Save the wine. Save the trip.

by Lorin Michel Thursday, July 20, 2017 10:15 PM

A week ago today we went to California. We dropped Riley at the pet resort, a nicety that he didn’t seem to appreciate at all, and then peddled our way across the desert. We did this last summer, too. It’s become a new tradition. We go twice a year now, the other time being for Thanksgiving. Both trips involve Roy and Bobbi and a house we all rent together. For the summer trip, we always stay in LA overnight on Thursday, then get up to drive the remaining three hours to Paso on Friday morning. At Thanksgiving, we stay for four nights. During the summer, just two.

We arrived at our hotel just after 5, took a shower and then met Roy and Bobbi for dinner on the lake in Westlake Village. It was a lovely way to start our long weekend. 

By Friday at 11, we were at Rabbit Ridge, on the north west side of Paso. It’s one of our favorites and we’re members, as we are of at least five wineries in the area. Normally when we go wine tasting, we explore mostly new ones – wineries we haven’t yet visited – while also hitting maybe one or three of our favorites. This trip, Kevin decided it might be fun to do a greatest hits tour. So we were only going to visit our favorites, ones we’d already visited, ones where either we were members or Roy and Bobbi were. 

For the next two days we visited places like Zenaida and Niner, Barr, Sculpterra and Vina Robles. We close every wine tasting trip at Vina Robles. They have a members-only lounge where they have comfortable couches, pour all the wine you want and then some, and even serve gourmet appetizers. It’s probably the best wine in Paso, and while we always worry that one time it will finally disappoint us, it never does. 

We bought seven plus cases of wine on our trip. We had great conversations with great friends. We ate well; we slept well. We had fun. 

On Sunday morning, Kevin and I packed up the Sport and left at 6:30 a.m. We had an 11 hour drive ahead of us and we wanted to get home at a reasonable hour. Kevin drove the first part, just until we got to Calabasas where we were going to stop and get coffee and something to eat. I had a bit of writing to do that I needed to finish before the end of the day, so it worked well. I took over in Calabasas, and off we sped, across the Valley, through Burbank and Glendale, into Pasadena and then off into the desert. 

Before we left Arizona, Kevin and I had both noticed that the Sport’s AC didn’t seem to be as cool as it was before. We took it to the dealer and asked them to check it, telling them that we would be driving through the desert in July and really would need our air conditioning. They assured us that it was blowing cold; that all was good. 

And it was. It was fine on the trip on Thursday. It was great all through Paso Robles, and it was hot in Paso. High 90s/low 100s. And it was fine early on Sunday. But then, it seemed to get warmer in the car. We kept turning the temp down on the climate control and nothing happened. It became clear that the AC had stopped working at an optimum level. While it was still cooler in the car than outside, it was not comfortable. It was not right. And it was cooking our wine. 

Wine does not like to be in warm temperatures. It prefers about 58º, which is what our wine room is set to. On Sunday, we were hell and gone from that room. We got cranky, we started to fight. We knew that riding through the entire desert and into more desert would ruin the seven plus cases we had in the back. 

So, after screaming and yelling at each other, we exited the freeway in Blythe, California, a lovely hole of a town that we refer to as Blight, found a rite-aid and proceeded to buy five Styrofoam coolers and several bags of ice. In the parking lot, under intense sun, and horrendous heat, we opened our cases, distributed the wine into the coolers, poured ice over each, reloaded them into the back of the care, disposed of the broken case boxes, and climbed back into the Sport. I fired up the ignition. And voila, the AC was working.

Still, we saved the wine. Because if we hadn’t, it would have ruined the trip. We celebrated rite-aid last week, something we’ve never done previously and not sure we’ll do again, but they were there when we needed them. And when the wine needed them. And for that, we were and are very, very, very happy.

