Intelligent Beings


Tonight the program Nature on PBS asked questions about animal intelligence as compared to humans.  This list portrays some of the things I learned, some new, some I remembered from past readings or other Nature programs:

-A few other animals besides humans recognize themselves in a mirror.  This list includes elephants, dolphins, and chimps.  Actually, humans do not demonstrate this ability until they are about 18 months old.

-Only a few species studied demonstrate a sense of social justice.  If they think they are being treated unfairly, they get mad and sometimes have a little fit.  This includes monkeys and dogs.

-Only one species studied demonstrated overt altruistic behavior and a sense of social justice toward others, the bonobo.  Of course, others may but have not been studied yet. Notably this is the same species that resolves social tension and conflict with sex rather than fighting.

-Humans grieve.  Many other mammals grieve immediately after the deaf of a loved one, e.g. their own young offspring, but few recognize the bones of long deceased members of their species.  The exception is elephants.  Elephants not only recognize the bones of other elephants, they frequently nuzzle them with their trunks and stay with them a while.

-Dolphins may seek out help when they need help.  The program showed a diver who was not looking for dolphins at all.  A dolphin who had a fish line and hook stuck in his side approached the diver and managed to stay very still while the diver removed the hook.  This took nearly ten minutes.  Of course, no one knows whether the dolphin was actually seeking help or simply stayed still when help was available.

-Chimps possess another behavior similar to humans, the ability to purposefully deceive.  A less dominant chimp was shown where a banana was hidden from a window outside an enclosure.  She and a more dominant female chimp were released into the enclosure at the same time.  The first chimp did not rush to the food.  Oh,no.  She waited and watched, played it cool,  and when the other chimp wandered off to the other side,  ran and ate the banana.

It is difficult to get inside of the mind of other animals.  Anyone who has pets thinks they are smart or at least dogs and cats seem to demonstrate considerable intelligence.  Horses do as well.  And yes, I have seen horses grieve.  When one of my horses died in a terrible and rather bizarre accident a few years ago, the other horses stood for hours in the place where the deceased horse had died.  They did not even leave to eat their alfalfa, a food they loved and always ran to.

I even think animals, in particular mammals,  know when they are headed to slaughter.  I think those who kill them know this but to admit it would be too painful.  They certainly know the smell of blood.  It incites terror.  Certainly animals can suffer at the hands of cruel humans.  Do animals besides us deliberately hurt others for the sheer, sick pleasure of it?  If there is a study regarding this topic, I have yet to see it.  I wonder.

 

Earth Day


Sometimes when you love nature, the environment, wildlife, wild places, it is easy to become extremely discouraged.  News about the dramatic increase in poaching in Africa condoned by some governments there does little to help.  Data illustrating how the United States is a hub for wildlife trafficking, the push to kill wolves, big oil’s persistence to explore and open fields in the Arctic and other more delicate environments, water waste, climate change denial, a seemingly endless lists of negatives, can make one think about giving up.  The Colorado River is under siege.  The drought ridden Southwest of which I am a part has too many people fighting over too little water. The EPA just approved a new pesticide known to kill bees which are already disappearing, posing a huge threat to our food supply (see a previous blog highlighting how our food supply depends on these same rapidly disappearing bees).  Another mountain top removal coal mine is being proposed in Kentucky and it is next to a school.  The US Army Corps of Engineers issued the permit.  I could probably spend this entire evening adding to this list of negatives.  I could give up, but I never do.  I keep looking for positives and for changes created by people who care.

 

In honor and praise for those who care and for the positives occurring, I am creating another list:

-Ralph Maughan, an Idaho native, continues to work on the saving the pristine wilderness of the River of No Return Country.  He wants to save wolves in a state where politicians have proposed a law to kill 60 per cent of the state’s wolves.  The Idaho Department of Fish and Game plans to professionally exterminate them so there will be more elk for hunters.  No, I did not make this up.  Maughan says, “the wilderness is supposed to be a place where large carnivores, like wolves, grizzly bears, and mountain lions can exist as they did before humans arrived.”  Now the agency wants to come into a proclaimed wilderness to suit their own purposes. This fight continues.

