What’s in a Name?

For a while I’ve been working on a little personal project about the naming of places. It is based super loosely on my reading of Wisdom Sits in Places, I say loosely because this is just my thing. A mental construct. A “what if?” that starts with the question, “Why do we accept the names of places as they are?” They are entirely malleable, are the creation of a description that is lost on the foam extending wind-carried well beyond the wave that is the expansion of time and space in the galaxy. An atom or less, the flimsiest piece of gossamer floating out to disappear into the future. What if I make the planet into a place that carries the meaning of my life? I don’t know the answer to that question, but it seems an interesting one. So here are just a bit deeper explanations of some of my more recent #mymindmapping and #namesofmyplaces.

This place is at what I consider the Center of my existence. Wilson Place, out on the desert below the ranch. One of the original home sites out in this valley that is home, well, just really home, a home that encompasses hundreds of miles. So it’s a place I always picture myself to be, even when I’m not. In a real sense. I can close my eyes and be there. 

Meadow Appears because we spent a couple of really beautiful years living down south of here, where Casper was born and we roamed the hills all together. And riding my bike north to work, here is where all the meadow that is now a city came into view and the world separated into the present and a future. 

Thanks so much for reading this year! This will be the last one most likely of the year. I’m really happy to be writing again and sharing and I hope anyone out there reading enjoys any little bit of this. Peace and love and here’s to 2017!!!

Going Home to the Library 

We recently visited the Nevada Room at Winnemucca Library. This place ignited my lifelong love of libraries.

On a recent Saturday we went up to Winnemucca and had the opportunity to visit the Winnemucca branch of the Humboldt County Library in order to look up some information from a history of Nevada for another post. 

The library was a special place for me as a child. On our trips to town from the ranch my mother would just leave me there and I would spend hours perusing the aisles of books. Magical to me. 

The library staff all knew me and I’d get stern talking to about my invariably late returned books and smiles and laughter and kindness. I don’t have a lot of childhood memories, but the library is the keeper of many of those there are. 

Thanks library and here’s to you serving to ignite the love of knowledge of countless more generations of young Nevadans!

What Does a Tree Mean: The Christmas Bodie Went Away


The fall and early winter of 2012 was a difficult time for Renee and I. Our beloved goat Bodie had been injured out at the ranch earlier in the late summer, but she was looking good and was on the mend when suddenly she started a new decline. No one really knew what it was but she was just off, not eating much, sort of wandering aimlessly. A far cry from the wonderful goat that we came to know and love. We checked her in to the vet out in Pleasant Valley and visited her as often as possible. They brought in a specialist to see what could be done, but there was basically nothing. To add to the top of this my annual trip to the Basque Country for the Durango Azoka (book and music fair) was looming and it fell on me to leave Renee alone in the face of this crisis.


I said goodbye to Bodie in the sterile confines of a stall at the vet complex and flew away the next morning for Bilbao. I spent the Azoka and then began my round of bookstore visits and meetings that I do on these trips. I was in Donostia and the day was breaking when I got the news. The vet, with no options left, had sent Bodie home to spend her days in the comfort of our company and with her kid Casper. Renee texted in a black predawn. She was gone. She had passed away in Renee’s arms. I learned this in an antiseptic pensión, walls painted white, a tv bolted to the ceiling as though institutional. The wonderful vibrant ball of life we had raised from Day 1 of her life was gone. The winter dawns in the Basque Country seem to last forever. That morning even more so it seems that the sun would never break the Easter as I mechanically packed myself and walked out into the predawn. That day I headed black to Bilbao, from where I would soon fly back. I had almost made it to see her again, but hadn’t.


Our first little tree of the new era of Christmas.