Our cup runneth not at all

by Lorin Michel Monday, July 10, 2017 8:44 PM

Regular readers know that I am not religious. I consider myself a good person, highly moral even. But I stopped believing when I was 15 and stood up in my backyard one Sunday morning, dressed in the appropriate Sunday attire of a teensie weensie bikini (no polka dots, definitely not yellow) and announced to my dad who was standing just outside the house that I wasn’t going to church. He glared at me. His mother, who was extremely religious and went to church three or four times a week, was visiting and standing behind him. He was taking the family to church because we always went to church when my grandmother visited. It was the only time. And I was finished with the hypocrisy. Needless to say, it didn’t go well.

I can go to a Catholic service to this day and recite every part of it from memory. Obviously I don’t go often, but people getting married, people baptize babies, and we get invited. Kevin was raised Catholic and went to Catholic school through 12th grade. He jokes that he was beaten by the best, meaning nuns. We both joke that we’re recovering, that it’s a twelve century program. 

There is a prayer said in Catholic churches and other Christian churches around the world. It is The Lord is My Shepherd, or Psalm 23, taken from the Old Testament. There are many translations of the Psalm, originally written in Hebrew. But the gist is the same. That god provides, that all is wonderful. As is usual with translations there are a number of thous and ths and ests. The middle of the Psalm is basically this:

Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for thou art with me.  Thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me.             

Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies.  Thou anointest my head with oil.  My cup runneth over.

Again, I am not religious and as far as I’m concerned oil is used to anointest my skillet as I sauté something. The cup runneth over thing is pretty self-explanatory and most of the time, that’s how I feel. My cup is filled. I have a good life. I have love and laughter. Life, as the saying goes, is good. Sometimes it’s so good that my cup definitely runneth over.

This morning we left to walk through the valley of the shadow of hell since the temperatures have been high. There were scant clouds in the sky though the humidity seemed unusually high. The air wasn’t moving. It wrapped around us like a blanket, oppressive and heavy. Nothing was moving. Kevin glanced up at the weather station we have positioned just above the turn-about in the driveway. The wind paddles, small white cups that spin to tell us the wind speed, were motionless.

“Our cups runneth … not at all,” said my recovering Catholic husband.

Later this afternoon, the winds roared in accompanied by dark skies, rumbling thunder and flashes of lightning. The temperatures dropped from 107 to 80 to 73. Our cups were running over with rain. Luckily the rain gauge was there to captureth it all.

Praise be to dog.

I can’t deal with cleaning up. Let’s sell the house.

by Lorin Michel Saturday, July 1, 2017 8:34 PM

My parents used to entertain every once in a while. I remember several times, like the surprise party mom threw for my dad’s 40th birthday. Friends from everywhere descended upon the house and when my dad answered the door, there was a group of his friends from his previous life even before he had us. I don’t remember the party all that well other than there was quite a group of people, eating and drinking the night away while my father beamed. After it was all over, I’m sure we had to clean up before going to bed because my mother always cleaned up before going to bed. It didn’t matter what time it was, if there was a mess in the kitchen, it had to be dealt with so that it was gone in the morning and she – and everyone – could start the day anew. 

For years, I subscribed to this same philosophy. It didn’t matter how late it was when people departed my home. When they were gone, I went to the kitchen to rinse plates and load them into the dishwasher, wash any pots and pans, as well as glassware from cocktails. On the rare occasion that I used my china, I also hand washed that. Leaving a pan to soak overnight because it was simply too crusted to clean immediately was my worst sin. 

Somewhere along the way to middle age, I stopped doing that. I don’t remember when it happened. Perhaps it was after Kevin and I got together. Our relationship has always been fun and easy; we’re each other’s best friend. I think because of the easy nature of our lives together, it occurred to me without ever really thinking about it that I could leave plates on the counters and used pots on the stove and go to bed. That it would all still be there in the morning, and that it would all clean up just as easily then.

Maybe it was because we became late eaters, rarely having dinner before 8:30, a practice that continues to this day. While not especially healthy, it has become habit. Also, we work until about 7 each night, then we shower. By the time I get around to cooking, it’s often close to 8. By the time we’re done eating, we just want to relax and maybe watch a little television. Soon, we’re tired. The dishes sit on the counter; any pots or pans remain on the stove.

