The Great Return

We received sudden news this weekend that my Uncle Bud was heading into hospice.

He’s at the front right of this picture, taken in Oregon last August. Serendipity allowed my mom’s two sisters and their husbands to join us at a B&B on the coast. When I posted this photo of our four men to Facebook, Bud commented “Four jolly gentlemen, all doing their own thing.”

In some ways, our family branched early into two ways of doing things. My Aunt Carole married Bud and they moved away from Denver, had four children, became their own nucleus. My mom and my Aunt Karen stayed nearer my grandparents for many years, so we tended to have our own family gatherings. But we got together from time to time.

Now we know that this occasion, precipitated by the wedding of my cousin, Bud’s grandson, will be the last for this particular group.

My mom said that Bud has been a part of her life since she was nine years old. My cousin, Bud’s oldest daughter, said that we’ve had him as a part of our lives for 82 1/2 years. However you slice it, this marks the end of an era in our family. The decision not to try to halt the sudden and aggressive cancer with extreme measures wasn’t easy for them, but he’s surrounded by family and the stories he loved.

So, this is a celebration of a good life drawing to a close. W.L Rusho, author and lover of the wilderness, may you move on to greater things.

I’m including here a wonderful poem from a longtime family friend.

The Great Return

May you have the joy of rising waters
May the awe of ages surround you

May your feet sound soft upon the land
May the sweep of Nankoweep embrace you

May the Great Blue Heron stand upon her bar for you
And the Father of all mountain sheep stand vigilant on his loft

May you run the River true and hoot upon the waves
May you, your family, your friends pass through

And return home, home, and home again.

~Justice Greg Hobbs,
Colorado Supreme Court


I snapped this picture over ten years ago, as you can see. The date stamp is on because I was doing field work in Bernalillo, near Albuquerque. Sandia Ridge looked so unearthly perfect, I had to take this photo, too, and I kept it all these years, over many laptops.

It’s funny to me that today I live just on the other side of this mountain. I’m heading down to Albuquerque for a day of meetings. This has been a week of disrupted schedules and this feels like one more thing.

And yet, how lucky am I?

I might wish my day job – which is a career-type job that my colleagues devote all their energy to – intruded less on the writing. But it’s a great job with terrific people. I’m counting my blessings.

See you on the other side of Sandia!

Back Off, Man!

This is one of my long-time friends back in Wyoming. We worked at the Wyoming Game and Fish Laboratory together, along with David. She’s still there and I’m betting she’ll be Director someday.

That era formed a big chunk of my life. Physiology, wildlife, the community of academic and applied scientists. Like all groups formed around a field of study, we had our jargon, our in-jokes. We once went around a party of Zoology & Physiology types and asked each person there this question: if you saw a dead animal by the side of the road, what would you do with it?

Yeah, see – a lot of you out there are kind of squinting at the screen now and saying, “um, do with it?”

The only people at the party who did not say “take it home and put it in the freezer” were spouses. For years I had any number of dead animals in my freezers, both at home and in various lab spaces. People sometimes asked me if they could put frozen dead animals in the Physiology lab chest freezers, because we always had extra space.

What? They might come in useful.

I still have a bobcat skull that I spent months cleaning.

At any rate, I thought of this the other day when the HVAC guy came. Don’t ask – just cross your fingers that our heat-exchanger isn’t cracked. He looked at the tag from the gas service showing the very high CO values they’d picked up when we called them and asked me if the gas company had explained what those high values meant. I scrambled for a way to respond and fell back on “We’re both scientists, so…” HVAC guy nodded.

It’s something I want to say sometimes, like when the dental hygienist is explaining in painstaking detail about gum health – and sometimes getting it wrong – that I’m a physiologist and I already understand about epidermal layers. It makes me wish for a t-shirt like my friend’s bumper sticker, back in Wyoming:


This classic line, of course, brought to you by Dr. Peter Venkman of the Ghostbusters. Which should tell you right there that it was being used to justify somewhat un-scientific activities.

Still, it’s a great line and an even better attitude.

Maybe I’ll get a tattoo…


I have this overly informative scale.

Yes, I weigh myself every day. In the era when I did not (the Dark Years), I accumulated an astonishing amount of weight, seemingly out of nowhere. (You can make zooming space noises with that, if you like.)

On my Excel graph that shows my weight since 1997 (oh, come on – you knew I had one), there’s a big gap for the Dark Years. At the end of them, five years later, my weight was up more than 32 pounds. Ugly ugly ugly. Ignorance may be bliss, but it can be hell on the body fat.

