How Things Have Changed – My Life Through Fashion Trends

The temperature was in the mid-90’s as I drove by a local high school as the students were leaving on the first day of school – Albuquerque 2015. A great many students were wearing Bermuda shorts and scooped neck t-shirts. It didn’t appear as if there was any impetus to have a new ‘back-to-school’ outfit. Aw, how things have changed.

Having a new outfit to start school was important in 1956 when I started high school (10th grade then). By the first of August, my mother and I had visited the fabric store and picked out a pattern and fabric for me to make my back-to-school dress. I insisted that it be a dark fall fabric. I remember it had ¾ length sleeves – hardly the kind of dress I should be wearing in mid-September in San Bernardino, CA where the temperature often was over 100 during the first week of school. I couldn’t find a picture of my 10th grade back-to-school dress. This the 11th grade one.

11th grade back to school dress

11th grade back to school dress

It was the era of felt ‘poodle’ skirts, two-toned saddle oxfords or ‘bucks’ that needed constant attention with pads of white powder. The skirt lengths were calf-length, whether loose and swirling or pencil thin. Sadly, I never owned a poodle skirt. Since my mother made nearly all of my clothes, she deemed the cost of the felt too expensive. When the weather cooled and we switched from blouses – that needed to be ironed – to sweater sets, we always had a little scarf tied at the neck or a string of pearls.

Me with high school friends

Me with high school friends

I and my friends poured over Seventeen Magazine, our go-to source for high school style. In one issue there was an article titled, “What is Your Perfume Personality?”  As the foothills explorer in my free time, not unsurprisingly, mine was “woodsy-mossy.”

When I started college at the University of Redlands in 1959, conservative straight skirts were worn for classes. Instead of saddle oxfords, young women usually wore flats. I asked some of my college friends what they remembered about college attire.

“I remember we had to wear nylons (with seams) and heels to the Commons (dining hall) on Sunday,” my friend Carole reminisced. “This was before panty hose, so we must have worn garters” – or girdles.

Me with college friends in our dresses, nylons and heels - 1961

Me with college friends in our dresses, nylons and heels – 1961

Penny wrote “I think that I usually wore panty hose with my skirts.  I can specifically remember that on some of those hot, HOT September days, that the perspiration on my nylon-stockinged legs rubbing together caused chaffing of my thighs while walking up to the “Hill” for classes.”

She also remembers “we couldn’t hang our laundry on the lines behind the dorm on Sundays.” And, of course, this was before dryers were common place since they were still very costly.

It was expected that we would wear hat and gloves when we attended the get-acquainted teas. I remember wearing a royal blue pin box hat with matching royal blue gloves. I felt so chic and kept both items packed away in my cedar chest for many years afterwards.

Pants, but never jeans, were worn for casual activities. I don’t know whether the private college had a dress code, or whether we were just following the norms of the times. My college friends don’t remember any written dress code – “We just somehow seemed to know what was customary” Penny relayed.

I have photos of me wearing a suit with a cropped jacket for important occasions, such as the Science Dinner, writing banquet or debate tournament.

Me with Penny King after a debate tournament

Me with Penny King after a debate tournament

My sister Chris entered School of Architecture at the University of California at Berkley as the only female student in 1962. I asked her whether it gave her more liberty to dress casually. “A lot was left as “understood”.  Dresses for school and slacks for evening.  Wednesday night dinner was “dress-up” – going to church outfits.  Going to San Francisco included hose, heels and dresses,” she explained. “After several years it became apparent that I had to upgrade my clothes to be taken “seriously” and “professionally”.  Daily dress included nylons and nice shoes – even though the distance between classes included many hills.

My first job out of college was a social worker in the welfare department. I can’t imagine what the families that I visited thought when this young woman appeared at their doors wearing business attire, heels and hose!  I’m sure it didn’t create an atmosphere of rapport.

At some point in the 1960’s – after Jackie Kennedy became First Lady – the skirt lengths went from mid-calf to knee-length.

When I got married in 1965, it was expected that I would have a ‘going away’ outfit. I have no recollection what it was, except that it seemed silly, since we were going camping on our honeymoon.  I asked Chris what her recollection was when she married in 1967. “Oh, yes, I also had a going-away suit,” she stated. “Mom said it was the proper thing to do.”

For casual wear, jeans became popular and by the 1970’s pant legs went from straight to flared at the ankle. However, as I perused photo albums, it appears that on most casual occasions I wore slacks,

Me with Mom

Me with Mom

and only wore jeans for hiking and camping.

Me on a hike with friends

Me on a hike with friends

Chris got her first pantsuit sooner than I did. After receiving her degree and moving to Albuquerque with her architect husband, Bill, she interned with a civil engineer. “I got my first pant suit in 1970 when I needed to go in a private plane to a site in southern New Mexico,” she stated.

In 1971 singer James Brown released his hit, “Hot Pants” and instantly it became a fashion trend. I remember feeling racy after purchasing a one-piece outfit – a knit top with hot pants that zipped up. I wore with boots, but only a few times. It was very impractical as I had to practically undress to use the restroom.

When I moved to Seattle in 1973 and became director of The Arc-King County, it was expected that I wear business attire. At some point during the 1970’s I acquired my first pantsuit; however, it was business suits on most days.

Me in one of my summer business suits after receiving my MBA in 1984

Me in one of my summer business suits after receiving my MBA in 1984

I remarried in 1979. It was not going to be a fancy dress for me – and purchased a suit I could wear to work.

Wedding attire - 1978

Wedding attire – 1978

By the late 80’s when I developed a growth between my two outer toes (the product of wearing narrow, pointed-toe shoes too many years), the doctor suggested I could avoid surgery if I wore Birkenstocks like he did. I was indignant and told him that as the Executive Director of The Arc – King County, I could not effectively represent the agency at civic events in Birkenstocks.

A short time later, women’s footwear became more casual, heels lower and widths wider. Spiked heels and narrow toes have returned to women’s fashions and I know the price they will pay as their feet age.

When I attended my 30th college reunion, everyone still dressed up.

Me with Penny King at 30th U of R reunion - 1993

Me with Penny King at 30th U of R reunion – 1993

When I moved to Albuquerque in 1994, I was delighted to learn that business attire was much more casual than in Seattle. While I had a few suits that I really loved, they sat in the back of my closet for several years before I was ready to retire them.

I purchased my first denim dress.

Me with a friend - 1995

Me with a friend – 1995

What a difference 20 years makes. When I attended my 50th reunion at the University of Redlands, we were all in casual attire.

Reunion picture - 2013

Reunion picture – 2013

The best wardrobe of all is that of retirement – casual pants or crops on most days. I haven’t worn a skirt in years. I have always liked the poem “When I am old I will wear purple with a red hat…” While purple and red hats are not my style, the meaning is clear: I can now wear what I love and what is comfortable.


And, from observing the high school students that sent me on this fashion retrospective, perhaps young women today will not be bound by all of the fashion rules that women of my generation were bound by.

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Remembering Hiroshima in 1962 and on 70th Anniversary

I had left my new Japanese student friends (It’s hard to remember that the standard dress was still skirts!) in Kyoto

Me with Japanese student friends

Me with Japanese student friends

and boarded an overnight train to Hiroshima. I was not able to sleep as the train zipped along. Every half hour or so, an announcement of the next stop would come through the speaker – all sounding unintelligible.

