My first tattoo

My first tattoo

              I got my first tattoo for my 76th birthday. In a nursing home. Drinking margaritas.

              Why?  Why not?

              I guess it all started when my youngest sister, Ginger, called to say she’s in a nursing home with stage four breast cancer that has metastasized in her brain and spine.  What do you do with that? 

      I drove the 1,600 miles from Arizona to be with her in Northwest Florida – in the small town where we were born and raised.  Where our parents lived and died.  The place Ginger wants to be buried.   I’m living in my van here, and I’m parked in a RV park about 5 miles from her nursing home.

Ginger is paralyzed from the waist down; she has trouble with her vision and sometimes sees four of an object.  Yet I can ride my Ebike back and forth to see her. What do you do with that? 

She likes for me to bring her a cup of Starbucks. I get her a cup every morning.  

In response to my sister’s cancer, my world has changed.  My desert view of cacti and mountains suddenly morphed into live oaks and azalea blooms.  Ginger and I have spent hours, days, weeks, and now months together.  We’ve laughed, reminisced, and imagined.  We’ve played “what if” and “why not.”

              Rowan, our great niece and a tattoo artist, flew in from Colorado.  Ginger and I laughed, “Why not?”  “Of course!” was Rowan’s 22-year-old response.  

              Ginger and I agreed to use the same tattoo, each slightly altered  – mine is a horse with a wolf at her feet. Ginger’s is a zebra with a wolf. 

              After dark, Rowan came to the nursing home and shut Ginger’s door. Ginger made me go first.  Something about me being the oldest.

I didn’t know much about tattooing   After scrubbing my forearm – a lot – Rowan put a stencil of the design above my wrist using something like old-time carbon paper. Rowan stopped joking round when she put on her headlamp; she was totally focused as she dipped what looked like a Dremel into a small vial of ink.  I learned that the proper name is rotary tattoo machine and there are many needle choices.   The sharp point vibrated as it pierced my skin.  Not deep.  But deep enough to lay down ink that will be there when I die. As Rowan tattooed the crown of the horse’s head near my wrist, I remembered when I was pregnant with my son – all excited, up to the point my water broke.  Then I questioned what I’d gotten myself into though I knew it was too late to change my mind.   Same thoughts about getting this tattoo.  Too late now. Yep, it hurt a little in a couple of spots but not as she worked away from my wrist and towards my elbow.  

              Rowan is a great artist, one who enjoys skin as her medium   Ginger checked out my arm and was happy to go next. When we were both tatted, Rowan brought out the margaritas that she just happened to bring with her inks. We toasted Rowan and laughed – probably too loud – as we wondered if anyone else had ever gotten a tattoo in the nursing home.

              The next morning, Ginger got busted by the Infectious Disease/Wound Control police.  They stood around her bed, clucking concerns about her getting her skin pierced by someone from the outside, while receiving radiation for brain cancer.  Ginger was not happy that they came when she was alone; she was certain I should have been there to take the heat with her. The fun police didn’t have a sense of humor. But they can’t erase the memories we have tattooed on our hearts.

              Today when I walked in, Ginger rolled her head on the pillow and said, “Look at this.”  On the side of her head were globes of hair that looked like it had spent the night in the shower drain. I asked, “Are you going for the dread lock look?” She laughed and said “No, I woke up from a nap, and this is what I found.” I said, “Would you like for me to brush it?” She smiled.  I gently pulled and worked with the hair she’d worn long since high school;  skeins fell out – onto the pillow, the blanket, my shirt, filling the brush over and over. She was quiet as the pile of long grey locks filled the garbage can by her bed, and then she said, “Thank you for being with me.”  

Today she still has some beautiful hair; tomorrow, her hair may be all gone.  What do you do with that?  I don’t know, but we’re sisters.  Hair or no hair.  Cancer or no cancer.  And we have the tattoos to prove it.

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21. Is it safe to come out yet?

For months that turned into years that felt like decades, I followed CDC guidelines for COVID, common sense, and a sense of respect for others.  I spent most of the last two plus years in the high desert because it felt safer. Now with changes in vaccination and transmission rates, I’ve eased into greater freedoms, wary and optimistic, with an ear tuned to the scientists. 

Yes, the gypsy is back on the road.  I simply enjoy travel.  It takes little to trigger a road trip.  A phone call from my granddaughter, “BruBru, can you come take some action pictures of my volleyball games?” 1,600 miles later, and I’m in the stands with my camera, amazed how quickly she’s growing up. 

She's growing up too fast

Other calls to “Go” — it’s smokey here, or the chilies have been harvested there.  Anything, really.  I figure as long as I have my dog, phone, and credit card, everything else is a detail subject to change.  Long range planning is not my style.

For me, the Mississippi River is a powerful image – a line in the sand that separates two unique worlds, each very dear to me. Northwest Florida, where I was born, raised, worked and retired.  The place to which I will always have strong ties and shared roots.  And then there’s the high desert and all the things I love there. The metal bridge over Ole Man River is like the net on a ping pong table; I bounce back and forth.  It is a semipermeable membrane that separates distinct realities, while allowing love to move freely.  I look forward to crossing it, heading east and west.

Northwest Florida is a world loyal to Trump, DeSantis, and even Gaetz; a place where “conservative Christians” are vocal and enjoy much influence. A place filled with people whose perspectives I do not understand or agree with — kind people who remind me to be open to views different from mine. A world of live oaks, azaleas, magnolia blooms, and gardenias.  Fallen oak leaves blanket dark soil; farmlands wear a mantle of red clay; the Gulf of Mexico is wrapped in an apron of sugar white sand.  The air smells of salt water, freshly tilled fields, peanuts and cotton.

People speak slowly with strong Southern accents, share fried mullet and hush puppies, grits and eggs.  A world where the humidity is as high as mid-morning temperatures in the Arizona desert.

