Aunt Julia

As another Thanksgiving arrives in cycle tomorrow, I think on the threads of ties that expand and contract out from my heart as I grow and change through this life. Family and friends – blood and otherwise – are important anchors to me, relational being that I am.

Reflecting on this, I thought on a stellar lady extraordinaire, my simply wonderful Great-Aunt Julia. She is my dad’s aunt – my beloved Poppop’s sister (she was his best friend) – and she is such a young, spunky 88-year-old.

Aunt Julia lives outside Waco, Texas, in flat Robinson, in a lovely house filled with birds, cats, and roses in a walled garden. Though her extensive adventures are largely over – of hoeing potatoes in Maryland, fending off hurricanes in Port Isabel, teaching English along the border of Mexico, and seeking waterfalls over it – she is still an explorer at heart. Her inquisitive eyes never miss a beat, and it is easy to imagine her as a younger woman traipsing across the desert or keeping rowdy students in line with a quip and a wink. Her whip-smart wit will cut you down grammatically or otherwise, especially if you are a Republican and/or are Donald Trump.

We talk on the phone fairly regularly, but I had been itching to get out to see her again, and so travels for work in California last February seemed like a good enough excuse for a stopover in central Tejas.

For four glorious days, we cruised the dry roads at top Texas speeds; popped into idyllic white churches; feasted on lasagna, shrimp, and fried apple fritters; visited museums about prehistoric man; shouted at the tele while watching MSNBC; dug through old family photos; and cackled at the menagerie of animals in the house.

Sugar and Callie, les chats, were very wary of me and only came out for snacks and lazy lap pets from Aunt Julia. But the birds – oh the birds!

Twinkle the canary would sing when Aunt Julia whistled in duet with him, deftly pecked broccoli florets, and flit about in erratic little flashes of pale yellow. He put on many a laser show for me with his erratic ‘pew pew pew’ tunes. Charlie, an African grey parrot, was very talkative, tried to nip my camera lens, ate whatever we ate, and is probably smarter than all of us.

My aunt has had Charlie for 26 years, and in that time, they have been best buddies. The many stories she has amassed about him in that span are varied and hilarious. Once, when Aunt Julia was spraying out his cage to clean it, he flapped and squawked in discontent, making quite a ruckus. “Oh, come on, Charlie,” she said, “don’t you want a clean cage? . . . Charlie-bird will be clean!” He looked sidelong from her to the neighboring canary’s cage – still dry, still dirty – then back at Aunt Julia before saying, “Little Bird? Little Bird clean?” to stick it to his little brother, too.

As a teacher for many years, Aunt Julia would bring a banana for breakfast every day on her way out the door to school. Once, when she forgot it as she left, Charlie stopped her at the doorknob with a shrill reminder of “Julia-bird – banana!” He loves little tidbits of snacks from the table and mimicking the vacuum.

My Poppop, the smartest, most well-read man in the world.

A young Julia-Bird, as a teen in a dress she nearly ruined in the ocean, and as a teacher in Brownsville.

At left, Aunt Julia, Poppop (the tallest), my Uncle Kent and some friends. At right, the kids with my great-grandparents.

We had such a seriously sweet and gratifying visit together. I wish I could go back, and I wish we lived closer. I miss her. I am going to call her tomorrow. What a gal.

My dears, happy Thanksgiving. I hope you all have Aunt Julias in your lives.

Be well, do not forget your bananas, and I hope your tomorrows are full of many wonderful things.

NZ 2017 – Aoraki to Cromwell

Third day. Hearty breakfast with lamb sausage. Rain.

We hiked the Hooker Valley Track, took the steep steps up the overlook to the Tasman Glacier, and skipped out to Kea Point. There, we first heard – then saw with awe – the glaciers groan and quake on the mountain face in front of us, spewing ice falls and cascading hunks down the mountainsides. To be crushed by that force!

Aoraki, tallest of the mountains in the Southern Alps and New Zealand, never showed us his mighty face. They say he only does so to those who are worthy. So last year I was, this one, not.

Heading out and south, we cackled past a dad dressed as Gandalf (his teenage daughter’s idea; we did pass) and dawdled down the valley past Lake Pukaki once more (the last more) . . . I could die of that blue. It kills me.

Pushing late on our drive, we watched the terrain change from glistening ice to tawny desert hills as we passed through the Lindis Valley via NZ 8 on the way to Cromwell.

Drip drip drop little April showers . . .

The rain drops floated on the lake, skimming across the denser liquid from the glacial rock flour that makes the water milky.

Dickey’s new forever-home.

Wet and thorny, both.

Tasman Glacier and the start of Lake Pukaki.

Père et fils.

“You shall not pass!”

We failed to like feijoa even though everyone said we should.


Looking out towards Omarama’s clay cliffs. I want to hike them one day.

