A Flashback on an Adventure

Okay, so I’m still sick as a dog. If anyone knows how to do a complete sinus transplant, a cough amputation, or an inner-ear reorganization, call me. In the mean time, I don’t want to break a streak of posting something every single day since December 1, 2012. So consider this Throwback Thursday. Okay. It’s not Thursday. I know. Flashback Friday. Whatever.

I encourage you to check out one of my personal favorite posts, entitled A Real Cliffhanger. It’s about my encounter with a very unique man, and an even more unique dog. I hope they are both still out there in Arizona, living the lives they were meant to live. I think the world would be slightly off-kilter if they weren’t.

If you don’t feel like clicking on that link to read about my adventure, then you could always just buy my book. That particular post is included therein.

Anyway, have a great day! I’m going back to bed. Not that I ever actually left…

 

 

The Creepy Concept of Covenant Marriage

Recently, I came across a disturbing little factoid. In 1997, the state of Louisiana passed Covenant Marriage into law. Arkansas and Arizona later jumped on the bandwagon. Thank goodness no other states have taken the bait.

These policies, if you opt into them, make marriage more difficult to get into, and a lot more difficult to get out of. For starters, according to Wikipedia, you have to attend premarital counseling sessions, which “emphasize the nature, purposes, and responsibilities of marriage”, and you must sign a statement saying that the marriage is for life.

While I think premarital counseling is a great idea, I wonder who exactly is conducting these sessions. And I really would have a problem with having someone other than me and my spouse dictate what the nature, purpose and responsibilities of our marriage are to be. Marriage is what you make it. No two are alike.

And as for signing one’s life away, if you aren’t confident that the other person is going to try for a lifelong commitment unless they put it in writing, then you might want to reexamine how much you trust this person in the first place. Trust is the bedrock of any relationship. If you don’t have that, you’re building a castle on sand.

This is starting to sound like the equivalent of a homeowners’ association for relationships. I chafe at rules and regulations. I’ll pass.

Even worse are the restrictions placed on getting out of the marriage. In a covenant marriage, you are waiving your rights to a no-fault divorce. Before you can even consider divorce, you have to first go to counseling. You must also be able to prove that your spouse has committed adultery, a felony, is a drug addict or a sexual predator, or that you’ve been living apart for at least a year (perhaps two, depending on the state.)

First of all, why bother with counseling if your spouse is involved in such heinous acts? Those things, as far as I’m concerned, are deal breakers.

And you notice there’s no provision for your husband punching you in the face and not being prosecuted for it, nor is there an option if your wife suddenly joins a cult. Your only recourse in those situations would be a long painful separation, and there’s no guarantee that the nut job in question would agree to being apart.

Life is messy. It can go south in many ways that are outside the bounds of these few legislative dicta. No one should have the right to define what you deem to be unsupportable.

Is it just me, or is it creepy and strange that these three super red states, full to the brim with conservatives who claim to want less government, not more, are all for these highly regulated covenant marriages? But then, this legislates religion and “family values”, and restricts the freedom of women even further, so yeah, I guess it makes sense.

Fortunately, these three states have not made covenant marriage mandatory, and less than 1 percent of the couples getting married each year in these places opt in to this foolishness. But still, it seems like a disturbing, backward trend, and it gives me the willies.

I love holding my husband’s hand, but I wouldn’t want to be handcuffed to it.

Business people handcuffed together

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A Senseless Monument to Ego

Even as you read this, bulldozers are plowing a trench through some of our most precious landscape. Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument is theoretically federally protected, but it’s the federal government that is doing the plowing.

Why? For Trump’s border wall. Because he wants to get re-elected, he’s trying to score political points. Never mind that this is a designated International Biosphere Reserve that is recognized by UNESCO. Forget that it will go right through one of the oldest inhabited places in North America, and the ancestral home of the Tohono O’odham nation, which has existed on both sides of the border since at least 1450.

According to this article, this 30 foot wall will impede the migration patterns and habitats of mountain lions, javelinas, the endangered pronghorn, and countless numbers of bird species. And talk about draining the swamp. This will impede Arizona’s last free flowing river, and as aquifers are drained to make the concrete, it will decimate the habitats for the endangered Quitobaquito pupfish and Sonoyta turtle. It will also cause light pollution with its continual spotlights, in a place where you could always see millions of stars in the night sky.

