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Posts Tagged ‘Life’

C. Hart Merriam

I’m always impressed by, and more than a little envious of, people who make genuine contributions to society. Most people, including me, and maybe you, are just taking up space. No offense intended; that’s just the way it is.

One such person who left his mark is the naturalist and zoologist C. Hart Merriam (1855-1942). Merriam was born wealthy and well-connected, and he could have settled back and lived a life of indolence and privilege. Instead, he built upon his status, applied himself, and made a difference.

Clinton Hart Merriam was born in New York City, the son of Clinton Levi Merriam, a member of Congress, and Carolyn Hart Merriam, the daughter of a judge. The younger Merriam chose to go by “C. Hart” because his father already had a claim on the name Clinton.

The Merriam family wintered in New York City, but otherwise lived at Locust Grove, an estate in rural Lewis County in upstate New York. Growing up there, young Merriam developed an interest in the natural world.

By the time he was 15, he had learned the basics of taxidermy and amassed a sizable collection of animal specimens. To encourage the boy, his father introduced him to Spencer Baird, a naturalist at the Smithsonian Institution. Impressed by young Merriam’s collection, Baird arranged for him to take professional lessons in taxidermy.

In 1871, when Merriam was 16, Baird appointed him to accompany the Hayden Geological Survey to Wyoming as a naturalist. The Hayden expedition explored the territory that later became Yellowstone National Park.

Merriam returned with hundreds of bird and nest specimens. His report on the trip was his first contribution to scientific literature.

In 1874, at Baird’s urging, Merriam enrolled at Yale University, where he studied anatomy and natural history. While at Yale, he published several scientific papers, including “A Review of the Birds of Connecticut” and, following a trip to Florida with his father, “Ornithological Notes From the South.”

Merriam’s interest in anatomy soon led him to leave Yale and enter medical school at Columbia University. He earned his M.D. degree in 1879 and returned to Locust Grove and Lewis County, where he established a successful medical practice.

Merriam stayed in touch with his naturalist friends and continued to add specimens to his collection. He also began studying mammals as well as birds.

Another interest that surfaced was the question of species distribution — understanding the factors that determine where living things make their homes. Preparing for future study, Merriam hired a clerk to research weather statistics and to document monthly temperatures at different locations and altitudes.

In 1883, a group of scientists created the American Ornithologists’ Union, patterned after a similar British organization. Merriam was elected secretary and treasurer as well as chairman of the committees on Bird Migration and Geographic Distribution.

Merriam’s grand plans for his committees far exceeded the organization’s resources. But Merriam had resources of his own: a father serving in the U.S. House of Representatives and friendships with John Muir, John Wesley Powell, and Theodore Roosevelt.

The elder Merriam arranged the creation of an ornithology section within the Department of Agriculture, plus $10,000 annually for a chief ornithologist. In 1886, the younger Merriam was chosen for the job. Through the magic of political connections, he thus transitioned from medical doctor to scientist.

In time, the ornithology section became the Bureau of Biological Survey, which Merriam headed for 25 years. In 1940, it evolved into the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

In 1886, Merriam married his secretary, Virginia Gosnell. In 1888, he was among the 33 notable Americans who founded the National Geographic Society.

Then, in July 1889, he set forth on a scientific expedition in Northern Arizona that led to the insight for which he is best remembered.

Bankrolled by a $600 grant from his department, Merriam and a small team conducted a survey of plants and animals in the Flagstaff area. The survey extended from the San Francisco Peaks to the Painted Desert to the floor of Grand Canyon.

For several months, they worked from a series of remote base camps in the region. One, located about 20 miles north of Flagstaff, is today a National Historic Landmark.

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Merriam (center), his wife Virginia, and staff members at the base camp near Flagstaff.

The team’s findings led Merriam to conclude that the changes occurring in flora and fauna as you gain altitude are the same as changes occurring as you travel north. Most naturalists at the time thought of “zones” in terms of eastern, central, and western.

Going further, Merriam identified seven “life zones” that support specific types of plant and animal life.

The zones, from highest to lowest in altitude:

1 – Alpine (arctic)
2 – Sub-Alpine (tundra)
3 – Hudsonian (spruce, fir)
4 – Canadian (mixed conifer)
5 – Transition (ponderosa pine)
6 – Upper Sonoran (grasslands)
7 – Lower Sonoran (desert)

Merriam said the zones are based on differences in temperature and humidity and are applicable everywhere.

