An American Vacation

At six a.m. Saturday, I was sipping coffee in a deck chair above a sea oat-covered Florida sand dune, staring into the Atlantic ocean. The sun, already shining on Helen and Darren, lit lingering rainclouds from below to the color of smashed plum. The waves rolled and a good breeze pushed back the tops of palm trees. It would have been another perfect day at the beach, but our time was up, and by ten a.m. every branch of the family was on the road or in the air to nine U.S. cities in five states: Miami, Gainesville, Seattle, Bethesda, Columbus, LaGrange, Brunswick, Houston, and Baton Rouge.

This was the second incarnation of a sand-centered family reunion. The first was two years ago on the coast of the Gulf of Mexico, attended by members of Shelly’s extended family, plus me. Shelly’s clan is full of surprises, an old-school American mix of faces and places, second and third generation immigrants from Eastern Europe, Cuba, and China, with a smattering of us mongrels-in-residence; at its core, an urban Jewish matriarchy. No hard-edged multiculturalism here. Our histories are present in recipes and family memories, but our culture is the same. Even phenotypes are fading fast. Our kids are (simply) beautiful.

This year my people joined the celebration, renting the beach house next door, available by happy coincidence. With my brother’s family, our parents, a cousin and his wife, our grandmother and her friend, we filled out the family roll call and spilled the diner seating on to the porch. There were about twenty-five of us at one point, I think.

We took turns making evening meals, and here the melting pot ceased to be a metaphor. Jewish paella? Cuban shiskabob? Who cares? It’s all good! Cousin Dave’s homebrewed India Pale Ale goes well with any dish.

A lower deck with high bar stools and a glass-topped table lay in the long shadow of the house. Dave and I split a dark blue bottle of the good stuff there each night before diner. He said it was his best effort, which was easy to believe; any brewer would be proud of it. While our kids drug wave boards and plastic buckets in from the beach, we toasted our tremendous wealth: middle-class American opulence of family, food and a week’s vacation. We agreed few humans have ever lived so well.

House of Rain

Earlier this week I caught an interview on NPR with Colorado author Craig Childs on the subject of his recent book on the prehistoric Southwest, House of Rain. I read it back in February and really enjoyed it.

I worked in the Southwest while in graduate school, but haven’t worked in that part of the country for many years. I find the archaeology there fascinating, but don’t have the time to go to conferences about it or really keep up with the literature. Though Childs is not a professional archaeologist, he is an intelligent man who has talked with many experts (some old colleagues of mine) in putting together this book for a general audience. It served much the same function for me as 1491 did when it came out in 2005: it provided a quick run-down of new developments in the research that I wouldn’t have had time to pull together myself.

There’s lots of good stuff in there about the relationships of site locations and landscape and astronomical phenomena. The prehistoric road system in New Mexico tied to Chaco Canyon has been well known for years, and I learned in this book that a similar road system, not related to Chaco, has recently been discovered in southeast Utah. I’d recommend it to anyone.

I was somewhat surprised last week to see a letter from several senior researchers in the Society for American Archaeology’s “Archaeological Record” blasting Childs for an excerpt from the book published in “Natural History” magazine. Sorry I have no link to this. Much of their ire seems to stem from his continued use of the term “Anasazi” for prehistoric peoples of the northern Southwest, which in recent years has been mostly replaced in professional literature by “Ancestral Pueblo” or “Prehistoric Pueblo”. Anasazi is derived from a Navajo word. The Navajo are a non-Puebloan people with a history of fractious relationships with the Pueblos. The word translates roughly as “ancestors of our enemies” and Pueblo people say they find it insulting. I won’t argue with that, but it’s not worth ditching a good book over.

Another Prairie Ramble

Just a few pictures from a stroll the dogs and I took last Sunday in the Hidden Mesa Open Space. This ruined windmill and tank were along the way.

I haven’t found any bats under overpasses here yet, but saw lots of swallow nests under this one.