I remember buying that scale, in 2002, coming back from a weekend in the mountains. I was starting to get those rolls of fat on my rib cage, you know? The ones where you really can’t pretend that it’s muscle or hip-spread. We stopped at a Bed, Bath and Beyond and I bought a simple scale that I step onto until I’d cut back on stuffing myself for a week. Thus I don’t really know how high it got. Clinging to my blissful ignorance.

That was two scales ago. Now I have this fancy/shmancy one that shows me not only my weight, but also my body fat percentage, muscle percentage, visceral fat percentage, metabolic rate and my metabolic age.

It’s the last one that really kills me.

Oh, my weight is still too high – about six pounds over the high end of my BMI. My body fat is in the “overfat” arena, which is tremendously annoying. But, to add insult to injury, this scale tells me, every damn day that I’m three to four years older than I am.

Even if I kick her.

Oh, it’s not as bad as it has been. At a couple of points in time (Dark Months), she had me over 50. We’ve bargained it down from there. But she still insists that, metabolically, fattily, I’m older than I am.

Otherwise, I’m a youthful person. I come from a family of youthful women. People say I look younger than I am. I admit I have ego tied up in it.

So, while it’s nice to see my weight come down, the body fat percentage decrease, what really makes my day is when I lose a year overnight. I feel like Merlin, aging backwards, growing younger.

I’m not really inclined towards anorexia, but I could see wanting to keep working to peel those years away. Erasing the pounds until I’m a sweet, young thing again.

Eh, who am I kidding?

I’ll be happy to shake the “overfat” insult.

A Day in the Life – Rogue Oracle

We have a new girl on the town. Rogue Oracle is no shy young debutante though. She’s sister Word-Whore Laura Bickle’s fourth book, the second in the Delphic Oracle series she writes as Alayna Williams.

She seems demure on the surface. Just a sweet, suburban fantasy, with a penchant for fresh herbs.

And lingerie.

She keeps herself spiffed up, with a pedicure for sandal season, because she also leads a secret life.

Taming wild crocodiles!

Consulting with the President and his cabinet.


Russian spy! You think it’s an accident this book is about Chernobyl? Oh no no no.

Don’t be taken in by appearances. Watch her.

Watch her very closely.

Bulan Lapar

Okay, I know that’s not really how you say it.

My friend on Twitter, my kawan, @Arzai is Malaysian. She’s read Petals and Thorns, which gives me such a kick, that this lovely woman all the way in Malaysia has read my story. She kind of shakes her head at my enthusiasm and says that she’s certain many people in Malaysia have read it, that Malaysia, after all, is a very big place. But she’s the one I know about and I get all pleased thinking about it.

Last night she was teaching me Malay words and phrases on Twitter. I asked her for full moon (bulan penuh), since I knew this would be my morning post. I then asked if Hunger Moon would be bulan lapar, since she’d already taught me that “lapar” is hungry. She didn’t think that would be right. Then she came back and asked what “Hunger Moon” means.

I had to explain that it’s not really English, either. That the full moon names are English translations of Native American concepts. In this case, the moon itself isn’t hungry, but that this is the moon that’s full during the time of hunger. It’s still deep winter here, I told her, and though spring is coming, it will be a while before the plants grow again. This is the time when stores grown thin.

She said she’d learned something and I realized what a cultural difference that is. Even though our replete grocery stores keep us fed year-around now, we still have those underlying concepts, from our frontier ancestors and native neighbors, that winter is a time of privation. Something those in the tropics don’t experience in the same way.

So, here’s to the Hunger Moon, that rises over the mountains in Santa Fe and the beaches in Malaysia.

And to the ways we connect, great and small, across our little world.


Signs of spring!

This morning the air even smells of spring.

On a more somber note, I don’t know if any of you have followed the news about CBS reporter Lara Logan who was attacked and repeatedly sexual assaulted by a crowd in Egypt during the protests. Jim C. Hines did a terrific blog post yesterday about the news coverage. In a nutshell, CBS treated the story as one about a horrific attack on one of their own and another media outlet sensationalized the reporter’s good looks and the lurid details.

Jim makes some really excellent points, so I won’t make them again.

What it reminds of though, was when Matthew Shepard was killed in Laramie. You remember – young, gay man, tied to the fence and beaten to death. National media covered it. Much discussion of hate crimes and what it’s like to be a homosexual in a town in Wyoming. There were a lot of layers to being in the center of a media frenzy like that and I won’t go into them all.

What I’m thinking of now is a conversation I had with my boss at the time. I complained about Matt Shepard’s death receiving so much attention when another had not. Recall this is a university town in Wyoming – we didn’t get much violent crime. A year before, however, Daphne Sulk, a pregnant fifteen-year-old girl was murdered and her body tossed in the snow along a hiking trail above town. Her much older lover – and guidance counselor – was convicted and imprisoned for the crime. No one outside of our town paid much attention.

