over and saw Jerico standing in high green grass at the edge of the water where it makes a turn as it rushes on. The river was still really high from winter snowmelt and spring rain, and it was moving fast. I wouldn’t have felt safe wading out to the middle. Jerico was standing on the edge, looking towards where the water disappeared around the bend. He had a look of concern on his face and no ball in his mouth.

The bend in the river down which Jerico must have watched his ball disappear.

I quickly scanned the area where I’d last seen the ball. Nothing. I looked on the ground all around the camping area. No ball.

I looked over at Jerico. He was looking at me. He glanced back at the water rushing by. He still looked concerned. He also seemed about ready to spring into the current.

I understood in a flash of insight. Jerico had brought the ball over to the water. For some reason only he will ever know (or maybe by accident), he dropped the ball in and watched it float away. Now he was about to jump in after it!

Jerico! No! I called sternly. He looked at me, then back at the water.

I knew if he jumped in, at best we’d have to deal with a cold, wet dog. At worst…well, I didn’t even want to think about it.

Without taking my eyes off the dog, I explained to The Man what I thought had happened. He dropped the ball in the river, I said. He’s about to jump in after it.

Jerico! Come here! The Man commanded.

Jerico looked at The Man, then back at the water. He stared at the water longingly, then slunk over to where The Man and I were.

I thought maybe I was wrong about the ball floating away and maybe it would turn up, but it didn’t. I searched under the bed, hoping a ball had rolled among the plastic tubs and tool boxes stored there, but I didn’t find one. Jerico had to spend the next couple days being a regular dog and not a ball fiend, although he did bring out his stuffed monkey, and we did toss that around a bit for him. I felt a little sorry for him, but the silence of him not bossy barking to get us to throw the ball was a relief. Besides, I didn’t drop the ball in the river; that mistake was on him.

Jerico and his monkey. He loves the monkey, but not nearly as much as he loves the ball.

 

I took the photos in this post.

 

Free Camping Along the Rio Hondo

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The best free camping in the Taos, New Mexico area is tucked between the Rio Hondo and the Ski Valley Road.

Turn east at the stop light locals call “the Old Blinking Light.” Follow Highway 150 to the village of Arroyo Seco. Pass the Taos Cow on the right or stop for coffee, sandwiches, or locally made ice cream. Right past Francesca’s Clothing Boutique, follow the road as it curves to the left. Pass the Holy Trinity Catholic Church, then the road will curve to the right. After the post office, the road straightens out. When the choice becomes left, right, or off the mountain, go right. When you start seeing water flowing on the right, you’ll know you’re close.

There are three official campgrounds along the Rio Hondo: Lower Hondo, Cuchilla de Medio, and Italianos. Lower Hondo and Italianos have pit toilets, but I’m not sure about Cuchilla de Medio. When we stayed at Italianos Campground in June 2017, the inside of the toilet was filthy, and no toilet paper was provided. All of thes campgrounds are free, but offer no amenities other than pit toilets and the occassional picnic table. There are no trashcans and no water other than what’s in the river/stream/creek. The stay limit is 14 days within a 45 day period. The camping spots aren’t designated, so don’t look for numbered poles or timbers separating campsites. Just find a place to snug in a vehicle and/or a tent or a camper and leave the roadway open.

Campers who don’t need the pit toilets don’t need to limit themselves to the signed campgrounds. There are camping spots all along the water. Look for driveways going off into the trees and firerings constructed from stones by previous campers.

It’s amazing to me that I can be up in the desert, surrounded by sage and precious little shade, then drive 15 miles and find myself surrounded by tall pines and cottonwoods. Even on the hottest summer day, the Rio Hondo is icy cold. When I’m hot, I tell myself I”m going to strip down to my underwear and stretch out in the water, but in reality, I’ve only ever managed to go in ankle deep. In less than thirty seconds, my bones ache from the cold water, and the rest of me feels cool and refreshed. If I get hot again while I’m there, my feet go back in.

On Saturday afternoon in June, The Man and I were looking for a camping spot along the Rio Hondo. As we drove up toward the Ski Valley, we saw spot after spot taken both in the official campgrounds and in the boondocking areas. I was beginning to lose hope when we saw a poorly maintained dirt driveway leading down to the river. I pulled the van off the road, and we peered through the trees. No one was down there!

