The Silence of the Blog

I feel a certain sense of responsibility to post at least weekly when we aren’t traveling in the Airstream, and there’s a sort of editorial guilt that comes up when I realize I haven’t written anything in longer than that.  I hate the epidemic of bloggers all over the Internet who post a few entries saying things like, “I know I have posted in a while but I’ve been busy.  I’ll get up to date this week, so check back soon!”  And of course they never write again…

But hey, if I’m busy, that’s when the posting really happens.  It’s when things get routine or even dull that causes me to  lose my inspiration.

Such has been the case lately.  This has been a quiet season for TBM, something I regret.  The three weeks of bachelorhood have flown by but except for my archaeology tour all the days seem about the same.  I’ve gotten work things done.  The Fall magazine is now well into layout, Brett & I are working on plans for three different events next year (Alumapalooza, Modernism Week, and another event to be named), and various other projects are rolling along nicely, so I can hardly complain.  Still, work is not enough to round out a life, and that is where I’ve fallen down on the job as TBM.

An unexpected barrier this year has been the wildfires in Arizona and New Mexico.  The entire Coronado National Forest has been closed since June 9 due to exceptionally dry conditions.  That means no access to any of the sky islands in Arizona, including the Santa Catalinas (visible right out my back window), the Huachucas (near Sierra Vista), the Sahuaritas (location of last year’s hike up Mt Wrightson with Brett), and the Chiricahuas in southeastern Arizona.

Well, that totally blew a lot of my plans out.  Climbing these mountains is the only way to escape the heat of the desert floor.  I was planning to go hiking, tent camping, exploring, and sightseeing up in most of those mountain ranges this June, but the closure order is absolute: no travel at all, not even stopping at the roadside.  Fines up to $5000.  So I’ve been stuck here and we’ve had a spectacularly warm June, with several days above 110 degrees.  It’s not great weather for much of any outdoor activity.

Paradoxically, a lot of Arizonans don’t use their swimming pools this time of year. Reason?  The water is too hot.  So the preferred form of recreation this summer seems to be going shopping, especially to malls where you can walk around in air conditioning.

I do like the relative quiet of summer.  There’s always a noticeable drop in population when the snowbirds leave in March or April and then again when some of the students leave the University.  It’s a great time to get things done, because you rarely have to wait in line or get slowed by traffic.  On the other hand, there’s not much going on sometimes.  Outdoor fiestas, a great and common feature of Tucson in the winter, are virtually absent.  Who wants to listen to music, dance, eat, and shop crafts when it’s a blazing 108 degrees?

Even the Fourth of July is sort of a muted event. Most of the city appeared to be in hibernation, with hardly any cars on the major roads, and clerks drowsing in the quiet of empty stores. The traditional backyard barbecue with fireworks and s’mores and mosquitoes that we’ve come to expect up in the north is much less appealing here.  I didn’t smell a single grill on Monday.

Well, things are about to change with the arrival of TSP (Temporary Single Parent, aka Eleanor) tomorrow.  She’s flying into Phoenix and so begins our Second Annual Three-Week Childless Couple Event.  I plan to make the most of it.  You long-time readers know that we love to travel with Emma and have done so extensively for about eight years.  But for these three weeks, we get to do the things that adults like, especially things that would bore or gross out a child.  In fact, we’ll probably focus exclusively on things that we couldn’t or wouldn’t do with Emma.  I don’t know if that includes bungee jumping, eating caviar on toast, betting it all on red in Las Vegas, cooking in the nude, or just cruising aimlessly through the southwest, but we’ll certainly consider all those possibilities.

Sadly, if we do some of those things, I probably won’t blog them.  There does have to be a certain amount of discretion here.  I’ll post the PG-13 version, so you’ll hear about the milkshakes and the street hikes.  I can assure you that there will be at least one or two roadtrips, too.  You’ll just have to use your imagination for the rest.

Archaeology tour in New Mexico

Things have been a little quiet in TBM-land, with work dominating far too many days, so I scanned the local events calendars and found something to do off the reservation.   The Old Pueblo Archaeology Center in Tucson had organized a once-a-year tour of ancient Mogollon (native American) sites in New Mexico. I don’t usually go in for multi-day guided tours, preferring to explore on my own (or with E&E), but this was a special opportunity to visit some sites that I’d never see without a qualified guide, and to get some detailed interpretation as well.

So I booked the last two days of the four-day tour (I had prior commitments for the first two days) and drove three hours from Tucson to join the group on Monday morning in Silver City, NM.  Silver City is up in the higher elevations of central New Mexico, about 5200 feet, amidst rolling hills and beautiful scenery.  There’s a nice historic downtown and a strong western style.  The famous outlaw Billy The Kid lived here.  I didn’t see any gun-slinging — these days the hotels are crowded with fire fighters, taking a break or setting up to go to the wildfires that are all over New Mexico right now.

Our tour specialized in Mimbres sites, a subculture of the Mogollon.  There are dozens in the area, most of which are protected as best they can be by laws, fences, and secrecy.  In the past pot-hunters have devastated many of the sites, even using bulldozers and backhoes to excavate them, so many of the sites have been ruined or looted thoroughly.  But those that have survived have an abundance of artifacts at the surface, primarily potsherds, pictographs, flakes of small stones, and architectural remnants like stone alignments of huts and depressions of former kivas.

