Jurassic Park: Sonoran Desert

by Lorin Michel Wednesday, August 2, 2017 10:32 PM

Today I put this question into the google: why are there so many prehistoric creatures in the desert? I got various answers, most of which weren’t remotely related to what I was looking for, probably because it was the wrong question. Some of the links talked about why prehistoric creatures were so big, which many attributed to more oxygen in the air as well as more land. There is something called Cope’s Rule which says that as animals evolve over time, they naturally get bigger, until they’re wiped out by a mass extinction and are replaced by smaller animals that gradually grow bigger until they, too, are wiped out. And so on. 

What I should have asked, and did eventually, was: current prehistoric looking creatures sonoran desert. I got some very interesting information including this: the Sonoran desert, that lush and prickly place we call home, is actually considered to be tropical. Makes sense when you consider that July, which just ended two days ago, was our wettest ever recorded. Naturally, everything is green and getting greener. On any given day, one can travel through desert grasslands, desertscrub, thornscrub, and tropical deciduous forest habitats between here and Mexico’s Sonora. 

According to the desert museum, our little corner of prehistoria is fairly recent in terms of geologic time and is one of the youngest communities on the continent at about 8 million years old. The area where we live, in Tucson, is only about 9000 years old, with our plants and animals developing about 4500 years ago. During this time, what we now view as our beautiful, green, fabulously prickly desert became what it is today, with its trees and cactus and creatures.

It is the creatures that I would like to speak about because they are plentiful and this summer, they are freaking huge. Prehistoric huge. We knew when we moved into an area that is far removed from the city and is, in fact, outside the city lines, that we’d encounter creatures. We had a slight inkling of what those creatures might be and we waited patiently to see them. There would be rattlesnakes and tarantulas – those we knew for sure. Everything else we just braced for.

We’ve had plentiful deer. We’ve had javelina. There have been plenty of road runners and quail and ravens and falcons. We’ve see osprey and white-winged doves. There have been bob cats and ring-tailed cats, grass hoppers five inches long and lizards galore. Gila monsters? Check. Tarantulas? Yep. 

And then the rains of July hit and suddenly, the creatures are prolific. And huge. We’ve had toads but we always have toads. Now, though, we have toads the size of my hands and I have big hands. We have desert tortoises traversing the driveway and tucking themselves against the house and into the rocks. Every day brings another sizable creature here in the Sonoran. 

Which makes sense because there is actually a dinosaur named Sonorasaurus, named for the Sonoran desert. 

Still, I prefer to just refer to it as Jurassic Park: Tucson. Where we’re living it out loud, and watching where we step. 

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Faux news

by Lorin Michel Tuesday, August 1, 2017 9:55 PM

In August of 1997, Kevin and I bought our first house together. Prior to that, we lived in my townhouse in Calabasas, but it was quickly becoming too small since we had acquired Maguire. We found a little three bedroom house in Oak Park, bought it, and moved in on the night Princess Diana was killed in Paris. It was an auspicious start, since she was 36 and I was 36, and her companion Dodi Fayed was 42 and Kevin was 42. We wondered, briefly, if it was some sort of a strange sign.

The house was adorable, though it suffered from too much white. The carpet was white, and stained from the previous owner’s kids and dog. The tiles in the kitchen and the master bath were white. The countertop tiles throughout were white. The walls, too. Over the years, we gradually divested ourselves of the non-color in favor of varying hues. We pulled the carpet and put in hardwood. We pulled the kitchen tile and put down something called Mardi Gras, a myriad of oranges, reds, grays, and purples. Color started to happen. 

We refinished the kitchen cabinets and replaced the white countertop with gray. And then we decided that the walls needed some assistance so we painted the back wall a deep taupe. It was called River Rock by Ralph Lauren. Then we painted the huge wall in the dining room with a slightly lighter version of the same. Finally, we painted the wall above the fireplace a deep, dark red. It was fabulous. All of these colors served to make the house more interesting; it gave it depth and personality. 

Fast forward to our new house. When we moved in, one of the things we needed to do was pick a wall color. This color would grace every wall, of which there aren’t many because we have so much glass. It would also be on the ceiling. The color we chose was Sahara. It’s pretty, a light sand color. But it’s everywhere. So we needed to add a bit of color. 

First we colored the four columns that were also Sahara. But we didn’t just paint them. We hired a faux painter to come in and sponge paint them, using all of the colors of the stone work we have on the fireplace as well as the hearth. While he was here he suggested doing the inlay above the dining room table, something we hadn’t thought of previously. He did that a metallic bronze and it’s gorgeous. 

