Short camping trip to City of Rocks State Park, New Mexico. I camped in the Pegasus section, but not the best site (15a). It wasn’t level near the picnic table, so I camped a few yards away. It’s so nice here, it really didn’t matter.
July 1970. On a student charter flight from Los Angeles to London, I met Mimi who was going to spend two months in Europe and Kathy who was going to Scotland for a year. “We have a few plans for London.” I didn’t have any plans. I hadn’t been overseas before. I had my backpack and this was a stopover on my way to Swaziland to visit my sister.
There was a Pink Floyd concert in Hyde Park that afternoon – couldn’t miss that. Then we planned to hitchhike to Stonehenge the next day. We all had backpacks and sleeping bags so we slept in St. James Park that night. Technically that was illegal, but there were so many young people there, they didn’t bother.
We hitched to Salisbury and stayed at Mrs. Turpin’s – small supper, private room, and breakfast for 10 shillings.
At Stonehenge it took a while for the mystique of the place to sink in, and when it did, I knew I wanted more time here. But I had a connecting flight to catch, so it was a brief time at this incredible site.
As most travel encounters go, I didn’t keep in touch with Mimi and Kathy. But it was a fine introduction to travel.
Explore. This trip was planned to be exploration. Where could I find high altitude Forest Service roads? High altitude would get me out of the southern New Mexico heat. What do the campgrounds in the area look like? I’d take notes and then have more places to choose from.
There were two limiting factors that I resented a little. One was the upcoming Labor Day weekend. I wanted a quiet area to spend the holiday. And one of my choices, Trujillo Meadows, closes after Labor Day. This hampered my scheduling. Not that schedules ever work as planned.
My first stop on most trips north is Cochiti Lake, a COE campground. It’s a four-hour drive from home – plenty for me. But it’s not high altitude, so I get a site with electricity so I can use the air conditioning if necessary. Hot and smoky – couldn’t see the mountains. But just one night here.
My neighbors had a skoolie outfitted with a deck. Great place for watching sunrises and sunsets.
I left the next morning for Tres Piedras. Stopped for a few photos. It not easy in the RV – hard to make U-turns and often no shoulder to stop on. But I am happy when I do stop and get a photo or two that I like. Even an elk skeleton.
I couldn’t get the paper Motor Vehicle Use Map that I wanted for this area – Carson National Forest. I do have it on my phone, but that’s not so useful for me.
I chose FS road 84G that had been recommended. It has big granite boulders and acres of flat rock to walk on. And Ponderosa pines.
I found a spot with a little shade and tall trees to the west for shade later.
Many birds here – Bluebirds, robins, woodpeckers, hummingbirds, and a new one for me, Clark’s Nutcracker.
I started reading “A Perfect Red” by Amy Butler Greenfield about cochineal. Fascinating.
Met some neighbors – both solo women full-time campers. One is 65 and one is 82. The 82 year old is a woodworker who designed and built the inside of her van. Very skilled.
There were lots of mushrooms in the forest – boletes and many I can’t identify.
Light rain fell mist afternoons, very light. I walked a couple of times everyday, but nothing strenuous. Once it took me about two hours to walk less than two miles – meandering, taking photos, and sitting! Beautiful morning.
After a few days I started having tooth trouble. Decided to go home and have it taken care of (trying to be an adult). So I cut this trip short, but I will come back here.
Crush a pepper tree leaf and smell the pungent sap. The world around me dissolves and I’m eight years old again climbing the old pepper tree on Oak Creek Drive. We had two big trees, but it was the one near the hen house where we spent so much time.
The older boys had built tree houses there and outgrown them. My best friend and I inherited them. The were two good-sized platforms and two smaller ones.
We would climb the ragged trunks to our favorite spot. We added a few 2x4s, borrowing the hammer from Dad’s shop, and keeping a stash of big nails in a coffee can, which itself was nailed to a joist. The wood is soft and took all the nails we hammered into it; within minutes white thick sticky sap spilled from the wound. It had a peppery smell, but not as strong as the leaves. It stuck to fingers and arms and legs, collected dirt to cover us in smudge scars. We hung up pictures we liked, made shelves, kept magazines and toys there.
I wonder what we did the last time we were in the pepper trees. There’s no knowledge that it was the the last time. Someone said once we commemorate so many firsts in our lives, but often never know the final time we do something. At some point I walked away from the pepper tree fort, but if I smell that crushed leaf, I instantly return.
In the summer of 1987 I was fire lookout on Call Mountain in the central California coastal range. It was a shared position – I’d work four days on, three days off for one week, then three days on and four off for the next. I took my two cats, Ozzie and Goose (named for baseball players).
Call Mountain is oak woodland and overlooks the Paicines Valley to the Central Valley. I could see the Sierras on the eastern horizon – Mount Whitney to north of Yosemite.
To the west I could see the mountains of the Ventana wilderness.
The lookout is 40’ tall and i could park my truck inside the base. During WWII it was used to watch for enemy aircraft.
My parents came to visit one day. It was fun to show it to them.
I loved this job – the solitude and the fine working conditions.
The next year, the Forest Service closed most lookouts. People were getting cell phones and could report fires before we could see them.
An invitation to a Room Mother’s’ Tea with my handprint, 1951. And that hand now almost 70 years older – well used and still strong. Lindo Park School, Lakeside, California.
One of the best relationship exercises I’ve known came out of a support group many years ago. It can be used by anyone – so I offer it here. For many people their relationship with a parent is difficult. This piece is written as if for a mother and child, but can be used for any relationship.