The days passed and I returned to our little rented house off Toll Road. Renee and I were both grieving. She with added weight of caring for Bodie through those last days, me with the weight of not being for there for my family. We clung together though and, without really thinking about it, we got a tree. I had never been much of a Christmas celebrator, a commercialized holiday for presents, I thought mostly. Sure go through the motions, but nothing too exciting. That Christmas, however, the tree and decorating took on new life for both Renee and I. It became a fierce determination to celebrate the season and to honor Bodie’s passing. We had only a little tree, and were living in a tiny house, but we decorated it to the best of our abilities. We lit the rest of the home up with lights. We played Christmas carols and loved each other and Dusty and Coco. And that Bodie spirit of Christmas has stuck with us, through the years. Decorating a tree and putting up lights means something completely different to me. It means a celebration of life. This year, we were feeling really tired, and in transition in a lot of ways, and it seemed that we were not going to put up lights or our tree. We set a deadline, if it doesn’t happy by next Monday, it’s not going to happen. But then we rallied, we erected the tree and hung lights all over our little apartment. It became the season again. For everything that is happening in life it’s never too late to celebrate.


I wanted to write about this Christmas when Christmas really became Christmas for us, even though it is colored by a tragedy, but I wasn’t sure how. What to learn. I thought about exploring grief, learning about it, but that didn’t seem quite right, nor a topic that can be covered in a single blog post. Only last night did I think about how much, in the face of all of that loss, what the tree  that we decorated meant, and I asked myself “why a tree?” A little Internet digging (you’re going to find plenty on this topic, but most banal) I came across this article on the origins and meaning of the Christmas tree, which in  the results of my quick search appeared by far to be the best one on the topic and which I recommend anyone with any interest in the subject read. (Also, as an aside, and knowing nothing about this group, if you are interested in religion this site seems very interesting and balanced in these trying times.)

The idea of bringing a piece of wood into the home for a celebration for the winter solstice has a long tradition in human history, especially Western history. Its first record was from the Egyptians, for whom it symbolized resurrection: not having evergreen, however, the Egyptians used palm branches. The Greeks first decorated an evergreens as part of the celebration of the God Adonia. The modern Christmas tree dates to Western Germany in the sixteenth century. President Franklin Pierce was the first US president to have a tree in the White House, during the mid-1850s. For people around the world associated with the Western tradition, at least, the decoration of the home with evergreen boughs celebrates life, renewal, resurrection and warmth, whatever your particular religious belief.

I hope I don’t lose this perspective on the spirit of the season. Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to everyone out there, let’s celebrate the return of the light!

Ask Cervantes

Processed with Rookie

Dear Cervantes,
I just have to say you are a hero of mine, having written about he who so bravely battled the mighty windmills. I am curious, what are your thoughts now on alternative energy sources, especially regarding wind power and windmills?

Thank you,

A concerned Avis

Dear A concerned Avis,

You’ll remember him
You can’t not
That wise man
Apolonio Tianeo
Who, for all you know,
With heaven’s favor
Or a learned science
With work and time
Learned to understand birds’
Song to such an extreme
That hearing them he said,
“That’s what they say.”
And it’s true
Canary sings
Goldfinch trills
Turtle dove groans
Crow caws,
From the rogue sparrow
To the royal eagle
From their songs he understood
Their hidden secrets“

Si de bien tendrás memoria,
porque no es posible menos,
de aquel sabio cuyo nombre
fue Apolonio Tianeo,
el cual, según que lo sabes,
o fuese favor del cielo,
o fuese ciencia adquirida
con el trabajo y el tiempo,
supo entender de las aves
el canto tan por estremo,
que en oyéndolas decía:
“Esto dicen”. Y esto es cierto.
Ora cantase el canario,
ora trinase el jilguero,
ora gimiese la tórtola,
ora graznasen los cuervos,
desde el pardal malicioso 890
hasta el águila de imperio,
de sus cantos entendía
los escondidos secretos

La gran sultana doña Catalina de Oviedo, from Las Comedias

“Sure, what am I am complaining about? Unlucky me! It’s the truth that when misfortunes are brought by the currents of the stars, coming from on high to down low, letting themselves go with fury and violence, there is no force on earth that can stop them, nor human industry that can prevent them.”

