July 27, 2013


Thursday night was clear as a bell.

Hungry for stars, I gathered up my red light, green laser, binoculars, and library copy of H.A. Rey's "The Stars: a New Way to See Them," and persuaded Rob to join me in search of a good dark wide-open sky. We drove south, planning to check out the Charlemont Reservation...an unimproved park that I'd heard from fellow BRAS members had no restrictions on usage after dark. A few stray fireflies still lit up the fields along the way. Not too long ago, those same fields would've been positively aflame with little trails of green phosphorescence rising like hot embers from rows of young soybeans.

Just south of Wellington I impulsively turned onto my old mail route, curious as to whether we might just as easily find a good parking spot somewhere along the lonely farm roads. Sure enough, just east of Findlay State Park we turned onto a gravel road bisecting two fields of corn and found a little shoulder turnout well away from any homes, streetlights, or tall stands of trees. The darkening sky opened above us like an embrace...a glaring Venus hung on the horizon, the summer triangle edged toward zenith, and the great swoop of Scorpius virtually erupted from its southern abode.

Rob pointed up at a quickly moving speck just below Lyra, "Hey look...a satellite." "Two..." I added, noticing another trailing about a hand's breadth behind, "and watch, the first one is about to flare!" In the next few seconds, the first satellite grew in brightness till it surpassed even brilliant Vega: an iridium flare. Caused by sunlight momentarily beaming off the reflective surfaces of communication satellites, iridium flares can be easily predicted by consulting Heavens Above (much to the delight of star-party audiences), but our spontaneous encounter seemed especially thrilling.

My goal for the night was to better learn a few less-familliar constellations and stars...Ophiuchus, Chepheus, Draco, Boötes...I haven't been out under a dark sky nearly enough in the past 3 years, and some of my skills have grown a little rusty. As I explore the future possibility of working or volunteering with the park service's Dark Rangers, I want to make sure I'm at home finding my way around the celestial sphere. To help get the ball rolling again, I checked out H.A. Rey's book at the local library a couple weeks ago, and have since eagerly awaited a clear night on which to use it. Filled with helpful guides and interesting tidbits of science and folklore, its welcoming and lighthearted approach can help demystify the night sky for stargazers of all ages. I'd heard others sing its praises ever since I joined SLAS years ago, but hadn't delved in myself until now.

As the sky darkened the Milky Way emerged from obscurity (the first time I'd been able to see it in ages), and we easily lost track of time. Not a single car passed our little turnout...though we occasionally heard one rumbling off in the distance. We took turns scanning the sights (especially in the south) with our binoculars. M7 (Ptolemy's Cluster), M8 (Lagoon Nebula), and its nearby companion M20 (Trifid Nebula), are all old favorites, but I immediately regretted not bringing a second reference to help identify the myriad "faint fuzzies" that also came into view.

At one point, I looked to the east and was stunned to see a dark-orange gibbous moon hovering between stands of tall corn directly above our little gravel road. The sight was glorious to be sure, but meant that the sky wasn't going to be getting any darker. No matter. It had been a good night, and I had work early the next morning. We gathered our things and returned home happy.

July 25, 2013

Utah Visit, July 2013, #7: all the rest

I've now run out of pictures, and feel like I haven't even told you the half of it. I guess I covered all the big super-adventures, but still failed to mention all the other important stuff.

Like the wonderful time I spent on walks with my mom, and pushing fully laden flat beds up Costco's parking-lot hill to equip her truck for a job on the Salt Flats...hanging out at home with my youngest sister and her adorable (and growing) family...meeting my sister Shaun's new husband (a winner for sure)...and all of us preparing home-made pasta with home-grown sauce fixin's, and playing board games together around the dining room table...board games created and published by my incredibly talented brother-in-law Ryan (find and purchase them on Amazon, or at Red Raven Games).

I didn't tell you about looking at Saturn through a borrowed C-8, seeing old SLAS friends at Denny's and Harmon's, or staring at the enormously bright double rainbow that shone above the mountain foothills during an evening rainstorm in the final few hours of my stay.

I didn't even mention the drive up to Brighton with Mal and her two kids...we spent a lovely hour strolling around Silver Lake...watching the ducks, admiring (and in Zoe's case tasting) the pretty rocks, and saying hello to Mickey Mouse on Mount Millicent...now, why in the world didn't I take any pictures of that?