The wall behind our bed can be seen from the main part of the house, as can – obviously – the bed. The comforter is an off-white, along with throw pillows of taupe and red. I wanted to add some color to that room, to add some personality. Remembering how much luck we had with the River Rock, I went looking for something similar. They don’t make River Rock anymore, so instead I chose some deep colors, things that looked awfully pretty at the paint store. I brought home several samples. I bought a piece of short drywall at Home Depot, divided it into the equal sections and then applied paint. I put it up against the wall in the bedroom. 

I hated it. It was flat. Boring. Lacked soul. It looked fake. 

So I called my faux painter again, had him come out, listen to what I wanted for color (to pick up the colors of the tile), and yesterday he came back armed with a number of cans of paint along with several rags. He painted for six hours, applying first a gold base color, then proceeding to dab different colors on top. Red. Brown. Gray. Orange. Purple. Repeat. 

And it’s gorgeous. We’re thrilled. I’m already looking at what I want to do next. As David, our painter, says: It’s like tattoos. Once you have one, you want more.

Celebrating the faux tonight, and loving it out loud.

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Sometimes you’re the windshield. Sometimes you’re the bug.

by Lorin Michel Saturday, July 22, 2017 8:47 PM

The only thing worse than driving on the 10 freeway through the desert is driving on the 5 freeway up or down through Central California. It’s a boring drive, and not even a little bit pretty. On the 5, it’s miles of flat agriculture and cattle and horrible smells even with the closed air ventilation of the car. On the 10, there are vast expanses of nothing. Just brown dirt, not even sand, and some desert scrub. No cactus, no trees, not even any interesting rocks. What it does have, though, are bugs. The 5 takes the prize in the sheer number, largely because of the agriculture and especially because of the thousands and thousands of grazing cattle. But the 10 runs a lovely second. By the time you get where you’re going, whether going to California or returning, the windshield is a mosaic of bug splatter; ditto the plastic coverings over the headlights. The front grill has fed nicely on all manner of insect and the part of the roof that curves down to the windshield sports many dried carcasses. It’s the only part of a road trip that I don’t particularly like, though I know to expect it. Cleaning it requires a great deal of scrubbing.

Last weekend we drove through the desert on our way back from California. The car was already a disaster because of dirt roads and tree droppings. The wheels were black with the brake dust of the new pads replaced before we left. I’ve been wanting to wash it all week.

One of the chores I love most in the world is to wash the car. I always have. I don’t know if it’s because the result is nearly instant and always better than when I began, or if I’m simply strange that way. But washing my own car is a pleasure. The only issue I ever have is finding the time to do it.

When we had the Porsche, washing it was easy. I could be done – start to finish, dry and back in the garage – in 30 minutes. The Range Rover takes about an hour and a half, sometimes more depending on how dirty it is and if I decide to do anything with the interior. It’s big, it’s tall, and it has a lot of windows including a sunroof. 

It’s been raining for days. After a slow start to monsoon, we seem to be trying to catch up. This is one of the times of year I love the most. Yes, it’s July in the desert but after temperatures that scorched near 120º several weeks ago, when the rains finally start, the temps are usually no higher than the low 90s. (As I type this on a Saturday afternoon, it’s 81º.) The clouds start to gather in the morning, accumulating over the Rincon mountains to the east or drifting up from the gulf to the south. We can literally see the rain beginning to form. Before long, the sky begins to gurgle and shout. Lightning flashes and the winds begin to whip. And the wall of water we’ve been watching descends upon us. Sometimes we get half an inch in 10 or 15 minutes; sometimes it’s a more sustained rain that accumulates slowly, over time. 

Today, I ran some errands. The sky was dark and sputtering a bit. I actually hoped it would pour to take some of the grit and grime and bugs off the car. It didn’t. When I got home, I parked in the driveway rather than in the garage. I was determined to wash it today, one way or another. And then, thunder rumbled in the distance and rain began to fall. Slowly at first, it built to a nice steady flow that wasn’t torrential or harsh, but gentle. I grabbed the bucket out of the laundry room, filled it with water, threw on a rain coat and decided to wash the car with the rain. I wasn’t sure it would cooperate long enough to allow me to work my way up from the wheels, which I did with an old sponge and the puddled water on the driveway, all the way to the roof. It did. As I washed, the rain began to fall harder. Soon it was beating down pretty good. I was drenched through the rain coat and I loved every minute of it. When I was done and the rain had rinsed away all the soap, I pulled into the garage and dried it off. The Sport is now clean. And all the bug guts have been scrubbed away. 

