No Ghosts in Swansea

My friend in Quartzsite and went on an adventure to search out the ghost town, Swansea, that once grew around a working copper mine. Abandoned in 1943, it didn’t really capture my imagination. Nor was my friend impressed witb the few ruins that comprise the so-called ghost of a town. (Apparently she didn’t know that many ghost towns are nothing but empty ground, with not even a ruin to mark the spot.)

Making the town more disappointing than it should have been, I skidded on the scree and skinned my knee quite badly. Luckily, I was wearing long pants, and even luckilier, I was wearing my fanny pack complete with first aid kit, so real harm done. This episode taught me two things — always bring my walking sticks (on purpose, I didn’t) and don’t be lazy — always wear some sort of pack complete with emergency supplies. (By accident, I did.)

The real joy of the trip (next, of course, to being able to spend time with my online-now-offline friend Holly), was the trip. Gorgeous scenery. A huge laugh when fifteen miles down a dirt road where we had seen no traffic, we had to stop at a stop sign. Admittedly, we were at a crossroads where we intersected another dirt road with no traffic for miles either way, but ludicrous for all that. (Holly took a photo of the stop sign. I didn’t, figuring we all know what a stop sign looks like.)

And wow, did she impress me when we came to ruts cutting across the road with no way around. These ditches (they were deep enough to drown my poor bug, so no way does “rut” give you an idea of how deep they were; if I were walking, I could not have negotiated them) had been cut by off-road vehicles, and seemed impassable. I thought we might have had to try to fill in the ditches so we could cross (we couldn’t turn back because we had already crossed an uncrossible patch of road, and besides, Holly is as stubborn as I am about backtracking) but Holly just studied those two parallel ditches, calculated the angle she would need to go to cross them, then put her car in gear and drove across as if those ditches were pinstripes in the road. Oh, my.

As interesting as that particular adventure was, I think I’ll stick to highways.

See you on down the road.

***

(Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.”)

***

Adventure in Quartzsite, Arizona

Almost six years ago I met a woman online who had lost her husband a month and a day before Jeff died. For all these years, we’ve helped each other try to make sense of the senseless. When we first came in contact, she was living in Vermont and I was living in Colorado. And now life, that champion and at times demented chess player, has brought us together in Arizona, in a most peculiar town called Quartzsite. Quartzsite is a quintessential mobile community. Midwestern snow birds and other RV nomads winter here, increasing the population from 3,000 permanent residents to well over a million folks. BLM land sprouts RV camps like weeds, and even the permanent dwellings have a temporary air, as if at any moment the owners will pack up the building and move.

RVing is an interesting lifestyle, and apparently millions love it, but I have no interest in joining the RV community. It seems . . . No. I won’t go there. Even though the lifestyle seems a bit inane to me, people who live it love it, so I should keep my opinions to myself. (But did you notice how I slipped my opinion in there anyway?)

Besides being an RV community, having the best inland fish and chips, and hosting perhaps the world’s largest gem and mineral show, Quartzsite has one other claim to fame: Hi Jolly. Haiji Ali, a Greek born in Syria, was hired by the US Army as a camel herder for it’s Camel Corps. When the Camel Corps was abandoned, Hi Jolly moved to Quartzsite and engaged in a variety of enterprises.

Anyway, this movable and memorable town is where Holly and I finally met. Although friends back in California worry about my meeting people I’ve only known online, I wasn’t worried. You can’t share the most painful emotions of your lives without coming to some sort of truthful understanding of each other, and so it was with the two of us. We simply segued from typing our words to each other to speaking them aloud.

A wonderful woman. A wonderful visit. And she graciously agreed to let me take a photo of her with my VW.

***

(Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.”)

***

I am Where I Am

It’s been a strange couple of days. On Saturday, when I left the house where I was staying and headed out, I started crying. It mystified me because I was glad to leave that place. I’d been invited, and I paid rent, but I never felt welcome, felt as if the dog’s dislike of me was an imposition for them even though I was the one who bore the scars of his dislike. And it’s not as if I were leaving that town forever. I fully intend to resume dance classes once I’ve completed my journey. So why the tears? All I can figure is that with tears I express whatever I can’t express any other way.

