musings on the south and southwest

If I had designed the world, morning would not be the time to wake up. I’m too sleepy then to remember what I’m supposed to do. There’s no natural flow to it. To combat my drowsiness of mind, I have created a little ditty I must say over and over to myself, so I don’t forget to feed the dog or make my bed or clean the kitty litter box, you know—my morning routine. If I forget part of the ditty, I stand in consternation, repeating the part I remember until the forgotten words come back and I know what to do. Not a good start to the day, any day.

If not morning, when should everybody get up? I think about noon would be right. Nothing on the dot. Not High Noon, just noonish—when I feel like it. The sun is at its zenith then, blazing down, so I could surely see what I was doing. But I wouldn’t want to go outside until it subsided. So, I’d go about my morning chores, and they’d just fall into place. I’d look around, because by this time I could open my eyes, and I’d see what needed to be done. Pet water bowls sitting empty, cat box full, and I’d sure as heck need to make that bed before anybody else saw it. If my mouth tasted sour I’d be alert enough to think to brush my teeth. I wouldn’t be tempted to watch any of those morning talk shows on TV while eating breakfast. They’d all be over by then. Done. Finito. Finished just like the morning. And good riddance.

Soon I’d feel like getting to work. I’d have my wits about me by this time, so I’d get places on time, say things that made sense, and not make foolish mistakes. I would not fall asleep in mid-afternoon. The day would be cooling down as I worked my way through it, instead of heating up like now. When I had accomplished most of the goals I’d set for that day, it would be time for dinner to reward myself for achieving something. After dinner, I would not be exhausted, so I could go out and do something fun. Have a drink and a chat with friends. See a movie perhaps, either out or on video at home. And then the best part. As the day wound down and the evening cooled off, I’d be wide awake to look at the stars in all their profusion, shining adamantly in the black sky. I’d say to them, “Yay. Good for us. We’re all here.” And they’d beam back at me in silent communion. That world would be great, wouldn’t it?

But hey, did you notice any flaws in this argument I’ve laid out here? Well, duh. I wrote this damn piece in the freakin’ morning. That proves I’m right! Yes it does.


Recently I read a western murder mystery that I really liked. I’m copying here the review of it that I wrote on

Review of Stephen Downing is Dead by Dan Goss Anderson:

Enduring Love and Murder in Early Days of Tucson


Stephen Downing is Dead is an excellently written murder mystery! I couldn’t put it down and read it right through, skipping all the obligations that I had that day.

I really enjoyed “seeing” historic Tucson as Anderson brought it to life. Also, it was neat reading how the judge and the defense lawyer taught the main character, a rookie lawyer, on-the-spot about trial proceedings. Poor guy didn’t get to watch courtroom drama on TV as he was growing up, since the murder and trial took place in 1905. I was surprised by how casual the courtroom could be in the old west, and I liked the way the seasoned judge conducted his trial—unconventional but fair.

One thing that impressed me about this book was that no matter when or where there was a scene change, I always knew where I was—time and place—immediately. Another thing: the novel was very well put together, meaning the author told it very well and revealed things at just the right time. This proved important, due to the secrets some people were hiding. The characters were well drawn, even the minor ones, and the sex scenes done tastefully. There was an interesting side theme reflecting on how Catholicism can impact a person’s life. And if you know Boston, you’ll enjoy the young protagonist’s adventures there, too.

I recommend this book to fans of the Old West, lovers of mysteries, dwellers in Tucson, and to those interested in Mexican-Anglo relations in the southwest. The author puts you right there in 1905, with those strange new rectangular telephones on the wall and the occasional “automobile machine” on the street.

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For more information about this book, visit

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We can see so few of the multitude of things that are going on around us and understand so little of what we do see. And yet we say that seeing is believing. I view this as acknowledging that we base our beliefs on very partial evidence.

There is so much that we cannot experience directly, yet we must create what we believe about the world from what we do experience of it. Therefore there must be vast gaps in our “knowledge,” and that’s why I call it all belief. Even scientific knowledge is really only a theory. The universe is too vast for us to know more than an infinitesimal amount about it.

When I walk with my dog, I often wonder what he experiences and what he thinks about what we’re doing together, what one might suppose is happening to both of us. Seemingly we are on the same path, but he smells things I totally miss. He is bounding toward the jackrabbit before I see it. He runs off the path and sniffs the “newspaper” of animal scents scattered in the grass. I have no idea whether a bear or dog or packrat went through here three hours ago.