“Will I be able to recognize the announcement for Hiroshima?” I worried.

As dawn approached, I could see the buildings from out of the window as the train passed. All of a sudden, the buildings were not grey and weathered appearing, but were newer construction. The realization that even some distance from Hiroshima everything was devastated and had been re-built settled over me like a shroud.

It was the summer of 1962 and I had just turned 20 – eighteen years after the atomic bomb had been dropped on Hiroshima. I was traveling through East Asia on my way home from spending my junior year of college in Hong Kong. What would I encounter? Thinking back over my summer itinerary planning, visiting Hiroshima was probably my father’s suggestion, just as visiting Okinawa had been. The atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima the day before his Seabees battalion shipped out for Okinawa. He helped Okinawa rebuild.

I also knew that the Presbyterian Junior Year Abroad Program that sponsored my year’s study in Hong Kong was started in 1953 as a result of Hiroshima. Margaret Flory, the program’s founder and ‘mother’ for the rest of her career, met students in Japan in 1952 with “despair and guilt in a burdened memory and the recollection of how the Geiger counters clicked at Hiroshima. The students were poor, sometimes hungry and often without hope (Gittings, J.A., JYA 10, United Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A., 1964).

Growing up during the cold war, including doing duck-and-cover drills in elementary school, I had lots of reminders of the potential for nuclear destruction, but was not prepared for the lasting impact the city would have on me.

It is amazing the feelings and details that I can still remember after 53 years. The train pulled into the station around 6:30 in the morning and I, along with a handful of people, disembarked. Someone in the station was able to understand English and told me that I could take a bus tour in a couple of hours.

When I boarded the bus I panicked. Most of the others were Japanese. The few that were not, were speaking in a variety of European languages. How could I look at the sights of the city and listen to what had happened in the midst of a group of people from Japan? Would they judge me or be disdainful of what might appear to them to be gawking.

In fact, none of this happened. The others on the tour were very gracious as the bus wound through the modern city – one that could be any city in the early 1960’s were it not for the Japanese characters and signs on the buildings.

downtown Hiroshima -in 1962 - postcard purchased on trip

downtown Hiroshima -in 1962 – postcard purchased on trip

The first stop was the Peace Memorial Park where the tour guide recited the facts of the bombing and devastation in both Japanese and English. The memorial includes a cenotaph where the names of all of those who perished are inscribed. As I looked through my scrapbook for my Junior Year Abroad, I was amazed that I did not have any photographs from Hiroshima. (I must have shipped home my Dad’s camera, which I used to take slides in Hong Kong, in the steamer trunk along with my typewriter and other items I would not need that summer. I did have some post cards and was able to find photos on creative commons.)

Cenotaph - photo from Wikipedia


The guide showed us the remains of a building that had been directly under where the bomb had been detonated. It had been left both as a reminder and as a symbol of peace. In researching this story, I discovered that it was not until four years after my visit that the city decided to preserve the skeletal remains indefinitely, and in 1996 it was declared a World Heritage site.

Hiroshima Peace Memorial - photo wikipedia commons

Hiroshima Peace Memorial – photo wikipedia commons

It left a lasting impression on me.

Nearby is the Children’s, or Sadako Memorial, erected in 1958. Perhaps it was the guide’s broken English or my continued feelings of intimidation, but I did not grasp at the time the history or significance of this memorial at the time.

Sadako Peace Memorial - postcard purchased in 1962

Sadako Peace Memorial – postcard purchased in 1962

Sadako Sasaki, were she alive today, would be a year younger than I am. She was two years old when the atom bomb was dropped on her city. When she was 11, she was diagnosed with Leukemia, known by those in the area as the “atom bomb disease.” Her best friend told her about an old Japanese legend that promised that anyone who folds a thousand paper cranes would be granted a wish. She started folding cranes out of any piece of paper she could find and had completed over 1000 before dying on October 25, 1955 at age 12. Inspired by the fact that she never gave up, her friends and classmates put together a book of her letters and published it, using the proceeds to build a monument to Sadako and all of the children killed by the atom bomb. Today, Sadako’s cranes can be seen in peace museums and memorials around the world.

As the tour concluded, the guide told us that the people of Hiroshima were committed to reminding the rest of the world about the impact of atomic weapons and were committed to peace.

That afternoon as I boarded the train and headed towards Fukuoka to take the ferry to Pusan, South Korea, the skeleton of the ‘A Bomb Building’ continued to haunt me.

As I was returning from my year in east Asia, things were heating up in Indo China. When the U.S. entered into the Vietnam War, I worried about the futility of war and worried about the potential of nuclear weapons.

As I looked back on my life at each of the decade anniversaries of the bomb, I realized that my own life events crowded out the haunting image of remembering Hiroshima. In 1965 I had recently married, in 1975 I was busy with an 8-year-old son and a troubled marriage. In 1985, I had remarried and adopted two children with special needs. In 1995, that marriage had failed and I was remaking my life with two teenagers in Albuquerque.

In 2005 when journalists wrote about the 60th anniversary of the atomic bomb, the following picture jumped out at me from the newspaper

Hiroshima - 60th anniversary of atomic bomb

Hiroshima – 60th anniversary of atomic bomb

and I was able to reflect on my visit during college.

As I began to write about that experience, I scoured the Internet for information and learned about the Peace Clock Tower, completed in 1967 and dedicated by the Hiroshima Lions Club. Part of the Epitaph reads “…The chime of the clock tower resounding every day at 08.15, the time when mankind received its baptism of the atomic bomb for the first time, calls out to the world for “No more Hiroshima” and we pray that the day for lasting peace may soon come to mankind.”

Peach Clock

Peach Clock

And in the lobby of the museum is another clock, installed on August 6, 2001, that counts the days since the bomb was dropped, as well as the number of days since the last known nuclear test. The last reset, the 19th in 12 years, was August 21, 2013 after learning that the United States conducted a new type of nuclear test on May 15 to examine the effectiveness of its nuclear arsenal.

2nd Peach Clock

2nd Peach Clock

When I retired from the Center for Development and Disability at the University of New Mexico in 2006, some of my co-workers remembered my writing about Sadako the previous year and thought that it would be a fitting to tie my past with my future retirement filled with birds. Everyone joined in folding paper cranes that adorned the retirement party room.

Paper Cranes - retirement party from Center for Development and Disability

Paper Cranes – retirement party from Center for Development and Disability

Like their counterparts in real life, the strands of cranes ‘migrated’ to the Children’s Peace Statue, which at the time was at Ghost Ranch Santa Fe. The statue was designed in 1989 by Albuquerque school children at Arroyo del Oso Elementary School who were inspired by Sadako’s story. It was intended for Los Alamos, but has yet to be approved by that city. It has had a variety of homes – Explora Science Center and Children’s Museum in Albuquerque, Ghost Ranch in Santa Fe (where it was housed in 2006) and is currently at the Santa Fe Children’s Museum.

Starting in January 2015, there has been a groundswell among peace organizations from many countries to have 70,000 cranes folded and sent to Santa Fe for the pilgrimage to Los Alamos’s Ashley Pond on August 6, the 70th anniversary of Hiroshima’s decimation.

