A Fond Farewell

Living a month in a home-away-from-home has its pros and cons, its ups and downs, its blessings and curses. There’s plenty of time to acclimate to your temporary bed and learn your way around the kitchen, but way not enough to get past feeling like “tourist” is tattooed on your forehead whenever you step outside. Our four weeks here in our little Tucson condo is a wrap. After a lunch date with a friend in Phoenix tomorrow, we’ll hit the road to Flagstaff, our first overnight stop on our trek back to the Northwest.

I’ll miss the mellow luminous mornings here, and the constantly shifting shadows on the broad bare faces of the Catalinas to the north/northeast of town. But I’m looking forward to mornings at home, too, where there’s still a prickle of frost in the air and (to say the least) no one’s alarmed about how long it’s been since it’s rained. The dry heat here has seeped into our bones and soothed our soggy Northwest spirits for awhile. . . but the truth is I’m looking forward to seeing green when I look out the window.

We’ve loved the extravaganza of spring flowers here— as short lived as it is. There’s no getting used to the brazen bougainvillea, the lush and prolific pink oleander, and the dainty red bird-like blossoms that perch atop upright bundles of ocotillo. But I’m anxious to check-out the hellebores and early tulips I’ve heard are gracing our yard on Edgewood, and to see how tall the sweet peas are that I planted— literally by the light of the moon— the night before we left home.

Restaurant food here— even casual diner fare— offers a complex mix of southwestern and tex-mex flavors. Most dishes unapologetically come with a bite. We expect sliced jalapeños on grilled cheese sandwiches and raspberry-habanero jam with our toast at our favorite breakfast spot. Shopping for food is less of a challenge this year. It seems that more grocery stores are offering organic choices, and some products are even locally sourced. But boy do I miss New Seasons!

There are more good Northwest wines to be had in Tucson now, too. Whole Foods is particularly proud of their few bottles of Eyrie pinot— lined up like expensive mercenary soldiers on the top shelf of “miscellaneous reds.” (Excuse me? Does that sticker really say 39.95?) On the other hand, I’m bringing home a couple bottles of a smooth-and-spicy Sonoran red blend that’s produced a couple hours SE of here in Cochise County. I’m rather pleased with myself (she said smugly) that I set aside my (sometimes tedious) Pacific Northwest chauvinism regarding wine long enough to try it.

We’ll miss watching Charlie romp with his new friends at the local dog park just before sunset, and our early morning walks through the huge, unspoiled Nature Preserve to the west. We listen to the coyotes who live there while we’re lying in bed at night, but we’ve yet to spot one of the wily four-legged natives when walking thru their habitat during daylight hours. Something tells me they’ve spotted us, though. On the other paw, Charlie is especially anxious to get home and reclaim “his” playfield across the street and have some good tear-ass times—in the green grass!— with his home-based four-legged friends.

Speaking of exercise, we’ve loved having the Tucson Racquet and Fitness Club just a short jaunt away, on foot. Gale and Aaron made admirable use of the machines and pool, and I enjoyed my adventures with various styles of yoga classes and instructors. But after each session here, I’ve mentally clicked my imaginary red gym shoes together all the way back to the condo, chanting “there’s no place like home” and the Marshall Center in Vancouver. If I’ve harbored any doubts in the past, I’m now convinced that Katy— my long-time yoga teacher there— is the best, by far. I can’t wait to be back in her class, a week from Tuesday.

Our leaving, of course, will be bittersweet. We’ve enjoyed rich and varied adventures with friends and family. (Including the “opportunity” to— temporarily— set aside our inherent loyalties to teams named “Ducks” and “Bulldogs” during March Madness, and cheer for the local UofA bunch known as the “Wildcats.”) But, at the same time, the anticipation of re-settling at home and embracing the promises and challenges of what the next few months hold for us will lighten our hearts and keep the wind at our backs.

Thanks for reading my random reflections these past weeks. The dogonmylap and I appreciate it.


Dogpark Politics

It’s not easy making a dignified entry into a dog park. The greeting committee rushes over and crowds around, sniffing and squealing, even before you get unleashed. Once I inch my way in, and Mom or Dad shuts the gate behind us, the dance begins. . . nose to butt, do-si-do. The park we go to most often is just for short dogs like me, so anyone who’s interested can check anyone’s i.d. fairly easily. But, even so, I’m always glad when the welcoming is over and I can run off on my own and take care of business (if ya know what I mean.)

Usually the coolest dudes end up just hanging out over in the corner under a mesquite tree, holding their own little pee-party. Once in awhile I join them, but I tell ya. . . the talk over there gets pretty ruff. Especially if politics come up. I’m not up on the local issues, and I don’t care much about who wants to be president (even though I’ll vote for Bo if he ever decides to run.) But some of those pooches at the park aren’t shy about barking their opinions.