In truth, it isn’t that simple. Other factors besides temperature and humidity affect the distribution of plants and animals. The direction in which a slope faces, for example, and the type of soil.

But Merriam’s general concept was quickly recognized as significant. Over time, a few tweaks were necessary, but his zone system remains in use today.

His work also tied in nicely with other thinking about species distribution that led to the new science of ecology.

During his research trips over the years, Merriam found that “the locals,” aka Native Americans, were valuable sources of information about the plants and animals he was studying. Eventually, he became interested in the tribes themselves, particularly those in California. He even picked up enough of several native languages to communicate with his contacts.

As the 20th Century arrived, the native populations were decreasing rapidly. Concerned that their knowledge, languages, and traditions were being lost, Merriam resolved to collect as much information as possible about the tribes before it was too late.

From about 1910 to 1939, leaving his previous scientific life behind, Merriam began collecting information about the tribes. Taking advantage of his notoriety, he also advocated for and assisted them.

Merriam collected vast amounts of data on 157 tribes and published much of it. Today, his field notes are housed in the Anthropology Museum at the University of California Berkeley.

He died in Berkeley in 1942, age 86.

Merriam was a dynamic, driven guy. He was, it seems, a bit flighty and erratic, but his curiosity always seemed to lead him down worthwhile paths.

He was a medical doctor, naturalist, zoologist, ornithologist, mammalogist, ethnographer, anthropologist, and more, always fully committed to the project of the moment.

A full and eclectic life that made a difference.

Impressive, indeed.

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The Questions…

1. In 2002, the World Wrestling Federation (WWF) changed its name to World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE). Why?

2. When pop star Katy Perry began her career as a teenager, what kind of music did she sing?

3. Two American Presidents had the first name of Thomas. Name the one that isn’t Thomas Jefferson.

4. What do the Ms in M&M’s stand for?

5. Which came first, the color orange or the fruit orange?

The Answers…

1. Because it lost a court battle with the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), which trademarked the initials WWF in 1961.

2. Christian music. Both of her parents were Pentecostal ministers, and she started singing in church at age nine. Her first gospel album in 2001 flopped, so she made adjustments.

3. Thomas Woodrow Wilson. As a kid, he was called Tommy.

4. The Ms represent company founders Forrest Mars and Bruce Murrie. Forrest Mars was the son of the founder of Mars, Inc., and Bruce Murrie was the son of the president of Hershey’s. In 1941, Forrest held the patent for making the colored candy-coated chocolates, and Bruce had access to the chocolate. Their company now manufactures 400 million M&M’s per day.

5. The fruit came first. The word entered the English language in the 1300s, evolving from the French term pomme d’orenge. The first known use in English of orange to describe the color was in 1512. Before that, people called it yellow-red.

WWE

Orange

 

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My day usually begins when my dog Jake decides it’s time to get up, and he bounds onto the bed to roust me out.

The ritual is always the same. He briefly presents himself to be petted, then dives in to give my face a proper licking. Jake deploys his tongue with surgical precision. He alternates between the nose and whichever ear is closest, snuffling and wiggling joyfully.

Eventually, when I relent, he hops down and waits next to the bed, aquiver with anticipation. I roll out of bed, and we proceed to the back door so he can go outside.

One morning last week, as I stumbled into the living room and turned on the light, this sight greeted me.

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That banana was supposed to be my breakfast. Sometime during the night, Jake had swiped it from the kitchen counter.

Scowling, I pointed at the banana. “Did you do that?” I demanded. His hangdog look was a clear admission of guilt.

I opened the back door, let him out, and picked up the banana. It was perfectly intact. Not a single tooth mark.

I wasn’t too surprised. Jake has stolen several things recently and not harmed them.

A few minutes later, as I was seated in my recliner watching the news, a glass of milk at my side, I shared the banana with Jake and pondered his recent penchant for counter-surfing.

When I first got him, we had a lengthy period of adjustment in which he had to learn the rules of the house.

Rules such as no shredding of books.

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No stealing clothes from the hamper.

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No swiping things from the bathroom trash cans, no absconding with kitchen towels, no digging holes in the back yard.

