A Great Big Lark

Thursday, April 26, 2018

Owned by a Liar (Rough draft; without annotations)

Allegedly, the ocotillo fence surrounding Tombstone’s Boothill Cemetery is 150 years old; however, everything in this town that purports to be fact is suspect.  Even though this cemetery was brought back from ruin in the 1920s (having been abandoned in about 1884,) it turns out that a few of the markers are actually characters from a novel that was popular at the time!!  So, we know that at least some license was taken.

I took a picture of Mrs. Stump’s resting place, because it was one of only a few enclosed by a fence.  Mrs. Stump died during childbirth after being given an overdose of chloroform by the doctor.  For the small fee of $3 (because even corpses must earn their keep in Tombstone) you may enter the famous old cemetery.  The same guy who claims the cactus fence is 150 years old will hand you a brochure describing the more than 250 graves, often including details about lives and deaths of the inhabitants.

The cemetery includes a Chinese section, because even Tombstone had a Chinatown (one block) during its heyday.  I didn't know about the Jewish section, far down at the bottom of the hill and not featured in the guide pamphlet, until after we left the town far behind.  At Boothill Cemetery, you can check out any time you like, but you can’t never leave unless you first pass through the gift shop, because it’s the only exit.

Below in the town, the municipal parking lot for visitors is across from Schieffelin Hall, which was once the 'high class' opera house in town, the respectable alternative to places such as the Bird Cage, where ladies of the evening were displayed in 'cages,' balconies above the barroom floor where curtains could be drawn when a private customer climbed the back stairway to visit.  It is here that a sneaky storm cloud of foreboding quietly settles.  Crossing Fremont Street and heading down 3rd, you pass in front of what was once the Wells Fargo horse corral, but now hosts a Sarsaparilla stand; on the opposite side of the street, where you walk, is a dusty town park in what was once a blacksmith's yard.  A hysterically-laughing man, alone, swings on a swing to the highest point possible.  

Everything in Tombstone costs money.  10 bucks gets you a ticket to the super weird gunfight, a peek into the Tombstone Epitaph (newspaper) museum and its antique printing presses, and other displays such as the creepy “lifelike figures” in their proper positions standing in the dust of what was once the OK Corral.  Several times a day, on an artificial set just yards away from where it really happened, performers reenact the gunfight at the OK Corral in front of a very vocal audience.  We arrived about 30 minutes before the last fight of the day, when reenactors representing the Earp brothers and Doc Holliday took to Allen Street (still unpaved and lined with wooden sidewalks) where they strolled up and down, yelling last call to any tourists who still wanted tickets.

Also included in your $10 fee is the opportunity to visit the recreated prostitute’s crib. It’s a little more cozy and charming than I would imagine most of the 6th Street cribs really were back in the day, with rose pink walls, a flowered pitcher and wash bowl, and a rumpled patchwork quilt on the iron bedframe. 

The crib also hosts a display related to chemical/medical use and misuse by these unfortunate women; laudanum, mixed with whiskey, was widely abused by prostitutes, who felt that it made their existence more tolerable.  Laudanum’s popularity in the Victorian era was partly due to the fact that it offered a private alternative to publicly visiting opium dens.  Carbolic acid was used to prevent venereal disease.  These and other ‘medicines’ of the time often led to the deaths of those who used them.  If I had to service up to 80 customers a night, as these Tombstone ladies did, I'd probably be drinking a lot of laudanum too, while waiting to be rescued from my miserable existence by an unkillable alpha male like Wyatt Earp.  Wyatt’s second two wives were both prostitutes. His second wife, Mattie, after being abandoned for his third, moved to Pinal, Arizona where she died of a laudanum overdose in a prostitute’s crib.

Reflected in the mirror above the chamber pot is a portrait of Kate, the long-time girlfriend of Doc Holliday.  Although she was well-educated, and (disputably) had a privileged upbringing as the daughter of the personal physician to Mexican emperor Maximilian I, she too had a history as a soiled dove.  Upon the couple's  arrival in Tombstone, Kate became proprietress of a successful saloon; their always-rocky relationship soon worsened and ended for good following the infamous gunfight, which forever changed (or ended) the lives of all involved.

