Dear Elizabeth

A letter to a former friend.

Dear Elizabeth,

Rooibos TeaAs amazing as this might seem, I’ve been thinking a lot about you this winter.

It started when I found an old box of rooibos chai tea in my pantry. You might not recall this, but you introduced me to red tea years and years ago at your Howard Mesa home. I bought a box and drank it often at home. Somehow, it got shifted to my RV and brought up to Washington. The box “expired” in 2009 — giving you an idea of just how old it was! — but the tea still tastes fine.

Each time I have a cup of that tea, I think of you. I think of your wonderful little home on the Mesa. The wood burning stove. The views. Your work-in-progress illustrated book about the local plants. The cats. I think of dinners there and the few times you came to our pitiful — but much loved, at least on my part — cabin a few miles away and let us cook for you and Matt.

I think of the old days, when things were still good between all of us.

I really liked you. I thought you were a good, well-grounded, happy person. I was happy that you’d become a part of your daughter’s life. You always made me feel welcome at your home. You made me feel like a friend.

So imagine my disappointment when I wrote to you in September 2012 to tell you about my ex-husband’s infidelity and warn you that some men, when left alone, will find companionship other than their wives. I never expected you to forward that email to Matt. I never expected it to be forwarded to my estranged husband with the complaint from Matt that I was trying to destroy his marriage.

I didn’t bother you again after that.

Or, actually, I did. As I was driving away from Howard Mesa that last time in April or May 2013, I tried to call you on the phone. It rang and rang. I wondered if you knew it was me and were purposely letting it ring. I don’t recall if I left a message. It doesn’t matter. You never called back.

At that point, I knew that any friendship we might have had was over. And I began to doubt whether you’d been my friend at all.

Fast forward to today.

A mutual friend — someone you might not even know personally — told me that you and Matt had split and that Matt had remarried very soon after the divorce.

All I can say is wow.

I’m left to wonder whether he already had a replacement for you when he complained to my future ex-husband about me trying to destroy your marriage. Or whether you finally wised up and dumped the man who’s likely responsible for some of the seriously bad advice my future ex-husband received during his costly and futile attempts to steal my business assets.

It doesn’t matter to me. Water under the bridge.

I called you today to chat. A little about this, and a little about what I want to finish up with:

I still think you’re a fine person. You have a good heart, you’re smart, you’re attractive, and you’re relatively young. I’m sure you’ll have no trouble finding a much better replacement for the man you left behind — if you even want one. Maybe you’ve already replaced him.

No matter what happens to you in this life, please know that I’ll always wish the best for you. Also know that if you ever need someone to talk to, my phone number is the same and I’ll do my best to answer or return calls from you. My door is always open for you, too.

If I never hear from you again, that’s fine, too. There’s just one tea bag left in the box. When it’s gone, I won’t be buying another box. The chapter of my life that included you and your rooibos tea will finally be closed for good.

Your friend,
Maria

February 8 Update: Well, as more facts about your breakup come to light, I now fully understand why you never got in touch with me again. Was it shame? I doubt it. Women like you don’t feel shame. No matter. I’m embarrassed to admit how much I misjudged your character. You’re just as low as the demented old whore who snagged my wasband with her sweet-talk, lies, and lingerie photos.

But I am glad that Matt was on the receiving end. He deserves whatever shit he gets.

Still, don’t marriage vows mean anything to anyone these days?

I’ll never understand why you forwarded my email message to him. But don’t worry; I haven’t lost any sleep over that and don’t think I ever will.

As for that invitation to call or stop by — you can just forget about it. And I’ll toss that last tea bag. I’m eager to close the chapter on you as soon as possible.

About the Header Images

A quick summary of where the current images were taken and who I was with.

You may not realize it, but I shot all of the photos that appear in the header on this site. There are currently more than 90 of them and they’re set up to appear randomly. Each time you visit this site or click a link to another page here, the image up top should change.

I noticed just the other day that although all images were shot within the past 10 years, the vast majority were shot when I was alone. That made me realize how much I traveled by myself, even when I was married, and how the places and things I saw were beautiful or interesting enough to capture an image of.

Anyway, here are the images, with summaries.

Alfalfa

Alfalfa

This was an alfalfa field near where I spent my summer in Quincy, WA. I think I shot this in 2008. Alone.

American Coot Family 1 & 2

American Coot Family

American Coot Family 2

I shot these two images at Quincy Lakes in Quincy, WA in 2008. Alone.

Bark

Bark

Birch Bark 2

I like photos that show texture. These close up photos of bark were shot at Quincy, WA in 2008. Alone.

