Hiking with The Phantom of the Opera

“I love to go a wandering, along the mountain path; and as I go, I love to sing, my knapsack on my back.” Who hasn’t chortled that song at the top of their lungs whilst trekking with a group of young people? Though I have grown older, I am nothing if not a happy wanderer.

So often the things we love most to do in life dovetail. Hiking and Music. That’s the perfect combination for me. Hiking. Writing about it. Writing a musical about it. Even better.

Nowadays I don’t often sing while hiking. Silence is better in the great outdoors. I embrace it. I think better in solitude. But there are times a tune whistled or hummed is just the right thing to get you through a narrow passage, barren stretch, or energize you for extra effort.

I have learned something about hiking along the Colorado River or its tributary canyons: There be willows – sometimes tamarisk – in riparian areas and sand bars. Willows and tamarisk can slap you, lash you and poke your eyes out.

Further up White Canyon from Sipapu Natural Bridge, the willows tower above my head, yet in the undergrowth, the trail is clear. The animals who regularly roam these paths are short, maybe coyotes. And there, on the wildlife path, I discovered a new way to wield my hiking pole.

Keep your hand at the level of your eye, may be a famous line from Phantom of the Opera but it’s also the latest principle I learned while putting one foot in front of the other.

Take your staff by the hilt, but still pointing down. Now salute with your fist in front of your nose, thumb on forehead, fist, pole and forearm vertical. You can now see around either side of your fist, your walking pole will part the willows from your forehead to your knees and you just might come out of the brush free of most lashes and scratches and without your eyes smarting.

Cue marching music. Let’s go a wandering, friends, with our hand at the level of our eyes

Humans of Hometown

I stopped in at the grocery market on 12th Street and purchased a couple food items. It was Tuesday so the store was filled with Tuesday discount shoppers. In one checkout line four or five group home residents were lined up with an assortment of express lane items. In the lane I chose an older couple (as in, older than me) was slowly shuffling through the mechanics of buying groceries. The checker, a middle-aged high functioning special needs man, was cheerily and patiently providing customer assistance. A bottle blond and hairspray grandma a little younger than me approached with her six year old grandson. He flopped the purchases up on the belt. I reached for the divider bar and inserted it between orders, whereupon grandma said, “Oh. Sorry.” (“no problem”). And the odor of alcohol wafted on the air. Not too whiny and not too impatient, the little boy began to while away the time by singing:

Boy: Baa Baa black sheep have you any wool…”

Checker (as he begins to scan my items): Well all I have to say to that is, ‘yes sir, yes, sir three bags full.’

Grandma: ‘One for my master and dum dem dum, how’s that go? Lives down the lane.

Checker: sings the lines again and gets stuck in the same phrase.

The line has now been joined by a white female of approximately 35 in a tank top and tattoo looking like a muscle builder who needs to loose 50 pounds fast.

Grandma and Boy: Baa Baa black sheep have you any wool, yes sir, yes sir, three bags full. One for my master and one ….????

Newcomer: One for my master and one……dum de dum…lives in the lane. How does that go?

Me (having completed payment): One for my master and one for my dame and one for the little boy that lives down the lane.

Where upon the pleased cashier spins and high fives me jubilantly.

We all slept well that night.



Making Tracks in the Snow

To take a hike every morning -on the clock – and be compensated by a roof over my head. What more could an outdoor loving woman want? Perhaps food? Food is a good idea. At some point – and soon- that will need to be addressed.

But savor with me for a moment an early morning rove through a pristine campground. First a half-mile walk through a piñon-juniper woodland, then a quarter mile trek around a lightly paved loop passing 13 campsites.