My dog seems to know when we’ll be going for a walk. Does he get excited because he sees I’ve put on my walking shoes or grabbed my hat? He cannot know what runs through my mind in deciding which trail to walk today or which days we will take a walk. Does he even know there is a decision, or does he think that what happens is the only possibility? He wags his tail and cavorts with his doggie buddies on our walks, but he has no way of telling which days they will join us and which not. Does he think it’s arbitrary or chosen by me, or does he not even wonder about it?

A song says, “Ezekiel saw that wheel turning way up in the middle of the air.” I read an explanation of how that could happen that satisfies me. It is similar to the dog and me and our different planes of understanding. It goes like this. Imagine you lived in a two-dimensional world. If some three-dimensional someone (who would therefore appear godlike to you) stuck their fingers through your 2-D world, you would only be able to see a small part of them, and what you saw would make no sense in your world. It might look similar to something you knew about, so you might say it was that thing, but you would have little experience or knowledge of what was actually going on. You’d only see a part of it, so it would seem bizarre. But in the 3-D world, it would be the simplest thing, someone sticking their hand through a plane. They might not notice they’d done it or even be aware of your existence.

Of course, sometimes Horton hears the Who, and if there is a god it might be aware of us. I try to prepare my dog for what I know is going to happen to him. The doctors and nurses sometimes carefully explain to us what to expect during our visit to the hospital. We sure like it when they do. We want to be “in the know.” But we can know so little. Heck, we’ll be unconscious most of the time. We have to trust them. We have to have faith in them before we choose to go under the knife.

Dogs are our faithful companions. Some people say we should have faith in a god. It seems to me that we’re pretty much slipping and sliding our way through a universe we can only grab onto parts of. Everybody holds onto what seems to them to keep them steady. So I walk on my path until it bucks me off. If I need to, I find another path. I try not to criticize anyone else’s choice of a path, if it’s working for them. We’re all going toward the same destination. I like to think that is a place where we understand the truth about our existence, but I sure don’t know if any of us ever get there. One thing I feel certain of, though, is that it won’t hurt at all for us to show love for each other and try to understand each other’s paths while we’re here. Do I know that? No, but it works for me.

NEPA Charade

Charade – An absurd pretense intended to create a pleasant or respectable appearance.  [as defined by Google]

This evening (June 11, 2013) I went to the meeting called by employees of the Coronado District of the US Forest Service (USFS) at the Patagonia, AZ high school. By the end of the meeting it was hard to tell whether these Forest Service employees, who have the power to give permits for mining in the Patagonia Mountains, are trying to fool us or are actually fooling themselves.

Although the individuals were very well spoken, all their answers were evasive. They would not explain the NEPA (National Environmental Policy Act) process, because their expert on it was not there. They would not tell us what they would do in any situation, because every exploration proposal and every mining plan of operations is unique and at this specific time there are no active drill sites in the Coronado National Forest. They would not even say that if a mining company failed to get a water quality permit that was required for approval, that they would deny approval of the mine. They would not say this even in the abstract. Why is that?

I know why. At an earlier meeting like this called by the USFS, the audience was told that the USFS is required by the Mining Law of 1872 to expedite the rights of mining companies to extract minerals from public lands. At another meeting, the NEPA process was explained, and we were told that the USFS must work with the mining companies to improve their plan of operations so that it will be approved. 

Tonight, one audience member made the analogy of a football game in which the referees publicly claim to be impartial but in reality have an agreement with one team to favor them in all decisions. I think the USFS people felt insulted by this analogy. If they were truly insulted, it is because they are fooling themselves. These individuals probably went into the Forest Service because they are passionate about the natural world. However, they are playing a game rigged against the natural world and the citizens who desire to protect it. If they don’t know that, it must be because they refuse to see it. If they know it and are telling us differently, they are trying to pull the wool over our eyes.

What are the rules of this game? Well, the USFS is supposed to work with mining companies to get their proposals and plans in sync with the laws of the land. Before the proposal even becomes official, the USFS meets with the company to help them write it. Case in point, they advised Wildcat Silver that they were requesting permission to drill too many exploratory holes. A few clicks of the delete key and the permitting process moved forward.