-In Hawaii many housetops and businesses now glitter with solar panels.  Isaac Moriwake’s consumer advocacy efforts support consumers who want to generate their own electricity through clean energy.  Solar panels totally cover the roof of the new parking garage at the Kapl’olani Medical Center in Oahu.  Hawaii has been able to create a clean energy framework with considerable solar success in spite of traditional utilities’ efforts against it.

-In more remote places like Nepal the WWF helped locals replace wood burning stoves with biogas burners so they would not have to cut down their forests for fuel.

-As Myanmar develops economically and joins the international stage, huge areas of prime forests and native animals are at risk.  Conservationists work with the new government to create national parks and other areas to preserve Myanmar’s rich biodiversity and to listen to local wishes as to how to preserve their valuable natural heritage.

If I wanted to stay up half the night, obviously I could add more and more to each list.  And it is easy to wonder just what can one person do.  For starters, use less water, get rid of all the junk mail that arrives–a later post will describe methods to do this–so it will not add to the landfill and the demise of trees, do not buy furniture made from slow growing tropical wood, adjust your thermostat to warmer in summer and cooler in winter, carry your own bags so you won’t have to use the plastic ones at the store, become politically vocal about conservation.  If you wonder is all this effort worth it, take a walk in the woods, along a beach, through the jungle, on a desert path; fill yourself with wonder.

 

Trivia


This marks week one of my commitment to write for at least twenty minutes every day.  A good way to “force” myself to do this is to blog daily.  In this past week I have heard from new people and received more comments than usual.  I had something already written out and then decided against posting it.  Because I am at least one hour behind on what I planned to do when I arrived home from work, this blog may be a bunch of trivia, depending on what you consider trivia.

I had not planned on cleaning my barn in preparation for fifty 100 pound bales of hay, but when they told me they would deliver Wednesday instead of Friday, it changed this evening’s plans dramatically.  I had to move the remaining hay from last November’s delivery to a different spot because I do not want “old” and “new” hay mixed.  100 pound bales do not weigh all that much less than I do so moving them is not all that easy.  Once moved, I sweep the loose hay up, lay down pallets, and sweep up everything.  I do not like hay to lay directly on the cement floor of the barn.  All that took over an hour.  Then it dawned on me that I should probably eat something.  Time mandated simplicity so I made a salad. Suddenly it reminded me of salads Gaston used to make.  Gaston lived with me for six months–a handsome exchange student from Argentina, who rode horses, played the piano while I cooked dinner, and then when I gave the word, made beautiful salads, kaleidoscopes of color, orange, red, green, yellow, purple.  Tonight, in a rush, I finally managed to make a salad as beautiful as Gaston’s.  In addition to his other assets, Gaston’s name is a song for the ears and the heart:  Gaston Luis Zulaica del Sueldo.  I love his name so much that it is the title of one of the poems in my new book of poetry, “On the Rim of Wonder”.  His counselor at school here loved it so much that she insisted on practicing it over and over and over to get it right when she announced it at graduation.

Salad eaten, once this post is complete, I must finish the baby blanket I promised today to deliver tomorrow.  More than eight years ago, I taught freshmen English.  One of my students, who has since gone to college, graduated, and now works for the school district where I work will soon be a father.  His wife, through her work as a neonatal ICU nurse, became a good friend of my daughter’s.  Their baby is due in a week or so.  I am running out of time.  I MUST finish this tonight.  Since I have to get up at 5:30 to get to work on time–I work 25 miles from where I live–it would seem that since it is now 7:49, I had better quit writing this and get to work.  Tomorrow I promise more exciting material.

Apocalyptic Planet-Part Five: Civilizations Fall


Whether it is my innate ambition, something my parents instilled in me, or something else unknown, I try to learn something new every day.  Craig Childs starts this chapter of his book by talking about a Phoenix landmark.  Back when I travelled to Phoenix regularly, I knew this place as Squaw Peak.  Now its name Is Piestewa Peak.  The name change is probably a good thing.  I never knew before reading this how dreadfully pejorative the word squaw is.  Basically, it means Indian bitch as well as other things related to the privates of women.  All languages seem to possess an accumulation of dreadful words geared to putting women down one way or another.  Slang words for the private parts of a man rarely mean anything pejorative, at least not that I know of.  The new name, a Hopi name, a blessing word, is a word that calls water to this place.  Not a bad idea in Phoenix or most of the Southwest for that matter.