I slowly nosed the van down the rutted, potholed driveway. At the bottom of the driveway, we found two stone firerings and a nice, flat area to park the van. We had our own lovely, secluded waterfront campsite.

I took all these photos in this post.

 

 

Dispatch from the Woods

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The Man and I weren’t doing so well in Northern New Mexico. The invisible biting bugs were horrible, really tearing us up. The intense heat, unusual in the mountains, was making our days, but particularly our nights, difficult to bear. Living in the van together day after day was making us edgy and irritable. Something had to give.

Our lives changed with a call from my boss from the last two summers. The store that was supposed to open last season was finally(!) about to open, and he needed two more people to staff it. He wanted to hire me and The Man. We’d have a free place to set up camp for the summer, and he’d work us each 40 hours a week. Could we be there in six days? We said Yes! and hit the road to California.

I wanted to write a dispatch from the road, but we stayed in the Worst Motel 6 Ever in Barstow, CA, and the internet was down. I was too tired to find either another hotel or a coffee shop with free WiFi.

Crossing the Mojave Desert in a vehicle with no air conditioner was no joke. Part of our problem was not leaving Flagstaff until 1pm. I’d wanted to leave earlier, but it was afternoon by the time we packed up camp; drove to town; bought water, ice, and a few groceries; bought a solar shower, privacy tent, and tarp at  Wal-Mart; went through a bunch of rigmarole to find out Wal-Mart was out of Blue Rhino propane tanks and couldn’t exchange our empty one for a full one; went to a herb shop downtown so The Man could buy loose tea, and (finally!) filled up the gas tank.

It was hot when we stopped in Kingman, AZ to do the propane tank exchange. The Man and Jerico stood in the shade under one of the few parking lot trees while I went inside to pay for the new tank. The Wal-Mart employee who came out to make the switch expressed concern for Jerico’s paws on the hot asphalt.

Back on the road, we soon passed into California. At the agriculture checkpoint, there was a big digital sign like banks have announcing the time and temperature. 119 degrees! It had been a long time since I’d been in triple digit temperatures.

The Man grabbed our squirt bottle full of water (hippie air conditioning, he calls it) and sprayed me down while I drove. He also discovered that opening the windows let in air hotter than the air in the van. Over the next few hours, we did a lot of opening and closing windows trying to catch a breeze or let hot air out, trying to get comfortable. Surprise! There was no way to get comfortable in a van without air conditioning in the Mojave Desert that June day.

I stopped at the first Dairy Queen I saw and got us both Reese’s peanut butter cup Blizzards. I couldn’t drive and eat, so The Man took the wheel. The ice cream didn’t last nearly long enough, and we were back to using the squirt bottle.

Late in the afternoon, the sun moved down the horizon, and the temperature dropped to hot but bearable. Still, as much as I hated to do it, we got a motel room in Barstow. Maybe I could have gotten a little sleep in the sunbaked van had I been alone, but there was no way two adults and a dog could have been comfortable sleeping in there. Even if the van had cooled after baking in the sun all day (which it hadn’t), the body heat of three mammals in the enclosed space would have been unbearable. Even with the windows open, there wouldn’t have been enough air flow to keep us cool.

The air conditioner at the Motel 6 was not up to the challenge of the summer night. Although the air conditioner was on when we opened the door, we were not met with the chilly wonderfulness I’d been hoping for. The room was stuffy, and I had a difficult time deciding if it was cooler inside or out.

The a/c wasn’t a wall unit like in almost every other motel I’ve been in. All we had was a vent above the bathroom door and an ersatz thermostat on the wall. All we could really control were the settings “heat,” “cool,” and “fan.” If I stood in just the right spot a few feet from the bathroom door and stretched my arms over my head, I could feel a bit of cool air blowing out, but it was no match for the desert heat.

I slept poorly all night, although the warm room probably wasn’t as uncomfortable as the hot van would have been.

The Man and I were both awake by five the next morning. We each has another shower and got our things together. The morning air was cool, but we were hot again before we finally made it up the mountain.

When we finally made it to our destination, the tall green trees and the cool mountain air were a wonderful contrast to the drab heat of the desert. My memory hadn’t exaggerated how lovely my home of the last two summers is. I’m glad this place will be my home for the rest of this summer and hopefully into the fall.

If you’re reading this, it’s because the mercantile (the Forest Service doesn’t like the word “store”) has WiFi, and the employees are allowed to utilize it. That’s a definite step up from years past.