And then there are those high deserts – a stark, diverse beauty that surprises. Southeast Arizona is a place where people make note of the water flow in the San Pedro River (most of it is dry right now); hundreds of rivulets or arroyos (riverbeds) trace the desert floor — they are dry and boast of a brief water flow only a few times a year.

Maya posing by an arroyo
Maya waiting by an arroyo

In SE Arizona, when it rains “hard”, the rocks under the van remains dry.  In the desert you can go months without turning on your windshield wipers. When folks speak with pride of how much it has rained, I note without comment that the rain dots on the road don’t connect.  Cacti bloom crazy, diverse colors and shapes.

Delicate in a harsh environment
The colors are as strong as the cacti
The colors are as strong as the cacti

 In the deserts of Arizona, it is not uncommon to have single digit humidity. People in Arizona say I have a Southern accent. The RV Park in Benson, AZ is at an altitude of 3,600 feet with jaw-dropping views to the east of the Chiricahua Mountains (and a bit further to the east are the Dragoon Mountains in which the labyrinth of Cochise Stronghold hides).

The Chiricahua Mountains on the eastern horizon

Benson, (population 4,857) sits on Interstate 10 about 40 miles east of Tucson and 15 miles north of Tombstone.    Southeast Arizona has perfect weather in the winter — mild temperatures, low humidity.  But I don’t do well with serial days at 100+ degree temperatures with 5% humidity, and so you won’t find me there in the summer. Silver City, NM, about 150 miles to the northeast of Benson, sits at 5,900 feet, and is much cooler.  Silver is a small artsy town (population 9,530), home to Western New Mexico University and Aldo Leopold Charter School.

from the streets of Silver City, NM

The Gila Wilderness sits on its northern border; to the south the high desert serves up endless vistas of mountains and openness so vast you can see to Mexico. 

The people in Silver City are as diverse as the land, and there’s a great deal of community action.  Gila Friends (Quaker) are an active part of the community, and an important factor in my returning there as often as I can.   Silver City is 60 miles north of Interstate 10 and the railroad that run through Benson. Silver has only a small airport that offers flights to Albuquerque and Phoenix.  Its isolation has protected Silver City from the explosive growth endured by Santa Fe, Taos, and Boulder.  I’m glad.   

I’m also glad it’s safe to come out now – as long as I keep an ear tuned to the scientists.

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20. Aging gypsies need a van to survive a pandemic

Why a gypsy in a pandemic should own a van

Even aging gypsies can’t sit still for long.  As I near my 75th birthday, Go is still my favorite word, and the answer to all of life’s questions.  A gypsy that is forced to hunker down in a pandemic looks something like a hawk entangled in a net or a mountain lion confused by the metal wall that now blocks her path through the desert.  We pace, we ponder, we plan.

In December, 2019 – just before the first Covid outbreak —  I bought a 2005 PleasureWay van (22 foot Sprinter chassis with a Mercedes diesel engine).  It’s fully self-contained with a bed, full bath, two burner stove, microwave, kitchen sink, frig, heater, AC, generator, and solar panels.  

Though talk of Covid had begun, I’m an expert at justifying my need to travel.  And since with the van, I could travel without getting out except to buy fuel, Maya, my Border Collie, and I drove 1,600 miles to Florida to spend carefully monitored time with my son and two grandkids, with vague thoughts of staying until Spring. I enjoyed lots of good seafood and masked time with family and friends, until Covid began its scorched earth march across the country. 

Navarre Beach – the sand is sugar white

 Maya and I headed back to Arizona where it would be less tempting to socialize and easier to quarantine. I enjoyed the freedom of traveling under the radar, being as safe in the van as I would be at home.

Back in Arizona, I did my best imitation of a responsible adult in the midst of a pandemic.  I lived alone and had no “inner circle” of friends or family.  By nature, I’m a loner but I also need to touch and be touched, so I quickly learned how deprived I felt when I did not receive so much as a pat on the shoulder, when hugs were not an option, and any smiles were covered by a mask. I ordered groceries online and then drove 30 miles to the nearest grocery that provided pickup.  There my food was loaded into the van by a kind, masked stranger.  I talked to friends on the phone, enjoyed sporadic FaceTime with my busy grand kids, and walked with Maya for miles in the beauty of the desert.  I slowed down and numbed out – a bit like a frog in hibernation. I did not accomplish great feats, did not write the world’ greatest novel, or get my finances outlined and analyzed. I hung around and waited and waited.  After several months, I was unsettled to realize I had grown accustomed to my new norm of not being touched, that feeling numb felt normal.  Looking back, those months are a blur of misplaced days.

AZ desert. Mother Nature continued her displays, even as COVID raged the mere mortals

In the summer of 2020, I took my van and CanAm Spyder to Silver City, New Mexico (altitude 5,900 feet) for a respite from the brutal heat of the Arizona desert.  I continued to quarantine and pick up groceries curbside, while the gypsy in me got a needed change of view and different paths to hike. I enjoyed a few meals with close friends, masked and outside; it was good space to share, even socially distanced.  When the SE Arizona weather cooled down a bit, I drove the van back to my RV lot where I continued my best imitation of a rational grown-up.

A Gypsy also needs a motorcycle in order to socially distance

As the 2020 holidays approached, I was crushed by loneliness.  My special friend, Rev. Thomas Lane Butts, was dying, and I wanted to see him before he began his next journey. I needed to see my grand kids even though I couldn’t touch them. So I loaded the van with groceries and carefully headed back across the Mississippi River.  Again I didn’t get out of the van except to pump gas with my mask on. I drove straight to Monroeville, AL where I stayed two nights in the church parking lot. Tom and I shared a Christmas Eve supper and memories. My time with Tom was poignant; it was clear his time was near.  Christmas Day, I drove down to Florida to see the kids.  After a couple of shared meals and walks on the beach, the mold and mildew stirred up by recent hurricanes triggered my upper respiratory problems. After a quick negative Covid test, Maya and I headed back to the desert where it’s too dry for mold and mildew.  The time with family and close friends was worth every mile.

my dear friend, Thomas Lane Butts

Tom died on February 15, 2021.