All I could think of as I was working to remove them was the old saying: Sometimes you’re the windshield. Sometimes you’re the bug.

Feeling like the windshield today as I lived it out loud in the rain.

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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.

Give me silver, blue and gold

by Lorin Michel Tuesday, July 11, 2017 10:12 PM

It rained all night. Last evening’s simmering anger of lazy thunder and high lightning gave way to a steady rain of acceptance. The desert quieted. Once again there was no wind, only the gentle slosh of rain lapping the skylight. Soothing, lovely and renewing. By morning the rain had mostly dissipated but the sky remained low and heavy, gray and white, clouds hanging in the hills and drifting across the lower desert toward everywhere and nowhere.

The early temperature was a pleasant 68º, the humidity a whopping 90%. The ground was, naturally, wet. There were surprisingly few bugs, and only one squished toad as Riley and I made our way through the dense air to nowhere and anywhere he could pee, sniff, explore, and whine. All of the usual Riley morning things. While he was doing his thing, I watched the desert and caught my breath. The colors. The Sonoran desert, at least this part of it, is always green, surprisingly. Light green saguaros and prickly pear next to purple whipple cholla. Palo verde trees and mesquite leaves. It stretches forever and away, as far as can be seen. It’s beautiful, lush, quieting, especially in the early morning after a night of rain.

But this morning, the colors had turned from green to aquamarine. Everything was tinged with blue. Because of the rain, the ground was darker than usual, as were the tree trunks and branches. That darkness served as a dramatic backdrop to this new color. It stretched up into the canyons and down into the desert, and made the land glow even under cloud cover.

There was a song released by Bad Company in 1976. It was called Silver, Blue and Gold. It was a love song about being abandoned by a lover and contained these lyrics: 

“Give me silver, blue and gold,
The colour of the sky I’m told,
My ray-ay-ain-bow is overdue.”

Note the spelling of the word “colour,” with a ‘u.’ The British spelling. Bad Company was an English hard rock supergroup formed in Westminster, London in 1973. So that makes perfect sense. Supergroup evidently means that the members of the group were already successful as solo artists or as parts of other successful groups. That was something new I learned today. 

I also learned that I wanted new colors (colours) to describe what I saw in the desert this morning. It wasn’t just green; it wasn’t really blue. It definitely wasn’t silver, blue or gold. But it was green, blue, and platinum. The green and the blue melted together, the platinum made it seem jewel-like, glorious and rich. 

The color of the morning I’m told.

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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.

The view from here

by Lorin Michel Saturday, July 8, 2017 8:44 PM

I’m in San Carlos Mexico for the weekend. It's a small town, authentically Mexican, located on the Sea of Cortez. I drove down with a friend of mine on Friday afternoon, a straight shot through Sonora, past Hermosillo and then on down into this small city of no more than 15,000 people. It's hot and almost excruciatingly humid. As I type this at the bar in Susan’s kitchen, the outside temp is nearly 88 degrees and the humidity is 68 percent. Heavy monsoon clouds - monzon - rim the city and the bay where the house is located. I doubt they'll get all the way to us and I'm not sure it would do much to relieve the humidity if they did.

 

The houses here are almost like row houses. Very little space separates each one, sometimes no more than a tiny pass-through. It is legal to build right up to the line of your property here. Susan’s house is on the beach, literally with steps off the covered patio leading down into rocky shell strewn sand. The water laps at the shore line, thirsty and looking for relief from an unrelenting heat. It's a constant soothing sound, melodic and mesmerizing, like the gentle tick of a metronome. It's blue and green, the water, turning brown as it rolls onto the shore because of the sand it stirs up along the way. The water temperature is easily in the 80s. It is the definition of bath water, warmer than anything I've experienced including in Hawaii. It's almost too warm, not offering as much refreshment as one would like when trying to escape the suffocation of the air. It also has a heavy salt content, leaving your skin soft and sticky.

 

Currently there are two people in the water. It's a small beach, open to the public but the public, what there is of it, is elsewhere. It's 3:30 in the afternoon. Perhaps siesta time.

 

Along the many hills, high above the water, sit Mediterranean style estates, white cliff dwellers with an exquisite view of one of two marinas, alive with big, private fishing boats and masted sailboats.