This photo I took shows the mercantile/visitor center where The Man and I work.

Special thanks to The Man for getting my computer to connect to the WiFi at the mercantile.

 

 

10 Frustrating Aspects of Van Life

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There are many aspects of van life I adore. (See http://www.rubbertrampartist.com/2017/04/30/10-things-i-love-about-van-life/ and http://www.rubbertrampartist.com/2017/01/01/ten-reasons-i-like-living-in-my-van/ for twenty reasons I love van life.) However, some parts of van life can really bring me down. In the interest of fair and honest reporting, today I’ll share 10 aspects of van like that frustrate the hell out of me.

#1 I never really feel settled. Even if I’m staying in one place for a few days or a week or a month, I know I’ll be moving on before too long. No place I park really feels like home.

#2 I hit my head a lot. Even though my van has a high top and I’m a shorty, I hit my head surprisingly

The very top of this photo shows one of the little lights projecting from the ceiling of the van. These lights don’t even work! I want them gone, but fear I will enjoy gaping holes in the ceiling even less. Maybe I could cover the gaping holes with art?

often. I hit my head on the wall above the side doors. I hit my head on the small light fixtures that project three inches from the ceiling. I hit my head on the shelf over the foot of the bed. When I lived in house, I never hit my head this much.

#3 A van spacious enough for two people and a dog to live in somewhat comfortably (and really, it’s not all that comfortable) is a gas-guzzling beast.

#4 I’m often digging for the thing I want. Plastic tubs are stored under the bed. Toiletries are thrown in a totebag. It seems I’m costantly moving one thing to get to another thing or reaching behind things to access what’s stored in the back. The Man recently said, The van is just a big backpack on wheels, and I’m always digging for something! So true. So true. Pockets and hanging things help, but some days I long for a chest-of-drawers.

#5 Sometimes an ice chest isn’t enough. I get tired of buying ice too. When I lived in a house, I’d cook big batches of beans and chili in the slow cooker, then freeze them in smaller containers for later eating. I can’t do that in my van.

#6 I have too much stuff, but I don’t want to do without what I currently have.

#7 Forget about saving cool dumpstered weird stuff for later art projects or costumes. There’s no room in the van for anything without an immediate purpose.

#8 The floor is always dirty. Always. Well, ok, maybe there’s a brief window between shaking the rug and someone stepping into the van with dirty feet or knocking over the dog’s bowl of water, so enjoy the clean rug immediately before the window shuts.

#9 Van life is not conducive to spontaneous bathing.

#10 If the van’s been sitting in the sun all day (and many times there’s no option of parking it in the shade), the inside of the van is going to be hot at night, even if the outside termperature has dropped and the windows are open.

What aspects of life on the road frustrate you? How have you solved the problems that frustrate me? Please leave your comments below.

This is not my current van, but it is a van I once owned.

I took the photos in this post.

 

 

 

Dirty Dog

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Jerico is a good dog. We’ve been friends from the moment we met at the RTR (Rubber Tramp Rendezvous). He jumped up and put his paws on me, which I usually hate, but he was so cute, I didn’t even care.

The Man trained Jerico to protect his camp. One night when we were in the tent on New Mexico BLM lnad, I heard Jerico growl from under the blankets. Even though he was completely covered, his dog senses told him someone or something was out there. The Man unzipped the tent’s flap and saw a nonpredetor creature (he wasn’t sure exactly what it was) on a ridge above our camp. We figured we were safe, so we all went to sleep.

Now that Jerico and The Man live with me, the dog considers the van his camp and is very protective of it. The times people have knocked on the van in the night, Jerico’s come flying out of the bed barking and growling at the intruders. When we leave him in the van to go into a store, we know he’s protecting our van home.

What Jerico loves most in the whole world is playing ball. Actually, that is an understantment. It is more

This ball may be more than Jerico can handle.

accurate to say Jerico is a fiend for playing ball. He’s obssessed with playing ball. He wants to play ball every waking moment. I suspect his dreams are filled with playing ball.

Of course, it’s difficult for a dog to play fetch alone, so Jerico needs a human to play with him, He doesn’t care what human plays, and he thinks every human he meets is a potential ball thrower. Any time a new person enters the van, Jerico think the person should be throwing the ball for him.

Jerico barking, trying to get me to throw the ball.