Late February, 2021, I was able to get my COVID vaccinations in AZ and felt like the world began again. I understand how that hawk felt when she kicked free of the net and the mountain lion who found a hole in the metal wall. I’ve delighted in hugs and touches from vaccinated friends; I continue to wear masks and social distance in public but relish the thought that even if I get Covid, now I won’t die from it.  Maya is becoming accustomed to riding on the CanAm with me, though she’s not up to long distance rides – yet.

Maya and me on the Spyder
Maya looks cute but isn’t crazy about her doogles

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19. Aging gypsy

            What does it look like when a gypsy reaches 73 and is still traveling alone?  Well, some changes are required.

            I reluctantly decided to give up my two-wheel motorcycle after a compression fracture caused by a collision of a sudden onset of stupid and my 900 pound Goldwing.  I now ride a Spyder RT (two wheels in front, vibrant orange, and fun).  Though I miss the ability to lean into the curves, I thoroughly enjoy being out on the road.

            A cardiologist suggested I get a Service Dog.  Since I love dogs, this was a prescription with no side effects.  Plus I could take my dog everywhere I go!  That’s how I got Maya, a 40 lb rescue from the streets of El Paso, courtesy of Arizona Border Collie Rescue.  Mary Ann Coleman, a service dog trainer in Tucson, flunked four dogs before she found Maya. She explained. “You can train tasks.  You can’t train temperament.”  And Maya clearly has the temperament for a service dog.  We’ve trained regularly with Mary Ann. Maya is doing great; I need more work.  Maya is a gentle, quiet soul who retains some of the skills of a street fighter.  She’s “non-reactive”, meaning she’s fine with other dogs.  Unless they start something, and then she’s going to finish it.   She teaches me many things, including how to defend my boundaries. I named her after the poet, Maya Angelo; her poem “Still I rise” speaks of Maya’s four-legged history.  Maya loves to run wide open across the desert (the zoomies, a phenomenon known to those blessed with a Border Collie). She reminds me of Pig Pen in the Peanuts cartoon, except she moves in a cloud of joy rather than dirt.  We’re working on her image as a biker chick; she likes the Spyder but doesn’t like having to wear a seat belt.  Hopefully she’ll get to the point she wants to ride every time I go.  Otherwise, she’s going to miss a lot. 

As I’ve aged, my personal thermostat doesn’t work so well, and I find that the Arizona desert heat is very hard on me.  This summer, with Covid 19 raging, I had to cancel my plans to go from southeast Arizona to the Olympic Peninsula of Washington state. So I left southern Arizona to spend the hottest part of the summer in Silver City, in southwest New Mexico at 7,000 feet.  I drove my 27 foot  Lazy Daze motorhome and pulled by three-wheeled Spyder on a trailer.  No car for three months.  I was delighted to see I’m very comfortable – in comfortable weather – without a car.         

Some people buy and sell stock or real estate.  I tend to buy and sell RV’s.  I don’t want to count how many I’ve owned over 20 years, but they have gotten smaller and smaller. Being locked down by Covid, I’ve had too much time to think.  And I’ve thought that, though I love my 27 foot Lazy Daze, maybe I’d be comfortable down-sizing to a diesel conversion van. I liked the smaller carbon footprint of the diesel engine (22 MPG vs. 8) but wasn’t sure about the size challenge of living in a  van. This Fall a friend decided at the age of 90 to hang up his keys and offered to sell me his 22 foot 2005 Pleasure Way Van (Sprinter chassis, Mercedes engine.)  It has a bathroom with a wet shower, stove, microwave, fridge, AC, furnace, generator, solar, comfortable bed, and a place to sit and write.  I can rationalize anything; my thoughts went something like this.  I’ll buy the van and keep the Lazy Daze until the first of the year, in case I decide I can’t live van-small.  In case you’re counting, that means I have a 22 foot van, a 27 foot motorhome, a Honda CRV car to pull behind the motorhome, a Spyder motorcycle, and a trailer for the Spyder.  Compared to non-gypsies, I don’t have much stuff.  But today I have a ridiculous number of vehicles.   

I’ve moved into the van and have made a few short trips.  I’m pleased with the way it handles, and so far I’m not claustrophobic.  I can park almost anywhere, and Maya likes the bigger bed. TBD.

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            My last post was December 30, 2017.  A time of innocence.  Descriptions of Christmas, photos of my granddaughter doing cartwheels on the beach, the beauty of Nature.  I left Florida and headed back to the high desert.  But the world as we knew it blew up in February, and I flew back to spend 2018, helping as possible, being present.  Now, I’m beginning to write again.

            On February 12, 2018, Gregory Dallas Taylor shot my daughter-in-law, Frances T. Cooley, six times in the upper abdomen. In spite of all of the medical expertise and interventions, her wounds were fatal, and she died on February 21, 2018, leaving her husband/my son and their two children, then 17 and 11 years old. Dallas gave a video confession, and there was significant other evidence of his guilt.

            My father, Woodrow Melvin, was a Judge; I am a retired Judge. But for this murder case, I was not the judge. I was a family member, one who knew perhaps too much about murders, legal nuances, strategies, and autopsy photos. And I had to trust the system to which my dad had dedicated his entire life, the system in which I exclusively worked – I had to trust the system to provide justice for my son and two grandchildren. It was a very strong case and yet you just can’t KNOW what a jury will do.