No one has been here in the past 24 hours. How do I know? Six inches of new fallen snow blankets everything. Mine are the only tracks. Wait a minute, what is that miniature train track, that zipper imprint in the snow crossing my path? Kangaroo rat? Deer mouse? I see the tail drag. Deer mouse, I conclude. I fill in the campground report.DSCN5348mousetracks

The next day more new snow has fallen.   Once again I am the only creature stirring on two legs. On the paved loop a cottontail found my trail and joined it for 20 yards. Day three I tramp through knee deep snow A jackrabbit has crossed my path of yesterday in bounding strides. On day four I am off work so I don’t have to rove the loop, but how can I resist? I borrow a pair of snowshoes twice my size and decide to break a path in 18 inches of snow. Day five I follow my snowshoe path in my hiking boots. Five days and still no tire tracks in the campground or human prints save mine. On impulse I fall on the undisturbed snow and make a snow angel right in the middle of the less travelled road, laughing to think how this will look from the elevated perspective of a Mini Wini driver. Day six, a mule deer has joined my path through the piñon-juniper woodland, leaving cloven tracks inside mine and a pile of deer scat to the left of the trail and then another to the right.

The sun has been shining these past few days, the snow steadily shrinking and melting. Each day there are new signs in the campground. A tent space cleared of snow and the footprints of a hardy camper. Tire tracks indicating arrival and early departure of a camper truck. And still, my boots make the only stride on the woodland path. And this morning? Blue and gray scrub jays scold and a juniper tit-mouse taps out a question and response to its mate. The sunshine is glorious. Clear and fresh inside my boot print, continuing for 15 feet I see them: Bobcat.


Exercising Rights and Respect

Let’s be clear.

I stood up for you, not because I agree with your opinion, but because I believe you have a right to your opinion.

I marched with you, not because I agreed with the position of everyone who marched, but because I supported your right to be heard.

“Do you love your children?” my roommate asked.        Yes.

“Do you like your children?” my roommate asked.          Yes.

“Do you like all the choices they make?                                  No.

But they are grown. They exercise rights. They make their own choices.

When President Jimmy Carter reinstated the draft in 1980, there was a huge outcry. People protested. The front page of my hometown newspaper featured a 21-year-old holding a sign: Is anything worth dying for?



Your right to sit there on the curb with that protest sign.

Freedom of Speech is precious.

I may not agree with everything you say.  Sadly, much of what you say may be unfounded.

But oh, how I champion and applaud your right to say it!





What are you marching FOR?

I saw that a majority of my good friends from all over the country were marching. Women of all generations. They are smiling, thoughtful, intelligent women who have seen much they didn’t like – especially in the last few months. Many of them are history buffs and well know that women have not always had the right to vote.

They also remember personally what it feels like to not have a voice-to be disrespected in the workplace or the home simply because they are female. Others have experienced firsthand that it is more difficult for a woman to get a higher paying job – a job that is often reserved for men because men will not settle for the lower paying jobs.

Some had dignity and esteem gouged from them during the young and learning years when they were seen just as an object – something beautiful to toy with and tease and demand favors of in the workplace. They are wiser now. Stronger. Firm. Not often angry, just insistent that their daughters not have to fight the very same fight over again.

I was out of town, off the grid, well beyond the bounds of any city or civic institution. I followed the news with interest. The march was referred to as a protest and that startled me. I saw that some of the women carried placards refuting or against a particular person -the new president of the United States.

Protest is strong language to me and I dreaded seeing violence or law-breaking. (Indeed, I continue to be grieved by the emphasis and spin that this is against a person and one person only rather than against policies) But a march? A march of solidarity among women? I had indeed taken my own solitary march that morning – a mile through snow a foot deep that made me long for snowshoes.

Had I been in town, I would have marched with them. Not against a person or thing, but for several things:

For friendship

For solidarity

For love

For equality

For justice

For truth

For freedom

For liberty

For unity

For doing the right thing

For logic, reason and wisdom to prevail

But mostly for love

Love in all things

Love to the stranger and alien

Love to our families

a kinder, gentler and more understanding response

and courage in place of fear

Because perfect love casts out fear

Morning Matins

It’s like morning matins, I said. And she, thinking I said morning maintenance, nodded in agreement.

The early church had some set times for daily prayers, meditations, observances. Some were referred to as matins and others as vespers.

My early years within the bounds of evangelicalism stressed the discipline of morning prayers – don’t leave home without them.

Contemporary thinking gives credence to meditation in many forms, looking inward, quieting the thoughts.

“This,” I clarified, “This morning walk in solitude, this is morning matins for me. I can’t live without it.”