Jerico has a technique for getting someone to play ball. First he brings the ball close to his target. Then he stands there and looks from the ball to the person, back to the ball, then back to the person, rapidly and repeatedly. If the person does not understand his/her role and throw the ball, Jerico begins to bark loudly. You’re so bossy, I tell him often. If the person does not throw the ball, Jerico might pick it up in his mouth and move it closer to his mark. If that doesn’t work, he’ll try the looking, then the barking again.

He’s a master of intention, The Man says of Jerico. He knows eventually the ball will be thrown.

I imagine he’s attempting mind control on the humans. Throw the ball. Throw the ball. Throwtheballthrowtheballthrowtheball, I imagine he thinks until someone does.

If one is sitting and has been able to resit throwing the ball this long, Jerico tries another tactic. He picks up the ball in his mouth and deposits it gently in his target’s lap. He is totally stealthy, and I (and others) usually don’t notice what he’s doing. Suddenly the ball is in my lap or in the bed between where The Man and I are lying, and I never even saw it happen.

Jerico was looking at the ball with intention. He was trying to use mind control to get me to throw it.

When someone finally (finally!) throws the ball, Jerico is all focus. No matter how far anyone throws–or hits with a raquet, as The Man does–the ball, Jerico is going to keep hunting until he finds it.

Be careful where you hit the ball, The Mantold me when we were on New Mexico BLM land. I had started hitting the ball with the raquet too, but my aim wasn’t as good as The Man’s. If it goes into a cactus, he’s not going to stop. He’ll dive right in and end up full of spines. He’d jump off a cliff after that ball.

When we went back to Northern New Mexico, we visited a friend who lives out in the middle of the sage, at least a mile from the nearest neighbor and ten miles from the nearest place to buy a candy bar. It’s a great place for The Man to whack the ball for Jerico, except for the pond.

The Man didn’t mean to send the ball into the pond. I didn’t see it happen, but I suddenly heard The Man yelling No! and Stop! and Don’t! Of course, Jerico didn’t heed any of those commands because he was after the ball.

This is the pond in Northern New Mexico into which Jerico dove after the ball.

By the time I made it over to the pond, Jerico was out of it and rolling around in the dirt in an attempt to

Jerico was rolling around in the dirt in an attempt to dry himself.

dry himself. He jumped up and shook, and I saw he was shivering in the cool March morning breeze. He was, of course, filthy.

He cannot get in the van like that! I told The Man.

The Man and I formulated a plan. We lured Jerico back into the pond with the precious ball so the water could rinse the dirt and mud from his body. As soon as he pulled himself out  of the pond, I grabbed his collar so he couln’t roll in the dirt again. The Man had a towel ready to dry him. When water no longer dripped from the dog’s fur, The Man carried him over to an empty, stationary van our friend has on the property. We isolated Jerico in the van (windows open!) where he could shake off the water to his heart’s content and dry out of the wind. When he was dry, we let him out.

Jerico was filthy.

The man promised to be more careful about where he hit the ball, but a couple of months later, he caused a similar–but worse–situation.

We’d spend the night at a truck stop and in the morning, The Man took Jerico to the empty lot next door to play ball. The Man hit the ball down a small hill, and Jerico disappeared from view. He came back–ball in mouth–wet and coated in a slimy, greasy mud. The Man brought the pup back to the van and asked for my help in cleaning him up.

I fetched water in the dishpan we used as Jerico’s water bowl. The Man had to use soap this time to remove the nasty mud. Thank goodness for Dr. Bronner’s Pepermint! The Man soaped Jerico, then I slowly poured water to rinse his fur.

We couldn’t even be mad at Jerico as we cleaned him because The Man knew he would chase that ball into any situation. If a ball’s thrown or whacked or otherwise propelled through the air, Jerico is going to go after it.  The humans have to be carful of where they send the ball, or they’re going to end up with a dirty dog.

Jerico is quite the handsome dog when he is clean.

I took all the photos in htis post.

 

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 Philosopher 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 and references to the songs “Kill Your Television” by Ned’s Atomic Dustbin and “Smash Your TV,” “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 visiting Gold & Silver Pawn Shop in Las Vegas, NV and seeing the $2 price tag on a postcard, the thrill was gone. 

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,

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.

 

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.

We crossed the Raton Pass and stopped at the scenic overlook on our way to Trinidad.

I took all the photos in this post.