Sunday, September 17, 2017


The Monsoon has begun in Tucson as I write this. And that brings all of its wonders to mind. Here in the Pennsylvania rain forest we take the rain for granted. But in the southwest desert the rains are a much anticipated and celebrated occurrence.


As the heat rises in the desert during the late summer months, the humidity rises also, making everyone miserable and anxious. But it’s that miserableness that’s got to build to make the miracle happen. No pain, no gain.


In time, the heat rising off of the desert floor begins to make its way up onto the surrounding mountain ranges where it forms towering cloud formations that finally collapse onto the valley floor below dumping their contents to the relief of all. At least that is how I THINK it works. I remember getting pretty excited myself when the clouds formed in the hills.


A monsoon downpour is to say the least, memorable! I consider myself fortunate to have gotten caught driving in one of them and to have survived. Windshield wipers are useless and you can’t even see where to pull off of the streets. So you creep along very slowly feeling for the curbs, following the pick-up truck in front of you, hoping that maybe HE know where he is and where he’s going. I survived and was stunned to see the Rillito River roiling away and filled to capacity. No camera so no photo. But believe me, it was amazing. [For the record... this is the Rillito RIVER the way it usually looks... NO WATER... so is this really a river??? LOL!]


There are tons of ‘new’ rivers when the monsoon rains fall. There is no real storm drainage system in Tucson, so the streets become little rivers until the water finds its way into various natural washes and ditches that drain the town. And that’s another thing that’s fun. The roads and streets of Tucson are not graded, but twist and turn and follow the natural lay of the land. Roads rise over and around hills and then fall away, deep into the washes and back up the other side.


It makes for a fun ride until they fill with water and become raging rivers. Warning signs come out all over town. “DO NOT ENTER WHEN FLOODED!” Obviously! And yet some will, prompting Tucson’s ‘stupid driver’ laws to stay in the books. It costs $1500 to drive into a flooding wash and get swept away, creating a rescue situation. It happens every year.


There are many benefits that are immediately felt as the rains pass. The temperature drops. Everything sparkles. Kayaks become useful things! Of course the most beautiful result of nature’s wonder is the evening skies, filled with clouds and reflecting a patient sun as it drops behind the hills, promising to start the whole process over again in the morning.


Friday, July 7, 2017


When I tell people that I’ve spent time in Arizona, one of the subjects that comes up the most is the heat. “Is it true you can fry an egg on a rock out there?” I’ve never fried an egg on a rock so I can’t really say, but I always come back with this. “Not sure; but I know you can bake cookies on the dashboard of your car when that sun is blaring.” I’ve never tried that either, but I’ve seen it done in principle at a quirky solar event I went to in Tucson. And… I have eaten solar cookies!

 I don’t recall how I heard about the Solar Potluck. I’m not sure who sponsored it. Not sure if it was a competition or just a demonstration of solar cookery, etc. All I remember is that they said there would be music and some of my friends would be there playing and singing. It was nearing the end of my time in Tucson – the time when I actually lived there – and I was taking advantage of every opportunity to take in the essence of Tucson and be with friends.

 I had vague directions – vague to me – and I knew the general time and vicinity of the event, so when the moment was right, I headed up there to see what it was all about. I had a double reason for going actually. For all the time I spent in Tucson, there was still a lot of it I had never seen. This event for instance was held in Catalina State Park, which I had yet to visit. I wasn’t disappointed by the setting for this solar event, for I found the Catalinas to be every bit as breath-taking on the northern slopes as they were on the south!


They weren’t hard to find - this motley crew of sun cookers. I followed the signs into the park, parked my car and found my way to the site. There I found the small yet significant group of solar pioneers grouped in a circle, displaying their wares and their processes. I was intrigued.

 Contraptions of every shape and size were slowly cooking a variety of vegetables, meats and desserts. There were crocks wrapped in metal flashing to draw in the heat.

Steam collecting on the inside of their glass lids verified that something was happening in there!

Some kept track of temperatures with internal thermometers. Yep! Things were definitely cooking!

Many of the devices were portable.

One oven was even made from an old suitcase. Portable indeed!


One guy was melting pennies. He had figured out how to capture and condense the rays of the sun into one mean melting machine. I sacrificed one of my own copper coins to see it work. This was a worthy contraption. I'm sure there are applications galore.


