One Woman, One Pry Bar and Determination

Today’s post is a “What I did this summer,” story. But the truth is it began over five years ago.

We have a small home in the Arizona mountains. Like much of the land in Strawberry it is on a steep hillside as it backs up to the Mogollon Rim. When the house was built we had to have fill dirt and rock brought in to give us a somewhat level foundation. From the back to the front of the house it’s still a three foot drop, but it was workable. As you can imagine where the bulldozer stopped leveling the ground there was a steep drop off with this fill dirt. In my eyes it wasn’t a very pretty sight. But it also wasn’t a priority.

Until the summer five years ago when I looked around and decided to make good use of the natural sandstone found everywhere on the property and build a stone wall up the hillside. The sandstone was so plentiful it seemed an easy job to level and stack. But it was not. The pry bar immediately gave a resounding thump as it bounced off a big rock. It was so heavy that after less than fifteen minutes I was ready to cry in frustration. Of course, Bob ran over to help (that’s how he is) which only irritated me more. This was to be my project but I couldn’t even move one single stone. There was a big ‘woe is me’ pity party, blaming myself for being out of shape and unable to manage the 5000 feet altitude.

You know how hindsight is 20-20? A short month later I had one of those moments. Yes, that’s when I was diagnosed with Stage 3 breast cancer. Ah ha! It was a moment of clarity. Suddenly, the fatigue, shortness of breath and lack of strength made sense. If only it had been recognized sooner…but that’s a story for another day except to say, if you are a woman get your mammogram. My doctor had recommended a baseline study and with no family history of problems my prescription had been sitting on the counter waiting for the opportune time. Because of, well, priorities… Don’t be like me. Make your health a priority.

Fast forward five years to this summer.

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Planting a little peach tree right in the middle of the wall.

Other projects finished, my attention turned back to the front yard. I dug out the pry bar and headed back over to the hillside. Five years of better health brings with it strength and to my surprise, ability. Ability to pound the pry bar into the ground. Ability to move big rocks. And ability to persevere. I began stacking the sandstone, learning as the project moved along how to make them level and how to lock them together. At first, I would wait on Bob to help move the big rocks and then came realization that one person can do a whole lot using a lever and fulcrum. Learning that the same small stone that keeps a rock wiggling when you stand on it can also be used as a pivot for a much larger rock. Slowly, and some days, ever so slowly, the wall began to take shape. Bob would call and ask what we accomplished that day and I’d tell him, “I moved one rock.” Some days I imagined myself like the ancient Egyptians building the pyramids but thank goodness I wasn’t. Still one rock at a time it was built.

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The finished product?

As summer ends is my rock wall finished? Maybe. Maybe not. I still haven’t decided. It’s far enough over and close enough to the brambly manzanita bushes that it could be done. Or it might be continued next summer. In the mean time we planted some vines in the cracks and a few lilacs dug up from Mom’s yard. Hopefully they will become well established over the winter.

Before leaving you’ll get a laugh from this picture that comes with an explanation. I asked Bob to take a flattering photo I could share (Rebecca says if I wanted a flattering picture I should have looked at myself in the mirror in those pants…) But I gave Bob my camera, the one he never uses, with instructions to take a panoramic picture, something he has never done. He tried to figure it out but my directions were pretty poor as was my impatience. Ha. As you can see, the picture turned out so terribly that it’s funny.

100_3425And that’s what I did this summer. Just call me the stone stacker.

A Harrowing Experience

Though this story happened years ago I still feel the chills and remember it as though it were yesterday.

To set the stage I must share one key bit of information about myself that I never tell anyone but I’ll disclose to you today. When I was 12 our family relocated to a small town on an island in Southeast Alaska. Sitka was a beautiful area especially when the sun was shining (which did not happen every day since it received over 100 inches of rain a year). Because it was on the edge of the ocean the townspeople decided that all children should know how to swim so they built an Olympic size pool at the junior high which was open for summer swimming and during the school year used for lessons. Fine and dandy, right? Well, except when my family moved there my sister and I thought we were too old for lessons since everyone else knew how to swim. This did not pose a problem to me until the semester before high school graduation. You know, the time period when school officials are reviewing your transcripts to make sure you didn’t miss an important required subject. They looked at my records: Good grades? Check. All required classes? Check. College application turned in? Check. Passed Basic Beginning Swimming? Whoops…where was that? After questioning me, and probably my parents, it was discovered that I had missed that important requirement for graduation and the swim teacher would have to tutor me or I wouldn’t graduate.

