Thursday, December 28, 2017

The Hidden Life of Trees by Peter Wohlleben

This book has a lot of fascinating information about the complex lives, habits, and survival strategies of trees. The author makes very good arguments that trees learn and feel, that they communicate with and help each other—attributes that make them seem a lot more like animals than I'd ever suspected.

It's very detailed (for a layperson), and sometimes repetitive, which makes the pacing quite slow—much like the pacing of trees, I suppose. That's not to say it's dull. Just take it in slowly. The structure of the book makes this easy, presenting the information in short essay-like chapters that can be read alone.

It's very heavy on the type of trees that grow in the author's forest--so it's a little narrow--but he's an expert THERE, and doesn't pretend to be otherwise.

A very enriching book.

Sunday, December 24, 2017

I made traditional Czech Christmas dinner today (Czechs do Christmas on Dec 24). it wasn't totally traditional, since I didn't keep a carp in my bathtub for a couple of days and then fry it up myself. But we did have fish and Czech-style potato salad. My family thought the potato salad (with peas and carrots) would be weird, but they all really liked it.  

The most traditional soup as an appetizer on Christmas is fish soup, but quite a few of my friends do mushroom soup instead.  Maybe the people in the region where I lived are particularly good mushroom hunters.  Anyway, I made mushroom soup with mushrooms I picked and dried myself in the Czech Republic.

Then we rang a bell and turned to the Christmas tree to see what Ježíšek (baby Jesus) had brought us.

It all reminded me of a lovely Christmas I spent with a dear friend in the Czech Republic.  

Thursday, December 21, 2017

My short story, "Foolish Promises," on Timeless Tales

My short story--a Rumpelstiltskin retelling with a twist--is available on Timeless Tales.  If you want to read it free, go here:

They also did audio versions of the stories, and I thought the reader did a really good job with mine.  The voices are awesome.  If you want to listen to the story, you can get access to the current issue for $5 through the Timeless Tales website. 

Enjoy the story!

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Tubac Presidio Schoolhouse

The classic one-room schoolhouse at Tubac Presidio:

Here are some punishments for bad little boys and girls in 1848.  Notice how fighting and quarreling earn you 5 lashes.  The heinous offense of boys and girls playing together earns 4.  But the worst thing...the crime that gets you 10 cards.   Oh, the horror.

A stove like my dad remembers (he also remembers the chairs above):

The Tubac Presidio is an awesome place with all sorts of interesting history and juicy stories.  See my next couple of posts. 

Tubac is south of Tucson, just a few miles north of the border to Mexico.  The Presidio is a State Park, and the modest entrance fee is well worth it.

Saturday, December 16, 2017

Butterflies in Tubac

These wild butterflies (and one bee) were practically posing for me on the grounds of the Tubac Presidio, southern Arizona. 

Friday, December 8, 2017

The Already-Built Wall--Nogales, Arizona and Nogales, Mexico

Here's the wall that divides the town of Nogales into two countries. 

Maybe not so beautiful, but some people might take comfort that at least it's big.  I, however, just think it's sad.  As the artists at the local art museum said, "the wall should be a bridge." 

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Sahuaro National Park--East

Here are some pictures from my little walk around the Cactus Forest of Sahuaro National Park East (Rincon District).  There were so many types of cactus! 

A giant chainfruit cholla, with prickly pear on the side and a youngish sahuaro hiding in the back to the right.

A barrel cactus with lots of fruit next to a palo verde tree with an old saguaro in the background
Funny Story...

I was impressed by the diversity, but I've lived in Arizona most of my life.  The car in front of us on the scenic loop was more than impressed.  More like flabbergasted. 

We came upon them when they were stopped, taking pictures madly from their windows.  Then they took off, driving at a breakneck speed of about 3 miles per hour.  Then they stopped again.  We figured they had to have seen some animal, but no...just cactus.  We weren't too annoyed, since their license plate said Florida and we felt proud to show off our state.  They finally got to a place wide enough for us to pass and we did. 