Barn Roof, Wagon, and Waterville Farmland

Barn Roof

Barn Wagon

Waterville Farmland

These three images were shot on the Waterville Plateau near Douglas, WA, probably in 2009. I was with my wasband.

Basalt Cliffs

Basalt Cliff

I’m pretty sure this photo was shot while repositioning my RV from Washington to Arizona by way of Glacier National Park with my wasband — one of the last “vacations” we had together — in 2009. I think it’s at Palouse Falls.

BC Mountains Pano

BC Mountains Pano

This was shot from a cruise ship on an Alaska Cruise with my wasband in 2007. Our last day on board took us between Vancouver Island and the mainland.

BHCB

BHCB

This was shot at Quincy Lakes in 2008 or 2009. I assume BHCB is an abbreviation for the type of bird. Alone.

Birch Leaves

Birch Leaves

I liked the way the sun shined through these leaves in the late afternoon. Shot at Quincy near the golf course in 2008. Alone.

Blue Heron & White Heron

Blue Heron

White Heron

I was kayaking with my dog at Lake Solano in Central California in 2014 when I shot these photos of herons.

Bowman Lake

Bowman Lake

This was shot at Glacier National Park in 2009 while traveling from Washington to Arizona with my wasband.

Bryce and Bryce Dawn

Bryce

Bryce Dawn

These two photos were shot at Bryce Canyon in 2011. I’d gone there with a client in January on a photo flight for this 360 interactive panorama: Bryce Canyon in Winter, Utah, USA.

Cache Creek

Cache Creek 1

Cache Creek 2

Cache Creek 3

Cache Creek 4

These four images of Cache Creek were taken from my helicopter’s nosecam on an early morning flight up Cache Creek in Central California in 2014. I was alone.

Cascades

Cascades

This image of a ridge and cloud-filled valleys was taken from my helicopter’s nosecam on a flight between Wenatchee, WA and Hillsboro, OR in 2012. I blogged about the flight here and shared video from the flight here. It’s notable not only for the perfect weather and amazing scenery, but because it was my dog Penny’s first helicopter flight — 90 minutes long! And yes, that is Mt. St. Helens in the background.

Cherry Drying Cockpit

Cherry Drying Cockpit

This is a shot from a GoPro camera mounted in the back of my helicopter during a cherry drying flight. It was probably taken in 2011.

Close Up Wheat

Close Up Wheat

This closeup of wheat growing in a field in Quincy, WA was shot in 2009. I was alone.

Combine

Combine

This aerial shot of a wheat combine at harvest on the Waterville Plateau in North Central Washington was shot in 2011 during a flight between Wenatchee and Coeur d’Alene, ID. My friend Jim was flying his helicopter; I was on board with a camera.

Corn

Corn

I like patterns. This field of young corn plants in Quincy, WA was capture in 2009. I was alone.

Cows in the Road

Cows in the Road

I was on my way up to my old Howard Mesa, AZ place one bright winter day when I came upon these cows following tire tracks in the road. When I approached, they just stopped and stared. I took a photo before continuing, herding them along with my Jeep. I can’t be sure of the date, but I expect it was around 2003 or 2004. I was probably with my friend Jeremy.

Cracked Mud

Cracked Mud

I shot this alongside the road to Alstrom Point on the northwest end of Lake Powell in Utah. It was probably shot in 2008. I was alone.

Crescent Bar View, Yellow Flowers

Crescent Bar View

Yellow Flowers

I shot these photo of Crescent Bar in Quincy, WA in 2009 not long after drying a cherry orchard down by the river there. I was alone.

Dandelion

Dandelion

I shot this photo of a dandelion seed puff in Quincy, WA in 2008. I was alone.

Desert Still Life & Desert Wildflowers

Desert Still Life

Desert Wildflowers

I shot these photo of hedgehog cacti blooms and California poppies near Wickenburg, AZ between 2009 and 2011. It was probably on one or two Jeep outings and I was probably with either my wasband or my friend Janet.

Fern

Fern

Patterns and textures again. This was shot in Alaska sometime during a cruise with my wasband in 2007.

Float Plane

Float Plane

I shot this image of a float plane taking off at an Alaska port while on a cruise with my wasband in 2007. It was shot from the balcony of our stateroom.

Golden Gate Bridge

Golden Gate Bridge

This image of the Golden Gate Bridge was shot during a trip to San Francisco in 2011. Not sure if I was alone — isn’t that odd? — but I was probably there for a Macworld Expo speaking gig.