In other words, at each step of the process for approving mining permits, the permitting agency is legally required to help the applicant get approved. They even can help the applicant get around federal laws such as the Clean Water Act and the Endangered Species Act so that the mine officially will not be perceived to be breaking those laws that are supposed to supersede the 1872 act.

However, citizens who oppose open pit mines are stopped at every turn by the NEPA process and the USFS employees implementing it. There is no requirement that the USFS play with an even hand and meet with citizens about their concerns. They have not advised us, “If you want to stop this mine, find an endangered species in the mountains.” We have to figure it all out by ourselves. Yes, there is a “scoping period” of thirty days in which citizens are asked to write the USFS about their concerns. But the notification of the scoping period dates is only required to be printed in the Sierra Vista Herald, a newspaper not published or sold in Santa Cruz County and a paper that most people living in the area most to be affected by mines in the Patagonia Mountains do not see. In addition, the USFS is not even required to respond to objections or points made in the scoping comments. It is only required to read them, but not to seriously consider them in its deliberations. How did I learn this? USFS employees told me!

The meeting this evening was an exercise in futility. At the end, one audience member labeled it a charade. The USFS can check off another “public meeting with concerned citizens,” if they want to obliviously pat themselves on the back. The sham accomplished nothing. Clearly, the deck is legally stacked against anyone who works to keep mines out of mountains or public lands.

What could happen to keep open pit mines out of the Patagonia Mountains? Even if we prove that a mine’s water use would deplete or pollute the town of Patagonia’s water supply, the USFS can still approve an open pit mine. Even if we photograph a mother jaguar with two cubs in the Patagonia Mountains, the USFS can still approve the mine. I say we need a principled, clear-eyed, clear-thinking person to step forward out of the fray. Yes, we need a hero willing to do what is right no matter what. We need that person to deny approval of mines and to convince others that their passion for the natural world requires a commitment to stand up for it when it counts. And that “when” is now. I call on Mark Ruggiero to look in the mirror and become that hero.




In the past year, four of my longtime women friends have lost their mothers. I shared some thoughts with them that seemed to help, so I will share them here also.

Losing my mother was one of the hardest things I have experienced—a life-changing event that clearly divided my life into a before and after. The change has been deeply significant and different from what I thought it would be.

When my mother died, I joined a club that I never wanted to join—women whose mothers have died.

Emotionally I was not prepared for the fact of my mother’s death, even though I was preparing for it. My mind knew that the end was probably coming soon, and of course death is inevitable for us all. Still, the finality of my loss repeatedly hit me. I will not be able to hug her ever again. How precious and special was the time we had together, mother and daughter

I discovered that I never thought she’d really be gone. In some ways she never will be, of course. She’s a part of me. And that’s kind of a funny surprise. When I need my mom, I have her with me still, though obviously differently.

Years before my mom died, I talked to a neighbor about her mom. When her mother died I tried to be sympathetic, listening thoughtfully and hugging her. But I didn’t really understand her experience. When my mother died, this woman sent me a beautiful, thriving potted plant. She knew. I had not known what it was like for her, but she knew what it was like for me. Now I know, too.

Luckily, we members of this club can help each other through the sadness and along the path to peace and happy memories. When we do that, we’ll be helping our mothers, ourselves, and even our daughters—sisters all in this experience we call life.

Playing with Clay

I wrote the following in an email to my friend Sherry who is exploring her artistic options. She said I should put it on my blog, so here it is.
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I am finding that process oriented rather than product oriented artwork increases my creativity and eventually even makes the end product better. Also, I enjoy doing it more. Although I didn’t know it at the time, all of the abstract watercolors I did when painting note cards in Georgia were process oriented. I played with color and texture and let what the paint did influence what I did next.

Now I’m trying to make tiles in the Patagonia Arts Center pottery studio once a week, tiles for a bathroom backsplash in the new house. Last week there was a substitute teacher who freed me up by saying, “Let’s just try this.” Instead of my trying to make the final petroglyph-style tiles for the backsplash, she suggested experimenting with techniques for making shapes and impressions in the tiles. I made impressions in styrofoam, and we rolled clay over and into them and looked at the results to see which actions yielded effects I liked. She said I could get the results fired and then try out different glazes on them, to see what looked like what I’d want in the house. This freed me from the possibility of making “mistakes.” I was just finding things out, negative or positive, about what worked and what I liked.

