Snow Geese on a Windy Day

March is leaving with one last bluster. During a sun break a few minutes ago, we looked out to see a cloud of snow geese blow in from the bay and settle to feed on a greening field below. Whitecaps on the blue water, white flecks of snow geese circling against the green…everything this almost-spring morning speaks motion and life. I am reminded of this poem I wrote last spring:

Snow Geese in February
by Joan Husby

In October they come, bombing out of Siberia,
broods in tow to feast on greening fields.
Farmers do not love them, but oh!
such a song of praise this morning.

Sun breaks between gray clouds,
sweeping riverside barns and fields.
Into the sunbright, weaving, sparkling,
float skeins of snow geese without number.
Notes of the master composer dance across a heavenly staff.

In symphony of flight and plaintive calling,
they circle to land like falling lace.

Pebbles and People

The desert near Bouse, Arizona

If you visited our home, you’d see a basket of stones on the bathroom floor, a flat dish with variegated pebbles on the kitchen counter, and another container of rock specimens among the plants by the window. Rocks carry tales of their creation. Hank and I love to notice them as we travel. We like to speculate on what geologic processes shaped the scenery we’re passing.

Recently we visited cousins Darlene and Vernon at their winter home in tiny Bouse, Arizona. A dry riverbed, Bouse Wash, courses behind their RV campsite. On a map, we traced the wash from its beginning in a mountain range to where it emptied into the Colorado River. Sometimes during rainstorms, it fills to a depth of ten feet or more with raging water and has even been known to flood their RV park.

Darlene and Vernon led us across the sandy wash and up the other side, where dry tributaries snaked through low desert depressions. I was amazed at the variety of pebbles beneath our feet; their differing colors and textures. Once they were part of the eroding mountains that encircled the desert in every direction. Yet here they were, individual and beautiful, shaped by weather and water and brought together in a new place, part of a new landscape.

They remind me of the people we met as we journeyed homeward through Nevada, eastern California, and central Oregon. In one Western town, too small to support a restaurant, we found a deli-general store. The proprietor was a tall, dark-skinned young man of Arabic ancestry. He spoke only a few words of English. Although the deli was closed on Sunday, we purchased sandwiches from the refrigerated case. He smiled and gestured toward the tables, inviting us to sit there to eat our sandwiches.

Along Highway 95 in Nevada, we drove through crumbling mining towns such as Goldfield, once the largest community in the state. A few people still live there in mobile homes or small frame buildings, though the streets are studded with the ruins of stately buildings. With only cactus and Joshua trees for vegetation, every discard that anyone has ever thrown away is still visible. Another tiny town, Mina, also seems to struggle for existence, but an oddity in that desert land caught our eye. A large cabin cruiser, with an entry cut through its sides, opened into a restaurant enterprise, so new that the kitchen wasn’t completely set up. We sat down while a wizened little lady took our orders. The only other people in the room were a short, curly-haired Army retiree from South Carolina and his new wife, a tatooed, very friendly buxom blond. In soft Southern drawls, with many “Yes, sirs” and “No, ma’ams”, they told us they lived in a nearby ghost town with a population of five and a grand view of the mountains. They’d come to town to do their laundry, since they had no electricity at home.

In eastern California’s ranching country, we stopped at a remodeled drive-through diner operated by a young couple from Thailand. The man spoke fractured English. His wife had a better command of the language and told us she’d cooked for six years in France before going to San Diego. We wondered but didn’t ask how they’d come to be probably the only Thai people in that vast cattle country.

I carried home some desert pebbles from Bouse Wash to add to my collection. The people we met, representatives of the world’s humanity, I carried home only in memory. Pebbles and people, all of them remind me of what a wide and wonderful world we live in.

Petroglyphs and GPS

Recently, after several hundred miles of freeway driving in snow, rain, mixed snow and rain, wind, and fog, sharing the highway with thousands of slurry-churning big rigs, we finally reached southern Arizona and sunshine.

We’re delighted with our new GPS (Global Positioning System). “Marcy Polo” is a knowledgeable tour director. Her cheerful electronic voice patiently recharts our route after every wrong turn. She even tells us how far we still have to drive and how long it will take us.

Our cell phone keeps us in touch with friends and family, as long as we’re within reach of the nearest cell tower. We have radio and CD player to entertain us, maps and guidebooks to point out places of interest along the way.

Between Yuma and Casa Grande, “Marcy Polo” directs us off the main highway. She sends us through irrigated fields of alfalfa, then through scrubby desert to Arizona’s Painted Rock Petroglyph Site. We lock our GPS and cell phone in the car and walk toward an outcropping of tumbled basalt boulders. We stop to read the informational signs, then walk the trail that leads around the pile of black rocks. Suddenly, the contrast between today’s travel and that of the past comes to life.

We are on an ancient trade route. For centuries, Patayan and Hohokam Indians stopped here to chisel petroglyphs in the desert varnish coating the basalt, exposing lighter rock beneath. Most of the petroglyphs are on one side of the outcrop. Hundreds of them crowd the boulders in a bewildering array of geometric shapes, animals, mythical creatures, humans. Some date back to the time of Christ. One shows a horse and rider, perhaps commemorating the Spaniard’s introduction of the horse to North America. What did the ancient picture messages mean and who were they meant for?

No one knows for sure, but park signs tell us that the broad valley before us had been well- watered before modern settlers drained off the water for use elsewhere. Life here would have been easy for the original inhabitants. Travelers, as well, would have found plenty of food, water, and firewood.

In 1774, an expedition led by Juan Bautista de Anza passed this way, en route to found the town of San Francisco. Standing in the sunshine, we could almost hear the jingling of spurs, the clop-clop of horses’ hooves. Later, stage coaches of the Butterfield Overland Mail route rumbled past carrying letters, newspapers, and merchandise. The soldiers of the famous Mormon Battalion also marched by, on their way from Council Bluffs, Iowa to San Diego to help secure new lands in the west. Some of these travelers from the 1700s and 1800s left their own inscriptions.

I don’t understand how our GPS works. I don’t really understand the workings of our cell phone or radio, either. I’m thankful we live in a day when we have such wonders, but I’m also thankful for the enduring messages left by those ancient peoples. The Painted Rock petroglyphs communicate mystery and a sense of shared humanity that today’s marvels somehow miss.