Pursuing Poppies

Just past dawn, we three intrepid Ladyranchers climbed into my RAV named Luna.

Ladyranch is my acre of land on the Mexican border, and currently, three women live on it.

The morning was cool and overcast but expected to clear.

We were headed from our tiny town on the Mexican border, up through McNeal, Elfrida, and on to just north of Sunsites in search of California poppies. Remembering last year’s display, I wanted to share the beauty with the two women here.

An hour later, we were there, parked across the road from JH Helicopter Service, right at the corner of Wylie Coyote Road and Horse Country Road. Really.

But the poppies were still sleeping. The cool morning and overcast start of the day had left them unable to open yet.

Except for one.

So we waited. We walked a bit and found a few other things to photograph.

But it was quite cool, so we climbed back into the car and ate our snacks. Well, at least I did. I devoured everything I’d brought along: the end of a bag of peanut butter pretzels, a Kind bar with cashews and cherries, and banana.

But eventually, it warmed up and poppies filled the fields.

And not just poppies.

Around 10:30, we decided to head back south making a quick stop to photo remains of an old windmill.

We gassed up in Elfrida because the prices were far lower than in Bisbee.

We passed a field plowed and ready for planting and one already planted.

This part of the county is known for cotton even though it is an absurd crop to grow in the desert. It takes over 5000 gallons of water to produce 1 kg of cotton. No wonder our water table is dropping! And then we saw one field: It looked like a few bales of cotton had exploded before they were picked up.

But soon we were near the turnoff to Whitewater Draw. Why pass it up?

Nest of tent caterpillars

No cranes since they’d all gone north. But there were hundreds of Yellow-headed Blackbirds.

And then the star of the show: mama owl and her babies!

You can see a second baby hiding behind the first.
The shy baby was still hiding behind mama.

One our way home, another old windmill.

Poppies, Whitewater, blackbirds, owls, and two old windmills. We were sated when we headed out on them last twenty-five minutes to home.

Staying Home

So, “Stay at Home” is in order.

I wasn’t really prepared. Who was, really? But I’m a pretty good introvert. Or so I thought.

I used to teach at a community college, with classes, meetings, etc. After long days, I retreated home and rarely went out. I used up all my interaction energy at work.

Then I retired, and I changed. In my head, though, I was still an introvert.

Now I’ve been home the bulk of the time for over four weeks.

First to go was my weekly writing group. Six women, rowdy and sometimes bawdy, all strongly opinionated. We got together weekly to talk, laugh, gripe, eat, and share our writing. I can’t believe how much I miss them.

Then it was the farmers market. My book group. Then my other book group. And then my monthly writing group. And the library. The library!

Coffee with friends. Lunch with friends. Wandering downtown Bisbee and poking into shops. Stopping to chat with friends and even strangers. All gone. 

Short trips are gone. No browsing for plants at Lowe’s. No trips to Tucson, so no Costco, no Trader Joe’s, no Sprouts Market.

Not even my late winter trip to Bahía Kino (on the Sea of Cortez in Mexico), my home away from home.

And it hasn’t helped at all that the bulk of this four weeks has been cool and overcast, not the sunny late winter-early spring typical of southeastern Arizona. I began feeling lonesome. Yeah, isolated. 

But it’s worse for Tricia who was passing through, traveling in her van. She parked in my yard by the barn for a few days. She’s been stuck here for about a month now. She’s chomping at the bit to be able to finish her wanders.

No, the van doesn’t have horns. Those are Italian cypress trees behind my property.

My “daughter” Katie (we adopted each other last year) is up in Denver and wants to visit.

I have a plane ticket to visit my sister and family in Louisville. In June. Can I safely fly in June? Even if I can, I probably wont feel safe. I’ll be canceling next month. 

But there are magical moments.

Emails and phone calls from friends I hadn’t been in touch with for a long time. Web gatherings. Musical groups playing together but separately on the web. 

The occasional visit from a friend. We sit on my patio, far apart.

Random acts of kindness.

And now sunshine is finally here, and days are hanging out in the low to mid seventies. My garden is blooming.

My old girl Chloe loves to sit among the flowers.

There was a killer full moonrise.

The swallows came back to the nest they built last year and even mudded it up a bit before mama laid her eggs.

I’ve made a few visits to Whitewater Draw.

Mama and one of her babies in the barn at Whitewater.

And I made bread for the first time in over twenty years!

So hang in there, folks. Find some fun and beauty right where you are. I guarantee you they’re there.