Glacial River Rocks

Glacial River Rocks

I shot this closeup of rocks in a river bed while on a trip to Denali National Park in 2007 with my wasband.

Golf Balls

Golf Balls

Attach a GoPro to the bottom of a helicopter with the lens pointing down. Then hover over a golf course green and drop hundreds of golf balls. This is what it might look like. Shot in late 2011 or early 2012. My client was dropping the balls.

Grand Canyon Sunset

Grand Canyon Sunset

I’ve been to the Grand Canyon countless times so I don’t know exactly when this was taken or whether I was alone. I know it was shot before the summer of 2011.

Gyro Cache Creek & Gyro Pattern

Gyro Cache Creek

Gyro Pattern

I learned how to fly a gyroplane in the spring of 2014. These two shots were made with a GoPro mounted on the mast. In the first shot, I’m flying up Cache Creek; in the second, I’m doing a traffic pattern at Woodland Airport. Both were shot in Central California.

Hay Bales

Hay Bales

I’m pretty sure this was shot on the road between Upper Moses Coulee and Waterville in North Central Washington in 2009. I was alone.

Helicopter

Heli Header

This is a photo of my helicopter right after sunrise parked out near my new home in Malaga, WA. I shot this in 2014; I was alone.

High Tension

High Tension

This was shot in 2008 near the Chief Joseph Dam near Bridgeport, WA. I was on a daytrip with my wasband.

Hopi House

Hopi House

Another trip to the Grand Canyon. I suspect I was alone when I shot this one, possibly on a day trip by helicopter with clients from Phoenix. Sometime between 2009 and 2011.

Houses

Houses

Here’s another straight down image shot with a GoPro from my helicopter. This was Peoria, AZ in 2011 or 2012. I was alone.

Inspecting Bees

Inspecting Bees

I set up a GoPro on a tripod to record a beehive inspection in 2013. That’s me in the picture; I was alone.

International

International

This is a closeup of an old International truck parked outside the bakery at Stehekin, WA. I was there with my wasband and another couple on a helicopter trip in 2011.

Juvenile Robin

Juvenile Robin

Shot in 2008 at Quincy, WA. I was alone.

Ladders, Side

Ladders Side

Patterns again. These are orchard ladders neatly stacked at an Orchard in Quincy, WA. Shot in 2008.

Lake Berryessa

Lake Berryessa

An aerial view of Lake Berryessa in Central California, shot with my helicopter’s nosecam in 2014. I was alone.

Lake McDonald Sunset

Lake McDonald Sunset

This was shot on a trip to Glacier National Park with my wasband in 2009.

Lake Pleasant

Lake Pleasant

Another nosecam image from my helicopter. This is a dawn flight over Lake Pleasant near Phoenix, AZ. I was alone.

Maine Coastal Town & Main Fog

Main Coastal Town

Maine Fog

I shot these during a trip to Maine to visit some former friends with my wasband back in 2008 or 2009.

Marble Canyon

Marble Canyon

Another nosecam image from my helicopter. I’m pretty sure I shot this one on my way back from a Bryce Canyon photo shoot with a client in 2011.

Mini-Stack

Mini-Stack

An aerial view of the so-called “mini-stack” of at I-17 and Route 101 in north Phoenix, AZ. Probably shot in 2011 or 2012.

Mission Ridge Pano

Mission Ridge Pano

I shot this photo from Wenatchee Mountain near Wenatchee, WA during a jeep ride to Mission Ridge with my friend Don in 2014. What an amazing day!

Monument Valley

Monument Valley

I’ve flown over Monument Valley dozens of times. Once in a while, there’s a camera on the helicopter’s nose. This was probably shot in 2011. I was either alone or with aerial photo clients.

Monument Valley Wide

Monument Valley Wide

I used to do multi-day excursions by helicopter to Arizona destinations that included Monument Valley. While my clients took tours, I’d explore on my own. This is Monument Valley from the overlook, shot in 2010 or 2011.

Moonset Sunrise

Moonset Sunrise

I used to camp out at a friend’s place overlooking Squilchuck Valley near Wenatchee, WA. This was one of the early morning views from my doorstep. I was alone.

North to the Future

North to the Future

I shot this in Girdwood, AK in 2008. I’d gone up there alone for a job interview. I got an offer but turned it down. Beautiful place.

No Wake

No Wake

I shot this with my 10.5mm fisheye lens at Lake Pateros, WA in 2008. I was with my wasband.

Orchard Still Life

Orchard Still Life

These are apples culled from the trees in Quincy, WA. Shot in 2008; I was alone.