The inscription engraved at the base of the Children’s Peace Memorial in Hiroshima is a plea: “This is our cry. This is our prayer: Peace in the world.” In my bedroom hangs a crane mobile made by my dear friend Valerie Ford – my daily reminder of my visit to Hiroshima and my commitment to peace.

mobile of origami cranes folded by Valerie Ford

mobile of origami cranes folded by Valerie Ford

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July 16, 1945

I knew I wanted to write about my life for my children and grandchildren, as my mother had done for us. However, my life seemed so mundane compared to those of my parents and grandparents – until I received a forwarded email from a friend asking where I was on a particular date in history. That was all I needed to get my juices going. This is the first of a series of stories linking my life with points in history.

When the first atomic bomb was exploded on July 16, 1945 at 5:45 am MST in the New Mexico desert, on land that is now the White Sands Missile Range, I had just turned three and was asleep in Santa Monica, California home. 2015 marks the 70th anniversary of this event that changed the course of history.

According to an Associated Press article that appeared in the Albuquerque Journal on July 16, 2015, “When a flash of light beamed from the arid New Mexico desert early on July 16, 1945, residents of the historic Hispanic village of Tularosa felt windows shake and heard dishes fall….The end of the world is here, they thought.”

It would be another three weeks before the world would begin to know the significance of the desert event.

My father, an engineer with the Civil Air Administration (CAA), was not allowed to join the armed forces before 1945 since his job was deemed essential to the national security. By January 26 1945, the CAA repair and construction of airports in the western part of the country came to a close, and he joined the Navy Seabees (Naval Construction Force). He left for Camp Pendicott in Rhode Island for basic training on February 24.

Omer Brodie in his navy uniform.

Omer Brodie in his navy uniform.

Fate intervened and just prior to his battalion leaving for North Africa, he came down with pneumonia and was hospitalized. They left without him and he was assigned to another battalion that was bound for the Pacific. They spent a month at the Naval Construction Battalion Center at Port Hueneme (near Ventura, CA) the West Coast homeport of the Navy’s Seabees and he was able to visit us at home (overnight liberties) – much to my delight.

Among the birthday gifts listed for my 3rd birthday was a “telegram from daddy.” He must not have had overnight liberties at that time. I’m sure this was nothing unusual during the war.

my 3rd birthday party - 16 days before the atomic test.

my 3rd birthday party – 16 days before the atomic test.

Because the Manhattan Project, responsible for the development of the atomic bomb, was still secret, even the Navy did not know what had happened on that morning and my father’s battalion continued their preparations to leave for Okinawa.

While I have never visited the Trinity Test site even though I have lived in New Mexico for over 20 years, I have visited the Bradbury Science Museum in Los Alamos where a replica of “the gadget” is on display and there are extensive exhibits on the history of the Manhattan Project.

I am grateful for my mother’s detailed record-keeping of events during my early years and my reactions to them in Your Child Year by Year: A Development Record and Guide From Birth to the 16th Year, published by The Parents Magazine

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Following Our Grandfather’s Footsteps Through Flanders in WWI

Joseph Bell Stage, my grandfather, joined the Canadian Expeditionary Forces 2nd Contingent in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan on Oct. 27, 2014 at age 35. He was assigned to the 28th Battalion and trained first in Winnipeg, Canada

Joseph Bell Stage - top row, 2nd from left

Joseph Bell Stage – top row, 2nd from left

and then near Shorncliff, England. My grandmother, with my uncle and mother, followed him, first to Winnipeg and then to England. The Battalion left for the Front on September 17, 1915, four days after my mother’s 7th birthday.

“September 18, 1915. Arrive at Boulogne (France) just prior to 5 AM after rough crossing and little sleep. A British N.C.O. announces that revile will be at 0600, and breakfast at 0700. The Battalion entrains for the Front area at noon. Entrained to St. Omer at 1500, proceed to Cassel by train 1915 and Billets at St. Sylvestre Cappel, Bn.Hq at Drouleux Farm.” 28th Battalion History, First Winter at the Front 1915-16.

In our mother’s written recollections she stated that her mother “insisted on taking us over to Calais, France to be near him…Since we were not allowed to see Dad or to stay in France, we returned to England and our apartment.”

Ever since we discovered two sources of records for our grandfather’s Battalion (1100 men and 35 officers) in the Canadian Expeditionary Forces, my sister and I had longed to visit the area where he had fought and been injured. On our recent trip to the Flanders area of France and Belgium, we set out to follow in his footsteps and learn more about what he experienced, using, the 28th Battalion History, a War Diary of Intelligence Summary, Stewart A.G. Mein’s, Up the john!: the story of the Royal Regina Rifles, and our grandfather’s medical records to plot our route, as well as our mother’s written recollections of that period of her childhood.

While our grandfather had not been near Arras, where a major battle in 1917 wiped out much of the town, our introduction to commemoration of WWI on our trip began with the photo exhibit around the town square in Arras on the first night of the trip. We viewed some of the photo signs the day we arrived and I spent an hour the next morning viewing and reading each of the 100 photos.

One panel of photo exhibit

One panel of photo exhibit

Our actual pilgrimage began 5 days later near Dunkirk, not far from Boulogne-sur-Mer where he landed. Armed with the logs and maps, we wound our way along country roads to St. Omer, which was along the train route to Cassel. At first we envisioned the Battalion walking along the same roads we were traveling, until we realized that over 1100 men would have marched across field and not followed the roads.

When we approached Cassel, we followed the signs – looking left and right for a railroad station. As the road headed up the hill, we noticed that it still retained its brick construction.

Cassel, France

Cassel, France

We quickly realized that the train station would not have been on top of a hill!

“I can find the railroad track,” Chris, a train buff, informed us. “It will be south of the hill,” and she directed us down the opposite side of the hill and through some farms and soon spotted the railroad track, but no station.
FR Cassel tracks area
Upon reflection after our visit, it seems likely that the train stopped at some point and all of the soldiers disembarked and then marched the approximately 4 miles to Saint-Sylvestre-Cappel where they set up camp.

September 25 – “Marched to Kemmel where we relieved the 15th bn (battalion) trenches about midnight.” War Diary Intelligence Summary

We continued our route, following the D933 through Caestre,

Caestre, France

Caestre, France

Metern, France

Metern, France

Ballieul and
near Ballieul, France

near Ballieul, France

Locre to Kemmel.

Soldiers that died at a specific location were buried there together. At some points we passed small roadside cemeteries with a few rows of crosses marking the burial sites of fallen soldiers.

While most of the blossoms were gone, a few bright red poppies dotted the road sides – very fitting.

roadside poppy

roadside poppy

As we passed through the countryside, we were cognizant of the fact that most of the trees and buildings were less than 100 years old.

There were no remnants of war-time trenches. While I had seen trenches depicted in movies, it was a real eye-opener to see an actual reconstruction of one at the Musee de la Grande Guerre in Meaux that we visited on our last day,
as well as a ‘no mans land.’

diorama of 'no mans land'

diorama of ‘no mans land’

September 26 – “The trenches were bombarded…by German trench mortar. 1 man was killed. Another man was killed by a sniper.” 28th Battalion History, First Winter at the Front 1915-16.

