Posted in Blogging from A toZ April Challenge, Blogging From A-Z 2015, Challenges and Contests, Just for Fun!, Life Writing, Travel

Zzzzzzzz….: #atozchallenge, Day 30

So, can you believe that this is it?!

We’ve traveled our way through the alphabet, on a grand loop of adventure – I’ll admit that I’m more than a little surprised at some of the places this trip has taken me – into my memories, into new ideas and connections, into new stories and goals…

This foray into a time that so easily gets swept away in a fog of the everyday life I live today – a life filled with home and husband and children and pets and and and – has been a time of renewal and re-energizing for me…

At the same time, as I write this last post from the guest bedroom of my dear friend who lives only one state and a 5 hour drive away, I’m tired. Ready to pause in pulling forth the pearls from our traveling years and examining them…ready to move on to other projects, and absorb what this month and this project has brought me.

But before I do that – one more time, for an even 26.

I mentioned way back during S that I had a couple of funny stories about sleeping under the stars. I promised I’d get back to these for my Z post – and now it’s time to deliver on that promise.

I enjoy an Arizonan desert campfire with Gus the Wonder-Truck, fall 2000. Photo by James B. Burton.

Both of these stories happened in Arizona, or maybe the far southern edge of the Utah desert, and both happened at night.

We traveled one weekend to the town of Wickenburg, and then, on the way home, stopped in the former mining boom town of Crown King, which is isolated on the top of a mountain. When night approached, we found one of those many fire rings scattered throughout the west, and made camp there.

We were bedded down and asleep when we were awakened by a sudden noise that didn’t fit. In wild places, people tend to react more instinctively, and we were sitting up with flashlights aimed into the scrub brush around us in a matter of seconds, preparing to defend ourselves against whatever threat presented itself.

The threat turned out to be real – a javelina  – a small but potentially aggressive little tusked beast. This one was alone, and staring right at us!

We shone lights in its eyes, and made “Move along; nothing to see here” noises. Thankfully, the nocturnal visitor left without any altercation (of course, from the javelina’s point of view, we were likely the unwanted guests!).

Crown King General Store, Crown King, Arizona…1997. Photo by Shan Jeniah Burton.

But the funniest sleeping under the stars story – the one I still giggle about nearly 18 years later – happened before we were even married, on the night before our visit to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. We’d ridden the motorcycle a good part of the day, and found a place in the nearby desert to sleep for a few hours, until it was light enough to explore.

We were laying there, side by side, when all of a sudden, my Accomplice (who, by the way, looks more than a little like Henry VIII, and is built like a linebacker) jerked away from me and made a sound that can only be described as girlish.

“There’s a tarantula on me! There’s a tarantula on me!”

This is a Texan tarantula, not an Arizona one – but still…you get the idea, right? Photo by Shan Jeniah Burton.

My response? Laughter!

He subsided, and stared at me angrily. “Why would you laugh when I said there was a tarantula?”

I was laughing so hard at this point that I couldn’t explain in words. I tried another tactic –

There really is a tarantula on me!”

Finally, I was able to explain – no tarantula, just a feisty fiancee who thought a flirty tickle in the ribs might lead in other directions than arachnophobic ones (especially since it was rather cold and dark for tarantulas to be out and about). I don’t think I truly understood how much my Accomplice dislikes spiders, or how differently our minds work, until then…but I still laugh at how that innocent little tickle became a dangerous threat, and how he must have felt when I laughed at his terrifying predicament!

This post is part of the #atozchallenge. For more zany or not-so-zany “Z” posts, click the banner.

And there we have it…an entire journey through scattered, geographically far flung bits and pieces of my wandering life…yes, we’ve slept outside in many places, including beside lava tubes, amongst Joshua trees, on mountains…in tents, and under the stars, in a bed my Accomplice made for us, and at friends’ and families’ homes, in hotels and motels, and in the bed of old Gus…and now, from a bed 230 miles from the one my Accomplice is in, I bid you all good night, to the tune of one of my all time favorite lullabies!