The name Phoenix fits.  Underneath modern day Phoenix, an ancient city lays buried, a quite sophisticated city with ball courts, temples, irrigation canals.  This city existed at least a thousand years ago.  Its inhabitants grew corn, cotton, beans, and agave.  Farmers, hunters, carvers, all sorts of artisans and merchants apparently lived there.  Now they are called Hohokam taken from an O’odham word meaning “ancestors”, the “ones who have gone”.  We find forgotten cities all over the world, Palmyra, Machu Picchu, Angkor Wat.  What causes these sophisticated civilizations to fall?  If you read a bit, look further, you find common themes:  environmental decay, resource depletion, conflict, disease, social problems.  Angkor Wat fell because it could not maintain its complex irrigation network.  Ur in Iraq fell because a drought caused its port to dry up.  Usually, the demise of particular civilizations occur over time, e.g.Rome.

Childs notes that human patterns often follow animal patterns, or at least mammalian patterns.  For example, when over population occurs, behavior changes.  Parental care and cooperation become replaced with aggression, violence, competition for resources, dominant behaviors.  These types of behaviors are particularly detrimental to females and the young without whom the society (or animal population) cannot replace itself.  Generally, in animal populations, when this occurs, reproduction slows for several generations and the imbalance corrects itself.  For humans, it is not so simple.  Hohokam bones indicate mass starvation and malnutrition.  Other civilizations, e.g. the Anasazi, seem to have disappeared without a trace.

Today, most of the world’s largest cities have immense infrastructures that keep them going, miles of underground sewage tunnels, water mains, etc.  Here in the US in our oldest cities, much of what we take for granted is very old and deteriorating.  New York City and Chicago have water main systems that some experts claim are near collapse or at the very best badly in need of repair.  Doubtless such conditions exist in old cities throughout the world, most of which are much older and larger than the majority of cities in the US.  Yet, they continue to prosper.  Have we passed a point when civilization cannot fall?

Childs completes this discussion by describing his visit with his wife to Guatemala.  They visited all the best known Mayan sites, visited with natives.  His wife managed to get invited to a Mayan fire ceremony, a renewal ceremony.  History books tell us the Mayan civilization is dead, ended.  But it is not.  The Mayan culture still exists.   At least six million still live in the Central America.  What would have happened to Mayan cities if the Europeans had not brought epidemic diseases and better fire power?  We will never know, of course, but no matter how many civilizations rise and fall, change continues and humans continue to inhabit the earth.

The new question is this:  can this planet we live on sustain the ever increasing numbers of humans who inhabit it??

Sacred Corn


SAM_0035   In the summer on hot, humid nights, you can hear the corn grow.  My great grandfather, my grandfather, and my father grew corn.  I grow corn in that same rich loess soil of Northwestern Missouri.  Soil laid down by Ice Age glaciers thousands of year ago.  Only on a few hill tops, here and there, will you find non glacial soil. Repeatedly, daily, I walk by the sacred corn plant of life painted on my hall corner.  This sacred corn corner houses three corn maiden kachinas and a drum decorated with corn maidens.  I give thanks to corn for my house and the life I lead.

Corn Song

I sing the song of ancients:

pueblo peoples,

Anazazi, Hopi, Zuni.

I sing the song of an America long gone.

Maya, Aztec, Tolmec.

I sing the song of life:  colors of the rainbow

golden, red, white, blue.

I sing the song of now:  thick, endless

identical rows.

Pioneer, Monsanto,

anhydrous ammonia,

atrazine.

I sing the song of hope and joy:

an ancient reclaiming,

a klaidescope of colors,

butterflies and fireflies.

I sing the eternal human song.

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This is a Navaho kachina.  Kachina are actually Hopi, but Navaho artists now make kachinas as well.  The first corn maiden kachina I bought.

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Spotted corn kachinas, on the left, are unusual.  It took me years to find one.  The kachina on the right was created by R Pino, who is both Hopi and Navaho.