Trump has waived countless laws to make this travesty happen, including the Endangered Species Act and the Clean Air Act. He claims this is a national emergency. Pfft. This area sees about 5 percent as much human migration as the Rio Grande Valley in Texas does. This catastrophic monument to Trump’s ego is poorly thought out, a taxpayer drain, and an environmental disaster, all for an emergency of his own construction.

I’m so angry right now.

Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument

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Impressions of Tucson, Arizona

Recently I got to spend five days in Tucson, Arizona. I’ve written about the food, the desert, Biosphere 2 and Kartchner Caverns, but it occurs to me that I haven’t really written much about the city itself.

After hearing so many horror stories about this red state, I was really kind of braced not to like this city, but from what I can tell from a lazy Google search, Tucson runs about 50/50 in its politics. I only saw one Joe Arpaio for Senate sign. (That still made me sick, but he did wind up losing in the primary, so yay for AZ!)

My first impression of the city was extremely favorable. Any city with an abundance of public art, in my opinion, is one in which the local government really cares about making the place livable. And there is art everywhere in Tucson. Even the overpasses are decorative. Where else can you say you’ve walked through a rattlesnake?

Rattlesnake

And I really loved this sculpture of a horse and its colt. Made in flat layers, at some angles it completely disappears.

 

And of course, I have a weakness for Kokopelli, and you see him absolutely everywhere. Even in the airport.

kokopeli

And then there’s the funky historic Fourth Avenue district, with its eclectic shops and restaurants and murals. I absolutely love the vibe there.

 

Between that and the fact that there’s hardly any traffic (compared to Seattle), and the amazing landscape that takes your breath away at every turn, I’d be tempted to move to this place.

Except for the blistering heat. Yeah. You can’t forget the heat.

Dry heat

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Tucson Food

“Have you had a Sonoran Dog yet?” a friend asked, upon discovering that I was in Tucson.

“What’s a Sonoran Dog?”

I wish I’d never found out, because it has officially ruined me for other hot dogs. Seriously. I’ve seen the promised land. Nothing else will do.

Imagine a hot dog wrapped in bacon. That should be all I need to say, right there. But then they add salsa verde, pinto beans, tomato, onion, mustard and mayo. My mouth is watering just thinking about it.

Tucson Food 3

We went directly to the source for this delicacy: El Güero Canelo has several locations around town. Washing this hot dog down with the kind of apple soda that I used to live on when I was a student in Mexico nearly made me swoon. It wasn’t the first excellent meal I had eaten in Tucson, and it certainly wouldn’t be the last. I was only there for 5 days, and I’m quite sure I gained 5 pounds.

We also went to a place in Benson, Arizona called Mi Casa Restaurant. It is, literally, in a house, well back from the road. You could easily drive past it without even noticing it. But what a shame that would be. It’s a little mom and pop place. Mom is the chef, pop is the waiter, and the Mexican food that place produces is not only a culinary delight, but also a work of art.

We went to several tiny little places with scrumptious food, including Frank and Francisco’s, which is a diner that has, I’m told, the best breakfast in town. I’m not going to argue. So good.

Tucson Food 4

As a respite from all the Mexican food, we went to Inca’s Peruvian Cuisine. Known for hardy meat and potato type fare as well as seafood, this was a very satisfying meal. (The only exception was the Arroz con Mariscos, which is apparently the Peruvian version of Paella, but was 80 percent rice.) We even partook of a drink called Chicha Morada, which is made from purple corn, pineapple, apple and cinnamon. It sounds strange, but it was actually quite delicious.

If I lived in Tucson, I’d probably turn into one of those people who could only be removed from my house by taking down a wall. The food is irresistible. The desire to not exert oneself to beat the heat, even more so. And every restaurant had better guacamole than the last. I’d be doomed.

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Kartchner Caverns State Park, Arizona

No cameras. No cell phones. No food, no drink, no gum or tobacco products. No backpacks, no strollers, no walkers. Have you worn your shoes inside any other cave? If so, you can’t come in. You could introduce white-nose syndrome to our community of 1000 bats. And you can’t touch anything. Your body oils could stop the formations from growing. This is a living, growing cave.