Over time, he learned what is acceptable and what isn’t. He became, I’m pleased to report, a very good boy who rarely gets into trouble.

Then, a few months ago, the counter-surfing thing started.

The first time it happened was understandable.

As I was about to reheat a plate of leftover meatloaf, the clothes dryer beeped. I took a moment to deal with that, but, foolishly, left the plate of meatloaf unattended on the kitchen counter.

When I returned, the plate was not only empty, but wiped clean. Not a spot of grease remained.

And it was totally my fault. No dog should be expected to resist unattended meatloaf. I looked out the window. Jake was patrolling the back yard as usual. I let the matter go and found something else for supper.

A week or so later, I found a kitchen towel on my bedroom floor near the dog door. Jake was in the back yard on patrol again. At least he didn’t take the towel with him. I returned it to its hook in the kitchen.

A few days after that, I made a trip to the grocery store and, as usual, unloaded the bags and put everything away in the pantry and fridge. At least, I thought it was everything.

When I finished, I went into the bedroom and found this.

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Stealing the flour tortillas was especially gutsy. He snatched it from the kitchen counter while my back was turned.

Still, the package was intact. Undamaged. He could have ripped it open and gorged on those soft, delicious tortillas, but he didn’t.

What in the world was going through his mind? Did he steal the things, then suddenly think, Uh-oh! What have I done? and decide to scram before I found out?

Did he realize that eating the tortillas, or the banana, would be a serious breach of house rules? A bridge too far?

I’ll never know.

Jake and I communicate very well, as do most humans and their dogs. But, man, the limitations are maddening.

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P.S. One notable and rather amusing feature of Jake’s fur is the presence of a distinct letter “C” on top of his head. A while back, I decided it stands for canine, but counter-surfer works, too.

 

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Overcompensation

over·com·pen·sa·tion | noun: excessive reaction to a feeling of inferiority, guilt, or inadequacy, leading to an exaggerated attempt to overcome the feeling.

———

Back in the 1970s, we lived in Fort Lauderdale, and I was trying to get established in the advertising and PR business. Those first jobs didn’t pay much.

Money was tight, a constant worry. The boys didn’t really lack for anything, but the situation weighed heavily on me and Deanna.

Things eventually worked out, but those were difficult times. I am reminded of them some mornings when I step into the closet to choose a t-shirt.

Yes, therein lies a tale.

It’s funny how the mind works. Back in our Fort Lauderdale days, as I struggled to pay the bills, I seized upon a small, inconsequential matter to be irritated about. Or, rather, to pout about.

It was the fact that, while everyone around me — friends, family, neighbors — owned cool and interesting t-shirts, literally every t-shirt I owned was plain, unadorned white. (Men’s t-shirts typically were white back then, in case you didn’t know.)

I didn’t own any t-shirts that bore logos, cartoons, or printing of any kind because I couldn’t afford them.

Well, that’s not quite accurate. More correctly, the money was better spent in other ways. I guilt-tripped myself out of owning t-shirts that were fun and appealing — and it bugged me greatly to be deprived in such a manner.

Time passed, and our money situation improved. Eventually, I rewarded myself with a few interesting t-shirts — a Georgia Bulldogs here, a Led Zeppelin there — but only a few. The money still was better spent in other ways.

That line of thinking ended when I found myself divorced. Suddenly, I was on my own and answerable to no one but Rocky Smith.

Accordingly, I began collecting t-shirts with gusto. I did it because, by God, I deserved those t-shirts. Not a very mature reaction, but immensely satisfying.

In the years that followed, I started taking regular vacations out west. I came home with t-shirts from Grand Canyon, Flagstaff, Yellowstone, Death Valley, Moab, Durango.

When I went on whitewater rafting trips in Arizona and West Virginia, I got t-shirts from the outfitters — Class VI, Outdoors Unlimited, AZRA.

Later, when I bought an RV and began taking road trips, I picked up souvenir t-shirts from the Northwest, the Great Lakes, New England, the Gulf coast, and more.

And naturally, in addition to souvenir shirts, I bought others that caught my eye. These two beauties, for example.

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Okay, so what’s the bottom line? How many non-plain t-shirts do I own today? About 40.

The number seems to have reached equilibrium and stabilized there. When a shirt wears out, it gets a second life in the rag box. Meanwhile, I’ve picked up a new shirt to replace it.