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Every year Pendleton runs an art contest among Native American students.  The winner’s art work is transformed into saddle blankets.  This design, created by Mary Beth Jiron, is the latest in this Student Series. There are three corn  maidens  on each side of the blanket, representing the different varieties of corn grown by native peoples, yellow, red, blue, white, black, and spotted.

Apocalyptic Planet-Part Two: Hadley Cells, Weather and Drought


Hadley cells, the wind systems in each hemisphere , form patterns of atmospheric circulation in which warm air rises near the equator, cools as it travels poleward at high altitudes, sinks as cold air, and then warms as it travels back to the equator.  They are named after George Hadley, an English scientific writer.  Tropical regions receive more heat from solar radiation than they radiate back to space and such areas have constant temperatures.  More simply, warm air rises (heat rises) and then flows poleward at high altitudes, cools, drops, and flows back toward the equator at lower altitudes.   Then the process repeats itself.  When the air rises and leaves these tropical areas, it loses moisture as it heads to subtropical areas.  The majority of the worlds large deserts lay in these subtropical areas.

Hadley cells are expanding.  Precipitation has declined in tropical areas since 1970.  As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, Southern Asia, the Sahel, Southern Africa, the Mediterranean, and the US Southwest are getting drier and drier.  Even wetter areas now experience long dry spells between extreme events of rain and snow.  Examples in the US include the cold and snowfalls in the Midwest and Eastern Seaboard this past winter.  Texas and New Mexico continue to experience a prolonged drought.  In the next thirty years scientists predict a 30 per cent decline in water resources.

In some places both governments and individuals create innovative and sometimes simple measures to counteract desertification.  In India near the Thar Desert, the government mandated the dispersal of grass seed to hold the ground.  Studies indicate that the grass seed grew better when planted by hand than when dispersed from airplanes.  Also in India orans, small sacred groves, have helped preserve shrubs and grasses and even trees, a genetic bank that would otherwise have been lost.  Childs describes how his friends who live on the outskirts of Tuscon have coaxed their water table fifteen feet higher, using ordinary shovels and hard work.  They built contour traps and “massaged” the ground.  Hardly worth noticing except when it rained, the rain sank into underground catches.  Their properties now look like small areas of refuge in the vast desert.  In some areas of the Sahel people have been able to plant and nurture trees in such a way that areas of green exist where they had disappeared.

Archeologists and geologists know that periods of drought occurred repeatedly for millions of years.  For humans and the animals we know, drought has never been easy.  Large areas of civilization cannot exist without water.  We can affect our future in positive ways and prepare ourselves if we choose.

Apocalyptic Planet–Part One


Usually I read only one book at a time.  Lately, I am reading several, one of which is Apocalyptic Planet:  Field Guide to the Future of the Earth by Craig Childs.  Childs is a sort of combined explorer/adventurer/scientist.  He goes to places few go to see what occurs there, the wind, the flora and fauna, the weather, the climate.  The next couple of days I intend to share some of his most pithy observations and ruminations.  We will start with the desert.  He and a friend literally wandered around the most arid and hostile portion of the Sonoran Desert in northwestern Mexico.  This desert has enlarged and become more arid due to an extended drought.

Deserts come and go.  If you live in a lovely lush green landscape, wait long enough and it, too, may become a desert.  Six thousand years ago lakes, marshes, and grassland lay where the Sahara is today.  A slight orbital change in earth’s relation to the sun caused nearby oceans to heat up, changing atmospheric conditions.  Humans living there had no choice but to move.  Forty per cent of the earth’s population lives in semiarid regions.  Even a small drought changes survival chances for the people who live there.  The Sahara, the Gobi, and the Taklimakan are growing, arable farmland decreasing.  Vulnerable areas include southern Spain, Greece, Bolivia, Australia, central Asia, and our own West.  The entire American High Plains (I live in the southern part) sits on top a giant desert.  Without pivot irrigation, only grass grows here.  In the last decade many irrigation wells have dried up or gone too saline.  The giant bulges you see in places like the sand hills of Nebraska are really a sand dune sea covered with grass.  Take away a little rain and here comes the desert.

Childs and his friend carried water with them and buried them with markers in the sand so they could find them later.  As the desert grows in parts of India, women carry water farther and farther, an average of six miles a day, four gallons at a time.  In the Sahel just south of the Sahara a difference in rainfall of just an inch or two can mean the difference between survival and starvation.  Without water, there is no civilization.