On Sunday, I went on an arduous 4-mile hike in Joshua Tree National Park despite the incredible wind, and when I returned to my campsite, I felt as if it was time to end the journey. After all, I’d camped by myself, challenged myself with a difficult and exhausting hike, napped under the stars.

I can’t say I particularly enjoyed all of that, but it is adventure, and adventure is what I once craved. Maybe still do. But it’s hard for me to crave what I am doing. (Think about it. If you crave a pizza, do you still crave it while you are eating it?)

You’d think I’d be ecstatic to finally undertake this journey, but to a certain extent it feels . . . not empty but devoid of excitement. In one way, this is good — it means I’ve accomplished what I set out to do after Jeff died. Since he was my home, I had to find home within myself. And so I did. I am wherever I am, and wherever I am, I am home. (In the interest of fairness, I have to admit that despite what I just said, I get a bit panicky when I think of the immense distances I will be traveling, and how far I will be getting from all that is familiar.) In another way, lack of excitement is not so good. Shouldn’t I be beside myself with joy to be embarking on such an adventure? But ah, that is the key. I am not beside myself. I am in myself.

Don’t get me wrong. I am glad to be on this great adventure, glad to be able to experience this vast country, but it’s a quiet kind of gladness, an acceptance that things will not always be comfortable, not always fun.

But always beautiful.

***

(Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.”)

***

All of these photos depict parts of the trail I hiked, including the photo that looks like all rocks.

And So the Adventure Begins

I survived my first night in the “wilderness.” I use quotation marks because although Joshua Tree National Park is considered a wilderness area, the campgrounds are anything but. Lots of human-made noises — loud talking, shrieks of laughter. The pounding of axes splitting wood. The crackling of fires burning. Dogs barking. And there are lots of bright lights.

The only thing wild is the wind. I was going to hike today, but the wind is so strong, it’s hard to stay on my feet. I’m hoping this is just a morning wind and things will calm down later. I have no idea if this tent will survive the day. It’s trying to pull up stakes and move to another spot. I’d leave, but I paid for two days and, more importantly, I don’t know if I could “untent” in this weather.

The most interesting experience so far was my late night/early morning nap under the stars.

When I woke at 2:30 am, I noticed that the light coming into the tent was diffused, and since I knew this was new moon time, I realized the light must be starlight. I debated a few minutes about going out — I was exhausted since I hadn’t slept much, and although I was cold, I hated to lose what warmth I had. But I reminded myself this is why I’m here — to experience that which I can’t experience in the city — and so I dragged my mat and quilt outside, laid it atop the picnic table, and settled myself on my back.

And oh! What stars! It has been years since I have seen so many stars. I lay there for a while, watching the little dipper drift from right to left and tried to comprehend that what was seeing was the effects of the earths rotation. The frigid wind finally drove me inside.

I took a short stroll this morning, and now I’m trying to decide if I should take on the wind and go for a longer hike or if I should stay here and wonder if the tent will hold.

This wind reminds me why a small tent is better than a large one, but considering that I’ve never camped before, I wanted to be able to stand upright and not have to deal with the claustrophobia of a tiny tent. I might have to rethink this.

Another item that’s iffy is the black base layer I am wearing. It’s made in two layers, and the outer layer is supposed to be merino wool, but considering that it turned my sleeping pad black with wool dust, I get the impression it’s a cheap wool. Still, the pants kept my legs warm, so there is that to be said for it.

I’d planned to blog every day again, and though I am writing this as planned (Saturday, Feb 6), I don’t have a signal so I can post it. I hope you weren’t worried.

***

(Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.”)

***

Happy Trails to Me!

Well, I’ve done it! I’ve hit the road. Now it’s just a matter of seeing what comes my way. Or maybe it’s the world that will see what comes its way — me!

?????????????

***

(Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.”)