Mein describes conditions in the trenches “..the Batallion packed itself into its allotted front line positions, so full of men that at times movement was almost impossible.” And, “The first tour in the front line for the 28th was relatively uneventful. It was devoted chiefly to shaking down, getting adjusted to the dank trench life, and acquiring a taste for army issue rum.”

The Battalion remained in the trenches until September 30 when they were relieved and went to nearby shelters in the village of Kemmel. The following evening at 11 PM, the Battalion was moved to Locre, 2.5 miles away. From there they worked in shifts day and night building articles to be used in the trenches and then transporting the items to the trenches.

“A large number of men being sent to the Div baths and a large percentage suffering from colds and rheumatism due to wet and exposure.” War Diary Intelligence Summary

It’s hard to imagine the conditions under which the soldiers lived and worked.

The Battalion returned to the trenches on October 6,

“leaving Locre at 4:30 pm marched to the trenches where we relieved the 31st Bn…being completed by 10:30 pm.” War Diary Intelligence Summary

The October 12 log reads “…in trenches most of the day, artillery duels in the afternoon, enemy shell buried a number of our men killing two and wounding nine…” War Diary Intelligence Summary

October 12 is the date that our grandfather’s medical records indicate that he was buried by a shell explosion. According to oral family history, he was initially considered to be dead and was one of those buried by an enemy shell. A telegram was sent to our grandmother letting her know of his death. The following day when a party went to retrieve the dead, they discovered that our grandfather had been ‘buried alive’ and was still breathing. Our grandmother received another telegram informing her that her husband was injured. Her immediate reaction was that the order was reversed.

The medical records indicate that he suffered a contusion and was initially treated in the field and then transferred to Mont des Cats, where a casualty clearing station had been set up in the abbey. On October 29 he was returned to duty, only to be hospitalized again on November 5 suffering from pain – duh. He was returned to duty after two weeks and served until April 1916 when he was transferred back to Shorncliffe, England with ‘slight’ shell shock.

He was a man who never complained, just stoically did what needed to be done. It was humbling to realize just what he endured.

While the Battles at Ypres happened before and after our grandfather fought in the area, we had planned to visit Ypres – not far from Kemmel – in hopes of attending the daily Last Post ceremony. Unfortunately, it was too late when we arrived.

Town Square, Ypres, Belgium

Town Square, Ypres, Belgium

The crowds were streaming away from the Menin Gate, so we ducked into a restaurant to assure ourselves a table before everything filled up. As we ate, I realized that everyone in the restaurant was about our age – the last generation to know someone personally who had served in the Great War. We pondered whether subsequent generations would care and visit.

Our cousin Kam stated, “This should be on everyone’s bucket list that had family fighting in this area. Peter and I have been to the ceremony three times and it was just as moving the third time.”

After dinner we walked over to the gate where the ceremony is held nightly – rain, snow or shine.

Menin Gate, Ypres, Belgium

Menin Gate, Ypres, Belgium

Everything came together on our last day in France when we visited the Musee de la Grande Guerre in Meaux.

As we walked up the front path, a motion sensor triggered a variety of recordings – first of horses’ hoofs, then boots marching, and further up the path gun shots.

walkway to museum

walkway to museum

After a historical overview that refreshed us on the events that led up to the war, we entered the main gallery.

I was reminded not only how vast the war was, but that soldiers from European colonies were conscripted.
It has been war that has led to the development of devices to assist ‘wounded warriors,’ which in turn, has benefited other people with disabilities – who previously had not been a priority.

WWI prosthetics

WWI prosthetics

Dioramas depicted soldiers marching – and very cleverly includes those who died with uncolored figures.
I was wandering in a side gallery when I came upon this photo and called Chris over to look at it.

“Oh my God,” she exclaimed. “It’s grandpa.”
For both of us, the reality of being ‘buried alive’ and then struggling to gradually work part of his face to the surface was staring us in the face.

Our journey through Flanders had enabled us to better understand not only our own grandparent’s experiences, but hopefully will be a legacy for our children and grandchildren.

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The Rijkssmuseum and The Louvre – Viewing Great Works of Art Despite the Crowds

Everyone wants to see the Mona Lisa, made famous by Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code, even if they don’t know much about Leonardo Da Vinci. And, for those that studied art history in college, the notion of seeing and carefully examining original works of Vermeer, Rembrandt, Monet, Van Gogh and Michelangelo puts European museums at the top of your bucket list. And, I was no exception.

It was a rainy Saturday when we visited Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum and we were glad we had purchased our tickets online before leaving on our trip. While there was a line for those with advance-purchase tickets, it moved quickly compared with those who needed to buy their tickets on-site. As we moved along, we had an opportunity to view the intricate details of the building’s impressive architecture.

Approach to the Rijksmuseum

Approach to the Rijksmuseum

We had gone to the museum’s website to plan our visit and a friend had given us a map from her visit. The paintings on our priority list were in the Gallery of Honour, which was where everyone was headed. We followed the crowd up the stairs. Unlike most of the throng, we stopped to admire the large stained-glass window on our way
and Bill reminded me to look up to appreciate the ceiling art.
decorative ceiling

decorative ceiling

I was particularly interested in viewing works of Johannes Vermeer. I had read The Girl With the Pearl Earring and recently watched the movie, Tim’s Vermeer. The Rijksmuseum has four of Vermeer’s paintings, the most famous being The Milkmaid. There was a large crowd gathered at one of the paintings near the entrance to the Gallery of Honour.

No one seemed to be studying the painting, which in real life was more luminescent than photos I have seen. Instead, they were gathered taking photos with their cell phones high above their heads, as if to say ‘I was here.’ After documenting the crowd, I nudged closer to admire the details and colors of the painting.

Crowd around Vermeer's The Milkmaid

Crowd around Vermeer’s The Milkmaid

17th Century Dutch artists are the specialty of the Rijksmuseum, so we wandered through the crowd to admire masterpieces of Rembrandt, Steen and others. The museum’s most famous painting is Rembrandt’s Night Watch (De Nachtwacht) and it was interesting to learn that it represented one of the first representations by artists of ordinary people – those who performed the night watch of the city. After spending an hour in the Gallery of Honor, we decided to split up and view other areas of the museum that appealed to each of us. The layout of the museum was complicated, involving four floors in two adjacent wings that were not connected.

There is a whole museum devoted to Van Gogh that we would not have an opportunity to see, so I made my way to the first floor gallery that contained Van Gogh’s self-portrait and then to the exhibit of Delftware.

We reconvened in the late afternoon to enjoy dark chocolate brownies and coffee in the café.

As we left, the sun had come out and a smiling Rembrandt was standing along the path and I couldn’t resist taking a picture of Bill with him.

Bill Burk with 'Rembrandt'

Bill Burk with ‘Rembrandt’

We stopped by the gift shop; however, I didn’t buy anything as the offerings resembled what I could get at The Getty Museum. There was a wonderful mural along one outside wall.
Gift shop mural

Gift shop mural

A week later, we visited The Louvre in Paris.

My son and his family had been in Paris a few weeks earlier and had warned us about the crowds. “You’ll never get to see the Mona Lisa,” I was told. “It is a small painting and there are too many people crowded around it. Instead, they spent time in the Egyptian exhibit and my granddaughter had insisted that I see the mummies!