I didn't mention that I missed seeing all my old music buddies...wished I could've spent a day or two more with Dad to visit Grandpa Ricks in Idaho...couldn't squeeze in a visit to the Salt Flats...or Antelope Island...or Timpanogos...or any one of a thousand other sites around the state...


I took the red-eye back to Cleveland, stepped out into another hot and muggy Ohio sunday, and puttered around at home till Rob returned from Poland later that evening. After dinner he pulled out his phone and showed me all the pictures he'd taken in Warsaw: the city, conference sites, and a few of the famous physicists with whom he'd shared the week. I blushed as he pulled out a gift...a gorgeous amber necklace...just my style.

Real life has descended again...and to be sure, there's lots of good in it as well. The long-overdue visit to Utah gave me a shot of much-needed vigor, and I hope it doesn't take me quite so long to muster a future return. In the meantime, I'll keep looking for ways to discover the best in what's around me here and now. Thank goodness for those fireflies! And BRAS, Oasis, baby groundhogs, fields of daisies, the metroparks, fresh chévre, backyard deer (and baby deer too!), free Oberlin Conservatory concerts, cardinals, goldfinches, bluebirds, orioles, the Ritchie Ledges (I should write a post about them soon), full moon walks at the Wellington Reservation, early-morning ground fog, spring peepers, the Cleveland Orchestra, albino squirrels...and all the other cute little squirrels and chipmunks and bunnies for that matter...

Ok, I'm out of breath. But I think you get the idea.

Thank you again to those who enabled my Utah visit, and all the rest of you that helped make it so memorable.

July 24, 2013

Utah Visit, July 2013, #6: Spiral Jetty

Even though a long drive and late night conversation kept me up into the wee hours, the morning after my return from Bryce Canyon came early. I spent the night on Patrick's hide-a-bed couch to avoid driving home groggy, and had hoped to sleep in, but (as is so often the case for me), my eyes popped right open bright-and-early a little before 8:00. Not wanting to disturb my nocturnal host, I quietly grabbed some breakfast, cleaned up my sleeping area, and made my way back to Salt Lake. My dad and I had planned another day together...this time to check in on another of my favorite Utah destinations: Robert Smithson's "Spiral Jetty."

Because it's an interesting visit and right on the way, we also pulled in first for a quick look at the Golden Spike National Monument. As luck would have it, we were right on time for one of their daily steam-engine demonstrations. Working replicas of the two engines that met face-to-face when the Union and Central Pacific rail lines were joined in 1869 still sit atop the rails in lavish Victorian finery...a striking presentation in the otherwise sparse and semi-arid landscape. Several times throughout the day, each of the two engines takes a turn traveling up and down the tracks giving visitors the chance to see and hear the powerful machines in operation.

We arrived only minutes before the Union Pacific 119 was to take its turn in the spotlight. Costumed volunteers climbed aboard the engine and waved at the small crowd of spectators. Steam hissed as polished wheels chugged their cargo slowly backward to a point where an alternate track would allow it to steam forward for a second pass. During the display, a park ranger related the history of the transcontinental railroad, and explained features of the engine and its operations. He cautioned us repeatedly to prepare for the whistle blows...and for good reason! With each tug of the chain a Tooooot-TOOOOOOOOOOT all but exploded from the powerful whistle, sending the sound reverberating off distant hills, and the thrill of goosebumps up my arms.

Stimulated by such sights and sounds, it seemed easy to imagine how things might have felt when Utah was young and the railroad was in its heyday.

And then it was off to the Spiral...

During one of Rob's visits a few years ago we decided to make trip in order to admire both Smithson's genius, and the work of Rob's uncle Bob Phillips...the foreman contracted to move all those  tons of black basalt into place. We braved the rough and washed-out road to Rozel Point as far as it would safely take us. The bumps and ditches eventually got too big for my little Yaris (not a vehicle I'd recommend for off-roading), and forced us to walk the last mile or two. The sun was really beating down that day, and as neither of us had visited the site before, we weren't even sure how far we'd have to walk to get there. As we rounded the point and caught our first glimpse of the immense spiral hovering above a shallow pool of almost ridiculously pink water, it was easy to forget the heat and lose ourselves in the structure's odd beauty.

