Saturday, December 26, 2009

Eating My Venison Steak With Abandon

The United States is seeing new trends in where people are going to live.

Due to the general economic woes, the states of Florida and Nevada are seeing droves leave. Need real estate quick? Got a nice used Florida/Nevada model right here for you!

But the Top 5 states being abandoned are:
#1 California. The Golden Dream has, at least for now, gone dim.
#2 New York. You like taxes? This is the place for you!
#3 Michigan. Perhaps you thought cars where made in Michigan.
#4 Illinois. Geese are moving in, people and the Obamas moved out.
#5 Ohio. Best example of the Rust Belt. Expect next bridge collapse here.

I have been to all these states. The people are pleasant, the scenery charming. In a country this large, some movement of the populace is to be expected. But ECONOMICS is at the heart of all these shrinking states and the shrinking is not going to make it easier to turn things around.

The Top 2 states growing in 2009 were Texas and Wyoming, undoubtedly due to their jobs in energy.

Of course not all states have energy jobs to offer, so how do we grow? First and most obviously, is to make it easy to create a job. Then make it desirable to expand economic activity.

Let’s say I want to open a Boarding Stable for horses, and a Kennel for dogs and cats. If I try this in California I run into numerous laws regarding disposal of manure, noise regulation, and benefits for staff. If I try this in New York I can be fined for my animal urine showing up in a pond a half mile away and have to pay for clean up. In Florida and Nevada my staff will be harassed by ICE because they look like undocumented residents. In Michigan I find that I must buy carbon offsets because horses emit sulfurous gases. In Illinois the only people who could afford horses have moved to Virginia. Etc.

In Texas and Wyoming, they greet me with open arms. They know that horses are equipped with tails because flies like them, they know that coyotes cause dogs to bark in the night, and the girlfriend of the football star needs a place for her kitty to stay while she travels with him to another whupping on a Rust Belt team.

This is just a fanciful depiction but I think I’ve painted the picture.

If you live in California and believe that deep environmental regulation is necessary then you must not complain when half your family moves to Houston for work.

If you live in New York, you must accept higher auto premiums for deer-auto collisions. Think of it as a tax due to the sensibilities of New Yorkers offended by sport hunting.

While out West here I enjoy a sizzling venison steak. Thank you. I left New York in 1978.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Let's Be Real

I feel so confident about the mental health system in this country after reading this about the case of the Psychiatrist who killed 13 people in Fort Hood, Texas this month.

QUOTE: One of Hasan’s commanding officers at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, Lieutenant Colonel Melanie Guerrero, told investigators she had considered failing him as an intern but “decided to allow him to pass since he was going into psychiatry and would not be doing any real patient care.” UNQUOTE.

Evidently people with psychological problems do not have real problems and do not need real care.

That is odd, those victims seem to really be dead.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

A Dozen Days in August

Day 1 (16 August)

Soon after sunrise on a typical hot desert August morning, I drove away on a solo vacation through 8 western US states. My Toyota RAV4 was in good shape and I confidently set the cruise control mechanism at the speed limit: 55 miles per hour (88 kilometers per hour) and sat back to listen to the morning news. Suddenly police lights were in my rear view mirror. To my chagrin, I had entered a 45 MPH (72 KPH) speed zone and failed to adjust the cruise control. Oops. So within 5 minutes of home I was stopped by law enforcement but fortunately only received a warning.

An hour later I was crossing the somewhat bleak San Carlos Apache Indian Reservation. And I entered my first freeway 136 miles (218 Km) from home at the large Phoenix metro area. At 11:00 AM, I stopped at the University of Phoenix stadium in Glendale, AZ where the football team, the Arizona Cardinals play. Last year they went to the Super Bowl but lost by a small margin to Pittsburgh.

250 miles (400 Km) from home I began to see Joshua Trees in the desert. They are a type of Yucca, a plant with tough, sword-like leaves. The trees are difficult to grow in a home garden but the 20 to 30 foot tall (6 to 8 meter) trees dominate in the 4 state confluence area of California-Nevada-Arizona- and Utah.

At 1:30 PM (13:30) I briefly stopped to buy my first batch of postcards in the colorfully named hamlet of Wickieup. I collect postcards as well as send to friends and family and swap cards with new friends. A slightly different spelling: “Wickiup” is a rustic single room dwelling built by many southwestern native people, historically and even today.

After 9 hours I arrived at slow traffic crawling over Hoover Dam, a huge choke point due to the massive construction job on a bridge to carry the highway over the Colorado River and into Nevada. Ever since the September 11 terror attacks, public roads passing on top of critical dams have been steadily replaced for security reasons. It was a stifling hot afternoon among the dark rocks in the deep gorge, but hundreds of sight-seers were out with their digital cameras recording the chaos. The new bridge has been under development since 2001 and is scheduled to be completed in late 2010.

A short 30 miles (48 Km) later I arrived at the Wild Wild West Hotel/Casino, just off the famous Las Vegas “strip.” But I went downtown for dinner at the “Fitz” (the Fitzgerald Hotel/Casino)and discovered a lively street scene, complete with a live band and a huge arching video screen above my head that stretched several city blocks, creating a pedestrian mall. While having the Fremont Street Experience, I found a shop with the least expensive postcards I’ve ever seen: 10 for $1.00! On my way back to the hotel I stopped to photo the Stratosphere, the tallest observation tower in the US. But I demurred at going up to the deck or experiencing one of the three thrill rides in the clouds up there!

Day 2 - 5 (17 to 20 August)

I got out of bed at 4 AM, so excited about my trip. After sharing breakfast at Denny’s with a California woman who apparently found me more interesting than her murder mystery novel, I headed north. With Las Vegas in my rear view mirror, I passed the secretive “Area 51” - the center of UFO and conspiracy theories and great science fiction stories.

Nobody was stirring at 8:45 AM at the Shady Lady Ranch Brothel in Petticoat Junction (also known as Scotty’s Junction, Nevada), so I didn’t stop to solicit marriage advice.

After enduing 400 miles (643 km) of creosote bush desert, followed by sagebrush desert, it was refreshing to reach Fallon, NV, a verdant valley of corn, alfalfa, and cattle. I by-passed Reno and at 941 miles (1500 km) I crossed into the golden state of California. I skirted the Sierra Nevada range for over 50 miles (80 km). The Honey Lake Rest Area is probably the prettiest roadside stop I’ve ever used. Not just the mountains on my left and grassland on my right, but the flowering plants around the “necessary” building were so colorful and artistic. It justified taking a couple photos, of a bathroom stop!

