Over the course of what might otherwise have seemed a short weekend, Frank and his mother made me walk roughly two hundred miles, most of them uphill. In the few off-hours during which I was allowed to stay home and rest, Esther and Frank took brief little eight- and twelve- and thirty-mile walks by themselves, to keep in shape. If Frank and his mother ever invite you to go on a nice little walk to the nearest mountain, I advise you to be skeptical, because it will take you the whole day and they will be racing along at a 35 mph clip the whole time and you will be panting and trying and failing to keep up. At one point, we came to a road sign that said “15 mph” and Esther said, “We’d better slow down,” but they didn’t. I am just mentioning this in case it might be useful to others; I am not complaining. No doubt it was very good for me, and perhaps I will look back and laugh, later in life.
Mother and son
Actually, I say that I am not complaining, but at the time I did complain. Complaining was a sign of faith, a belief that things could have been otherwise, a hope that my trust might yet be vindicated. The third or fourth walk on which Frank and Esther led me, trusting as a lamb, was much longer and much, much more difficult than Frank had encouraged me to believe, so I complained. Later, I said something bitterly ironic and he took it literally, and I said, “You’re taking me literally!” and he said, “Of course. That is who I am.” I commented, “It’s amazing we’re such good friends,” to which he replied, “We seek complementarity.” I said, “As in ’you walk, I complain,’ and ’you’re literal, I’m ironic’?” “Yes, exactly like that,” he said. It is not necessary for friends to agree on everything; then again, it is understood that one does not take friends on 35 mph walks under the guise of a casual stroll.
It is probably a good thing that there is so much exercise involved in these walks, because it is not as if I am getting a lot of sightseeing in. We move too fast for the scenery to be anything more than a blur, and there are no animals to speak of. I’m told that the trails we walk are full of wild animals; the whole history of Frank and Donna’s and George and Esther’s walks is crammed with sightings of moose, bear, coyote, deer, and mountain lions. Personally, I have never seen a moose. I have never seen any of those animals. I see rattlesnakes and tarantulas all summer long — it is lucky that I do, too, because Frank walks with his head up, looking for bobcats, which I could have told him we weren’t going to find, so he never notices the rattlesnakes and tarantulas till I yell at him. The reason that Frank is not going to see any bobcats is that there is no point in even looking, if I am along. I have anti-moose karma, and there is not a chance in a million that I don’t have anti-bobcat karma, too.
I mentioned this to Gina and David. Not in a complaining way, of course. Just as an interesting fact as we get to know one another. Their friend Claudia, who was with us, said conversationally, “The other day I saw five moose.” “Did you have to leave your house or were they in your backyard?” Gina asked interestedly. It would not have occurred to me that seeing five moose in your backyard was an option some people had and I was secretly pleased that Claudia did not have it. It is bad enough that some people see moose and some people do not, without backyard privileges entering into it.
David and Gina in their moose-free Salt Lake back yard
I pride myself on being observant, but I am not observant about everything. I am not observant about nature. Trees come and go without my noticing, and deer pretty much have to walk right up to me before I notice them, which they almost never do. Frank will point out deer on the ridge, and they look like specks a hundred miles away. That is not the kind of thing I am good at noticing. I am good at noticing deer if they are across the fence glaring at me, but not if they are tiny specks in the distance.
Deer inside a golf course fence
At Fisherman’s Wharf in Monterey, Ivan and I saw seals in the water that were little more than dark blobs in the darkness. I took pictures anyway, hoping that when we got home we could lighten up and enlarge the pictures and see the seals that we hadn’t really seen in real life. Ivan lightened up and enlarged the close-up I had taken till he had something that looked like dark blobs in the water. “Should I save it like this?” he asked. But there was really not much point. It looked just like those blurry, grainy pictures of the Loch Ness Monster — mysterious enlargements of blobs that are said to provide documentary evidence of something, though they are only evidence if you take it on faith that they really are whatever they are supposed to be providing evidence of.
These are the seals we think we saw. You don’t have to take our word for it. We have photographic proof.
Seals in Monterey
Lightened and enlarged close-up of blobs said to be seals
I am not very good at seeing seals but I am good at seeing birds. There is no real trick to seeing birds in the backyard.
In large group gatherings, it is not too hard to spot birds, either.
On their own, however, they are harder to spot, unless they are thoughtful enough to stand on bare branches.
It is also helpful when humans congregate to watch the birds. In Florida, there were several people looking up at this heron’s nest, and after a while I was able to spot it myself.
If there were crowds congregating around a bobcat, naturally I would notice it. But first I would have to be in the vicinity. And that is my point. I am never in the vicinity, because I have anti-moose and anti-bobcat karma.
A month ago, there was a cougar in City Creek Canyon that a lot of people got to see. Al, who is in my Monday night class, got to see the cougar the night before class. Al said that the cougar was looped in the fork of a tree near the gate to the canyon. Dozens of people stood around the base of the tree looking up at him, so there was little danger of getting pounced upon and no danger at all of not noticing him. Needless to say, I did not get to see the cougar. As it happens, I had almost gone up into City Creek Canyon that evening, but instead Woody and the girls and I decided to walk down to Memory Grove. Perhaps it is just as well that we did not see the cougar, as Kanyon mentioned on the walk that she did not wish to see a cougar and was not sure how she felt about gophers. I guaranteed that she would not see either. It would take a powerful pro-cougar karma to overcome my anti-moose karma. It is only because Stephanie has strong pro-bunny karma that we were able to see three rabbits on our walk over to Larry’s and Wanda’s.