Okay, now you pass through an air lock. This keeps the humidity within the cave at 99%, as opposed to the typical 0% of the Sonoran Desert above. Without this moisture, the cave stops growing. Sure, its formations generally only grow an inch every 750 years, but still, that’s progress.

Next, you pass through an air curtain that blows the lint off your clothing. Lint may not seem like much to you or me, but with all this tourism, it adds up. Then you pass through a hall of mist, to once again combat that lint.

It was all rather intimidating, but well worth the effort. Because after that, you’re treated to about an hour of some of the most gorgeous cave formations on the planet. Kartchner Caverns. Stalactites, stalagmites, soda straws, columns, draperies, spar crystals, flowstone, helictites, shields, and cave bacon galore. Golds. Reds. Browns. Whites. A feast for the eyes.

It was hard not to touch. It was hard not to jump over the railings to go exploring. It was hard to grasp the immensity of the formations. One of the columns is 58 feet tall. (At an inch every 750 years, that’s… a heck of a lot of years.)

What kept me respectful was the immense amount of effort it took for people to protect this cave. I strongly suspect such a monumental secret could never be kept in this day and age, but after Randy Tufts and Gary Tenen found this cave in 1974 on land belonging to the Kartchners, they all managed to keep it a secret for another 14 years. But they decided that the best way to protect the cave, oddly enough, would be to develop it. (Let’s face it: if there’s money involved, people take things seriously.) But it was beyond their means, so they approached the governor of the State of Arizona.

Another thing that wouldn’t happen today: the massive amount of behind the scenes political maneuvering it took to turn this place into a state park. Even the state legislature was kept in the dark until the final vote on the bill, because everyone knew that if the information went public, the next thing you knew, the cave would be covered in graffiti and beer cans. So the bill passed in 1988, and Arizona had its park.

And how lucky the public is that this treasure is being preserved so conscientiously. If you ever get a chance, visit these caverns. You’ll be so glad you did. And while there, rejoice in the fact that a vast majority of this cave has still never been touched by human feet, and hopefully never will be.

Since I couldn’t take pictures myself, here are some from the internet, plus one cool photo of a mural we saw in town.

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The Sonoran Desert: Here There Be Thorns

I really must be in love, because on my fiancé’s behest, I was about to fly to Tucson, Arizona. In August. If I wanted to experience 100 degree temperatures, I’d have stayed in Florida. And yet, here I was, on a plane, heading into what felt like the world’s biggest pizza oven.

Ah, but it’s a dry heat. The better to desiccate you with, my dear. It felt as if the inside of my nose was going to crack open and crumble to dust.

And yet, upon arrival, a funny thing happened. I fell in love with the place’s unique beauty. I strongly suspect that Arizonans are treated to more thorns per capita than residents of any other state in the union. Saguaro cactus. Organ pipe cactus. Barrel cactus. It has more plant species than any other desert in the world. Cholla. Prickly Pear. Creosote bush. Bur sage. Palo verde. Mesquite. Ironwood. Acacia. I was enchanted.

And running around amongst that flora was an amazing amount of fauna. An astounding variety of lizards, too quick to be photographed. Turtles. Bats. Rabbits. Coyote. Gila monsters. Hummingbirds. Quail. Roadrunners. Snakes. And lest we forget, the troublesome Javelina.

It seems like life should be impossible in the blistering heat of this desert, and yet there it was, all around me. The terrain was amazing, too, with its mountains and plains and dry washes. And, being monsoon season, when it rained, my goodness, it rained, causing floods where one would think water had never been before. And then the temperature would drop 25 blessed, blessed degrees and the desert would bloom and be as lush as it could ever be.

Would I live in the Sonoran Desert? No. I’d miss moisture and grass and nothing scary to step on when barefoot.

Will I visit again? I hope so! There’s a certain poetry to the place. But I hope I won’t be back in August. Please, God, not in August.

Here are some pictures we took of this beautiful land.

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Biosphere 2

Recently, I visited Tucson, Arizona for the first time. I met a lot of really great people, ate a lot of delicious food, and the desert is so amazing that these topics will call for additional blog posts, but I thought I’d start with the first thing we did on our first day, because it was so geek-fabulous that even as I write this I have a silly grin on my face.

