Friday, July 13, 2018

Fun is Too Expensive

I went to a Shakespeare festival this week with one of my retired teacher friends. It was fun while it lasted. It will be fun in my memory possibly by the end of next week. But right now is not fun.
I've fallen and. . . you know the rest.

Whenever I use an unusual amount of energy, which is still very little by a healthy person's standards, my brain and body need a lot of time to recover.

Part of me is already composing next week's blog with insight into the performances I saw, but thinking in whole paragraphs, staying upright to compose full paragraphs will have to wait.

I left planning to write my podcast for Thursday while resting in my hotel room, then record and post it after I got home. Didn't happen.

At least I knew knitting was out of the question. Though I cheated a little. We spent some time at a second-hand store where I bought a sweater for $4 to pull apart and a scarf loom for $1 to fake-knit on. (I would have bought needles if they had any.) That movement is not repetitive enough to add to the pain in my arm and shoulder which haven't seemed to recover any with rest. I'll share photos next week.

When I was still trying to teach and live a normal life in spite of illness, I had a few songs that helped me through. Pain is very individual and very lonely, but the songs made me feel like someone understood. A lot of people probably misunderstood. A young teacher asked with great concern about my mental state. I'll leave it with you, but also leave it to you to find links to the songs. Any recommended additions are welcome. I need to lie back down and cry for a few minutes.

Valley of Pain by Bonnie Raitt
Everybody Hurts by REM
Hurt (originally by Nine Inch Nails) cover by Johnny Cash

Saturday, July 7, 2018

New Tech, Distant Journeys, Deep Time

This Studebaker is a marker for Route 66 in Petrified Forest National Park.

Before I escape back into vacation memories, a personal update.

Based on current information from my husband's company, we have chosen not to move. That means instead of a relocation upending us right away, we are looking at unemployment beginning with the new year. I'll keep you posted.

When my husband relaxed into this choice, I was able to drop the high energy supportive wife  mode and collapsed into a flare. That meant I was radiating heat from my whole body and pain pills didn't make any real difference.  After a week of mostly resting, I am back to my definition of normal.

But neither of us are well. My husband's coworkers are facing the same issues, so the conversation at work is constant and stressful. He nervously over-exercised yesterday and is now suffering. I channelled my own nerves into knitting, so my shoulder is back to bad. I'm going to be a good girl and leave the knitting behind when I go out of town for a Shakespeare festival next week. I've packed two fidget spinners and will bring high-tech distractions. I might have to find a yarn shop in Cedar City.

Back to travel memories:
We are serious science fans. For my husband, anything involving space exploration and the technology involved with it attracts him like a magnet.

Due to this obsession, he has long wanted to visit the Very Large Array in New Mexico. It is a series of 27 radio dishes (and one spare) that have been picking up signals from space since the late 70s.

Though it includes a museum and visitors are welcome, the VLA is not easy to visit because it is, intentionally, far away from everywhere. For us, this was a top priority on our journey.

You might be familiar with the VLA from Contact, a movie starring Jodie Foster as a scientist looking for radio signals from alien civilizations.

We like and recommend the movie, but it creates misconceptions about the purposes of these dishes. If the aliens sent a radio message, VLA would "hear" it, but it's real purpose is to look deep into space.

Radio waves are a form of light waves that we cannot see, but the satellite dishes can detect them and give scientists usable data. The antennas are on train tracks and are moved into different positions for different types of focus, like the iris of an eye contracting and dilating to adjust to differing light.

The VLA has captured a view of material spinning around the supermassive black hole in the center of our galaxy. It has added to understanding of how stars and planets are formed. Because it takes billions of years for radio waves from deep space to reach Earth, scientists are using the data to try to understand the early days of the universe.

Each antenna weighs 230 tons. The diameter on top is 82 feet. They are 90 feet high. It was fun watching my husband run around the tourist area to get as up close and personal as they let us get to these amazing machines.

We now know that they post information on their web page on when the antennas will be in each different formation. I'm sure we will plan another trip back when they are closest together and therefore most photogenic. (Ideally it will also be in cooler weather.)

Our other astronomy visit was almost an accident. We planned a couple days in Flagstaff, Arizona because it was central to several locations. When I went online to find out what we could do in any spare time, the Lowell Observatory appeared. I expected something like the planetarium in Salt Lake, but this was better. Real discoveries have been made there. The observatory was built in 1894 above what was a small town in the mountains because it offered clear skies and darkness.