Peacock

Peacock

This is one of the dozens of peacocks strolling around at the Lake Solano campground in central California. I shot this in 2014; I was alone.

Penny Kayak

Penny Kayak

This is one of the few images I didn’t shoot. I was on a kayak trip in the American River near Sacramento with a Meetup group and one of the other members shot this and sent it to me.

Petrified Wood

Petrified Wood

I’m not sure, but I think this was shot in Vantage, WA in 2008 or 2009. I was probably alone.

Phoenix

Phoenix

Another nosecam image, this time of downtown Phoenix. Shot in 2011 or early 2012; I was likely on a tour with passengers.

Poppies and Chicory

Poppies and Chicory

Another desert jeep trip near Wickenburg, AZ. I could have been alone, with my wasband, or with my friend Janet.

Poppies Plus

Poppies Plus

This wildflower closeup was shot on a trip to the Seattle area, possibly in 2007 with my wasband and his cousin.

Quail Mom

Quail Mom

A Gambols quail hen and her chicks, shot from my doorstep in Wenatchee Heights, WA in 2012. I was alone.

Rafting

Rafting

Put a GoPro in a head mount, get in a raft, and head down the Wenatchee River and this is the result. I was rafting with a bunch of friends in 2013.

Red Wing Blackbird

Red Wing BlackBird

Red Wing Blackbird 1

Red Wing Blackbird 2

I shot these at Quincy Lakes in Quincy, WA in 2008. I was alone.

Rocks Under Water

Rocks Under Water

I’m pretty sure I shot this in 2009 at Glacier National Park on a trip with my wasband.

Saguaro Boulders

Saguar Boulders Big

I shot this photo of saguaro cacti among sandstone boulders near Congress, AZ on a Jeep trip in 2009 or 2010. I was probably with my wasband.

Sand Dunes

Sand Dunes

This is an aerial shot of the sand dunes west of Yuma, AZ. This was probably shot in 2008 on a flight to the San Diego area with my wasband.

San Francisco

San Francisco

What a memorable flight! This was on a ferry flight from the Phoenix area to Seattle in 2008. Another pilot was flying my helicopter so I got to take photos. Low clouds over the coast forced us high over San Fransisco. Amazing views!

Sedona

Sedona

The red rocks of Sedona at Oak Creek. Shot in 2010 or 2011 while on a multi-day excursion with passengers.

Squilchuck View

Squilchuck View

The view from where I spent several late summers at Wenatchee Heights. This was probably shot in 2012.

Steam Train

Steam Train

This is an aerial shot of the old Grand Canyon Railroad steam train. I used to buzz that train with my helicopter any time I saw it from the air. This was probably shot in 2007. I was alone.

Stucco Scroll

Stucco Scroll

I shot this on a photo walk at the San Xavier Mission in Arizona with my wasband and a group of photographers.

Sunset

Sunset

I can’t be sure, but I think I shot this from Howard Mesa in 2006 or 2007.

Surprise Valley Drugs

Surprise Valley Drugs

I shot this in California during my 2005 “midlife crisis road trip.” I was alone. It was one of the best vacations in my life.

Helicopter Tail

Tail Header

An early morning shot of my helicopter parked out near my new home in Malaga, WA. Shot in 2014; I was alone.

Tetons

Tetons

Another shot from my 2005 “midlife crisis road trip.” This was at the Grand Tetons.

Turtle

Turtle

Shot while I was kayaking with my dog at Lake Solano in 2014.

Two Hillers

Two Hillers

I shot this at Brewster Airport in Brewster, WA on a day trip with my wasband in 2008.

Wheat Irrigation

Wheat Irrigation

Textures and patterns. What’s not to love about them? Shot in Quincy, WA in 2008. I was alone.

Yellow Headed Blackbird

Yellow Headed Blackbird

Yellow Headed Blackbird 2

I shot both of these photos at Quincy Lakes in Quincy, WA in 2008. I was alone.

Yellow Flower

Yellow Flower

A yellow flower. Probably shot somewhere in Washington state in 2011 or 2012. I’m sure I was alone.

Yellow Kayak

Yellow Kayak

Although my kayaks are yellow, this isn’t one of them. This was shot at Glacier National Park on a trip there with my wasband in 2009.

Ten Years Stalled

Belated realization.

I recently blogged about the feeling I got walking through my new home under construction. It was a feeling of happiness at moving forward again, a feeling of achievement, a feeling of a good future ahead of me. In that post, I mentioned that my life had been stalled not for the 2 years of my ongoing divorce battle but for at least 10 years.