I hit the Oregon state line at 5:44 PM (17:44) and stopped for a bite to eat at a café. I’d finally arrived for my first visit to the Beaver State.

A couple weeks earlier I’d written my pen pal in Bly, Oregon to expect me about 8 PM (20:00). She lives 10 miles (16 km) from town, up a mountain road. I drove up to her house after 1195 miles (1923 km), at 7:52 PM (19:52) and apologized for being 8 minutes early. Within 5 minutes of my arrival I was attacked by a squadron of mosquitoes. I haven’t seen mosquitoes like that in years. Welcome to Oregon!

For the next few days I enjoyed true hospitality. I was escorted around the area by various conveyances. I met her friends Cindy and Dave, who are horse lovers like us. We visited the memorial at the Mitchell Recreation area, site of the only fatalities on the mainland US due to enemy action in WWII. In May 1945 a Japanese balloon bomb detonated when a young Sunday School teacher and her class of 5 children accidentally exploded the curious device. Today, as it probably was in 1945, the site is a peaceful grove of majestic Ponderosa Pine in the Fremont National Forest.

The small town of Bly (population about 400) sits in a scenic valley surrounded by cattle ranches. Irrigation encourages the rich green alfalfa hay fields and pastures full of Black Angus graze contentedly in large numbers.

We explored part of the 100 mile (160 km) long rails-to-trails project, the OC & E State Trail. Rhonda has traveled the majority of this well-maintained path mainly used by hikers, cyclists and equestrians. I found an old railroad spike for a souvenir!

On Wednesday August 19, Rhonda packed a picnic lunch and we left at 9:20 AM for Crater Lake National Park. We stopped in Chiloquin for gas where I paid $2.99 a gallon, the most costly gas on my entire trip. I also learned that it is illegal to “pump your own” gas in Oregon. It seemed odd to have an attendant doing the honors when I have pumped my own fuel for 37 years.
After a scenic 150 miles (240 km) we arrived at the Park Visitor Center and took in the obligatory Park Video for orientation. Then we drove off in a clockwise fashion on the 33 mile (53 km) rim drive, circling the caldera.

About 7700 years ago Mount Mazama erupted and collapsed, then filled with rainwater and snowmelt. At 5 miles (8 km) across and ringed by cliffs nearly 2000 feet (610 m) high, we marveled at the awesome blue lake, the deepest in the US.

Rhonda found a handy fallen log so we sat to eat our picnic with a $10 million view. I slid on the log and heard a ripping sound --- the seat of my pants had torn! Fortunately they were beige pants and white underwear so not very noticeable!

At Kern Notch we hiked ¼ mile (0.4 km) to the Phantom Ship overlook. The “ship” being a small rocky outcrop. Everywhere we stopped to view the lake we were awed by that intense blue color, probably the deepest blue I’ve ever seen in nature.

The weather was a perfect sunny summer day at the 8000 feet (2438 m) level of Crater Lake, but back in the shadows of Gearheart Mountain in eastern Klamath County the daytime heat was oppressive. I had forgotten that even places that receive snow in winter measured in feet rather than inches, can have toasty summer days.

Despite the heat, it was sad to leave Rhonda’s. I so enjoyed her home, the gardens, the pine-studded acres, her horses, cats, dogs, but mostly Rhonda and her husband, down-to-earth folks, decent and unpretentious Americans.

Day 6 (21 August)

After driving west for only an hour, I pulled into one of the ubiquitous Towne Pump gas stations in Klamath Falls. Heading north I skirted the eastern shore of blue Upper Klamath Lake for 18 miles (29km). Another 20 miles (32 km) later I stopped at Collier State Park on the Williamson River. One of the largest displays of antique logging equipment in the world are collected here in the shade of mature Ponderosa and Lodgepole Pines. Also displayed were detailed life-sized wood log carvings of bears in realistic poses.

Still further north I lunched in a locally run La Pine, OR restaurant. A mushroom burger was garnished with homegrown lettuce and tomato. I eschew franchise burger joints for just this reason: local flavor!

Early in the afternoon I came to Newberry National Volcanic Monument, 10 miles (16 km) south of Bend, OR. I took my little LED flashlight and headed down the trail into the Lava River Cave. The temperature plummeted (to the constant 42° or 5°C) and daylight quickly vanished. My weak light barely illuminated the uneven path into the mile long lava tube. After a short time I carefully returned to the surface since my left knee began to loudly announce it was in distress. So I resolved that on my next visit here I would explore more of this geologically active preserve of cinder cones, and lava and obsidian flows.

At 3 PM (15:00) I stopped at the Peter Ogden Scenic Lookout to peer into the 300 foot (91 m) deep gorge of the Crooked River. From under the railroad bridge I noticed my first view of snowy mountain peaks.

The land became more desert-like again as I headed northwest on US 26 across the Warm Springs Indian Reservation. This sparsely settled 1000 square miles (2600 km²) is home to a confederation of 3 tribes: the Wasco, the Warm Springs and the Paiute people.

As I neared the far side of the reservation I arrived at a serious traffic accident. A truck had overturned and debris was scattered across both lanes of the 2 lane road. Fortunately the driver only suffered minor injuries. A couple US Navy sailors in uniform attended to him. But the road was totally blocked and would be for hours. Due to the remote and desolate landscape I was at a loss on how to proceed. Then a local man offered to lead me and a couple others around on a 46 mile detour. So after an extra hour, and a roller coaster trip across more of the Warm Springs Indian Reservation than I wanted to see, I continued on toward a scenic transverse of the Cascade Range.

After traveling 1733 miles (2788 km) from home I crossed the 45th parallel, the halfway point between the North Pole and the Equator.

Mt Hood grew larger and larger to my right. At 11293 feet (3442 meters), it is the highest point in Oregon and is graced by permanent snowfields. A plethora of ski areas crowded near Government Camp when I paused to visit a busy restroom, nowhere near as neat as the California rest area but much more heavily used.

Then I began a descent of a couple dozen miles toward the largest city in Oregon. After 1800 miles (2896 km) I joined the Friday night traffic in Portland, OR. The congestion eased as I drove the long I-205 bridge over the wide Columbia River into Washington State. The sun was setting as I stopped at the Vancouver Shopping Mall to replace my torn pants with a new pair of tough Lee jeans.