Newly restored, this 117-year-old telescope is now used for public education.
Percival Lowell was looking for evidence of life on Mars. Although he was disappointed in that search, important discoveries have been made at the observatory.

Pioneers in infrared astronomy found evidence that universe is expanding.

More famously, in 1930 Clyde Tombaugh used infinite patience and a telescope designed to photograph space in order to discover Pluto.

In 1961, the newest telescopes were moved further from town, where discoveries, such as the rings around Uranus, continue.

Now the Lowell Observatory's original site is used primarily for public education. When we visited, they were hosting an enthusiastic and loud science camp for elementary school kids.

We attended two tours, one about the founding of the observatory and another about the discovery of Pluto. When we left, they were setting up telescopes so people could look at the sun.

The Pluto Telescope--the wooden part on the bottom is where photographic plates were put.
We had seen quite enough of the sun already, but wished we had the energy to go back and look through the big telescopes at night.

When life settles down a little, and days get shorter, we will go back to Flagstaff and the Lowell Observatory. The hope is to visit when one of the planets is up at a good time for viewing.

We have a little back yard telescope and have looked at Venus, Mars, Saturn, and Jupiter. Our telescope isn't powerful enough to show much more than bigger dots of light, but we can see more than Galileo did.

With the right conditions, we can see that Venus has phases like the moon. Four moons are visible by Jupiter as well as some sense of color on the planet. Saturn shows us its rings and and its largest moon.

Seeing these things with my own eyes somehow brings them closer. It feels like a miracle. I'd love to look at Mars with a telescope large enough to show the "canals" that excited Percival Lowell enough to invest his fortune in an observatory.

All of the photos for this blog (except for the knitting) are by my husband. Here is a rather miraculous photo he managed to take by lining up his cell phone with the eyepiece of our telescope--Jupiter and the Galilean moons--so clear and close you can almost touch them from our overly well-lit yard in Salt Lake City.

THE PODCAST is a Dickinson tribute to summertime. Summer seems to ease her obsession with death. She's not sure whether it is God or magic that deserves the credit, but is thankful to wake to yet another summer day.

Despite 100 degrees yesterday, so am I.

THE KNITTING consists mostly of two hats.

The all grey one is inspired by Ancestral Pueblo pottery I saw white traveling.

The floral and striped one is a doodle I made up, then hurt my arm to finish.

Both will be available in my shop eventually, but I probably won't get them listed until next week. If you want to reserve one of them, send me a message.

Friday, June 29, 2018

Where did that rug go?

I had been looking forward to telling you about the high-tech visits on our trip and their links to very ancient history. That will probably happen next week, but today my mind and body have been hijacked by a sudden life turn.

We are all fine. Everyone, except me, is healthy, but . . .

My husband's company just announced they will be closing the Salt Lake office. Employees were given two weeks, now one, to decide whether to move to Colorado Springs or be unemployed right after Christmas.
Yes, it's pretty. It looks just like Salt Lake. Geography is not the problem.

Like the rug that was pulled out from under us, we are still up in the air. We have eliminated the choice of selling everything and totally uprooting. With a family house that is paid for as well as sentimental and with grown kids we don't want to suddenly leave to their own devices, that just doesn't feel right.

That leaves either unemployment and a job search with COBRA and another insurance company to negotiate or possibly living two places at once with a rental in Colorado Springs and a lot of driving and flights back and forth.

Neither option is pretty, but again, comparatively, we are okay.

That said, this is taking a physical toll. Despite almost no knitting this week, both arms and my neck are aching with the tension. Husband is losing his voice explaining what's going on to colleagues around the world as well as friends reaching out to see how he is doing.

We could both use another vacation. A drive to Colorado Springs to look at the new office and get the lay of the land housing-wise may happen soon, but I don't think it will be refreshing.

On a happier note, my children just took me on a forced death mar--um little nature walk to Donut Falls.

It is a hike that people take their little kids on, and dates if they aren't sure they are hikers.

Basically, it's one of four or five hikes in the area that this old crippled lady can do.

I'm thankful my kids can slow down for me. I took a lot of pretty flower pictures.