Last night we had some people over for dinner. It was casual, just like we like it. I made an artichoke-jalapeno dip in my small crock pot, put out some pita chips and cheese and crackers. Kevin made cosmopolitans and poured wine. For dinner, I made a pasta primavera and a big Caesar salad and sliced some bread that I served with a pesto balsamic dipping sauce. About 9 o’clock we noticed there were fireworks in the distance so off we all went to the deck where we spent the rest of the evening. Everyone left somewhere around 11 I think. Not terribly late, but by then we were tired and simply went to bed, leaving the kitchen for another day.

This morning, I looked at the havoc I had wrought and all I could think of was Marilyn Lovell. 

The 1995 film Apollo 13 – one of favorites – begins with the famous moonwalk by Neil Armstrong. There is a party at the Houston home of astronaut Jim Lovell and his wife, Marilyn, played in the film by Tom Hanks and Kathleen Quinlan. All the astronauts who aren’t in space are there, including the men who would eventually join Lovell on the ill-fated Apollo 13 mission. There is much champagne and eating and something about Cadet Lovell getting a haircut. After everyone leaves, Jim is in the backyard, lying on a chase lounge gazing up at – what else – the moon. Marilyn comes out and says: “I can’t deal with cleaning up. Let’s sell the house.”

My thoughts this morning.

Friends, food, cocktails, fireworks. Worth the mess on a Saturday morning and definitely worth celebrating.

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The bathing suit dilemma

by Lorin Michel Thursday, June 29, 2017 10:46 PM

When I was in college I had a gray striped bikini that I loved. That was back in the day when I was skinny and looked good in a bikini. I had it in a beach bag in the back of my Toyota Celica in my garage one night for reasons I can no longer remember. It got stolen, along with my beach bag and a small tool kit I kept in the car for emergencies. I remember thinking how disgusting it was that someone would steal a used bikini. Also, I was pissed. While I bought others, I was never able to replace that bikini. I remember it fondly to this day.

I used to like shopping for bathing suits. It was fun, and I was in great shape. Picking out a bathing suit wasn’t difficult. It was an enjoyable experience. 

I didn’t swim a lot but I did love the sun. Too much. I am paying for it now, all these years later. 

As I got older, I stopped loving the sun in terms of sunbathing. I still love it. Love its energy and its beauty; don’t love what it has done to and for my skin. Still one needs a bathing suit in order to partake in pool parties and go on vacation to tropical places like Hawaii.

I don’t have a good bathing suit. It’s been years since we went anywhere tropical or that required swimming or even just sitting in the water. Still, one needs to have one just in case. We’re already making plans for a trip next year to either Hawaii or Cabo San Lucas, where we’ll stay at a resort and sit under cabanas and swim up to aquabars; where we’ll stroll the beaches and soak up the warmth, if not the sun. I’ve been dreading the idea of finding a bathing suit. I thought I could put it off. I hoped. Today, I was confronted with the bathing suit dilemma body-on. 

Friends of ours have a home in San Carlos, Mexico. It’s not far from here, about 5 hours or so by car. When we’ve gotten together, we’ve talked about going down, joining them for a weekend, or renting one of their condos and going by ourselves. I got a text this morning from Susan: I have to go to SC next weekend to deliver some parts for the boat. Wanna come?

Just the girls. No husbands. No dogs (they have two; we have one). 

Naturally I said yes, of course, fabulous, love it, can’t wait. Except for that one tiny issue. I DON’T HAVE A DECENT BATHING SUIT. 

I immediately dialed up the internet and started looking at what the styles are today, what might look good on me, on a body that’s much different than the one that easily wore the bikini that got stolen out of her 1979 Toyota Celica.

Evidently something called tankinis are very in. Two pieces that have a tank type top and different types of bottoms including swim shorts. I was intrigued. They seemed perfect for this old body of mine.

So I ordered two. Both will be here by mid-next week. In time for my weekend trip to Mexico. Hopefully one will work. If not, I’ll be wearing shorts and a tank, and hoping for the best. Either way, I’ll be in Mexico, on a boat, having fun. And that’s a good thing.

