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.

Journey: Naco to Springerville

I left home before seven and headed north.

Past one of my favorite windmills,

Passing Whitewater Draw, I just blew a kiss, and zipped on through Elfrida. Past farms and farms and more farms. Then I had to stop at the border patrol checkpoint, a whole thirty miles north of the border.

Fams, farms, farms. This is the area where foreign corporate agra has sunk innumerable wells for crops to ship to their home countries. And in the process, they’re draining the aquifer, causing small farmers’ wells to go dry, destroying the central and northern parts of Cochise County. The area will eventually run out of water and the corporate farms will move on to kill another beautiful spot.

Then through Kansas Settlement.

I passed miles of corn being raised for the poor cattle at a monstrous feedlot. The pesticides on crops and the manure runoff are destroying area creeks that not long ago were still pristine.

I made a stop at Bonita Bean Company for a bag of locally raised pinto beans (much smaller farm than the agra farms).

And Dos Cabezas (Two Heads) towering over all.

On through Willcox and then, sadly, I had to drive on I-10 for about six or seven miles to the next off-interstate stretch of 191.

Through Safford and north on Highway 78 which cut east, eventually taking me into New Mexico for a time. New Mexico welcomed me.

Note all the bullet holes. What a welcome!

Up and up I went on a twisty road with fast-moving semis and few pullovers. It reminded me of the stretch of Mexico Highway 2 between Cananea and Imuris, and if you’ve driven that, you know. White-knuckle driving. Well, 78 wasn’t that bad.

But one empty livestock semi seemed to be chasing me. Truly.

Past a sign that warned of falling rocks, and the warning was backed up with a heavy metal mesh fence that held back tumbling boulders. At least I hoped it did.

I finally was able to pull over at the top of the pass to let the empty truck roar by. I got out to stretch and found the air to be deliciously fresh. I’d been driving through desert scrub, but when I got back into my car and rounded the curve at the end of the pass, I was in a pine forest! No wonder the air had smelled so fresh.

Even some wildlife, and some not-so-wild life.

Two small fauns, little ones that looked too young to have left their mother, hovered at the side of the road. I stopped and turned on my flashers, giving them safe passage.

They stared at me, hesitated, stepped onto the highway, and stopped. They stared some more and then dashed off across the road. The cow stared at me but never moved.

Lots more scenery.

Then I turned north toward Reserve and Luna. Luna Lake just outside Alpine, had a very low water level.

I saw any areas that had been burned.

And signs I never see back home.

And pine trees that turn yellow in fall and shed them their needles.

I stopped for the night in Springerville. Next door was a wonderful little coffee shop called Junk and Java. I saw some “junk” I absolutely loved and if they’d fit I’d have bought them.

Then dinner. Fish fry. Part cod and part catfish. The catfish had been dunked in egg and rolled in corn meal. It was delicious. Perfect end to a wonderful day.

Words

Our words are failing us.

I learned this again when I was working with two women I tutor in English. Our rule when we meet is they speak English to me and I speak Spanish to them. It works well. And they teach me much.

Long ago, I learned that the Spanish word for mountain is montaña. Well, it is, but it isn’t. Montaña refers to a mountain that you might be climbing or want to climb. 

It’s a different word, however, if you’re talking about specific mountains, either a singular one or a range. That word is sierra.

I’d heard this word a lot in conversation with friends in Mexico. They’d say las sierras and wave an arm towards a mountain. I wondered why so many mountains were named Sierra. Now, knowing this distinction helps me both speak and understand better.

Spanish also has several words when talking about a hill. Although there may be more, there are three words for hill that I know of: colina, cerro, and loma.

Then there are the words in Spanish that have no English equivalent. One of my favorites is sobremesa. This means the time after a meal when people continue to sit at the table and talk. What a lovely word!

Another good one is peña aneja. This means to feel embarrassment for someone else—whether or not that person feels embarrassed at all.

One I can relate to is desvelado. It means to be deprived of sleep. Sadly, last night I was desvelada once again.

One more I can relate to is friolento, the adjective, and its noun form friolero. These words indicate an unusually strong sensitivity to cold. I’m certainly a friolera, and too often I’m friolenta.

These are fabulous words! Why don’t we have any English equivalents?

Then there’s that Spanish word that can mean almost anything.

Órale! Watch out! 

Órale. Yes. 

Órale! Hurry up! Or Órale. Go on, get moving. 

Órale! That’s amazing!

Órale. I’m waiting.

Órale! Bring it on, asshole.

The most famous example of the inadequacy of our language is the way we describe snow. Eskimos have many words for snow. I’d always heard that there were twenty-three, or maybe only twelve, but perhaps twenty-seven words for snow in Eskimo languages. 

In reality, none of these numbers is true. There are many more, the exact number probably unknown.

For example, in the Yupik language alone, there are thirty-four different words that refer to snow. And that is just one language in Alaska. The Yupik even have six separate words that refer to a type of blizzard.

Native people in the Lower 48 also have a variety of words for some things. Consider rain. There is female rain, male rain, and walking rain. Those are just the ones I’ve heard of. I am sure there are also several for thunderstorms.

But we have a few special words also, words other languages may not have. One is psithurism. It means the sound of the wind in the trees and rustling leaves. Isn’t that remarkable? One word for that delicious sound of a breeze through trees.

And here’s one especially appropriate today: snollygoster, a noun. It means a shrewd, unprincipled person. Especially a politician.

But here’s maybe the best, in a twisted sort of way. We all know the word disgruntled: to be irritated or displeased. 

Well, I just learned that there is also the opposite, gruntled. Gruntled!  It means pleased, satisfied, or contented. And even the verb form, gruntle: to put in a good humor.

This so gruntles me!

Luisa the Green Sea Turtle

It’s out! It’s out!

Book 01

The book that started as a whisper and became a dream is now reality. Here’s the email I sent friends this morning:

I am ecstatic and overwhelmed. I am also in a bit of shock. The book I ran through my brain several years ago is PUBLISHED!!!

The book is Luisa the Green Sea Turtle, a bilingual “read-to” book for 1st to 3rd graders (although my grandniece who just finished 1st grade can read much of it on her own.) It’s about Luisa who gets trapped, faces being turned into soup, but is set free.

It’s available on Amazon at this link:

Or, you can simply log onto Amazon, enter ‘emilie vardaman’ and get to the book that way.

If you have young ones in your life or are simply inclined to make a purchase, I’m asking folks to do so on Monday, July 2. If impossible, try to do so on the 3rd.

 The idea is if a lot of people buy on the same day, the book goes, however briefly, to the top of the sales chart and then is closer to the top of a search page at Amazon. So if you’d like to make a purchase, please do it on July 2. 

THANK YOU!!! 

Luisa’s illustrator (my super duper fabulous #1 niece Jessie Stout) and I are so excited we’re  having champagne! We’re 1700 miles apart but coordinating the champagne.

Emilie

 

Today

I don’t do poetry. Except when I do.

We were gathered today
Talking, writing, laughing
When the text came
A shooting today
In her school
In her classroom
Last day of class, a joyous event 
Presentations, posters, final projects
Then he stood, fired
And they fell
Two injured
Two dead
Two more hang on
Lockdown and chaos
Students running, hiding
Classrooms empty
Fleeing building
Hands in  air
Suspect in custody

Male, again
White, again
Lives destroyed