I was able to catch this butterfly grabbing lunch from a thistle.

Where DID that prairie dog go? The route we took goes through two large prairie dog towns and we constantly heard the prairie dogs’ chirping alarm calls. The girls were kept busy fruitlessly chasing from hole to hole. Maggie in particular, seemed to be driven to distraction when she heard them. I said to her, “You must think they’re saying bad things about your mama.”

Most of the yuccas finished blooming here a couple of weeks ago. I kept meaning to get pictures but didn’t get it done. I was able to catch this late bloomer along the way. We continue to have a progression of wildflower blooms. We saw lots of these prickly poppies open. There were also lots of lupines, but they were past their peak.
It was a warm day and it was good that the girls could cool off in Cherry Creek on our way back to the truck. I had a hard time convincing Sadie to get out of the water – when I called her she’d just look at me and grin. Luckily they air-dried by the time I had to load them.

Merle’s Door

Last night Connie and I attended a reading and booksigning by Ted Kerasote for his new book Merle’s Door: Lessons From a Freethinking Dog at the Tattered Cover Bookstore at LoDo (Lower Downtown). Matt, of course, reviewed this book in a post a couple of weeks ago that elicited lots of discussion. I picked up my copy in the store just before the event and haven’t read enough of it yet to comment on it intelligently. We did enjoy the readings which were funny, interesting and heartwarming and that Kerasote did quite well.

I found it interesting that there are no photographs in the book, but didn’t realize it in time to ask Kerasote why. He brought a photo album of pictures of Merle with him that he passed around the room. Those pictures are all posted on his web site that I linked to his name above.

He showed delighted surprise when we introduced ourselves as friends of the Bodios and we talked a bit about their tazis. We would have enjoyed talking longer but were holding up the signing line.

The Tattered Cover is a Denver institution that any bibliophile (like the ones who hang out here!) should visit if he finds himself in town. I started buying books from the old Cherry Creek store with the dutch door in 1977. Their stock grew and grew and they moved to a bigger space across the street. By the mid-80s they had moved again into a old department store building and had it jammed with four floors of books. Devoted customers volunteered to help them move in. It was some store. Unfortunately they lost their lease there about a year ago and the main store (branches were opened in LoDo and Highlands Ranch in the 90s) moved into the old Bonfils Theater building on Colfax. It doesn’t have quite the same visual impact and atmosphere that the old store had, but all three stores are wonderful places for people like us.

After the event we had dinner down the street at the Wynkoop Brewing Company brew pub. I highly recommend it.


“Merle’s Door” debuted at number 21 on the 15 July 2007 New York Times bestseller list.

Well, Dang…

I feel like I’m 5.4 Random Things in debt!

But this is fun. I’m learning things about my blog partners I didn’t know.

To keep the chain letter going, I’ll finish my job.

1) We just had our kitchen remodeled. It’s much nicer than it was, with a new tile back splash, granite counter tops and task lighting, among other improvements. But the big change–the point at which a house becomes a home–already happened. Some months after Katrina, once our New Orleans friends had regained their footing and found new digs, I realized it was their stay with us that completed our home. We had lived in what was merely a house for two years prior to that.

2) I’ve worked for LSU (Reid’s “abandoned outhouse”) for more than 10 years, most of which I’ve spent in Web development. I am the least technically-proficient professional Web developer you will ever meet. And three months into my new job, I have digressed further in that area. Don’t tell my boss.

3) Speaking of Reid’s Outhouse (do I sound defensive yet?) they may actually find it. University archaeologists are now excavating the old state capital in search of the buildings that once held the young military school that would become LSU.

4) Small world randomness: My hawk Charlie had a male offspring who was purchased and flown by Teddy Moritz, who is a part-time groundhog hunter and an acquaintance of Patrick Burns’s and breeds hunting dachshunds, one of which is owned by Steve Bodio. Teddy is also a longdog fanatic and has corresponded with Gregg Barrow about the Hancock lurchers they both own (as does Steve). We all met independently of each other!