I have adopted a few healthful morning rituals mentioned in Gretchen Rubin’s book, The Happiness Project (2009):

Take a drink of water before you rise

Get out of doors as soon as possible

Engage in at least 20 minutes of rigorous exercise

That morning walk or hike is beyond helpful. It is essential to a clear head and a stable emotional life. I suspect it supports good physical and spiritual health as well.

Morning Maintenance, Morning Matins

Potato, Potahto

No matter how you say it. Do it.



Living the dream albeit frugally

The life I live does not make my mother jealous at all – except that she would love to see me more often. She wasn’t jealous when I lived in the primitive cabin either.

But Dad liked it. His can-do pioneer spirit revived. He could see all the possibilities and he pitched in with a will to help make the dream come true. Mom pitched in too, went over and above, but to her it was only hard work, extra duty. “I could never live like this,” she said. No, Mom and Dad are not at all jealous of the life I now lead.

To an erstwhile spouse, the cabin was a dream-come-true. He caught it, got a grip on it and will never let go. Once upon a time, he had other dreams, outdoor dreams, naturalist dreams, travel dreams, but his grasp of possession on the cabin obliterates the vision of other possibilities. He is trapped.

I alone get to live out the rest of the dream.

My ex-husband is no longer along for the ride. Sometimes that makes me feel guilty when I enjoy the great outdoors, the rocks and trees and solitude. But it was my dream too. I got here responsibly. I worked hard. I provided for my children. So I keep putting one foot in front of the other. Solo. I probably feel guilty less often than he feels covetous.

Wilderness lovers and supporters to the max, my brother and SIL work duty-bound jobs to support themselves with a six-figure income. Their love of travel and their gifts evocative of everything Nature speak to their love of the great outdoors. Yet they are tethered to a university and an edifice; to the whim of grants and administrators.

My brother and SIL are living the dream in their way; well-planned, itineraried and funded by secure savings accounts. They wonder at me living it frugally and surviving on less than a shoestring – a thing many are not willing to do. Admittedly, I still have to find a way to pay a couple residual bills and I don’t see any overseas travel in the near future. Once in awhile that stresses me.

But most of the time I am abundantly grateful for a roof over my head at night, a vast sky and wilderness during the day, hot and cold running water, the nurture of nature’s beauty and the solitude that brings inspiration and understanding.



Taking a meander through life

How often had she said it? “I don’t like to walk for transportation. 15822841_10154008704191891_2897296190757686136_nWhen you walk to get there, you have a set goal, a deadline. There is no pondering, no exploring. You have to walk fast, be punctual.”

Granted, she usually had some direction in mind when she hiked. She was seldom without preparation and a good plan. It’s just that she reserved the right to alter her course, take a different side path, experience something new. She hiked to see new things. To think. To ponder. To assimilate new insights. To make connections between the physical world and the spiritual; the mental world and the earthy. In short, she hiked for recreation. And, in putting one foot in front of the other, she reaped all kinds of health: Physical health. Mental health. Spiritual health. Emotional health.

How like a river is the journey of life, she thought. A river meanders. Often, instead of taking the straightaway through a meadow or valley, the river pushes its boundaries ever outward toward the side, taking a longer route and then making a leisurely switchback. But, when a river gets between a rock and a hard place, where geologically the sides are slumping and closing in, it crashes forward in a cataract. Sometimes a flash flood stirs up the calm meander of the river and it pelts rocks and twigs and throws debris against rock walls. Eventually, the river punches a new hole, a shortcut through the rock wall making a natural bridge. Water flows swiftly under. Or maybe the river, growing impatient, just floods over the neck of the earth peninsula outcropping between two switchbacks and cuts a new course, a shorter route to the goal.

A good meditative meander may result in some active chipping away, some erosion, a new shortcut, maybe a dramatic change of course, less often a roller coaster ride down a cataract. Keep putting one foot in front of the other. Explore all options in your journey. Be strong like the water, and do a good deal of thoughtful meandering.