This time 'round, Dad and I lucked out. Since that first visit, the road approaching the Spiral had been repaired well enough that we would've made it the whole way just fine...even without the nice tall pickup we drove that day. The route to Rozel travels through miles of wide-open privately-owned ranch land, little of which has changed since the artist's exploratory trip to the site in the late 1960s.
...we went down a dirt road in a wide valley. As we traveled, the valley spread into an uncanny immensity unlike the other landscapes we had seen. The roads on the map became a net of dashes, while in the far distance the Salt Lake existed as an interrupted silver band. Hills took on the appearance of melting solids, and glowed under amber light... 
--An excerpt from Smithson's writings reprinted in Robert Smithson: Spiral Jetty 
After crossing the final cattle guard, Dad and I continued south along a dusty sunflower-lined gravel road. We could see the lake off in the distance...an alluring pinkish-violet wall glittering above the expansive salt flat, baked bone-white under the sweltering sun. I wondered how the Jetty would look this time...black rock left sitting high-and-dry above a receded lake? Submerged and barely visible under a translucent curtain of water and brine shrimp? Corrupted by vandals? How much would natural entropy...a vital component in much of Smithson's work...have altered the site since I'd seen it last?

As it turned out, the Jetty appeared much the same as I remember...with a few surprises...

The water may have been a tad higher overall, and maybe even a more vibrant pink...

...puffs of foam (a result of wave action stirring up natural surfactants in the water), played alongside golden swirls of pollen floating on the surface...

With some well-placed steps over pools of colorful brine, we were able to walk the length of the spiral and admire its up-close charms...

...making sure to stop from time to time to admire a wider view...

...island mirages floating along the horizon...distant clouds reflecting in shallow water...

...flocks of pelicans flying in to shore, their huge wings whirring above us, radiant in the sunshine.

Our energy spent, we got back in the pickup and headed back home.

I was tired and a tad grumpy due to lack of sleep, but grateful once again to be back in Utah...this land of such varied and unexpected treasure...territory that has played host to so many peculiar moments of history, and continues to inspire hope and creativity among those fortunate enough to pass within its borders.

July 20, 2013

Utah Visit, July 2013, #5: Bryce

Cher mademoiselle, you can name anything in Utah after me, even a tiny pebble in Bryce Canyon, and I will be deeply honored. 
--Olivier Messiaen...in response to Julie Whitaker, whose efforts eventually led to the re-naming of Parowan Canyon's White Ledges "Mount Messiaen." 
When Messiaen was initially approached in 1971 by musical philanthropist Alice Tully to write a new piece to commemorate America's bicentennial, he refused the commission because he so thoroughly disliked American cities. Perhaps Tully expected his reaction, or just wasn't inclined to accept defeat easily, but in either case, she had one trick up her sleeve that caught the celebrated French composer unaware: photos of southern Utah.

Messiaen was widely known to be a synesthete (seeing colors in correspondence with sound, and visa versa), so it isn't hard to imagine how visions of the painted desert might have appealed to him. Sufficiently inspired, Messiaen made a special trip to Utah in 1972, and was struck by the light, colors, sounds, and otherworldly landforms he encountered in Zion, Cedar Breaks, and especially Bryce Canyon. His experiences led to the premier, two years later, of Des canyons aux étoiles (from the Canyons to the Stars) which, in the composer's own words, serves as "an act of praise and contemplation" that "contains all the colors of the rainbow."After the 2003 release of a new recording of Des Canyons, a BBC reviewer wrote:
Messiaen's music links the land itself, the canyons of Utah--whose colourful layers reach back in geological time--with the stars sparkling in the clear-blue desert sky, their light emanating from long ago and far away. A sense of colour then, natural majesty, a palette of every shade of red and rich orange-brown; a timeless quality that reaches far back in time and human history...also a direct analogy with the American flag: the stars in the night sky and the geological stripes of the canyons.   
--Andrew McGreggor
The piece's central movement, Bryce Canyon et les rochers rouge-orange ("Bryce Canyon and the red-orange rocks"), is bracketed on either side by dramatic and haunting celestial strains: Appel interstellaire ("Interstellar Call"), and Les ressucités et le chant de l'étoile Aldebaran ("The resurrected and the song of the star Aldebaran"). That celestial wonders feature so prominently in Messiaen's tone poem seems especially appropriate. Today, Bryce Canyon is internationally known for its unparalleled views of the starry night sky, and the park's "Dark Rangers" are on the forefront of promoting and protecting natural darkness as an important natural resource.

