School Daze – March 26, 2018

Today I begin homeschooling a new student. She’s 12, and has a 4th grade education – maybe.
The longer I am here, the more I get involved with the folks in the area.
St. J’s is ridiculously poor. While I might yearn for that indoor heated swimming pool, and a new pair of sneakers, I know I don’t do so well with the “entitled”.
When I volunteered/worked at the soup kitchen, it was fun because every day was a miracle.
It is no small thing to be in the midst of God, even when He shows up like a gangly, long-fingered dancer with a meth addiction.

The Road in Between January 20, 2017

OK, so I missed about a year or so of essays. A friend asked what happened in between, so I dug out the journals…

“Finding my way through the fits and starts of inconsistent journals is about the most perfect metaphor one could hope for. I haven’t written too many diary notes recently, and those I have written are scattered her and there in journals, essays, and doodles.f

There’s a lot going on.

The post card version:

We moved to Montana after staying at Connecticut so a friend could go to a wedding in Missouri.”
(Yup. We are a national touring house/farm sitting service, so if you need someone to watch your chickens, feed the rabbits, and take Dog #5 for walks, let me know. We don’t have plans for the summer of 2018 yet.)

“Fast road trip with no lingering at campgrounds or roadside rest areas.

Indiana has a salt-less beach.

Chicago has a lake.

Or was it Milwaukee?
Maybe both.

We missed Iowa City due to a detour, but I’ve now seen parts of Wisconsin and Minnesota.” (Best dog park ever in Wisconsin! 18 acres of fenced woods and fields. Note: Heed the warnings about the mosquitoes. They will, in fact, carry your tea cup pooch away, and torment you ruthlessly if you linger through sunset. They are huge, and have very sharp teeth.)

“North Dakota resembles Arizona. I was comforted by the Painted Canyon in Roosevelt Park. There were wild horses there. Buffalo, too, but buffalo are buffalo and not wild horses.
I’m not explaining that. It falls into the category of corn, violins, the night sky, mountain brooks.

Sacredness on the hoof.

Hannah (the black and tan Lab/Rotti mix) cried the last two days. If she could have used English, it would have sounded a lot like, “Mom. Make Molly stop looking at me!”
Too crowded for too long…

We finally arrived in Medicine Lake.

Small school. (Sophomore class: 3; Largest class, 7th grade: 17).

Small town (maybe 250 residents). Beautiful prairie. (Check out the opening pages of Wallace Stegner’s Wolf Willow. He got it right.)

I mean beautiful prairie. It’s snowed a lot, and the wind continues to shift and sculpt. Finger drifts.
Ground blizzards.

Blue-grey shadows on a landscape that merges with the sky.

Open fields where the wheat was cut high. Snow on the lake where fishermen outnumber the geese.

Pheasants along the roadside (reminding me of my grandfather, and Uncle Hank).

Coyote on the ridge.

Drive sensibly, especially at night. The deer cross the road.
The deer also come around the house (dogs or no dogs). We are dead center in the middle of an eight block by seven block town, and we have deer footprints in the driveway and yard.
A rabbit lives here, too.

Pine and birch, spruce and cedar. I have a thumb-size pine in a pot of dirt. I hope it thrives. (It did not.) It was my Christmas tree this year, pulled from between the gravel and the fence line. It certainly was not going to thrive there, so it came inside for a few weeks…”

Medicine Lake is an interesting microcosm of humanity. We didn’t thrive there any better than my poor Christmas tree. It started with the flu, and progressed to a black mold reaction – the stuff was climbing the basement walls.
We weren’t doing so well at work/school, either, where I was teaching English, grades 7 through 12.
It does  no one any good if the superintendent/principal has no idea what the state and federal frameworks are. Religion was not the course, but you sure as shootin’ have to discuss God(s), faith, and belief systems if you’re going to read Folk and Fairy Tales, including multi-cultural Creation Myths, Greek Mythology, the history of Transcendentalism, British Literature (think Canterbury Tales; The Green Knight; the history of the King James Bible), etc., etc.
Never mind that I know Muslims, Hindus, Christians, Buddhists, Atheists, and Agnostics  whom I respect and call friend – which, in a nation in an uproar about closing the borders to Muslims and others, made for some displays of impressive prejudice by the people around me. It wasn’t a wonderful experience.

Up to this point, I had never seriously minded my Solitude with Dogs. But in Medicine Lake I experienced loneliness. It wasn’t a crippling, debilitating sort of feeling. But it sure did allow me an opportunity to revisit who I am, what I believe in, and what my values are. Thoreau moved to Walden Woods for an artificial opportunity to contemplate his world.
For me, Medicine Lake was the beginning of a season of internal searching and listening. And, despite being tired of packing and moving, we did it again.
But first, we lived in Medicine Lake.





Where are we?

Hello, Folks,

It is now March 23, 2018, and we are back in Arizona.
Last year at this time, we were in Medicine Lake, Montana, where I was teaching English.
Medicine Lake is in the northeast corner of Montana. Very beautiful, if you like wide open spaces and lots of winter snow. The colors are beautiful. And so are a few of the people. Easter Dinner was the very best! Right down to finding the bottle of wine at the end of the scavenger hunt, and watching as the dog dashed away with the ham, holding it like a beard.
Thanks, Dixie! I’m coming back to visit!

