Archive for Aging

Amazing Arizona

IMG_2353I’ve been here in Arizona for a few weeks, and I’m still baffled by highway signs saying,“Do not enter when flooded.” Flooded! This is the desert and everything is crackling with dryness. The signs usually appear before a steep dip in the road.

Then there are countless dried-up river beds. A block long bridge carries me over The Santa Cruz River. Below, a wide and absolutely dry bed lies where there must have been fast flowing water. Today, all I see is a sand bottom etched with wavy lines. It’s been dry long enough to grow grasses and bushes.

In my own neighbourhood, deep river beds run under bridges and sand bottoms ripple in gorges where there’s no water. It’s hard to imagine the drama and excitement of fierce floods coursing through this dry land. I’m told it actually happens in the Spring, during the Monsoon.

IMG_2356Cactus is everywhere and comes in a number of species. I’ve learned to respect these succulent plants. When I got too close to a banana yucca, I’d swear it deliberately reached out and stabbed me in the shin with its sharp, dry pointed blade. Ouch! Weeks later, the resulting infection still itches reminding me that the desert is a wondrous – and potentially dangerous landscape. As proof that I’m not the only human to imagine a deliberate attack on my person, I came across a cactus labelled Shindagger Cactus.

As I learn more about the cactus family, I find that many of these plants propagate by “jumping” at passing animals, human and non-human. The Chainfruit or Jumping Cholla is an example. It’s a tree. Its branches bear short joints that break off easily.

As you pass by a cholla, spines catch onto your pant leg or shirt. You feel a tug and look down just as the joint breaks off from the plant, and the recoil from the stretched cloth snaps the joint into your flesh. The experience is memorable. (Getco Guide’s “Cacti of Arizona.”)

IMG_2352The giant of the cactus family is the Saguaro. Typically, the Saguaro is 20 to 40 feet tall. It’s the one you see in cartoons with branches growing parallel to the main trunk. It’s eight to ten feet high. These giants are common in my neighbourhood, along with tall palm trees.

Organ Pipe cacti is another tall species. It grows six to eight feet tall and has many branches growing right out of the ground. I usually see it in the company of the Barrel Cacti. Both of these are favourites on my neighbourhood’s gravel covered lawns. (no grass here in this dry state.) The barrel cactus grows 2 to 4 feet high. A ring of bright flowers surround its top. Most of the flowers I see are bright orange, red or yellow.

IMG_2369Maybe Arizona’s hills don’t belong in a discussion of cacti, but they do fit into my “strange and unusual”category. The Santa Rita mountains lie to the east of my house. Numerous ranges surround the Tucson area. These ranges are old. Their peaks are jagged and for the most part they are bare of trees.

Then there are the other “mountains.” These are tan coloured, flat on top and ridged, both vertically and horizontally. Some have spotty green growth. You can imagine my surprise when I was told that these beige hills are piles of tailings dumped there from the nearby copper mines.

IMG_2355How long will I wander about, curious and amazed? I know from experience that even the most remarkable scenery finally becomes just part of everyday life. I’m here for five months. By the end of this time, will I take for granted these amazing cacti and the warm sunny weather? Time will tell. I hope not.

A Different Sort of Trip

IMG_1209It was near the end of October. For health reasons, I needed to escape our Canadian winter. Still smarting from September’s solo trip to Sedona and the Grand Canyon, I was careful to take into account that the trip I was planning was for an almost 80-year-old body and brain. Loneliness had stalked me on the first trip and, although I felt proud of myself for booking hotels, renting a car and successfully finding my destinations, that trip left me exhausted. I was still recovering from the realization that my body and brain weren’t what they used to be. This trip needed to be different.

For starters, I would not travel alone. I was going to spend the winter in Green Valley, Arizona, 2,243 miles southwest of Toronto. My friend Barb agreed to share the journey with me. We would take turns driving and I would pay our expenses and fly her back home. Sammy the poodle would come with us in the car. At the end of winter, Barb would fly back to Tucson and we’d reverse the journey through the diverse landscape of the USA.


My friends know I lack a sense of direction. Somehow the points of the compass never got installed when the right hemisphere of my brain was forming. Barb assured me she really liked maps and planning trips. She also likes driving and road trips. We sounded like a good match: which brings me to my first piece of advice. If you’re going travelling, choose a companion whose strong points dovetail with your own deficits.

I drove to her house in Toronto from my home in Kingston and the next morning we set out on our adventure. I’d joined The Snowbirds’ Association, a move I highly recommend. Why reinvent the wheel? This association has tips for every aspect of staying out of the country for extended periods. Thanks to their advice, I was well prepared for the border crossing at Sarnia. I had a whole folder of proof I was renting a house for five months and that my dog was safe to enter their country. (U.S. customs want to make sure you don’t plan to stay in their country without paying taxes.) I rolled down the window at Customs and was met by the brown eyes and warm smile of a friendly young official. I handed him our passports. He glanced at them and maybe swiped them under a scanner. He was more interested in chatting and wishing us a great trip. I don’t think he even noticed Sammy in the back of the car.

