Archive for the ‘outdoors’ Category

If you’re in the Phoenix area on the evening of June 7th, come out to the City of Gilbert’s Riparian Institute and enjoy a nature walk through the 110-acre preserve and listen to music by several members of the Mesa Symphony and yours truly. I’ll be playing harp and classical guitar near where the walk ends, but close enough to the parking area that you can simply walk over and sit down on one of the provided seats or settle in on the grass and have a listen if you don’t feel like taking the tour.

The nature walk starts at 7:00 p.m. at the east end of the public library. Check the Riparian Institute’s website for more information. There is a suggested donation of two dollars. I will be playing from 7:30 to 8:30 p.m. I hope to see you there!
Ariel Laurel Strong With Pedal Harp

Photo by David Weingarten, Goldeneye Photography.


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One thing I miss about the Arizona high country is the dark night skies.  I’ve been back up in Parks for two days to do some more work on the place and I went out tonight to look at the sky.  The stars were breathtakingly bright in the cold, clear air at 7,000 feet. While gazing up at the Milky Way, I became acutely aware of the tension that I live with on a daily basis right now.  I have been so busy running to try and get everything done that I hadn’t taken the time to just look, much less to feel.

Pursuing a new life in the Phoenix area and trying to maintain my place in northern Arizona is an uneasy balancing act. Uncertainties abound and I never know from one day to the next what new surprise will come up next.  It is exciting, that’s for sure.  I feel as if I am riding a unicycle on a high wire while juggling.  Blindfolded.  I seem to recall saying something about not having enough excitement in my life, oh a couple of months or so ago…. Nowadays, I have about all the excitement I can handle.

Actually, things are going pretty well.  My student roster is growing and so is my repertoire. I’m almost done with a client’s website in Drupal. I’ve got a possible interview for a long-term temp assignment as a web developer later this week. If that all goes as I hope, I’ll be on that full-time as of next Monday, which should fill in the gaps while my teaching schedule expands. It’ll be hectic for awhile, but doable.  At least I will have a settled, predictable routine for two months!  I’m almost done with all the various projects on the “cabin.” It’s been difficult making all the trips back and forth, but it has let me see my folks more often than I would have otherwise.

It was wonderful to be able to be outside today in near 60 degree temps, scraping paint and caulking.  I could feel the warm sun on my shoulders and smell the dusty tang of the dried grasses in the yard.  I had to laugh as I took the extension ladder down off its hooks; I could hear Cap’t. G’s voice in my ear telling me in no uncertain terms how to lift, carry and place it. Angle, brace, test, climb, anchor your leg to leave your hands free- it was fire academy all over again.  I was grinning as I went up and down the ladder at each window and door.

If nothing else sticks with me from the old firefighter days, I did gain the confidence to tackle just about anything around my place. It all seems pretty elementary after learning how to run pumps, extrication equipment, chain saws, and to repair SCBAs!  (As you might have guessed, I never was much of a Barbie doll, though I have been rather mindful of my nails lately.  I don’t want to ruin my guitar tremelo!)

Some things are falling through the cracks at the moment, however, like blogging, Flamencophile.com, and accompanying flamenco dance classes. I have to remind myself every so often that it will all still be there when everything calms down. (Famous last words.) For now, the fact that I’m keeping up with practicing and my exercise program in the midst of everything else is quite an accomplishment. And, I did take a few minutes to gaze up at the night sky tonight and just appreciate the clarity and the beauty of the stars.

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Fun, friends, hikes up side canyons to hot springs, wildlife–it was soooo good to get out on the river! The weather was absolutely perfect–low eighties air temp, low fifties water temp. The sky was clear and we had a full moon. It was a real stroke of luck for it to be so pleasant so late in the season.

In the past, I’ve rafted the upper Grand Canyon, from Lee’s Ferry to Phantom Ranch (hiked out the South Kaibab), and I’ve done the San Juan, a tributary, but paddling Black Canyon just below Hoover Dam was my first excursion on a lower section of the Colorado River. The magnificent desert canyon scenery compensated for the flat water. We hiked in a slot canyon, played in numerous hot springs and seeps, and saw cormorants, herons, ducks, and even a mama bighorn with her youngster hopping up a canyon wall.

I learned something on the trip, too. For the last few months, I’ve been trying to “push the river,” to make things happen in my life. The first day on the river, I was still doing the same thing. Pushing the boat, seeing what it could do, what I could do with it. I was a little frustrated that we didn’t go further that day.

The second day, I began to flow with the river. I started dancing with the water, the boat, the breeze. Not fighting the current, but finding my way within it, getting the rhythm of each section, shifting as the river moved through wide and narrow stretches, slower and faster water.

We did have to push some for the last couple of hours to make our takeout, but even that was fun. I found the speed and rhythm that I could maintain over time, not unlike grubbing a line around a wildland fire, keeping the pace with a paddle instead of a pulaski. The strong, steady pulling felt good to my back and arms and the tiredness at the end was a welcome reminder of all we had seen and done.

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I haven’t blogged in quite a while and I’m just now posting the aspen pics I promised.

The leaves were already pretty well gone up on the San Francisco Peaks when I came up from Phoenix about three weeks ago. I did find a couple of late-turners, though, and discovered one tree that had been cut down.

I harvested some leaves from the downed tree and made up little packages for friends in Phoenix and points in between. I turned my trip back down to the Valley into a sort of reverse “May Day” excursion. Instead of baskets of spring flowers, I delivered colorful autumnal bits of the high country to folks that I know miss the mountains.