            The State Attorney’s Office did an outstanding job; law enforcement followed through on essential details. The Bailiff was kind to me. Although there were few familiar faces 18 years after my retirement, it felt like I was back with my people and that I had brought this impossible problem home for resolution. I took comfort in the familiarity of the “dance”.

            On Friday, December 14, a jury in Escambia County found Dallas guilty of First Degree Premeditated Murder and Judge Bergosh sentenced him to life in prison without parole. My 18 year old grandson watched justice play out over these months, and he can rest better, knowing that Dallas will never draw a breath outside of prison. In the process he experienced a better way to resolve the most serious of conflicts.

            I’m very grateful for all the work that went into bringing closure for my family and for the courage of the jury to make a serious call.

            As my dad often said, “The wheels of justice move slowly, but they grind exceedingly fine.”

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17. My heart changed my mind

  1. My heart changed my mind.

Sometimes, my life does not move in a linear fashion.  Sometimes, my blog posts jump back and forth across time lines.  Sometimes, I make plans but my heart changes my mind.

My last post was of losing my good friend and four-legged companion, Misty.  This post speaks of things before and after that.

After finishing the Habitat build in Las Cruces, NM, on November 12, 2017, Misty and I took the motorhome north to Elephant Butte State Park, near Truth or Consequences, NM.  Within the NM State Park system, you can stay in a park for two weeks, but then you have to leave; you can go to another state park, and come back to that particular park a week later.  This generates an interesting cross current of RV’ers moving around on two week schedules and creates a subculture of gypsy friends.

At Elephant Butte I became friends with Mary, a free-wheeling single female who pulls a large toy hauler with her diesel truck.  She rides a Harley and rides it well.  Mary and I rode our bikes over to Hatch, NM – home of the famous Hatch chilies.  I smiled at the spicy smell of red peppers in the fields.  I’m familiar with what you can smell on a motorcycle in Northwest Florida and South Alabama – peanut dust at harvest time, red clay recently plowed, pines after a heavy rain, and salty Gulf air. And then there are universal smells – meat on an unseen BBQ grill, a wood fire, freshly mowed grass, burned rubber, dead skunk.  In Hatch, I added fields of red chili peppers to my two-wheel olfactory encyclopedia.

After two weeks at Elephant Butte State Park, I loaded the motorcycle into the bed of my truck, hooked the truck to the rear of the motorhome, and Misty and I drove over to City of Rocks, our favorite NM State Park – the place I found and lost Misty.  See my blog post 16. Mysteries of Misty for that story. And at City of Rocks, I crossed paths with Mary and two other RV’ers I’d met at Elephant Butte.

People wonder if I’m lonely, traveling alone.  The reality is – there is an amazing community of RV’ers out there – friendly, helpful, and adventuresome. At the Habitat build in Las Cruces, I became friends with Dyana, another fulltime solo female RV’er.   On Monday after I lost Misty on Friday, I met Dyana in Deming, NM, (about 30 miles south of City of Rocks), and we had lunch at the Adobe Deli, an eclectic place in the middle of nowhere that was once an old school and now slightly resembles a weird museum with strange antiques and stuffed/dead animals perched in every corner, ledge, and open space, watching with glassy eyes as we ate startlingly good food.  From Adobe Deli, we took a short ride south to cross the Mexican border into Palomas to shop at the Pink Store (they serve you free margaritas while you browse through a little bit of most anything Mexican that’s colorful, beautiful, and unique.) With Dyana’s encouragement and prodding laughter, I came back with a bouquet of brightly colored paper flowers for the too clean motorhome, because the flowers make me smile – and a black ceramic Day of the Dead tile of a happy dead dog, because it makes me laugh out loud.  I’m reminded that Misty is a happy dead dog – after eating serial last meals, stalking the rabbits, hearing the coyotes sing, and smelling every bone in Pet Smart.  I didn’t put my needs first and wait too long to deal responsibly with her new reality.  Misty was not yet in pain.  And her memories are outlasting my pain. 

After two weeks at City of Rocks, I drove through the desert alone, with colorful flowers and a black ceramic tile of a happy dead dog. When I get Misty’s ashes, I’ll bring them back to City of Rocks.  But for now, I was heading west to an RV park in Benson, AZ (near I-10 and the New Mexico/Arizona border).

Over the summer I’d discussed my travel plans with my granddaughter; I explained I couldn’t make two trips from Arizona to Florida and asked if she wanted me to be there for her September birthday or Christmas.  She emphatically chose September.   So, I was in Florida for her birthday and then drove the motorhome back West in October. I had rough plans to return to Florida in the Spring; I’d spend Christmas with friends in Benson, AZ.

But we’d made those plans in the summer and I left Florida in October.  This was December! To an eleven-year old, the world changes quickly.  I checked into the RV park in Benson, AZ, on December 5 and paid for a month.


On December 8 I was comfortably seated in my motorhome in the desert, Face Timing with my granddaughter, when she said, matter of factly, “Did you realize that if you were here on December 18, you could hear my Christmas choral program?”  I laughed.  And by the time the sun came up in the desert, my heart had changed my mind.  My mind had no choice except to rationalize what was coming next.

I put the motorhome in storage in Benson and drove the truck back to Florida.  And I learned that 1,600 miles in three days is too far, too fast, especially in a small, light-weight pickup.  But I got back in time to see my granddaughter’s Christmas program on December 18.

On Christmas Eve, we went to Peg Leg Pete’s on Pensacola Beach for incredible seafood.  Everyone ordered something different and then shared.  After much great Mexican food in the desert, at the beach I shamelessly gorged myself on fresh seafood – raw oysters, oysters Rockefeller, steamed shrimp and crab legs, fried shrimp and fried oysters.  Then we waddled across to the Gulf and played on the sugar-white beach.



my granddaughter a few days ago


Me, a few years ago


And now?  I’ll head west soon.  The high desert is calling, and my mind is scrambling to justify the many miles between here and there.  The simple rationalization is – I left the motorhome in storage, and the rent is due January 11.   



