Sandhill Cranes at Whitewater Draw

Sandhill cranes are wonderful to see! My annual visit to Whitewater Draw State Wildlife Area included an overnight. I was in my van as the night temperature was not higher than15 degrees! During the day, 30 – 50 degrees Fahrenheit … brrr! You gotta love sandhill cranes and birds in general to put yourself out there!

My visit was most enjoyable when I arrived. I was fortunate to pull my van into one of the two overnight spots still available. The majority of the cranes were out for lunch! Many people were visiting the area. I was especially surprised when I bumped into a Flagstaff tennis buddy who was with a Tohono Chul day trip group! Small world for sure! Always wonderful to see friends.

I took some photos and waited for the birds to return, but also saw a variety of other birds … even the sora hiding in the bushes!

Sleeping in my van with no additional heat is a challenge. But as a backpacker I knew I would be okay. Well okay as long as I was in my warm, down sleeping bag! Getting out of it the next morning to see the sandhill cranes take off, did not happen. Instead, my warm body had immediately cold fingers that froze in place necessitating me to manage the symptoms of my Raynaud’s syndrome/disease. Another time I will write about surviving cold weather when camping with Raynaud’s. It is doable, just a challenge one learns to live with since there is no cure.

So I walked the area, observed birds and returned to my van to make hot tea and walk the area again enjoying that cup of tea! I watched a red-tailed hawk eat its prey, fly off to another location, and then sit for us all to easily view it. Many of us were enjoying the beautiful cold morning as some of the birds walked on ice! 

Beautiful area:

Last year I was camping out in my van at Kearney, Nebraska’s Platte River area and freezing my butt off there to see the cranes. I need to discover where these birds hang out when it is a bit warmer. Actually, someone mentioned to me there are a couple of sandhill crane flocks that don’t migrate. Well I researched it and learned 3 of the 6 subspecies of sandhill cranes do not migrate. They are in Florida, Mississippi and Cuba. Good to know! Even so with the cold temperature, I was glad to visit here!

Some photos from Whitewater Draw. You’ll notice a couple of photos where I spent time watching the cranes drink water:

Sandhill cranes on the fly

Of course there are other beautiful birds here too! Plus the spectacular yellow-headed blackbirds as they flew as flock and could change direction as a group so quickly! Here’s a past post when I saw their behavior for the first time. People were so captivated watching these birds; I loved it!

Yellow-headed blackbirds. See past post if you have not already.
Northern pintail
Northern shovelers and American wigeons in the water, Northern harrier flew around.

Many people visit Whitewater Draw as a day trip and try to time when the sandhill cranes are flying in or out. It’s a great way to spend a day! If you have not, add it to your list of places to visit, especially if you are a birder! Then enjoy!

Habitat for Humanity: Real World Building Experience

Affordable housing is needed in the USA. Habitat for Humanity, as an organization, works diligently in making what it can available. But building houses entails construction time and builders, money for building materials, and buyers interested in purchasing a home. Habitat receives monetary donations and grants. Wishful homeowners apply for an opportunity to buy a home through their dollars, attending classes and providing sweat equity. The real challenge is building more homes since the need is so great. 

Habitat for Humanity in Tucson, AZ will have a job training opportunity soon realized at the CHUCK (Connie Hillman Urban Construction Knowledge) Center. I became interested in Habitat’s new direction. It reminded me of NYS’s BOCES programs where young people were taught construction skills: electrical, plumbing, welding, etc. How often have you realized the importance of trade skills when needing to call a plumber or craftsperson to do/help with your own home project? 

The CHUCK Center has a classroom where teaching will provide interns with skills and opportunities to learn how to build affordable housing. A win for the learner who can use the new skills right on Tucson’s Habitat for Humanity housing project. A win for the future homeowner, possibly in a new home sooner because we have more skilled workers building homes in our area. 

The CHUCK Center is a huge space. Some parts of the building process will be accomplished in the warehouse, not in the cold, hot weather or muddy area by the future home. Also, some aspects of the construction can be built and stored in the warehouse, then rolled onto the site when needed.