“Mas, ¿de qué me quejo?, ¡desventurado de mí!, pues es cosa cierta que cuando traen las desgracias la corriente de las estrellas, como vienen de alto a bajo, despeñándose con furor y con violencia, no hay fuerza en la tierra que las detenga, ni industria humana que prevenirlas pueda” El ingenioso hidalgo Don Quijote de La Mancha

“You see that sun shines on us? Yeah, for a sign of what I can do, you want me to take away its rays and shadow us in clouds, well ask me, and I’ll make this clarity into the darkest night, or if you want to see the ground shake, the winds battled, the sea altered, the mountains found, the beasts to bellow, or other terrifying signs of the confusion of the first chaos, ask me it, and you will be satisfied and I accredited.”

“¿Ves este sol que nos alumbra? Pues si, para señal de lo que puedo, quieres que le quite los rayos y le asombre con nubes, pídemelo, que haré que a esta claridad suceda en un punto escura noche; o ya si quisieres ver temblar la tierra, pelear los vientos, alterarse el mar, encontrarse los montes, bramar las fieras, o otras espantosas señales que nos representen la confusión del caos primero, pídelo, que tú quedarás satisfecho y yo acreditada.” Los Trabajos de Persiles y Sigismunda

“More in that short time, when he thought that the ship of his good fortune had caught a prosperous wind toward his desired port, a contrary one lifted in its sea a mighty storm, that a thousand times he dreaded would suck him into the depths.”

“Mas en aquel breve tiempo, donde él pensaba que la nave de su buena fortuna corría con próspero viento hacia el deseado puerto, la contraria suerte levantó en su mar tal tormenta, que mil veces temió anegarle.” “Novela de la española inglesa,” Novelas Ejemplares

*Translation above, original marked as quote below. Translations are all mine. I would love comments on errors/mistranslations or bettering them!

Read Land, Write Walk: Northern Virginia Range, Nevada

This image from the Lagomarsino trailhead on Long Valley Creek well illustrates the role of perspective in evaluating landscapes, if facing the other direction, rather than this pretty scene, we would be looking at the entrance to the Washington Hill quarry.

Walking in the foothills east of Reno recently, I thought about what my first write-walk should be after the end of NaNoWriMo. Sometime last year I wrote a post about a day out that Renee and I shared in Reno on our bikes. It was, among other things, National Indie Bookstore Day, so our day started off with a stop at Sundance Bookstore. There I found a fascinating book called How to Read the American West: A Field Guide by William Wyckoff. Casting about for topics, and wanting to really focus on this blog, I remembered that post and thought what a better thing to write-walk than a landscape. And what a better place to read landscape than these tortured, volcanic, long and deeply used hills.

Hills are mountains that will be hills again.

I pulled up the list that Wyckoff had created giving tips for reading landscapes. While there are many more to focus on than these, the ones that I want to focus on today are, “Appreciate the role of time,” “Recognize the importance of scale,” and “Remember that what you see depends on the experiences you bring with you, the questions you pose, and the details you emphasize.”


These hills east of Reno are the remains of volcanic activity that predates the rise of the Sierra Nevada, and the landscape would have then resembled the Cascades more than the current Virginia Range (more in my post on The Old Mother Who Sleeps and Wants to Be Left Alone ). The dominant plant and animal species came in waves: some “real” pine trees, the juniper and sagebrush, wild horses, later invasive species: cheat grass and mustard weed most notably. While I am walking across their slopes many jet planes, some obviously commercial, others more likely military, use the airspace above me to approach the Reno airport. There is day-long activity at the quarry that is Washington Hill. And there is much evidence of past heavy use: the remains of a stone house I see in the canyon bottom, a wide old road now an OHV path. At places I can almost see over to the Tesla Gigafactory. I crest over a hill and see in the canyon of the Truckee below me a place that was an important life source for native people. Then transformed into a major thoroughfare for the West: gold-seeking emigrant parties, the first transcontinental railroad, the first interstate all have used this narrow funnel into the Golden Land of California.

Volcanic deposits and pine trees in the Virginia Range, or the Mountains that Built Modernity.