It was primarily for the starry sky that Patrick and I headed down to Bryce that afternoon...or so we hoped. He was scheduled to give a presentation about space exploration at the park's lodge, while I'd planned to set up a telescope in the visitor center's parking lot immediately afterward and assist in showing interested visitors the deep-sky wonders that appear so beautifully from Bryce's dark-sky high-altitude vantage. He'd even taken the trouble to rearrange his schedule with the park in order to accommodate my visit...in part because I'd also been hoping to speak to a Dark Ranger about my own aspirations to join the force someday.

We travelled along a back route west of the Oquirrhs (including a portion of highway 6, the aptly named "loneliest road in America") in order to avoid construction delays on I-15. I'd never been through this part of the state before, and found myself entranced by the sparse open plains. Wind whipped up sand and dust, sending its pale billows streaming through sage and over the road. Storm clouds roiled above, and the occasional crack of lightening flashed in the distance. It all made for dramatic views of the landscape (I regret not taking any pictures)...but didn't bode well for our star party that evening.

Along the way, we enjoyed pleasant company and conversation, stopped twice for snacks and stretches, and still arrived at Bryce well enough in advance to take in the view along the canyon's rim. The sky remained mostly overcast, but the setting sun easily found holes substantial enough to blaze through across the geological splendor arrayed before us.

And even in the shade it was easy to marvel at the range of color that seemed to melt over the layered topography like spilled paint...an inspiration for Messiaen's synaesthesia? 

At one point, I noticed our shadows projected onto a ledge in the foreground and snapped this picture...one of my favorite of the trip. A good friend is a wonderful thing...and one who enables experiences like this is even better. 

From my sketchbook journal:

From the pleasant ways in which time flies though beautiful country and easy friendship, I find myself at the canyon rim watching the last golden rays of a cloudy afternoon dance across the piqued landscape. A game of perspective. It spotlights some distant chorus of color...dims...and radiates again in fluid counterpoint. It steps back now to cast an audience in profile: a pair together in trusted solitude, foundations mingled atop ruddy talus slopes that float over a depth of reaching hoodoos. Just enough of what is right, and honest, and innocent, and sustaining, collides in that moment to awaken a prayer of gratitude and quench the fevered longing that has of late been my habit of being. I say nothing of this to my companion, but hope some equal measure has filled him also. 
Parallels stand. Look. Breathe. And continue walking. 

Good clean Bryce Canyon mud!

The stars didn't ever make it out that evening...at least not above the Park. Patrick's presentation was as entertaining and inspiring as I remember. Stories of exploration and discovery held the audience in rapt attention. But the star party was cancelled.

Along the return trip, somewhere south of Nephi, I looked up through the car window to discover a sky awash with stars...the Milky Way's familiar clouds eagerly gleaming through a gaping patch of clear.

I hoped to return soon...

July 19, 2013

Utah Visit, July 2013, #4: White Pine Lake

Early on in the hike up to White Pine Lake, a hazy Salt Lake Valley, rimmed on its western edge by the Oquirrh Mountains, becomes visible above Little Cottonwood's gaping granite mouth. It's a great place to stop for a breath of clean, pine-spiced, mountain air.

My had dad picked me up earlier that morning in order to get a good shady start up the trail before the sun crested the upper ridges. We took things slow. I'd been exercising regularly in preparation, but knew the altitude (about 10,000 feet at the lake) would likely cramp whatever small advantage I may have gained, and anyway, we were not hiking for speed, but for the enjoyment of being outside together in such a glorious environment. In the first few hundred feet we'd passed through a stand of young aspens: regrowth after an avalanche tore down the slopes years before, leaving behind a silent river of fallen trees and intimidating boulders. Little ground squirrels fearlessly darted across our path, while deer and moose who'd passed by earlier left tell-tale prints for us to admire in the wet black earth.

Technically, White Pine, one of three alpine-lake ascents that branch out from a single trailhead, poses only minor difficulty (at least for those with some level of fitness), but it meanders through an exquisite variety of mountain environments...from dark stands of pine...

...to rolling flowered meadows...

