Archive - 2013

November 28th


Nicholas Kristof's Thanksgiving column is must reading. A profound meanness has swept our nation. 

November 28th

Happy Thanksgiving!

Beautiful, clear morning in Tucson. It will reach 70 degrees today. I am joining the next door neighbors and their friends and kin for dinner. I will provide the mashed potatoes. Should be fun. 

The city is quiet this morning. Even the trans-continental trains seem to be taking Thanksgiving off. 

Was informed last night that there was a family of rattlesnakes in the back yard this summer. Rattlesnakes are actually pretty defenseless against their predators, which are gopher snakes, raptors and...believe it or not, squirrels. So most young rattlers do not make it to adulthood. 

The snakes are deep in the ground right now, so no hope of seeing one, which disappoints me only a little. 

Neighbor Pat is a retired veterinarian and loves animal life of all sorts. She now sclupts animals out of metal. Her husband Howard is a retired food chemist who loves to cook. I quiz him about food matters as they arise.

Are hard eggs bad for you? Only if you fry them in oil and  cook them until they start to turn brown. Then the protiens become inaccessible. 

Are canned tomatoes dangerous? I read that recently. No, only if they are old is there even the threat that the acid of the tomato will interact with the side of the can. 

You can't enter Pat and Howard's house without learning something new. Their present houseguest is Charlie, who leads African wildlife safaris and takes photos for National Geographic on the side. He recently published a coffee table book of his incredible photos from Burma. 

One theme: The incredible damage done to Africa and Southeast Asia by the robust Chinese market. For one thing, the Chinese have an insatiable appetite for exotic foods, and the jungles of Laos have been stripped bare of any form of wildlife, even birds. 

Charlie introduced me to a new animal: The pangolin. It is now threatened due to its gourmet status. Recently a van with 200 dead pangolin was stopped at the Thai border. It was headed for China. 

Meanwhile, I am reading the book 1491 by Charles Mann, about the Americas before Columbus. Much strange and wonderful to learn there, too! Early civilizations have recently been found on the Peruvian Coast which date back as far as 12,000 years. It is likely that the Americas were more advanced than the Ancient Mideast. Bigger cities. Higher population. Advanced farming. 

Disease introduced by Europeans ended all of that. 

People tend to be provincial, both in geography at present, where we ignore vast swaths of the earth in favor of what's going on in our backyard, and historically, where we tend to think that we have reached the apex of civilization--which by amazing coincidence is here and now. 

Therefore we resist information which suggests we are not the center of the universe and the very purpose of creation. Provincialism is a pernicious and ignorant mental habit, and it is the purpose of education to shake us of it and stimulate our curiosity, about other cultures, about other regions, about other eras, about the oceans and the skies. To shut one's self down and resist newness is to die an early death. 




November 25th

Tucson sunrise


Rain in Tucson

An unusual rain, too. Sustained over two full days, resulting in 2.5 inches. Tucson gets rain during the monsoon season, but it comes in gushes. This was gradual.

I went to a mall yesterday to spend time at Barnes and Noble. I felt a drip on my head. Then I looked around. All through the mall were buckets and piles of paper towels. The roof leaked like a sieve. 

The temperature cooled as well. Into the upper 40s at night, upper 50s during the day. I had to turn on the heat.

However, today all is forgiven. The sun is out. The desert smells spicy. The dust is settled. And the temperatures will be back to normal by this afternoon. 


November 23rd


My favorite hymn done by my favorite singer... 

November 19th

Sushi Chef

I have gone to the same sushi place four times since I came to Tucson. I love it. I sit at the bar and watch the dignified Japanese chef. In his mid-sixties or so, he is all business. 

Last time, he loosened up a bit. I like to cut my sushi into smaller bites so I can enjoy it more, I told him.

"No, no, no!" he replied. "Take whole piece and chew 30 times to enjoy!" 


Tonight, I tried to cut down on my order since he usually gives me too much. I used the order form to select six different types of fish, three pieces of each. 

"I will do two," he said. "It is easier for me to count two." 


When the plate came, there were four pieces of each fish. So apparently counting to four is easier than counting to either three or two!

Realizing I want to do the sushi thing right, he peered over the counter as I was eating and said, "interesting...very interesting." 

I couldn't get him to tell me what I was doing to cause him to say "interesting." I think he was just jerking my chain. 

I tried to make more conversation. 

"So, where to you get your fish?" I asked. 

"From the FEEEESH company," he said, deadpan. 

I gave up. He has my number. I love his work, but the bill, which is not itemized, has gone up every time. 

So has the pile on my plate, whether I ask for it or not!


November 18th



Over the past couple of days, the birds found my bird feeder. Than tonight, so did this guy. Javelina look cute, but are not to be messed with. One inflicted a $200 vet bill on a local dog two weeks ago. 

Notice how he kneels to get at the seed. A little later, he walked right up to the side door. 