Oh the trauma I faced. Like a cat, I did not want to get into the cold pool, hated water up my nose and was scared when my feet couldn’t touch the bottom. But the swim teacher (who deserved a medal) did not let my protests sway him from his work and we practiced and practiced until finally I could jump off the low diving board, swim the length of the pool (without crying) and tread water for what seemed like an eternity.

Whew. I could graduate.

There you have it. I don’t call it a fear, I call it a healthy respect of water…naturally Matthew has the same feeling.

Back to my story.

Years had passed and I was married in Arizona and son Matthew was about five years old. In the mountains of Arizona there are many small manmade lakes. The Mogollon Rim country is idyllic especially in the summer, large puffy clouds skate across the sapphire blue sky. I often romanticized about wafting along leaning back in a small boat with my fingers gently skimming the clear deep water. Yes, I read too many romance stories when I was a teen… but I thought we needed to have a small little boat, big enough that we didn’t have to row but easy to transport to these mountain lakes.

In any case, the more common sense and practical spouse of mine suggested that we first try renting to see whether boating would fit our lifestyle, a smarter choice before running out to buy a craft we might rarely use. And so rent we did. Since Bob, Matthew and I were spending a week’s vacation in the mountains at my parent’s cabin it seemed this would be a great time to hire a boat for a day at one of the closer rim lakes. We picked up a nice 12-footer just a short drive from Blue Ridge Reservoir with plenty of room for the three of us.

The lake is contained in a long, steep and narrow canyon and is extremely deep. Tall Ponderosa Pine trees line it but few are able to grow roots in the bedrock so are only found higher along the ridge. From the boat ramp the reservoir snakes around to the dam. It is spectacularly beautiful. And for reasons that will soon become apparent you will have to be content with this picture from The Payson Roundup.

They changed the name to CC Cragin recently. Don't ask me why. The shoreline doesn't look nearly as steep from this areal view.

They changed the name to CC Cragin recently. Don’t ask me why. The shoreline doesn’t look nearly as steep from this aerial view.

Or you can use your imagination and look at this photo I took last week up there when we discovered the lake has been drained for major maintenance on the pump system.

This is at the head of the lake but very green and low because it's been drained.

This is at the head of the lake but very green and low because it’s been drained. Note those delicate wispy clouds.

The day was everything I imagined: the puffy clouds, the big blue sky, the cool clear water. For a while we putzed around the dam, throwing our fishing lines in but not caring whether we caught anything. The remote location meant it was not a crowded lake but still we saw several other boats and fishermen angling for one of the native Arizona trout but happy to catch a still delicious stocked trout. It was just as peaceful as in my dream.

Until the sun disappeared behind the clouds.

We had lived in Arizona long enough to understand the threat of Monsoon storms but hidden down in this canyon we could see no sign of a significant weather change until the clouds were nearly overhead. Still, we weren’t concerned and just decided it was time pack up our stuff and head back. As we putted along with the little five horsepower motor it soon became apparent that the wind had shifted and now was blowing directly down upon us making forward progress difficult. The idyllic day was rapidly deteriorating, my bright blue sky dotted with cottony clouds of a happy Bob Ross painting was hidden now by dark angry strokes from a tortured Van Gogh scene turning into a full-fledged summer deluge with thunder and lightning bringing with it wind and rain. It happened that I was handling the motor at the time and we decided we needed a more experienced driver so that we could get off the lake as quickly as possible therefore we would need to trade seats.

Matthew was up in the bow of the boat enjoying the bouncy ride. But we knew changing seats in a small boat requires coordination so Bob and I talked about moving as we had done before. Everything went well, I moved to the middle seat and Bob to the rear…

And just as he sat on the bench a ferocious gust of wind pushed the bow of the boat up in to the air with such force that everything changed! In an instant Matthew was thrown out of the boat, our belongings dumped into the lake and the back of the boat rapidly filled with water. A half second later Bob realizing the crisis jumped out of the boat to take the weight out of the back end. He snagged Matthew, who was screaming his head off, but quite safe wearing his life jacket and at the same time with Herculean effort pushed the back end of the boat up out of the water. Where was I? Well, it turns out I was going to take that Basic Beginning Swimmers Certificate down with me to Davey Jones’ locker. Yes, I was hanging on for dear life in a sinking boat.