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The four elements of the apocalypse, desert edition

by Lorin Michel Tuesday, June 27, 2017 8:22 PM

Kevin went to the doctor today. He has a great relationship with his physician, a man who, coincidentally, happens to live in our little ‘hood. He’s a DO, a doctor of osteopathic medicine which means he advocates a whole-person approach to care. He’s a good guy, and I might have chosen him myself except for two things: it’s a little odd to see your doctor every day as well as at homeowner’s association meetings, and I also prefer female doctors, for all specialties.

It’s been hot here, the June-furnace has been blasting now for several weeks. We get this every year right before the monsoons hit. It’s been brutal. Last Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, we recorded 120º up here on the hill, a temperature I feel pretty good touting because it comes directly from our own personal weather station. It’s also been windy, a continuous hot breath that offers a grand total of zero relief. Mostly we stay in the house. We urge Riley to pee quickly when he has to go out. 

With the heat comes fire, plague and pestilence. We’ve had brush fires burn, thankfully none close enough to threaten us, just close enough to smell and see the smoke. We haven’t had plague or pestilence, also thankfully because that would be bad. We have, however, had our fair share of creatures and by creatures, I mean bugs. We have been over-run with box elders, tiny flying beetles. They’re outside, but they’re disgusting. We’ve seen snakes. There have been toads. Also the lizards have been prolific. 

Kevin’s doctor, who lives in the house just below us, swims every morning before he leaves for work. He was entertaining Kevin with tales of not going into the pool because it was occupied by a toad, and that he draws the line at sharing his pool with creatures. He has had box elders and toads sticking to his windows. He has had pack rats eating the wiring to his lighting and poor equipment, and ground squirrels and rabbits oh my. Scorpions and lizards and cicadas. 

“Basically half of everything ever talked about in the bible,” he joked. 

Kevin laughed. When he told me the story, I laughed, too. Because it’s funny. It also happens to ring a little too true.

The start of this summer has been hotter than usual, drier and windier. That heat has brought out the bugs in droves. Bugs that cling to the side of the house, that climb the windows, that die and congregate in piles of black carcasses on the portico and the deck. They look, at first glance, like raisins, only infinitely less appetizing. 

Toads, bigger than usual, descend upon the house at night. They haunt the top step leading down to the front door, sitting there until the dog sees them and begins to whine and squeal. Let me at ‘em. As if that’s going to happen. These toads are poisonous to dogs.

The heat speaks for itself. The winds are wicked and wild. 

There is no water, no rain in the forecast. Only sun as far as the weather report can see. It is biblical. This is how polite society ends, pulling its hair out because it can’t get rid of the annoying bugs, having to co-exist with Colorado river toads, and never being allowed outside because of spontaneous combustion, with your ashes blown away by 20 mph winds with gusts up to 50.

Welcome to the apocalypse, desert edition. It’s about as religious as I get, and while I’m not into the bugs or the toads or the heat or the wind, I am very much into the storms that follow. May they come soon and wash away our sins.

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Red Rover, Red Rover … uh, red Rover?

by Lorin Michel Sunday, June 25, 2017 8:20 PM

Kevin has a 1992 Range Rover Classic. Along with his Gold Wing, it’s his mechanical pride and joy. We bought it in July of 2016 after months of searching. He needed a truck, but didn’t want a traditional pick-up. He wanted something that was enclosed so that if he had to haul things a long way, those things wouldn’t be subjected to the harsh elements of the Sonoran desert. That meant an SUV but one that was big enough. He also tends to like classics. Yes, they’re more temperamental in some ways, but in others, they’re also easier to fix since they’re not completely governed by electronics.

Before we got married, he had a 1992 Toyota Land Cruiser. It looked like an SUV but at the time, which was before the rush of sport utility vehicles, it was classified as a station wagon. He had always loved the look. Big, boxy, square. The interior was fairly utilitarian but it was comfortable. It was also in phenomenal shape. He put brush guards on the front and it was a head turner. It also had leaf spring shocks making it a very rough ride. I got to the point where I didn’t particularly enjoy riding in it. That’s when we bought our first Land Rover, a Discovery Series II. In Land Rover forums and when buying parts at places like Atlantic British, people call them Discos. 