Additionally, the CHUCK Center will have 2 apartments to house Americorp volunteers and 2 RV spaces for traveling Habitat volunteers. The goal is to have these two aspects accomplished in upcoming months. The warehouse with classroom to be done by February 2023. To have internship opportunities available for young people is truly a gift to this community!

I volunteer with Habitat for Humanity. A photo of the place from the outside and another photo of the tables we assembled one day. More work to be accomplished to assemble it all. The CHUCK Center is taking shape and soon to be in action!

Front of Tucson’s CHUCK Center
Classroom desks all assembled by volunteers.

Boots Are Made For Walking…

It was in the early 1970’s when Mike said to me, “Always take care of your feet”. We were talking about the hiking I was accomplishing in New York State’s Adirondack Mountains. Then, I carried my full backpack and slept out multiple nights during all seasons of a year. Yes, my 40 – 50 pound backpack pounded all the bones in my body … right down to my toes … Mike was right!

As years went by and I continued to hike, Mike’s words never left me. I have tried and worn many hiking boots. The REI store is my most helpful place to buy hiking boots. No hiking boot is worth buying till you know you can walk many miles in the boot and have your feet feel good at the end of the hike. Most times I get the right boot the first time I try one on; however, it was not the case in 2000. I was preparing for a trek in Nepal to Everest Base Camp at 17,600 feet. Good boots were a must. I trained in NYS and AZ. In New York State I was carrying my backpack up and down garage stairwells and notoriously steep roads in Ithaca, NY which happened to also be snow covered at times. In Arizona I was hiking up and down Chimney Rock in Sedona and changing pairs of boots as I tried them out. Fortunately REI allowed returns even after a bit of red dirt would be on the boots!

Recently I was at Grand Canyon National Park. I talk with people as they are standing at the start of the Bright Angel Trail contemplating their next move. Will they go to Phantom Ranch? Will they only hike to Havasupai Garden Campground? On this particular day a party of 3 talked of hiking to the Colorado River and back within the day. While quizzing them about the amount of water and food they had, and being sure they understood it is twice as long to return to the rim than going down, we helped as they struggled getting their Yaktrax’s on their shoes. It was noon and they were off. We worried about them for the rest of the day. I hope they were smart on the trail.

Then I saw a couple walk down the Bright Angel Trail. I could not help but notice their shoes. I watched them carefully walk down the snowy, icy trail to the tunnel. (If you have been on this trail, you know exactly what distance I am talking about.) It’s downhill and not far, but hiking boots are recommended!

I do not make a habit of this, but I really wanted to talk with them when they returned to the rim of the canyon. Fortunately, their walk was not the most fun so they were back before I froze. I asked if I could talk with them. I told them no friend of mine would ever believe me if I said I saw two people walk down the snowy, icy trail with those shoes! They graciously let me photograph their shoes. He had on suede loafers. The woman said her high-heeled chunky boots are so comfortable she wears them everywhere … including on this short hike! But they were glad to be back on the rim!

These shoes are meant for … hiking a snowy, icy trail? I guess …

I also talked with a group of college-aged foreign students visiting the USA. Within the conversation, I noticed all were wearing sneakers which led our discussion to how to pack lightly for a long-distance trip. The challenge really sets in when visiting areas with completely different temperatures. They started in the southeast USA, New Orleans, and driving to the Grand Canyon with snow, then Las Vegas, and off to the sunny Los Angeles. It is a challenge, plus who knew it would be snowing at the Grand Canyon? We all survive those moments of not being totally prepared, but if you’re planning to hike a distance, undoubtedly you will have the appropriate footwear. Mike was right, take care of your feet.

My photo of Mount Everest in 2000. What a trek to see it from Kala Patar!

Endless Knot; Do You Live it?

Your knot may be the mathematical sign for infinity. A symbol for infinite time and space, giving shape to balance between giving and taking, and attention for yourself and others.