There’s always talk about the various snarlshows on TV. Some fast-barking bitch named Rachel Maddog is a favorite, but whenever her name comes up, a funny-looking dog named Billy (or maybe it’s Bully) curls his upper lip and bares his teeth. It’d be scary if you could actually see his teeth, but his pushed-in snout makes it hard. He’s obviously a Repuglican. He got all hot under the collar the other night and actually attacked another dog who was apparently barking up the wrong tree as far as Bully—I mean Billy—was concerned. He was going for the juggler by the time his human came over and pulled him off. He probably gets most of his news from the stuff the foxes show on their channel. And I bet he poops on the New York Times every chance he gets.

Even though all the dogs I’ve met are actually brown, black, gray, white or some mix of those colors (like me), there’s a lot of wagging— both tongues & tails— about who’s red and who’s blue. I don’t get it, except I have learned that blue dogs are of the opinion that democats can be lived with, as long as you keep an eye on ‘em. I’ve learned the hard way that keeping an eye on cats is always a good idea, but I don’t think I could ever really trust them. One thing I know for sure is that I don’t like that guy named John McCanine. And I’m so glad I’m not Mutt Romney’s dog! No bones about it. I much prefer riding on Mom’s lap when we’re in the car, instead of on the roof!

Politics aside, I’ve met some nice Tucson dogs who love to race in circles and play the way I do, including Scout, Spooner, Ricky, and Bella. We can put on quite the dog-&-pony show for our humans— even though no ponies are allowed inside the fence with us. Last night, I met the cutest little girl named Bugsy. She loved playing with me. She’s only as tall as my belly, so I tried to be gentle— even though she really made my tail wag. Her Mom said she’s a “mix” of Chihuahua and Jack Russell. I did notice that she barked with a slight Spanish accent and she had whiskers on her chin like other Jacks I’ve met. But the truth is it makes no difference to me what mix someone is. We all step into our harnesses one leg at a time.

After six or seven visits, I think I’m finally starting to be considered a regular at this park. It’s nice when I sniff my previous p-mail comments and find that others have responded with their own posts. I’ve started to join the greeters as new dogs arrive. In the time I have left, maybe I can make a difference. Maybe I can help everyone there to stop yapping about politics and just play ball. Dad says a wise president named Hairy Truman liked dogs a lot. (Always a sign of a good human.) Mr. Truman used to say “If you want a friend in Washington, get a dog.” He must have lived in Washington like we do, but I say that dogs are good friends to have no matter what state you’re in— including Arizona.

So there—that’s my post on Mom’s blog for this trip. Let me know what you think! Now I’m off for my afternoon trip to the park!

Primary Colors

Both my body and mind need some time to shift gears and get up to speed when we arrive in the desert. But I never have to coax my spirit awake to the mystery and magic all-around me here. My soul reaches out to the giant saguaros who stand like sentries along the road and raise their arms in salute as we head into town. My heart skips a beat when I spot the dark, scissored peaks of Tucson’s mountains etched against the evening sky.

And the colors. . . the amazing natural colors that adorn this landscape wield their own power in me, perhaps more than in any other place I’ve been. The artist’s standard red, blue and green color wheel blends into cyan, magenta, yellow and beyond. (And when you mix them all together you get some amazing shades of brown.) I can come close to taking in this entire spectrum at a glance from our patio. Each color is evident in its own dramatic intensity. . . except for one.

Wallace Stegner nailed it, several decades ago. The esteemed “dean of Western writers,” Stanford professor, and life-long champion of wilderness preservation pulled no punches in his defense of and love for the Great Basin—this vast arid region that stretches from the Cascades and Sierras east to the Rockies and south from Central Oregon into Mexico. To appreciate the West,” he admonished us, “you have to get over green. You have to quit associating beauty with gardens and lawns. . .”

I scoffed when I heard him say that during one of our earlier excursions into the desert. It was September, when gardens back home in Vancouver were ripe and flourishing. Everywhere I looked, trees and shrubs seemed to be withering, and what greenish plant life I saw was anything but friendly, with its spikes and barbs and bristles warning me off. I could see nothing growing—let alone thriving—in the ubiquitous pink gravel folks spread on the ground around their houses and called landscaping. And he was telling me to get over it?

But now I think I understand. I was looking for green in all the wrong places. Green isn’t plentiful or even normal throughout most of the real West, like it is in the rainy upper left-hand corner. It has to be carefully nurtured, even engineered, here—and often at great expense.  There are, of course, some “natural” greens around, but we’re talking muted, dusty shades of olive and sage—not the lush emerald hues of damper, cooler climes.

So, Mr. Stegner, I’m not merely “over it”—I’m way past needing or expecting it, as the rest of the Sonoran palette saturates my view and fills my senses. I love the weathered grays and tans of the bark on the ancient eucalyptus trees along the street where we’re staying, and the earthy, essential reds of the urban landscape’s stucco walls and tile roofs. I see the rich browns—ranging from milk chocolate to cinnamon—in the hills surrounding us and in the ground I tred on the way to yoga class. When I toss in a flush of neon pink bouganvillea and finish with a splash of orange and yellow sunset, there’s no room left for green.