My current vehicle is my second Land Rover Range Rover, this time a Sport. The first Range Rover we had was a fabulous car. Truck, the mechanics called it. Not like a truck I’d ever ridden in. It had heated seats, dual climate control, the ability to raise and lower the vehicle depending on what was needed. It rode on air shocks. It was red. Unfortunately, this particular model of Range Rover, designated a P38 by Land Rover, had a fatal engine sleeve flaw. Eventually we had a choice to make: rebuild the engine, or buy a new car. That was in 2012. 

I loved my first Range Rover. It was big, comfortable, flawless on the exterior and interior, and had a bitchin’ sound system to boot. When we had to get rid of it, I was not happy. We had fallen in love with the Range Rover Sport when they first came out in 2005, so we decided to get one. Kevin: “Don’t you even want to look at something else?” Me: “No.” 

Not only did we not look at something else, we bought another red one.

There is a review about the Range Rover that basically describes it as a limousine that can climb a tree That’s fairly accurate. They’re built for off-roading, for traversing mountains and streams. My beloved Sport does none of those things. I’m a typical limousine SUV owner. I love the bigness, love the luxury. Use very few of the off-road capabilities. I baby this car. I don’t like it used to haul things. 

So when we moved and Kevin decided he needed a truck, we looked at old Land Cruisers again, and settled on an old Range Rover, the models before the P38. We looked here in Arizona, even driving up to the norther part of the state to test drive a couple. Our budget was $5000. The trucks we test drove were in appalling shape. Then we found one on Craig’s List in Chino Hills. It was a 1992, with 188,000 miles on it. For $3500. Also, it was red. We talked to the guy, looked at the pics, and decided that it just might be perfect. Kevin flew to Ontario, Ubered to the guy’s house, test drove it, bought it for $3000, and drove it home that night. 

He loves it. I love it. We both love that it can haul whatever he needs to haul, without having to employ the use of my beloved Sport. They’re both beautiful trucks.

This morning, we were outside, with two of the garage doors open. I started to laugh. Red Rover in stall three; Red Rover in stall one. And there in the center, the most beautiful red “rover” we have, our beloved Riley Boo. And he’s always worth celebrating.

The Middle

by Lorin Michel Tuesday, June 20, 2017 8:50 PM

At any given time, the number of women in this country who are on a diet is somewhere around 50%. That’s according to the Judy Mahle Lutter book “The Bodywise Woman.” Others have estimated it to be half that much. Regardless, when you consider that there are some 126 million women, that’s a bunch. Up to 90% of teenagers diet regularly and even 50% of younger kids have tried a diet at some point. The numbers aren’t that hard to believe when you realize that, according the Marketdata, Americans spend somewhere between $46.3 billion and $100 billion each year on weight loss products. It’s probably because the Centers for Disease Control have told us that 62% of us are overweight or obese. Another 9 million kids are suffering from that particular malady as well.

I bring all of this up because I have no idea now to diet. I was a fat baby but after that, I was pretty slim. I went through high school thin, though never skinny. I had a brief flirtation with what it was like to gain wait when I was in college, which I blamed on dining hall food. That quickly got under control when I moved into an apartment and started working at a restaurant known for its pizza. I also catered for a restaurant known for its clambakes on the beach. I lived on pizza, lobster and alcohol, and was in great shape. I was also 21.

Another flirtation with minimal weight gain happened in my mid 20s. I’m not sure what was behind it but I remember feeling a little thicker than usual during one trip north to wine country. It didn’t last long, and I was fairly quickly back to normal. I was always able to eat and drink what I wanted without consequence. My blood pressure has been low, my cholesterol fine. I exercised a lot when I was younger. Everything worked well.

Then I turned 50. Suddenly nothing worked at all, including my ability to not gain weight and gain weight I have. Not a ton, but enough that it bugs me. Nothing fits me as well as it used to. I feel thick and dumpy. 