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16. the mysteries of Misty


In July of 2015 I parked my RV at City of Rocks State Park in western NM; in the adjoining lot was a van.  The woman was outside cooking on a hot plate (they lived in the van), and a beautiful black and tan German Shepherd lay quietly at her feet.   As I began to unhook my travel trailer and settle in, I spoke to the woman and of course complimented her on her Shepherd. Within five minutes, she offered to give Misty to me. I’m a startled believer in such chance encounters. I’ve had Shepherds most of my life; each one showed up uninvited. They graced me with years of companionship, and then in failing health required that I make the agonizing decision to put them down. I’d lost my last Shepherd two years earlier.

The lady in the van first explained that her husband was very ill, was going into hospice, and she couldn’t take care of him and Misty, and that he only had two weeks left. We agreed that Misty could stay with me for the next four days, and we’d see how it worked. I stressed they could change their minds, but that I had to leave in four days. They explained they’d had Misty since she was a puppy and that she would be 11 years old in December, 2015.  That was hard to believe, as fit and spry as she was.

Misty is regal

Misty quickly claimed the couch and my heart

magical rock formations and mysterious clouds

the view out the back window of my RV – City of Rocks


The wife spent a lot of time in my rig over the next few days (I lived in a 32 foot travel trailer with two slides; they lived in a black van.) The following morning she said, “I’m the world’s worst liar.  Greg is sick but he doesn’t want to go into hospice.  So he’s going to kill himself.”  After 10 years as a trial lawyer followed by 10 years as a judge I’ve developed a good poker face.  I said nothing but thought, “Easy, Laura.  You don’t know his situation or how you would handle it.”  But then she added “And I’m going with him.  I can’t bear living alone.” It was harder to keep a bland face with that comment.

And the conversations kept getting weirder.  I felt like I’d fallen into the Twilight Zone, in this remote desert spot. Over another cup of coffee, she told me it was important that Misty live with me because “I don’t want to take her with us because she has too much life left in her.”

During another talk, I asked what was wrong with Greg: “Oh, he hasn’t been to the doctor. “ — “What! Then why did you say you have only two weeks left??”  She replied, “You wouldn’t believe how hard it is to plan something like this.”

To put it mildly, I didn’t know how to deal with all of that, nor did I know what to believe. They were giving me the creeps, and I wanted to just run away, with Misty, in the middle of the night.  But I’d told them I’d leave on Friday, and I very much wanted this particular black and tan, now sleeping on my couch, to be safe. I knew from my days as a judge, that if I called law enforcement, the couple could readily discount any concern that they were a “threat to themselves or others”, and I would only succeed in “flushing” them – and they’d leave WITH Misty, to do whatever they chose. I called a retired Methodist minister; I talked with a friend who is a psychiatrist. I had long candid conversations with the wife. And Misty stayed with me, on a trial run, until Friday, my set departure date.

Finally Friday arrived; filled with dread and confusion I took Misty outside and told Greg, “Here.  Misty is yours.”  I had spent sleepless nights, bracing for whatever weird story would come next.  Yet the Husband replied, “No, Misty is yours.” The wife hugged my neck and said, “You’re an answer to our prayers,” The two of them left on a long walk; I hooked up the RV. Misty and I drove away.  I haven’t seen or heard from them since.

For two and a half years Misty and I lived in an RV, making trips from Florida to Arizona and parts in between. With Misty as a formidable companion always by my side, I felt secure.  “I can do anything.”

A year and a half after I began traveling with Misty, I had a medical issue at the age of 69 for which my cardiologist recommended a service dog. I wasn’t interested in buying a service dog; one German Shepherd in a 27.5 foot motorhome was enough.  Misty was the smartest Shepherd I’ve had and in good physical health. I contacted a service dog training school in Tucson, AZ. Though Misty was “too old” to go through the school (four years is their cut off age), they referred me to one of their trainers and we went to work, after hours. Misty took to service work in ways that startled both me and the trainer.  She had an unflappable demeanor, was very bright, and totally food motivated.  I swear she would have done a double back flip for a treat, if I could help her understand what I wanted.

In the first of many adaptions that will be required as I age, I also traded in my 32 travel trailer and big diesel truck for a small motorhome with no slides and a miniature truck to tow behind.  I call it my little old lady motorhome.

my little old lady motorhome at City of Rocks


Between her good looks and calm demeanor, Misty was the poster child of good will.  She was particularly fond of children, and gently let tiny strangers pet and poke.

Misty also had a way of knowing when a grown-up needed a special dog fix.  One day when we came out of Wal-Mart (she was on-duty, wearing her superwoman red cape that read “in training”), she stopped as we approached a man standing between the parked cars.  He spoke quietly, “I had a German Shepherd.” I responded, “Yeah, they’re great dogs,” and took a step.  Misty didn’t move.  I paused, a bit confused by Misty, for her whole focus was on the man. She wasn’t tensed, just intense. He said, “My dog was looked just like her.” I trusted Misty and her instincts; I said, “Free” and she moved to him. He buried his hands in her fur and dropped his head. Then he added,” I had to put my dog down last week.”  His wife was standing behind him; she caught my eye and quietly mouthed “Thank you.” After a few quiet moments, he stood up and walked away.

Though Misty remained alert and so very good looking, in August, 2017, she began having trouble with her hips (a common problem for German Shepherds). The vet said it was arthritis and we began an extensive (and expensive) Rx regime. When we left NW Florida in the motorhome early October, she was fine though still not back at the top of her game. By early November, we were back at City of Rocks SP in western NM – a place we both loved, and the place she had first come to me.