It was back in the mid 2000s that I began hitting hurdles erected by the man who called himself my “partner” in life, the man I was foolish enough to marry after 23 years together.

At the CabinI bought a truck to leave at the cabin so we could come and go by helicopter. Back in those days, I had plenty of money to burn. My wasband never stopped me from spending my money on things he could enjoy.

It all started when I couldn’t get him to work with me on putting a vacation home on our Howard Mesa property. We had two separate sets of drawings made, spending well over $1,000 in the process, before he admitted that he “couldn’t live up there” because it was “too remote.” This was after dumping thousands of dollars into a fence, septic system, and water storage tanks. The compromise was a “camping cabin” that we bought and had brought to the site; I spent much of the summer of 2005 insulating it and framing out the wall between the kitchen and bathroom, joined by him on weekends for other construction work. The resulting structure was used infrequently over the following six or so years — but I still cherish great memories of weekends and holidays there with him and our dog and our horses.

Jack at Howard Mesa
Our dog, Jack, at Howard Mesa. I was always a sucker for a good view; it was the views, the privacy, and the silence that sold me on the 40 acres we bought north of Williams, AZ.

In the years that followed, he continued to hold me back from moving in one direction or another. I wanted to move out of Wickenburg, which had become a sad retirement town that almost all of our friends had already abandoned, but I couldn’t get him to work with me to find a new place. I wanted to expand my business so we could work together, but although he occasionally went through the motions of helping me out, his contributions were so minimal as to be non-existent — and I usually couldn’t rely on him when I needed him most. I spent a lot of time waiting for him to do what he said he’d do. Lots of promises, no deliveries. I was patient — too patient! — but by the winter of 2011/2012, my patience was wearing very thin.

I also wanted to help him achieve his goals — opening a bike shop or developing solar energy products or becoming a flight instructor — but he kept dropping the ball. How many business cards and web sites did I create for him? How many letters did I edit? How many brainstorming sessions did I share with him? I wouldn’t mind if they led to something, but they only led to dead ends. I became tired of putting time and energy into projects that he never took to completion. He wasn’t just holding me back, he was holding himself back.

He was stuck in a rut and he apparently expected me to stick there with him.

Although I didn’t realize it at first, my summers in Washington doing cherry drying work not only made my business prosper but they were a welcome relief from a boring life in a dying town with a man who seemed satisfied to live out his existence in his own daily grind. I made new friends, I did new things. I learned about agriculture and wine-making. I experimented with video production. And I fell in love with the area — with the mix of happy people of all ages, the wholesome farmland attitudes, the river and mountains, the recreation possibilities. There was life in Central Washington — a lot more life than there was among the angry old people in Arizona.

One of the last times I spoke to him, in July 2012, I brought him by helicopter to see the place I wanted to buy and make our summer home. I envisioned him opening that bike shop he claimed he wanted to open along the bike trail in Wenatchee and working there with him on sunny days to rent bikes and maybe even do Segway tours. (I even had $25K saved up and was willing to spend it to buy 5 or 6 Segways.) I envisioned me flying on rainy days, drying cherries, and perhaps doing the occasional wine-tasting flight. I envisioned afternoons spent on the deck together with a glass of wine overlooking the Wenatchee Valley. I envisioned returning to Arizona in the winter, hosting couples with horses in the guest rooms of our house via Air BandB, making a little money while he continued his flight training and realized his dream of becoming a flight instructor.

It was all possible. It was all doable. With our financial situation at the time — a paid for house and very little personal debt — it would have been easy. I saw a great life for both of us — a sort of semi-retirement in our 50s, moving with the seasons between two beautiful homes and realizing our dreams instead of grinding away at unfulfilling jobs and dealing with company bullshit.

Jake
Jake, the horse I bought for my wasband before we married. Does he need to see the cancelled check for $1,100 to remember who paid for him?

On that day in July 2012, I didn’t realize that he’d already made his bed with another woman and was planning to cash in on our marriage to finance his life with her. I was a fool to think that he loved me and he wanted a good, honest life. In reality, I was nothing more than a meal ticket, the provider of horses and helicopter trips and fun toys to play with. And because I didn’t play by his restrictive rules, he was finished playing and ready to cash in his chips.

And that’s my big realization.

I realize now that he married me for my money — I was earning a lot of money right before we married in 2006 and had accumulated quite a portfolio of assets. His attempts over the past two years to claim ownership of my personal and business possessions, investments, and retirement funds prove this without a doubt. There was no love, at least not when we married. He was locking himself in, banking on community property law to half of everything I owned, earned, or acquired. Everything he’s done since he asked for a divorce on my birthday in June 2012 proves it.