The problem I’m really having though is that because I never had a weight problem, I never learned how to diet. I don’t know how to navigate these new heavier waters. It’s foreign to me, and GPS is not working at all. And the fact is, I’m not actually a believer in diets. I think most people are too harsh on what they allow themselves to eat, and so they drop weight but then, because they’ve deprived themselves, they end up falling off their diet and gaining everything back plus. 

Moderation, it seems, is key. It worked for me in the past when I felt a little off. Cut back a bit and everything was/is fine. 

But did I mention about turning 50? Now the cutting back a bit doesn’t seem to work very well. I blame metabolism. I blame menopause. I blame age-rot. I blame the middle. As in my middle. 

The point is, I’m trying to diet in my own way, cutting back on what I eat, especially when it comes to carbs. And I love carbs. Oh, how I love carbohydrates. Pasta, bread, potatoes. Chips. I love to eat; I love to drink wine. But the middle can no longer be ignored. So this week, Kevin and I have decided – not to diet – but to eat healthier. Cut back on carbs. Eat more fruits and vegetables. Drink more water. 

We’re both determined to do something about our middles. 

Yesterday and today I made us smoothies in the morning. I poured orange juice into the blender, then added yogurt (strawberry yesterday, blueberry today), and fresh fruit (strawberries, bananas, blueberries). Blended. Poured. Tasty. For lunch today, I made salads. I always put raisins on my salads. I like the hint of sweet with the tang of salad dressing.

Then I saw on HealthPlus50 that three of the worst culprits for an expanding middle are … yogurt, raisins and orange juice. Still, I have to believe that yogurt, raisins and orange juice are still better that toast, bagels, or poptarts.

mmmmm. Poptarts. I think they come in blueberry, a perfect complement to my smoothies.

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Bye bye birdie

by Lorin Michel Tuesday, June 13, 2017 8:27 PM

As of the end of 2016, the Federal Aviation Administration’s Wildlife Strike Database had reported 70,577 incidents of birds striking aircraft. They started keeping track in 2010. The amount, which has undoubtedly risen in the first nearly six months of 2017, averages out to one strike every 45 minutes. Those are just the ones that are documented. It’s possible there are more. The good news is that only 7% are actually damaging events.

One of the most famous bird strikes occurred in January 2009 when US Airways flight 1549 took off from LaGuardia in New York. Two eight pound geese flew into each of the plane’s engines, causing massive failure and the famous water landing that’s been dubbed the Miracle on the Hudson.

Birds have been known to dent aircraft. They also don’t discriminate. In 2012, birds hit Air Force Two, with then Vice President Joe Biden onboard, as it was landing in Santa Barbara.

I bring this up today not because I was in an airplane that was struck by birds. Rather, I was in a house that suffered a strike this morning.

As I have written about before, our house has a lot of glass. Glass on the front of the house, not as prolific as glass on the back, but still prevalent, looking up onto the hillside behind us from the dining room, the front door, and the kitchen. On that hillside, are birds. Ravens and falcons are the big ones that haunt everything and lord over everyone. They occasionally land on the roof but never attempt to fly through the glass. Smaller cactus wrens, woodpeckers, humming birds are more brazen. The biggest culprits seem to be doves. 

This morning, as I was sitting in my office, I heard a horrendous crash, the noise coming from the vicinity of the dining room. Kevin had already asked me earlier if I had a bird hit the glass in my office. I assured him that what he heard was me slamming a fly swatter against a very large wasp. But this noise, this crash, was obviously a bird. I came out of my office, Kevin out of his, and we met in the dining room. There, on the glass, was a lot of red, some feathers and streaks where the liquid was running down the glass. 

I gulped, afraid to look down into the portico below. As I got closer, I realized that what was on the glass was not what I feared. It actually had seeds. And was more pink than blood red. But laying in the portico, not dead, was a white winged dove. We’ve had bird strikes before, some that have killed the poor creature. Most times, though, it simply stuns them. They sit, very still, staring straight ahead. Eventually they fly off.