...to stark slopes of sheer rock and fallen boulders that remain frosted with patches of snow well into the summer.

 It is well worth the trip for seasoned mountaineers and weekend trekkers alike. If at all possible, I recommend going early on a Monday morning, as we did. The trailhead parking lot--filled to overflowing on most weekends and weekday afternoons--was virtually empty when we arrived, and until the last few minutes of our descent we saw only 4 other hikers. Blissful...and uncommon...solitude!

The last mile or so of the trail--though it also happens to be the steepest and the most exposed to the punishing UV of high-altitude sunlight--is definitely my favorite. It criss-crosses a vast talus slope and offers ever-broadening views of the peaks that surround the lake, as well as the colorfully-layered slopes of Little Cottonwood's northern rim.

For a sense of scale, see if you can spot the two hikers in the photo below...they're walking on ahead of us just right of center.

Vegetation in the area is sparse, but if you keep your eyes peeled, colorful surprises are waiting to be found...hidden gardens thriving in the shade of massive granite boulders.

We were both huffing and puffing over that last bit of trail. My muscles felt fine, but my lungs were working in overdrive. It's shocking how much more exertion is required approaching 10,000 feet...at least for one not acclimated to thin air. We stopped every 50 feet or so to catch a breath and look back over the stunning vista...one advantage to a somewhat limited fitness level, I suppose.

The trail reaches a high point on the slope, and then finally leads back down to the lake. That first glimpse of sapphire and green against a distant wall of jagged red peaks really takes your breath away...if you have any left by that point that is!

The view opposite the lake along the trail's final descent

We unpacked some trail mix and settled in atop perfect granite "picnic tables" for a light lunch by the lakeshore. White Pine, which is dammed on its northern edge as part of the valley's watershed, was as full as I've ever seen it. 

It is fed by at least one little mountain stream that babbles down from the slopes above...likely picking up a  bit of volume from hidden springs here and there along the way.

I was surprised by just how green everything was...I remembered the cloudburst I'd encountered the previous afternoon...looks like it's been a good wet year so far.

Earlier that morning I'd decided to leave my sketchbook behind, thinking we probably wouldn't stay long enough for me to put it to good use, but as I scanned the almost faerie-land-ish ambiance of the country around me, I regretted that decision.

It turns out we had plenty of time to linger. Dad wandered a bit, and then laid down for a brief nap. I found a perch above the shallow stream and watched patterns of light bubble and dance in the crystal water.

I remembered all the times I'd come up here to escape the stress and sometimes loneliness of day-to-day hustle and bustle. Somehow, those pressures and desires could never quite follow me up into these quiet mountain havens. Thus unencumbered, I was left to sense purely, and to dream wildly. It's naive to assume that dangers don't exist up here...that everything's just simple and carefree...or that the worry and emptiness won't catch up again as you head back into "the real world." But I treasure these brief retreats of spirit and imagination all the same...and opportunities to find them are plentiful in Utah.

"Utah is the state by which I came into the West: the place that as an artist was best for me...I wanted to find a land, a place, large enough to hold the feelings I held about the world, about this life we've been given. I wanted to explore what was possible, not just probable. I wanted more space in both the imagination and beneath my feet. And Utah's red wilderness and its forests had, and still have for me, the beautiful density of reality I was seeking: a density and grounding that in turn allowed my imagination to wander."  

   --Rick Bass, excerpted from his essay in Testimony (see recommended books at right)

White Rocky-Mountain Columbine

Eventually it was time to head home. We wandered down the mountain, speaking minimally, stopping only occasionally to admire a chance miracle of color...

July 18, 2013

Utah visit, July 2013, #3: Albion Basin

Indian Paintbrush in Albion Basin: Alta, Utah
On Sunday afternoon, the first full day of my Utah visit, I headed up Little Cottonwood Canyon to do some sketching...you know...filling in my new sketch book and all! At the end of the road is the little ski-town of Alta, and the gateway to the Albion Basin in the Wasatch-Cache National Forest. The basin is famous for its rolling meadows of wildflowers ringed on all sides by mountain peaks. Several moderate hikes begin in the vicinity as well, with my favorite being to Catherine Pass: a little more than a mile of uphill strolling leads to an overlook of Lakes Catherine and Mary, and the Brighton ski area, as well as views south into American Fork Canyon, and far west to the Uinta range.