White wild geraniums an bluebells

more bluebells and a Columbine

pink wild geraniums and Jacob's ladder

pink wild geraniums and penstemons

I can never resist the dandelions.

monkey flowers
THE PODCAST this week is about a poem that compares different types of friends to different types of fabric.  Fabrics created by knitting were not included, but the tiny bit of THE KNITTING, I did was finished and mailed to Australia this week. If you are also feeling chilly in the Southern Hemisphere winter, you can find lots of warm wool in my shop.

Friday, June 22, 2018

Seeking Solace in Stone

A panoramic Grand Canyon photo by my talented husband
I had chosen to spread out processing my photos and memories of travel to enjoy the experience longer.

I should have guessed that politics would make escaping back into the quiet, timeless rocks a psychological imperative. I've spent most of this week agonizing about stolen children. I've written my congressmen and donated some money, but feel mostly helpless.

Asking anything of my very Republican representatives feels increasingly less effective than starting to pray to ancient Babylonian gods.

 If you know anyone in power, kick him or her for me.

My hurt isn't helping anyone. It's time to set away for a few minutes.

So I'll call on my travel spirit guide, in this case the raven I managed to photograph at the Grand Canyon, and try to focus on the rocks, because traveling the four corners is all about the rocks.

Rocks lend a different perspective to our brief lives. Geological time is vast and hard to comprehend, but the striking layers of rock all over the Colorado Plateau make it impossible not to believe in an incredibly ancient earth upon which we humans are relatively recent inhabitants.

The oldest rock I encountered is a relatively recent arrival. 50,000 years ago, a meteorite struck a flat, desolate part of Arizona, creating a mile-wide crater over 550 feet deep. Bits of that meteorite are scattered all over the desert floor and on sale for as little as $3 at the gift shop, but the big chunk on display is a piece of iron and nickel believed to be over three billion years old. Astronomers assume these metallic meteors were formed at the same time as the planets in our solar system.

The crater was formed before the earliest traces of humans in the southwest, but even if people were in the region, it is unlikely anyone would have been harmed. Meteor Crater is on one of the most barren pieces of land I've ever seen.

Our guide said that natives knew about the crater and hunted near it, leaving arrowheads, but they have found no other sign of habitation.

White people first bought the land as a mining claim, hoping to find a huge meteorite that had actually been burned up in the atmosphere and vaporized on impact. Later, the land around the crater became part of a vast cattle ranch. It has to be vast because the unpromising vegetation can support about one cow for every fifty acres.

It's hard to photograph the whole crater from its rim,
The crater has remained in private hands and the museum is privately developed, so we didn't know what to expect. Frankly, the web page and the faded road signs leading to the crater led us not to expect much.

We were pleasantly surprised. There is a Subway restaurant on site, so you can avoid heat and starvation (if you can afford it.) The museum is up to date and interactive with lots of information about the history of the crater and of the science done there.

It took the lifetime work of more than one geologist to prove that this crater, in an area dotted with volcanic activity, was actually caused by a meteorite.
which is why I stole this picture of the whole complex on-line
                                                    The clues these scientists used made it possible to identify other meteor craters around the world and contributed to information used to study craters on the moon and Mars.

Tourists are no longer allowed to hike into the crater because the owners got tired of paying search and rescue to retrieve victims of heat stroke and sprains. Erosion is a problem too. Wind will gradually fill the crater with sand, but hikers were speeding up the process.

We hadn't planned to hike anyway. The mid-morning heat was bad enough that we weren't sure everyone in our tour group was going to survive half an hour on the crater rim listening to a guide. If you go, sunscreen and hats are a must.

The newest rock I encountered was less than a thousand years old. (I miss-remembered and told my parents about 200, sorry.)We found it  almost on accident. There was time between Meteor Crater and a Lowell Observatory visit later in the afternoon, so as we drove back to Flagstaff, I looked for other points of interest on my phone.

This brought us to Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument. This is the most recently active volcano of many in Northern Arizona and has become a place to study how nature comes back after the total devastation of an eruption. Apparently it took 400 years for plants to start growing on the lava field. Now there are pine and aspen looking very out of place on this desolate landscape.