After a rendezvous with my stepson Adam and his new bride Rebecca, I was shown into one of the numerical neighborhoods of the city of Vancouver and to their neat and modern semi-detached home.

Their roommate Leah wore an Oregon university shirt and I sadly picked the wrong school when I assumed her mascot was the Ducks (Eugene, OR: University of Oregon). She rolled her eyes and I realized she was an Oregon State University “Beaver” (Corvallis, OR). Oops! This is similar to the Arizona situation of the ASU Sun Devils (Tempe - Phoenix, AZ) versus the University of Arizona Wildcats (Tucson, AZ). One must never confuse the two!

Day 7 (22 August)

I departed on Saturday morning after an enjoyable visit with family and fortified with a great breakfast, complete with outstanding Pacific Northwest coffee. “We’re somewhat particular over our coffee up here,” Adam said. I’m glad. It was mmmm good!

I backed out of their driveway then went left, right, left, right, … on 60th, 61st, 58th… I lost count as the numbers circled round and never added up, each neighborhood resembling the mathematically named previous one. Somehow I made it back to I-205 and re-crossed the Columbia River back into Oregon. From now on, I’d be traveling east.

Weekends mean large crowds so I skipped the popular Multnomah Falls. The 620 foot (189 m) tall cascade is the second tallest in the US.

Just before noon I stopped at Bonneville Dam. It’s a US Army Corps of Engineers project that encompasses a lock, hydroelectric dams and the Bradford Island Visitors Center where I viewed fish ladders from the top and underwater. Through thick viewing windows real wild Coho and Chinook Salmon and Steelhead Trout were making their way up river in the steps that by-pass the lock and dams. So thrilling to be close to these ancient sea creatures as they migrated far, far from the ocean.

The Interstate Highway continued to hug the river through the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area. I passed more dams and locks, more fish ladders. I saw tugboats pushing barges on the broad river. The surrounding land began to flatten and dry out. Finally at the John Day Dam, 216 miles (347 km) from the ocean, the “Scenic Area” ended and dozens of huge, white, green-energy producing windmills appeared on the brown hills.

Near where the great Columbia turns north and is fed by the Snake and Yakima Rivers, I also turned north and left the Beaver State and re-entered the Evergreen State in the tawny hills of the Walla Walla onion-growing region. The blue sky tinted a fine brown color. Could there be a wildfire? No. It was top soil, tossed aloft by agricultural activity.

Discolored skies are not unusual here as testified by a sign near tiny Lind, Washington. The traveler was invited to “Drop in! Mt St Helens did!” referring to the ash from the historic and deadly May 1980 eruption. Located far off in western Washington, the Mt St Helens volcano killed 57 people and sent ash spewing into 8 states.

As Interstate 90 approaches Spokane, the elevation increases and the evergreen trees proliferate again. Although I didn’t stop, the city of 200,000 looked attractive.

A mere dozen minutes later I crossed into the Gem State, now in Idaho after driving 2195 miles (3532 km).
After the inevitable commercial area of the city of Coeur d’Alene, the highway gave tantalizing views of a gem body of water: Lake Coeur d’Alene. Twenty-Two miles (35 km) into Idaho I finally found a tent site at the private Wolf Lodge Campground. The $22 fee for a square of grass and a picnic table took me aback, but it was getting dark and I prefer making camp in daylight. I cooked my can of Chef Boyardee Spaghetti and Meatballs, strolled the grounds passed a few dozen luxury diesel bus recreation vehicles, and turned in for the night inside my little dome tent.

Day 8 (23 August)

One advantage to a private campground are the amenities. In the pre-dawn darkness I enjoyed a hot shower! Then I cooked breakfast and broke camp. I dialed my sister in Rochester NY for a chat since the next part of my journey would take me into a remote National Park, clearly beyond cell phone towers.

I reentered I-90 heading for Montana and at (4725 feet or 1440m) Look Out Pass crossed into the Treasure State at 9:00 AM. Within half an hour I exited the 4 lane divided highway for a more leisurely 2 lane road at St. Regis. I stopped at a gift store for gas and postcards. I also bought a 16 ounce (.473 liter) jar of Wild Huckleberry Jelly produced in Hungry Horse, Montana. Huckleberries are a wild cousin of the blueberry that do not do well in cultivation. Wild bears are famous for eating them which explains the warning the jar label carries: “Caution - Be Careful Eating This Product In Bear Country.”

In traveling east through Lolo National Forest and then across the pleasant Flathead Indian Reservation, I spotted brown bison grazing the hillsides of the National Bison Range. Bison are colloquially known as “Buffalo.”

At the south end of beautiful Flathead Lake I slowly drove through the busy resort town of Polson. Boats, jet skis, modern condos, nice. This was most unlike the other desolate Indian Reservations I had seen. Up the western shore of this vacationland lake I drove in the delightful 75° (24°C) mid-day sun.

In Kalispell, a town that tourists swell beyond their usual 20,000 residents, I stocked up on food at a large Smith’s grocery store. Prices were similar to home which surprised me, way up here in Northwestern Montana. I hoped to spend 3 or 4 days in Glacier Park so I packed my ice chest, filled up with gas and headed up to the park’s West Entrance.

Glacier National Park is gorgeous! I arrived at campsite C141 in the Fish Creek Campground at 3:00PM (15:00). After pitching my tent among the thick fir trees, I went foraging for firewood up the Inside North Fork Road. A mile (1.6 km) beyond the campground a wildfire had been halted, so there lay acres and acres of potential campfire wood. I had a small hand ax. But after laboriously chopping one small log and attracting the neighborhood mosquitoes, I altered strategy and picked up only small fuel wood. Ferns, flowers and mosses grew abundantly as the ecosystem marched to recovery. Clambering over the fallen timber started to aggravate my knee so I took my paltry collection back to camp.

From camp I went exploring the Rocky Point Nature Trail of 1.5 miles (2.4 km) that followed the shore of Lake McDonald (elevation 3153 feet or 961 m). I met fishermen on the gravelly sand shore. I followed the trail uphill. My knee ached but I marched on, snapping pictures of flowers, fruiting berry bushes, glimpses of glaciers on peaks across the lake. Eventually my stroll headed downhill. Within a few steps I was gasping. My left knee pain was intense. Well, I was in a fine pickle! A half mile (0.8 km) from my campsite and each baby step like a knife blade jamming up my leg. After considerable time I hobbled to my tent, briefly rested, then made dinner.