The memories we lost in 2016

Nineteen years since I have seen him, yet the face in the photos is so real I can hear his voice, remember his manners, sense his body heat emanating from the mixing board, read his language. Harvey has been dead for three years, but I didn’t find out about it until 2016, so it’s been a shock getting used to his absence these past few months. Harvey was nine years younger than me. He is not supposed to be dead and me alive. The last time I talked to him was by phone. Dallas to Denver, long distance. He was getting married, he said. Honeymooning in Colorado, he said. Did he need to rent a four-wheel drive to make it to Georgetown safely? That was 18 years ago. His eulogy said he was married for 15 years before his death. I found the video of his funeral online. I recognized several of the photos in the section titled early years – the ones taken during the brief years we worked together. Wrote music. Recorded music. Wrote musicals. Directed children’s musicals. Those years are still real to me. Moments of success and fulfillment. And that is how I found out Harvey had passed. I went looking for him via Google one night. My musical life had taken yet another U-turn, I was playing in a band, reconnecting with a musical acquaintance from 1984 and I found myself wanting to reconnect with Harvey of 1996. I left contact information on the website of the DJ service he used to run. His former business partner got back with me and broke the news. Harvey is gone. Who will validate my memories? Harvey’s widow had barely entered the scene when I exited for Colorado in 1997. She knows nothing of those years we spent as musical colleagues in shared studio space, though pictures of his individual musical successes proliferate.  2016 has been a year of loss for so many. When you lose someone, you lose a part of your memories. I am aging, increasingly losing more extended family members and high school peers. Who would have thought learning of the loss of a cowriter with whom I had lost contact would come as such a jolt? But it does. We are all intrinsically connected – especially those with whom we have made music. There is no going back. There is only forward. Treasure the music you make today. Treasure the people with whom you make music. Sing a new song every day.



A hike in honor of my brother’s birthday

I took a hike in honor of my little brother’s birthday. How could he possibly be 59 when I am still young and fit enough to exchange a 2-mile hike for 6 miles on a whim? Six miles is a feat I could not have pulled off when I was half his age, by the way. But age has its privileges and its victories!

“Where do you want me to hike in honor of your birthday?” I asked.

“You know the area better than I,” he responded. “You choose.”

Owachomo Bridge is the oldest and most fragile of the natural bridges. My brother is not the oldest nor the most fragile in our family, so that’s out. Also, Owachomo is a short hike, less than half a mile round trip. Not a fitting distance in honor of a brother – or my day off.

Sipapu Bridge is most fitting, I thought. It is the second oldest bridge after Owachomo and the second largest natural bridge in the United States. Of the three bridges here in the monument it is the most symmetrical and beautiful. Besides, Sipapu means “place of emergence” and my brother is obviously the more emerged member of our family. But Sipapu Trail is also steepest and lies in shadow. We have been advising visitors against Sipapu for the past week because of the cold and melting snow.

Kachina Bridge, the youngest of the three bridges at Natural Bridges National Monument, is so named because of the Kachina symbols found in the petroglyphs in the area surrounding the bridge. Petroglyph hunting seemed fitting for my brother’s birthday. Destination decided. Three quarters of a mile down. Wander around a bit taking pictures of petroglyphs. Three quarters of a mile back up. Easy Peasy, right?


My roommate expected me back in a couple hours. I was pleased with my total time of four hours. She will learn not to trust in my early return with an open day, a prepared daypack and (most importantly this time of year) strap-on YakTrax.

Trail Diary for a brother’s birthday hike: Made it down the slippery slope to Kachina in excellent time. Found the Petroglyphs and wanted more. Did a bit of exploring. Found more Petroglyphs. Wandered up the canyon toward Sipapu. Remembered that Horse Collar Ruin was somewhere up this canyon. Kept putting one foot in front of the other. Canyon often in sun and just as often in shadow. Passed Horse Collar Ruin where I had hoped to find sunny spot to eat a snack.  Sunny spot occupied by other hikers. Found fabulous pictographs – an entire congregation of high-fives – just beyond Horse Collar Ruin. Rounded the bend and saw Sipapu up ahead. Ascended Sipapu Trail. Steep ascent, manmade staircase. Snowy and icy in spots. Crossed the road to Mesa Trails. Mud slippery and sloggy across the mesa. Ate apple and peanut butter while slipping and sliding. Successful and satisfying hike in honor of my brother’s birthday. Returned to residence to be greeted by Bear’s Ears Monument news. Well now, that rather upstaged my efforts.  Happy Birthday, Brother!








Putting One Foot in Front of the Other, Hiking for Life!