People were living in the area at the time. In fact dendrochronology of logs in buried pit houses helped scientists date the eruption. No human remains were found. It is assumed people had enough advance warning and perhaps passed down knowledge of volcanoes, so they moved to other sites (one of which we visited) before their farms were covered by the lava flow

 No one is allowed to climb the cinder cone, but there are several trails. We only had time for one and plan to go back and spend more time.

The rock that drew us south in the first place is the Grand Canyon, which in addition to being beautiful is a textbook of geologic time. The Colorado river started cutting through the rock "only" five or six million years ago--Still before people were known to be in North America. But it cuts down through the ages--layers of sandstone put down by the sediments of lakes and seas. The lowest point of the canyon is made of hard igneous rock possibly 2 thousand million years old. I heard several fellow tourist exclaim in disbelief that there was an ocean there, but the evidence is written in stone. 

The canyon is impossible to capture in photographs, but I give you my attempts. These were taken from the south rim on an increasingly windy and increasingly crowded June day. 

If there were fewer people we would have stayed longer. I feel like I could spend hours leaning on a guard rail and absorbing the vastness of the canyon, but we need to find a time of year and day of week that allows for a little meditation. 

Before I return to the present, I need to leave a strong recommendation for the Museum of Northern Arizona. It had the best information on the geology and people of the area. We will be back there when we have several hours to learn. 

THE PODCAST this week is on a poem I read while traveling. It describes how a sunset transforms an ordinary village into shades of red and gold. The red and gold struck me and I tried and failed to imagine Emily Dickinson's reaction to the four corners area.

THE KNITTING is a commission piece ordered while I was away. I made a false start with the colors reversed, but I'm well underway now. These subtle natural colors remind me of some of the pottery I saw. Pottery-inspired hats may be made from the leftovers. If you want me to make something for you, communicate through my shop.

Friday, June 15, 2018

Finding Home: An Authentic Indian in a Cowboy Town

The best part of the petrified forest and the painted dessert is neither. I am always most interested in the human footprints.
Finally home after six days on the road, I'm feeling overwhelmed.

I felt pretty good on day 2 at the Grand Canyon!
Physically overwhelmed to be certain. My body was giving way by the last day or two, past the point that I could mask weakness through the usual mix of caffeine, morphine, and adrenaline.

Although I kept offering to drive, I was thankful every time my husband turned me down. As much as I loved our trip as adventure and a chance to escape from my everyday boring sick life, my everyday  boring sick body had been ignored long enough.

So today at after two o'clock, I'm finally up. I've been up and down for food and shower and laundry, but it has definitely been a podcast listening sort of day--focusing on the voices of historians in Ben Franklin's World because I'm done sleeping, but not ready for anything else.

But I am also overwhelmed in amazing ways. Over the next few weeks I'll be processing my trip emotionally, visually and academically. All will be part of my personal history, but much will also be posted here as blog entries.

We travelled so far and saw so much. Here's a brief Facebook summary my husband posted which expresses it well.

Crazy roadtrip of 2018 stats -
6 Days
1,828.6 miles driven
22.1 MPG Average (v8 baby!)
35,151 steps taken
1 Jackrabbit almost hit
1 (we think) ferret almost hit
2 prairie dogs almost hit
4-5 Squirrels almost hit
1 antelope standing in the way until we stopped moving
Completely lost count of how many lizards we spotted on our walks.

North American Pixellated Ravens

He didn't count the ravens because they were our constant traveling companions. 

I'm addled enough by fibromyalgia to experience my own form of magical realism, so I like to think it was the same raven following us throughout the four-corners region. The fact that I occasionally saw nests and groups of ravens does not discount my idea of a "Guardian raven" following us around and leading us home. Maybe he was even the local raven that lives by our grocery store along for the adventure.         

Despite many attempts, I never got a good raven picture. There are a few reasons for this. 

(1) Black animals are notoriously difficult to photograph well.
(2) Birds move pretty fast. 
(3) The zoom quality of my iPhone camera is crap. 
(4) By the time the ravens actually posed for us, in the Petrified Forest, I probably couldn't hold my phone or myself still long enough to take picture.
(5) Supernatural beings are notoriously difficult to photograph at all.

You may be relieved to discover that the bulk of this blog will not be about ravens, but about home. Home may well be the theme of many of the blogs about this trip because the four corners area, inhospitable as it appears, has been home to overlapping groups of people for at least 10,000 years.