 

There are also a number of abandoned building projects, condos that are nothing more than a shell of concrete and steel, left by developers who lost their funding or lost interest. They do things differently down here. It's a slower lifestyle, a decidedly non-urgent approach to anything. When asked if someone can do something, the inevitable answer is always si - yes. Manana. But they often don't show up and if they do, the job isn't always completed to specifications. It's simply how it is. But the people are real and true, kind. It is impossible to pass someone on the beach or on a walkway without getting a big Buenos Dias. It's infectious, the kindness and the smile.

 

I have always been a big fan of Mexico, and remain so. It has been some years since I've been for no reason other than life rushes by often at breakneck speed. It was just yesterday that it was ten years ago.

 

The people are kind, the food incredible, the weather hot but the water wet. This morning we had omelets - omlettas - with chorizo and San Marcos sauce, a tomato based concoction that has peppers and onions. We went to Susan's boat which is actually the purpose of our trip. She brought two big batteries down with her. Captain Gerardo had them installed and we went out for a tour. It was choppy, the wind creating white caps, but it was glorious, relaxing. It’s what I remember most about Mexico, the relaxation. 

 

And the view from here. 

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Kill the Beast

by Lorin Michel Thursday, July 6, 2017 10:14 PM

Once we had a beast in the house, and today it was murdered. It was brutal. It was ugly. It was Riley. Our boys have always been toy destroyers. Maguire, dog rest his beautiful soul, used to love plastic toys that he would squeeze once or twice before managing to get one of his canines inside the squeaker hole which would create a breech which would give him the opening he needed. Death, destruction and way too many pieces of plastic ensued. As he got older, his need to destroy evaporated. He would simply chew a bit to elicit a squeak, then rest his head on whatever toy he had at the moment. 

Cooper, dog rest his tortured little soul, pulled apart his cloth toys but not very often and not with such visceral intent. I think it’s because Maguire was a pup and Cooper wasn’t. Cooper liked to, instead, gather all of his guys together, sometimes six or seven at a time, make a pile and then lay his head on them. We called it his harem. 

And then there’s the killer. Riley has never met a toy he couldn’t destroy in minutes. He doesn’t always destroy them all that quickly; it depends on his mood. And the toy. Certain toys are toast within 10 minutes. It’s why I often buy toys out of the bargain bin. The one guy that seems to last a bit longer is Wubba, except when it doesn’t. Wubba lasts roughly three months before needing to be replaced. Except this last Wubba that lasted three days. And Wubba is expensive. 

Last week, when I was at PetCo getting a new Wubba, I also got Beast. Beast was a bone-shaped toy with a rope through it. It was in the bargain bin. It was $5. 

We have always named all of the toys for all of our boys. Our boys have also been very smart and know their toys by name. So when we named Beast we did so because printed on the side of Beast was actually the words “King of the Beasts.” Who knows why. Naming the toy King didn’t seem right and so Beast it was. Beast was very popular. He got carried around the house and taken out on the deck in the morning to watch the desert go by alongside his Royal Rileyness. 

But this afternoon, Riley settled down in my office with Beast in his mouth and proceeded to tear the thing apart. Then he picked up what was left and moved into the great room to tear the rest apart. It was obvious from his complete focus that he had one goal: Kill the Beast. 

In the film as well as the stage production of Beauty and the Beast, there is a song right before the climactic scene where the villain Gaston leads a mob to “Kill the Beast.” In the 1976 Eagles song “Hotel California,” there is this passage: “And in the master’s chambers, They gathered for the feast They stab it with their steely knives, But they just can’t kill the beast.”

Today, in Tucson, on the hill, under the gathering storm clouds and the still hovering smoke of the Burro fire, Riley killed his beast. Sadly, I suppose. But he did it while living it out loud.

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In which Lorin is fascinated by history

by Lorin Michel Wednesday, July 5, 2017 10:15 PM

Maybe it’s the fire burning perilously close to our house; maybe it’s the impending doom I feel daily due to our current political climate and the ridiculous man-child we have to call president. Maybe it’s that the older I get, the more fascinating things old become. Whatever the reason, I am fascinated by Amelia Earhart.

Everyone knows the story of the famed aviator, a woman who made the first solo flight across North America – by a woman – in 1928, who took up competitive air racing in 1929, and in 1931 set a world altitude rating by reaching 18,415 feet. Her first solo trans-Atlantic flight occurred in 1932 and for that, she received the Distinguished Flying Cross from Congress, the Cross of Knight of the Legion of Honor from France, and the Gold Medal of the National Geographic Society from then President Hoover.