I freely admit that my affinity for the t-shirts is excessive. I am overcompensating for a perceived deprivation from long ago that, in fact, I inflicted upon myself.

On the other hand, I truly appreciate and enjoy my shirts. And, as obsessions go, this one is pretty benign.

On wash day, when the t-shirts come out of the dryer, I hang them up instead of folding them. That way, I can peruse them more easily in the closet.

The shirts take up about two feet of closet space. As part of my morning ritual, I go down the line and pick out a t-shirt to wear that day.

Am I in the mood for the Elvis mugshot t-shirt? The SpongeBob SquarePants t-shirt? The Roswell UFO Museum t-shirt?

Perhaps a shirt from Grand Canyon (I have several from which to choose). Or the Allman Brothers Summer Jam 1973. Or the NASA I Need My Space.

Aha! The Beavis and Butthead. Perfect!

Anyway, that’s the story of my t-shirt collection. I should add that it involves one great irony:

I always wear a button-up shirt on top, so nobody ever sees the t-shirt but me.

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A Fine Line

Flagstaff, Arizona, began as a railroad town, founded in 1876 as a distribution center for the timber industry. The railroad still has a pervasive influence on the city today.

How pervasive? Well, mammoth freight trains rumble through town about 100 times a day. That pervasive.

U.S. Route 66 is one of the main highways through the city, bisecting Flagstaff from east to west. Roughly paralleling it are the tracks of the BNSF Railway. The city has a few overpasses and one underpass, but most of the railroad crossings are the old-fashioned kind with crossing gates.

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In short, much of Flagstaff is at the mercy of the trains. And the problem is at its worst in the downtown district, which has significant vehicular and foot traffic from visitors, residents, and students from Northern Arizona University, which is close to downtown.

The city’s relationship with BNSF has been prickly for years. Not only are the trains a constant disruption, but deaths occur regularly from accidents (inattention, drugs, alcohol) and suicides.

A few years ago, the city went to court and forced BNSF to slow the trains down, improve the crossings, and stop blowing their horns for the hell of it. The locals were furious at being startled awake multiple times overnight, plus having to endure the horns all day.

Part of me finds the situation amusing. But, noise and inconvenience aside, a moving train is a truly sobering thing. There is a fine line between continuing your day and being dead.

That lesson was driven home when I was in Flagstaff on vacation in September. Specifically, along with several dozen other people, I had an alarming close call with a passing freight train. The memory of it still gives me the willies.

To get you oriented, here is a map of the downtown area that I lifted from the city website.

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The main business district is north of the railroad and Route 66. The area south of the tracks is a mixture of retail and residential.

I should add that, inside the city limits, the BNSF tracks are double. Eastbound trains use the south tracks, westbound trains use the north tracks. Like a two-lane highway.

The close call happened at the Beaver Street railroad crossing. Beaver Street is one-way going south. This is the crossing looking north.

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The day it happened, I had just returned from shopping downtown. When I reached the tracks, a westbound freight was in the process of passing. The crossing arms were down, holding back the vehicles. Waiting with me at the northwest corner were six or eight pedestrians. A dozen more were across the street on the northeast corner.

Later that day, I took this photo, looking west from the same spot. The westbound freight had been on the right set of tracks, blocking the view of the eastbound tracks on the left.

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After the westbound train passed, the crossing arms went up, and the cars and pedestrians started south across the tracks. At the same time, pedestrians on the south side of the tracks proceeded toward us.

Suddenly, the warning bells went off again. The crossing arms came down.

I looked to my right and saw another train, this one eastbound, almost upon us. The first train had hidden it until the last second.

Train #2 was going faster than the westbound freight. The engineer leaned on his horn. Most of the pedestrians, me included, were caught by surprise and were a bit disoriented.

Later, I took this photo of another eastbound train. This is what I saw bearing down on us.

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In the next five seconds, a lot happened. The first few vehicles proceeded across the tracks, maybe unaware of the oncoming train. The cars behind them were stopped by the crossing arms.

But among the pedestrians, pandemonium ensued. People screamed, shouted, and scattered in panic.

I was halfway across the tracks when I spotted the oncoming train. I ran forward toward the people coming in my direction, waving my arms and yelling for them to get back.