I was not to be deterred. I was not going to Paris and the Louvre and not see the Mona Lisa!

A friend had recommended that we enter from the basement after getting off the Metro. We never saw that exit and emerged from the Metro along a side street next to the museum, but were there 15 minutes before it opened and got in the fairly short line for those with the Paris Museum Pass – a VERY smart investment. Two large tour groups were already in the other line.

Pyramid entrance

Pyramid entrance

I was armed with a brochure map from another friend and had gone to the website the night before and meticulously written down the exhibits we wanted to see, their location and the order that would work best. Unfortunately, I had not noticed the small colored square next to the exhibit photos and had assumed that everything we wanted to see was in the Richeleu wing. We were surprised there were not many people going through the line to show our ticket for this wing. We walked into the first gallery we came to and inquired where the Mona Lisa was – only to discover that we were in the wrong location. A very nice guard gave us a new map and directed us.

The two tour groups were mobbing their way to the other wing check point and I joined the throng, leaving Chris and Bill to find an elevator. After emerging from the check point, I marched with the others streaming through to Room 6 in the Denon Wing, not giving a glance at the bronzes, up the stairs through the Apollo Gallery, and ignoring the other exhibits as we made our way. I felt like I was part of the ‘running of the bulls,’ trying not to get trampled.

As predicted, there was a large crowd in front of the painting – all taking photos.

Crowd in front of Mona Lisa

Crowd in front of Mona Lisa

However, as people snapped their photo and moved away, I was able to move closer,
until I was able to see the painting well.
Now I could relax and see the rest of the exhibits and met up with Chris and Bill.

Next on our list was the Winged Victory of Samothrace, where there was a large crowd. By standing on a landing above it, I was able to get a good look.

Winged Victory

Winged Victory of Samothrace

We made our way back to the Apollo Gallery to view architectural details
and then to the gallery with Roman sculpture.
Italian scuptures

Italian scuptures

Next up was Venus de Milo in the Greek Antiquities galleries. I waited until a tour group leader had finished her spiel so I could appreciate the graceful form of the statue and then take a photo with as few heads in front of the statue as possible.
Venus de Milo

Venus de Milo

I was amazed to see tourists having their picture taken as they imitated the poses of the statues.
As opposed to the Rijksmuseum, there was very little visitor seating to rest our legs and I was dehydrated and beginning to regret my decision not to have the weight of my water bottle in the side of my purse.

As we passed through the various galleries, I really appreciated Chris and Bill suggesting I stop periodically and look up at the architectural details.
In trying to find our way to the Egyptian exhibit, we discovered the area referred to as Medieval Louvre, where a boardwalk curved through the lower ground floor displaying parts of the original fortress that preceded the palace and then museum,

Medieval Louvre

Medieval Louvre

Including a model of the original structure.
Model of Medieval Louvre

Model of Medieval Louvre

Before stopping for lunch, we took time to take in some of the Egyptian exhibit, including an imposing Sphinx
Egyptian Sphinx

Egyptian Sphinx

and the collection of Sarcophagus my granddaughter wanted me to see.
Egyptian Sarcophogus

Egyptian Sarcophogus

After lunch, we made our way to the Metro via the lower level that we had missed when we arrived – stopping to see the inverted pyramid.
It was an exhausting day, maneuvering through the three areas of the museum and jostling through the crowds to view the works of art we really wanted to see, but it was definitely worthwhile. Maybe I’ll make my next visit in January.

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Driving in Europe – Siri to the Rescue

The GPS sat proudly in the middle of the console of our Volvo sedan that we had reserved through Euro Car, but alas there was no instruction book and all of the options on the unit were in French, using words that didn’t exist when Bill studied French fifty-five years ago. In our haste to get on our way, we did not try to program it or get help before leaving the rental car lot at the airport – after all, Chris had painstakingly documented all of the driving instructions from the Michelin website and she was ready with the first set.

We exited the lot, but couldn’t figure out how to leave the airport – and ended up circling Terminal 2 a couple of times before we finally got in the correct lane to exit. Having landed at Charles de Gaulle Airport in the early morning, we quickly joined the throngs of commuters on the highway. While there was a lot of traffic, we were moving too fast to be able to read the signs quickly enough. While this is difficult at any airport in the United States, it is even more difficult when all of the information is in another language – in this case French.

Our first destination was Beauvais, which is north of the Paris area. We missed the off ramp heading north and found ourselves driving south towards Paris. The first opportunity we had to exit was St. Denis, where there were no shoulders to pull off and study the map. All of the streets in the town appeared to be one-way – a pattern that would challenge us over and over. As Bill drove, Chris studied her map in the back seat and I tried to work the GPS with no luck.

Freeway sign leaving Paris

Freeway sign leaving Paris

The one benefit to Chris’s pre-trip research was her familiarity with the names of towns and freeway numbers. As we passed off ramps, she called out instructions and finally got us headed north again.

Even though the GPS was not programmed, we could see the number of the highway we were driving on and the names and numbers of the upcoming exits. Periodically, an upbeat voice would come from the unit in French that left us puzzling – was it an upcoming traffic or road problem, or was it an advertisement.

After visiting the cathedrals in Beauvais and Amiens, we headed to Arras where we had reserved lodging for the night. From the confirmation information, we knew that the small hotel was near the center of town and looked for Centrum on street signs. As we approached the centrum, there was another sign – a red circle with an H and an arrow indicating where the hotels were congregated. Soon there was a list of hotels, but no Ibis Hotel where we were staying. Since the streets were narrow and one-way, we tried to get as close to the town square as possible.

At the point we seemed stymied, I volunteered to ask directions and Bill pulled over next to a shop that was still open – a hair salon, which did not sound promising for English-speakers. I went in and inquired “English?”  The beauticians had panicked looks on their faces. A patron, with some English, offered to assist and gave me very good instructions. She apologized for her English, to which I replied “it is much better than my French!”

Her directions took us to an area of the town square where there was parking; however, we could not see the hotel.

Arras Town Square

Arras Town Square

Bill, resurrecting his decades-old immersion experience, was able to ask further directions, and then he and I walked to the block to the hotel. The clerk told us that we could keep our car parked where it was or drive to the underground parking. We opted to try and locate the underground parking, which involved circling the centrum several times with no success. We parked in a different square and pulled our suitcases over the cobblestone street to the hotel.

Our destination the next day was Rotterdam. At the round-about in Douai, we exited too soon and made our first of many tours through the winding, one-way streets of a ‘housing estate.’ We coined the phrase ‘wandering aimlessly,’ which would become a trademark for the trip.

Housing Estate (this one is in Netherlands)

Housing Estate (this one is in Netherlands)

Once we entered Belgium, the upbeat messages on the GPS changed to Flemish and the signs leading towards Antwerpen became very confusing. That evening when we relayed our driving adventures to our cousin, we were told “Everyone takes a wrong turn at Antwerp.”

And, as we crossed into the Netherlands, the upbeat messages switched to Dutch.

On our first full day in the Rotterdam area, our cousin planned a day in the countryside to show us several points of interest. Since she doesn’t drive, she rode with us.

“I never pay attention to signs,” Kam explained; “therefore, Peter wrote everything down for me.” She sat in the front seat to be the navigator.