What causes these changes?  Human behavior and the increase in greenhouse gases are  part of the reason.  Humans are creating enough changes that we are moving toward more deserts, not fewer.  One climate expert, Jonathan Overpeck, thinks we are seriously underestimating the severity of drought we will face in the not so distant future.  Forget five and seven year droughts and think fifty years.  Hadley cells also affect climate change.  Tomorrow I will explain Hadley cells and how they affect our weather.

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Northern Arizona

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Eastern New Mexico

 

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Texas Panhandle

Holiday Break Fun and Recipes


Because of my job, I am on the last day of a two week holiday break.  What a productive and fun time it has been.  Christmas Eve, my friends, my daughter, and my grandson came over.  For the first time ever, I made ham in a big Crock Pot and it melted in our mouths.  They requested I make my signature Refried Black Bean Cassserole and roasted vegetables so I did.  Other food requests included chocolate spiders for dessert–they are cookies.

Ham in the Crock Pot

Cover the bottom of the slow cooker with a 1/2 inch thick layer of brown or turbinado sugar mixed with 2-3 T tapioca. Place ham on top of the sugar.  Cover the top of the ham with preserves of your choice.  I used homemade pineapple/apricot preserves I had made several years previously.  Cook on low for 6-8 hours.  Note:  I used spiral sliced ham precooked.  You do not need to add any liquid, it will make its own.  If you wish, once some liquid has accumulated, you can periodically baste the ham.

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Christmas Eve dinner, eating and relaxing at the dinner table.

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At the bar before dinner while I am still cooking.

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Lingering and relaxing around the dinner table.

These same friends came over about 1 1/2 weeks later.  The special request that time was for another round of Refried Black Bean Casserole.   This is one of those recipes I invented but never measure anything, just make to taste.  This last time I decided to work at paying attention to what I used so I could share.  It may or may not be exactly what I do every time, but it is close.

Refried Black Bean Casserole

2 cans black beans drained

Enough olive oil to cover bottom of large skillet

1/2 red onion, finely chopped

3-4 Tablespoons organic ketchup

3 Tablespoons cumin–add or subtract to suit you taste

Tortillas

Grated white cheese–I usually use monterey jack

Heat oil in skillet and add onions.  Cook until translucent.  Add black beans, one can at a time.  Take a regular table fork and mash beans repeatedly until most of the beans are mashed–I like to leave some not totally mashed to add a bit of texture.  This is easier to do if you only add one can at a time.  Thoroughly mix beans and onions.  Add the cumin and ketchup and stir thoroughly and keep mixing until the mixture it thick and heated through.  Use a round slow cooker or casserole dish.  Oil bottom of dish and place one tortilla in bottom.  Place enough of the black bean mixture on top to cover the tortilla, then sprinkle the grated white cheese on top.  Repeat layers, ending with grated cheese.  You may use any kind of tortilla.  However, I prefer whole wheat flour, but anything works.  Heat through until cheese is melted.  You may also make the bean mixture a day in advance and refrigerate.  If you do this, it will take longer to heat the casserole.

In between cooking adventures, one of my best friends and I decided to take a quick trip to Albuquerque, NM.  We visited our favorites places in Old Town, ate here and there when we felt like it, and stayed someplace new to both of us, Los Poblanos.  We loved this place.  It is located a bit north of downtown and Old Town, off of Rio Grande Blvd. by the river,  and includes 25 acres of lavender fields, a barn, a solar powered swimming pool–not open in the winter, a restaurant, a farm store, an herb garden, paths for strolling here and there, and an impressive tree lined entry drive.

SAM_1421Looking down the entry drive of Los Poblanos.

SAM_1418The barn and other out buildings.

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The lavender field.  They offer many lavender products in the Farm Store as well as balsamic vinegar, cookbooks, and various other items related to what they grow and organic farming and cooking.

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A view of the main house and restaurant area.

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A view near one of the many walking paths.

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The fireplace in our room.

Although I have been to Old Town in Albuquerque many, many times, never before did I go inside the beautiful old church on the square.  They allow photography so I took a photo.  It was all decorated for Christmas with a nearly life sized nativity scene.