There is supposed to be an Apache curse on the town, ensuring that no two white people can live in peace there.  I only learned this after our visit, while researching possible reasons for all the strange negative energy I felt there.  

Kate's saloon is still where it has always been.  Outside on the boards, between the saloon and the site of the 1880s barbershop/bathhouse is a convenient bench for people watching.  Modern cowboy fantasists walk past, spurs a-jingle.  Across Allen street, Tombstone's version of an itinerant busker is dressed as Kachina, fully absorbed in a warbling, drumming, jangling dance of his own sacred composition.

Yes. There really is a crazy enormous rose tree in a courtyard behind the corner of Fourth and Toughnut Streets. Buildings/walls have been constructed around this end of the block to hide any view of the tree, but for a mere 10 dollars you can pass through these doors and enter into the presence of the rose tree. I know it's there because you can see it on Google Earth.

Schieffelin Hall, at the corner of Discord and Misery. "You'll find nothing there but your tombstone!"

"A mine is a hole in the ground owned by a liar." -Mark Twain

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Rules for Beachcombing

Wear something with pockets.

Always have something to blow your nose on.  In an emergency you can use your sleeve or scarf.

Tie your hair back so it doesn't block your view if it's windy.

If you pick something up and it turns out to be plastic,  keep it to throw out at home.

Don't keep everything.  Leave at least one good thing behind.

Don't keep glass that isn't ripe yet, unless you find it in a location (river, stream) where it will likely never get tumbled until it's frosty.

When culling a collection or re-releasing items taken home for study, return items to the same beach.  Don't return human trash, other than non-sharp glass.

Never leave without taking some trash.

Low tide is overrated.  Any falling tide is also a great time to look.  High tide has advantages.  Your combing area will be smaller and less overwhelming, so you can be more thorough.  Also, looking through shallow water gives a clear, colorful view of items on the bottom.

It is easier to spot things when the sun is at a lower angle/less bright (toward sunset or on a cloudy day.)  Also, at-or-around sunset and during twilight, pale items such as quartz will stand out more.

The more you look, the more you will find.

The water sometimes makes strange noises, especially if your back is turned.

Thursday, February 01, 2018

Picnic Man

From an old family photo.  Subject/date unknown.
Picture I know nothing about, maybe 1920s.  A bright sunny day in a clearing with trees in the background, looks like a line of trees with another clearing, field, or roadway behind.  A group of people wearing various hats is gathered under the trees, and a child in white sits near an old car parked under the trees.
A man near the edge of the clearing is holding a partly-folded cloth that reflects the sun.
In the foreground, facing sideways/diagonal to the camera, stands a man in a white suit and dark hat.  His entire face is in shadow and his hands are clenched loosely at his sides.  He wears shiny, dark leather shoes.  He stands on thin grass in sandy soil, in a well-trodden part of the clearing.  He's wearing a tie, and something soft is wadded in the pocket of his suit jacket.  A bandana or tobacco pouch, maybe.

My question for the world around me:  Is there something you're not telling me?

Wednesday, November 01, 2017




Make us an offer!

Conveniently and perfectly situated for loafing, lounging, sunbathing, enjoying the waters of the Upper Chesapeake Bay and its rivers; puttering in the garden, fishing, beach combing, and forgetting about work.

Enjoy breeze from all directions:  the salty south, the balmy Atlantic storms of early fall, watered-down winter from the West and tame little nor'easters filtered through the forests of Pennsylvania and Southern New Jersey.

Do you like people?  You will love the flux of Southern Pennsylvanians and day-trippers from the countryside all around that begins on Memorial Day weekend and ends when the kids go back to school.  Tuesday is 'Amish Day' when a busload of plain people arrive to swim in old fashioned attire.  As fall wears on, snowbirds leave for Florida soon after the geese come back.  Those of us who are less disposed toward fellow humans can now breathe a sigh of relief and take back the beach, streets, and alleyways for solitary twilight walks with the dog.  You never know what you might find, see, or hear on each short adventure.