Posted in Blogging from A toZ April Challenge, Blogging From A-Z 2015, Just for Fun!, Life Writing, Parenting, Travel, Writing in Freedom

Yellowstone and the Shape of Our Lives: #atozchallenge, Day 29

Has your life, or that of your family, been shaped by specific places?

As we near the end of the alphabet, I look back and see a long list of places and events that have sculpted not only my life, but also that of my family – even before our children were born, the lives my Accomplice and I lived as a couple built the foundation and structure of the life we live as a family…

In a very real sense, traveling has given us that family.

We were living at the Rocky Mountain Campground in Montana, just outside the famed North Gate of Yellowstone National Park, in 2000, a little over three years into married life, when we knew we were ready to seriously consider expanding our family beyond the array of furry companions we harbored (at the time, three cats and one large shaggy dog). We were both working in Mammoth Hot Springs, where my Accomplice oversaw training and operations of the nine Employee Dining Rooms throughout the park, and where I was a waitress at the restaurant, often with trainees of my own.
Roosevelt Arch , Gardiner, Montana. Photo by Jim Peaco, courtesy of YellowstoneNPS, via Flickr. Creative Commons license.

All of my early appointments to deal with prenatal health and preparation were at the medical facilities there.

It was while visiting my family in New York, two days before we returned to Yellowstone, that we learned that we were going to have a baby.

Part of our agreement for working the winter season was that my Accomplice would return to his position to work the summer season, as well – and our baby was due August 13 – which meant that we’d become parents in close proximity to Yellowstone.

It was nearly an 80 mile (126 kilometer) to our midwife’s, through Craig’s Pass. In June, our appointment was canceled because there was a blizzard, and the pass was, well, impassable.
Uh, yeah. No midwife today. Craig’s Pass and the Continental Divide, snowbound. Photo by Jim Peaco, courtesy YellowstoneNPS, via Flickr. Creative Commons license.

It was a hot, dry summer, and we lived at 6000 feet above sea level. I was so uncomfortable, and, because we hoped for a homebirth, nervous that the baby wouldn’t wait till 36 weeks to be born – the legal point for midwife attended homebirth in Montana. There was no cause for the worry – my due date came and went, as I sweated and lugged my increasingly massive belly around with me, everywhere I went. I jokingly told my Accomplice that the weather would break the day we had the baby.

Throughout the pregnancy, we took pictures of my growing middle by Kepler Cascades.

Pregnant by Kepler Cascades, summer 2001.

Finally, we tried to naturally induce the baby – this was done at a cabin that welcomed homebirths, where there was live music, someone building a straw bale house, and a wildfire just a couple of mountains away. Our baby – stubborn, even before birth. Our child wouldn’t be coaxed out until good and ready, thanks all the same!

Finally, on September 2, Jeremiah finally made his appearance – by C-section, at a hospital. The best laid plans…

We brought him home on the 5th. He crossed his first state line that day, too, on his first day in a car, when we took him five miles up the mountain into Wyoming to meet the folks at his Daddy’s office, who had been eagerly awaiting his long-delayed arrival. It was so hot that day, we had him in just a diaper, once we got home. By the next morning, he was in fleece from head to toe- I had been right about the weather changing!

He toured Yellowstone’s Grand Loop at the ripe age of two weeks, because we had friends throughout the park to introduce him to, and because we knew that would be our last season. He nursed in the restaurants at Mammoth Hot Springs, the posh Lake Yellowstone Hotel, and our former home, the Old Faithful Inn.
Detail of the Theodore Roosevelt quote, Rooosevelt Arch, North Entrance, Gardiner, Montana. Photo by Jim Peaco, courtesy of YellowstoneNPS via Flickr.