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Tomorrow I go back to work.  With friends coming over for Christmas Eve, a trip to the local museum with my friend Roberto Borja, his family coming over for dinner again, the trip to Albuquerque with my friend Zuriash, hanging out with my daughter and grandson, it turned out to be one of the best holiday breaks ever.  Here’s to an equally wonderful 2014.

My Father


Recently I decided to try writing poems about a few family members.  Months ago on this blog I published a poem about my Grandmother along with the marriage photo of her and my grandfather, who was so much older than she  (22 years) that I never knew him at all.  In June I posted photos of the trip I took back to Missouri where I grew up.  While a few things remained the same, I felt very sad about some changes and kept thinking how my dad must feel if he were watching.  He died in 1996, lived in the same house for 80 years and on the same farm all his life.  He labored long and hard to make the homeplace beautiful.

He watches:

The house where he was born

gone

Only the old carriage house stands.

The young man who farms the land cannot bear to tear it down.

He watches:

The ancient burr oaks and black walnuts

gone

bulldozed into waste piles or sold for greed.

He watches:

The house he lived and loved in for eighty years

still stands on land his family owned for more than 100.

Strangers live there:

He sees the well trimmed lawn,

new picket fence,

children playing.

He watches:

The pond he proudly built and stocked with fish reflects the summer sun.

The tree filled park between the pond and house

gone

He wonders why someone would destroy such beauty.

He watches:

The walnut grove where he ran cattle

gone

The pond where his grandson caught the giant turtle

gone

plowed over and planted to corn and soybeans.

He watches.

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Family Roadtrips


During my childhood, my father took us on regular road trips.  The first one occurred when I was three.  He actually drove all the way from northwestern Missouri to Monterey, Mexico, via Padre Island and back.  Every year we took at least one, sometimes two.  Later in life, I truly realized the value and magic of these family road trips.  Although my daughter, grandson and I take short road trips to New Mexico in particular, we had never taken a really long one until two weeks ago when we left Amarillo, Texas, headed for Carmel, California.

At our first stop, Old Town, Albuquerque, for lunch, we experienced a most refreshing and delightful drink which I plan to duplicate the next time I invite friends over for dinner.

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This feast for the eyes and mouth consists of water infused with pineapple and strawberries.  It tastes best after letting it set to allow the fruit to meld into the water.

We spent the night in Gallup, but arrived too late to visit the galleries and shops so headed to a little Italian restaurant where my grandson, D’mitri, donned a black shirt which reads Got Mafia.  Friday morning we headed to Window Rock, capital of the Navaho Nation.  Since D’mitri’s great grandfather was Navaho, D’mitri’s interest in this stop remained high.

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After strolling around the park here, we stopped to visit the ladies selling the jewelry they were making on site.  As a person a bit obsessed with corn plants, I could not resist a pair of turquoise earrings that look exactly like tiny ears of corn.  D’mitri had to have a necklace with a soccer ball pendant which he wore the rest of the trip.

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After the morning at Window Rock, we drove off across the Navaho Nation and the Hopi, headed for the North Rim.  We stopped off and on to visit vendors along the side of the road.  The dwellings throughout the Navaho Nation seemed scattered across the landscape with many hogans next to or close to what appeared to be a main house.  Horses roamed in the semi-arid fields.  The Hopi area, however, held a different view with no scattered dwellings.  Everyone seemed to live in villages along the way and I never saw a horse in Hopi country.  Finally, we crossed the mighty Colorado River at Navaho Bridge from which I took this photo.

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The road follows the base of the cliffs of Vermillion Cliffs National Monument.  We could see them looming large long before we arrived.  Huge rocks appeared to have tumbled off the cliffs and lay near the road.  I kept wondering if they ever fall and hit cars.

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We finally made it to the Jacob Lake Inn near the North Rim of the Grand Canyon.  We arrived too late to go to the Grand Canyon  so took a hike through the ponderosa pines supposedly headed to a lake.  Dry, hot weather apparently turned the lake into a mere puddle.  We barely made it back before dark, disappointed.  The next morning we drove the forty some miles through heavy woods interspersed with giant meadows to the North Rim.  If you have never been to the Grand Canyon, its size and grandeur remain impossible to convey via photos.  Perhaps due to the rather warm, dry conditions, a heavy haze hung over the Canyon all day.  We took a few tiny hikes, only to discover just how very much out of shape we are.  Additionally, the altitude affected D’mitri quite negatively, making him more tired than customary.  Nevertheless, determined to not miss out too much, I took several photographs from Imperial Point.