While we successfully got to Kinderdyke, the UNESCO windmills site, the directions from that point proved to be as useful as the Michelin instructions.



“Peter said that we just follow the dyke,” Kam said. Bill masterfully dealt with on-coming vehicles on the one-lane roads, while Chris and I admired thatched-roofed farm houses from the back seat.

Our next stop was a village she had discovered online where I could see storks nesting – one of my trip goals. She twice stopped to make sure we were headed in the right direction, and each inquiry resulted in conflicting information.

When it was clear that we had ‘wandered aimlessly’ too long, I dug out my cell phone, turned on the data, found our location on the map app, plugged in the name of the area near the stork village, programmed the route, turned on the oral directions and handed the phone to Kam. While she laughed at the pronunciation of Dutch names, Siri successfully guided us back to the village – which we had driven by an hour earlier.

A clerk where we stopped for lunch provided the final necessary directions – “turn just past the house with the llamas, then go past the cemetery…”

After enjoying the storks, we traveled a short distance to take a car ferry over the river Lek to Schoonhoven.

Car Ferry across River Lek

Car Ferry across River Lek

Our next stop was Gouda. After circling the town a couple of times, we found a parking spot a few blocks from the square – even with a spot marked for handicapped parking. Chris hung her placard from the mirror and off we went.

Gouda City Hall

Gouda City Hall

We returned to find a parking ticket – 61 Euros!

The following day as we were following Kam and Peter in their car, the ‘check engine light’ came on – not a good sign on a trip. Despite a two hour delay in leaving Rotterdam while the Volvo dealer checked the engine, the silver lining was learning how program the GPS and be able to set it in English. The driving instructions – “turn at the 2nd exit on the roundabout,” were given by a very polite voice with a British accent. We dubbed her UK Jane. If we decided to deviate to get something to eat, she would instruct us to “make a U-turn.” When we didn’t comply, she would instruct us to “Please make a U-turn” in an ever more urgent voice.

UK Jane successfully guided us through the countryside in northwest France as we traced the route of our grandfather’s WWI battalion, which wound in and out of France and Belgium, and got us back to our hotel in Bethune in the dark after visiting the memorial at Ypres.

War Memorial Gate - Ypres, Belgium

War Memorial Gate – Ypres, Belgium

And the next day, UK Jane guided us finally back to Charles de Gaulle to return the car.

While we had a very pleasant and efficient taxi ride from the airport to our apartment in Paris, the return taxi experience was a comedy or horrors where the meter was ticking as the cab was loaded, the driver’s junk was moved from the front seat to the trunk to accommodate Bill, and as he programmed his GPS. He couldn’t read the GPS and didn’t have the sound turned up, so drove erratically as he held a piece of paper over the screen to cut the glare.

On our final day, we rented another car for the day to visit Meaux. Trying to be smarter this time, we attempted to program it before we left the car rental lot. We successfully switched it to English and put in our destination, but were not able to turn on the oral directions. The rental car attendant was no help. Since we had to follow the blue line on the device, we dubbed this GPS unit “Silent Sally.’ The blue line had us ‘wandering aimlessly’ again and at one point suggested we take the next exit – a dirt path across a pasture. Rather than following an obvious bad suggestion, we stayed on the road and found ourselves heading back to Charles de Gaulle.

I dug out my phone again and Siri came to the rescue, successfully guiding us to Meaux.

Meaux, France - Memorial from U.S.

Meaux, France – Memorial from U.S.

Posted in Belgium, France, Netherlands | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

Liebster Award – Bloggers Supporting Bloggers

What a surprise to have WordPress notify me that someone had commented on a recent blog post with the following message: “Hi there! I really enjoy your blog. I wanted to let you know that I nominated you for the Liebster Blog Award. You can read all about it on my website:”

When I Googled ‘Liebster Blog Award,’ there were many, many referrals to recent posts citing blogs where others had received a similar message from a blog reader. It appears to be an award given by fellow bloggers to recognize blogs that they like and follow. I am honored that Pat thought of me.

I have been following Pat Bean since 2004 when she was still a reporter for the Ogden Standard-Examiner who also wrote a weekly column about birds. I met her when I was visiting Ogden and joined the Wasatch Audubon group as they took a census of bluebird boxes. When I returned home, I began to read her column, “Winging It,” every week online. As an aspiring writer who loved to chronicle my birding adventures, her column provided me with hope that others might be interested in reading about my experiences.

She retired and her columns stopped.

I started writing the equivalent of blog posts, which I sent out to friends each week by e-mail. After I retired, I took a class in blogging and converted my weekly e-mail stories into Judy’s Jottings, which Pat discovered and started following. A short time later, I set up a separate blog, devoted just to birding – It’s a Bird Thing. I don’t post much in Judy’s Jottings these days, since I have been consumed the last two years with writing – and now marketing – the book I co-authored, Birding Hot Spots of Central New Mexico.

Since Pat posts her blog posts on Facebook, I have been reading them regularly – and have been impressed with her commitment to write a post every day. However, I have to admit that in the bustle of other writing, I have not been following other blogs as much lately.

My obligation, upon being nominated, is to acknowledge the person who nominated me and then to nominate five of my favorite bloggers. I read several ‘professional’ blogs, e.g. Cornell University’s Round Robin, the American Birding Association’s, Peeps. However, my sense of the intent of the Liebster Award is to recognize individual bloggers.

So, here is my list:

1) Even though I acknowledged Pat, her blog posts have to be my #1 favorite. The quotes she uses as a preamble to her posts always reach out and grab me – and I love her photography. Pat Bean’s Blog.

2) I enjoy reading Rosyfinch Ramblings, written by Ken Schneider. Although he maintains homes in south Florida and Illinois, he continues his love of the Sandia Mountains and the Rosy-Finch project on his blog.

3) Another one of my loves is photography. I enjoy following the photographic art of Lisa Tannenbaum on NewMexicoPhotoJournal. She taught several classes I have taken at UNM Continuing Education.

4) My fourth pick would go to Natural Moments, Joe Schelling’s blog where he posts his exquisite photographs of birds and butterflies.

5) My fifth is going to a beginning blogger – Historymama. Carole has a keen sense of observing and commenting on human nature with dry wit. This is hoping that the nomination will encourage her to persist.

The Rules are:
1. Show your thanks to the blogger who gave you the award by linking back to them.
2. Reveal your top 5 picks for the award and let them know by leaving a comment on their blog.
3. Post the award on your blog.
4. Bask in the love from the most supportive people on the blogosphere – other bloggers.
5. And, best of all – have fun and spread the karma.

Posted in Birding, Birds, Writing | Tagged | 2 Comments

The Girl in the Polka Dot Skirt

It was a hot summer afternoon – a good time to be inside where the cool air from the swamp cooler wafted over us. Chris and I were engaging in our annual ritual of sifting through boxes of unidentified photos, letters and other memorabilia that had been among our mother’s possessions when she died. Most of it had actually come from our grandmother – who passed away in 1976.

Mother never felt comfortable asking questions about her family in northeast England – she always felt she was butting against a brick wall. Our grandparents immigrated to Canada when she was a year old and appeared to have cut ties with everyone. “I never knew anything about our family’s past or what motivated them to leave England,” Mom told us in her later years.