November 3, I took Misty to East Lohman Veterinary Clinic in Las Cruces, NM, for her monthly Adequan injection; she was slowing down but still in control of her world.  But when we went to Albuquerque to visit friends for Thanksgiving, she drug her left rear foot on the sidewalks to the point the toe nails bled, a lot. I dialed back her activity level even more but she was soon dragging both rear feet; she couldn’t tell where her hind legs were, so they would get tangled up or slide out from under her at weird angles. She was noticeably worst when we left Albuquerque.

I didn’t want to take her to a stranger, though Dr. Ross was certainly not the closest vet.  It was only miles, so I made another appointment in Las Cruces for November 30.  We were back at City of Rocks and drove into town early to meet friends for lunch at Rudy’s, a popular BBQ place in Las Cruces.  Misty came in with me, wearing her superwoman cape that says “In Training.” She lay on the floor of olfactory heaven and took a pill wrapped in my roasted turkey breast.  Again, people bragged on her – how pretty, how smart, how calm. But the BBQ was hard for me to swallow.

Soon we were at the vet’s.  Dr. Ross sat on the floor beside Misty, going through the neurological tests I’d watched before.  But in less than four weeks, the results were very different.  With compassion, patience, and professionalism, Dr. Ross explained Misty had rapidly progressive neuropathy, and there was nothing that could be done to help her. She stressed that Misty was not in pain, and said there was no reason to do hip X-rays, give her the Adequan shot, or continue her on the pain meds. I leaned against the steel exam table to brace myself, and Dr. Ross gently rubbed Misty as she talked.  She explained that soon, Misty would fall down and be unable to walk.  She would lose control of her bowels and bladder. I asked for a time line, and she said a month at the longest, perhaps a week, or that she could fall the next time I let her outside.  She emphasized that the decision was completely mine and gently added, “I can put her down now, or you can wait as long as you chose.  I had a dog with progressive neuropathy, and I waited till he fell and couldn’t get up.  Then I put him to sleep.  It’s your decision how to handle this.”  I finally found enough air in my lungs to speak, and the words came from that deep place – a strong place where love lives.  “I don’t have your skills set.  I can’t put her down in the middle of the night, or the middle of the desert. And I have a bad back.  I can’t pick her up when she falls.” I stood there with no clear answers, watching Misty through clouds of tears. The room was quiet; the vet was not hurrying me. Finally I could speak again, “I don’t have it in me to put her down today. I want to take her home with me, to say goodbye.  But this is Thursday, and I don’t trust the weekend.  Plus, I’m 85 miles from you.  I’ll bring her back tomorrow.”

Misty and I drove back to City of Rocks State Park, and the bad jokes began. I asked what she wanted for her Last Supper; we agreed on lots of rotisserie chicken and home-made chicken soup on top of a little kibble.  Our only goal was to insure she didn’t get an upset stomach.  She wondered why we hadn’t started this Last Supper routine months ago. Friday morning she happily inhaled her Last Breakfast – a repeat of the menu from the night before. Then just after sunrise, we took the Last Walk, up through the rocks. Her ears were on full alert; the adrenalin was flowing as she hurried hither and yon, pulling on the leash, convinced she could catch those darting rabbits if I’d just turn her loose.  As we turned to go back to the RV, a pack of coyotes began to sing.  Misty’s coyote angels, calling her home.

Then we got in the truck and headed back to Las Cruces. I’d packed her a Last Picnic of yet more rotisserie chicken and we left early to stop at a city park near the vet.  But as I made the turn, there on the corner was a Pet Smart!  Misty’s all-time favorite place.  So we skipped the park and went to Pet Smart.  Misty walked up and down the aisles, smelling every bone and bag of dog food within nose reach.  Twice. But then it was time to go.

At the vet’s office, Misty and I were led into a room with a soft blanket on the floor, and I began to parcel out yet more rotisserie chicken. As I sat on the floor beside her, Dr. Ross gave her a shot that relaxed her and then injected the lethal dose in her artery.  The process is …. more than words can convey. Soon the vet nodded and said, “She’s gone.  You can stay as long as you like.” I got up, shaking my head and responded, “No.  I have to go now.” Then I leaned over and buried my hand in her still warm fur and looked straight into the vet’s eyes, “You won’t find a better one than this.” I left through the back door and sat in my truck until the sobs subsided enough I could see and drive.

Back at the RV, I began to clean house.  The next day, I took laundry – mine and Misty’s – to the Laundromat.  I came home to an RV that was too clean, too quiet, too empty.

Two days later I went with Dyana, a friend from Las Cruces, to the Pink Store in Palomas, Mexico.  I bought very large, very bright paper flowers and a vase, because they make me smile.  Then I bought a Day of the Dead ceramic tile; it’s a very happy dead dog.  I bought it because it makes me laugh.

Four days later , I drove away from City of Rocks without Misty. Someday soon, I’ll come back to our favorite place to scatter her ashes.  City of Rocks, where I found and lost Misty.

In the meantime, I have outrageously colorful flowers on my table and a ceramic tile of a very happy dead dog.  I believe Misty is happy – laughing over memories of olfactory heaven in a BBQ place, great last suppers, rabbits, coyotes, and even a last trip through Pet Smart.

Misty wasn’t in pain.  I still am.  And she’s worth every tear. The mystery of love.

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15. old people pounding nails

You can only spend 14 out of 20 days in a NM state park. It was that time, so I hooked the truck to the back of the motor home and took a short ride from City of Rocks State Park to Las Cruces, NM to join the Care A Vanners, nine other RV’s parked at the Mesilla Valley Habitat for Humanity.  Care A Vanners are a subculture of RV’ers who travel around the country with a purpose – to help Habitat build affordable, safe housing for strangers.  Care A Vanners can be a strange group – generally, as in Las Cruces, it’s not a group of spring chickens but a group that, with few exceptions, qualify for senior discounts and Medicare. The exceptions in this group were Jake and Angela, a couple in their early 30’s who choose to spend the majority of the year volunteering for Habitat; they work nights and weekends to support themselves and then go home, to regroup financially, by working harder still. There was much cross-generational banner, and the young couple added a different flavor of levity to the group.