They don't build them like this any more.  Solid wood balloon framing, topped by a pyramid- shaped attic space with dormers facing all directions: north, south, east, west, heaven, and hell.  An airy covered porch on two sides will roast you only on late summer afternoons and shade you the rest of the time.  This porch, along with a deep backyard, offer quaint stages for all the pleasures offered by Maryland climate, flora, and fauna.  Oh the unhurried conversations you will have with your dearest, most annoying and lovable friends and family members, hateful or suspicious neighbors, and quirky folk, and the various neighborhood cats, squirrels, owls, vultures, and mockingbirds who return to the same nesting places in your yard and neighborhood year after year.  The people who live here are lucky, and unlucky, and everything in between, and they always have been.

A Black Dog story from Jezebel's annual call for scary stories

Woman’s Best Friend by Tara (submitted via e-mail)

My husband lost his job and we ended up moving to a mobile home his parents own in the S. California desert where he grew up. After living my entire life in the liberal enclaves of PNW/N. Cali mountains & forests, an unexpected and unwanted move to a red zone where I knew literally no one besides my in-laws (who don’t particularly like me) was highly stressful to say the least. Add to the situation that our 6 year old was experiencing major culture shock and homesickness, I was about four months pregnant, and my husband was being a major taint crumb—just to give you an idea of the level of stress in the house. Oh, and did I mention we moved in the middle of July when temperatures were hovering around 120°F and my father in law neglected to tell us that the AC in the house was broken and there was no flooring in half the place? Yah. Waking nightmare.
After about a month of the three of us living in my FIL’s tiny study, the house is finally livable. It’s located on the fringes of a tiny town that is about 45 minutes from the closest city. We have a truck stop gas station, a fire station, a corner store and a smattering of houses. Our street dead ends at and is is surrounded by BLM land and is tucked in between low hills/backs up to mountains. Half the other houses are uninhabited. My husband found work near his parents house in the “city” and since his parents were willing to help with childcare our kiddo started school there as well. This left me at home alone with no car for long hours, which I secretly loved because it gave me time to unpack emotionally and physically and also meant I had limited interaction with my in laws, so I could enjoy being radiantly pregnant without jabs about how fat my face was getting.
One day, about three weeks after we moved into the house, something felt off. I was sitting down in the living room —which has no windows to the front yard —and suddenly had the overwhelming feeling that I had to go let my dog in NOW, even though she’d only been outside for a few minutes. As I walked into the kitchen, I realized that it was eerily silent and still outside. Keep in mind, it was late August in the desert so the windows and doors were all closed and the AC was on, so I’m not sure how I knew it was creepy outside before I opened the door to call in my dog, but somehow I did. Usually there’s a breeze or bugs buzzing or hummingbirds hitting up the feeder on our deck, which had been the case when I let doggo out. But when I opened up the sliding door to call for my dog, there was absolute silence. And when I looked out into the yard I realized why.
Sitting at our gate was a gigantic black dog. I don’t just mean a big dog: the top of this dog’s head was just below the top edge of our 8 foot chain link gate. It was easily as wide as a Mini Cooper, and looked like a cross between a Newfoundland and a grizzly bear. My dog is a sharpei-pitbull mix and she only came to about mid chest on this huge beast. She’s sitting there, maybe ten feet from it with just flimsy chain fence between them, watching it quietly. Tears immediately started pouring down my cheeks (I don’t cry easily) and suddenly it felt like I was carrying two full sized adults over my shoulders. It took every ounce of energy I had to walk to the edge of our small deck. I tried to very quietly whistle for my dog, and nothing really came out or if it did it was swallowed by the silence. Still, right as I ‘whistled,’ both my dog and the black dog turned their heads to look at me. My dog slowly stood up and calmly walked over to me. You have to understand: she is the derpiest bounciest collection of happy squish face love and never does anything less than bound across the yard with her tail up, tongue out, and ears perked when she’s called, so this was completely out of character.
When she reached me, she turned and looked back at the black dog, then back at me, then started to walk back towards it like she wanted me to follow her. I made a lunge for her and grabbed her harness. The dog stood up, and we locked eyes. I was then hit by the deepest sadness I’ve ever felt. Worse than when either of my parents died, it was a like a cold wave crashed directly in the center of my heart. I was sobbing uncontrollably as I dragged my dog inside.
When I looked back, the black dog had begun to walk down the street towards the mountains. It went behind a large Palo Verde shrub, and disappeared. I sat on my kitchen floor sobbing and shivering for a good hour despite the searing summer temps.
I finally calmed down and worked up the nerve to take my dog out again later that afternoon. When I checked the area around the gate for paw prints there were none, but there was a giant void in the sandy tire tracks my husband made when he left for work. My dog remained subdued for a while, but was back to herself by the time husband & kid got home. I didn’t say anything to him (things weren’t really great between us and he was in a bad mood), but he noted later on how funny it was that our dog kept pacing back and forth in front of the gate.
About a week later I went in for a prenatal appointment. I’d lost my baby. The doctor said it was a failure to thrive/nothing I could’ve done/sometimes these things happen situation. I’d been feeling off for about two weeks, but had just chalked it up to how stressful life had been—I honestly would’ve marked the black dog off as a stress induced hallucination or something had my dog not ...interactacted?... with it so extensively.
About a month later, I was hiking on the south end of Joshua Tree with my husband. We turned around to follow a hawk that had flown overhead and there on the trail we’d just walked was a big black dog. Not as big as the one at the house—this one was closer to the size of a normal Newfoundland. It sat down and—as funny as it sounds—sneezed, then got up and walked off. My husband tried to follow it, but lost it. The area we were hiking was all low plants, nowhere for this dog to have come from or gone to without us seeing it for quite a while. Before it appeared, we’d been talking about our baby and had actually settled on a name for him, even though we’d never meet him.
I guess you could see the black dog as something malicious or blame it for losing the pregnancy, but I don’t. I think it came to escort the little soul I had onto its proper place in the universe, and it gives me great comfort to think of a little boy resting in the guard of a big, fluffy dog. My husband still thinks the one we saw while hiking was a stray, but whenever my dog meets someone new she sneezes as a sort of “I’m friendly!” gesture. I think the dog was letting me know that the little guy made it to where he needed to be safely.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017