We drove on and ended our first day near Chicago. Barb had already made the reservation. This was when we found that Best Western hotels welcome dogs for an extra twenty dollars. Sammy the Poodle was in for an extended experience in hotel living.

IMG_1209From the flat lands of Illinois to the mountains, hills and forests of Missouri and Oklahoma, we drove by endless cotton fields in Texas, then southwest through New Mexico until we finally entered Arizona. We arrived in Green Valley exactly on the eve of our November first rental.

The trip was five days and covered 2,243 miles. That means we drove 7 hours or 449 miles per day. We didn’t push it. Mornings were spent planning our route and making hotel reservations for the coming night. Midday we took time for a leisurely meal and found the local dog park for Sammy. Evenings were spent in the hotel room while we snacked on the supplies we carried with us.


I won’t claim we weren’t tired at the end of the trip, but we enjoyed ourselves and my anxiety level was manageable.

It’s been a while since I’ve written. In my next post, I’ll tell you about life in Arizona.

How Embarassing!

highwayI’ve written on my website about my solo trip to Sedona and The Grand Canyon and I’ve told you about the amazing highs and lows of travelling alone. Now I’m ready to confess a really embarrassing situation that happened near the end of my time in Arizona.

I was making the return trip from Sedona to the Phoenix area where I’d booked a hotel in a town called Surprise. Starting out at ten in the morning, I knew I had a long drive ahead, but having spent the week with Sedona’s sculpted red mountains and mysterious vortexes, I was feeling strong and confident.

Picture the scene: endless switchbacks and hairpin turns up and down mountains, hour after hour of going around and around. Other-worldly scenery that you don’t dare look at for too long where nature has layered the physical world’s history in sedimentary layers, each distinguishable from the others. The geological story of the world towers to the sky in the red rock that is native to this part of our world.

I don’t know why I didn’t pull off or stop somewhere. I knew I was getting bug-eyed as I approached the Phoenix area. Now the land flattened out. Ahead was my hotel and the successful completion of this adventure.

I saw a sign for Surprise. Yeah, I was almost at the end. Then I noticed another lane that seemed to get off the main highway and likely headed for surprise. In my foggy state I decided to take it.

Oh, oh! Too late. It turned out to be one-way the wrong way. Immediately I heard a siren. The flashing lights of a police car faced me.

I got out of the car fast. The officer looked nervous. I wanted him to see that I was just a little old woman: harmless: no gun in this land of guns. Just a nice Canadian who got confused.

I could see him checking the California license plates of my rental car.

“I’m Canadian,” I assured him. “I’m just so shocked at what I did. I can’t believe I drove the wrong way on a one-way road. I guess I’ve been driving too long and got over-tired,” etc. etc.

He was beginning to relax. It seemed like hours but finally he called the fire department. Why the fire department? He wouldn’t allow me to get back behind the wheel and needed help. A fire truck with a crew of three arrived. One fireman was assigned to drive my car to my hotel where the rental company would pick it up. (No keys for me.) Then the policeman drove me to my hotel where we met the fireman. These two nice young men carried my belongings to my second-floor room since the elevator was out of service.

I thanked them profusely. They were so kind.

The policeman turned to me and said, “Well, if that happened to my grandmother, I’d want someone to take good care of her.”

“Your grandmother!” I was about to protest. Then I thought better of it. Leave well enough alone, Mary. You’re really lucky you met this policeman and not some mean guy.

Pros and Cons of Being On My Own

IMG_2168I signed up for Rita’s Sacred Earth Walk, a guided stroll designed to help people experience the magic of the desert. Rita Faruki is a teacher here in Sedona who views her work as helping people come back into balance and harmony with Nature. (1) Besides walks through the desert, this remarkable teacher gives sessions in drumming and Shamanism, practices she learned while living as a school teacher with the Navajo. I feel so fortunate to be here, at this time in my life: a time when I’m attempting to find a new way of life, one that’s just right for me.



On this particular morning, I find Rita waiting with an American couple. The three of us will share Rita’s guidance. The woman, like me, has a lung condition. We are a compatible trio. At the end of our walk, I offer to sit with her while her husband gets the car. She is beyond exhausted by our gentle pace.

The two of us take a seat at a picnic table overlooking the distant red hills. I mention to her what Rita said to me about lung disease. In Chinese medicine it’s believed to be caused by sadness and frustration at not being able to do what you are drawn to in your life. When Rita first said that to me I thought of all the trips and experiences when I had wanted to take in events that didn’t interest my husband. When you travel with a spouse or another being, you have to compromise.