The Evening Program at the campground amphitheater was at 7:00PM (19:00) and I determined not to miss it, so I drove there. The park Ranger led an enjoyable talk on geology but my leg did not stop throbbing.

That night I kindled a campfire and pondered my options. I’d just driven 2500 miles (4023 km) to visit this special place, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. But my mobility was now, inconveniently, compromised.

Day 9 (24 August)

Another beautiful day dawns as I strike my tent. I started east into the morning sun on the Going-To-The-Sun Road. A few minutes later traffic slowed and some cars had parked along a non-descript wooded road section. I followed suit and took my camera to the lakeshore. A lone moose swam a few yards offshore. Just when I anticipated she’d reach shore for an awesome photo… a couple clueless people spotted the animal and LOUDLY exclaimed: “Look! A Moose! There it is!” and the largest member of the deer family steered her swim further away. Oh well.

I stopped to walk the (handicap accessible) 0.7 mile (1.1 km) Trail of the Cedars near Avalanche Creek campground. I felt refreshed, strolling among the Western Cedars, mostly on a comfortable boardwalk that protected the rare environment. Typical of the more humid Pacific Northwest, the cedars, ferns, club mosses, the water trickling down a rock wall fit one of the three ecological life zones that exist side by side in Glacier Park. The others being the northern forest/alpine region, and the American prairie. From a footbridge over Avalanche Creek I marveled at the blue-green waters rushing over Avalanche Falls.

Driving along McDonald Creek I glimpsed more treeless peaks with white icing. Heaven’s Peak, 8987 ft (2739 m). The road began to rise, up into cooler air. After a hairpin turn at the Loop, I was now headed southeast toward Logan Pass, and passed the Weeping Wall. Suddenly I was stopped in traffic. Road construction is a necessary evil. And in these high elevations, which close in winter due to impossible snow, the work must proceed simultaneously with thousands of visitors. I took advantage of the halt to get out of my car and snap photos of the McDonald Creek valley which look like aerial shots! Eventually I resumed crawling along the narrow but endlessly scenic road until around a bend, there was Logan Pass, 6642 feet (2025 m). I arrived early enough to get parking as summer mid-days can get very crowded on this renowned point on the Continental Divide. The only problem? My scrawled journal notes say: “Knee very bad.”

In embarrassment I parked in the handicapped reserved section, and limped up the steps to the Visitor’s Center. The view from the pleasantly heated building was incredible. I bought a boatload of postcards. Then I gingerly stepped out into the refreshing air to survey the 3 mile ( 4.8 km) round-trip trail to the glacier’s edge. It was so near. It’d be so easy. I could see a hundred people were already hiking out there. But no. They’d have to carry me back I thought. So sadly I remained there, snapping pictures. Despite not being able to go and do what I planned, it was so awesome that one could not be depressed. The green meadow, the alpine flowers, the soaring peaks, the white snow, the splashing creeks. This was the pinnacle of my park experience.

Next I drove down 2000 feet (609 m) in elevation, stopping at overlooks to gaze at rocky 9000 to 10000 feet (2700 to 3050 m) peaks holding Jackson Glacier, Blackfeet Glacier, Sperry Glacier. At Sunrift Gorge a small but powerful creek rushed a short shoot from Going-to-the-Sun Mountain (9642 ft, 2938 m), under the road and into Saint Mary Lake. The amazing water color, the rocks, the lush trees, made a simple stream a magnet for a steady flow of people seeking the nourishment of raw nature.

At 3:00PM (15:00) I reached the Rising Sun Campground on Saint Mary Lake and pitched my tent in site 30. When I finished I had to lay down and wait for the analgesic pill to work because I nearly fainted from knee pain. Later I went for a slow stroll. Saw a peacefully grazing mule deer doe. At the lakeshore I contemplated a cruise on the lake. The ticket agent seemed eternally bored as she monotoned “22 dollars” for the boat ride. It would not involve walking but being cramped in a small wooden boat might not be the best idea. Maybe next time.

Back at my tent I cooked supper. And inadvertently overheard the drama next door as Mary and Rusty from Seattle searched frantically for the keys to their Jeep vehicle. Raised voices: “How could you lose them? They are The Most Important Thing!” Poor folks.

I got in the car and headed up to a high scenic lookout point above the lake. I parked and began to write a few postcards as the day slowly ebbed. I heard a stone clatter off the cliff behind me. Turning I saw a very black Black Bear step under a tree and, how do I say this politely? - he had a bowel movement. I scrambled for my camera as he trotted away. For some people the birds sing; for me the bears crap. What can I say?

Back at camp I lit a fire, made a cup of tea. A Ranger came to inform the relieved couple that their keys had been found on the lake boat and turned in in town 5 miles (8 km) away. They were able to relax, light their campfire and he brought out his guitar and sang. “Your Momma Don’t Dance and Your Daddy Don’t Rock and Roll.” Then a song glorifying marijuana smoking. He was really quite good. Before bedtime the ranger returned with their lost keys. Peace fell over the Rising Sun Campground, which was very quiet, despite being full to capacity.

Day 10 (25 August)

After a great night’s sleep in my tent, I was able to strike camp and continue down the north side of the long slender glacier-carved St Mary Lake. I walked down a short path to the shore and spoke to a hopeful fisherman, took pictures of the triple divide and picked a handful of huckleberries. Triple Divide Peak is an 8020 foot (2444 m) peak where a single theoretical raindrop could split into thirds. Part shedding off to the Pacific, part spilling off to the Atlantic, and the cold hardy part sliding off to the Arctic Ocean. At the (east) St. Mary entrance to the park I purchased a last handful of postcards.

Ubiquitous on all sections of the Going-To-The-Sun Road were modern shuttle buses as well as the antique “red jammers.” These vintage motor coaches built in 1936- 1939 were recently retrofitted by Ford to run on propane. They are a wise ecological choice for people wishing to avoid driving the twisty road and wanting to give their whole attention to the scenery. Even the canvas top of the 17- passenger bright red vehicle rolls back for unfettered vistas.