Across-the-street owls began hooting at 6:52 p.m. last night.


It continues to be a challenge to schedule time for writing, and to stick to that schedule.  I know that if I had the self-discipline to honor the commitments I make to myself, so many things in my life, not just writing, would go much more smoothly.

Growing up, I always had morning and evening routines.  These were fostered and encouraged in my house because, well, it's good parenting!  As soon as I had children of my own, my natural tendency to follow certain routines started to disintegrate as I became almost wholly focused on taking care of small children, and establishing routines around their needs.  My own needs, for food, rest, and things like showers came last.  When the children were older, and I returned to work, it became even more complicated, since they now had school needs and obligations to contend with, and I had to be somewhere else for a huge chunk of each day, performing a whole new set of duties in a timely and efficient way.  You would think that now, when both daughters are in their twenties and haven't even been fully resident at home since 2008, I would have been able to reestablish efficient routines for myself, but that has not been the case.

Somewhere along the line, in those days of raising small children, I necessarily had to take a new attitude about obligations and expectations in general.  I was diagnosed with clinical depression, which forced me to focus not only on my children's needs, but on my own physical and psychological  self-care.  Obligations to others and activities outside the home took their places at the end of the line, to be met or participated in when I was feeling 'up to it.'  It has turned out that the tendency toward depression is chronic, and will require treatment and consideration, most likely, for the rest of my life.  I tend to want to avoid social situations, but on another level I also crave social connection and company.  The tug and tension between these two feelings is something that is always present.

As a result of all of the above, I have become used to thinking of everything as being flexible and malleable, subject to the needs, whims and feelings of the moment.  (to be continued)


Dreams of My Grandparents

Bottles, seashells, artifacts on the beach.  Dark and dusty interiors.  Jumbled and neglected kitchen.  Desks and attic spaces full of old papers and household items.  A cold feeling in the back of my skull, and the shade of my grandfather or grandmother somewhere nearby.




I woke up in the middle of the night and it was light out.  The sun was in the west.  It was very warm and flowers in the garden were sprouting and growing.