The scale of the landscape is dominated by the massive undertaking that scraped off the top of Washington Hill and that continues to haul it away for our purposes. A massive scale that is mirrored in the vistas of the river, of the sierra to the west, Clark Mountain to the east. Nearby rock formations, splashes of multicolored rock, pines spaced parklike in otherwise grassless volcanic parks all seem to be muted against the vastness of all else, and yet these are just little trackless mountains, blinks of the eyes on the interstates. Places to go through to get somewhere else. The juxtaposition is powerful.

Washington Hill dominates the local landscape.

Seeing Your Own Experience

I set out in the morning along a jeep trail that climbs along the side of the Washington Hill Quarry. There are numerous shooting sites here and the landscape, while still brilliantly volcanically colored, is tortured and adorned with litter and the trappings of modern gun culture: hundreds of shells, metal and plastic twisted by bullet holes, the remains of several destroyed pumpkins from recent Halloween. In the canyon bottom I notice a large piece of cardboard on which someone has scrawled cartoons of a man grasping his penis and a naked woman alongside. The crude drawings are labeled “DICK HEAD” and “SKANK” and are peppered with bullet holes. Something I hope was just the release of steam and not the prelude to tragedy. Beyond there someone has planted 2 trees, surrounded by stones as though they are meant to mark something. The place makes me nervous and I hurry past. Deeper in the canyon there is still evidence of people. I follow tracks, but the litter is less and I start to appreciate the presence of the volcanic parks dotted with not-juniper pines. Climbing out of the canyon I am struck by the vastness of the city basin from Mount Rose up to Peavine. The modest silhouette of Clark Mountain belying in the distance its grandness, the utility of Washington Hill. Walking back along the ridge line it is the Truckee and colorful volcanic outcroppings.

The remains of the gun range.

I think part of the reason I am so attracted by this landscape, by exploring in this area, is just this. It is a place in complete transit, unconsidered by many and used hard by others. It doesn’t reveal itself easily. And yet when it comes into focus its story is incredibly rich and is a microcosm for how Nevada has always been seen by people. While there is a growing sense of pride in place in Nevada, it still remains for many a place to use and go through. Real understanding of the landscape goes much deeper than that.

Learn-Grow on Drawing


A doodle of the dusk. 

The idea that I should share what I learn rather than what I know (or think I know) has become a guiding principle in my approach to the world lately. It came to me through this blog; I decided that the goal for my posts should be writing about something that interests me, or that I have done, but with the challenge of learning and sharing something new about my subject.

The overall basic principle of it is that we grow through learning. That the chlorophyll of our minds is putting new learned information into it, and that sticking with stale or safe beliefs or pieces of knowledge is petrifying.

This thought process led me to consider what I want to learn more about, and that is how this new category of the blog came into being. My thought is to pick things I’ve always been interested in and to start to learn them, and to share the process with my dear readers.

I’ve been interested in drawing for some time, and I even have notebooks filled with doodles and drawings, but my education in drawing is pretty meager, so for my first Learn-Grow post series I am going to take on the challenge of deepening my knowledge of drawing and in sharing this journey. I am not sure exactly how this path will go, but I think that will also be part of the fun.

Since my time and budget is pretty limited, I am going to start this first through free drawing apps. I hope maybe to turn this into real personal instruction, but one step at a time. After deciding this, I looked around for learn-to-draw programs and websites, and eventually chose one called Drawspace, mainly because it had the interface I liked the most, but I think I’ll try at least a few of them.

The free options are fairly wide ranging here to get started, and for my first two lessons I chose pretty introductory ones: “Welcome to Drawing from Line to Life” and “Enhancing Your Visual Intelligence.”

“Welcome to Drawing from Line to Life,” is, as it sounds, an introduction and didn’t have too much in the way of assigned tasks, although the drawing of these two adorable border terriers (just like my dear dear Coco) warmed my heart (and made me want choke up a little). It also had some interesting information on pencil hardnesses and on sharpening pencils.

Drawing of border terriers!

The second lesson, “Enhancing Your Visual Intelligence,” was more intriguing for the confines of a long car drive and things to think about on a busy weekend. It is basically a way of thinking about training your brain and vision to actively participate in the creative process.

“You can enhance visual intelligence by challenging your brain to find alternate perceptions beyond the obvious and to identify more than one reality in a single image.”