A secondary motivation for the drive was to see how the altitude would affect me. I'd planned a hike to White Pine Lake with my dad the next day, and as I've lived at or near sea level for three years, I was concerned that the thin air might prove a shock to my system.

I parked my car and headed to the shuttle-van stop just as a bank of clouds was skirting the highest peaks. My hand-written journal begins here...

I get out of the car and am greeted by the shock of unexpectedly cool air. "Ugh..." I roll my eyes, "one of the classic blunders...ALWAYS bring a jacket when heading into the mountains." I've become an outsider already. That and I can already feel the effects of thin air on my breathing. In Ohio every breath feels like a drink of warm water. Up here, the thin dry gas inflates my lungs with barely a trace of its having passed over my lips. Even my voice sounds different. Oddly crisp, sharp, un-muffled...crackling in the ear on the tips of consonants. I wonder if it's an illusion. 
I also know I haven't brought enough water, especially for the altitude...blunder number 2. 
I walk to the end of the lot and catch the free shuttle up to Albion Basin. Glad to be spared the trek while driving Mom's car: too wide for me to safely judge clearances yet. 
"Anyone hiking the Catherine Pass trail?" asks the driver. 
"I am." I raise my hand reflexively.
The upper lot is packed. It begins to rain. The air is cold. I hope to find a spot on a granite outcropping in order to sketch the peaks on the basin's southern edge. Maybe the short uphill walk will warm me up. Will it stop raining in time? I imagine getting caught in a downpour and trudging along the trail with my t-shirt clinging to shivering skin. 
"She must not be from around here," people would think as I passed. "Starry eyed, but unprepared." 
My heart pumps fast. Rain stops. I reach my rock and find a good spot among the boulders, ants, bees, flies, flowers. People pass behind me on the trail. I wonder if any will ask to see what I'm working on. None do. 
An hour. 
The sun is out now, searing my skin under a thin atmosphere. Lack of sunscreen...my third oversight. I pick up and continue up the trail. Maybe I should go ahead and try for the pass. No. Not enough water, remember. 
I find some shade and refine the sketch from memory. Behind me a group of young adults is scattered over the hillside gathering specimens of some kind. I want to ask them what they're collecting...I imagine myself as one of them. 
But shyness wins. 
My memory runs out before I finish the trees and talus slopes and I decide to go back to the granite slab to add final touches. Clouds are rolling in again. I contemplate adding them to my scene...wonder how I can capture their deep periwinkle billows with just a simple black ballpoint pen. I decide to leave the sky blank. 
There is a family eating lunch near my post. I sit down and resume sketching. The little girl is terrorized by the ants. The "big red-bodied ants." She doesn't want to kill them though...just brushes them away. Her parents are dismissive of her fear.
The ants crawl over my pants, feet, purse...one tries to pry open my now-empty water bottle. I blow him away with a puff of air. Darkening clouds block the sun and eliminate the shadows I had been using to add dimension in my sketch. I head down the trail hoping I won't have to wait long for the shuttle. 
Thunder. Raindrops. The chilly air again. 
Just in time. 

I drove back down the canyon in a cloudburst. Sheets of water cascaded down over the asphalt. The day before, rockslides had closed the road in American Fork Canyon. I hoped the slopes above me would remain sturdy. Just in time indeed!

July 17, 2013

Utah Visit, July 2013, #2 ...Puppies!

This morning I woke up early and drove over to the Oasis Animal Shelter, where I've been working as a volunteer walker and kennel cleaner for several months. I generally go in twice a week: Wednesdays for walking, and Thursdays to clean. The work can be dirty, noisy, and smelly...and it often breaks my heart to think about each resident's hard-luck story, but on the whole, knowing I'm helping provide a degree of comfort, entertainment, and affection for these wonderful animals is very rewarding.

Every week it seems like I come home with a new favorite. I'll walk in the door and announce to Rob that "If we ever get to adopt one of these guys, I think I want..." and then fill in the blank with Herbie (who loves to play in snow and puddles, and rolls over for a tummy rub the minute I start scratching his neck), or Suzie (who is old, but so full of life, and affection), or Shyla (who's had a hard time being cooped up, but has the most beautiful loving eyes...AND WHO JUST GOT ADOPTED...YAY!), or Hershey (who's about as good natured as they come)...and the list goes on. Just about every Oasis dog has worked his or her way into my heart...I just can't help loving them all.

