or, What I Did on My Summer Vacation

Another sizzling summer in Tucson makes me think longingly of my RV and road trips. My art classes are pretty much over for the summer and it’s already getting too hot for my sketching group to meet outside; instead, we meet each Saturday morning in someone’s house and sketch still life setups.

There was a great article about “Hip Little Tucson” in the San Francisco Chronicle this past spring – check it out.

Mexican Canyon Trestle in Cloudcroft NMMexican Canyon Trestle in Cloudcroft NM

In early August I saw the momma and poppa quail with two new chicks about the size of marbles. Occasionally, when I’d venture outside, they’d be close by and scurry off into the bushes. Now there is just one chick left – we have a coyote and a bobcat that frequent the neighborhood, plus a couple of feral cats – so life is risky for these little guys, and often cut short. It's no wonder they usually have such large clutches.

A highlight of the summer was a road trip with my artist friend Stacy to the Sacramento Mountains in the Lincoln National Forest, New Mexico, to sketch whatever we found. We loaded our coolers with food and took off early on 8/19, driving across the desert, stopping at the rest area above Las Cruces to eat our lunch and sketch, then down into Old Mesilla where we sat across the street from Josefina’s Mexican Restaurant and sketched that lovely gate, then wandered through the town for awhile.

Yucca at White SandsWhite Sands, NM

We headed through Las Cruces and on to Alamogordo where we were to spend our first night. We unloaded the car at the motel then headed back to White Sands Nat’l Monument. Storm clouds flew overhead, there was lightning, and wind that blew the fine white sand into our faces. A ranger at the visitor center had warned us not to go on the dunes if there was lightning, so we came back to sketch the center while staying safe in the car.

Sketch of The Lodge at Cloudcroft

The next morning we headed off to Cloudcroft. At 8500-9000 feet above sea level this area of the Sacramento Mountains is a delightful place to escape from Tucson’s monsoon heat and humidity. We sketched the old Mexican Canyon trestle in the morning. Built in 1899, it’s the only one remaining of the 58 timber frame trestles built along the “Cloud Climbing Railroad.”

Next stop on our sketching road trip was The Lodge Resort, a very imposing structure with its own resident ghost. We had delicious burritos at The Western Bar and Restaurant on Burro Street for lunch, our one meal out each day, then wandered through the Burro Street shops and galleries for a bit before heading off the last 30 miles or so to Ruidoso Downs where we had a reservation at a Days Inn for the next two nights.

Ruidoso Downs Race Track features the World’s Richest Quarter Horse Race, the All-American Futurity, every Labor Day; the first was held in 1959 with a purse of $129,000; in 2015 the purse soared to $3,000,000 – the highest purse for any two-year-old race of any breed in N. America.  Our timing was off on this road trip so we didn't see any races.

Free Spirits at Noisy WaterFree Spirits at Noisy Water

Just beyond the race track is an area called “Free Spirits at Noisy Water” which features bigger than life horse sculptures by Dave McGary at the entrance to the Hubbard Museum of the American West. Here we sketched happily for an hour or so, then spent some time exploring the museum. The collection of horse related items here is both vast and astounding and was the gift of Anne and Floyd Stradling of Tucson. She was a great horse lover from a wealthy family, married her dream, a rodeo cowboy and trick roper, divorced him, married again which also ended in divorce, then married Floyd, a rancher here in Tucson.

468x60 Full Color Enjoy the Journey

After lunch, another burrito at Jason’s, right next to the motel, we extended our road trip out 70 to the Hondo Iris Farm which is a wonderful place to sketch, though of course the iris were not in bloom. Back to Ruidoso Downs to sketch Old Dowlin Mill and an old stump next to the Rio Hondo. I gave up on the mill, but took a photo from another angle and tried again, more successfully, after I got home.

Sketch of Dowlin's Old Mill, Ruidoso, NMDowlin's Old Mill, Ruidoso, NM

The next morning we packed up and started the trek back to Tucson. It was a beautiful day, so we stopped at White Sands, sat on a dune and sketched a yucca plant. All in all, a great road trip and fun to get away. We’re already talking about taking another road trip next spring, out to Hondo to see the iris in bloom, then up to Santa Fe and Taos.

This terrific program gave me the courage to retire and become a full-time RVer: Abundance for Life

A Flight, and More Road Trips

This past month I took a trip to New England, taking a 7:30am flight to Bradley Field in Hartford. I rented a car at the airport and drove (another road trip) to Charlton, MA, to spend the first night with my cousin Helen and her husband Brian. The next day was hot and muggy; we took a walk, had lunch and then drove out to Princeton to the cemetery where my parents’ ashes are buried. It was the first time I'd seen the headstone.