In this we will tell our mother’s story as if we didn’t know her or as if she were someone else’s mother. It may sound strange, but telling it from a distance, we can view her life differently. If you have photos or other props, use them to illustrate times in her life. When you refer to her, call her by her first name or Mrs. Whatever – for this exercise, she is not ‘Mom.’ And of course, add any information that suits you. There are many prompts because only a few questions may apply or resonate for you. They are there just to jog your memory. We told our stories in the group, but writing them out is beneficial too.
1. When and where was she born? Was there anything significant happening in the world then? Wars, economic troubles, political problems, epidemics?
2. What kind of family was she born into? Rural, urban? Economic status? Older siblings? How many siblings were born after her?
3. What was her childhood like? Did she live with any extended family? What were her feelings about her mother and father?
4. How were her teen years? Did she have boyfriends or girlfriends? Did she work? Where?
5. How far did she go in school? Did she like school? What did she dream of doing with her life?
6. Did she want to get married? When did she get married? Tell the circumstances as well as you can. What attracted her to her partner?
7. How many times was she pregnant? How old was she when each child was born? Was she pregnant before she married? Were there any special circumstances: difficult birth, multiple births, illness, death of a child?
8. How did her family feel about her marriage and pregnancy? What did her husband’s family feel about it? How many children did she want?
9. Was she especially close to any of her siblings? Her parents? Her in-laws? Describe their relationships. Was she gay or were any of her siblings or friends?
10. Did she work? What were her interests? What were her passions? Did she have hobbies or craft skills?
11. Did she join the military? Was anyone in her family in the military? How did this affect her?
12. What were the major events in her life?
13. What problems with her children did she have to face? How old was she at the time? What support did she have? What were her fears and where did they come from?
14. Have her parents or any siblings died? If so, how old was she when it happened? How do you think it affected her?
15. Did her marriage last? If not, did she marry again? Describe.
16. Did she suffer from any major illnesses, injuries, or addictions?
17. How was her self-confidence? How did she show this?
18. What were her favorite things (color, food, flower, movie, song)?
19. What were her pet peeves?
20. Who were her best friends? Did her friendships last? How diverse was her world?
21. Did she move a lot or stay in her hometown? Did she want to travel?
Add anything that comes to you about this person. There are many circumstances that I haven’t listed – immigrant families, blended families, racial or gender issues. You will know the right questions to ask. If you find that you don’t know much about her life, that may be a part of why it’s difficult to understand why she does things that upset you.
Present your report with photos if possible to a friend. Better yet, this exercise is very powerful when done in a group. Even alone telling her story aloud helps you understand her and gain perspective. Pay attention to the parts of the story that are difficult to tell or cause you tears. They are all insights into your relationship with her.
After preparing and presenting this story, do you see her differently? What, if anything, has changed for you?
This project can be done using your father, sibling, or friend – anyone that you issues with. It allows you see them from a different perspective.
Perhaps more importantly, this exercise can be done as a story of YOUR life. Tell us about the person who is you, but tell about this person in the third person as if you just read their biography. Describe their life using the prompts above – as if you never met her, didn’t know her. You might find that you are kinder to this ‘stranger’ than you are to yourself.
What can you tell us about this person?
Another fiction piece written when multiple births due to fertility drugs were in the headlines.
Jenna’s curiosity about family history amused her father. Yesterday it was her amazement that he was the first in his family to visit the moon. Today she wanted to know if his great grandfather fought in the Vietnam War.
“Yes he did, so did his older brother Jake.”
“How many brothers did he have?”
“Well, there was Jake, 2 years older, and Todd, 4 years older and then a younger sister and another brother about 8 years younger…”
“Wait! How come he had brothers all those different ages? Didn’t he have any brothers his age?” Jenna was puzzled. She and her 4 brothers all shared the same birthdate.
“Well Jenna, in those days people had just one child at a time so if they wanted 5 children, the children would be born in different years. Sometimes, there were twins or triplets, but not often.”
“You mean the mother had to be cut open 5 different times?” Jenna paled.
“No, the doctors didn’t cut open the mothers. Babies were usually born through the birth canal.”
“Dad…” Jenna backed off this disgusting thought. After a while, she spoke again, “Doesn’t having a brother 4 years older seem like having another parent? I mean, that wouldn’t seem like a brother. I mean, they wouldn’t be in the same grade at school with you!”
Jenna felt sorry for the people who lived a hundred years ago. They had such barbaric medical practices then. It seemed so sad and so unnatural not to have all your brothers and sisters the same age.
Written for a creative non-fiction class.
Traffic was heavy on the 805, but moving at the speed limit. As I drove south the late morning sun dazzled to the east, but was swallowed up by the dark fogbank still covering the beaches. San Diego in June spins with contrasts. The southern California image doesn’t match the cloudy beaches. Crowded highways dull the carefree car culture.
Just south of Highway 94, about a quarter mile ahead I was startled to see what looked like a man cart-wheeling across the two right lanes. A motorcyclist must have been hit. I gripped the wheel a little tighter, ready to hit my brakes. But there were no brake lights ahead, no slowing. In a few seconds I approached the spot where I had seen the strange acrobatics. There was no downed motorcycle. No debris at all. Off to the side a man in faded jeans and a black and white plaid flannel shirt scrambled on all fours up the steep bank of ice plant.
What had I seen? Nothing made sense to me until a couple of miles down the freeway. I came up behind a light green bus – an Immigration and Naturalization Service bus with bars on the side windows. But there were no bars on the back windows and the left one was now ringed with jagged bits of glass. The man rushing up the bank had shattered the window of the bus, climbed out and jumped into traffic to escape deportation. I tried to imagine the desperation it would take to make that leap. Traffic was heavy on the 805.
This is the invitation to celebrate Mom’s birthday three years after her death. I celebrate it every year.