An Auspicious Beginning

I’m beginning the countdown to adventure. This Saturday, I will be leaving on a cross-country trip — camping, hiking, backpacking, and meeting online friends for the first time. So much excitement (and trepidation) ahead of me!

To give myself the best send-off, I will start my trip at the most felicitous place I know: the intersection of Happy Trails Highway and Tao Road. How can that not be an auspicious beginning?

Yep, there really is such an intersection, just a scant four miles from where I am staying. Since the street signs are barely visible in the photo, I have blown them up so you can see them a bit better.

Happy Trails Highway and Tao Road. Such a great place to begin a journey, a quest for life and joy.

Happy Trails Highway and Tao Road. Such a great place to begin a quest for life and joy!

***

(Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.”)

Countdown to Adventure

I will be leaving in exactly six days to make the journey I’ve talked about so often, and I have a confession to make. I’m . . . well, I’m not exactly afraid, but I am apprehensive. I have never done anything like what I am going to be undertaking. I only camped once as a child, and certainly never by myself. I have never driven cross-country by myself, and definitely not in an aged car, no matter how well restored. (And there is a matter of a mysterious leak onto my leg when it rains that no one can seem to find.) I’ve hiked by myself, but always with others or close to where I was staying. I’ve never slept under dark skies where the stars are so brilliant and numerous, you feel as if you are falling into the void. I’ve never backpacked and still don’t know if I can. And, I have never found joy in the discomforts of travel.

But, despite my trepidation, and maybe even because of it, I am starting to feel excited about my adventure. So many “never have”s to be done! So many wondrous sights to see. (I just corrected a typo. I wrote “many wondrous sites to see,” which makes me realize how important this trip is. Even with my data being severely limited, I still spend too much time online. Now it’s time to explore offline territory!)

I am as ready as I will ever be. Despite the age of my VW bug, it’s as reliable as possible, with a new engine and transmission, new paint, new brakes. (As a test, I took a couple of drives “down the hill,” over an often foggy pass to the more populous area of the county along a congested five-lane highway riddled with road construction detours and delays, and the bug sailed along as if that treacherous road were a lazy river.) I have a carload of equipment, some of which I hope never to have to use because those items fall under the category of “emergency.” I have clothes for both winter and summer, insulated sleeping pads and camping quilts rated for a much more frigid climate than any I plan to travel. (I sleep cold, or rather, I don’t sleep cold. If I’m cold, I shiver all night.) If I can’t get warm, I have a nalgene bottle to use as a hot water bottle and hand warmers to tuck around my long-underwear-insulated body. I have at least a week’s worth of food. (Which reminds, me, I need to get several more days worth of water.) I have hiking poles and even a bear canister to protect my food if I spend the night away from my car in bear country. I have lanterns — solar lanterns and small battery-powered lanterns as well as a head lamp. I have word puzzles and pencils, paper and a printout of my WIP. I have maps and guidebooks, a binder full of notes, a head full of research. And I have a solar charger and an external battery for my phone, so as long as I have any sort of signal, I will be prepared.

Yep. Prepared. For anything. At least, I think I am. And if not, well, I’ll figure it out. (It’s hard to prepare for something if you don’t know exactly what that something is.)

Some people have found my preparations amusing, and I suppose it’s possible I’ve gone overboard, but this is not supposed to be a death march. It’s a journey into life, a quest to find joy in the rubble of my sorrow. And being prepared, even overly prepared, leaves me free to experience whatever comes without the trepidation I currently feel.

Note: I will be heading east across Interstate 10. If it’s warm enough on the return trip several weeks from now, I will be traveling on a more northernly route. If you want to meet for lunch or something, let me know, and I’ll put you on my list. (If you’ve previously expressed an interest, you’re already on my list!)

***

(Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.”)

Making Do in a Throw-Away World

In three days, my car will be 44 years old. It has never had another owner. I have never had another car. Despite people telling me I need to get rid of such an unsafe vehicle and upgrade to a modern car with all sorts of safety features unheard of four decades ago, my VW bug still runs. And with its new engine, it should keep going another 100,000 miles or so. Someday, I am sure, I will have to get a new car, but meantime, the two of us keep chugging along, unsafe or not.

