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

The Day I Met the Feds

A memory from twenty or so years ago.

 

“I’m going to grab my laptop and head out in a few minutes,” I shouted to Rowena. I always said goodbye to her, the languages department secretary at Cochise College, Douglas Campus.

“No you’re not. Come look at this.”

I headed into the office next to mine. Sitting on Rowena’s desk was an open box, a white powder sprinkled around it on her desk, her lap, even on her face.

“What in the world?”

“I don’t know, but I called Security. We’re not supposed to leave the building.”

It was the height of the anthrax scare, spring 2002, and the deadly poison had been sent to Democratic Senators as well as others, killing several and infecting many. Although this white powder we’d received wasn’t the same as the more coarse, tannish anthrax, it was still considered suspicious and had to be investigated.

We watched out the windows as campus Security joined Douglas policemen to string yellow Crime SceneDo Not Cross tape around the building. Six of us were confined until … well, we didn’t know until when. 

Until whatever happened next.

It wasn’t long. Within a few minutes, a Security officer opened the outside door and called into us to come board the van. We’d be driven across campus to the gym, enter through a back door, and head to the showers where soaps and shampoos awaited us.

As we walked out, we saw a small crowd of campus staff and teachers, held a good distance away. Many were in tears.

They’d been told nothing, but seeing the tape they’d assumed someone had been murdered. They shouted to us as we went to the van. What happened? Was someone killed? Who is it?

We shouted back that no, no one had been killed, but Rowena had opened a box filled with a white powder, and the entire building might be contaminated. 

We climbed into the van. The driver was the campus Dean, Chuck Hoyack. He’d volunteered to drive us.

I told Chuck I needed my computer. I’d spent days preparing a PowerPoint slideshow on my office computer. I’d transferred the presentation to my laptop and I was ready to leave.

In the morning, four of us were due to drive to Las Vegas to present at a conference. I had to have that laptop!

Chuck told me I couldn’t have it, that no one could go into the building. He dropped us off at the back door to the gym, and we filed out, me still insisting I had to have the laptop.

In the shower room, a woman gave us clipped instructions. 

Strip. Put clothing into a bag. 

Seal the bag. Write your names on the sticker on the bag with the pen provided. 

Shower and scrub from head to toe. Do it again. 

And no, there was no lotion. 

We were to put on white jumpsuits and plastic flip-flops afterwards. The outfit, other than the flip-flops, looked like something a scientist would wear to avoid contamination.

We all scrubbed twice, toweled off, and stepped into our white one-size-fits-no-one jumpsuits and flip-flops. We walked across the drive to the administrative building and someone told us to wait until called, that we’d have to give our story. 

We sat. 

We waited. 

Questioning went pretty quickly. I think there must have been two interrogators. And they weren’t cops. 

When I sat, an obviously government guy flashed his credentials and introduced himself. His badge read “FBI”.

FBI? I was immediately puzzled at their arriving so quickly. Rowena had made the call maybe thirty minutes, max, before they’d arrived on campus. 

Where in the world were these guys stationed? They couldn’t even have flown in from Tucson so quickly. Sierra Vista? Maybe Bisbee! 

I regret I didn’t ask.

I don’t recall the questions or my answers, but do I know I told him I hadn’t witnessed Rowena opening the box, that I’d only walked into the building to gather my things to leave.

I was out of the interview in under ten minutes. 

The woman who’d given us instructions in the shower room gave us receipts for our bagged clothes. She said we’d get the clothing back once the investigation was complete and/or the clothing deemed safe. 

She cautioned us to go to an emergency room if we had any strange reactions. I assumed she meant other than my raw dry skin that was already itchy. 

Or is that a reaction??!! No. I know how itchy my skin is when it’s dry. 

She then said told us to leave.

By this time, I knew I was really late leaving. I’d been pretty late before the fiasco began. So I took a moment to call home and let my then-husband know I’d been delayed and had quite a story to share when I got home.

I don’t recall how I got my purse. I must have, though, because my keys had been in it and I know I drove home. Plus, I had ID and such when we got to Vegas. 

Then, as I left, a little bonus: Chuck handed me my laptop bag and told me NOT to tell anyone he’d gone in. He then headed off to the showers to double scrub.

And that was the end of it. No one ever told us what the white powder was, only that it wasn’t dangerous. They never told us if they’d tracked down the person who’d sent the box. We did get our clothing back a few months later, however. And the Vegas trip and presentation were a success.