We arrived at Yellowstone as newlyweds – and left as new parents. There will always be a special warmth in my heart for the place that saw us through that transition, and, even though our Montana boy, now 13.5 and taller than me, with an emerging man’s voice, hasn’t been there since he was five weeks old, he will always, in my mind, be tied to the place that was his first home. And someday, hopefully within the next couple of years, we will offer him the chance to reunite with the place of his birth.

This post is part of the #atozchallenge. For more Y yarns, click the banner.

Yellowstone embraced us during our transition to parenthood. Is there a place that did the same for you? Are you still there? If not, have you been back? Would you like to?



Posted in Blogging from A toZ April Challenge, Blogging From A-Z 2015, Challenges and Contests, Just for Fun!, Life Writing, Travel, Writing in Freedom

X Marks the Spot: #atozchallenge, Day 28

So, tell me – has this ever happened to you?

You’re talking with a traveling companion about your past experiences, remembering favorite moments – only you can’t recall exactly where the event occurred?

Happens to my Accomplice and I all the time – a combination of having been to a great many places, and the filling-up of memory capacity, and the perhaps inevitable jumbling that comes with advancing age and experiences…

“Do you remember that time we got caught in the middle of the cattle drive – ?”

“Oh, yeah! When the cattle broke through the fence, and there were actual cowboys on horseback, trying to round them up and put them in another pasture?”

“And that bull bumped into Gus, and dented the hood?”

“Yeah – where was that?”

Idaho – I think. But where in Idaho?”

“Somewhere near the Atomic City….?”

“And where was that really bad diner….?”

“Oh, yeah! We had to park out back, down a dirt road, and it was the worst food and service we ever had -”

“But where was it?”


AXAXA Art by Annalise S.Burton, at age 5. Photo by Shan Jeniah Burton.

It might be embarrassing how often this happens – except that we did have the experiences, and we have the heart of the memories, at least, and the warmth and wonder of sharing even our inexact collections, and the time together that created them…

In the rich tapestry of our nearly two decades together, there are a few snags and loose threads and frayed places where the picture isn’t so clear anymore.. but I think those times add texture and character – or at least that’s what I tell myself when the where of a place won’t come, and we’re left with a mysterious “X” to mark the elusive spot….

This post is part of the #atozchallenge. For other eXisistential. xylophonic, and potentially xenophobic posts, click the banner.

Now it’s your turn! Does your personal or relationship history include spots marked with an “X”, because you can’t remember where something happened? What parts of the memory stand out crisply, and which has time obscured? No need for an “X” to mark this spot – comments go in the box below!

Posted in Blogging from A toZ April Challenge, Blogging From A-Z 2015, Challenges and Contests, Just for Fun!, Life Writing, Travel, Writing in Freedom

Wyoming and Wild Things: #atozchallenge, Day 27

Have you ever heard a whistle pig? Seen a wolf in its native habitat? Do you know what a wapiti is?

If not, then maybe you’ve also never been to Wyoming, that wild and wonderful state….

So let me tell you a bit about it – serve as your tour guide, if you will…

The first question is a bit of a trick. Whistle pigs don’t whistle. And, furthermore, they’re not even pigs, or exotic. In my part of North America, we refer to the same member of the rodent species as a woodchuck. In other places, and across the United States on February second, it’s a groundhog….

Nature can sometimes be confusing, but not as confusing as humans attempting to label it! =)

Personally, of the three names, I like whistle pig the best. It’s got character.

Kind of like Wyoming.

There was a time when wolves had been exterminated from this land. Then, Yellowstone National Park began a re-introduction program with 14 Canadian wolves in 1995, and 17 in 1996.. It was a process, and some of the early wolves were shot by nearby ranchers afraid for their livestock, but eventually the wolves began to reclaim their former place in the ecosystem, and to reproduce, and now there are about 300 (check these facts and figures before posting!) wolves in the park. They can often be seen in the Hayden Valley, which is a haven for many species of Wyoming wildlife.