This bird had obviously tried to fly through the glass with a piece of saguaro fruit in its mouth. It was the fruit that splattered on the glass. The dove was lying in a pool of juice. It was breathing, its eyes were open, but we were concerned. What to do?

Eventually, it righted itself but didn’t move. A longer time later, it began to walk around. We noticed an initial few drops of blood but then nothing. It extended its head, its tail feathers fluffing up and out. It tried to fly but had some trouble, instead settling down onto the portico, in the shade. 

We checked on it regularly. We hoped that it would be OK. We felt bad. After all, someone – us – dropped a house here in the middle of its desert. In the middle of the homes of all the desert creatures. It’s why we don’t kill anything, especially if its outside. Inside might be another matter. We have killed two scorpions and several spiders. We had a red headed centipede that we had to kill. But generally we try to be respectful. And we don’t like that we have caused several birds harm, including today.

After a number of hours, when the bird hadn’t yet been able to fly, I called the Tucson Wildlife Center. They’re a hospital for rescuing, rehabilitating and then releasing all manner of wild creatures here in the desert. I was all set to scoop the bird up and drive it to their facility. I couldn’t let it stay there all night, exposed, hurting, perhaps dying.

Riley stood at the window and whined throughout the day. And then, he stopped. I went to check. The bird was gone, having flown away, finally, and hopefully to continue living it out loud in the desert above.

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There is a delight

by Lorin Michel Sunday, June 11, 2017 8:59 PM

On March 15, 1910, just over a year after he left office, President Theodore Roosevelt wrote that “there are no words that can tell the hidden spirit of the wilderness, that can reveal its mystery, its melancholy, and its charm.” He was in Khartoum at the time, leading an expedition to Africa in search of specimens for the Smithsonian’s new Natural History museum. Khartoum is in the Sudan, and at the time, was a burgeoning metropolis. It is now the capital of the region. But at the time, it was surrounded by the white sands of the desert and the rich fauna of the Nile Valley. He wrote those words about the vistas and landscapes he had encountered. I use them today to describe the vistas and landscapes we encountered this morning.

I don’t know what compelled me to move west. This magical place was just where I always imagined myself to be. I do know what compelled us to move to the desert. It wasn’t anything we’d ever even considered but when we brought Justin to school here in August of 2009, we knew it would eventually be our new home. Settling into the east side of town, we continually marvel at the vistas and landscapes. We are surrounded by rock and mountains, by saguaros and ocotillos and trees. From our house on the hill we can see for at least 10 miles and probably more. The desert, rimmed by mountains, stretches before us to infinity.

Kevin was up early this morning, by 6:15, early for a Sunday, the day we jokingly refer to as “the day of rest.” He didn’t sleep well, probably because he was overtired. Yesterday he started rocking outside, finishing the lower swale, at 5 am. He was done by 7:30 and then he switched to finishing the front brakes on the Classic. Luckily, I convinced him to buy an air conditioner for the garage so it was at least somewhat hospitable in there while the temperatures raged outside. He worked all day, and then couldn’t sleep. 

I got up about a half hour later, when I heard the coffee pot sputter and snarl and spit signaling that it was almost done brewing. My boys were on the deck. I poured two cups of coffee and went out to join them. We marveled at the calm of the morning, at the temperature just in the low 70s. At 7:30, I said it would be a great morning for a motorcycle ride and suggested we go. I didn’t have to suggest twice.

We climbed aboard the Gold Wing and took off south and east. We weren’t going anywhere in particular so we never reached a destination. Instead, we simply meandered, finding a road we’d never taken before and following it. The day was still early; there were almost no cars where we were. Even the churches we went by, and there were many, weren’t yet open for business.

We went past Saguaro National Forest east, something that often makes us smile since we seemingly live in a saguaro forest of our own. We headed toward Colossal Caves knowing that we weren’t going to stop, but it gave a place to turn around. The road surface was smooth, unlike so much in the desert. There were no stop signs or stop lights, just a wide open two-lane road. The sun was warm but not hot. I watched quail and roadrunners crossing the road; I watched for deer and cattle. We saw horses, and an osprey that landed in the middle of the road to extract something that used to be something else. In the trees to the east, huge black ravens sat perched on the branches of mesquite trees, their feathers glistening in the morning sun.