About 2 miles in, we came to the Mica View trailhead/picnic ground.  We took a nice little stroll, slowly admiring the cactus, inspecting plants, pondering different types of cholla and prickly pear, excitedly discovering blooming Christmas cactus, which we rarely see.  Then I took off on a somewhat faster walk around a loop trail. Almost an hour an a half later I got back.  Florida was just arriving!

They took an hour and a half to drive two miles!  Awesome! 

Take all the time you want, non-Arizonans.  Our cactus is super cool. 

A closer look at the chainfruit cholla

Some sort of purple cholla.  Buckhorn that's turned purple because of drought?

Christmas cholla--with seasonal red fruit

The newer spines of a young sahuaro

Barrel cactus with its wicked fishhook spines and beautiful fruit

Visit Sahuaro National Park:

Thursday, November 23, 2017

The Widow's House by Carol Goodman

I enjoyed this, especially as I read it in the days leading up to Halloween.

The writing is very good, though a bit descriptive at times for my personal tastes. The characters are interesting. The plot is creepy. The ending is exciting, and during that excitements it's hard to guess exactly what is real and what is not—in a good way.

I would read more of Carol Goodman.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Speckled Rattlesnake in Skyline Park, Arizona

The other day I was hiking at Skyline Regional Park, a desert area on the edge of Phoenix, Arizona.  I was on a little summit trail when I got to a really rocky section and thought, "This would be a good place for rattlesnakes." I looked down and...voila!

The end of its tail was hidden in the coils and it looked a LOT lighter than most rattlesnakes I've seen, without the common diamond pattern, but its head appeared to be the right shape.  It was coiled and calm, so I went ahead and hung close enough to get some nice pictures (though not TOO close--I have a good zoom).

The most common rattlesnake people see around here is the western diamondback, but I didn't think that's what it was.  When I got home, I did some internet research.  I found a description of a speckled rattlesnake that claims that they come in different colors, depending on the predominant color of the rock in the area. Isn't that amazing? It said that the speckled rattlesnakes on both South Mountain and in the White Tanks (and probably the contiguous Skyline Park, where I was) tend to have white-gray coloring to match the rock there.  Nature is amazing.

Here's a fascinating article about the different colors in different communities:
And one about the common types of snakes in Phoenix:

Friday, November 17, 2017

Rim Lakes Vista Trail #622, Mogollon Rim, Arizona

Just a few views from the easy and beautiful Rim Lakes Vista Trail along the Mogollon Rim. 

Caveat:  if you're particularly afraid of heights, you might want to upgrade "easy" to "moderate" or just stay away from the edge. 

Trail #622

Stone bird?

Nice place to sit?  
The trail goes for over 4 miles, but not all of it is right along the Rim.  If you're just looking for a nice stroll, park at one of the viewpoints along Forest Road 300 on the way to Woods Canyon Lake.  Get out and walk to the next viewpoint or however far you want.  Parts of the trail are paved near the Military Sinkhole Vista and the Woods Canyon Lake Vista, so it's quite accessible.  You'll also find benches with nice views. 

Be careful with kids.  The drop-offs can be dangerous. 

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

See Canyon Trail #184, Up the Mogollon Rim, Arizona

This great trail leads from a trailhead a couple of miles out of the village of Christopher Creek.  The trailhead is popular with campers, but once I got a few minutes down the trail, I hardly saw anyone.  And this was one of the first cool weekends of the season, a beautiful mid-October day of blue skies.

The trail's relatively flat at first, and goes through what looks like former fire damage.  Take the fork to See Spring.  The trail follows the creek, making it relatively lush, and very relaxing for a nice creek-side picnic.  Though not as impressive of Horton Spring, the source of the creek is still very cool, just flowing out of the hill.  You can walk around on the rocks above the spring and hear the water beneath you, but you can't see it anywhere.  Very cool.

On the fork to See Spring
Return to the fork and continue straight at the cliffy hills above you.  It soon gets steep as it climbs up the to the top of the Rim, but the trail is good and it's never very steep.  There aren't great views off the Rim, like the views you get from the Rim Trail or such, but it's still very nice.

