Friday, February 27, 2015

Okay, so I said I'd blog about this trip. But I'm going to have to break it into sections.

Honestly, as I rode southward with some of the others who'd flown into Tucson, I looked at the desolate landscape and thought, "What have I done?" It probably didn't help that I was used to the lush green of my home. And it for sure didn't help that I was looking ahead at a long week more than 1500 miles away from my boyfriend. But all that I knew as I drove by the Baboquivari Mountains, it all seemed dead.
But I was here to volunteer at this refuge, 117,500 protected acres stretching down to the border of Mexico. So I listened to the warning about gila monsters, javelinas, tarantulas, rattle snakes, drug smugglers and plants with spines that would have to be removed with pliers... and signed the papers to make me a Fish and Wildlife Services volunteer anyway.
And then we made the hour-long drive up into Brown's Canyon to our lodge. I'd texted my boyfriend earlier that we could talk on the phone before bed. Partway up the mountain, there was a beep from the cell phone of the local volunteer driving some of us to the lodge. He said, "Oh, there's my phone letting me know we're now out of cell range." I looked absently out the window for a minute and then - "Wait, what?!" That's right - not just no wifi, but no cell service at all at the lodge.
When I got there, the leader consulted her list and said, "You're in the coati room." I walked upstairs muttering, "What the hell's a coati?" Turns out it's a raccoon-like thing.
My roommate was a 74-year-old woman from Vancouver. I discovered she was a freaking work horse in addition to being very nice. In fact, it was an older crowd in general, many of whom were retired. The oldest was 81 and there were six in their 70's. Four of us in our early 50's anchoring down the other end, and the rest in their mid-60's.
For some reason, there was a stuffed jaguar downstairs. I actually sat with this thing just over my shoulder for about 20 minutes without even noticing it. Probably doesn't bode well for my chances of surviving in the wild.
But the place was starting to look a little more beautiful.
The next morning we started on our first day of work. We were here for this barbed wire. Miles of it, impeding the roaming of the pronghorn antelopes, who apparently spend much of their time singing, "Don't fence me in."
We hiked into the refuge and dropped our packs under a tree so we could carry the wire clippers and shovels further out into the field. I was glad for the shade when it was time for us to eat our lunches.
We spent two days cutting down barbed wire and uprooting the metal posts and hauling them back over rough terrain.
Up and down hills, under the scrubby branches of the mesquite and past the treacherous cacti that were everywhere.
And when I say treacherous, I mean those things had evil on their little succulent minds.
All of us ended with scratches and little puncture wounds from the rusting wire. I did a quick count backward and realized with some relief that I was still under the ten-year mark for my last tetanus shot. On the walk over the higher areas I was able to get a signal, so I shifted the rolls of wire to one arm and made a call. Later one of the other woman said they'd passed me and asked each other, "Is she talking on the phone?" Well, yes, yes I was. It was urgent. I was pining.
Browns and tans as far as the eye could see. While my home was being blanketed with snow, we were working in the sun, in 70-80 degree weather.
This is one day's haul. The bikes are often found abandoned, we were told, by people crossing the border into the US. And part of the time, we were only a mile from the edge of Mexico.
We took a quick trip to see the post -9/11 fence. A rather creepy (and insanely expensive) structure that does nothing whatsoever to solve the problem of illegal immigration. It does, however, impede the movement of various migratory species and also involves the abolishment of environmental protections in a 100-mile wide swath along the border. Your tax dollars at work.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

"He promised her a new and better life, out in Arizona."

I have so much to say about this Sierra Club service trip to southern Arizona. It was hard work and also an amazing experience. But while I was away, we had what will likely be our worst week of winter. I'm not sorry to have missed the terrible weather, but before I catch up here, I need to catch up at home.
"She got a postcard with no return address, postmarked Tombstone. 
It said "I don't know where I'm goin' next but when I do I'll let you know." 
May, June, July, she wonders why she's still waiting, 
she'll keep waiting 'cause 

There is no Arizona, no painted desert, no Sedona. 
If there was a Grand Canyon, she could fill it up with the lies he's told her. 
But they don't exist, those dreams he sold her, 
she'll wake up and find there is no Arizona." (Jamie O'Neal)

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Going off the grid...

I'm headed out for a week on a Sierra Club volunteer trip and my biggest suitcase is 20"x15"x6" so packing was a challenge. The list our leader gave us specifies work clothes for the week, including boots, leather gloves, heavy denim or twill pants, long-sleeved shirts, and hat. Also clothes for hanging out in the evening and indoor shoes so we don't track in dirt. And a daypack, cooler to carry our lunches, two water bottles, first aid kit and sunscreen, and toiletries. Of course, I'm bringing a camera as well. Oh, and we supply our own bedding. The lodge where we'll sleep has only limited solar-powered energy for cooking. So brief showers only every other day and no laundry. Did I mention I only have a smallish suitcase? But I am the queen of packing lightly. I'll wear the boots on the plane and my down jacket (which is necessary getting to and from the airport here) will be stuffed into a pillowcase for sleeping once I get there. The cooler is in the bottom of the daypack and will be my carry-on. Phone, camera and other valuables will be inside the pack as well. Everything else is neatly rolled and fits nicely into the suitcase. I even packed things into the empty water bottle. Assuming I am not bitten by a rattlesnake or taken down by a pack of coyotes, I'll see you when I return.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

A few words about this new relationship that no longer feels new.