Helen is a writer, too, and we've gotten to know each other primarily through emails. It was wonderful to spend time getting to know her better. We sure talked a lot - not something I do much of here with Bijou (who has had the rest of her teeth, except the canines, extracted and is doing fine).

Still Life with Cat

The next several nights I spent with my youngest brother Jon and his wife Annemarie in Rutland. The rest of the family was invited there for Sunday afternoon – we call Annemarie “Elmer” as she is the glue that holds the family together by hosting these wonderful get-togethers. I had thought that being the matriarch of the family might confer special privileges, such as relaxing in one place and waiting for everyone to come to me. Wrong! I did a great deal of driving over the next few days, so this turned out to be a sort of road trip, too – and still missed seeing one grandchild and a nephew. But I did have a good time drawing dragons with my youngest grandson, James.

On Tuesday, I drove up to Nashua, NH, to visit with an old friend at Starbucks in the morning and a newly discovered cousin for lunch at Panera Bread. Then it was back to Charlton for the night and a 4:00am wakeup to drive to the airport. That big, buttery harvest moon was hanging just over tree-tops and roof-tops during the drive – lovely. The rental car for the road trip portion of this visit cost more than the flight – I’ll have to work harder on this matriarch privilege idea.

Well, as you can imagine, I did a lot of reading during this long, hot summer. Here's the list:

The Artist at White Sands

The Newlyweds - Nell Freudenberger.  A young woman from Bangladesh is wooed by, and woos, online, an American from Rochester, NY, and moves to the US to marry him. Each of them has a secret someone from their past that they thought they could leave behind.

Walking With the Wind, A Memoir of the Movement - by John Lewis. I was marginally aware of the civil rights movement when it was happening, but it didn't factor into my life much. I had left Colby, was about to get married, then the engagement was broken, I moved to Boston, got married two years later, etc. Busy with my life and not paying attention to the rest of the world. Amazing story of the entire civil rights movement; hard to believe people can be so evil; don't think I'll willingly go south of NC ever again.

Brothers & Keepers - John Edgar Wideman. A memoir of two brothers, one a successful author and the other captured and serving a life sentence for robbery and murder. A searing look at our country's prison system.

Zoo - James Patterson. Our greed for electrical power and overuse of cellphone technology create a perfect storm that results in wild mammals becoming super-aggressive. A scary, all-too-plausible, story!

The Scent of Rain and Lightning - Nancy Pickard. This one kept me up late!

Wild Salmon Since 1957 - SeaBear Smokehouse

The True Secret of Writing: Connecting Life with Language - Natalie Goldberg. Her latest wonderful book on the Zen method of writing. I've loved them all. True Secret workshops have been held for small groups in a remote rural part of NM; in this book she gives guidance and instruction for holding a sit, walk, write workshop of your own.

The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down: A Hmong Child, Her American Doctors, and the Collision of Two Cultures - Ann Fadiman. Beautifully and sensitively written story of immigration, cultural issues, medicine, the war in Laos and the complete lack of understanding between doctors and the family of of Lia Lee that ultimately led to tragedy.

Whiskey Beach - Nora Roberts. A mystery and a love story - what could be better. Great reading.

Good in a Crisis - Margaret Overton.  Memoir. An anesthesiologist tells her story of divorce, bad dates, illness and worse - told with refreshing honesty and a sense of humor that somehow survives it all.

Chasing Fire - Nora Roberts. Danger, adventure, murder and a good love story in this story of a team of elite fire-fighters in Montana. A good read.

Turn of Mind - Alice LaPlante. A mystery told from the viewpoint of a fiercely intelligent woman fighting to hang onto her sense of self as her mind disappears into the abyss of dementia.

Crossing to Safety - Wallace Stegner. This was a re-read, and every bit as good as the first time around. Some of the best stories are of very ordinary lives. Stegner was one of the best story-tellers out there.

Labor Day - Joyce Maynard. An encounter one steamy weekend leads to a story of love, innocence, sex, and betrayal as witnessed by a 13-year-old boy. A beautiful novel.

The Lower River - Paul Theroux. What should be a happy return to the Africa of his peace-corps days turns into a nightmare. Theroux certainly sets the scene - I felt enmeshed, trapped.

Live Through This - Debra Gwartney.  Memoir. After her divorce a mother of four deals with her unraveling family when her two older daughters run off, first in Oregon, then jumping a train to San Francisco. An inside look at the violence and drugs in the subculture of the American runaway. Heart-rending.

All the Little Live Things - Wallace Stegner.  A disquieting story of a retired couple dealing with the senseless death of their son, and a young woman with a fierce love of life no matter what it brings. Love, death, evil and the chaos of the 60s. Stegner at his best. Well, he’s always at his best.

Next summer, I definitely plan to do more road tripping - another artist friend and I may do one to California!

With Cousin Helen

With Cousin Helen in Charlton, MA

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