5) I have fewer college degrees than any adult in my immediate family, including both parents, brother, and wife. My BA in sociology marks the beginning of the family backslide into illiterate peasantry. I’m sort of proud of that.

.4) I have a small, C-shaped scar on my…?

Reid’s Eight

Tagged by Patrick! Thanks for the honor, I think. Rebecca got tagged, too, and calls this Crazy 8s, which seems about right. I appreciate Matt staking out the position that we only are obligated for 2.6 items each, but I’ll go the full monty. I’ll take Steve’s course of making two of them about my blog partners, but won’t go to ten like he did.

1. My full name is Travis Reid Farmer. My mother wanted to name me Mark. My father prevailed with his insistence of naming me after my mother’s father, Travis Reid, who he greatly admired. One of my professors at Tulane said I was the first student he had ever met with three last names.

2. I have a compulsive habit of writing my name, the date of purchase, and the city where purchased on the flyleaf of each book I buy. I’ve been doing that since 1972.

3. My only sibling is my sister Carol, who is six years younger than me.

4. People here know me as an archaeologist. I started out in that field, but economic circumstances prompted me to switch careers and I worked in management positions in aviation and aerospace manufacturing for many years. I’m glad that things have worked out for me to switch back.

5. My last job in aviation was in a business unit that manufactured and installed custom interiors in aircraft like Boeing Business Jets and Bombardier Global Expresses. Working in that business can involve you in some strange endeavors. For one client we had to conclusively prove to the FAA that installing and operating two Sony Playstations in the client’s BBJ wouldn’t affect the flight controls. For the same client I had to buy $25,000 worth of custom-dyed stingray hides that we used to upholster panels installed under the windows. I can’t tell you the client’s name but his family is related to Mickey Mouse.

6. When our two children were young, they looked a lot like me. As they get older they seem to take on more characteristics of Connie’s side of the family. But you could assemble a random selection of baby and toddler pictures of the three of us and a stranger couldn’t tell who was who.

7. Matt works at LSU, just up the road from my alma mater in New Orleans, Tulane. When I was in school they were deadly rivals in athletics, made deadlier on the Tulane side by the fact that LSU regularly thumped us in football. I can’t help it, but whenever Matt mentions his connection to LSU, inside my head I hear a derisive song we used to sing about our rival. The first few lines go like this:

“High above the Mississippi,
Standing in plain view,
Stands an old abandoned outhouse,
Known as LSU”

Nothing personal, Matt. It’s like a Pavlovian response!

8. The first time I heard Steve’s voice over the telephone I was totally floored. I knew he had grown up in Boston, but he had not a trace of that distinctive Beantown accent that I had expected. When I mentioned this to him once, he said he was the only person in his family that didn’t have the accent and attributed it to the private school he attended. He told me his brother jokes that the school was “…where Steve lost his r’s” referring to the distinctive “r” Bostonians want to tack on the ends of lots of words.

Eight Random Facts About Steve

Steve here.

I had dreaded being tagged with this meme and was ducking Dr Hypercube when Patrick came in on my blind side. But it turns out that when I brainstormed it with Libby I had more than “2.6”. So:

1) I am the oldest of nine children. The last two (twins) were born after I left home.

2) My paternal grandparents came from a tiny village on Lake Maggiore just south of Switzerland. When I came to Magdalena I found that people from neighboring villages had come here in the Nineteenth Century as herders and miners, and several had founded long- lasting ranch dynasties, even though some had lost the original names (Papa, Bianchi, Strozzi, Gianera. I have contemporaries who still remember the strange patois the old folks spoke, more akin to Provencal than modern Italian. I never met such people in Boston, though there are also some in Raton NM. We now call each other “primo”, Spanish (!) for cousin. One woman (Sis Olney) looks like the twin of one of my brothers.