Preparing for Surgery

I’ve always said I don’t believe in surgery. Or hospitals, actually. And that part alone pretty much eliminates surgery unless I end up having some sort of field surgery where I have to drink whisky to get numb and a guy who says he can do it because it watched a program on operations once uses that same whisky to sterilize the knives.

No new hip for me. No new knee. No shoulder repair. No pacemaker. No stents in my heart. And for sure, no open heart surgery.

I’d made the vow: I will not have surgery. 

But there I was, filling out the online form for Camp Lowell Surgery Center. Oh my god. It was right in the name! 

But after back-to-back to-back sinus infections, the last one needing two different medicines over twenty-two days, I decided I needed to have my damaged sinus area cleaned out.

Over thirty years ago, after major trauma to my face, I’d gone to the doctor and said I was suddenly having sinus infections, that the sinus area of my right cheek was chronically painful, and I knew something was wrong.

I don’t recall if it was an X-ray or what that I had, but I was pronounced fine. I knew I wasn’t, asked for more tests, and was basically told to go along, little girl.

I should have gone to another specialist, but the insurance wouldn’t pay for it and I didn’t have the money.

So thirty-two years later, I found myself facing the “S” word: Surgery. And I was filling out all the online forms. 

Previous hospitalizations. Metal in the body. Chipped teeth. Chipped teeth? Yes, chipped teeth.

Medications. Allergies. A long list of potential risk factors. Parents’ medical problems.

And then, there it was. Do you have your will in order?

My will.

What the hell kind of question was that? This “simple surgery” was coming up, and they want to know if my will was in order? 

And then this one: Would you like to sign an advance directive?

A will! An advance directive! Oh my god, they were planning to kill me in that “simple surgery”!

I then noted I could sign an advance directive the morning of the surgery. Good. Off the hook on that one for a few more days. 

But a will. Did I have one in order? Not an easy question to answer. Sure, I had a will. But it was old, and it left everything to my former husband.

That was not going to happen.

It was time to make decisions, and it was time to make them fast. My sister agreed to be executor. The biggie taken care of. Then I had to get a will form somewhere.

Just as I was beginning to stress about finding the form, my sister sent me a link to a brief article on hand-written wills. They’re legal. They’re easy. But mostly, what made me happy is they’re legal.

I wrote out a draft on my computer, fussed with it for the next twenty-four hours, and then hand wrote it. The only problem was I needed a witness to sign it.

It couldn’t be Lee because she was mentioned in the will as my tenant as was my desire to have her stay as long as was practical. 

I was thinking who I could go visit for a signature when my signator appeared at the door: Paloma Díaz.

Paloma was a Couchsurfer who was traveling in her van. I’d agreed to have her park at my house for a few days.**

Poor Paloma. We introduced ourselves and then I said, “Could you watch me signing my will and then sign it as a witness?”

“Sure.”

In a matter of moments, I had a legal Arizona will. Signed.

Two days later I had surgery. I didn’t die, so the will wasn’t really necessary after all. However, I now have it and plan to file it away somewhere safe. 

And knowing me, I’ll pretty quickly forget where that safe place is.

** As is typical here, as of this day, Paloma’s been here nearly two weeks. ¡Que vive LadyRanch!***

***LadyRanch is my on-acre property with a guest house and was so named by Katie Poliquin. She arrived last year for two nights, stayed four months. Immediately after her arrival, Suzette appeared and stayed five months. Katie looked around one day and said, “What we have here is a LadyRanch.” We all (Katie, Suzette, Lee my tenant, and I) all loved the name and it stuck. 

Lee still lives here. Paloma landed here two weeks ago, and Katie reappeared a few days ago. LadyRanch is alive and well!

Journey: Aurora to Taos

Thursday. My last full day in Aurora with Katie. We decided there was only one thing to do: eat pastries.

She took me to a place in the city called Denver Central Market. It was in an old area of the city that is now quite expensive and trendy. So of course, a trendy, expensive market. She had raved about it, but I was prepared to be a little less enthusiastic. How wrong I was!

There were murals on walls of many of the buildings in the area.

While I was distracted by them, Katie snagged a parking spot right next to the market. We entered. Wow, wow, and wow again!

To the left were tables and chairs. To the right was coffee. The internet password for the market was great: buylocal.

We turned right after the coffee and went to the pastries.

Then we got the coffees, and that’s when I saw this sign.

We stuffed ourselves. The. Best. Pastries. Ever. And I mean ever. Suicide by pastries, perhaps.

There was also a stall with handmade chocolates.