Went to the beach (ocean beach, not ours) to look for shells and rocks and stuff.  Instead found books scattered about.  Old books, sandy and some damp, all over the beach.  Browsed through like at a library.  Picked up Ernest Hemingway small green old with gold seashells on the front.

Dreamed that in the woods behind my parents' house there was a steep hill.  When you climbed to the top you were on Kent Street in Chestertown (the street with the pink & purple house.)  Oh, good, now we can walk to the library!

Pulling beech trees out of the ground.


Parked in old historic town - to tour some houses.  History of slavery and cruelty.
Back formal garden.  White flowers.  Torture re-enactment - large swinging crane-like structure.  I am afraid I'm going to get hit by it - "Only a fool would be here."
Back to the house.  Remember descending into lower floor of a side wing of the house, a pale blue room.  Haunted.  The Blue Boy room.  Very strong presence - I am afraid.  There's a door in this room and once you exit you cannot return.  I do not exit.  He is alive - "And who is this?"  Leo. Angelo.

Angelo is the father. Leo is the son - who always gets called by his father's name.


The wayward gnat will soon discover that a candle is different than a lightbulb.


Oct. 16

In a gloomy cul-de-sac, wishing for the impossible.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Notes from Leslie Marmon Silko's Yellow Woman and a Beauty of the Spirit

 It is remarkable to sense the presence of those long passed at the locations where their adventures took place.  Spirits range without boundaries of any sort, and spirits may be called back in any number of ways.  The method used in the calling also determines how the spirit manifests itself.  I think a spirit may or may not choose to remain at the site of its passing or death.  I think they might be in a number of places at the same time.  Storytelling can procure fleeting moments to experience who they were and how life felt long ago.  What I enjoyed most as a child was standing at the site of an incident recounted in one of the ancient stories that old Aunt Susie had told us as girls.  What excited me was listening to her tell us an old-time story and then realizing that I was familiar with a certain mesa or cave that figured as the central location of the story she was telling.


Before the arrival of Christian missionaries, a man could dress as a woman and work with the women and even marry a man without any fanfare.  Likewise, a woman was free to dress like a man, to hunt and go to war with the men, and to marry a woman.  In the old Pueblo worldview, we are all a mixture of male and female, and this sexual identity is changing constantly.  Sexual inhibition did not begin until the Christian missionaries arrived.  For the old-time people, marriage was about teamwork and social relationships, not about sexual excitement.  In the days before the Puritans came, marriage did not mean an end to sex with people other than your spouse.  Women were just as likely as men to have a si’ash, or lover.


All places and all beings of the earth are sacred.  It is dangerous to designate some places sacred when all are sacred.  Such compromises imply that there is a hierarchy of value, with some places and some living beings not as important as others.  No part of the earth is expendable; the earth is a whole that cannot be fragmented, as it has been by the destroyers’ mentality of the industrial age.  The greedy destroyers of life and bringers of suffering demand that sacred land be sacrificed so that a few designated sacred places may survive; but once any part is deemed expendable, others can easily be redefined to fit the category of expendable.


…..These cowboys believed in action, not words, certainly not the printed word.
Hundreds of years before, proclamations, letters, and edicts came to the Americas from monarchs and popes admonishing the settlers to obey the laws.  In the Americas, the settlers were to reap the riches they all desired.  If you could not read the king’s or the pope’s edict, then you could not be held accountable.  If you were ignorant of the pope’s edict then you were blameless before God.  So illiteracy and the aversion to books that is found through the Americas descends from colonial times.  Ignorance was blissful and profitable.


(On Photography)  The origin of waves or particles of light-energy that may give such a sinister cast to a photograph is as yet unexplained.  Fields of electromagnetic force affect light.  Crowds of human beings massed together emanate actual electricity.  Individual perceptions and behavior are altered.  Witnesses report feeling an “electricity” that binds and propels a mob as a single creature.  So the greed and violence of the last century in the United States are palpable; what we have done to one another and to the earth is registered in the very atmosphere and effect, even in the light.  “Murder, murder,” sighs the wind over the rocks in a remote Arizona canyon where they betrayed Geronimo.