As I said, Care A Vanners can be a strange group.  And so this gaggle of mostly old people came together for ten days to pound nails.  Forming a chorus line of limping, creaking, grunting, and stretching as we tried to work out charley horses, crunchy knees, bad backs, and blown shoulders, we worked HARD, framing, building walls, attaching sheathing, and lifting trusses.

Jake and Angela, the youngest and strongest, volunteered on the roof.  

Many days the core group of Care A Vanners was joined by volunteers from the local community. 

the officers with the Las Cruces Police Department were a big help. And, yes, we felt very safe!

We also had the great privilege of working alongside several future home owners. What a joy to watch their eyes sparkle as they talked of how excited their kids are! The houses Habitat is building are more than just decent housing – they are homes to be proud of, homes to raise children in.

This Habitat affiliate does not allow nail guns, so we pounded – by hand – every single nail. Actually, we pounded many more nails than were “necessary.”  The wood was hard, there were knots, and our aim wasn’t always good.  When there were two or three bent nails on the floor for each one securely in the wood, Pete and Dyana, the two supervisors, never complained or criticized – their goal was a quality product, and so they bought lots and lots of nails.  When the plates failed to line up flush, we pulled them apart and tried again. When the nails attaching the sheathing missed the studs and flashed “shiners” at us, we pulled them out and began again.  We used lots and lots of nails 😉

I hadn’t worked on a Habitat build in seven years, and something strange had happened.   Now 70 years old, I’m somehow not as strong and don’t have as much stamina.  What??  But my sudden onset of aging wasn’t obvious to the others; they were too busy dealing with their own.  So we made bad jokes and took pride in the fact that though we were all given the senior discount without having to ask for it, we weren’t home watching TV, or sitting on a bar stool complaining.  As the days went by, each of us hurt somewhere.  My “some where’s” generally woke me up for a conversation during the middle of the night.  Shooting pains across my upper right shoulder after a particularly long day of hammering, followed by red-hot pain between my right thumb and forefinger – right where I held the hammer. Ice, ibuprofen and wine seem to help. Collectively we went through almost as many ibuprofen as we did nails.

a can can? Well, what do you expect when you give grey haired women hard hats and hammers?


Pete helps out by adding his weight. Two men standing around, while a woman hammers.

Mesilla Valley Habitat stresses excellent product (let me repeat – they were NOT shy about telling us to pull something apart and begin again), safety, and, yes, FUN.  So there was much banter during the work day; those exchanges intensified as we sat around the camp fire after hours and were in high gear in the morning circle.  Pete and Dyana were serious if not a bit fanatical about safety 😉  (everyone, always, had to wear a hard hat – period – no exceptions)  Eye protection – but no gloves – when using a saw.  I consistently added hearing protection to the litany of required safety items, but I’m not sure it was enough, given my significant hearing loss.  I have an appointment with an audiologist this week; I hope to learn it’s a reasonable option for me to work other builds, with consistent use of hearing protection.  Somehow manual labor – for such an important purpose – is very good for me.  Good work with good people for a good cause.

Some of these Care A Vanners will stay at Las Cruces until March.  Others will move on, to see the country and aim their RV’s at another Habitat build.  Often Care A Vanners provide the backbone (though admittedly an old, creaky bone) for home construction.  Mesilla Valley Habitat will build five houses this season, a goal that could not be realized without a cadre of aging gypsies who enjoy working and playing hard.

we looked like an army of ants, but together it wasn’t hard

And up they go. Pete was part traffic cop and part conductor of a disjointed orchestra .Because he knew what he was doing & we did what he said – believe it or not, no one got squashed, and one more house has roof trusses

And Las Cruces does such a good job, there are no available Care A Vanner RV slots for the rest of this build year.  But there is always room – and work – for anyone who shows up

For more information see   and


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14. You musta gone crazy out there

From the high deserts of New Mexico

Night rider’s lament:

Why do you ride for your money
Why do you rope for short pay
You ain’t a getting’ nowhere and you’re losin’ your share
You must have gone crazy out there

There are some things I just can’t explain. Like –

Why did you leave the Bench, your role as a Judge? Why would you walk away from a secure position that paid very well, with incredible power and prestige?  Before retirement age, long before the big benefits kicked in? You didn’t have to go! Why would you get rid of everything and ride around the country, alone, in an RV?  Why don’t you go back? You can make good money doing mediations!

          Where do you live?

          When are you coming back to Florida?  Where are you going next?  Where will you be in February? Where are going when you leave here?

A motorcycle friend had a T-shirt with the emblem of a Goldwing.  Under the Wing, it read “If I have to explain, you wouldn’t understand.”

This is the best I can do today to “explain.” Right now my RV is parked in western New Mexico at City of Rocks State Park, south of Silver City, NM. This is the view from my kitchen window.  Early yesterday I saw several jack rabbits; the low rays of the sun illuminated their ridiculously large ears that rotated like large radio antennas. (Very Large Array on not so large rabbits). This morning, as Misty and I were out walking, we visited with a delightful Canadian couple who had stopped here for a few nights as they travel in a conversion van.  Gordon and Ginny are close to my age (I’m 70).  They are bright-eyed, engaged with life, and enthusiastic about their shared passion for birds.  And they are respectful, humorous, and gentle with each other.  Still – after 20 years!  Gordon volunteered that they share “a great partnership.” Shortly after we talked, they rode away, heading to southeast Arizona to look for more birds, as they amble back to British Columbia.  We swapped contact information, and I hope to visit with next summer in British Columbia. Check out his amazing photography at his website,