And now, about the wapiti –

Wapiti is Shawnee (check that) for the animal currently known in English as an elk. These large ungulates are abundant in Wyoming, and not just in Yellowstone. There is an elk refuge (need the name), near Jackson Hole – a resort town where you can ski, snowmobile, whitewater raft on the Snake River (although maybe not in a thunderstorm that churns those Class 2 rapids you were anticipating to a much more than you bargained for Class 5 – because I might just be able to tell you that that’s more than a little terrifying, and could lead to a foot injury….not that I know anything about that….). Jackson Hole also has a park whose entrances sport arches made of elk antlers cast off by the bulls after the September rutting season – and, speaking of the rut, there is no sound more lustful to me than the bugling call of the bulls….

Of course, no wild Wyoming post would be complete without mention of Buffalo Bill Cody and his Wild West show. Buffalo Bill is long gone, along with Annie Oakley (Little Miss Sure Shot), and the other performers who brought their brand of American Western culture out into the world. But Cody, the town he founded, is still there, and, along with the Cody Nite Rodeo, which still espouses the spirit of the west, there is the Buffalo Bill Museum, where you can learn a great deal – not just about Bill Cody, but about corsets and telegraphs and the history of guns and diseases and Western period art. My Accomplice and I spent a day wandering the museum, and still didn’t see it all…but we had a rodeo to go to!

This post is part of the #atozchallenge. For more wild, wacky, weird, and winsome posts, click the banner.

I’ve barely scratched the surface of all that wild and wonderful Wyoming has to offer. Want to know more? Why not go see for yourself? Where would you go, if you could go anywhere in the world?

Posted in Blogging from A toZ April Challenge, Blogging From A-Z 2015, Challenges and Contests, Just for Fun!, Life Writing

Viewpoints: #atozchallenge; Day 25

Have you ever traveled somewhere that offered an overlook? Have you ever just stopped for a little while, to let your gaze sweep out and over the vista below, to see it from a different perspective?

Have you ever noticed that what you see often depends as much on what viewpoint, you bring, as much as it does on the vantage point you bring it to?

My Accomplice and I have taken advantage of many viewpoints along the way – from the Old Faithful Overlook, to Mather Point, to a fire tower in the Kaibab forest to the edges of Crater Lake and Niagara Falls

But there are two overlooks I think of, and know that my mood, when I looked, colors what I saw that day, and how I remember it, today.

Moro Rock, from a daunting position below. Photo by Shan Jeniah Burton, fall 1997.

When we traveled to Sequoia National Park during our “second honeymoon”, one of the things we did was to take a hike to the summit of Moro Rock, a gigantic granite boulder from which the landscape is laid out before us. The weather was less than perfect – the view was shrouded in fog, so I’m sure we saw less than we might have, on a clear and bright day.

Still, the cool weather made the exertion of the climb up more than 350 stone steps with a pleasant way to stay warm. We stopped several times along the way, to marvel at what we could see. I don’t remember exactly what we spoke of, but I recall a long warm closeness, conversations with other hikers, and some flirting.

My Peekaboo Accomplice, the early days. Photo by Shan Jeniah Burton, fall 1997.


When we finally attained the top, we marveled together at the dark ribbons of roads winding around the mountains, the pristine sweeps of forests…and the immensity of the boulder we stood on…the fog didn’t dampen our pleasure in that day, the climb, or the view, regardless of the fog, which, honestly, added character.

Ribbon Roads from atop Moro Rock. Photo by Shan Jeniah Burton, fall 1997.

The view, the company, and the hike were lovely.

And then there was Paulina Lake….

Paulina Lake,  a volcanic crater lake in Central Oregon is also a gorgeous place. Salmon had come to the lake to spawn, and there were hiking trails through the woodlands, and along the edge of the lake. We took the Bunko-pup out for a hike. I think we walked a couple of miles, but the dog- he ran to and fro between us on the trail, and the lake below, to wade and play and run and get affection. He probably covered at least three times as far. As a matter of fact, when we got back to the trailer, he couldn’t even sit up any more!