Most stopped, but one young couple looked at me funny and continued forward. “No! No!” I yelled. “Train coming! Another one!” They retreated.

With a blast of wind and noise, the train shot past. People milled around, breathless, rattled.

Like all the freight trains, it was a long one. After it was gone, I looked around the crossing. No casualties.

The excitement was over, and everyone disbursed. I walked across the street to Altitudes Bar & Grill to have lunch and a well-earned beer.

The waitress was friendly and chatty, and I told her what had happened. She was a native. The subject was close to her heart.

She sat down opposite me in the booth and gave me a detailed report on the city’s battles with BNSF. She also told me about some of the more memorable deaths — a gruesome litany of horrific accidents and suicides.

“Honey,” she said, “there ain’t no sugar-coating it. Death by train is always messy.”

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I just got back from a satisfying road trip to the Southwest in my RV. I was on the road for 17 days, had good weather, no problems to speak of.

I went to Roswell, Hatch, and Gallup, New Mexico. Also Flagstaff, Grand Canyon, Tuba City, Lees Ferry, and Page, Arizona.

I largely avoided the Interstates, which allowed me to pass through countless cites and towns that are their own little worlds.

As always, I came home with a nice batch of memories. To my surprise, one that stands out is not an experience, but an article I read in a promotional publication at Grand Canyon. It amounts to a fluff piece in a brochure for tourists, but it’s nicely done.

Maybe it clicked with me because I’ve been to Grand Canyon so often (this was my 27th trip), and I’m so familiar with the place, physically and operationally. When the writer describes a coyote at Lipan Point or the shuttle bus to the South Kaibab Trailhead, I have mental pictures.

The article is presented as the “untold story” of anonymous park employees and volunteers, but, inevitably, it also includes the experiences of visitors.

For the record, I forgive them for liberally taking artistic license — basically, making up hokey stuff to advance the story — because it gets the job done.

Here’s the article.

———

A Day in the Life of Grand Canyon National Park

(From “100 Years, One Million Lives, One Grand Canyon,” published by Grand Canyon National Park and Grand Canyon Conservancy)

Much has been written about the beauty, geology, and history of Grand Canyon. But the canyon does have an untold story — the tales of the people who live and work there.

For a national park as immense and remote at Grand Canyon to operate smoothly, it requires an army of dedicated employees and volunteers.

They are on hand daily doing their jobs, and that simple act allows millions of visitors each year to experience one of the best of America’s natural crown jewels.

12:01 AM — A shooting star streaks across the sky, catching the eye of a coyote near Lipan Point. No one knows whether she made a wish.

Day-1

1:22 AM — A river guide assisting with a science trip wakes up and pushes the rafts farther out into the Colorado River because the water drops after the daily release from Glen Canyon Dam.

2:06 AM — Search and Rescue Dispatch takes a call from a distressed hiker on the South Kaibab Trail. Staff immediately respond to aid the struggling hiker.

2:18 AM — A Delaware North (note: a park concessionaire) plumber is roused from sleep when he is called out to respond to a broken toilet in a Yavapai Lodge guest room.

3:06 AM — Xanterra (note: also a concessionaire) mule packers arrive at work to begin grooming mules and packing supplies for Phantom Ranch.

4:00 AM — The Hiker’s Express shuttle leaves Bright Angel Lodge on its way to South Kaibab Trailhead.

5:34 AM — An excited Boy Scout troop starts a backpacking hike down Bright Angel Trail.

5:58 AM — Staff at Canyon Village Deli begin assembling breakfast burritos and bagel sandwiches.

6:03 AM — Shades of soft purple melt away, and the canyon’s terraced formations seem to glow as the first rays of light caress ancient stone. Dawn’s color wheel turns, saturating the sky with pink, gold, and bronze hues so astounding they do not yet have a name. The sun has risen at Grand Canyon.

6:08 AM — Bright Angel Bicycles & Café serves up the first cappuccinos and cinnamon rolls to visitors who were up early to witness the sunrise.

6:47 AM — Custodial staff finishes cleaning the restrooms at Yavapai Geology Museum.

7:38 AM — An Italian father wakes his sleepy son and carries him to the window of their North Rim cabin so the boy can see deer grazing just outside.

8:00 AM — Grand Canyon Visitor Center opens for the day.