As tourists, we were not there to dig.  At most of the sites we were allowed to pick up anything we found, as long as it was returned to the same spot.  We looked, and tried to connect the little artifacts we found with the living village of people that once existed that spot.  Archaeology requires a fair amount of imagination: you have to interpret the humps and dips of the land, and visualize the layout of a village that has been mostly reclaimed by the earth for centuries.  The sites we visited were at least a thousand years old, a thrilling thought when you find a fragment of that ancient life still sitting on the ground for you to see and touch.

The Kipp Ruin, near Deming, was our chance to see a real archaeological dig in progress.  Led by Dr William H Walker of New Mexico State University, a bunch of graduate students were toiling cheerfully in the heat of the low Sonoran Desert near Deming NM, looking for tiny fragments of Mimbres culture in tidy pits dug into the earth.  The work is dusty and tedious, and the results from this particular site are mostly so small that dozens of them fit into a lunch-sized paper bag.  Unfortunately, the site was almost completely obliterated by pot hunters years ago, so even the stone structures were reduced to mere lines of stones less than a foot tall.  Still, they were finding things, and learning, and they were happy to share the knowledge with our group.

The southwest is having a little heat wave right now, so even in the supposedly cooler atmosphere of the high country we endured 100+ degree days and extremely dry conditions in full sun.  When we toured the Western New Mexico University’s Museum, which had a superb collection of Mimbres pottery, there was no air conditioning.  We ate our lunches outdoors where we could find shade, and we cooled off in the cars during the long drives from one site to another, but mostly the best survival strategy was the right clothing and lots of water.  I went through 120 ounces on Monday, and it was even hotter on Tuesday.

Still, it was worth it.  A little climate challenge helped us feel less like tourists and more like explorers.  The cars got dusty on long gravel roads, the people got sweaty, and the gear got dirty.  I have a bag full of laundry “souvenirs” and a car in the carport that looks like it was dropped in a bag of flour, but I also have 314 photos that I treasure (54 of which are now on Flickr for your browsing pleasure).  I’d do it again.  In fact, I probably will do another archaeology tour this fall.  There’s a lot of incredible pre-historic culture in this part of the country, much of it very close to home, and it’s an element of the southwest that deserves exploration.


Changes and rationalizations

It’s a good thing I wasn’t born earlier in the Industrial Age.  I might have ended up as a factory worker, and I’m not good at doing the same thing repeatedly.  My tendency is to take on a challenge, master it as best I can (which may or may not be very well), then move on to something new.  It’s that same aspect of personality that makes traveling and exploring new places a necessary part of my mental diet.

Occasionally this personality trait becomes a problem.  Case in point: I have been producing Airstream Life magazine for nearly eight years.  Prior to this, my longest employment at anything was about five years.  I definitely have a sort of seven year itch that means it’s time to move on to new challenges.  In the past year or so, the itch of self doubt has crept up my sleeve like a little spider, telling me that it is becoming time to find someone to take over as Editor.

I’ve mentioned this before, but the spider is reaching my neck and it is becoming less ignorable.  Today I found myself wrestling to focus on the laptop yet again to finalize articles and make editorial decisions I should have made weeks ago.  My email Inbox, normally kept lean as a result of compulsive housekeeping and fast response time, is filled with unevaluated writer queries and article drafts for future issues. For me, failing to deal with the routine tasks is a sign of burnout.

Well, there was no chance of finding someone to do my work today, so I put my head down and got serious about dealing with the unresolved questions and unedited articles for the Fall 2011 issue.  Of course, there were no really insurmountable issues, just a series of tough decisions and thoughtful editing processes that had to be done, and once I got into it the work began to fly by as it always does when I’m in the groove.  By 1 p.m., after about six hours of fairly intense work, the Inbox was halfway cleared out and I had three more articles uploaded to the FTP site and ready for layout.  Suddenly things weren’t so bad, and I found myself thinking that I don’t really need an Editor — just a little less procrastination.

At that point I had to bail out of the office, because it was time to get into another long-dreaded task: the eye exam.  I don’t normally mind eye exams, but this one was special because I knew I would be prescribed progressive lenses for the first time.  I suppose I am lucky to have held out to my current age (my AARP card is only a couple of years away, despite the common misconception that I am much younger – it must be the juvenile behavior).  But that doesn’t make it any easier to suffer the indignities of day-long dilated pupils, and having to learn how to compensate for lost peripheral vision by turning my head as if I am an owl.  Now with the new lenses I can see the wrinkles on the backs of my hands, and I can’t see the cars in the sideview mirrors.  Yes, now I can read the menu in a dim restaurant again, but somehow it doesn’t seem like a great leap forward.