It's just so comfortable. Like the beautifully mild day I met my boyfriend and his younger daughter for a hike and picnic at the nature center.
After the hike, she invited me to come back with them to play at her house, and insisted on riding there in my car. We sat around the coffee table building with legos, and she at first offered the two of us the bigger lego house and then quickly changed her mind and decided it would be the girls' house and he would have to settle for the smaller boys' house. I leaned over to give him a quick sympathy kiss and his daughter shouted, "No kissing!" Maybe that's what prompted her to ask for my help building a dragon and a lava pit to throw his lego character into.
I also like when we go to more grown-up events, like an art opening at the local museum. It's fun walking around with a glass of wine looking at the art (although I'm more interested in the people-watching). And then heading out afterwards to a nice restaurant to take advantage of already being dressed up.
Or the more casual grown-up events, like the church's monthly beer group. We have discovered that I always pick the better beer. It's a gift.
I even like the mundane times running errands. On the day I'd planned for us to make cioppino, we hit the grocery store first and then the seafood market to get the ingredients we'd need that night. While the rest of the nation was watching the superbowl, we were chopping onions and figuring out how to de-beard mussels.
And I'm not going to lie - I like that he's a romantic soul who brings me flowers and chocolates. But mostly, I like the insanely effortless compatibility. We cuddle, we talk endlessly and openly about everything, and we laugh. I really think I've laughed more in the past month or so than I have in the past many years. And not just polite, appreciative chuckles but helpless belly laughter. It's just so comfortable.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

What is it about Mondays?

Since we'd spent Saturday and Sunday nights at my house, Monday was on the schedule for his house. We both had a busy day planned, so we decided he'd stop and pick up pizza and we'd meet at his house. I got there first and when I unlocked the front door, I noticed a couple of things on the floor in the entryway and picked them up on my way to the bedroom to drop my stuff. But when I rounded the corner, I saw clothes scattered in the hallway. In the room itself, clothes everywhere and drawers ripped out of the dresser. Ditto in the living room, with couch cushions tossed around. In retrospect, it was strange how long it took me to figure out what had happened. After I found the door pried open, deadbolt still engaged, I called the police and then my boyfriend to give him a heads up. It wasn't even my house but I felt vicariously sickened by the disorder and all they took.
And I hate feeling that helpless.  So I did what I could - we went out to dinner, and then back to my house for wine and cookies and talking and cuddling into the wee hours of the morning. I may not be able to magically undo what happened, but I can provide a night's distraction.

Friday, February 6, 2015

Curiously strange gifts from my eccentric great aunt.

A couple of people asked me to follow up on my statement about my great-aunt's gifts:
My grandfather's twin sister was an interesting character. She was a mother figure to my father and we used to visit her in Pasadena when I was a kid. After we moved away from California, I kept up with her through frequent letters. Every Christmas she sent gifts. Odd gifts. Generally things she pulled from her packed house.  Many were from her stint selling Avon so often the gifts to myself, my sister and my brother were old Avon products. Perfumes, compacts, and the like. The one that made me laugh the most was the decorative soaps I received. It was a box of six hand soaps carved to look like flowers. So old that they were cracked. Oh, and one was missing.

And then there were the the random items. Old toys she had around the house, for instance. And sometimes clothing. I wish I had a photo of the orange and brown crocheted skirt and long vest. So stylish. Or my sister's funniest gift - a package of 1950's bullet bras she must have held onto all those years. You never knew what you'd find when you unwrapped a gift.
But sometimes there were really cool things in those packages. Like this embroidered silk kimono robe my grandfather had brought his sister back from Japan. I still have it. I never knew how she chose which item from her house to send to which niece or nephew, but once I really hit the jackpot. I was in grad school, living in a basement efficiency and came home to find a very small box left by the mail carrier on my doorstep. The label stuck to the brown paper said it contained Avon products, and it had been insured for fifty bucks. Avon does have costume jewelry among its offerings so I assumed that's what I would find inside.
But it was this ring. I stuck it in my pocket and made a trip to a jeweler for an appraisal. A little over a carat, perfect color, perfect clarity in the "old mine cut" popular in the late 1800's and early 1900's. This style of diamond was hand-cut so that when light shines on it through the top plane, it acts as a prism and sends a shower of colors outward. In fact, I have amused myself in many a boring meeting by angling the ring to send sparks of color around the room. My great-great uncle had been a jeweler in San Francisco and he made this ring for his bride. She left it to my great aunt who in turn passed it along to me. I wore it for almost 20 years and then, a couple of years ago, had it re-set in white gold so that it would not be a reminder of my previous engagement. Except I could never bring myself to wear it on my right hand as I planned because it still looks exactly like an engagement ring. I know, it's a diamond solitaire in a simple classic setting - what did I think it was going to look like? When I look at it, though, it doesn't make me think of my former marriage. I think about a long-ago jeweler, cutting a gorgeous diamond by hand to give to the woman he loved. And then given to me by an aunt I loved dearly. There's family and love in that ring. My eccentric aunt sure got it right with that gift.