“Why do you rope for short pay? “ Why do I prefer to ramble, observe and listen, instead of being fully engaged in the legal world?  Maybe I’ve gone crazy out here.  But it’s a good crazy.  Sunshine to saunter in, in this forever-changing  wide-open world of the high desert.  A world in which I can see forever.  Further than my eye can see.  So from the mesa top, I look southward til my eyes get tired; then I like to pretend to mark that furthest spot.  Take a break, then begin looking southward from there. Each morning I sit to watch the sun rise behind the mountains out the rear windows of my small motor home. The west side of the mountains is black/purple as the sky behind it begins to lighten.  Soon above the mountain peak, there’s a subtle plume of blue in the orange/pink sky.  Something like a cloud wisp in the cloudless sky.  As the sky gets brighter with the sun inching closer to the edge, the blue/purple plume undulates slightly.  It looks too magical to be real, but I can’t blink it away. Then the plume disappears as the sun pulls itself up over the mountain, throwing light daggers and quickly changing everything, But I have another appointment tomorrow, just before sunrise, to see that the plume reappears.

Last week, I spent time with special friends, Marion and Jamie Newton as they worked on the annual fund raiser for KURU, the small, local radio station in Silver City, NM.  Jamie interviewed on the air a fascinating couple – Phil and Kathy Dahl-Bredine – to discuss their book, Milpa, from seeds to salsa, and their vital work of sharing with the world the wisdom of the indigenous people in the Mixtec region of Oaxaca, in southern Mexico.  Like the book, the interview was bilingual – Spanish and English.  Marion and I listened to the interview on her car radio, parked in the shade with the windows down. Yesterday I rode back into Silver City to meet with Phil and Kathy.  They have lived in southern Mexico for 17 years, and their respect for the people and the culture is palpable.   Over a glass of iced tea at a restaurant known as The Toad, Phil and Kathy talked of their work with the team who wrote Milpa.  Their book, of coffee table size,  explores through a blend of essays, recipes and documentary photography how the ancient agricultural knowledge and the wealth of 1000 year-old seeds and planting practices still in use among the Mixtec peoples of southern Mexico can help meet the worldwide ecological and food crises of today. I’ll do a separate post with more details about the book. This is their Facebook page and their blog is at

Like me, Phil and Kathy are no spring chickens.  They have seven grown children state-side, and they have lived primarily in the Mixtec region of Oaxaca, in southern Mexico for 17 years. They leave the U.S. in two days, going back to southern Mexico, near the Guatemala border.  They will travel by bus.  Not a big motor home or a chartered bus.  They will take the ordinary bus that ordinary Mexicans use to travel across their country.  Like the people they will travel with, Phil and Kathy are both ordinary and extraordinary.

City of Rocks State Park is one of my favorites and I return here almost every year. The views are varied – long vistas across rolling plains, punctuated by mountains.  Nightly, there’s a jaw-dropping star party in the ink-black sky.  Silver City, a 45 minute drive to the north, is a fascinating, eclectic place with a wide range of people.  I have close friends in the area. The Gila Cliff Dwellings can be a day’s outing.  Yet as I sit in the quiet, writing, I hear rocks crunch under the tires of a lone truck heading out. The sounds of leaving piqued my interest – where are they going? My intrigue with the sound suggests I’m getting ready to go, too, to see what’s around the bend.

OK, but – really, “Why do you rope for short pay?” Every day I speak with kind people and experience Mother Nature. Every day I have time to sit, without words, and look out the window.  I write and most days I take a nap. Misty and I spend time outside, exploring.  Yes — expensive things break, I get stranded, I get lost.  Some days I get down on myself for not “accomplishing” something.  Yet life is good, people are kind, and Nature is awe-inspiring.

She asked him why does he ride for his money
Why does he rope for short pay
He ain’t getting’ nowhere and he’s losin’ his share
He must have gone crazy out there
But she’s never seen the Northern Lights
Never seen a hawk on the wing
Never seen Spring hit the Great Divide
And never heard Ol’ Camp Cookie sing

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13. Beginning again – again.

Beginning again – again

Somehow, I get tangled up when I cross back to the Adult World, and things take much longer than I plan.  So it was that my short time planned in NW Florida turned into a long time, full of responsible adult things.  But, after sifting and shifting minutia I was finally able to get back on the road.  And again, I find myself, leaving to be me.  A sojourner, a gypsy, a lover of open roads.

Misty (my German Shepherd) and I drove the motor home with the truck in tow and motorcycle in the bed for 1,200 miles to New Mexico and spent nights with Wal-Mart to offset the startlingly high cost of gas. I tried a new approach – driving only 300 miles a day, rather than the 400+ I always drove before.  It was less tiring, but still a very long way.  In route, I conducted a scientific experiment and determined I do not enjoy a 4,000+ foot decrease in altitude, going down the mountain from Cloudcroft to Alamogordo, NM.  Nothing bad happened, but it was not fun.  Stopped in at White Sands National Monument for a photo op, and then began a tour of some of my favorite NM State Parks. Though this looks like the beach along the Gulf of Mexico, it’s the desert.  See the mountains in the background?

After almost a week in one place, I’m settling in, settling down.  And I’ll leave again soon.  That’s what gypsies do.

I love the high desert, the low humidity, the plateaus, the mountains.  The changing light, the varied bird sounds, star-gazing without city lights.   Early this morning, I heard coyotes singing themselves home from a hunt.  It was the closest, loudest and longest song I’ve heard, from what seemed like several dozen coyotes.  It was happy magic. Yesterday I was at the kitchen sink when a LARGE roadrunner landed on the water facet outside the window.  He left as I picked up my camera.  Like the coyote songs, the roadrunner image is only recorded in my heart.

I’ve begun to play with my camera – a good measure of my contentment.  I took a hike above the Mimbres Valley with my friend, Marion, today, and share a couple of pictures from that outing.

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