And yes, I bought some. We decided to split one. I couldn’t even speak. The taste of rich, dark chocolate with lavender cream filling. I couldn’t believe the decadency.

But hey, need fresh oysters? (We didn’t.)

Veggies, smoothies, meats, bread, sandwiches, tacos, pizza?

We waddled our way to the car, got home, and collapsed. We were worthless the rest of the day.

Friday I bid adieu to Katie (Flower) and Mike (Crash).

I cruised down I-25 (ugh) to Monument and stopped for coffee with a friend, Karen. We have know each other for nearly 70 years. 70 years!!!! We met when my family moved to the Chicago ‘burbs. I was across the street and down just a few houses.

We both look better than this, but the overhead lighting gave our faces odd shadows.

I then went down the highway and cut off on a rural road to Taos. Ran into some rain and more great scenery.

I spent the night just north of Taos in El Prado. A friend of a friend offered me her shed. Her shed? Well, I was game.

Not a shed! Two rooms, a comfy bed, and I was surrounded by white sage that filled the air with its magical scent.

The woman encouraged me to clip some sage and I did!

Then, a dinner of tostadas de ceviche and back to my sweet little overnight casita.

Journey: Around Denver

Tuesday with Katie was a mixed bag. We started with a croissant binge. One ham and cheese, one almond, and one chocolate.

We then hit a few thrift stores.

Across from one was an old theater called the Mayan. Odd name for a theater.

It first opened in 1927 (or 1930, depending on which site you believe) and is one of only three remaining theaters in the US designed in the Art Deco Revival style. According to Wikipedia, “The well-preserved lobby is called ‘The Hall of Feathered Serpents,’ the auditorium includes a chandelier based on the Aztec calendar stone, and the original fire curtain included images of Mayan jungles and temples.”

My thrift store goal was to find a warm and beautiful, coat. I found some $300-400 furs that were out of the question. And then … wool. Turquoise with a fur collar. Wow. Just wow.

But it was expensive, and I didn’t like the 3/4 sleeves. And it cost a lot. And it was expensive.

We checked a few more places and nada. Zip. We returned to Katie’s house with no coat but still full of croissants. The mixed bag.

Nap time.

On Wednesday, we decided to visit the Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge. Arsenal is in the name because it’s located at a former Army chemical weapons manufacturing facility. After a massive cleanup, it became a glorious animal refuge, signed into law by George Bush in 1992.

There’s a ten-mile loop drive. Mostly we saw buff-colored grasses, some rolled into round hay bales. We thought it odd to cut the grass for hay when the animals had acres and acres of grasses. Odd to be in this beautiful, remote-feeling place with Denver in the background.

Mostly there were deer, but at a distance. We saw a plethora of prairie dogs and innumerable birds neither of us could identify. But no bison, which had been the reason we’d wanted to visit.

This boy had beautiful antlers. Sorry the sky was so pale-makes it hard to see where the photo begins.

The bison were all quite far away, dark lumps in the grass. And then this:

And wow!! There were bison! I leave you with these (all cellphone shots.)

Journey: Gunnison to Aurora

I pulled out of Gunnison around 8:30 Monday morning, driving into beautiful tan, hillsides east of town.

I expected to reach Aurora by 3 or so, even with a few stops. More glorious fall colors as I went east.

And then up. And up and up. And up some more to Monarch Pass. I loved the sign because the Forest Service made it in a butterfly shape!

Monarch Pass is the Continental Divide, posted a 11, 312 feet. That gave me pause. Should old people be up at that elevation? The effective oxygen is only 65% that of oxygen at sea level! I live at nearly 5000 feet where the level is 83% that of sea level. Would that difference affect me?

I climbed out of my car. Seemed I could get plenty of oxygen in my breath and my balance seemed fine, so on I went to the visitor’s center which was actually a store with information.

And fudge. It had fudge.

I opted not to hike to the very top, likely a few hundred feet higher. Why take chances with oxygen?

Then down the other side. Lots of mountain baldness and finally, I was back in color.

When I stopped for the color shot (last good color of the rest of the drive to Aurora) I found the remains of a deer.

More baldness followed by a lunch break, then on to the Big City. Below is Mount Antero, elevation 14,269 feet.

The drive into the Denver area was full of traffic on a Monday afternoon! And at 40 miles away I could see the smog.

Finally, almost to Katie’s, I got totally lost. She and her partner weren’t a lot of help when I explained where I was because they’re fairly new to the area they live in. I finally pulled into a lot at a church on a busy highway and told Katie to find me or I was heading to a hotel.

They found me a short time later. I’d transposed two numbers in her address. This getting lost was all operator error, not the fault of Google Maps.