The sprig I saved for myself has held its color better than I thought it would. It’s a nice little reminder of a crisp fall day on Hart Prairie, the smell of wood smoke on the breeze, and the long-standing tradition I have had to always make it up to the Peaks at least once while the leaves are turning. I just made it this year.

Aspen, Hart Prairie Aspen, Hart Prairie
Aspen, Hart Prairie Aspen, Hart Prairie

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Whew! Been busy packing and practicing , writing and web designing. There’s just a lot happening right now. My brother’s wedding is tomorrow. And, I picked up a little side work as an instrument tech with my surveyor friend for Sunday.

We’ve got a boundary and topo to do on Hart Prairie, up on the north side of the San Francisco Peaks. That is going to be cool! Literally and metaphorically – for one thing, it’s at about 9,000 feet in elevation. Hart Prairie is a gorgeous area any time of year, but in the autumn it is truly spectacular. I noticed just today on my trip into town to accompany the flamenco dance class that the leaves are starting to turn in Flagstaff. I’ll take my camera with me on Sunday and see if I can find some good shots of autumn aspens. I’ll post any good ones here.

Every so often, I have a nostalgic moment or find myself dragging my feet about moving. I keep telling myself that it’s likely temporary and I remind myself of all the very real benefits of what I plan to do this winter. It should be an interesting and productive time. It will also be a big adjustment living in an apartment in a big metro area again after more than a decade in “the boondocks,” where my trip to the mail box entailed a drive through pine forests and open prairies over four miles of washboard and red cinder Forest Service road. It’s all trade-offs, decisions made on an intuitive sense that Phoenix is where I need to be and music is what I need to be doing.

I’ve learned to ask myself the crucial question, “If not now, when?” While packing two nights ago, I ran across a box of mementos that contained greeting cards from the last decade or so–a birthday wish from my dad from before dementia took away his memory, a note from my ex-husband from a time before the disintegration of our marriage, and congratulations on my graduation from Fire Academy signed by all my old fire buddies, including the young cadet who died just a few moths ago. It was a poignant reminder that disease, dysfunction, and death are the great dividers. To not live my life to the fullest right now would be to deny a number of very difficult and painful lessons from the past few years.

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The leaves are just starting to turn and it’s an absolutely gorgeous day in the Arizona high country. A cold front come through last night and the air today is cool and crisp. I can hear the light wind out of the southwest skirling around the corner of my office as I write this post. Last night was the first since spring that the temperature dropped below freezing and it was a sudden drop, too. After several weeks of nighttime temperatures in the low forties, the thermometer dipped to 27 degrees last night.

This is one of my favorite times of year here and I found myself standing out on the deck a few moments ago, looking wistfully across my yard of wild grasses and volunteer flowers. It’s time to mow again. Then it’s time to leave.

I’m still juggling a lot of things in preparation to move to Phoenix and don’t know yet what sort of a financial situation I will be in. I may be comfortable, I may be just barely scraping by. I may be able to keep this place as a retreat, I may have to put it up for sale. I have preferences, of course, but the uncertainty is what I find most difficult to deal with. I’ll probably always have the attitude of, “Hey, even if the news is bad, tell me, so I can get on with things…” (It would be more accurate to write that “Tell Me!”) And I can’t blame that way of thinking on the fire service. It merely reinforced an attitude that was already there.

I walked back in the house and saw the moving checklist on the table. I looked at the countdown of things to do by my calendar and felt blue. I thought of the boxes I plan to pack tonight, once I’ve gotten editing and my website work done for the day, and felt my heart sink.

My mind drifted back to a conversation I’d had with a friend last Saturday night over dinner. (Hiro’s Japanese restaurant in Flagstaff – it’s great!) While the dinner and the companionship were wonderful, I came away from the conversation feeling somewhat daunted. Hearing another woman’s experiences of getting back out into the dating scene was a bit intimidating. What the heck am I doing? What in the world do I expect out of the rest of my life – realistically – as a nearly 50 year old divorcee who has never been all that adept at the dating scene anyway?

“Realistic” has never been my strongest quality, and that has not necessarily been a bad thing. A vivid imagination has allowed me to accomplish a lot of dreams. However, it also has endowed me with a very creative and productive “awful-ization” mechanism. That was extremely useful in emergency incident pre-planning, but it can be a real drag when it cranks out worst case scenarios in daily life. I realized that I’d better do something about the creeping melancholy and fast.

I went back outside and looked at the flowers again. Really looked. I breathed more deeply of the autumn air. I reminded myself of just how lucky I am to have lived here this long, how very lucky I am to be alive at all. I’ve had a lot of close calls this go-round, and yet I’d allowed myself to forget that right now, this moment, is all we ever really have. That and our memories. And, in watching my dad’s decline, I see that even those are ephemeral. They can fade and slip away like twilight shadows.

Today. Now. I have no idea what tomorrow will bring, for my dreams and intuitions of the future are as substantial as the shifting clouds overhead and my memories of the past. Whether lovely or frightening to look upon, their realities are but thin and fragile threads leading forward and back from the nexus where I stand. Now, always, forever, there is but one point.

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It’s getting close to the last hurrah for the wild sunflowers that dot my yard and line Arizona’s roadways in the late summer. They are definitely getting close to “bloomed out.” These two pictures were taken about a week ago in my front yard. The ones I saw today, on my return trip from Phoenix, have lost a lot of the their blossoms.

Wild Sunflower Another Wild Sunflower Picture

It was a good trip down to Phoenix and a joy to visit with my friends, as always. The drive to and from Phoenix is also a time for reflection for me. I’ve clarified some of my options and made some plans for the next few months. I also took a few days off exercising and the nerve problem in my leg has diminished, so the change of pace was healthy in more ways than one.

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