In 1935, she became the first aviator –male or female – to fly solo from Honolulu to Oakland. Other firsts followed along with more speed records. In March 1937, she made her first attempt at flying around the world but was unsuccessful. In June 1937, she tried again, flying in the opposite direction and again was unsuccessful but this is the trip for which she is most known because on July 2, she and her navigator Fred Noonan disappeared. 

There has long been speculation as to what happened. They died on impact with the ocean. Or they landed on a reef and made it to a deserted island where they eventually died after not being rescued. Or they were captured by the Japanese. But nothing was ever found. No plane. No bodies. Only mystery. 

This story fascinates me in the same way the Titanic fascinates me. Maybe it’s that both involve an ocean. Maybe it’s the era. Maybe it’s both. The Titanic was, of course, unsinkable until it sank on its maiden voyage. The arrogance of man dictated not enough lifeboats and those that were available weren’t filled to capacity. On that frigid night in April 2012, 1514 people died. I can’t imagine the horror. I can’t imagine the chaos. And I am drawn to the stories, to the films about it. 

Full disclosure, I am also drawn to stories about the Holocaust. It is unfathomable to me that people could be so cruel. It is almost more unfathomable that some survived. It haunts me; it terrifies me that we are capable of such atrocities even though I know we are still. I wonder if I’m drawn to it because I’m so afraid it will happen again and that this country will be responsible. 

Today, news broke that a photograph was discovered, one that had been misfiled many years ago. There is speculation that it shows Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan on a dock in the Marshall Islands – alive – and prisoners of the Japanese. In the background is a ship towing a barge and on the barge is what some are speculating is Earhart’s Lockheed Electra plane. 

If she was captured, she most likely died in a cell somewhere in Saipan, of something horrible. No one knows. Still.

And so the mystery and my fascination continue. It doesn’t ultimately matter, but much like the world needing to know more about the Titanic, the world continues to want closure on Earhart. In 1985, Robert Ballard and his crew found the Titanic in 12,000 feet of water off the coast of Newfoundland. If explorers can find evidence of what actually happened to Amelia Earhart, it would be, in a word, fascinating.

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VLAT

by Lorin Michel Monday, July 3, 2017 10:42 PM

The Burro Fire, so named for its origins near the area of Burro Tank, is burning within 4 miles of our house. The fire started on Friday morning, is currently under investigation as to its origin, and has burned some 15,000 acres in the mountains just to the east of us. A little too close for comfort.

This morning, as for the past couple of mornings, I looked out the window to the east and was pleasantly surprised to see nothing but blue sky. I took Riley for a walk (Kevin had something else to do) and as we made our way back, again facing east, we saw nothing bad as far as smoke was concerned. That quickly changed. By mid-morning, plumes began to rise in the sky. By late afternoon, the sky was once again thick with brown smoke. By dusk, it was Armageddon, the sky black and ominous.

We followed it closely on several websites. Inciweb is phenomenal. The local firefighters and emergency response people also set up a Facebook page and tonight live-streamed a meeting where they gave an update and took questions. We watched the whole thing.

There is not a lot of ground support at this point simply because the terrain is so horrific. In the meeting, they talked about maintaining the perimeter they had established, using tankers and helicopters as much as possible to keep the fire from spreading until later this week when the hoped for monsoons are supposed to arrive and provide what they call weather related relief. Would that it were so. 

Their goal: maintain. 

All day long we heard the drone of aircraft. In addition to the hotshots, the ground crews who fight wildfires, there were three helicopters, one water tender, and 14 engines. Those engines, I’ve been led to believe, are spotters as well as what they call VLATs. VLAT stands for Very Large Air Tanker, believe it or not. It’s also true. These very large air tankers are actually modified DC-10s fitted with fire retardant delivery systems. Each is capable of dumping 11,600 gallons in a single run in eight seconds. They were first used in 2006 in San Bernardino County. Here, they fly out of Mesa and Fort Huachuca, refueling and then flying directly into the fire to drop their retardant to try to stop the fire or at least slow it down. To maintain. 

We watched these monsters fly low over the house and into the smoke, their belly’s red, their wings white. They were heavy and loud, and we were in awe. They represented hope and strength and perseverance. Every time we’d hear the heavy engine we’d go outside and watch. And wait for them to help deliver us from impending doom.

The men and women who fly these tankers are amazing. The hotshot firefighters are incredible. The other air personnel and ground personnel should be applauded.

We watched, we listened, we hoped. We don’t pray or we would have done that, too. The VLATs were here to help. And we celebrate them.

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