November 15th

The fog of narcotics

I heard from home that Aunt Olla was in a tizzy so I called her to find out what was up. 

At first, she couldn't hear me at all. She is awaiting a new hearing aid, but usually she can talk on the phone without difficulty. This was new. Eventually, she said "call me back and see if we get a better connection." 

I did. 

"Wow, this is so much better," she said. "That other ear is no good." She had been trying to hear me out of her deaf right ear. So, we got that settled. 

Aunt Olla has been on a narcotic for the severe pain caused by a pinched nerve in her leg. I was on the same narcotic after tonsil removal this summer, and I went off of it due to the horrific effects on my mood. So, I understand what Aunt Olla is going through. And I take some of the blame, because before I left, I went through a bunch of her pictures. Included were pictures of an old boyfriend, Joseph, who Olla claimed was just a friend, a former student who escorted her to dances. 

Under narcotics, however, Joseph has taken on new meaning to Olla. She is beseiged by guilt for breaking up with him right before he left to fight in World War II. She is convinced that his surviving relatives have arrived from the East Coast, taken the staff of the Hilton hostage, and are fixing to shoot her. 

I tried some reason: "But Olla, that was 75 years ago!"

"I know, can you imagine hanging on to a grudge that long?" 

"They're all dead!" I said, but that didn't register. 

I tried to change the topic, and told her about my nice glass cottage here in Tucson. 

"A black cottage? What in the world." 

No, I said a glass cottage.

"Spell it," she said. 


"Oh, a grass cottage!" Olla said. "That sounds pretty primitive." 

"But if that's what you like, I guess that's okay!" 


Joseph's vengeful family came up again and again. I tried to assure her that things would be okay, but to no avail. 

"All of the staff are on my side," she said. They are letting her eat in her room for the time being, at least until the hostage crisis is resolved. 

It was 5 p.m. on Friday night, so I didn't have a chance to call the staff. I have no idea how to resolve the situation but wonder if perhaps easing her off the narcotics for a while will give her a chance to reset to her normal, easy-going self. If the pain is too much, she can go back on, having perhaps gotten out of this horrific Joseph rut. 

Sister Tracie is on the scene, and her visits help a lot. 

Signs of Olla's old self appeared. "I am lucky--most people my age aren't lining up for supper anywhere!" 

I said that's right, most people your age are pushing up daisies. 

That got a laugh. 

"Thanks, I needed the compliment," Olla said. 

My sympathies to the Hilton staff going through this crisis. They are marvelous, as always. And let's hope everything settles down in a hurry. 

It is heartbreaking to see a 102-year old suffer, even moreso from a distance.  


Catalina Mountain Moonrise


Taken at sunset tonight from the front porch...

First customer

Here is the obituary for Jeanette, who I will always remember as the first customer I ever waited on at the nursery. 

In the early days, Grandpa never kept hours. You were free to come when you were free. Jeanette was a night owl, and she usually showed up late. Really late. It was 10 p.m. in May. Mom and Dad were exhausted. And up drove Jeanette. I offered to go out and wait on her, even though I didn't know prices or how to use the till. Dad said, go do the best you can. I was in second grade.

Jeanette and I were friends after that. I have enjoyed seeing her in the Halstad Living Center when I play there. I interviewed her for my book Pirates on the Prairie. She recalled driving home from Concordia College to attend the big game in Thief River Falls with her father. They could only find one ticket, so Jeanette sat in the car the first half while her father watched the game. They switched for the second half. It was 12 degrees. She had the radio on, the windows cracked open, and the radio on. 

Jeanette was not just a little eccentric. After she finished her late night shopping at the nursery, she drove 100 miles to Barnesville for a steak. It was the only steakhouse in the valley open that late, she claimed. She usually had an old man in tow, somebody near 100 years old. There were many different ones. They liked the free steak. 

We found out later that Jeanette never planted a single flower. She just let them sit in their pots until they died. All that work we did to stuff her car to the gills with flowers, and she never planted or watered them.  She also couldn't resist artificial flowers. In the barn on her farm, stall after stall was filled to the brim with artificial flowers. 

Jeanette had plenty of money from renting out the good farm land she inherited, but she also could be tight. Rather than buy a dryer, she hauled her wet laundry out to Augustana cemetery where she laid it out over the gravestones. The warm gravestones dried the clothes in a hurry. Not so crazy after all. 

In her later years, Jeanette became convinced that the FBI was after her. They had bugged her car. Last time she traveled to the Cities, she told me, she had to go 95 miles-per-hour on Highway 94 just to shake the FBI cars. Now that was something I would have paid to see! She could barely see over the wheel, and she sometimes wore a scarf. The visuals would make a great scene in a movie. 

After going into the nursing home, her "survelliance issues," as a mutual friend called them, subsided. They must have found the right medications.

Jeanette was educated and well-traveled. As with every old timer who dies, you wish her stories were written down. She was one of the reasons living in a small town can be so interesting. She will never be forgotten, at least as long as I am alive!