Or maybe it is the Celtic knot. A symbol of continuous movement and continuity of life keeping forces of darkness and chaos at bay.

Or the endless knot, one of the auspicious symbols of Tibetan Buddhism, representing infinite compassion and the interconnectedness of everything in our world.

Tibetan Buddhist Endless Knot

Each knot has no beginning or end. Whichever knot you chose, the intertwined lines show how phenomenon in the world join us together. A pull here causes something to happen over there; the fundamental rule of the universe of cause and effect.

Must we really need a reminder of our connectedness? I think so.

Global concerns of war, various inequalities, and climate change create gaps in these knots. Thus there is no balanced harmony in the world or work to solutions to unite us all. What does it take for us to care about each other, solve the causes, and close the knot with effects interlaced and helpful for us all?

That balance of connection will require infinite compassion. His Holiness the XIV Dalai Lama once said, “There isn’t anyone who doesn’t appreciate kindness and compassion”. If we want continuity of life, it is time we act as one with a unified goal of wanting what is best for ourselves and our planet. Then in short time, take action with others to help close the gaps. We need infinitely intertwined lines to achieve representation of unity in the entire universe. Or else, what will our future be? I choose not to think about that at this time. Instead, it is up to each of us to do our part. Now…

World Habitat Day Happened!

In 1985, the United Nations designated the first Monday in October as World Habitat Day. It’s a day set aside to remind us we have the power and responsibility to shape the future of cities and towns. The 2022 theme: “Mind the Gap. Leave No One and Place Behind.” The growing inequalities and vulnerabilities exasperated by Covid, climate and conflict continue to be global concerns. What can we do about any of it?

We can join our local Habitat for Humanity organization and see what projects we can help with for a day or on a regular basis. I always choose to help with the home construction projects. I love seeing new homes being built, meeting the future owners who with their sweat equity in the work will eventually be able to live in a house we are building… and where they can call it home!

Tucson, AZ’s Habitat for Humanity actually had 4 days set aside for World Habitat Day. We are so excited to be building a number of houses, future homes, with hopes families can be in them before the holidays. As a result, many volunteers worked each of the days with special treats provided for breakfast and lunch too since this was part of the World Habitat celebration! It was wonderful seeing many people organized into groups and working at the tasks needing to be done. I was priming the front wall of the house and learned how to put plastic on windows and doors so no paint went on them! I must admit though, I had plenty of paint on myself by the time I was done; no worries though as it all washes off.

Tucson volunteers at work.

I have volunteered with Habitat for Humanity in other areas of Arizona and years ago in New York State. In 2019 I volunteered for a week, north of Krakow, Poland. I have always wondered how the facility we helped renovate is doing for the young people who were to live there.

Attending the celebration ceremony when the new home owner gets their front door key is wonderful. We hear the challenges; everyone has a story. We see the gratefulness; the sweat equity paid off and they know all the work done by volunteers. Tears come to our eyes because we know that for this person/family it has been a couple year’s journey now complete. They have a place to finally call home!

Support your local Habitat for Humanity … even a monetary donation helps if you cannot get out to volunteer on site. By the way, you do not need to be a builder to work at a home site. They will teach you whatever needs to be done or you may choose another project that fits your skill set better. Come on out, we can use your help!

Anyone Missing a Mailbox?

This was the craziest thing, to find a mailbox in the middle of a wash! You always hear to not mess around with mailboxes, especially the mail within them. So how does a mailbox end up in the middle of a wash more than a third of a mile from any road? Heavy rain, strong water flow, and nothing to stop its movement!

Is this your mailbox?

We checked the direction of water flow through the wash and think we know which way it floated in. There was no mail in the mailbox. We were happy about that! We understood when a mailbox is installed and ready for use, it is considered federal property and the homeowner doesn’t legally own his or her mailbox. In this wash, it belongs to no one at the moment. The mailbox seemed to come from the opposite direction we were walking, so we left the mailbox where it was in the wash.