At 2557 miles (4115 km) I left the Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park (although I failed to make it into Canada to see the contiguous International part of the park). I sped across the rolling hills decorated with oak trees and grazing cattle. This was the Blackfeet Indian Reservation. Beyond the reservation town of Browning the land became prairie. I turned east on a secondary road, Route 44 and passed through the agricultural town of Valior and then intersected with Interstate Highway 15.

At 75 MPH (120 KPH), the 22 miles (35 km) to Conrad MT flew by. I used a convenience store to rest and phone my pen pal Carol in nearby Brady MT. I left a message on her voice mail. Anxious I returned to the Interstate but was soon relieved to get a return call. Connection made!

I met my friend at the Mountain View Collins 110 Shuttle grain elevator. She was driving a big white Chevy C 60 truck loaded with wheat. Possibly 10 tons! It was tested, weighed and dumped and I rode along to the field where the men were combining. I was delighted to be offered a seat in a modern green JD combine for a few trips around the field. I got a close look at the process of cutting, threshing (separating the grain and the chaff), and expelling the residue (straw) of the wheat harvest.

Then Carol and I headed home to clean up. We went out to meet her impressive horse herd. In an amazing coincidence I discovered her home is at exactly the same elevation above sea level as my own home, 3170 feet (966 m). How unlikely is that?

The day had been hot so when I checked my food in the car, I found it warming up dangerously. And unexpectedly my stick of deodorant had liquefied! I needed ice.

So for dinner, Kevin, his father Ray, and we two gals headed the 50 miles (80 km) to Great Falls (a city of 56,000) for a lovely meal and lots of laughs. At the local superstore I picked up a block of ice for my ice chest and a new solid deodorant.

I had no trouble falling asleep in Carol’s comfortable air-conditioned home, although I did wake up once with my knee aching.

Day 11 (26 August)

After tea and cereal, pleasant conversation, photos and sad farewells, I hit the road. Only a bit over 1400 miles (2253 km) to home. I would make it in 2 days in order to see my doctor on Friday.

First stop was Great Falls again, for a coffee hit. Then I would head south on I-15 for a total of 777 miles (1250 km). One road. All day. Three states.

In Montana I passed through the Big Belt Mountains, over the Missouri River, I saw antelope. I stopped in the historic mining town of Butte for lunch. Chicken fried steak with peppered milk gravy. It is a western regional favorite and resembles Wiener Schnitzel.

I crossed the Idaho state line again. This time it was 3:40PM (15:40) and at 3080 total miles (4956 km). I saw volcanic rock again. And unique storage buildings covered by sod! Possibly potato storage as I saw the sign for the Potato Museum. Irrigation sprinklers shot sparkling water high over deep green alfalfa fields. I phoned my husband, my sister, my brother, my cousin, but got their voice mail. Nobody was home to help me pass the time. What luck! Then I drove over Molad Pass and into Utah, the Beehive State. It was 5:30 (17:30) and I’d driven 3197 miles (5145 km).

I could see an arm of the Great Salt Lake. Boats! I watched a V-shaped flock of birds winging toward the lake. Then, there was traffic. I inched through Salt Lake City. I overpaid for gas in Provo, UT. Finally I emerged from the congestion. Cities, yuck!

The sun set at 8 PM (20:00). The speed limit increased to 80 MPH (128 KPH) but I wasn’t planning to drive an unfamiliar rural highway at that high speed.

After 13 ½ hours I exited I-15. In the dark I drove slower and slower. Finally I stopped to rest at 10:34 (22:34) after logging 814 miles (1310 km) this day. The sign at the Rest Area said no overnight camping. But I wasn’t camping. I simply pulled out my pillow, reclined my seat and grabbed 6 hours of sleep.

Day 12 (27 August)

I awoke in the dark at 5:00AM (05:00), 44° (7°C) - cool at last! I drove 77 miles (124 km) to Bryce Canyon National Park where I set up a picnic breakfast to greet sunrise at Sunset Point! It was quite chilly at 8000 feet (2438 m) at that hour but as the morning sun illuminated the amphitheater, I warmed to the red rock scenery. Hoodoos, pillars of fantastic shapes went on row after row. It’s amazing what wind and water can sculpt. The Paiute Indians who lived here called the shapes the Legend People that Coyote had turned to stone.

Despite my knee that protested every step, I went to three overlooks and enjoyed the scenic points unexpectedly near a large group of German-speaking tourists. At the visitor center I bought more postcards and decided to prematurely leave after only getting a brief taste of the colorful geologic sights here. I left at 8:45AM (08:45), passing a small herd of deer snacking at the side of the road and stalling a handful of cars as we all gawked at the ruminants, rarely so near to observe.

At 11:30 AM (11:30) I crossed into Arizona and it became 10:30 because the Grand Canyon State does not participate in Daylight Savings Time.

I spent a half hour admiring the 583 foot (177m) tall, concrete arch Glen Canyon Dam that impounds 185 miles (297 km) of water called Lake Powell. I re-crossed the cold Colorado River and paused in Page, AZ to buy gas. Then as I climbed away from the river valley I entered the great Navajo Nation. The reservation is so big, that it takes 2 hours to cross it non-stop on its shortest side. It is 16 million acres or a bit bigger than the state of West Virginia.

In Flagstaff AZ I had to creep through road construction on Lake Mary Road that I kept calling Lake St Mary, confusing it with the Glacier Park lake. Though both lakes are long and narrow, Arizona’s Lake Mary is a shadow of a lake, the lower part is regularly dry, empty due to drought.

Finally I was wheeling across the White Mountains. Almost home although still over 4 hours distant. As I passed above Mormon Lake I looked down on a herd of 200 elk, more wildlife than I’d seen in 7 other states. I had a picnic lunch near Happy Jack, AZ. Although I was in Arizona’s cool high country, I remained in the shade of a Pine as even here the heat was penetrating.

My final gas was self-pumped (unlike in Oregon) in Globe, AZ for 2 cents more per gallon than I had paid at this same store 12 days earlier. Still the cheapest fuel of my trip.

I couldn’t help but smile when “my” mountain came into view, still an hour from home.

After 4115 miles (6622 km) I pulled into my driveway. It was 7 PM (19:00) and sunset. Another great adventure ended. Most of the trip I was battling the heat. It was August though. But now I was safely home, with one good knee. It would have been worse, of course, if I had never gone.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

The Beatles and Me

John, Paul, George, and Ringo shook the world.