Still, I was more end product oriented than the other women there who were just playing with the clay. Once I get done what I want for my house, I want to go back and play with the clay, feel the clay. The others were making whimsical little birds and flowers, poking at clay in different ways to see what it looked like, remembering amazing pieces of pottery they had seen before, and generally saying “what would happen if I did this?” It was fun, and they were making pretty things. Perhaps not masterpieces, but who cares?

Playing with color and shape and materials, with no end product in mind but discovery, inspires me.

Downton Abbey Season 3

* * Spoiler Alert – Don’t read this unless you are up-to-date in viewing Season 3, i.e. you have seen episode #5. * *

What do you think of the recent Downton Abbey episodes?

I feel like Julian Fellowes has been jerking us around, manipulating us, and I’m tired of it.

He took soooo long to resolve the Bates situation (from the ads, it looks like he’ll get free next episode). I think it took too long because Fellowes, knowing we really cared what happened, decided to draw it out for every ounce of suspense he could muster. It ended up making me feel like I don’t care. I can afford not to care about Anna and Bates because they are fictional, after all. I imagine Fellowes strung us along because he felt he had the power to do so, but it backfired, as far as I’m concerned. Still, if Bates gets killed, in prison or out, I’ll be angry. Go jerk yourself around, Julian.

As for sweet Sybil dying, I wish she hadn’t, but I was glad her mother got angry with her father for not going with the slim chance the hospital offered. Cora acts mild almost always, but she did have the guts to exclude Robert from her bedroom. I do blame Robert, though I expect most viewers agree to forgive him. He went with the fashionable “country club doctor,” and I wonder how much the prospect of another upheaval and exception to the rules in his household influenced his decision. For all that, I was happy when Robert and Cora finally embraced in forgiveness and shared sorrow. Support during the tough times is one of the prime values of friendship and of a good marriage, right?

I loved it when Violet said it was a shame to give up such a good pudding. I like that she stands with her son when she thinks he’s right or at least not wrong (with the doctor situation) but she stands against him when she thinks he’s in the wrong (demanding the women not eat food prepared by a former prostitute). Of course, she often goes about getting her way in a back-handed fashion (or should I say subtle?), as when she plotted to force Tom Branson to wear formal attire to the wedding and when she brow beat the local doctor into doing research into the outcome of caesarian births.

I think it will be interesting to see what Tom Branson does—where he lives and what occupation he turns to—if Fellowes doesn’t drag it out too long again.

As an author, I’m interested in what Edith does with her writing. If Mary and Matthew don’t have a child (and Cora called Sybil her baby, so Edith must be the middle daughter), it would be funny if the outcast (as she herself sees it) Edith ends up inheriting Downton Abbey. I wonder what she’d make it into, once the money ran out? Or maybe she’ll write a best selling novel and earn enough to save Downton? Well, it’s fun to speculate.

And what do you think about Edith being left at the altar? I don’t think it was explained sufficiently why that old guy left her. His being too old for her wasn’t enough. There must be something else. Maybe he’ll leave all his money to Edith anyway. But listen to me all talking about who gets whose money. Ack! There’s more to life than that, but it does severely impact the people of Downton Abbey and environs.


I have to admit I’m disappointed in Carson, what with how he reacts to Ethel’s return etc. However, it is definitely in keeping with his character. He accepts and supports the way things were, with his whole heart. His status at Downton, and the whole social system of which it is a part, defines him. Stalwart and loyal to the end is admirable, but I wish he’d adjust a little more.


It’s hard living in a changing world. In recent centuries, few of us have had the luxury of either living in a static society or controlling the changes. Downton Abbey shows us a few of the resulting struggles and aids our understanding by telling the stories of some characters we may choose to relate to. I choose to because, for the most part, the show is done very well, especially the acting.


I’d like to know what you think about all this, and any other aspects of Downton Abbey. Add to the comments, and you can comment on each other’s comments, too.


Happy PBS watching,

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Have you read my book Falling Through the Cracks by JLC Pulliam, a novel of love, mystery, and family? It is available from If you like my writing on this blog, check out the novel. Read the reviews on Amazon, and I bet you’ll decide you’d enjoy the book.

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