That night was lovely. But, in those early childless days, our relationship was far more volatile than it is today. I can’t even tell you now what started the argument, but I know that there was a point the following day when we were actively angry with one another, and I knew that I had to go, to get away from him for a while. I put the dog in the car and drove off, with no real plan as to where I was going – until I saw the sign for the overlook we’d been planning to visit that day. I followed the winding rood up the mountain, and found an overlook to park at, and take some pictures.

I had the dog with me, and I talked to some other visitors. The view was gorgeous, looking back down the mountain – 

But when I think back to that day, it feels heavy and tainted. My gaze was pulled down to where the lake was, and my focus, rather than being on the here-and-now, was back in my story of the argument, all those reasons that I was right, and he was not only wrong, but mean, as well.

I wasted the view, and that little bit of my life. I wasn’t where I was, and I wasn’t open to what was spread out so gloriously before me. I don’t even have any pictures to remember the view by – if I took any, I didn’t save them…

The View from Here….Trees and Tattered Fog. Photo by Shan Jeniah Burton, fall 1997.

I try to remember that more, these days. I’m learning to let things go before they weigh me down and cloud me over. I’m far from perfect, and sometimes I still miss an incredible view because I let other things obscure it. But, for the most part, the view is lovely, these days!

This post is part of the #atozchallenge. Feeling a vigorous need to view more “V” posts? Click the banner!

So, what’s your point of view? Do you have a memory of a time when a view was ruined or bolstered by your mood? Share your visions below; add to the visual landscape!

Shrouded vista…atop Moro Rock. Photo by Shan Jeniah Burton, fall 2007.


Posted in Blogging from A toZ April Challenge, Blogging From A-Z 2015, Challenges and Contests, Just for Fun!, Life Writing

Umpqua: #atozchallenge, Day 24

Have you ever given an animal a very strange name? Ever have a very unique pet?

My mother once named a cat Hudson Falls, for the village where she was abandoned, so maybe my story has some genetic element to it…

When we first moved to Oregon, I found the place names exotic and wonderful, setting my imagination afire. There was the Suislaw River, and the Willamette. There was Sisters and Sweet Home and Coos Bay and Depoe Bay (the world’s smallest harbor)….

And then, there’s the Umpqua River.

I was so captivated with this name that I decided it would be the name of my next kitten years before the kitten was even born – because it was just such a fun word to say. The name eventually landed on a little shorthaired tabby whose stripes went straight across her belly.

At the time, I didn’t know that Umpqua was the name of a band of Coquille Native Americans – but our little Umpqua was feisty – with a capital, bold-faced FEISTY! She was best friends with the Bunko-dog, and, although she was little and they were established adults, she put our other two cats, Mutant and Lithe, in their places -which were beneath hers, naturally! Fortunately, they both liked her, and didn’t need to be in charge.

Once, when she was very small, I purchased some ice cream from the Umpqua Dairy. It was easy to get her in the empty cardboard tub, but less so to get her to hold still!

Umpqua Kitten Cream? Photo By James B.Burton (My Accomplice)

Umpqua often found her way into trouble. She would not stay in – if there was an open door, she wanted to be on the other side of it, and she was fast (as befit her feistiness). Once she came home with a torn ear. Another time, it was with what seemed to be a missing toe, but turned out, once we could get a closer look, to be a laceration.

She and the Bunko-dog had a game they played. He would pick her up in his mouth – by the head, in fact – and run full tilt with the kitten swinging from his mouth. The first time this happened, we were mortified. We commanded the dog to drop her. He did.

What did that crazy little cat do? She purred, rubbed against the dog, and cried until he picked her up again. Eventually we came to accept that this was OK with them both, and he never hurt her – but I never really got used to it.

Best Buddies! Bunko and Upmqua at play…Photo by Shan Jeniah Burton.