Three would-be hunters who had seen the cougar on the evening news showed up the next morning with a dog, claiming that they had treed the cougar the day before and were just coming back to finish up the job. This is like a tourist telling one of the palace guards that she left the crown jewels behind in the palace because she was too tired to take the jewels home with her but is now back to pick them up, so would he kindly hand them over? Not a lot of people are going to believe a story like that. Other than these television-watching hunters, no one in Utah would believe the belated treeing story. It is nice that these three guys have each other.
I have not been lucky with catching glimpses of cougars in the wild, but birds I can spot even if there are no crowds. In Monterey, this bird flew awkwardly but determinedly up to a wall and clung to a tiny ledge for over twenty minutes, most of which time it spent yelling at another bird who had claimed the ledge around the corner.
Whenever I could, I tried to get a bird or two in my Monterey photographs. Cris’s practice is similar. “I now follow Reader’s Digest’s suggestions to make sure a loved one (pets included) is also in any landscape shot,” says Cris. “Thus our photo albums have a ’Fey went here, Fey went there’ quality about them.” Ivan and I do not take the cats with us on trips, so I try to get local animals into the pictures.
In Monterey, most of who I got in my pictures were seagulls.
Though I did get one shot of Ivan.
In Florida, most of my pictures again were of seagulls. Dad feeds them french fries. French fries probably are not at all good for them, and there is no question that french fries are not found in the wild, but the gulls definitely like them.
Dad does not consider these to be good seagull pictures because they do not include him and they do not include french fries. This is not a bad rule but it is not the only possible rule about pictures of seagulls
French fries were one of the last foods Trillin would eat.
Ivan shares his french fries with Trillin
Because of our proximity to the Great Salt Lake, there are plenty of seagulls to see and photograph in Salt Lake City, but there is something far more glamorous and exciting about seeing seagulls by the ocean than seeing them in the Fred Meyer parking lot.
Salt Lake is notable for its mountains. Donna knows all the mountains. When she and I go on walks, she can point out the mountains by name.
I am good at seeing mountains, but I am not good at telling them apart. In theory, you can always find your way anywhere in Salt Lake City because you just look at the mountains to orient you, but personally I do not find the mountains at all helpful. It would be different if there were one big mountain and one little mountain. Then you could say, “We need to move closer to the big mountain.” But there are mountains everywhere. You would already have to know them all by name in order for them to orient you, and if you already knew them all by name you probably would also already know where you are, in which case the mountains are just a bonus. Actually, they are a bonus, but they are not any help if I am lost.
On the plus side, I am good at reading bus maps.
This winter, when we had all the snow, Glenn asked to borrow one of our snow shovels. Because Ivan is constantly buying new shovels in hopes that the new one will alter the basic experience of snow, we have five shovels. Glenn chose the most decrepit of our shovels and went off with it. Two minutes later, he reappeared in our driveway. I set down the shovel I was using, to talk to him. Seeing that I was no longer using my shovel, Glenn asked, “Now can I borrow that one?” “What happened to the other one?” I asked. “I lost it,” Glenn said. I mention this only because even your experienced outdoor types can lose things that you would think it would be hard to lose, what with actually having them in your hands at the time. When I went over to look for it later, I found the shovel buried in the snow in their front yard.
Probably Glenn meant to shovel the walk, but ended up playing in the snow instead. It is easier to lose a shovel if you do not really want to shovel with it anyway.
Raegan, Rayn, Glenn, Kanyon, and Woody playing in the street
But exactly why or how Glenn lost the shovel is not my point. My point is that I am the one who found it.
I am sometimes mocked by people who weren’t even there at the time for not having noticed when a small forest outside my dorm window disappeared. It was actually quite, quite small, and many people would not have noticed the forest in the first place, whereas I did. I just didn’t notice it afterwards, which is not all that surprising, when you think about it, because it was no longer there.
In point of fact, I do know trees. Once I was driving my sister through the Illinois countryside; Barb was looking out the window and said, “Look, Audrey. Horses!” I looked. “Those aren’t horses, Barb,” I explained. “Those are trees.” I am not boasting. I’m just saying, there are some things I know.
All of this nature-based knowledge is neither here nor there, however, when it comes to taking walks with Frank and Esther. When I go on walks with Frank and Esther, we do not talk about trees or birds or even bobcats. On one walk, Esther asked conversationally, “What is the exact chemical make-up of hemoglobin?” Now, I could have made something up, just to be polite. I would have been happy to. But what with Esther being a nurse, she would be bound to catch me. Most likely, however, I wouldn’t have been able to say anything casually uninformative about hemoglobin even if I tried. Most of the time on these walks I am far too breathless, trying to keep up with Esther, to be able to talk.
Happy 80th birthday, Esther!
Main web site: http://www.pauahtun.org/audrey.html