There are a number of exercises here that I would like to try, so this lesson will probably go over a few posts, but for this weekend the only actual exercise we did was to examine clouds. (In all fairness, something we often do anyway.) On Renee and I’s post-ride walk we looked at and talked about the shapes in the clouds after the rainy day we had on Saturday. In one, I saw a pizza cutter and Renee saw a mermaid fetus, quite an illustration of the variations the brain can pick out of a cloud.

Not from this weekend but a very evocative cloud shape!

Do you see anything in this sky scape? Leave notes in comments!

More to come soon …




Climbing into Reno’s Fiery Past

Clark Mountain from near Washington Hill.

There is a mountain in the Virginia Range I’ve been interested in for a while. I call it The Old Mother Who Sleeps and Wants to Be Left Alone, but it’s known by most people (who know or care) as Clark Mountain. It is the highest northern Virginia Range mountain and always intrigued me. I tried climbing it one day with Coco early this year, but we turned back as the day was getting late. This interest turned into something like full-blown obsession after Renee and I attended the National Earth Sciences outing held by the Nevada Bureau of Mines and Geology earlier this fall. At the Lagomarsino/Long Valley stop, the instructors explained that the mountain is actually an old volcano, one that would have predated the rise of the Sierra and, when it was active, would have overseen a landscape similar to the Cascades.

Looking toward the first ridge from the Nature of Art in McCarran Ranch.

So on a recent Sunday, I decided to scale it again. The SummitPost directions for the peak give its hike starting point as the Lagomarsino trailhead, but I wanted to try the peak from the McCarran Ranch side. From McCarran Ranch’s eastern trailhead I walked west along the river, past the Nature of Art, which I always love to pass (although hated to see the damage wrought in a small wildfire there this summer), and then turned south and climbed up what is aptly called Giant’s Throne Canyon on my TopoMaps app and which climbs behind a spectacular rocky ridge that also, on the other side, serves as the backdrop for a brothel.

Giant’s Throne Canyon.

Following this canyon is beautiful but a bit rough, but eventually you climb up to a power line road and follow that across two more ridge saddles (which was great for NaNoWriMo write-walking) before hitting the highest saddle from which you leave the road and climb south-ish toward the actual peak. Which was frankly pretty treacherous stone fields.

On the power line road through the final canyon with the peak beyond.

Lunch spot in the last canyon before making the summit climb.

On the way down I took the first canyon I descended into, on TopoMaps called Chalk Bluffs Canyon, and for just summiting the mountain this would have been a much easier up-and-down route. It had a well-used horse trail that seemed likely to have been an old road although it wasn’t as scenic as the Giant’s Throne. Emerging from the canyon there is a lower power line road that takes you back to McCarran Ranch. For me this was a solid late fall day-long hike and rough. I would recommend to hike it with a friend in case you twist your ankle in the loose rock.

The final summit approach just a loose rock field.

I wanted to learn more about the mountain’s volcanism, but have been finding online sources pretty few and far between. In “Geology of the Virginia City Quadrange, Nevada,” I learned that the mountain is one of four vents of the Lousetown Formation. Here is the best description I found of the volcanism, although it doesn’t mention the mountain specifically it is talking about Lagomarsino/Long Valley when it says “here”:

Much of northwestern Nevada is covered by lava flows hundreds to thousands of feet thick that erupted throughout much of the Oligocene and Miocene epochs of geologic time (about 35 million to about 7 million years ago). These rocks comprise most of the Virginia Range south of here and the Pah Rah Range to the north. As you drive along the Truckee River canyon between Reno and Fernley, most of the rocks you see exposed in the canyon walls and slopes are this type of andesitic (medium silica content) volcanic material. The lavas and tuffs came from volcanic eruptions that occurred as a result of subduction of the Juan De Fuca tectonic plate to the west under the edge of the North American plate, causing the ancestral Cascade volcano chain to actively erupt over much of northwestern Nevada. (Nevada Bureau of Mines and Geology link here.)

Last light back in McCarran Ranch.

It was a great climb, and even better to climb so deep into this area’s past.