Phoenix Sunset Flight
Flying over Phoenix at sunset. Who’s he flying with now? He sold his plane so he’s not even flying himself around.

Those of you who have read my other divorce posts or have spoken to me about this know the personal pain my husband’s dishonesty and betrayal has caused — and continues to cause — for me on an almost daily basis. My biggest problem is that I simply can’t believe that a man I spent 29 years of my life with could turn on me as he has. I know he’s mentally ill — the things he’s done to me and said to others and in court are a pretty clear indication of that.

Every day, I face an unbelievable amount of sadness and pity for the man I love. And pretty regularly, that pity is rewarded with yet another personal attack through the court system — appeals, false claims, accusations, stalling tactics. It never ends.

Well, that may never end, but his ability to keep my life in a perpetual stall has ended. I’m moving forward with my new home and my new life. Since 2012, I’ve lost weight and regained my health and self-esteem. My flying business is going better than ever — mostly because I don’t have to say no to out-of-town jobs to keep my wasband happy — and I’ve refreshed my writing career with a series of new videos for Lynda.com. (Meanwhile, my divorce book is on hold, waiting for the end to be written.) I’ve made lots of new friends to keep me company and share my joy and adventures.

Legal fees for the divorce dealt a severe financial blow to me, but because I’m not dependent on someone else for my living — I never have been — and I live within my means, I’m recovering nicely. Although I don’t like living in my RV (the “mobile mansion”) — as my wasband absurdly suggested in a court document — it has enabled me to live cheaply so I can save money for my new home.

Getting ahead means working hard and making sacrifices. I understand that and am willing to do what it takes.

It’s sad that the man I married and still (unfortunately) love has never understood that. All his talk about “making things happen” was just that — talk. I took it to heart and made things happen for myself — and him, for a while.

I only wish that my love for him over all those years hadn’t clouded my view of the kind of man he really is. I could have prevented that 10-year stall by making my exit a lot sooner.

Walking the Fence

Part of ranch maintenance — even for our tiny “spread.”

About 10 years ago, interested in finding a summer place where we could go with our horses to escape the summer heat of the Phoenix area, we purchased 40 acres of ranch land in northern Arizona. Our lot at Howard Mesa Ranch is high desert land atop a mesa between Williams and Valle, AZ, about 40 miles south of the Grand Canyon.

Originally, we had high hopes of putting a vacation home up there. Our lot has 360° views that include Red Butte and the north rim of the Grand Canyon to the north, Mount Trumbull and its companion mountains on the Arizona strip to the west, Bill Williams Mountain to the south, and the snow-covered San Francisco Peaks to the east. We envisioned a 2-story home with a loft bedroom and big windows looking out over the views.

In preparation, we got a pair of water tanks, put in a septic system, and had the entire place fenced off with a 4-strand wire fence (smooth wire top and bottom, barbed wire in the middle per the CC&Rs). When we came up with our horses, they had 40 acres to wander and graze on.

But things change. We never built our vacation home. Maybe we will one day in the future, but I don’t know when that day will come. In the meantime, we camp out there on long weekends throughout the year. We’ve spent numerous July 4th weekends, several Christmases, and even one Thanksgiving at our off-the-grid retreat.

Like this weekend. We came up, mostly to check on the place and take care of some maintenance tasks. There’s a shed on the property that needs to be checked on regularly. And, of course, the fence.

Mike at Fence

Mike standing by the east side of our fence. That’s the San Francisco Peaks in the distance.

We walk the fence each time we’re up here. There’s over a mile of it, so it makes a nice walk. We’d put up the fence to keep our horses in, but now it worked primarily to keep the open range cattle out. I didn’t keep the elk out, though. They could — and did — jump the fence. Sometimes, their weight on that top strand of wire would shift the fence posts and bend the stays between them. Walking the fence meant repairing problems caused primarily by the elk.

In the old days, when we still had horses, Mike would ride the fence on horseback. He’d saddle up his horse and my horse would follow them. I’d busy myself with some other task, leaving them to get the job done without me. But with the horses gone, the walk would take longer. Jack the Dog wouldn’t be enough company for Mike. So I went along with them.

I carried a roll of wire, Mike carried the fencing tool. We walked the fence line, stopping occasionally to straighten stays, bang post deeper into the earth with a big rock, or tighten wires. It was easy to see where the elk had jumped the fence. It wasn’t just one or two elk, either. It was likely an entire herd. We didn’t mind the elk on our property. After all, they didn’t damage anything, like cows would.

Except the fence, of course.