Is anyone looking for a missing mailbox? As we walked away from it, we even wondered if anyone else has ventured down this wash and had an idea where it may have come from? To actually know the owner? How cool would that be to figure out where the mailbox owner lives and report their missing mailbox to them? It would be interesting to see the look on their face! Or maybe it would only be interesting to me. (If mail had been in the box though, we would know the owner … was not meant to be.)

We walked away and left the empty mailbox in the wash.

My Tea Time … Not Quite a Ritual

I love tea. I actually love tea more than coffee, yet coffee gives me the caffeine buzz I need most mornings. Coffee contains 80 – 100 milligrams of caffeine, tea has just 30 – 50 milligrams of caffeine. Not a bad way to start a day … a cup of coffee first thing in the morning. Then, ten-thirty-TEA (10:30am) is often when I have my morning cup of tea! I told family and friends this is a good time to call; it is my time to relax and enjoy a cup of tea!

When I am home I usually choose between some loose tea leaf variety. When traveling on the road, with my van, it is always a green or black tea bag variety. The loose tea leaves allows me to enjoy tea from Morocco, China, and other countries. (Just as enjoyable as getting my coffee beans from Peru, Africa, and other countries.) Or simply buy the tea bags from Bigelow or Lipton! Whatever the cup of tea, I enjoy adding honey.

I mentioned my tea drinking is not quite a ritual. Some days I am not home or able to stop and drink my tea at 10:30. It is interesting because once I get home from pickleball or whatever, I will then make my tea. When I am traveling, I always make a cup of coffee and cup of tea before I set off for the day. That tea may still be hot hours later or cooled off by the time I am ready to drink it. Anyway, it may be 10:30 or not, but it is my tea time!

Tea to enjoy … with honey!

Are you a tea drinker? A coffee and/or tea drinker? Or none of the above? Do you get your caffeine other ways during the day? Or do you avoid caffeine? If it’s not coffee or tea I am drinking, I am enjoying water, beer or wine! Is my 4:00pm cocktail hour a ritual? Now that’s a thought!

Be Slow & Silent …  Break Away With Both …

I remember the harried days during my world of work; my 30 year career in education. While teaching during the school year and working youth programs at local parks during the summer, I was always “on”. Then working as a school administrator, summers were working days too, so I was still “on”. While “on” is a good state to be in when working, our bodies need some down time for us to be our best selves when at work.

Fortunately I had an old hunter’s shack in New York State’s Adirondack Mountains to escape and slow down. In the middle of the forest it was silent! What a great combination, slowness and silence! My mind and body appreciated the step away from work frenzy and home responsibilities so I could rejuvenate and be at my best when I returned to work. I should have taken more of these moments through my career, but at least I learned the importance of the slow and silent escape!

The first 12 years of my retirement I continued various work responsibilities, slowed down some, but only in true retirement, meaning absolutely no work responsibilities, have I slowed down and appreciated silence once again!

In reality, creating escapes with moments and places allowing you to slow down and be in silence can happen if we consciously choose to find it. A walk in nature on a trail where few people may be, or to drive on a local back road with no music or news on in your car, or to sit in a quiet space within your own home. It is important to look at what is best and easiest for you to accomplish and maybe maintain for your own continued place to escape for slow and silent periods of time.

What you do in those moments of slow and silent is totally up to you. You may sit, pray, meditate, sketch, read, or otherwise choose what is best for yourself since we all cannot escape to a shack in the woods. The goal is for our mind and body to relax and since I no longer have my shack in the mountains, I too find local escapes. 

How often do we need to take time for this? You’ll know as you incorporate all of this into your life. We are all different with varied needs, so there is no formula to follow. Listen to your own body and mind and always do what is best for yourself. Support your well-being!

Where will you take yourself?

On a path, over a bridge, and to some peace and quiet! Love it!

Cancer … Dread Hearing Even the Word!

How many times have I heard someone has cancer? It didn’t matter which cancer it was since all cancers were equally dreaded by me. I read details and the latest research about the cancer I had last heard about and always encouraged the person with the cancer to do the same, get a second opinion and to seek support.