9:00 AM — Morning briefing begins for the park’s emergency services personnel.

9:03 AM — Trail crew pushes wheelbarrows of dirt down South Kaibab Trail for maintenance work.

9:17 AM — At Desert View Watchtower, a Hopi painter and a Navajo silversmith work on their art and answer questions as part of the Desert View cultural demonstrator series.

Day-2

9:21 AM — An Oregon family pedals along Hermit Road after being carefully outfitted with bikes and helmets from Bright Angel Bicycles.

9:30 AM — Volunteer campground hosts begin rounds to ensure visitors are checked out and campfires are extinguished.

9:31 AM — An El Tovar Hotel bartender starts the three-hour preparations for a busy day and evening ahead, full of thirsty Grand Canyon guests.

10:04 AM — A visitor from Minnesota takes photos of her family as they ride mules to Phantom Ranch. She cannot remember the last time she’s seen her moody teenager wearing such a broad smile.

10:37 AM — Grand Canyon Conservancy Field Institute staff lead a group of new backpackers down Bright Angel Trail to Indian Garden.

11:01 AM — Law enforcement rangers respond to people feeding squirrels near Bright Angel Lodge. They provide first aid for a bitten hand and instruct the visitor to get rabies shots as a precaution.

Day-3

Day-4

11:16 AM — In Desert View Watchtower, a young woman from Canada chats with Grand Canyon Conservancy staff. Amazed to discover the building and many other park structures were designed by Mary Colter, she purchases a book to learn more about the pioneering architect.

12:01 PM — A philanthropy manager from Grand Canyon Conservancy meets with prospective donors over lunch to discuss endowing the park’s trail maintenance program.

12:22 PM — While strolling along the Rim Trail, a Swedish couple stops to enjoy the playful cawing of a raven seemingly saying, “Come fly with me.”

12:41 PM — Fee collection staff at South Rim Entrance Station competes to see who can move vehicles through their lane the fastest.

1:13 PM — A Canyon Trail Rides mule packer leads visitors on a ride through the North Rim’s lush forests to Uncle Jim Point.

1:26 PM — Representatives from the park’s Traditionally Associated Tribes meet with park staff to give input on a new vision for the Desert View area that will include more tribal participation.

1:30 PM — A volunteer on summer break from college begins a guided tour of Tusayan Ruin.

1:43 PM — Custodial staff restocks Grand Canyon Visitor Center bathrooms with a pallet (48 cases) of toilet paper, which will last one week.

2:11 PM — Diners finishing a delicious meal on the patio of Grand Canyon Lodge strike up a conversation with the busboy, only to discover they once lived in the same small Idaho town.

2:38 PM — Wildlife staff work to move elk away from human drinking-water sources at South Kaibab Trailhead.

3:07 PM — Park rangers and emergency medical technicians administer CPR to revive a visitor who collapsed in the Market Plaza parking lot.

3:25 PM — A shaft of sunlight pierces the cloud cover, bathing Brahma Temple in a satiny glow while the surrounding formations are dappled by shadows. An Indiana man watches and wonders whether it is the single most beautiful sight he has ever seen.

3:36 PM — A couple from Missouri celebrate their 34th wedding anniversary sitting on the rim, eating ice cream cones from Bright Angel Fountain.

3:42 PM — A park ranger and her equestrian partner, Rio, stop to talk to a family about the desert bighorn sheep they can see from the rim. The kids pose for photos with Rio and give him lots of love.

3:51 PM — During a program on California condors, two of the impressive birds fly past. The park ranger conducting the program wisely takes credit for the visual aids.

Day-5

4:00 PM — A Phantom Ranch park ranger begins a program in the amphitheater about water conservation.

4:12 PM — A sudden monsoon drives visitors into Grand Canyon Visitor Center. The movie theater fills, and the line to the information desk backs up the length of the building.

4:23 PM — A park ranger roving the campground at Desert View tells visitors about the sunset talk happening that evening. At one stop he hears a Grand Canyon pink rattlesnake shaking its tail.

5:48 PM — As quickly as it began, the rain ends. The buildings in the Village nearly empty as everyone hurries to the rim to watch the shifting pattern of sun and clouds, light and shadows reinventing the canyon right before their eyes.