Frost Heave

The southeast corner fence post. Over the years, frost heave has pushed the post up.

The fence had been professionally installed by a company based down near our Wickenburg home. They’d come up about a year after we’d brought the property and camped out until the job was done. The workers probably enjoyed being away from the low desert heat for a week or so. I wonder what they thought of the dark sky with its billions and billions of stars at night, or the coyotes that trot through the property as if they own it.

On the whole, the fence guys did a great job. Where they dropped the ball, however, is on the corners. Sure, they dug about three feet into the ground and secured those corner fence posts with concrete. But what they didn’t count on was frost heave, which is something you just don’t see down in the Phoenix area. Each winter, the ground freezes solid. As the soil freezes, it expands. It pushes up whatever it can to make room. Over the years, it has pushed the corner fence posts out of the ground. The fence is still sound, but the four corner posts no longer stand properly. One of these days, we’ll have to fix them.

Dead Animal

One of two partial skeletons we found while walking the fence.

Along the way, I caught sight of something odd about 200 feet from the fence. I went to investigate. It was the partial skeleton of a medium sized animal. Based on its size, skull, and the length of its neck, I think it may have been a young elk or perhaps a mule deer. There was no sign of antlers, so I don’t think it was an antelope. The bones had been picked clean, as you can see in this photo. The legs and entire hindquarters were missing. Mike found the lower jaw about 30 feet away. We think it may have been injured jumping the fence — or perhaps had starved when the ground was snow-covered — and the coyotes and birds had finished it off. Later, not far from the north side of the fence, we found another partial skeleton that also included the neck and part of the skull. Another unfortunate animal. I wonder how many others are within our 40 acres — or beyond it.

As we walked, it was clear that a lot of snow had laid upon the ground for a long time. The long, dried grasses were flattened out as if they’d borne the weight of deep, heavy snow for weeks on end. I could imagine animals jumping the fence, looking for food. I could imagine young or weak or injured ones dying, providing food for the carnivores and carrion eaters.

It took about 90 minutes to walk the fence and make the necessary repairs. By then, it had clouded up a bit and we were ready to take a break in the warmth of our camping shed. The job was done — until next time.

Found Photos: Jack the Dog

Jack and the thunderstorm.

I made this photo of our dog, Jack, up at Howard Mesa a few weeks ago. Mike and I had gone for a walk with him along one of the dirt roads on the mesa top. As we walked, a storm was coming in. The clouds looked menacing overhead. I used a wide-angle lens (16mm) to add the distortion you see here, hoping for a kind of surreal effect. Not sure if I achieved it, but this is one of my favorite pictures of Jack the Dog.

Jack the Dog at Howard Mesa

Getting Away from it All

We spend a weekend at our “summer” place on Howard Mesa.

It’s no secret that central Arizona, near Phoenix, gets brutally hot in the summer time. Daytime shade temperatures in July and August typically 110°F or above, and you can add 20 to 30°F if you happen to step out into the unyielding sun. We realized after just a few short years in Wickenburg that we’d need a place to escape to.

I heard about Howard Mesa on a radio commercial advertising 10-, 36-, and 40-acre parcels near the Grand Canyon. Mike was away at the time — he telecommuted to a job in New Jersey and spent about a week and a half each month there — so I hopped in my Toyota and made the 154-mile drive alone to check it out. I was soon seated in a big sedan beside Larry, who would be our sales guy, driving up well-maintained dirt roads to the few lots that were still available on top of the mesa. I fell love with the second lot he showed me, a pie-shaped wedge near the mesa’s highest point. The wide “crust” of the pie shape was flat and bordered state land, where I was assured nothing could be built. The rest of the land dropped off gently toward the west. Every inch of the property was buildable, but the obvious building site was right before the dropoff, where an old two-track road used by ranchers and hunters led to a clearing, where a single cow rested in the shade of a pinyon pine.

The land was off-the grid — that means no electricity, water, telephone, gas, or cable television — five full miles from pavement and about ten miles from the nearest store where one could buy a quart of milk. Williams, AZ, which had a supermarket and restaurants, was 20 miles south. Valle, the crossroads of Routes 64 from Williams and 180 from Flagstaff, was 14 miles north. The entrance to Grand Canyon National Park was another 30 or so miles north of that.

It was the quiet, beauty of the place that hooked me. Not a single building was within sight — just rolling hills of golden grasses, studded with the dark green of juniper and pinyon pines. Once Larry shut off his Buick, all I could hear was the wind, with the occasional call of a crow or raven.