In my youth I was an adoring fan of the Beatles. I bought singles, trading cards and a couple vinyl LP albums. It shouldn't surprise me that young people today are discovering the talented Fab Four. After all, I have a stepson who is an Elvis impersonator. But I never liked the old Standards music of my parents and grandparents so it seems astonishing that 40 year old music should be a hit again. They have just released The Beatles: Rock Band game and the digitally remastered song catalog of 16 CD's of Beatles music. And it is selling well.

I think the Beatles came at such a historic time that it was inevitable that they would move with lightning speed from I Wanna Hold Your Hand to I Am the Walrus. The youth of the world suddenly had a voice and it was screaming. At times, quiet revolutionaries must step aside for their more vocal brothers.

Myself, I moved like a tie-dyed butterfly from one potential solution to another, in politics, in religion. Over the years I circled back to the faith and politics of my forefathers. But it is a transformed spirituality and a progressive bureaucracy, manned by many children of the Beatles era, and we work toward that iconic Vision. You may say I'm a dreamer, but I'm not the only one.

Friday, September 04, 2009

Dogs of August

In August 2009 I went on a trip to Oregon, Washington State, and Montana. I left behind my canine family members: Keesha, Buddy and Cricket; but I got to meet several new pooches.

In Oregon I met an Australian Cattle Dog named Levi. He was protective of his master and did try to nip me, but (fortunately) he has no teeth due to his age, so Levi grudgingly accepted me. Then there was Dolly, a Chihuahua. I like all dogs, but little, yappy lap dogs are not my favorites. The cream-colored Dolly though was an exceptional pup. She has had extensive obedience training and never once barked or did anything annoying. I was astonished.

In Washington State I met happy, goofy Levi (yes, another Levi, how amazing is that?). He was an 80 pound Chocolate Labrador who lived in an immaculate duplex home. Due to his size, Levi was hard to ignore, but very gregarious.

Finally there was Napolean, a good-sized Weimaraner. This big, grey boy had many toys and when his owner showed me his dog-house area, he immediately fetched me the guts of a recently killed rabbit. He was so proud! The owner was mortified. Then Napoleon proceeded to barf at my feet. I found it all hilarious and so typical doggie.

Dogs are a colorful part of life for many people, including myself. As I found out when I got home to find my Keesha had been sprayed by a skunk a few days earlier. God bless our dogs.

Sunday, May 03, 2009

Cold Camping, 16 to 18 April 2009

With our dog Keesha, Fred and I left home at mile mark 114 (183 km mark) at 11 AM to drive up to our 40 acres in northern Arizona. We stopped in Clifton at the old Train Depot to look at the railroad stuff and then proceeded up hill to the Morenci copper mine. Stopped for a photo. The mine geography changes every time we visit, mounds of earth moved, relocated, new deep holes dug in this enormous open pit mine. Even the very road (US Highway 191) is moved over here or over there.

Finally we drove up into the evergreen trees of Apache National Forest (the White Mountains) and stopped at Cherry Lodge picnic site for lunch. The namesake Cherry trees were displaying their pink blooms. Little information is available to explain why there are these few domesticated fruit trees in this wilderness.

We continued driving up the very crooked Coronado Trail, scenic but one of the twistiest roads in the US. Over 400 switchbacks over the 123 mile (197 km.) route.

When we passed Rose Peak which is 8786 feet, (2678 meters), (and a peak we can see from our house), we began to note snow piles in the shady woods, remnants of winter. To our delight we stopped to watch a small herd of Mule Deer grazing near the road. After another 100+ curves in the road, we finally arrived above 9000 feet (2743 m.) at Blue Vista, a lookout point with nothing but wilderness to see. The road straightens a bit as it goes north in the high country of fir and Ponderosa Pine trees. Finally we traveled through the scenic mountain town of Alpine, then up across another mountain pass next to 10900 foot, 3322 m. Escudilla Mountain. Finally descending to grassland at Springerville and St. John’s. Near there we saw outcroppings along the road of the Chinle formation, which is the main soil type of the Painted Desert. It gives slim pickings for the cattle range that is the main use of the hundreds of square miles of this sparsely populated part of Eastern Arizona. Chinle has a remarkable variety of color, from grey, to blue, to red, and shades in between.

Elevation begins to rise as we continued north up on the Colorado Plateau. Junipers and cedar trees predominated. And at the 339 mile (545 km) mark on Highway 191 we reached the turn off to our wilderness retreat. It is a slow 5 miles (8 km.) of 4-wheel drive only to reach our acreage. But it is worth the trouble. A spectacular view to the north of ridge after ridge of treed wilderness, and nothing but wilderness in every other direction too. No houses, no roads, no man-made sounds. At night: no lights, just stars…

After driving up our “driveway” and I use that term very loosely, we set up camp where we always do, a level spot with a tremendous view. Quickly Fred got the fire going as the temperature was dropping precipitously. The forecast had warned it might dip below freezing and it sure felt like it. A hurried supper prepared on a gas stove that would not cooperate, and piling more wood on the fire as it got colder and colder, until finally I decided to go to bed to get cozy. I had no idea how cold it would get…

This was the dog’s first overnight camping experience and she tentatively crept into the tent. She started to make herself at home on Fred’s side of the sleeping bag so I had to teach her that she had to lay on the other side of me. Sadly she curled up outside the sleeping bag.

I slept right through, 8 hours and woke with the first light, before 6 AM. It felt cold, but I didn’t realize how cold until I got outside the tent. The tent fabric was iced, the car was coated in frost, the dog’s water dish was frozen solid. I checked the thermometer and it was 18° (-9°C) Whoooaaaaa cold! We quickly relit the campfire from the embers of the last night’s fire. Fred fixed the cranky camp stove and we had hot coffee and I had hot oatmeal as fast as possible. Fred put the dog’s plastic water bowl near the fire. I thought it was a bad idea, but it did start to thaw the water, and then the plastic began to melt… After that the dog had a sick looking bowl, but it still held water.

After breakfast the sky began to look threatening. Grey clouds were rolling in from the north. Then sure enough, it began to snow. Fortunately it was just a brief storm.

After the snowfall we decided to go on a hike. It is just over a mile (1.7 km) to a very old, but still working windmill that pumps water for the cattle and wildlife in the area. We walked due west according to our little Garmin GPS. The wind and cold continued so even walking didn’t warm us up too much. After photos and finding a pile of blue feathers, the remains of an unfortunate bird, we headed back and slogging through the sand made it feel like longer than that mile or so. Our warm sweet-smelling juniper wood campfire was a welcome sight.