There was a solar wok which I thought quite creative. Some inventive soul had figured out how to concentrate reflective solar energy onto the bottom of the pan so stir-frying could take place. There were delicious smells coming from that workable wok and I was... well... getting hungry!


Another dude had devised a solar bake oven – kind of glass covered foil box, not too deep - and was passing out cookies he’d baked there. Yum! “It takes fifteen minutes.” He said. We discussed baking cookies on the dashboard of the car and he said ‘yep.’ And he said you can roast a roast in your car too.


It takes 45 minutes for each pound of roast. At this time I would like to make this point. Arizona cars do not rust. But they are not free of suffering. With glass windows transforming them into little bake ovens, you can see why the interiors take a beating. Ha!

 There was art at this solar party too. Tucson’s environmentalists are creative in more ways than one. Somebody please remind me who made this mosaic?!


 And of course, there was the music! No Tucson event is really complete without the music. This was no exception. A solar serenade filled the area as well as kitchens smells and friendly smiles.


The capstone of the day was when all of the participants gathered at the pavilion to share a fabulous solar cooked meal. Solar cooks from around the circle brought their various crocks, pans, trays of food to the table. This was a first for me. Everything there had been prepared, and baked, boiled or heated by our most generous Sun. Everything was cooked to perfection and delicious!

 I left with a new awareness and appreciation for this abundant source of alternative energy. Our sun is a loving and free source of energy, capable of sustaining us - a treasure that at least folks in that part of the country can always enjoy.

Friday, June 2, 2017

Tale #2 - GATES PASS

The first time I went out to Gates Pass I didn’t even get to Gates Pass before I ordered my traveling companion to stop the car and let me out. We were driving west on Speedway, for that is how one gets to Gates Pass, when we suddenly reached this place where a million saguaro cactuses spread out in all directions. Or so it seemed.
Most of the saguaros I had seen were lone creatures standing tall against a brilliant sky. Here was a massive shadeless forest. I had to stop to take it all in. This was the beginning of the Saguaro National Forest of which the pass is a small part. It was glorious and unexpected. So out of the car I went.

Speedway has its own unique Wild West history. It stretches from one end of Tucson to the other – from the Tucson Mountains to the Rincon range some 20 miles away – and is as flat and straight as a board. Back in the day, the fine citizens of Tucson conducted auto races upon that stretch of road, hence the name ‘Speedway.’
When the road hits the foothills, it begins its gently winding rise toward the mountains as a single lane highway. When it hits the mountain canyon, the road narrows significantly with no berm and clings to the side of the hills until it reaches the crest and drops over the edge at a 90 degree angle, plunging back down to the desert floor on the other side.  A truly harrowing experience the first time over!

This is Gates Pass, created in 1883 by one man’s search for a shortcut through the Tucson Mountains to his carbonate mines in the Avra Valley below. That’s what they say. But to me it is one of those spots that showcase the natural beauty of an unspoiled earth.

The overlook provides a great view of Tucson’s sunsets. People are drawn by this common purpose in the evenings, much like they are drawn to Lake Erie in my old stomping grounds in Erie and Ashtabula Counties, back east. The sunsets are sometimes quite dramatic.
I lucked into a simultaneous sunset/moonrise one time. I went up to the pass with some friends visiting from Pennsylvania. We watched intently as the sun lowered behind a distant mountain range only to turn around and see a glorious full moon rising up behind us, lighting up the city below. We were spellbound. None of that crowd rushed away.

I have taken my life into my own hands out there, too. The rugged landscape of the cliffs overlooking the pass lured me in one time. When driving down the steep decline on the west side, it is impossible to take it all in. So one day I set out on foot to really get a closer look at it. Probably stupid as the only place to walk is that winding road with no berm, and at the edge of the road is a fairly steep drop covered in cholla cactus and with their long nasty spines. But I did it anyway. I am glad I did. I have found many times that hoofing it is the best way to really experience the desert.

I return to Gates Pass again and again. Each time I try it on for size and it fits differently. I go there to acclimate when I first arrive. I go to absorb its beauty and energy one last time before I leave the southwest. I know it will sustain me. I take my friends. I go alone. Each time I try to explore or trek some part of it where I have not yet been.