Just before heading out to Utah, I settled on a new "favorite." Izzy is a little black and white terrier (maybe a rat terrier mix) who came in, along with one other dog, from another shelter that wasn't caring for its animals very well. She is gentle and curious and has plenty of energy for walking, but not so much that she's difficult to handle. The week before I left, I stopped along our walk and crouched down to give her some scratching (an activity I indulge in with some of the dogs...as much for my own enjoyment as theirs). When she came over and looked into my eyes, I noticed for the first time how much she resembles Rusty (my mom's Jack Russell, whom I've missed terribly these past three years). They both have similar facial coloring, and big perky ears, though Izzy's build is more delicate, not quite as muscular as Rusty's. She reached up and gave me a little kiss on the cheek. I melted. If Rob and I were in a place that allowed animals, I'd have taken her home right then and there.

Still, as much as I love all the Oasis dogs, I could hardly wait to get back to Utah and see Rusty and George again. I worried that after three years they might not remember me; that even after all the playing, and snuggling, and walking I'd done with both, I'd come in the door like a stranger and we'd have to get reacquainted from scratch...which for a suspicious little chihuahua like Georgie, takes a bit of patience. Fortunately, those fears were unfounded. A moment after I walked through the door I was smothered in canine affection...and a minute later had so much hair on my clothes I might have passed for a dog myself.

Rusty slept next to me that night, and in the morning George and I joined him and my mom for their daily 6 mile trek around the neighborhood (George got a free ride in my arms for about half of that!). Rusty's 11 years are beginning to show. His face is graying, eyes a tad milky, and though he still pulls at the leash like a miniature sled dog, he does seem to tire a bit more quickly than before.

We got a few great walks in before I left, and whenever I was at their house, either Rusty or George...or both...would find a way up onto my lap in no time at all. This, of course, made it really difficult for me to say goodbye. On my way out the door to the airport Rusty glimpsed the suitcase slung over my shoulders and peered up at me like a dejected little puppy. He reached out a paw and placed it in my hand. Mom looked over and said, "Awww...he knows."

I'm sorry Rusty. I hope it doesn't take another three years for me to come back for another visit...

July 16, 2013

Utah Visit, July 2013, #1: My Map of the Week

The final approach into Salt Lake City is advertised over the plane's intercom. I rouse from half sleep and look out the window, hoping to see a familiar pattern of lights. There are areas of black interspersed among glittering gridlines...great, dark, irregular splotches without a single candle of illumination...a tell of contoured terrain...unsettled areas of mountain...salt flat...lake shore. Some of the lights ascend to eye level and shine brighter...is that the mine? I recognize the radio towers on Farnsworth Peak, and the Oquirrh Mountains, once a familiar sight from my bedroom window...and now the smokestack at the point of the mountain...the pools of slurry...gray on black, edged in by glaring white spotlights. I peer across the aisle for a view out the opposite window...ah...there's the city! 
We're out over the lake now...swirls of gray that I know will present more color at sunrise. 

So reads an excerpt from my little sketchbook journal: an entry made while on approach into the Salt Lake Airport...the first time I'd been "home" in three years. The week that followed was filled with adventures of the best kind shared with people (and animals) for whom I care deeply. While planning the visit, I'd hoped to spend every waking minute outside: reveling in the mountains, desert-dry air, starry skies, and all the heart-stoppingly lovely (and immensely quirky) vistas that Utah has to offer. 

And with a few notable exceptions (those ever-elusive starry skies) I succeeded...

Over the next few days I'll share a few of those adventures...if only to extend the visit a little longer in my own mind. Maybe it will help me readjust to the flat, wet, buggy, welcome I received upon returning to Ohio...sigh...

Alright...enough of that...Ohio certainly has its charms: fireflies and bluebirds, metro parks and river gorges, the Feve and Black River Cafe...and all my friends (furry and otherwise) at the Oasis Animal Shelter. Comparing Utah to Ohio is like comparing apples to oranges...or maybe brine shrimp to lobster (I myself prefer watching the colorful frills of the Great Salt Lake's most notable aquatic resident to eating a lobster tail...but understand if you feel differently).

In any case, forgive me if I gush a little. I certainly wouldn't be the first.