6:07 PM — A bartender at Yavapai Tavern pours another local Arizona beer for a guest.

6:30 PM — Employees from different departments of the park gather for a weekly volleyball game.

6:41 PM — Over plates of salmon tostadas at El Tovar Hotel, two old college friends compare aches and pains acquired from their backpacking trip to Horseshoe Mesa.

6:47 PM — A river guide serves a cake baked in a Dutch oven to visitors rafting the Colorado river.

7:11 PM — Although the sky is mostly clear, a few low-lying clouds linger. They seem to go up in flames as the sun slips below the horizon. Bands of red and orange streak the sky, dancing across the formations below. Spontaneous applause is heard from several viewpoints. The sun has set at Grand Canyon.

7:13 PM — With lavish sky and a color-streaked canyon as a backdrop, a young man from Wisconsin proposes to his girlfriend. She tearfully accepts, thus ensuring the couple an impressively romantic engagement story.

8:00 PM — A park ranger on the North Rim welcomes visitors to the evening program in the Grand Canyon Lodge auditorium.

8:26 PM — Wildlife staff net bats to determine if white-nose syndrome is in the park.

9:11 PM — Unable to sleep after an amazing Grand Canyon day, an aspiring 12-year-old poet scribbles in her notebook at Maswik Lodge.

9:39 PM — A family from Phoenix stands at Mather Point gazing skyward and for the very first time sees the Milky Way.

10:06 PM — The musician at Bright Angel Lounge launches into an obscure Bob Dylan tune, and without a word two friends at the front table smile and clink their glasses.

11:59 PM — A coyote lopes across bare stone, pausing near the rim to sniff the breeze wafting out of the canyon. She glances at a slice of moon, yips twice, and trots off.

No one knows what she said.

Day-6

Not bad for a fluff piece.

 

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Wash and Wax

Friends, you may ask yourselves, what do old retired guys do every day? Well, in my case, I stay as busy as if I were gainfully employed.

Every day, tons of stuff needs doing. And sometimes, the things that need doing catch you off guard.

That’s because life hurls all kinds of unpredictable pitches at you. Fastballs, curveballs, sliders. All you can do is step up to the plate and address the ball. (No, wait. That’s a golf metaphor.)

Swinging away at the random pitches life serves up — that’s my job now. Well, I also have the blog.

———

– Slippery When Wet

Last winter was especially wet, and it was unkind to the Rocky Smith residence. By spring, unwanted stuff had begun to grow on various outdoor surfaces.

The concrete — driveway, sidewalks, and patio — was coated to varying degrees with a yucky layer of blackish-brown something that turned slippery when it rained.

Several walls of the house were afflicted with an unpleasant green mold or mildew or whatever.

And, instead of being a cheerful white with natty blue pinstripes, my RV was a depressing gray with blue pinstripes.

When Paul the yardman showed up to cut my grass for the first time, I asked, “Do you do pressure-washing?”

“You bet.”

I told him the concrete desperately needed cleaning. He gave me a price, came back the following week with a behemoth of a pressure-washer, and did the job in half a day.

When he finished, I asked, “Do you do houses?”

“You bet.”

He walked around the house to assess things, gave me a price, came back the following week, and did the job in half a day.

When he finished, I asked, “What about RVs?”

“You bet.”

He gave me a price, came back the following week, and spent an hour or so pressure-washing the van with unexpected thoroughness. It looked almost as good as the day I bought it.

– Prohibited by Law

My next task was to give the RV a protective coat of wax. Being retired from washing and waxing vehicles myself, I took it to a full-service car wash. I wasn’t after any fancy detailing. I just wanted a basic wash and wax.

Last year, I found a place that does good work at reasonable prices. It’s a big operation, part of a chain. While you wait inside watching TV, a dozen or so young guys are outside swarming like ants over the vehicles. A thorough, buttoned-up operation. I stopped to ask them about the RV.

The response was a knuckleball.

“Sir, we can wax the RV for you, no problem,” said the earnest young man at the counter. “But you’ll have to wash the vehicle before you bring it in.”

Say what?

“But… you’re a car wash. You wash cars. Why do I have to wash it before bringing it to you?”

“State regulations, sir. We recycle our water. The drains under the building collect the wash water so it can be treated and used again. Your vehicle won’t fit inside the building, so we would have to wash it outside. And that’s prohibited by law.”