And I never upgraded to DVD or Blue Ray or any of the other modern movie machines. I still have my 20-year-old VCR. Still have a collection of VHS movies I inherited from my deceased life mate/soul deskmate. I see no reason to upgrade because the stories are still the same no matter what machinery is used. Besides, watching those tapes — the tapes we watched together — makes the experience special in a personal way. If ever the tapes are destroyed (and since they are stored in a non-controlled environment, it’s entirely possible), I will get rid of my VCR but will not upgrade to a DVD. (Though come to think of it, I do have DVD player I have never used — it belonged to my parents. But it is packed away, as is my 20-year-old television.)

So, it should come as no surprise if I tell you I have an aged computer, though the idea of an eight-and-a-half-year-old machine being obsolete boggles my mind. The PC is still shiny new. Still works as fast as it ever did. Still does what I ask of it. Still gives me great pleasure just to contemplate its arrival in my life. (It was a gift, unbelievable and unbelievably awesome.)

But now its very life is threatened.

I must be one of the very few who like Vista, the operating system that was new when I got the machine. I loved the ease of operation, the graphics, the feeling of power beneath the hood. (Most of that power lies dormant. It was supposed to be able to tie all sorts of media together, and I only used it as a word and photo processer, a means of browsing the internet, and a portal to my blog.) Microsoft will only support Vista until April of 2017, and already the ramifications of that non-support are showing. Internet Explorer can no longer be updated. The most recent manifestation I have available is IE9, and WordPress as well as a few other treasured sites no longer work with IE9. Most recently, Google has announced that as of April 2016, Chrome will no longer support Vista, which means that Vista machines using Chrome will be exceedingly vulnerable. I can still use Firefox (though I never did see the greatness that others do), but then . . . ?

I suppose then I’ll have to get a new machine, though I really don’t want to. By next year, Windows 10 will itself be aging, so I won’t have the full lifespan of the system. And if by chance Windows 11 is available, well . . . I don’t look forward to using an untried system. Mostly, though, I don’t like being penalized for taking care of my machine. Don’t like that it has arbitrarily become obsolete.

And especially I don’t like feeling that my most cherished values — conserve, use up, make do, leave a light footprint upon the earth — are also obsolete.

***

(Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.”)

Packing

After I told a friend I was going to be leaving at the end of next week for a cross-country trip, she asked, “Are you packing?”

“Mostly finished,” I said. “Just have to pack the car.”

Another friend laughed. “She didn’t mean that kind of packing.”

A moment of confusion, then the light dawned. “No,” I said. “No gun.”

The second friend said to the first, “She doesn’t believe in guns.”

Rifle TargetThe truth is, I have no objection to guns or any weapon. I certainly don’t believe in gun regulation — there is too much government interference in our lives now. As for me, personally, I realize we have a right, perhaps even an obligation to protect ourselves from harm, but I don’t want to own a gun. (Though I did enjoy my experiences at a local gun range, shooting a variety of firearms. Was actually pretty good at it, too, for a beginner.)

Any weapon you have can potentially be used against you. Even worse, you carry a weapon and are so aware of carrying it, that it changes things, maybe even attracts unwanted energies; you don’t carry it at all, so it does you no good; or you become so used to carrying it that you no longer remember you have it, which brings about a dangerous situation as you fumble for your gun or knife or pepper spray. (Well, maybe you are different, but that’s how I am. I did think about getting pepper spray or hornet spray, but unless you know how the wind is blowing, in the confusion of a confrontation, you stand a good chance of having the stuff blown back into your own eyes.)

Even if I were able to do everything right and were able to protect myself with a gun, I doubt I’d shoot it. I do not want that sort of karma, even if it’s justified. Besides, knowing me, there’d I’d be, holding my puny gun on the villain, and wondering if it were cosmically correct. What gives my life more importance than his/hers? Is this really how I want to live my life? Is this how I want to die? And while my mind is going round and round and round, the villain would do whatever it is that villains do. And so that expensive bit of weaponry would be worth no more than a cap gun.