Lindis Valley road.

Though no photos exist, we had a dance party in the deserted pedestrian mall in Cromwell as dark fell and blinking neon blazed around us. The song, appropriately, was “How Bizarre”.

Life. How bizarre. Indeed.

NZ 2017 – Akaroa to Aoraki

. . . With two full months of two separate years of photos from New Zealand in the backlog, tonight I made another attack in hacking away at the mass of pictures, willy nilly.

This most recent trip was in April, included a companion, and incorporated way more Tim Tams.

Dickey and I left on 2 April to fly the normal US east coast to west coast to Auckland transit in a haze of airports and upright naps. We landed in the future, having lost a whole Monday, and hopped a plane to Christchurch on 4 April to stay with an old college pal and his wife. With time to kill before meeting them, we dove straight into driving on the left to waste no time and explore the Banks Peninsula southeast of Christchurch. Our plane cabin-cramped legs stretched along the high and beautiful seashore and tiny towns around Akaroa.

From there, we had a lovely night outside Christchurch with Kris and Jess and Bea the cat before heading out the next rainy morning on our way to the inland wilds. First, we hopscotched through tiny towns filling the Jucy van with provisions, then skipped ourselves like rocks around Lakes Tekapo and Pukaki before calling it a night under the heavy shrouds of Aoraki, Mount Cook National Park.

Unlike many of my other travels, I barely wrote a word in journal, which is very unusual. So too many photographs will have to do.

Banks Peninsula and Akaroa

Outside Christchurch with Kris+Jess

On the road, heading inland from Christchurch, NZ 1 to 79 through Geraldine, home of the cutest Police Department ever.

Lake Tekapo and Church of the Good Shepherd

(This apple, he found.)

Lake Pukaki (one of the most mesmerizing, and one of my favorite, places on earth)

The road to Aoraki, hidden behind clouds.

Days 1 and 2 complete.

As I sit and type in the cold midnight darkness of central Pennsylvania, I sure do miss that glacial blue.

Megan+Mike at Hickory Run

Theeeeeese cats are getting married tomorrow!

Last October, we went out to Hickory Run State Park to take their engagement photos, and all we did was cackle, trip, marvel at the explosion of fall colors, and try not to smash our brains on the rocks. It was lovely!

Congrats, you two. I expect a rager. See you in the morning!!

Wild Roses – Part 3

The last leg of the journey was through the Waterton Lakes side of Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park, where we drove and hiked along Red Rock Canyon, stopped for a drink at the definitively haunted Prince of Wales Hotel, and continued on to Calgary at sunset, running wild through the canola fields. It was over all too soon.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –


11:23a: Leaving Glacier, road to Waterton – I do not want to leave. We are leaving. I am not ready for cell phones and day jobs, meetings and life in four walls.


2:21p MST: YCC -> Minneapolis – We leave. The world keeps rotating. I feel as if all will change upon descent? – but I can neither control nor fight it, so will adapt, as usual. Calgary, as we leave, as a most accommodating and simple airport. What will I do when I get home??? 

2:37p – Well, we guzzled wine and put all the remainder of our bourbon and tequila in fresh TSA-friendly toiletry bottles. I am sleepy and introspective, which could or could not be a blessed combination. 

4:40p MST – nearly to Minnie – I peeked toward the sunny window – over my neighbor reading Backpacker (I wanted to borrow it the whole flight, but never worked up the nerve) – to the grid of green and yellow plots below, a chessboard at seeming checkmate: the weight of all the people everywhere sometimes crushes me. It’s not even that I dislike people – I’m a people person! – but there are so many of us, and we do bad things and feed the bears and don’t recycle if it’s not convenient. I feel overwhelmed!

8:59p Central Time – Everything out the window is dusky blue and runs together, blended over the horizon like a watercolor wash in a painting. It took me a minute to realize that the glowing clusters of lights are edged by the deeper blue of one of the Great Lakes. All the people in those twinkling orange cities have lives as deep and wide as mine, and yet, they are unfathomable. Where the water meets the sky over the lake is indistinguishably blended and blue, save for the faraway veins of light without plane, out there in the expanding ether across the lake. I felt – I feel – unmoored, but here’s the other shore, and we’ve crossed the water and reached it quietly while no one noticed. 

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

That was the end of this trip, my babies. In present life, summer is blipping out and in like static, alternating in days of buzzing heat and nights of evocative fall air and woodsmoke smells.

I miss roadtripping, and I am ever thankful for silly and lame, though everlastingly joyful memories, like this gif, from Lake Josephine at Glacier, which I could watch all day. If I think hard enough, I can still feel the liquid coolness and rising gooseflesh of being in the lake.

I love you all and hope always that you get to experience many of the things you wish to, like I get to do.

Be well.