There we were, a screaming mess, a half sunk boat on the far edge of the lake. Not another boat in sight. Fortunately, our hero Bob still holding onto Matthew and holding the boat from completely submerging somehow managed to swim and pull us to shore. As Matthew and I scrambled onto the steep ledge soaked, covered in mud and crying our hearts out we watched Bob bail water out of the boat. In typical monsoon fashion, nature’s fury was pelting huge rain drops down upon us but the rocky shore was so steep we could not climb to any shelter. There we sat huddled in the cold rain.

And when I say ‘we’ I mean me because Bob did not stop to cry, instead he bailed out the boat and somehow managed to get the motor running. It took him a good amount of time to convince Matthew and me to climb back into the boat if there had been any other way to walk we would have taken it. The rest of the ride was uneventful; by then the storm had died and there was only the chattering of our teeth to be heard above the motor. It didn’t take us long to unload the boat when we got it back on its trailer because everything was left at the bottom of the lake; the camera, our fishing poles, everything. Bob’s company ring, long a source of pride like a fraternity, was gone slipping his finger off as he pushed the boat out of the water.

Even though this happened years and years ago none of us has had a desire to do anything but fish from shore since. So there it is: my most harrowing experience. A day I never ever will repeat because I never ever will get in a small boat again.

Ever.

Life Lived Differently

A Lesson to be Remembered

Today was one of those days when I remember life with Matthew is always different. Not necessarily more challenging than raising one of your kids…just different.

We’re up in the Arizona mountains this week and have been working on yard projects so I told Matthew that we would do something fun today and go hiking. He was all for it and gathered his things as requested ready in short order to head out. This was a surprise to me as Matthew is like many people who believe walking is just a reason to get from point A to point B and that it’s only necessary to get to point B if they have something really worthwhile, like say, French fries.

No matter, I took Matthew’s enthusiasm as a sign of, what, maturity(?) and we jumped in the car. It was only a few miles to the trail head and I was talking about what we might see along the way when we came to the turn off sign. Suddenly reality hit Matthew and he let me know in no uncertain terms that turning off the road was not what he had in mind.

Most of you who know Matthew have not seen some of strong negative autistic traits like hand flapping because they are infrequent but he does do them when stressed or particularly frustrated. And there it was, as we drove into the parking lot he started telling me, “No, no, no…” with both hands flapping.

Still, undaunted and because the little beagle was excited to be on such an adventure, I convinced him to get out of the car…and then out to the trail. The hike I chose was a trail I had been on years ago just before being diagnosed with cancer. That trip we hadn’t made it very far before I pooped out and in hindsight I blamed it on my health, not the trail. So I told Matthew he could make it; that it wasn’t all straight up the mountain; and that we might see some elk or deer.

The sign said it was a short two miles to the springs and hey, we’ve been walking on the treadmill so it should have been pretty easy. Well, maybe it was easy for the dog but for Matthew, it was not so good. Much of the trail was eroded from rains and so narrow that we had to walk single file. Matthew is not brave when it comes to walking downhill when one side has a steep drop off especially if he could not hold on to my hand. But I was determined we would complete the task and my running commentary as we trudged along was filled with positive affirmations and prompts to hang on to the dog’s leash (in Matthew’s case, it is helpful as well as distracting to be responsible for something besides himself) as well as reminders to quit protesting.

Here we are. Oh, I know it doesn't look too bad but you can see the trail is worn down about a foot from the surrounding hillside even on this nice stretch.

Here we are. Oh, I know it doesn’t look too bad but you can see the trail is worn down about a foot from the surrounding hillside even on this nice stretch.

I hoped once we reached the ridge line the hike would become more level and easier walking but it didn’t and gradually I began to realize that with every uphill step how much of a challenge the return going down would be. But the fates intervened and just as we neared the end of the trail we ran into some high dollar mansions built on the top of the mountain. A spectacular view of course, but I knew that those rich people probably weren’t driving a dirt road with their Maserati’s and that we might be able to walk back down the mountain on paved road. Sure enough, with a small amount of trespassing we managed to find a road for this gated and very secluded neighborhood.

Protests and all, it was still beautiful.

Protests and all, it was still beautiful.