In comments on my prior blog entry, I was asked why I’m not planning to tow the Caravel with the old Mercedes 300D.  I suppose it is time to confess: I sold it.  I know I said I would keep it “forever,” but then a guy from Connecticut showed up desperately seeking a rust-free 300D, and he made an offer I couldn’t refuse.  The car and I didn’t have a pre-nup, and I had already stored it for the hot summer, so I took the cash on the rationalization that (a) I wouldn’t miss the car for several months; and (b) if I kept it much longer I’d probably dump another $2k into perfecting it.  Selling it was a way to save me from myself.

But now of course, I’m wondering if that was the brightest move, since I’m here in Arizona, the Caravel is in Texas, and I have no way to get it back.  So I’m on the hunt for a new part-time tow vehicle. I want something fun to drive, since the vast majority of the time the car will be unhitched.  (Please don’t suggest any form of truck, SUV, or full-size car — I don’t regard those as “fun to drive.) The final choice will undoubtedly be something most people would never choose, require custom engineering, and be entirely safe for towing the Caravel despite appearances.  It might be vintage or modern.  It will likely be a convertible (but not the Miata) or two-door sports coupe.  I’m having fun with it.

I thought I had no theme when I started writing tonight, but now I see I do.  It’s all about change.  Some of it is forced on me (eyeglasses) but most of it is my own doing.  There are some core elements of life you never want to change because they are the basis for one’s security and self-confidence, but the rest is all small stuff.  It’s just a car.  It’s just a job.  I don’t ever want the fear of change to be ruling factor in my life.  You can’t avoid it anyway.  I’ll take the good and the bad and trust that somehow it will all work out more to the good, in the end.


TBM returns!

After a pleasant few days in Vermont, I hopped a plane and headed back to Tucson for some summer heat.  It was cool and rainy in Vermont most of the time, so cool that we had to run the furnace in the trailer during the day sometimes, and I realized that once again I had not packed enough warm clothes to survive a Vermont June. I had to borrow a sweat jacket from my mother just to survive the evenings.

The Airstream is parked in its summer holding pen, beneath the cedar trees on the gravel driveway next to the garage.  It will rest there for a couple of months before I fly back up and collect it, along with the members of my immediate family who are spending the summer in Vermont.  (You know who they are.)  I am hoping that the bits of white filiform corrosion that started along the edges and trim on the Airstream a few years ago won’t greatly accelerate in the damp environment up there.  Each year the tiny white spider-webs of corrosion seem to spread another 1/8″ of an inch or so.  Once returned to dry conditions, it stops spreading but the damage is irreversible.  Parking by the oceanside really kicks it into high gear too, but I’m not prepared to give up camping by the beach for anything.

I flew back to Arizona, which means I once again am stuck without a tow vehicle.  The Caravel, you might recall, was left in Texas a couple of months ago, after I attended the LBJ Grasslands Vintage Rally in Decatur.  Fellow Airstreamer Paul Mayeux has been holding it at his shop ever since.  He did a few repairs and tweaks for me in the meantime.  Now I’ve got to figure out how to get it back, because I’d like to use it sometime this summer, which means I’m going to have to find a tow vehicle.  All I have is a Honda Fit, which (despite being a very useful and versatile car) can only move itself.

But first, the urgent stuff.  Temporary Bachelor Man (TBM) is BACK!  Armed with his cunning, a credit card, and a freezer full of food left by Temporary Bachelorette Woman (TBW), he will somehow navigate urban Tucson in the blazing heat of summer and survive to tell the tale.  And you’ll be the witnesses.

First mission: re-boot the house.  Although preparing a house in Tucson for vacation is not very difficult, there were still a number of things to get back in shape once I arrived.  Light the water heater, turn the air conditioning on (it was 92 in the house and took seven hours to cool down thanks to massive thermal mass in the adobe blocks), sweep up the dead bugs (few), add water to all the dried-up drains, check on the plants, plug in the essential bachelor electronics, check the car tires, wash the dust off the car, and go to fetch the nutritional food pyramid of TBM (frozen desserts are at the top).

OK, that’s all done.  Now to fill the long quiet days of a man left to his own devices.  Without a definite plan of things to do outside the house, there’s too much risk that I’ll spend all day inside working, and that’s the kind of routine that turns TBM into Temporarily Psycho Man.  There are several good events calendars for Tucson online, plus favorite haunts like The Loft Cinema, Mt Lemmon, and Saguaro National Park that all have regular events.  (Mt Lemmon seems to be off-limits at the moment due to the danger of wildfires, but with the start of monsoon season approximately July 4, that ban should be lifted.  There are no fires up there and no smoke of any of the Arizona fires can be seen from Tucson at this point.)  Browsing the events calendars gives me a few ideas of TBM-worthy events to visit and possibly photograph.  Events featuring food usually rise to the top of the list.

I have three weeks in my present guise, and then TBW arrives and we change identities again, this time into the “Kid — What Kid?” couple.  We did this last year and it was amazing.  For three weeks in July we will be utterly childless, while Emma is engaged in summer camps and grandparent-spoiling up in Vermont.  We’ll go roam around Arizona with a very loose plan, and if I’m able to get it worked out, we’ll even have the Caravel to do some of it in.  So really I’ll be spending a fair bit of my TBM time planning for the next phase, but that’s OK.  I see adventure ahead, and that’s what really makes it work for me.  Let the first phase of summer begin!