San Francisco PeaksBut it was the 360° views that sold me. To the north, is Red Butte and the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. To the west and northwest, are distant mountain ranges near Seligman, as well as Mount Trumbull on the Arizona strip 85 miles away. To the south is Bill Williams Mountain, just south of Williams. And to the east is snowcapped Mount Humphreys and the San Francisco Peaks, the tallest mountain in Arizona.

The price for all this amazing remote beauty? Less than $1,000 per acre. And our lot was priced higher than most others because of the view.

That’s how it all started. And what we realized just last night is that we’ve owned this place for ten years now. It was the Toyota that trigged the date memory. I bought my Jeep in the summer of 1999 and I was still using my Toyota as my primary car when we bought the place. That meant April/May 1999.

Our use of the place has varied over the years. In the beginning, we camped there on weekends in a pop-up camper, which we kept folded up on the property when we weren’t around. We had a round pen for the horses, which we’d bring with us. We got the entire 40 acres fenced in so the horses could run free. Then we began preliminary work on getting a house built. After a false start getting ripped off by Lindal Custom Homes — they told us we could build a home for $60/square foot but needed $600 to draw up the plans; the plans resulted in a home that would cost $120/square foot to build — we started exploring other modest custom home solutions. We had a septic system put in. I spent the summer of 2004 in a trailer up here while I flew for one of the Grand Canyon helicopter tour operators. And then, to give us a place to store our stuff while we were preparing to build, we put in what we call our “camping shed.”

And that’s where things got stalled.

You see, although I still love our place atop the mesa and would love to build a full-time residence up here, Mike thinks it’s a bit too lonely and remote. With so much going on for us in the Phoenix area these days, we don’t come up here nearly as often as we used to. To further complicate matters, the future of the area has become questionable. Much of the land up for resale and several property owners have put up commercial style buildings or trashed up their lots with a lot of junk. All this takes away much of the charm of the place. It seems senseless to pour a lot of money into a permanent residence when we’re not sure whether our new home will be looking out over a bunch of used shipping containers and broken down cars or another oversized Quonset hut or a second-hand mobile home left to deteriorate in the sun and wind.

Camping ShedSo we come up here on the occasional weekend and soak up the silence or the sound of the wind. If the nights are moonless, we can see almost as many stars as Hubble — or at least it seems that way — along with the distant glow of Las Vegas, 173 air miles away. Jack the Dog spends most of his time investigating the rocks, looking for lizards or pack rats, or chasing rabbits. Alex the Bird hangs out in his cage, playing with his toys and whistling along to the music on my iPod. Mike and I go for walks or do odd maintenance tasks to keep our camping shed in good condition. Sometimes we’ll go for lunch and a walk along the rim at the Grand Canyon. Other times, we’ll drive out to Flagstaff for some Thai food and to pick up some odds and ends in Home Depot or the RV repair shop. Still other times — like this weekend — we’ll just lounge in the shade on the camping shed’s “porch,” reading or talking.

Its restful — the perfect antidote for the poisons of modern civilization.

When I’m finished with this year’s cherry drying gig, I’ll probably spend a month or so up here with Jack and Alex. Mike will join me on weekends. I’ll work on the last of the three books I have contracted for this year. I’ll make day trips to Williams or the Grand Canyon or Flagstaff. I’ll enjoy the violent thunderstorms that roll through during monsoon season. I’ll take my Jeep to explore the forest roads bordering Grand Canyon National Park and likely find one or two new places to look down into that vast abyss without a tourist in sight. At night, I’ll look out at the stars and listen to the coyotes. It’ll be a simple life — an escape from reality.

Something I need more often than most people.

Landing Zones: Howard Mesa

Not my regular landing zone, but it worked.

A while back, I started a series of posts showcasing some unusual landing zones. I knew I had a picture of this one, but couldn’t seem to find it. Today, while labeling old backup CDs, I found it.

Howard Mesa LZN630ML at Howard Mesa, November 2008

This is my helicopter at our Howard Mesa property. You can see our camping shed in the background. I normally don’t land here — instead, I have a regular landing pad that’s covered with gravel. But because we didn’t get rid of the tumbleweed on the pad during the season, it had grown to be several feet tall. Landing on it with a hot engine would probably have caused a fire. We we landed nearby where the tumbleweed was a lot shorter. When Mike got out, he cleared away any dead tumbleweed from the back of the aircraft where the engine could heat it up. Since then, we’ve manually burned a lot of it away, hoping to kill the seeds and curb future growth.

I land here several times a year. It’s a good LZ, protected by intruders — including open range cattle — by a barbed wire fence.