In fact, it took her at least five years to get up the nerve to look through the boxes of letters and photos. By time she did, so much was a mystery to her – and prompted Chris to begin her genealogical search to help Mom recreate her past. Bits and pieces of information began to piece together and previously unknown photos and names on letters started to fall into place. Yet many items remained a mystery – and became the basis for our annual summer ritual of looking at things with fresh eyes that now had more pieces to the puzzle.

“I came across this photo,” Chris said as she handed it to me, “when I was looking for some pictures of the girls when they were little. “She had been my pen pal when I was in high school.” she continued. “She was related in some way and Gram told me I should write to her – that we were the same age. She was someone Gram met when she visited England after Grandpa died in 1958. We wrote a few times, but didn’t seem to have much to say to each other; however, she sent me this picture. Although I have thought about her from time to time, I can’t even remember her name.”

It was a girl with a polka dot skirt who appeared to be standing on a ship or dock. We dubbed her ‘the girl in the polka dot skirt.’

The picture prompted us to look through the box of letters one more time to see if there were any clues.

There it was – almost at the bottom of the box – a letter from Gram. It was postmarked from Newcastle-upon-Tyne, and talked about her visit.

Since Gram had eight siblings, some of whom we had not been able to find records for, it would be hard to know which niece she might be referring to.

Despite her closed-mouth response to Mom about her family, we discovered that she was in contact with some of her family. In 2002, our cousin Alan who lives in the UK, was able to track down and meet Lyn, the grand-daughter of Gram’s sister, Eliza. When Lyn wrote to introduce herself, she mentioned that when she had looked in her mother’s address book, she found Gram’s name and address in Yucaipa, CA!

Eliza and Matthew Mason

The picture of the ‘girl in the polka dot skirt’ went with us on a trip to the UK in 2008, along with an old weathered photo of a woman in fancy dress and a man in a top hat – taken behind a house. On that visit we met with descendants of our mutual great-grandparents, Samuel and Mary Jones. They were descendants from Samuel and Mary’s oldest daughter, Eliza – and we were descendants from their oldest son, Thomas. We would learn that the families of Thomas and Eliza remained close, most living in the Sherrif’s Hill and Windy Nook areas of Gateshead. We had always wondered how/why our grandparents lived there when Mom was born.

We discovered that the weathered photo was of Mathew and Eliza Mason, taken when their daughter Mary Jane married Isaac Hewitt.

When Chris passed around the photo of the ‘girl in the polka dot skirt,’ our cousin Harry said, “I have seen that picture before.” A couple of others also acknowledged it, but no one knew her name. And, in the past two and a half years, there have been no new revelations.

When Gram arrived in Gateshead in 1958, she first attempted to visit Stage relatives so she could tell them in person that her husband had died. After a chilly reception, she spent time with her extended Jones family. One of those was her cousin Elizabeth. In a letter to our mother she wrote, “you know, she is named after me.” And, in a letter to Chris and me she said, “they have treated me like a queen and just done everything to make me happy.”

When she returned, she suggested that Chris become her cousin Elizabeth’s daughter’s pen pal.

The picture remains a nagging mystery. Since all of the second and third cousins we have met and maintained contact with have helped us connect more dots and feel like we are part of a large extended family, we continue to hope that someone will recognize the girl in the picture and assist us to make contact.

“I am going to write about the girl in the polka dot skirt,” I told Chris recently. “Maybe the notion of the Six Degrees of Separation (a chain of, “a friend of a friend” statements can be made, on average, to connect any two people in six steps or fewer) will help us find her. “I will post my blog story on Facebook and urge people with ties to northeast England to share it with their friends.”
I am counting on the Six Degrees of Separation to help us find ‘the girl in the polka dot skirt.”

Posted in Family History, Memoir | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

Texas A and M to Publish Birding Hotspots of Central New Mexico

It was June 2008 when fellow birders Dave and Abby Watson encouraged me to write a bird-finding guide to central New Mexico. “You’re a writer,” they said. “You would do a great job.”

It seemed like an impossible task, and I quickly dismissed the idea. However, over that summer, the notion kept popping up when I was exploring one of central New Mexico’s natural environments. I realized that I already had been collecting my impressions when I wrote the story about the week’s birding adventures and posted it on my blog – It’s a Bird Thing. It would be a natural extension to look at each location in a new light. As I roamed through the Sandia Mountains or prowled along the central Rio Grande, I began paying attention to the trails and facilities and started accumulating notes. I noticed what was helpful in other bird finding guides as I traveled to new areas.

By spring, I felt it was a project I could undertake and enlisted the involvement of my friend and birding mentor, Barbara Hussey. She was excited to be a part of the endeavor and has been a wonderful partner in the project. A month later, she and another friend, Sue, traveled to Texas in search of birds. As we wound our way through the Hill Country, down to Corpus Christie, over to the lower Rio Grande and back, we consulted two different guides and made note of what was helpful and what was missing.

After enjoying looks of the Green (Barb) and Ringed (Sue and I) Kingfishers early one morning at Salineno, a remote village along the Rio Grande, we realized we had no clue where to find a rest room – and vowed to include that information in our publication. Most bird-finding guides, we would later discover, are written by men!

Because both Barb and I had traveled to other cities on business trips where we didn’t have a car, but wanted to sneak in some birding, we decided to include public transportation options when they existed.

By the end of May we had decided what sites we would highlight, and the features we would include about each one. By June I started writing in earnest. From northern Virginia, Barb began researching public transportation options, the best travel routes to reach each site, and the closest food, gas and lodging.

I quickly discovered some of the gaps in my notes, and made multiple trips back to each location – a wonderful excuse to do early morning birding before returning to my computer. However, it became difficult to enjoy my weekly trips with the Thursday Birders, since I felt compelled to check out details.

Fellow birders became additional site experts, reviewing and making recommendations to site descriptions where they frequently led field trips or located near their home.

In August, I contacted University of New Mexico (UNM) Press. They were very excited and the Acquisitions Editor felt it would be a good addition to their collection. I told him that we would be able to have a final manuscript to him by December 18. We both wanted to enjoy the holidays without having it hang over our heads.

As I completed each site description, I e-mailed them to Barb for her always excellent feedback. I reached my goal to have all of the site descriptions written before I flew to California in early October. A print-out of each chapter went with me to proof between visits with family and friends and on while away the time on the plane and the airport.

When I returned I began vetting each site with the government agency responsible for the location and researching the prevalence of the bird species we had included in the guide through Cornell University’s eBird online database of sightings. Through their bar graph feature, I was able to determine when migrating species arrived and left central New Mexico.

The manuscript was finished and sent off on schedule.

In early February after returning from a visit with my son and his family in California, I received a package from UNM Press – with the manuscript and a letter saying that it was with deep regret that they would not be able to publish our book; the press was experiencing severe financial constraints.

I learned how to submit a book proposal and started approaching numerous publishers. All came back with a polite rejection – until we got to Texas A&M Press. They were very interested and wanted us to send the full manuscript. We scrambled to make the numerous changes we had decided would enhance the manuscript and sent it on its way.