Please forgive me. I’m bouncing up and down in my chair, and I can barely contain an excited scream. I got to see Biosphere 2!!!!!!!!!!

This facility, in Oracle, Arizona, first captured my imagination in 1991, when 4 women and 4 men entered its closed ecological system to conduct scientific experiments for two years. They produced their own food, and maintained a mini ocean, rainforest, fog desert, and mangrove swamp as well as a fruit orchard. They even grew their own coffee, but only produced enough for a cup once every few weeks, which must have been torture for coffee lovers.

The purpose of this entire elaborate experiment was to see if it would be possible to maintain human life in outer space. That was what I found so exciting. It was like a space mission right here on earth. I wanted to pull up stakes and move right in myself.

It’s probably best that I didn’t, though. It was hard work. They were constantly hungry. They burned 400 more calories than they ate on most days. I’d have been grumpy. I’d have wanted ice cream.

And, in fact, the psychological aspect of the experiment was what intrigued me the most. The group of 8 wound up splitting into two groups of 4, and the two groups really didn’t like one another. They barely spoke. And yet they still managed to put the biosphere first and maintain the mission. The divisions make me sad for humanity and its attraction to drama, but the fact that they still worked toward a common goal, the health of the biosphere, gives me hope.

Because where’s Biosphere 1? You’re living in it. We all are. It’s planet earth. This complex, life-sustaining ecosystem of ours is critical for our survival, and if we don’t start taking climate change seriously, we’re not going to leave much for future generations. And as the saying goes, there is no Planet B. To heck with surviving in outer space. We need to be able to survive right here, and we’re certainly doing our level best to make that a challenge.

The tour of Biosphere 2 also takes you beneath it, to where all the mechanical systems are, and into the gigantic lung, which kept the facility from imploding or exploding during differing pressure systems. A picture of the lung room is below. (A fun fact is that it was also used as a film set for a very bad movie starring William Shatner in 2002, entitled Groom Lake, which sounds like an entirely miss-able movie.)

Both closed missions in this facility were fraught with controversy, but they taught us much. Currently, Biosphere 2 is owned by the University of Arizona, and they’re doing untold numbers of research experiments, including a Landscape Evolution Observatory (LEO), a Lunar Greenhouse, and a vertical farming project. I’m so glad that this amazing place is still contributing to our knowledge. We need all that we can get, in this age of ignorance.

If you ever get a chance to take a tour, I highly recommend it. I’m also adding a book that was written by two of the original biospherians to the very top of my reading list. Life Under Glass: The Inside story of Biosphere 2 by Abigail Alling and Mark Nelson sounds like a fascinating read. There are actually several books on the subject, but this seems like a great place to start.

Without further ado, here are some of the pictures from my visit.

Biosphere 2

Biosphere 2 Rainforest
The rainforest
Biosphere 2 Cloud Desert
The Cloud Desert
Biosphere 2 Ocean
The Ocean
Biosphere 2 Lung
The lung. That heavy aluminum plate sinks to the ground when it’s cold, and rises when it is hot. It was 100 degrees that day.

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Have we Overstayed our Welcome?

Aw, jeez, I need to stop surfing the internet. I just came across a website called Recent Natural Disasters, and it gives you all the reported disasters all over the world, 24 hours a day. I have a hard enough time avoiding my tendency to anthropomorphize nature, especially when it seems as though the planet is becoming more and more pissed off.

Typhoon Haiyan has certainly displaced thousands of people, but it’s only the latest in what seems to be an increasing number of natural disasters, from the expected to the downright bizarre. I mean, who expects flooding in Saudi Arabia? But that’s been happening, too.

And I’m stunned by how many of these events have escaped my notice up to this point. Here are but a few of the headlines from the past few months:

Massive landslide in Denali National Park, Alaska – Could take 10 days to clear

Indonesia’s Mount Sinabung volcano eruption prompts evacuation of 3,300

Mudslide traps 20 in Cross Rivers, Nigeria

Very severe cyclonic storm Phailin: India’s biggest evacuation operation in 23 years, 43 killed

Eurasia’s highest volcano Klyuchevskoi spews ash up to 3.7 miles

40,000 evacuated amid Gujarat flooding

7.7 magnitude earthquake in Pakistan kills 400, Awaran declares emergency

Flooding in Bunkpurugu, Ghana kills 1, displaces 6,000

Shanghai heat wave 2013: Hottest temperature in 140 years!