The wind constantly blew at a strong rate. So I spent most of the day near the fire. In the afternoon I did some target shooting with our nice Italian-made Gamo .177 caliber air rifle. I’m a fair marksman if I do say so myself.

I spent the day collecting a few pottery shards from the prehistoric pueblo people that used to live in this area. Then I read a book about Søren Kierkegaard as I sat near the fire. And also did a few yoga poses on a blanket in the lee of the fire. Too cold to get far from the fire!

For supper I made hamburgers over the open fire. I timed the meal so it was finished before darkness fell because the previous night it was difficult to maneuver in the cold and by the light of the Coleman lantern.

We sat by the fire for a long time, as the wind had calmed and the stars were out, although it was still getting chilly. The dog had learned how to sit close to the warmth, overcoming her initial fearfulness of the flames.

After another long sleep I woke the next morning to a balmy 28° (-3°) The sun was bright and the temperature shot up fast so that by the time we left at 11 AM, it was shirt-sleeve weather.
After re-tracing our 5 mile (8 km.) route on the sand road, or road suggestion (!), we turned north on Highway 191 to Sanders, a small town of 500 in the southeast corner of the great Navajo Indian Reservation. Bought a tasty Navajo Taco at a lunch stand and then preceded west on Interstate 40. After 30 miles (42 km.) I exited the highway at the Painted Desert.

A semi-circular road takes one past the gift shop and one of two official visitor centers, then past eight overlooks. We stopped at Chinde Point for lunch on this beautiful afternoon. The colors of the chinle formations are so amazing. They change with the time of day and the cloud cover. I was most impressed by the variety of reds, a result of iron oxidation.

On down the road we went, driving over Interstate 40 again, then across a great grassland where we stopped to observe a herd of 11 pronghorn antelope. Animals are protected within the boundaries of a National Park, so these were lucky antelope indeed.

We drove over the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway line and then passed into the petrified logs section of the Petrified Forest National Park. We stopped at Newspaper Rock which gave an overview of several cliffside rocks containing 650 petroglyphs. There are eight places to stop and explore various fossils, an archeological site and many types of petrified logs. We didn’t tarry long as time was slipping away. But did stop to take each other’s picture next to a couple huge fossil logs.

When we entered the Park, a ranger bagged and tied a chunk of petrified wood that I had picked up on our land. Cars are subject to search if there is suspicion that a visitor is stealing pieces of petrified wood or other antiquities from the Park. With a million visitors to the Petrified Forest every year - if everyone just took one piece… it wouldn’t take long before there was no “Forest” left to see.

After buying a boatload of postcards and a couple books in the Petrified Forest Visitor Center, we left the Park and headed south. In St. John’s we called Fred’s son to go and feed our animals since we were still so far from home and it was 4 PM. While driving back up into the White Mountains we saw a small herd of Elk. Then we stopped in Alpine to eat supper at the Bear Wallow Café. From there I chose to drive the straighter route south through New Mexico, more miles, but easier, no hairpin bends. Just before full dark, we passed a handful of Javelina (or Collard Peccary) on the side of the road. And it was 10 PM when we finally turned into our driveway.

We had seen so many wild animals, beautiful vistas, petrified wood, mountains and grasslands, snow and sun. Once home, it was just nice to get a shower and clean off that smoky campfire smell. And find a jammed mailbox of letters and postcards for me!

Friday, April 10, 2009

Outback Adventure In My Backyard

We had the whole day on April 6 to leisurely drive the 85 miles (136 km) or so around our 10,800 foot (3300 meter) “sky island” - so called because it is such a tall peak, set amid the usual Sonoran desert landscape. The experts say that traveling up to the top of Mt Graham is like moving from Mexico to Canada in biological life zones. But this day we intended to spend in the grassland zone at the highland base.

After picking up a couple Subway sandwiches and filling up with gas, the husband, the dog and I left town in our Toyota RAV4 for a day in very remote parts of Graham county. We turned south on unpaved Klondyke Road at Eden, Arizona and about 10 miles (16 km) out came to the site of the 1889 Wham paymaster robbery that netted thieves a half million in gold and silver coin. It was intended to be paid out at nearby Fort Thomas and at Fort Apache on the White River in the White Mountains. Three good Army mules died in the attack, but fortunately for the 12 Buffalo soldiers guarding the wagon train only 8 men sustained non-fatal wounds. Sadly Major Wham’s Army career suffered badly from this incident although it was hardly his fault. The road passed through a defile, or narrow rocky passage that was perfect for an ambush. The bandits had the advantage of higher ground, defensive works, repeating rifles, secrecy and surprise. However 7 “cowboys” were arrested and tried for the crime but all were found innocent by the jury. It was a great sensational trial and the embarrassment of the authorities at being unable to have safe passage in Graham County led to less than favorable opinions when it came to admitting Arizona to the Union as a state. Statehood was delayed for years as a direct result of this lawless incident, the ambush at Bloody Run.

We proceeded down Klondyke Road and explored up Cedar Springs Road. Ate lunch up in a jumble of giant Granite boulders that look as if a giant child was playing with rocks and got tired or bored and left everything a hodgepodge. Small caves and narrow passages create a marvelous place to play hide and seek.

Next we drove down into Aravaipa Canyon, causing a deer to stop and give us a look, which we repaid. But mostly we saw cattle. Brown cattle, red cattle, and lots of black cattle. Calves, cows, and several bulls - a couple who reluctantly moved off the road for us.

We explored up Forest Road 672 which would have been the route of the Army wagons took after leaving Fort Grant that May 11th 1889, nearly 120 years ago. Discovered a nicely built animal water tank with a constant flow of clean, clear mountain water. Snow is melting off Mt Graham so despite the drought in the lower elevations, plenty of refreshment can be channeled into catchments for cattle and wildlife. I went to wash my hands from eating an orange when my dog decided to honor her herding heritage and she went after a couple mama cows and calves. It is beyond me why a 500 pound (226 kg) cow runs for her life when pursued by a 50 pound (22 kg) dog.

We drove through the tiny old ranching settlement of Bonita, Arizona and then headed up on a paved road through Stockton Pass on the south side of Mt Graham. At a level area the Forest Service maintains a pleasant picnic and campsite at the 5700 foot (1740 meter) level where we stopped for a snack of strawberries and bananas. It’s grassy with mature Juniper and Oak trees and so scenic because it’s up close to the steep mountain flank that rises to 9,000 feet (2740 meters) right above you.