Soon, we were on her deck, snacking away.

And, she’s got a cat, Tracki.

Journey: Cortez to Gunnison

At 7 am, I wandered a few blocks to a sweet little coffee house in an old Airstream.

Apologies, especially to Dennis Galloway, for the crappy panorama I took with my cellphone.

I chatted with the young barista who convinced me I could never live in Cortez: It snowed there on her final day of school last May!

On to Dolores where I had my first of several stops to see the Dolores River.

Dolores is a small town, under 1000, a little larger than the one I live in. But it’s a tourist area, so it’s far busier. It has several parks along the river with benches so folks can enjoy the view.

And from Dolores north, only two words for the scenery—beautiful and dramatic. Leaves were starting to turn, so there was color everywhere. Reds, golds, greens. Brilliant blue sky with puffy, white cumulus clouds.

The road wove near, beside, and over the Dolores and each curve brought more beauty.

I passed through Rico, a town of about 400 people.

The road had started out with slow hills and gentle curves, but somewhere beyond Dolores it turned steeper with tighter curves.

And the clouds became more gray. Was there snow in my future? I’d seen a number of chain-up signs. What chains!! I’m from southern Arizona!!

I stopped to see Sheep Mountain, elevation 13,188. My altimeter said I was at nearly 1,000 feet.

The hour-and-a-half drive to Telluride took me closer to four because of the many stops I made.

I detoured a few miles into Telluride. A disappointment. It was too polished for me, seemed almost a fabrication. I’d hoped to have lunch there but found only one open parking spot with a twenty-minute limit. As I headed back out of town, I noticed all downtown spots had the same time limit. I’ll not be back.

I figured I’d better concentrate more on driving and less on the scenery if I wanted to make it to Gunnison, another several hours up the road. At my rate, it would take five or six hours!

But beyond Telluride, the scenery changed. Different side of the mountain. It was a gentle downhill most of the way, so I breezed along at 55-65 to Montrose where I finally got a meal. Then on to Gunnison for the night.

My route.

The place I stayed had a hot tub. M-m-m-m.

Journey: Springerville to Cortez

Coffee-ied up and out of my motel before seven. Got a mile up the road and saw my tire light. I limped back to town and pulled up in front of a tire repair place. There was a note on the door saying he was open by appointment and there was a phone number. I called and he said he’d probably be in around nine.

I checked a few other places, but no one repaired tires, so I headed back to the motel to wait until 9 o’clock. The owner saw me, wondered why I hadn’t left, and I explained. She had her son come and put air in my tire! Hooray! Back on the road!

Half a mile up the road, my tire light came on.

I rolled slowly forward, getting in and out of the car to check my tire, and there it was. A nail.

By this time it was 8:45, so I got some gas and headed back to the tire place. At 9:10 I called the tire guy again and he said he be in in about half an hour. He made it in twenty minutes.

In the meantime, I looked at maps to change my route yet again. The plan had been to stay on back roads and stop at Canyon de Chelly, then go through Teec Nos Pos to the Four Corners and head into Cortez, Colorado, where my next motel awaited. 6 1/2 hours of driving time. Plus, of course, I wanted to spend time at the Canyon and get the obligatory photo at Four Corners.

I wouldn’t have time to do all that without having to drive into Cortez in the dark. Out of the question. I rerouted.

Up 191 to Sanders. A beautiful high desert route with nearly a dozen windmills, most happily pumping water. There was little traffic.

I didn’t make my goal of not being on interstates, but since technically I’d had to use I-10 for seven miles the day before, I’d already blown the goal. I missed the canyon but saved an hour and a half of driving.

I

At least it was a scenic drive.

At Gallop I exited the interstate into a traffic jam. Roadwork heading north made for a mess, and drivers were not courteous.

The highway north was dotted with hitchhikers, the most I’ve ever seen. One or two or three were on every block, all of them Native American.

More beautiful high desert driving. I finally saw the Shiprock.

Then to the town of Shiprock where there was a large area of government-issued housing. None of it was in the traditional hogan shape and all houses were identical. It was pretty awful. How depressing it must be for the people who live there.

From there I drove to Teec Nos Pos and headed north toward Colorado. In a very short time I’d reached The state line and the famous Four Corners.

The marker says FOUR CORNERS…HERE MEET…IN FREEDOM…UNDER GOD.

Center seal

More great scenery, and I rolled into Cortez, Colorado, about 40 minutes later.

I settled in and strolled a few blocks to have a salad and a cup of soup for supper.