3) I live “downtown on a dirt road” in a town of less than a thousand, 100 miles from the nearest city. Yet somehow I own nine sport jackets, four suits, and a tux. I don’t own a single T- shirt and haven’t for thirty years, except one I bought because it had a cladogram of raptors ( I photographed it and gave it to a poor drunk).

4) I have been married four times, twice briefly and twice to Libby without a divorce (C of E and local Catholic– LOOONG story). My best man on my first to Libby was John Carlson of Prairie Ice blog and penguin fame

5) I have never owned a new car or truck.

6) My life has been full of looped coincidences. For instance: several months after I had been seeing Libby I called her to find her in a state of (happy) shock. Her mother had been reading Querencia- The- Book and had come to the part of Betsy’s being born in China and her twenty – year- older sister Jane. She called Libby to say that she and Jane had been the first two Anglo babies born in Anwei province.

And she was holding a photo of them sharing a baby carriage when both were less than a week old.

Patty, Lib’s mother, had left China at the age of eight. We put them in touch for the first time in over seventy years. And I was able to tell her who all the people in her China photos were.

7) I have a book that used to belong to Lawrence of Arabia.

8) There were armed equestrian bronzes of a female warrior in all my grammar school classrooms.

And what about the 2.6? Well, I’ll give you two.

Matt trained his first bird in Panama.

Reid is the only archaeologist I know who also used to work in the aerospace industry.

Back when I can! I couldn’t get blogger at all, and got disconnected twice while typing this!

Dillard / Macdonald

Dillard / Macdonald

One of the books in my “pile” is For The Time Being by Annie Dillard, a writer I’ve come to think of as a soul mate to Helen Macdonald, but without any better justification than this imprecise observation: Most of us connect words and ideas with the standard tools. We use stout, brown cords, mostly. But sometimes cheap twine, causing later regrets. We use Bungee when we feel up to stretching a bit.

Dillard and Macdonald connect ideas through worm holes. Or they lace them together with unbreakable, invisible nano-fibers.

Here’s a passage of Dillard’s I just read that caught me. Dillard is pondering ancient Kabbalists:

Their legends have a gilded, antique air. Rabbi Isaac Luria, said his disciple, could understand the language of the birds. Birds’ voices contain deep mysteries of the Torah.

Once, while Rabbi Isaac Luria was studying Torah in the fields of Safad, he saw a bunch of souls in a tree. He noticed, he told his disciple, that “all the trees were full of souls beyond number The same was true of the field.” God had cast them out for failing to repent. They had heard that he, Isaac Luria, had the power “to repair exiled souls.” And so “several souls clad themselves in his prayer to accompany it” to God’s very throne. Souls can aid one another; with combined effort and with their rabbi, they can batter a way through to God.

Eight (count ’em, 8)

Eight (count ’em, 8)

Some quirk of Blogger prevents me from putting a title to this post in the proper place. But you get the picture.

Patrick has graciously infected us with another blog-cootie–a blootie, if you will—called Eight Random Things.

The rules of this meme: Explain the rules; name eight random things about yourself; pass it along.

The rules about the rules: All rules are made to be broken. Therefore I propose Steve and Reid and I each name 2.6 random things about each other.

Random Thing 1) Steve deliberated at some length about whether to leave the oxtail cooking on the wood stove while we went down the street to meet Libby. In the balance of this deliberation hung the fate of meat (no small consideration) and a good time (ditto) and the general uncertainty of the universe, which reserves the right to burn anyone’s house down.

Random Thing 2) Reid once almost made a trip to Baton Rouge to meet me, and might yet. Such a meeting would bring together two sides of a cosmic triangle, leaving the third span to be bridged by a joint Querencia meeting at the annual Quemado Street Party and Brawl.

Random Thing 2.6) Mid July is the time of year we can mark as the beginning of the end of Summer, as evidenced by…?

Random enough for you? Take it away, boys.