Tucson Love Letter

The all-too-familiar adage “familiarity breeds contempt” strikes me as a bit extreme. Gaining a better, fuller spectrum understanding of people (or places)—becoming aware of their warts as well as their wonders—doesn’t, of course, dictate dislike. It simply provides more input. . . information that allows us to better ground our opinions and test our initial, honeymoon-phase perceptions.

When we first visited Tucson— maybe 20 years ago— it was love at first sight. We were smitten with her relatively mild and clean desert air (compared to that of her more brash, sprawling big sister up the road to the north.) We stood in unabashed awe of the three beautiful mountain ranges surrounding her—each with its own personality and treasures waiting to be explored. And— as a Pacific Northwest gardener— I was enthralled with her amazing varieties of cactus, succulents, and hard scrabble desert trees. The plant life here, in itself, is worthy of its own blog post.

We’re now a week into our second annual month-long visit with this sassy, spirited city. We’re feeling more familiar and comfortable with her, even though the relationship is still far from intimate. We’ve set aside our rose-colored glasses and we see her in her stark, everyday, no make-up reality. We see— and curse— the potholes in her pavement. We see— and cringe at— the indigents who by necessity people her parks. But the more we get to know the true Tucson, the more we like her, despite (perhaps because of?) her obvious faults and failings.

There’s no doubt a darker underbelly to the city that could easily “breed contempt”— or worse— in those having to square off with it “mano a mano.” Except by watching the local evening news, we’ve yet to experience it personally. . . maybe because neither of us is dark-skinned, gay, or wears hoodies. That said, more than other places we’ve hung out in AZ, it’s not hard to locate Tucson’s liberal stripe— thanks, in part, to the presence of the university everywhere in town.

Tucson, in fact— as  idyllic as it can be— is a paradise of paradox. There’s no separating her centuries-old cultural traditions from the leading-edge, socio-scientific thinking that spills beyond the UofA’s borders into the community. (The U sponsors some amazing lectures on Monday evenings— free and open to the public.) There’s no arguing with our four-legged neighbors of the clans “javelina” and “coyote.” (Last night, we encountered a family of the former out on a midnight stroll along busy Country Club Drive, and we hear the latter’s early morning song fests wafting from a nature preserve just a few blocks to the west.) There’s no denying the overlay of the city’s technological dem119and against the backdrop of some of the world’s most awesome natural beauty. (We are thrilled with our view of the spectacular Santa Catalina range from our rented condo’s backyard, but there’s no ignoring the high energy power lines stretching north-to-south across the foreground.)

For all of her curious contradictions, her heritage and her rich resources, Tucson has the right to be pretentious and proud. But instead she makes a point of being friendly, humble, and accessible. We are learning to accept this fine, old seductive city for what she is and has always been, and we respect her for the efforts she’s making to grow and improve. Far from our so-called familiarity with her breeding contempt, we’re finding that to know her is to love her.

Road Zen

Most of us invest more time and energy re-playing the past and rehearsing the future than living in the present. On roadtrips, when–at 60+mph– you just want to get somewhere, it’s nearly impossible to Be.Here.Now.  (Oh look! Sheep in that field!” “Where?” “Too late.”) Even on the two-lane slower roads we prefer, seems like we’re usually either bracing for what’s around the next bend or glancing in the rearview mirror.

We have a traveling companion, though–the “dogonmylap” named Charlie–who is much more in the habit of living in the moment. Like any dog, ask Charlie what time it is and he doesn’t need to check his iPhone. It’s always “Now.” (“Hmmm. . . this right here is the most eloquent pee-mail I’ve ever sniffed. Don’t rush me, please.”) In his own ways, he reminds us to enjoy the moment at hand (or paw). . . and put aside wondering whether it’ll be raining in Tucson when we arrive on Saturday or worrying about household chores we left undone at home.

Fortunately, our getting-to-Tucson has provided some notable real-time moments. In a week of potentially mundane driving, we’ve enjoyed two good visits with two good nephew-families.  Both were well worth slowing down for. We caught ourselves soaking in each visit as if it were our destination. Besides, nothing past or future distracts me from a present dessert platter piled high with strawberries hand-dipped in dark chocolate. And I feel no need to be anywhere but “now” when I roll a 100-pin strike in wii bowling.

Today we moved on. Arnold, Angel’s Camp, Merced, and Fresno are all in the rearview mirror, and we’re anxious to put Bakersfield there too, come morning. Tomorrow it’s Palm Springs for a night, and then our last overnight on the road will be with some Portland friends who winter west of Phoenix. Charlie will no doubt help us be present during these last few hundred miles., and remind us to stop and sniff the. . . um. . . roses.

Target: Tucson

Despite multiple (beneficent) cosmic forces conspiring to keep us in Vancouver, we are leaving today for our second annual trek to Tucson! G maintains we’ll be outta here within the hour. . . but. . . you know. Soon, anyway.

Thanks to those of you who have asked if I’ll be blogging again this trip, I’m thinking we should give it a shot. I’m hoping this new blog site works better than the version on The Google that I’ve been using for a few years. We shall see!

This first post is just preliminary–a test run. Please check back in about a week. . . I should have something to say by then.