There’s the gate house and the outlook post. There are washes and trails, huge rocks to sit on, and mountains to climb. There are winds and to be felt and heard. Bird song to hear. Skies to watch. Shadows to play in. And each season with its own flavor and color. Sometimes it even snows, though I have yet to see that. It is a place of great beauty… and mystery.
I have heard more than once that there are UFO sightings in these mountains. A friend of mine described a ship the length of three city blocks and three stories high which he saw hovering over the Tucson Mountains one night. He was surprised at the level of fear he experienced at the sight of it as he was a firm believer in ET presence in the area. As if they heard him, he received their transmission of enlightenment saying he was more accurately afraid of something within himself. They merely mirrored – metaphysical stuff.
I had my own mystical experience one winter day when I drove out to the pass alone, to regroup after some challenging personal stuff. The area was deserted. I was investigating the gatehouse and took my time observing the landscape and feeling its calming pulse. I finally landed myself on a rock and began to talk to the cosmos as I am inclined to do when I’m sorting through my life.

It was then that I noticed strange things happening over my own head. The sky up to that point was clear and blue. But now, as I sat there, a web of wispy white clouds was forming overhead. It happened quickly. The sky took on the appearance of lace spreading out in an almost rectangular space and not only that, but these clouds soon began to dance, weaving among themselves with no regard for the prevailing winds. I was witnessing a sky ballet of a most spectacular sort. I felt the presence of some great sentience behind it. This display was not random. It was personal. It was for me. I was not alone.
The clouds dissolved as quickly and neatly as they had formed and I was alone once more, staring at the clear blue sky again. I headed back into town, my life feeling strangely supported by something unknown, yet wise and caring. I was grateful.
I have seen ‘cloud ships’ over Tucson many times. I have a friend who says they come to bear witness when something of a high or spiritual nature is happening. By luck, a group of us watched in amazement as they appeared one, two, three overhead soon after we arrived at the pass one rainy evening. I am not sure what was high or spiritual about our visit, except perhaps the joy we felt to be out there at all!

I leave you with one of my favorite Gates Pass sunsets. This was the last sunset I took in before flying back to Pennsylvania this past spring. I was amazed at how far the sun had moved from when I first came out to the pass 2 months earlier. The alignment of the sunsets is always changing, and occasionally things line up in a most delightful way.
This last time, as I stood on the mountain overlooking the valley, the sun setting in the distance was passing though a little outcropping in a mountain half way between. Sitting in the dip of this outcropping was a little grove of saguaros. The effect, with a little imagination, was of a saguaro family watching the sunset, complete with the little dare-devil kid who won’t stay with the group.

So that is the title I gave it: “Saguaro Family Watching the Sunset.” And here it is, with its little saguaro family, mirroring the human family behind it, watching yet another beautiful sunset beyond them, from one of the many beautiful places on earth.

Sunday, May 21, 2017


The first time I was introduced to the idea of finding an old mission that would become my place of healing and inspiration, was before I even knew I was going to Tucson. An intuitive counselor told me that I was going to the southwest… that my spirit guides were pushing me to go… that my spirituality and creativity were tied to the land. I knew in my heart that she was right but had no idea why she was saying this since I had no such plan.

“Where am I supposed to go?” I asked, because I sure as heck didn’t know.

“I don’t know,” she said. “Just get online and talk to everyone you know out there.”

It was from that initial inquiry that I got the word that this would be a vision quest for me.

“Be ready,” one cyber acquaintance told me. “Be ready to feel like you are experiencing more than one dimension at a time. I see you standing in an old adobe (might be a church or other “sacred” space) and hearing music and feeling people dancing, etc. that are from another world. It will be as if you are experiencing a shamanistic experience from a parallel life.”

So when I ended up at Myra’s house in Tucson less than one month later and she listed for me the things I could see and the places I could visit while I was there and she said something about a mission, I was all ears. That’s where we would go.

The San Xavier Mission was a stunning sight, pure white against a deep blue sky. Shadow and light played across the whole building. I was enthralled with the parts of it, overwhelmed by the whole.

My connection to this place was immediate – this was ‘my place’. When I first stepped foot into the mission interior, it was like walking into the earth itself. It was dark and cool and echoed our footsteps. Candles burned in the dimness, lighting hope for loved ones left behind. I was fascinated by the ethereal glow that connected this world to the next.