However, there isn’t much sunlight in Medicine Lake, and having spent the previous years in Arizona, I was – believe it or not – homesick for high desert.

The Pack and I headed to Miami, Arizona. Along the way, we camped in Wyoming, where the town we stopped in offers free camping in their city park. No kidding! We were even escorted there by one of the local policemen.

We stopped in Estes Park, Colorado, but stayed in a hotel. The snow and ice were a bit chilly. And, I must say, the mountains surrounding Estes Park seemed more intimate and intimidating covered in snow. I’ll have to go back, and explore this phenomenon…

We took a break to stroll around Pecos National Historical Park in New Mexico. I thought is somehow fitting that the only snake we saw was lounging around in front of the chapel. Some things never change, I guess.

Las Vegas, New Mexico, was our next stop. The folks at the KOA were a marvel. They sent us on a quest to find hot springs (they’re hot, and seemingly without a bottom), the best sugar cookies west of the Rockies, and the downtown region where Longmire is filmed.
We stayed an extra night to get caught up on laundry, and I got to engage in conversation with humans.
I love traveling with my dogs, but every now and again, it is comforting to have someone to converse with in the same language.

Friends of ours took us in at their house in Miami, Arizona. Bless their  hearts, but four dogs and a weary woman are a lot.
We eventually headed into the regional national forests, with stops in Benny  Creek, Greer; Tonto  National  Forest; and then Apache National Forest.
Greer is a lovely town at the end of the road. Benny Creek camping area provides composting toilets, and the occasional water faucet. Lots of good dreams, there. We also met a couple traveling with their FIVE dogs. Good people, obviously!

One of the funniest scenes in Benny Creek was around the campfire when the Boy Scouts showed up. The Friday night fire circle was filled with young men. The Saturday morning coffee circle was comprised of older men. Yes, indeed! Boy Scouting will make a man out of your boy … overnight!

The dogs and I spent our mornings around the lake, watching wildflowers bloom and fish swim.

Tonto National provided a ledge overlooking a pine-populated ravine. I had been apprised of a wildfire over the opposite ridge, and hoped the  fire that we could see from our overlook was back burning. Nope. The Hot Shots working the range stopped by to let us know it was a new fire.
I’ve learned a thing or two about wildfires since living in Globe, but I still had no plans to stick around. The family with whom I shared the site left on Sunday. I followed close behind.

A word about the goodness of people.
Tonto Chapel is a small congregation of folks I had never met. We attended Sunday services, and were blessed by the kindness of the congregation. When they asked if anyone needed anything, I asked where I could find a laundromat. One of the ladies invited me to her home to wash my laundry, and to take a shower. Not an every day experience. She shared her lunch with me, and sent me on my way with a brand new bar of deodorant, no offense taken.

Camping in Arizona is a lot like living in Arizona. It is windy, and the dust flies. I was constantly covered in a layer of clay. And there was never a day without dirt under my nails. I’d wash, scrub, lather, rinse, repeat, and then, I’d pet a dog … never mind.

We moved over to Apache National. There was a sign  along the road toward Eager, warning of Sheep Crossing.
Sheep Crossing indeed!

You simply have to love a planet where Big Horn Sheep, Elk, and other Wild and Living Things roam freely.

Apache National, in particular, the area next to the corral between mileposts 6 and 7 on the road from Alpine to Big Lake, has become my hearthome here in Arizona. We camped under an owl nest; hiked the elk path below the ridge; and the dogs swam in Sierra Blanca Lake until they came back exhausted covered in green algae.

The elk path is in a ravine of grass. Maeda, Molly and I headed toward  the lake. I got the feeling someone was watching … sure enough. Four teenage elk were on the path behind us. Not being sure what their thoughts were about having to share their walkway with a human and two dogs, I was a bit cautious of continuing. They opted to climb up the hill alongside us, passed by without comment, and went on their way.
Elk, apparently, are not Moose. Now I know.

If you’re ever in Alpine, Arizona, on a Sunday, please go to the First Baptist Church. They also offer a thrift store –  which is where I met Franz Thompson, the pastor. I must have been more dirt than anything, because he offered to let me wash my hands in the staff break room. He also invited me to church. So, I went.
I got there on a very hot day. So, I opened the windows and the back hatch of the Hyundai, so the dogs would be able to breathe.
“Bring them in,” said the pastor’s daughter. “Here is the leash I use for my dog.”
I have four.
Bring them in, she said again.

So, the Pack and I went to church. I now know that Molly is Baptist or from some other vocal religious order. She chimed her “Amens” and “Praise Gods” at just the right time.
Yvonne, the pastor’s wife, invited us to their house. I could use their shower; the dogs and I could stay in one of the kennels they keep behind their home. So, we did. No biting flies there! (Halleluiah!) And good, thoughtful, and contemplative people.

The summer was rich in generosity, love, companionship, and consideration. It did wonders for a bruised and lonely soul such as my own.

More to follow… But it’s time to settle the dogs.