As we walked back Matthew decided he no longer needed to cry and the city boy was much more comfortable…until his leg started cramping and I was reminded that those legs have to work so much harder because of how he has to walk.

A challenge in deed. I tried to get Matthew to stop and rest but once we hit pavement his only thought was to find the car, which we finally did.

At the end Matthew was very happy with himself for making the whole trip but when I mentioned that we could take Dad along next time I was met with more very loud protests.

On the plus side, the little dog was a great walking companion but curled up like a pill bug once she reached the back seat of the car. Whew.

So, what’s it like for you? Have you ever said, “Hey, let’s go for a hike!” and everybody piled in the car because they weren’t really listening and thought you said, “Let’s go get an ice cream.” only to realize the truth after you passed Dairy Queen???

Matthew do you want to go on another hike???

Matthew do you want to go on another hike???

By the way, I haven’t yet figured out what Matthew thought we would be doing that was fun, though maybe it was going to the new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle movie, that he would think is fun and he would willingly jump into the car for.

A Trip Complete

This is the last day of my trip diary. In a few days I’ll post some observations, statistics, and other worthless nonsense. If you have a question you’re dying to know the answer that I haven’t covered, ask away. We’ll include it in the update.

This antenna topper Jack began his life on the first day of the trip. The picture on the right is our last day. He looks like I feel...

This antenna topper Jack began his life on the first day of the trip. The picture on the right is our last day. He looks like I feel…

But let me tell you about today. This is the last leg of our trip. Had we a few more days we could have visited the reservation and a few other spots but today we’re ready to go home.

Our first stop is a remote town on the Arizona Strip called Colorado City. Since you might not be familiar with this area I’ll share what little I know about it. Colorado City has made the news for years because many residents are members of a polygamist sect. For longer before that their remote location allowed residents to live as they wished with little government intervention. Polygamy was once approved by the Mormon Church but they ended the practice in the late 1800’s. The FLDS is one sect, no longer associated with the church, who has continued this lifestyle. You can read much more about it in this 2011 news article from the Arizona Republic: Colorado City, Still an FLDS Stronghold.

Our journey today took us directly through Colorado City and gave us a rare opportunity to catch a glimpse of these families. While we weren’t surprised to see the huge homes which would make sense in multi-wife and especially multi-children families we were surprised to see the high fences that kept out prying eyes of nosey people like us.

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We did see many residents…maybe one family??? working in the garden. We only saw women and children. Honestly, it was one of the most creepy areas we have ever traveled. I prayed that the truck would not break down and we decided that driving only one street was good enough for us.north to alaska 141

After having met and talked to so many independent women on our journey we would have liked to learn why/how these women could be so dependent on one man.

In the end we were very glad that we drove through there but even more glad to leave.

On to something more fun. Did you know of the 4.6 Million visitors to the Grand Canyon each year less than ten percent find their way to the North Rim? You can add us to those numbers. The drive from St. George to the Grand Canyon NR was yet another two lane road but easy driving and beautiful painted rock scenery. The view of the canyon is just as spectacular as from the south and yet it is different. More trees dot the cliffs and I think the elevation is higher. Matthew thought it was pretty but he still chatters his teeth when I ask him about it, indicating he thinks it is more than a little scary. (We’re still not very brave travelers.)north to alaska 167

The drive from Jacob’s Lake to the 89, the north-south road to Flagstaff, took us down to the valley of the Colorado, and yet the river was in a gorge still several hundred feet lower. We continue to be awed at the power of nature and wonder at the relative insignificance of man.

After driving through the western part of the Navajo Reservation we eventually made it to Flagstaff and yes, then our first freeway driving since we left Seattle.

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Finally, after more than one month on the road and a whole lot of miles we completed our journey. We discovered that it is still summer…and well over 100F though it is evening.

Home.

The black cat (Spooky) won’t come near us but the yellow cat (Socks) has been crying since he realized it was us. Matthew is very happy to be home, back to his computer and his favorite TV shows and all his stuff (with the addition of his new Superman pal).

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So there you have it. Nine thousand nine hundred thirty three miles, through city and country, heat and cold, sun and rain we hope you enjoyed traveling with us. Tomorrow there will be wash to do, a truck to empty and a month’s worth of mail to review. But tonight we’re celebrating with our favorite Mexican dinner and an Alaska Ale. Cheers.home 8589