Father Kino looked down from the altar with patriarchal care. Various saints and holy men and women joined him from their perches along the walls. The place was simple, ornate, and glorious all together. With its Native influence and orthodox detail, it breathed of synthesis, compromise, finding the middle way. I was at peace.
There is a courtyard beyond the museum and gift shop areas. There were benches there and I sat, looking at yet another bank of candles spread across the porch under a tile portrait of Our Lady of Guadalupe. I sat a long while, absorbing the energies, offering my prayers, expressing my gratitude for finding my way to this part of the world and to this place in particular. I was in bliss.

It was then that Myra drew my attention to a bird, not fully grown, sitting on another bench in a daze. Someone had filled a bottle cap with water and set it there for him to drink. I had been reading all winter about the Hawaiian Kahuna tradition of healing, which basically says we can send our prayers to our highest Help on the winds of our own breath. So I thought I’d give it a try. Somehow I knew it would work.
I opened my palm, faced it toward the little guy, closed my eyes, and began to breathe deeply and slowly, seeing him whole and well. It took only 10 breaths and I knew that’s all it would take. By the count of 8 he began to move. By the count of 9 he fluttered his wings, and at the count of 10, he flapped his wings and flew away. Myra had been watching the whole time, incredulous. I knew the feeling. We are only beginning to reclaim the readiness of healing and miracles. There was only one thing I could say. “There… now you have a story you can tell that no one will believe.” Healing place indeed!

I’ve been back to the mission many times on my return visits to the southwest and during the year I lived there… One day, as I was driving in Tucson, I had a strong impulse to go to the Mission. I looked at the clock and realized it would be closed before I even got there. But the feeling persisted so off I went to the reservation and its Dove of the Desert as it was lovingly known.
The place was abandoned, yet the door stood wide open. I wandered the grounds for awhile taking pictures in the late afternoon sunlight not sure if I should enter the building or not. When I finally mustered my courage and stepped into the dim interior, I realized why I was there.

There are fresco paintings covering the walls of the nave. On the eastern wall was a painting of the Apostles on the Day of Pentecost when the heavens opened and the Holy Spirit, like tongues of fire, descended upon them. Centered over the painting was an engraved wooden cross. The windows on the west side of the nave are high in the wall. That evening, they were alight with the rays of the lowering sun. The light from one of those windows cast its shadow onto the painting across the room. The cross pieces of the sashes created a shadow that aligned perfectly with the wooden cross centered over the painting. It was a stunning sight.
There are only two days of the year that this alignment would happen and always it would happen in the evening after the building was locked up. Yet here I was. I’m not sure that anyone had ever seen this before. I was grateful for the sight of it and the photo. In time, the shadow of the cross moved away from its prime spot, and someone came to the building to lock it up.

“I don’t know what happened here,” he said. “Someone was supposed to lock it up.”

Well, I knew what had happened. The spirit of the Mission had conspired to share one of its treasures with me. I was meant to shoot it and share it with the world.
San Xavier did become my healing place in more ways than one. I went there after my mother died and shed healing tears for her. A kind stranger, moved by my situation, offered me a package of tissues to dry my eyes. She let me keep them. The tissues were printed with colorful flowers; something I had never seen before. It was like a bouquet from my mom in heaven.

Sometimes healing resembles the extraction of a rotten tooth. I had this kind of healing too when for some reason the fates decided this was the time and place to end a struggling 6-year relationship. It happened in the front square of the mission where the food vendors set up, while in the middle of a fry bread order! I was not too happy that he couldn’t have waited for 2 days and broken this news to me in Pennsylvania. But these are mysteries we must accept.
One year later, I was able to return to that same spot with friends, salt, sage, and various other healing tools, to do some ceremony to clear the spot… and my life… of any negative energies left there from the ‘incident’. I shared fry bread with my friends that day and validated my life with the understanding that sometimes it is from the greatest sorrows that the greatest joys come! I end with the clouds.
I have been marvelously blessed to end up at the mission under some of the most dramatic skies. I don’t know what it is about this combination, but seeing that solid white form standing, strong and stable, against the ever-changing skies leaves me spellbound.
Perhaps it is the contrast of our lives I see here. Life tumbles along, but something remains steadfast. It is a church after all. A place of comfort. A symbol of Promise. “I am here. You are not alone. Come here. Find shelter for your soul. Find healing for body, mind and spirit.” Things change. Parents pass. Relationships end. Birds fly away. But always there is strength. Always, there is beauty… and solace… and a way home. The skies will change, but there is always something here that lasts. For more of Vim's mission photos, CLICK HERE!