“Prohibited by law.”

“Yes, sir. But I have an option you might want to consider. I do jobs on the side all the time. I could do the wash and wax at your place.”

Aha. A sensible solution. I gave him my phone number, and he said he would call to work out the details.

The week wore on, and the little so-and-so never called. Time to explore other options.

– Mr. Clean

I’m a relatively intelligent guy, and this was a relatively simple problem. I needed to find a car wash designed for larger vehicles.

Trucks, for example. Trucks need washing, right? People out there are in the business of washing trucks, right?

Indeed they are. In fact, truck washes are everywhere. I didn’t know that because truck washes were never on my radar screen.

One place that had good online reviews was Mr. Clean Truck and Car Wash in Athens. I stopped one day to check them out.

Mr. Clean was a little more bare-bones than I expected — basically, just a small shed that served as an office, two more sheds stocked with supplies, lots of ladders and hoses, and a paved parking lot full of trucks and busy workers.

In the office was a middle-aged black guy sitting on a stool, staring at his cell phone. “Can I hep you?” he asked without looking up.

“You wash trucks, so I’m betting you can wash my RV,” I said.

“No problem,” he said, still focused on the phone. “Just bring it in. No appointment necessary. We’ll fix you up.”

I described the RV and asked the price of a wash and wax.

“Won’t know till I see it,” he said, still staring at the phone.

I said okay, but I need at least a rough idea of the cost.

“Well, I’ll tell you what I tell everybody,” he said, looking up finally. “Bring $100 cash, and that should more than cover it.”

– 32 Minutes

A few days later, I drove the RV to Athens and pulled into Mr. Clean’s parking lot. Four employees were busily cleaning a semi. Two others big trucks were waiting their turn. I went inside the office where the black guy was sitting on the stool with his phone, still supervising.

“I brought my RV for a wash and wax,” I said. He went outside, took a look, and returned.

“We use liquid wax,” he said. “Sprayed on, not hand-rubbed.” I took that as implying that spray wax is inferior. But I’m not picky. I nodded in agreement.

“75 dollars,” I understood him to say. I got out my wallet, took out four $20 bills, and handed them to him.

“What the hell is this?” he barked. “I said 35 dollars.” He handed back two of the bills.

“Sorry, I misunderstood,” I said. “This is my first time.”

Stone-faced, he gave me $5 change and said his boys would be ready for me directly.

The four guys doing the actual work were an interesting bunch.

One was a large, muscular black guy who was suffering mightily in the 90-degree heat. He kept gesturing to the others to hose him down.

Another was a young white guy who was so heavily tattooed — arms, legs, back, torso, face, neck, even the top of his shaved head — that he looked like a Maori tribesman.

W&W-1

The other two were tall, lean white guys, typical Southern dudes. Somehow, their cigarettes stayed lit even though their clothes were drenched.

All four worked at high speed, but were surprisingly thorough and meticulous. The trucks ahead of me took half an hour each to clean. By that measure, I figured the RV would be done in 10 minutes.

Wrong. By the clock, they spent 32 minutes climbing over, under, and around the thing, scrubbing, spraying, and rinsing at a frenetic pace.

W&W-2

When they finished, it looked better than the day I bought it.

W&W-3

The boys moved on to the next vehicle. I stuck a $20 bill in the tip box and headed home.

– Reality Bites

Back in Jefferson, I learned why sprayed-on liquid wax is inferior to the hand-applied variety.

For one thing, the RV was wet when I left Mr. Clean, and it air-dried on the way home. Thus, the glass and chrome ended up covered with water spots.

For another thing, the lower half of the chassis was covered with streaks where the wax dripped down and dried. From a distance, the vehicle looked great; up close, it had issues.

Mr. Clean’s wash and wax job accomplished what I wanted, but alas, fell a bit short. Live and learn.

With a sigh, I got out some rags and glass cleaner and cleaned off the water spots.

Next, I put some wax on another rag and began buffing out the streaks on the body. The buffing wasn’t hard, but it took a while.

Finally, I put a coat of Back to Black on the bumpers, door handles, and trim. The treatment worked well, but will need redoing in about a month.

It also occurs to me that, if next winter is as unkind as the last, I’m destined to do this all over again.

W&W-4

 

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