Look for rock cairns like these if you lose the trail.
I had it easy.  My Dad did the shuttle run, dropping me off at the bottom and then driving the longer-than-expected drive up to the top, so I only did the trip one way (about 4 miles).  If you do it round trip, and want to dawdle like I did, plan plenty of time.

A new friend on the trail
I personally wouldn't recommend it in full summer, but if you love sun and don't mind heat and have plenty of water, you might like it.  I fully recommend going in autumn when the leaves are turning.

Mid October


Sunday, October 29, 2017

Horton Creek Trail, Arizona

I was surprised to find so much water and greenery here, on the Horton Creek Trail near Kohl's Ranch (near Payson) Arizona.  

The trail's a popular and mostly easy 4 miles one way to the "spring" where the water gushes out of the rock, having filtered down from the Mogollon Rim, as I understand it.  It's pretty cool.  

Much of the trail is away from this beautiful creek, but there are plenty of unofficial trails down near the water and cool places to duck down and play in the tiny falls or explore the banks on your own.  You can also find cool stone campsites and other treats. 

To get to the trailhead, drive on Highway 260 between Payson and Heber, Arizona.  When you get to Kohl's Ranch, take the turnoff to the north.  The sign says something about Tonto Creek.  Drive about a mile or so to the Derrick Trailhead, where you can park.  There's also an outhouse and picnic tables there, if you just want to stop for lunch.  The trail leaves from just up the road at the Upper Tonto Creek Campground (walk through the campground to find the trailhead).    

This trail can probably be fairly hot in the summer, but in mid October when I went, it was perfect. There were also a few trees turning colors.   

Monday, October 16, 2017

Zion National Park

Zion National Park in southern Utah:  big crowds, beautiful scenery

Plan more time than you think you'll need, be prepared to park far away and shuttle in to the visitor center, and be sure to do some hiking.      

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Restart, by Gordon Korman

This is a middle-grade novel, but plenty entertaining for adults.  

I’m not sure the premise and drastic transformation here are strictly realistic, but I loved them. The characters are interesting and likable but not perfect. (though I kept thinking they were a couple of years older than they were). The writing is effortless. The pacing is very good. Overall, a very enjoyable book about changing one’s life for the better. 

More accurate rating: 4.5

I've never read anything else by Gordon Korman, but it looks like he has a great many books to choose from.  I think I'll dip into another sometime soon.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

New Cover for Leaving Home

Check out my new cover for Leaving Home, a collection of short stories, travel essays, and flash fiction:

A train breaks down in the snowy Polish countryside. 

The jungle awakes. 

A blackmailer makes a mistake. 

On a cruise ship, paranoia strikes. 

Fairy godmother magic comes from an unexpected source. 

A neighbor's death reveals a dark surprise. 

Dance overcomes the barriers of language.

A young father leaves town.

All this and more...

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Unlikely Friendships by Jennifer S Holland

Great book!  I loved these amazing stories of cross-species friendships.  I was particularly touched by the predator-prey friendships.  Amazing.  Beautiful pictures, too.  Each story is quite short, so it's a book even busy people will love.

5 Stars!

Click to Buy Unlikely Friendships on Amazon

Friday, September 8, 2017

Elk on the Mogollon Rim, Arizona

This magnificent elk wandered almost into our campsite right on the Mogollon Rim, south of Willow Springs Reservoir.  It was amazing.

It grazed for a while and then proceeded to sharpen its antlers by pretty much attacking innocent tree branches.  Spectacular to watch.

Saturday, September 2, 2017

Get Well Soon by Jennifer Wright

Full title:  Get Well Soon; History's Worst Plagues and the Heroes Who Fought Them

This fascinating account of various plagues through history features plenty of heroes to counter the darkness. Jennifer Wright has a conversational style with plenty of clever humor that somehow doesn’t make light of the real suffering and death caused by these diseases. I found it very entertaining and educational, and more of a page-turner than the novel I was reading concurrently.