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Flowers exactly the same as grow where I live on a little canyon in the Panhandle of Texas grew along the path.  We spent another night at Jacob Lake and then continued toward Las Vegas.  The fastest route drops off the Kaibab Plateau rather dramatically with spectacular long views, the depth and breadth of which no ordinary camera can capture.  We ate a late breakfast in Hurricane, Utah, a bit after the infamous Colorado City, Arizona,  where the houses appeared quite large with high walls around many of them.  Then off to Las Vegas, Nevada, to meet an elementary school classmate, Craig Prater,  whom I had not seen in years.  He treated us to a fabulous lunch at the Mandalay Bay, took us to a shopping area down road, and he and I attempted to catch up for all those years while Ema and D’mitri shopped.  We marveled how two children who attended a rural school (at first it had only one room and then later two) eighteen miles from any town of more than a couple of hundred could attain what we have attained.  He produces films and travels all over the world.  I have lived, worked,  and traveled to many different places.

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After Las Vegas, we drove to Mojave, California, for the night. The only  scenery on this drive is through a canyon on the Interstate.  We experienced high winds and a sand storm and arrived after dark.  The next morning we solved the mystery of the hundreds of red blinking lights on the hillsides, wind turbines.  From there it is a rather short drive,  a couple of hours, to the Trail of 100 Giants in Sequoia National Monument.  To say we experienced amazement is an understatement.  What a magical forest so wet and dark and alluring after miles and miles and miles of hot desert.

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SAM_1207My daughter, Ema, and her son, D’mitri really enjoy clowning around and what better place than surrounded by the largest trees in the world.  The squirrels here also “talked” a lot and we tried to get close.

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Usually, I frequently dislike photos of me, but this one is an exception.  Although not large, this tree stood out as so unique I could not resist a photo shot.  Even with the best camera, I doubt a photo of an entire sequoia tree is possible.  You have to see them to obtain the full effect.

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We wanted more time with the trees, but needed to make it to Carmel by evening so headed down the mountain toward California Hot Springs.  Altitude is everything here.  In ten minutes the golden hills replace giant trees.

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Then, in an hour or less, we were driving across the Central Valley past miles of vegetables and at least three types of trees in huge orchards or groves.  The only tree species I was able to identify was almonds.  I wanted to take pictures, but did not desire to arrive in Carmel at my college roommate’s house in the dark so I kept driving.  No quick road exists that crosses California except way to the south.  This still astonishes me.  Two lanes with heavy truck traffic take a long time to get from one destination to another.  We decided to cross on 198 through Coalinga to San Lucas which resulted in a fun, scenic drive with lots of twists and turns.  Much to our surprise, huge pine cones lay everywhere beside the road.  It seemed strange that these cones came from a tree much smaller than the Sequoia.  Ema and D’mitri collected some to display at home.

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Finally, just before dark we arrived at the Rinaldo’s.  Suzy and I roomed together at Grinnell College at the ages of 18-19.  David attended Grinnell also.  We only see each other once or twice a year but can pick up conservations as if it were a few moments ago.  They live in the Santa Lucia Preserve.

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Every morning this deer casually ate California poppies and ran away only if I went outside too quickly.  One morning I took a long walk up one of the few roads on the Preserve.  I love the live oaks and learned they are very fire resistant so residents are allowed to let them grow close to their houses.  Everything else, except for a few native grasses and plants–no trees or brush, must be cleared for 150 feet all around any house.

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I commented on the radiant red colors I saw in the leaves of an attractive plant only to find out it is poisonous oak and if I touched it, the result would not make me very happy.  It must love this particular environment because it grows everywhere.

One of my favorite restaurants is at the Hacienda at Santa Lucia Preserve, not because of the food, but due to the impeccable service and enchanting atmosphere, what I imagine to have existed in old California.  D’mitri says it is his favorite fancy restaurant on the trip.