Spanish Mallorca forest fire: Worst fire in 15 years evacuates 700

Namibia African Drought: Worst in 30 years

Yarnell, Arizona Wildfire 2013: 19 firefighters killed

Central African Republic gold mine collapse kills 37, national mourning declared

Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand flood 2013: At least 5,500 killed

Colorado wildfires destroy 360 plus homes, 38,000 evacuated

Whether you believe in Global Climate Change or not, don’t you sometimes get the feeling that we as a species are no longer wanted on this planet? And if so, who could blame Mother Nature? I mean, we take and take and take, and what we give in return is pollution, destruction, and devastation. If a guest in my home were behaving this badly, I’d kick him out, too.

eruption

A Real Cliffhanger

Back in 2005, I took a trip out west with my boyfriend at the time to Canyon De Chelly because I had a fascination with all things Anasazi. The canyon is now a national monument, but people have been living there for almost 5,000 years. Currently about 40 Navajo families are in residence. As with most of the rest of Arizona, the landscape is stunning.

Wide Canyon VIew

To go into the canyon itself you need to take a tour or get a permit. We opted to go horseback riding with a Navajo guide. Frankly, I don’t know how anyone manages to live there, because it is, in essence, a big bowl of sand. If not for the horses, we’d have been slogging along in calf high sand the vast majority of the time, with only the occasional grove of olive trees for shade, and no water to speak of.

095StubbornHorse083KokopeleHands092EffectOurBodies

Our guide took us to see some beautiful petroglyphs, and then, further along, some ancient cliff dwellings high above the canyon floor. I asked him if he had ever climbed up there, and he said, “No, because it would affect our bodies.”

I thought that was a curious response, and it had me reflecting upon the great cultural divide between me and this man, who had not spoken much at all up to this point. He began to interest me more than the landscape we were travelling through. I’d ask him questions. He’d pause, as if considering the best way to dole out his words in the most economical fashion. Then he’d respond.

“Have you always lived in this area?” Pause. “Yes. Always.”

Hours later, after his occasional brief response to my inquiries, for some reason the dam seemed to break. When I asked him if he’d ever been outside of this area he paused for a long time. Then he told me the following story.

“One time these people came here and booked a 3 day tour. The lady liked one of our horses so much that she offered to buy it, but she wanted us to deliver it to her home near Boston. So we did. We drove the whole way without stopping. Through many lands. Then we saw Boston.”

“Did you get to see the ocean?”

“Yes.”

“What did you think?”

“It was very big.”

I will always have a mental image of this man gazing out at the Atlantic as if he had just arrived from another planet. “Then we came home.”

At the end of the tour we said our good byes and I realized that this man had a much greater impact on me than I had on him. To him, I’m sure, I was like a brief wind. I wasn’t the first. I wouldn’t be the last. But to me, he was like a stone monument. He would always be there in my mind.

That night we camped, and the next day we drove along the rim of the canyon, stopping at each of the overlooks to take in the stunning views. At the last overlook, the eerie western silence was broken by a strange sound. I couldn’t identify it, and the first time I heard it, I thought it must have been my imagination. Then there it was again.

“Did you hear that?”

“No. What?”

“That!”

I got down on my hands and knees, and stuck my head over the side of the cliff, and sure enough, on a ledge about 3 feet below us was a skinny little puppy. He was shivering and crying.

“Oh, shit. We can’t just leave it.”

“Barb, it’s a 1,000 foot drop.”

“I know. But if I drive away and leave that dog, I’ll never be able to live with myself.”

And before he could say anything, I lowered myself down to the ledge, which, thank God, supported my weight. Don’t look down, don’t look down, don’t look down…I grabbed the puppy, handed it to my boyfriend, climbed back up and walked as far away from the rim as I could get so as not to have the panic attack that I could feel trying to overtake me.

098PuppyRescue

Alrighty then. Next. Feed the puppy. And man, he was hungry. He ate half our picnic lunch. I would have loved to keep him, but Florida was a long way away. So we took him to the ranger station, and they told us they’d bring him to a no kill shelter at the nearest town. We had one request.

“Tell them his name is Cliff.”