Still, I am going to be packing — packing a smile. A recent fortune cookie told me, “Your winsome smile will be your sure protection.”

And if my smile isn’t enough, well, I am taking a pen, and a pen is mightier than the sword.

So, see? I got it covered!

***

(Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.”)

I Need a Vacation From Civilization!

I miss small stores. Miss the individual touch, the smiles, the thank you’s. I realize in many cases these courtesies were coerced, a condition of employment, but still, there was a feeling of one’s patronage being appreciated.

Now, at best, the clerks seem to think we need to thank them for deigning to wait on us. At worst, we are left to wander vast aisles unassisted, with only vague hopes of finding what we need.

I had many errands to run today, and for some reason, each turned out to be a nightmare in its own way. I went to a gas station and pumped my gas, but the pump didn’t turn off when the tank was full. Gas gushed all over my car, puddled on the concrete, dripped on my shoes. They blamed me, of course, saying I wasn’t holding the nozzle tightly enough against the car. They said there couldn’t be anything wrong the pump, that it had been fixed, and the technician had just left. Hmm. A coincidence? I think not. They didn’t want to refund the money for the spilled gas, wouldn’t do anything to compensate for the mess. I cleaned up my car as best as I could, and went to the “hardware” store.

Onsecretce upon a time, hardware stores were small operations, selling nails and screws by the piece, run by folk who knew every single item in the store, where to find it, and how to use it. Hardware stores now are gargantuan, with nary a single nail in sight. (Packages of nails, of course, but not bins full of unwrapped items.) Not that I needed nails, just using it as an example. What I needed was a bit of weather stripping for the hood of my car. Every person I asked sent me to a different aisle. One woman finally said I needed aisle number 7, and that she’d send someone to help me. No one came, and of course, there was no weatherstripping anywhere on those shelves. I looked down the next aisle, and when I still couldn’t find the product and couldn’t find anyone else to ask, I stood at the front of the store and all but shouted, “Can someone please help me?”

A woman hurried over to me, shushed me, and said she’d be right with me. I said, “Where can I find weatherstripping?”

“Aisle nine,” she said, and turned away.

“No,” I said. “I have been sent to aisle seven, eight, six, four. I need someone to help me.”

“When I get a chance, I’ll meet you there.”

I finally found what I needed, and eventually she did show up. She told me her name and said if I ever came back for anything, to ask for her. She’d be my personal shopper because, as she said, “We can’t have customers making scenes.” What scene? Asking for help is making a scene?

She also said that before I applied the weather stripping, I’d need to clean the area with rubbing alcohol. She said they didn’t sell rubbing alcohol, so I’d have to go to a drugstore.

After I rung up my own purchase (couldn’t bear dealing with another clerk), I went to a “drugstore.” The drugstores of my youth were completely different from drugstores today. Most were small, individually run stores, with . . . well, whatever. Doesn’t matter. Like hardware stores, most drugstores today are corporate megamonsters, with few sales personnel in sight. I finally had to go to the pharmacy to ask where I could find rubbing alcohol. I went where directed, but all I could find was isopropyl alcohol. Back I went to the pharmacy. “Is isopropyl alcohol the same as rubbing alcohol?” I asked.

“They work the same,” the heavily accented pharmacist said.

“But are they the same thing?” I asked.

“They both disinfect,” he said.

“I don’t want it for a disinfectant,” I explained rather testily. “I just need to know if isopropyl alcohol is the same thing as rubbing alcohol.”

A woman behind the pharmacist counter gave me a dirty look and said, “He already answered you.”

Um. No. He hadn’t. By then I was frustrated beyond belief, so I turned away and did what I should have done in the first place, checked the internet.

Oh, my.

It’s definitely time for me to take a vacation from civilization.

***

(Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.”)

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