As I said this, the woman doubled over in shocked recognition of her own situation.

“You’re so lucky to be free to do whatever interests you. I’m so frustrated. My husband just yawns and shrugs at most of the things I want to do. This walk is one of the few things we both agreed on.”

Oh, oh, I think to myself, what have I set off? I warn her that my sort of freedom also means being alone. I wouldn’t want to leave her with the impression that freedom comes without a cost. Her husband seems like a caring partner.

Actually, although there is a price to pay for picking and choosing my personal interests without regard for another, I’m still glad I’m on my own. I’m free to explore Medical Qui Gong, relationships with trees and the famous Sedona Vortexes without having to deal with someone else’s disapproval and skepticism. My own Inner Critic’s resistance to these opportunities is trouble enough. 



Another Sedona teacher I’m learning from is Julie Engsberg.(2) Julie introduced me to Medical QuiChong. Medical Qi Gong is related particularly to wellness issues. I wonder if it will benefit my lungs. Western medicine considers my condition chronic. QuiChong offers routines for whatever ails you. It promises to increase the Qi (Chee) flow to my lungs and, thus, improve my breathing. What’s the harm, I ask myself.

I really like the QiGong routine that’s said to help the aging brain. This “medicine” balances right and left brain by moving Qi through the brain. Is it my imagination or is it real? I feel smarter and my memory seems improved after following the prescribed practice. Long ago, when I was a trauma therapist, I came to believe in the healing power of Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, a therapy that became main stream because it worked. At first, it seemed just as strange as medical QiGong. What’s more, medical QiGong is available on the internet. You don’t need a practitioner to benefit from it.

To contact either Rita or Julie:

Rita Faruki, (928) 963-1146:

Julie Engsberg, (928) 399-9631:

How I Got a Free Trip to The Grand Canyon

IMG_2097Yesterday I got to realize another dream from my bucket list. I toured the Grand Canyon. This was something I’d always wanted to do. As it happens, I not only realized my dream, I got the tour for free.

When I arranged my accommodation with The Sedona Summit, I didn’t realize it was a time-share organization. Checking in was a bit strange. I wondered why nobody offered to help me with my luggage and I had a hard time finding my room. “My room” was on the second floor of one of many vermillion coloured six and eight plexes. (All the buildings are painted to match the red rocks of Sedona.) “My room” turned out to be  larger than my apartment in Kingston. Its fully equipped kitchen had everything a dedicated cook could wish for, including a dish washer. You can imagine my surprise when I opened a cupboard and found a washer and dryer. Price-wise it was a real bargain!

Once I settled into my new living space, I went to the front desk to arrange my trip to the Grand Canyon. To my surprise the clerk offered me a free daylong tour if I would agree to spend ninety minutes with their sales person. Ninety minutes couldn’t be too painful, I decided, so I agreed to the exchange: my ears in return for $200 worth of trip.

Steeling myself to resist whatever unpleasantness was coming my way, I waited along with a dozen others for my salesman. He turned out to be a benign looking white haired man with glasses. I followed him to a round table surrounded by four chairs. I’d decided to tell him honestly that I was here for the free tour and nothing else. He looked a little surprised, tried anyway to interest me in investing, then finally said, “Well we have to spend 90 minutes together. We might as well do something interesting.”

I thought that was decent of him and let him know that I’d already arranged to rent a house in the Tucson area for the winter. He, bless his heart, opened his computer to “Google Earth” and showed me the area I’ll be staying in when the cold winds start blowing back home.

I’ve been here at the timeshare resort for over a week now. It’s a perfect place for me with daily activities of the sort I like: yoga, Qi Gong, guided walks through the desert, hiking trips to the famous vertexes, and on and on. What’s more, I don’t have to summon up my courage to eat dinner alone. I go grocery shopping and prepare my own food in the spacious kitchen.

Actually, this wouldn’t be a bad bet for someone like me. All the gardening, garbage, cleaning and so on is taken care of. What’s more, it’s a friendly place. People share a sense of belonging to the club. There’s both privacy and a chance to mix with people. Couldn’t be a better fit. The reason I won’t consider it? They don’t accept dogs as guests. There’s no way I would leave Sammy The Poodle for 5 months. It’s hard enough leaving him for the two and a half weeks of this trip.

So, how was the Grand Canyon? Unbelievable, indescribable, and all the other adjectives you’ve always heard. Nine of us tourists climbed into a van with a tour guide who took us up 8,000 feet, over the Arizona plateau, round and round hairpin turns, finally arriving at the Grand Canyon.  Since it’s indescribable, I’ll attach a few of the photos I took.