From there it is a downhill road back to our little rancho on the east side of Mt Graham. Back to civilization.

Sunday, February 22, 2009


The following account is a short fiction:


His words came back to me now, "Watch out for quicksand." I felt the tightening grip on my feet, my legs. So far from the trail I trotted off, to answer the call of nature. How ironic. Was this now nature's last word?

Vaguely I recalled I was supposed to swim, but with only my legs, well, now my knees?

I hoped this wasn't very deep as I struggled. I tried to recall which side of a creek was the deepest. Can't recall. Outside of the bend? Inside? I'm probably in the deepest part. It's my luck, or destiny.

Now at my waist, I can see the world rising higher above me. At a child's height this wilderness looks more ominous. The leaves whisper as I struggle. Can anything be more foreboding than the level reaching my chest?

Nobody around to witness me. I went hiking alone in this lovely lush Utah riparian area. And it is a deep creek bed, crowded with vegetation. All factors that absorb sound. Absorb breath. I yell anyway. It sounds...useless.

I live 50 years and this is it? No fanfare except the fanning of my arms as it reaches my neck.

Oh God, it's a vulture overhead! The sun is right in my eyes now as I look downstream. Mamas don't let your babies grow up to be hikers. Crazy thoughts like this race through my head. When was the last time someone died by quicksand in the US?

It feels like I've been stuck in this gooey, sticky mud for hours. I'm cold, cold and really, really stuck. Darkness is coming; I'm exhausted. They'll find me tomorrow. Just follow the vultures. I'll probably make the National news.

Is that the sky starting to lighten? Am I dead or alive? Strong hands have a hold of body parts I am not even sure are mine anymore. It was a trial of endurance. So thankful they found me.

Later I died of pneumonia, but much, much later. It had that same suffocating feeling. But without the vultures.

Monday, February 02, 2009

Blacksmith Competition

Less than an hour away, in Willcox, Arizona, I went for 2 days to see the World Championship Blacksmith’s in action. They had about 40 iron hammering men from all over the USA competing at horseshoe making, and horse-shoeing. They had 10 semi-portable coal (or coke) burning forges running hot and the guys got the iron cherry red and hammered and hammered. Powerful biceps muscles were the norm. Are you listening single ladies?

I might add, my husband is a Blacksmith hobbyist. I bought him 2 bags of coke ( a processed coal product, not cocaine) - how romantic, huh?

One thing about handmade iron products. They don’t break, rip, tear, spoil, or rot. If kept in damp conditions they might rust away in couple or ten generations. Who cares by then?

The champion blacksmiths were judged by a panel of 4 or 5 men, one from Europe. I watched the British blacksmith demonstrating some forging techniques. But it was a man born in Alaska and now living in California who impressed me. He had iron bent into horse heads, birds, and flowers, as well as fine utility hammers and many other ornamental and useful items. What a master craftsman!

In the end, I think it was another California guy won the competition.

Strike while the iron is hot, has a solid foundational meaning.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Rain, Yoga, Oranges, and Fiction

A light rain is falling this morning. It's so welcome because it has been achingly dry for weeks. In fact I was in Tucson yesterday and the high temperature was 80° (26°C) and even after the sun went down it stayed very nice. This was a record breaking heat. (It is January after all, mid-winter!)

This is my trip to Tucson--

At a craft store I bought paper items for the homemade Valentine's cards I am making for friends. At a discount store I got a second pair of yoga pants for my new avocation. On sale $13. I paid twice that for my first pair. But when I went to pay for it, the cashier rang it up for $15. I told her it was on sale and there was a big delay, much fumbling around, button pushing, cancelling, refunding, on and on. I apologized to the person behind me in line. Finally I was charged $13. Finally. It took them a while to get on "Target".

I discovered a new-to-me grocery (Sunflower) that carries organic food, bulk items, and wonderful fresh produce. The apples and oranges are things of beauty. Oranges are in season in Arizona but possibly these come from the Imperial Valley of California, which is only 5 hours away. The Imperial Valley is probably the most intensely farmed region in the US, especially in winter.

Since I have become interested in a lap top and an iPod (or an MP3/4 player), I window-shopped for them, checked out what is on sale. It is tough to decide what I will like, never having had these items. So I am soliciting opinions from friends.

My reckless, spur of the moment purchase is a book written by a Norwegian, Per Petterson. Out Stealing Horses was on my "wish list" for a year and when I saw it at a special price, I could not resist. I need another book like another hole in my head. But for a European author of this generation, who has horses in his novel, well, I have a soft spot.

So this is the humdrum day in my life. Rain, yoga, oranges and fiction.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009


I started my spring semester class in Hatha Yoga. Now I wonder why I waited so long to do it. First class was mainly about breathing and what yoga is/isn't. I have my own yoga mat and I bought a pair of stretchy pants so I was prepared. My class is a mix of ages, experience and even has one man in it. He rides mules so I will have to engage him in equine conversation sometime.

My goal is to learn to listen better to my body and become more flexible and fluid. I am not really interested in being able to twist myself into a pretzel. But it would be very cool if I could one day do a full lotus.

For years I have tried to learn yoga from books and magazines. Today people think the Internet has all the answers. But there is something to be said for a pair of real eyes to guide one in a new direction. Similar to horseback riding, where one can learn to ride by themselves, but an observer can correct sloppy form by telling you that your stirrups are too short or your reins are too tight or you are leaning. Bad riding form does not always lead to falling off but it can give the horse a pain in the back! As for yoga, bad form is still yoga, but one will get more satisfaction and results if a knowledgeable observer can sharpen your movement.

I think I will go practice savasana.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

For Baby-Boomers

When the moon is in the seventh house
And Jupiter aligns with Mars
Then peace will guide the planets
And Love will steer the stars

How simple life was when we were living in the age of Aquarius. But what the Water-Bearer brought was more of the same. From peasant blouses and flowers in our hair, to a ponzi scheme that financially wiped out millions of people. The full moon shines down tonight. We are all equally guilty as we were all so equally naive. The moon is not the source of light, it merely reflects the sun. We have landed several probes on Mars. After the flower, child, comes the cold hard winter. It is best that we come together; for surely we will die apart.