After all, it’s kind of ho-hum, isn’t it.

When I pointed this out to my boss, that not all murders are weighted the same, he replied “Well, she was engaged in dangerous behavior.”

As if going to a bar and picking up two guys coming down from a three-day methamphetamine binge is a great idea. What happened to Matt Shepard was horrific, but I maintain that if he’d been a woman, no one would have given it much more thought than a sad shake of the head.

Dangerous behavior.

I hate to see that charge leveled at Lara Logan. A woman can be a reporter, but she’d better watch herself. In some ways, I see this as most insulting to men. Do we really believe that men simply can’t help themselves? A pretty woman walks by and, golly gee whiz, they’re overcome and have to rape her. If only she hadn’t been there!

It’s a tired argument, I know, but it’s frustrating to see that our fundamental assumptions don’t change. It’s a man’s right to seek sex, but a woman who leaves the safe confines of a protected life is engaged in dangerous behavior and gets what she gets.

What I love most about the story is that Lara was rescued by Egyptian women and about 20 soldiers. I wish I could know about that part of the story, the women who witnessed and stepped in to save a foreigner.

I hope that Lara Logan recovers, heals and finds the balls to continue on.

I’ll be following her career with great interest.

Yo Ho Ho and a Bottle of Karma

Okay, I’m going to take a leap and say something that no one will like or agree with.

Oh, wait – I do that all the time.


I don’t think book pirates are such a big deal.

Yes, pirates offer Petals & Thorns for free download – I’ve seen the links from Google Alerts. No, I don’t go look at them. I don’t send take down letters. I don’t mention it on Twitter or really give it much thought at all.

This is why:

I think I’ve said before here, that if I were asked to put a name to my religious/spiritual affiliation, I’d say I am a Taoist. I believe in individual responsibility, that we reap what we sow, that what goes around comes around. Everything is about the exchange of energy, the natural balance of the universe.

Money is only a symbol, really. Our paper and electronic dollars in the US are based on gold. (Yeah, I know – not so much anymore. We won’t go there.) Gold is pretty; it makes for nice jewelry, but really it has no intrinsic value. Gold won’t keep you alive in a blizzard. However, because we all agreed at some point in time that gold is nifty stuff, you could trade some of your gold to live in a warm hut someone else built and cook some meat from a rabbit someone else killed over a fire burning wood someone else cut.

Of course you could go out and do all these things yourself: you could cut wood, build a hut and stack firewood next to it. You could kill and clean your rabbit and cook it over the fire (or your carrots, whatever). If you don’t have time to do all that, or if you really suck at snaring bunnies or digging up carrots, you can trade with someone else. Over time, we substituted tokens in lieu of direct trade: I’ll give you this piece of gold (or vial of salt or packet of saffron) which you can give to someone else for whatever they have that you want.

So, for a storyteller, someone gives us tokens so we can keep fed and housed while we sit at home and make up stories.

Yes, I hear you now. If people steal your stories, then you can’t keep fed and housed. It’s much easier, I freely admit, for someone like me who’s getting a pile of gold tokens for other work I do. I don’t depend on those stories to keep me alive yet.

The way I think of it is, money is just a stand-in for the exchange of energy. A balance of their efforts and mine. If someone downloads my story, reads it and loves it, then I believe that they do pay me. They send little happy feelings of gratitude out into the universe for me. Can I quantify this? Of course not. Is it still valuable to me? Yes yes yes.

I believe that we all know, on some visceral or spiritual level, what we owe to other people. And I believe we’re driven to repay it, on whatever level we can. Sometimes it’s a pay-it-forward thing. The good feelings I generate in one person gets passed on to someone else, who then passes it along. I get paid in thousands of ways in all the tiny blessings of life.

Are there jerks out there who just take? Of course there are.

But, I’ve learned in life, as I’m sure most of you have, that people will do nasty stuff to us that we may never see justice for. I’ve had my share of people undermining me, stabbing me in the back, what have you. I’ve been involved in court cases where I paid money to people who didn’t deserve it, simply to extricate myself from the situation. We all have.

And we all have to find a way to let that stuff go, or it poisons us.

I believe in Karma. I trust that the universe will take care of it. One of the people who’s wished me the most ill in this world is a miserably unhappy person. It’s sad, but I also think that’s what happens.

We all get back what we put out into the world. I truly believe that. The best part is, the universe tracks this for me, so I don’t have to.

I just sit in my little hut and write the stories.