Okay, so it does get a little preachy in places, but I agree with the lessons we can learn from history.

Some of the stuff the author wrote about is so scary, especially about the American morale laws in WWI that pretty much threw away any semblance of free speech, punished journalists with 20 years of jail time for telling the truth, and inadvertently exacerbated the Spanish influenza. It made me wonder about the truth of it and other details in the book, despite the good footnotes. My preliminary search of the internet has yielded surprisingly little detail of the terrifying ramifications of the Espionage and Sedition acts of 1917 and 1918 or their connection with the spread of the Spanish influenza by means of blatant, criminal denial. Considering that the internet is full of passionate details about the terrifying ramifications of things like vaccines and celebrities’ divorces and leaving onions in your fridge overnight, this internet silence is extremely disturbing. If this book’s allegations are true, then these laws and the subsequent behavior of the people, the press, and the justice department are just as scary as the bubonic plague or the Spanish influenza itself.

Anyway, a very, very interesting book. Now I need to read Jennifer Wright’s other book, “It Ended Badly,” about famous historical break-ups. She brings history to life and delivers it in small chunks that anyone would have time for.

Highly recommended (though perhaps not for hypochondriacs or the squeamish).   

Rating:  4 1/2 stars

Buy it or read a sample on Amazon

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Jungle Hostels

Fun excerpts from my 2008 Central America travel journal, which I'm currently transcribing:

Describing one of my favorite jungle hostels, Casa Perico, near Rio Dulce, Guatemala:
“WC: Far away, downstairs and across boardwalk. Pretty clean, with soap! Shower has kinda scary hole you have to reach your hand into to turn off the water. Other WC has bats.”

And Lydia's Guest House, in Placencia, Belize:
“WCs—clean, with plenty of TP (and baby frogs)”

I loved that trip!

Friday, August 18, 2017

Animal Stories by Bill Sherwonit

I really enjoyed this book. It's not exactly a page-turner, and some of the essays have a little too much detail for my personal taste, but the writing is good and the essay format makes it easy to read in short segments and really digest all the information.

I love the mix of science and observation and history and philosophy, all wrapped up in the author's personal experiences and reactions. A perfect combination.

Sometimes I (in my own weakness) don't enjoy nature writing because it's like, “This is how I wrestled a bear in the wilderness,” and “A whale jumped over our boat” and “I spent two weeks living with wild wolves, and if you've never done that, you're really missing out.” It can make my own more humble experiences with nature and wildlife feel shallow and inadequate. But the thing is, I think all encounters with wildlife are amazing, and so does Bill Sherwonit. He spends just as much time talking about the wonders of song birds and frogs and squirrels as he does about moose and bears and wolverines. And he makes those song birds interesting. It's very refreshing.

I believe the book will inspire people who may never have a chance to see a bear or a whale or spend two weeks with wild wolves, but who can learn to really observe the birds in their backyard or their city park and commune with nature through them.

Rating:  4 1/2 stars!  

Buy Animal Stories at Amazon (or other retailers)

Visit Bill Sherwonit and find out more about his other books online:

Visit Alaska and its wildlife yourself with help from my book, Cruising Alaska on a Budget; a Cruise and Port Guide

Friday, August 11, 2017

Best movies I've seen this year--some common threads

I was pondering the best movies I've seen so far this year, and I realized that they all have a few things in common.  See if you can figure it out:

Bridge of Spies
Hidden Figures
The Zookeeper's Wife
A United Kingdom

Things I found in common:
-All take place in the recent past
-All are based on true stories
-All feature some aspect of politics
-All feature some sort of prejudice/segregation and the fighting of it
-All are based on books.

Yay for books!

Bridge of Spies is based partly on Strangers on a Bridge by James Donovan

Hidden Figures is based on Hidden Figures:  The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians who Helped Win the Space Race by  Margot Lee Shetterly

The Zookeeper's Wife is based on The Zookeeper's Wife; A War Story by Diane Ackerman

A United Kingdom is based on Colour Bar;  The Triumph of Seretse Khama and His Nation by Susan Williams