During a recent bicycle ride, I stopped at the Cancer Survivors’ Park at Spanish Landing Park East in San Diego! I actually felt comforted reading every sign posted along the park’s pathway. No photo could capture the look of the park; more importantly though I wanted to share its information. Below is a snippet of what I read at each sign post.

  1. Cancer results from wildly dividing cells and while this happens 6 times a day within each of us, our immune system usually kills them. When we do not have a strong immune system, cancer happens, yet it is not the largest killer of women… it is heart disease.
  2. Make up your mind to fight the disease … commit to do all that you need to do.
  3. Knowledge is power … so read all about the disease.
  4. Find a qualified physician who believes you can be successfully treated. Get a second opinion too. This is your body, your life, so do everything you can.
  5. Eat well, exercise and maintain a healthy immune system. Think of yourself.
  6. Maintain a positive outlook with whatever method you wish: visual imagery, meditation, nature’s god, relaxation and/or prayer. Positive mental health is important.
  7. Do not look back and say, “I wish I had done…” Do all these things now so you have the best result… life.

As I read this information, I actually felt comforted knowing friends who currently have cancer are doing these important steps. While I try to maintain phone contact with them, maybe I am adding a positive moment to their day.

I also wonder, especially after reading “The Code Breaker: Jennifer Doudna, Gene Editing, and the Future of the Human Race” by Walter Isaacson, if there will be a cancer-free world some day. The gene editing research may lead to such medical advances. In the meantime, support each other how best we can … with or without cancer. Life is precious and death is permanent. Let’s do all we can to live a healthy life!

Five Day Roller Coaster!

I am sure this happens in your life too … you’re looking forward to something, then something happens to not have it happen … then all is good …. and then it is not. Well these days 21- 25 of my trip felt like I was on a rollercoaster.

Driving south from NYS’s Adirondack area I stopped in at a former colleague’s home. This woman, who I worked with, and her husband had been key people during my tenure as a junior-senior high school principal years ago so I always try to visit them when in the area. After a quick visit and greatly appreciated lunch, I was on my way to see my best friend. The plan was to stay 5 nights at her home. I have known this person since 1983 and I can honestly say she is my one of my very best friends. She has had tough past months with numerous chemo treatments. I wished I could have provided her more support, but phone calls were all I could offer since I now live thousands of miles away. Needless to say I was excited to finally visit and spend time together with her. 

For the past 3 weeks on this trip, I wore my facial mask everywhere. I did not want to pick up any virus or virus variant. While the U.S. Center for Disease Control expected people to follow the honor system, to wear a mask if unvaccinated, I was not so sure people were doing so. In prep to visiting my mom and now my friend, I continued to wear a mask despite being fully vaccinated.

I received a phone call on my way to this visit. My friend had a sore throat and was going to the doctor for an exam and a Covid test! Oh my gosh, panic set in for me as I realized this could impact our visit. Since 24 hours are needed for a Covid test result, I chose to stay at a hotel. During that time, when we visited with each other we remained socially distanced, always wearing a mask, and waited 24 hours for the test result! There was my high, then low and back to a high when we realized she was Covid-free! Whew!

Although we had not seen each other in some time, we did not miss a beat. Our love for Broadway shows, art, reading, nature, walking and simply sharing time together has always been wonderful. I also admired the fact she started law school at age 50 and worked as an attorney for years after being an ESL and reading teacher. Now her inner strength to do all she can do despite the side effects from the chemo treatments is truly remarkable. I can only admire the person she is and so when it came time to say goodbye and I will see you next year, I was sad! My roller coaster had gone from high to low … thank goodness we have the technology to stay in touch!

Our visit included seeing other friends in nearby towns and enjoying ice cream. We also went to a driving range and clearly know we both need more practice before heading to a golf course! We also visited my sister’s alpaca farm and went for ice cream again. The time flew, every moment important, and I am still wishing I had my camera when we saw a beaver at work down at the river. Oh well …  a memory for us both. I’ll be back next year for us to enjoy time together and to create more memories.