By the end of June, the editor had sent us the comments from our first peer review and told us she was in the process of contacting the second reviewer. By mid–August, we had the second set of comments and summarized the changes we would make as a result of the reviews. Their perspectives as individuals who had spent time birding in central New Mexico, but who were viewing the sites with fresh eyes, were extremely helpful.

Meanwhile, Barb was busy drawing trail diagrams and my sister, Chris, used her Computer Assisted Drafting (CAD) program to turn them into finished products!

The faculty review committee met on September 22 and unanimously approved Birding Hotpots of Central New Mexico for publication. “The committee members were enthusiastic and completely supportive,” she stated. “We’re ready to move forward.”

It still doesn’t seem real.

Early this week, a box went in the mail with two copies of the final manuscript and accompanying disks of photos, diagrams, etc.

The publishing process is lengthy, but will be worth the wait. The book should be ready to purchase in July 2011. Stay tuned for more details.

Posted in Birding, Birds, New Mexico, Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Chaco Canyon – Mystical and Cold

Horned Larks scattered as we made our way along NM 46 and later County Road 7050 on our way into Chaco Canyon. Before long the pavement ended abruptly and we prepared ourselves for what we thought would be 20 miles of bouncing. We were pleasantly surprised to find the road had been graded level, and despite recent rains, there was no evidence of ruts.

It had been five years since I visited Chaco Culture National Historical Park on a University of New Mexico Continuing Education Story of New Mexico trip. I had been fascinated by the information presented by a long-time park ranger on the area’s history as we toured Pueblo Bonito. In addition, I had been amazed by the area’s natural history and was frustrated by the limited amount of time we had to explore the area. Staying in the campground and waking up in this mystical place became a future goal.

“October should be the perfect time,” my friend Donna stated early in the summer when we discovered our mutual desire to camp at Chaco.

Chaco-campsiteWe pulled into the Gallo Campground shortly before noon. It was a Monday and few spaces were occupied. We picked a spot that backed up to a small ruin – and close to the restroom. The restroom was being upgraded; two pink and two blue portable restrooms stood nearby – along with a portable sink.

We spent the afternoon walking out to the Wiiji Pueblo ruins. The trail, like a dirt road, meandered along the base of a sandstone mesa. A pair of ravens seemed to dance in the air as they flew acrobatic maneuvers over our head. We could hear the sound of their wing beats as they spiraled around each other.


Wiiji Pueblo ruin

Unlike some of the other pueblos, Wiiji is thought to have been built all at once and has a uniform style of masonry. “I could never lay rock that straight,” Donna commented.

The timbers used for roof beams and door frames came from mountains over 50 miles away and were carried by man-power, rather than carts or animals. Carbon dating of these timbers has helped archaeologists establish the time periods of construction. What might appear like vent holes, also served as calendars – the rays of the sun coming through them marked the passage of time.


Shell fossil

A short ways beyond the pueblo was a cliff with both petroglyphs (etched into the sandstone) and pictographs (painted pictures).

“Oh, look,” I called to Donna. “This rock beside the trail has a fossilized shell embedded on the top.”

Chaco-duskThe sun was getting low when we returned to the campground from the 3.5 mile walk. There was still time to explore the various small ruins tucked under the cliff behind the camp sites. The air was turning chilly. As I stood under the rock overhang to stay out of the wind, warmth radiated off the rocks.

“The Chacoans that built here, knew what they were doing,” Donna commented. The cliffs across the canyon seemed to glow in the fading sun.

Chaco-sunsetAs we fixed dinner snug in the camper, I peeked behind the insulated window covering to see if there was going to be a sunset.

“Will you watch the dinner while I go out and take some photos?” I asked.

A few campsites away, a couple was huddled around a campfire. It looked as though they were going to sleep in the back of their truck. Beyond them, the cliff was a black silhouette against the scarlet sky.

As we were about ready to get ready to make up our beds, the camper lights began to falter, and then the CO2 alarm started beeping.

“Oh, oh,” Donna gasped. “I think the camper battery is going.” We had just turned on the heater to take the chill of the increasingly cold night. “I am so sorry, but this is the end of our lights and heat.”

“Since my sleeping bag is rated for 32 degrees, I should be OK,” I replied, remembering that the campground host alerted us that the temperature was supposed to drop to freezing that night.

I felt snuggly warm once I slid into my sleeping bag and pulled my fleece hat down over my ears. My comfort was short-lived. Every time I thought I had the bag tucked around my shoulders, it would gape a little and I would start to feel a chill.

I slept – or dozed – rather lightly, waking up often when my shoulders got cold. I kept thinking about the two ravens Donna had spotted in a cleft near our campsite. They were nestled up next to the rock cliff to take advantage of the warmth. Even with the radiant heat from the cliff and the ability to fluff up their feathers to form a protective layer, it had to be a cold night for them. I longed to lean against something that would emanate warmth.

I had to make my first trip to the pink potty around 1 a.m. “Did you look up at the stars?” Donna asked when we returned.

“No, I just trudged along,” I grumbled.

By 5 a.m. when nature called again, I had slept very little. While I headed out again, Donna unearthed a mummy bag and stuffed it inside my sleeping bag. This time I attempted to look up at the stars, but the steam from my exhalation in the near-freezing air clouded my view.

Back in my double bags, I was finally warm and able to sleep for what remained of the night.

We were awakened in the morning by the pitter patter of a Canyon Towhee as it trotted across the roof of the camper. Light clouds covered the sky, hinting of the winter storm that was expected that night. I discovered ice in the top of my water bottle I had left in the cab of the truck.


Fahada Butte

After breaking camp we headed out to explore a different part of the park. Our first stop was the Fahada Butte Overlook. The Chacoans recognized the significance of this geological anomaly that is oriented in an almost perfect north-south, east-west axis, and used it as a sun shrine, a place of worship, and astronomical observatory.

We hoped to hike the Pueblo Alto Trail that heads up the cliff behind Pueblo del Arroyo to the northern mesa. “It passes through a cleft in the rock face,” the ranger at the Visitor Center told us.

Chaco-hikersAs we approached the bottom of the trail, we spotted two people heading down. After watching their descent, I began to have my doubts about whether I could scramble over the rocks, but didn’t want to give up without trying.

“Coming down is the worst. I can tell as I head up whether it will be too steep for the return trip. Let’s try and see how far we can get,” I stated.

The trail immediately involved maneuvering over big boulders; however, even larger rocks on either side of the trail provided leverage. I slowly picked my way up the trail – Donna in front of me in case I decided I needed a hand. All went well until we got to a point where the ‘trail’ went across an almost vertical rock-face with nothing to hold onto. It would mean descending on my rear end, but there would be nothing for me to use to ease myself onto the rock.


This is as far as I can go

“This is as far as I can go.” I stated.

Donna went a short ways further so she could see where the trail passed through the cleft.

Even though I didn’t make it to the top, it felt like a major victory to have scrambled that far.

We walked further down the main trail past Kin Kletso and finally turned around at Casa Chiquita.


Chacoan Stairway

As we drove back along the loop that follows the South Mesa, we stopped to look at one of the 20 foot-wide Chacoan stairways that provided a way for travelers from the south to descend into the canyon.

We headed out of the canyon pondering the mysteries of the site that had been the center of Pueblo culture between 850 and 1250 AD – and then seemed to have been abandoned.

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