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In the dark, driving back home to David and Suzy’s, we saw a bobcat, several deer, wild turkeys, a skunk, and another animal we could not identify.  The next day we ladies went shopping in Carmel while David and D’mitri took a ride in the Porsche and swam.  No one can go near Carmel surely and not drive the glorious drive south to Big Sur.  D’mitri loves water so we stopped at two different places along the way.

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D’mitri became quite alarmed when Suzy told him many of the bushes along the path are poison oak.  David informed us that a really wonderful beach existed down the road if we could get in.  Off we drove to Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park.  They only allow so many cars into the park at once so we had to wait until someone left.  It was worth the wait.  This beach does not allow swimming; people have drowned here.  Nevertheless, who cares; the drama of crashing surf, giant holes in rocks worn by water, and trees shaped by wind and erosion make it magical.

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SAM_1250You cannot go down highway 1 without stopping at Nepenthe.  This restaurant’s views alone are worth going there, plus a gift shop full of finds from all over the world.  The wine list and hamburgers finish off the list of why you must stop here if you are anywhere near Big Sur.

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Time seemed to run rapidly; with only one day left, we decided to head to Moss Landing to see the seals.  Much to David’s astonishment, not only did seals lay all along the beach, but a large number of sea otters were playing in the water, rolling over and over, splashing.  David had been there many times and never seen anything like this.  The sea otters delight the watcher with their playful antics.

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Unlike the ever playful sea otters, the seals just lay still like large rocks along the beach.

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Early on a Saturday morning, Suzy and David fed us waffles to fortify us for the long drive to Flagstaff, nearly 700 miles.  We crossed over to Salinas, then down 101 and finally through Bakersfield where we found a delightful, rather elegant Italian restaurant for lunch.  The good looking waiter chit chatted and provided excellent service, three pluses when you go out to eat.  As we cut across the middle of California, headed for I-40 eventually and neared Tehachapi, Ema decided to call D’mitri’s other grandparents who have a house there. When we went the other direction almost a week before, they had been vacationing in France.  To our surprise, they answered and asked us to stop for the night.  D’mitri’s excitement was contagious.  He expressed special delight to have his grandfather to himself for hours instead of needing to share him with other grandchildren.  The Herreros live on a hillside with a breathtaking view for miles.  Unfortunately, the haze prevented proper photography so I gave up on the idea of capturing the endless panorama.   However, this presented itself as the perfect opportunity for family photos.

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The California desert never comes to mind when I think of California.  I always fly to San Francisco or Oakland and visit friends or conduct business.  Unlike the glorious red rocks and drama of southern Utah and northern Arizona or the saguaros of  southern Arizona, the California desert maintains an endless pale tan color with only a few tiny plants.  Thanks to air conditioned automobiles, you can drive for miles, escaping the intense heat.  When we finally stopped at a Dairy Queen for a refresher, D’mitri and I stepped out of the car and were nearly knocked over by the hideously hot wind.  In general, I like heat, but this seemed overwhelming.  When we drove off, I asked Ema about the temperature.  She looked it up on her smart phone, 118.  The only truly beautiful I sight I saw (and I think nearly everywhere possesses some sort of loveliness) occurred when I drove over the mighty Colorado River, surrounded by the only green for miles.  After this heat, the cool, green beauty of Flagstaff enchanted us.  We settled into our hotel room, then drove off to our third Italian restaurant in two days, Oregano’s.  Instead of the usual coloring books, puzzles, etc. offered to children, this place gives them pizza dough to mold.

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As we drove home, I noticed how terribly dry it is once we dropped out of the mountains around Flagstaff.  Off and on we crossed areas where there had been enough rain to create a pale green.  Apparently, it had not rained west of Albuquerque because it still looked like brown winter just as it had eleven days before on the first day of the trip.  East of Albuquerque we encountered such an intense downpour with some hail that I could not see to drive.  I pulled off the road and waited. From Albuquerque to Amarillo, in the eleven days we were gone, it had rained enough to make the mountains, foothills, and high plains a lovely soft emerald.   We had missed the hot, 100 plus week and came home to rain and cooler weather that lasted several days.  In one week, the weather had changed from record highs to record lows, the typical extremes one learns to live with on the Llano Estacado.