Tower at the Grand Canyon--inspired by native culture
I first realized I had left home when we stopped for gas in the White Mesa Ute reservation. This cute little Mexican girl ran into the restroom as I walked out. Then I looked around and realized that she was probably not Mexican but Native American like everyone in the store but me.

The gas station/convenience store was also an eight lane bowling alley and there was a school bus outside that probably accounted for the twenty young men bowling. I'm having linguistic fun trying to use Ute youth in a sentence, but I can't remember the name of the school district and honestly don't know if they were Ute, Navaho, Paiute, or from a tribe further away.

While I was inside, my husband got a kick out of a young man driving in to gas up with music blaring from his truck in typical young man fashion--in this case traditional native singing and drumming.

I've grown up with a natural fear of "the other," extending to travel on local tribal lands, but saw nothing but friendliness. (And some of the best cell phone signal on our trip.)

I will be less nervous in the future, which is good because I long to study the towns left by the Native American's ancestors and learn more about what they did to create comfortable homes in the desert. If I ever become less shy, I would also like to interview native Utahns about their lives and homes today.
Also inspired by native culture:Holbrook, Arizona--inspiration for Pixar's "Cars"?
Maintaining homes in  a dry place isn't easy. Most of the small towns we travelled through in Arizona looked like they were dying. I know many Utah towns that suffer the same way. People come in to buy cheap land on which to build big dreams, but the harsh sandy winds erode the dreams along with the signs painted to promote them. 

Small town museums can be the best places to learn about layers of people who try to make a place their home. We learned a lot in the museum in Springerville, Arizona by talking to a man who had retired there after a career in the Tucson area. He thought it was the most beautiful part of the state. (Maybe we haven't seen enough of the area to not disagree.)

He taught us that the volcanic cinders that make up most of the soil make farming too difficult for more than small, subsistence gardening.

This unpromising soil became the home to ancestral Puebloans who built a settlement nearby over a thousand years ago, then moved on for unknown reasons before the Navaho arrived five hundred years later, soon followed by the Spanish explorers.

After the Mexican American War, two parallel settlements were built by Basque sheep herders and Mormon Cattle ranchers. Despite combined economic interests, two towns remain, each proud of their independent heritage.

The museum houses possessions of a wealthy Parisian woman, Renee Cushman, who moved to the area to become a cattle rancher. Because she died childless, she donated her amazing rugs, paintings, and furniture to the museum.  I marveled at the difference between her new home on a the wind-swept, quiet, high desert after growing up in a bustling elegant city.

My husband pointed out that the woman who runs (and hopefully owns) the hotel we stayed in in Springerville is in a similar situation.

Like many in the hotel business in our part of the country, she is from India. Because I am not nosy, I didn't ask why she left India, why she chose Springerville, or whether the older man reading the newspaper and the older woman helping with the baby were her parents or her in-laws.

I complimented two of the things she planted to grow a home in the harsh Arizona soil. She has trained a plant in the hotel lobby to grow up one wall and cover the ceiling. It is gorgeous and makes the poor Antelope head on the wall look even more exotic and out of place than it did in the wild. I should have taken a picture.

I did take pictures of one of her two well-tended rose gardens. They are in gorgeous full bloom and show signs of daily care. Whatever brought her to this lonely foreign place, she is determined to cultivate a home.

THE PODCAST took a vacation when I did, but next week will be a poem about a sunset with reds and golds so fantastic that the great masters of the Renaissance drop their brushes. They and Emily would need medical help to recover from the golds and reds of the Navaho reservation near Monument Valley.

THE KNITTING went better than expected. My left arm still hurts, but isn't any worse after lots of driving knitting. I almost finished the piece I expected to finish before leaving, but ran out of yarn. I know the brand and ordered more, which should arrive any day. 

Other than the crucial finishing work, I finished a shawl of my own hand-spun yarn and own invention which is inspired by the broken geology through which we travelled. Some time this week I will tuck in the loose ends and block it. It may eventually appear in my shop. I'm calling it Ravenland.

I've also started one of the two projects I actually planned to make on this trip. It may be finished in a few weeks. What makes that less likely is the yarn I just received from Mountain Meadow Wool as part of a subscription. These are the colors of the southwest and I'm aching to start playing with them.