I was struck by the vastness of it, the desolate nature, and sheer glory of this Sonoran desert we call home.

The fuller Teddy Roosevelt quote says: “There is a delight in the hardy life of the open. There are no words that can tell the hidden spirit of the wilderness that can reveal its mystery, its melancholy and its charm. The nation behaves well if it treats the natural resources as assets which it must turn over to the next generation increased and not impaired in value.” That from a republican president. Something to celebrate on this Sunday.

Lizards, and deer, and rabbits oh my

by Lorin Michel Wednesday, May 31, 2017 8:51 PM

When it gets hard for me to find something to celebrate, I turn to nature. I do that a lot lately, marveling at the color of the sky, the green of the desert, the harshness of the wind. I find solace in the blooming cacti, so many of them sprouting different colors and different shapes of flowers and fruit. The saguaros have done their annual halo of white flowers. They’ve mostly all bloomed and are in the process of drying and dying, to fall and be picked up by birds. While they last, they’re angelic. The tiny cactus that flood the hillsides – I can’t recall their names – have been vibrant with red and hot pink while the prickly pear have been red, and the hedgehog cactus have been pink. The whipple cholla are currently teasing us with an amber, almost copper colored flower.

The creatures are out, too. We have deer all year long, and javelina, too. But now we also have snakes and spiders and lizards and toads. And rabbits. All of whom send my Riley into orbit. 

This morning, after our walk and is his habit, he takes wubba, dashes onto the deck and whips poor wubba back and forth, growling, barking, and generally announcing that any who would dare show their face in his desert. HIS. DESERT. should consider themselves warned. He does not take kindly to intruders, even those who came before him. 

So there he was, out on the deck, standing guard at the rail, staring into the abyss of the desert stretching beneath him. He seemed fixated on something. His tail was rigid, his ears forward, his body ready to spring. Which he eventually did, bouncing up in the air as if on a pogo stick and barking simultaneously when into his territory came a rabbit. A rather big rabbit by desert rabbit standards. And this one was brazen. Even though there was much commotion happening above him, he seemed to instinctively know that the wild animal in red fur couldn’t get to him. And so, Mr. Rabbit took up a spot just below Mr. Riley, in full view of Riley, taunting, while he proceeded to nibble on a bit of mesquite. He nibbled and nibbled, then sat back on his rear haunches, and stared straight ahead. Riley, big tough dog, could do nothing.

Eventually the rabbit got bored of his game and hopped up and over the deck. I thought we might be able to return to some quiet.

I was wrong.

A lizard, or three, each well over a foot long, shot down the hill and across the dirt below. Riley loves lizards, loves to chase them. Has even caught one or two. But again, from the deck, all he can do is whine and snarl and bark and dance. Every once in a while, he’ll look back at me, sitting inside, at my desk, watching him with a smile, as if to say: “Do you SEE what’s going on down there? How can you be so CALM?” 

Yesterday, as I was getting ready to go meet my friend Stephanie, I noticed movement in the window behind me. In our master bath, we have a pedestal-type tub that sits nestled in front of three large windows that look out onto the driveway and the hillside beyond. It had been windy but the movement wasn’t the wind. I turned to look and there, just feet away from the house, were two – no, three! – deer. They had come down the hill to munch on some cactus and mesquite. My movement made them freeze and stare, directly at me, directly through me. I moved slowly from the bathroom, tucked Riley into my office and closed the door, and then called to Kevin. “Bring your camera.”

We hadn’t seen them that close before. Just like the rabbit had never been so brazen before, or the lizards to teasing. Perhaps we’re getting a reputation for being soft on wildlife. Perhaps they know that no harm will come to them here. Kevin and I wouldn’t hurt them, and Riley can’t get to them.

There are lizards, and deer, and rabbits. And so many more incredible creatures and wonders in this desert, so many colors, so much extreme and so much majesty. Something to celebrate not just today, but every day.

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