Because of that connection with the dog, it was very odd that, after we moved our travel trailer from its summer site to the winter one, she was suddenly snarling and taking an offensive posture with him. It wasn’t until I was holding the cat and she scratched me that I realized we had the neighbor’s small tabby, and not our own. Umpqua didn’t have front claws. We returned the wrong cat to her rightful home, but had to check hack twice more before being able to reunite our little Umpy with the rest of the family.

Shortly after we moved back to New York with one dog, three cats, and a newborn son, Umpy came in one day with a broken leg. We took her to the vet I had worked for years earlier, hoping for a simple casting.

But Umpqua had done it again. Not only had she broken her leg – she’d broken it in half. When we went back to visit her the next day, she had pins and hardware, in addition to a cast….and a bill that ran far into the hundreds.

A mass cuddle: Lithe, Mutant, and Umqua – a non-glaring of cats. Photo by Shan Jeniah Burton.

We couldn’t afford to pay it. We had a three-month-old baby, and we’d just moved cross-country and were in the process of buying a house. We were offered a time payment plan, but even that was too much.

It broke my heart, but we gave Umpqua to the vet that day, so that she could get the care she needed, have a home with lots of action, and, on occasion, donate blood to another cat who needed it.

We saw her there once or twice, and she seemed happy. But I’ll always have a soft and regretful spot in my heart for that quirky little trouble-magnet we named Umpqua – and, every time I hear the name, I can still see her, in all her feisty glory.

This post is part of the #atozchallenge. For more unique, untouchable, unparalleled “U”posts, click the banner.

Have you ever named a pet after a geographical location? Known an animal who was accident prone or had a unique characteristic? By now, I’m sure you know what to do!

Baby Umpqua! Photo by Shan Jeniah Burton.


Posted in Blogging from A toZ April Challenge, Blogging From A-Z 2015, Challenges and Contests, Just for Fun!, Life Writing

Thermal Features and Tourons: #atozchallenge, Day 23

Have you ever walked through the steam of a geyser on a cool, crisp fall day, when there’s the tang of frost in the air?

If so, you know that I’m not going to come up with the words that capture the sensations of that moment. It’s deeply personal, that instant of being shrouded in the steamy cloud. The hot breath of the earth, filled with minerals and rich dark secrets beyond human ken, warms you as it curls around you, then wafts away, leaving the chill – until the next breath of sulfur-scented steam caresses you…


“My Liquid Laugh” A Magnetic Poem for thermal features, by Shan Jeniah Burton, October 2014.

Then there’s the color of the hot pools, the vibrant blues, greens, blue-greens – the way they pull your focus to their centers, and maybe, like me, a part of you longs to dive in, to learn the secrets of the world beyond that funneling aperture…and yet, you know that you can’t, because the attempt would be hugely damaging to the fragile ecosystem – not to mention fatal. Hot pools can scald from outside in and inside out.

You might be sad to see the creeping-in of bacteria, the fading of colors caused by careless and disrespectful park visitors who throw garbage and coins – and now, a drone! –  into the pool, clogging the vents, and upsetting the delicate balance – the brilliant colors of pools like Morning Glory and Grand Prismatic Springs come from the bacteria and minerals – an intricate ballet of growth, heat, pressure, and purity.

Not all guests in wild places come equipped with enough knowledge to be safe, and protect the environment as it is. Those who park in the middle of winding mountain roads because they see a grizzly bear and want to get really close to take pictures, or those who chase herds of elk with snowmobiles, might never consider that bears are predators who can sprint three times faster than a human, or that the energy those elk expend to outrun the snowmobilers might mean the difference between survival and death – because what’s a game to the humans on their machines is a matter of life-and-death for animals who have to live every moment in this wilderness, year-round, even when their food is buried under feet of snow.

We had a private name for these types of guests, at Yellowstone. We called them tourons, and, yes, it was a slur against their intelligence. Maybe it wasn’t very charitable – but is it really that difficult to learn a little about a place before your visit, or to read warning signs or literature printed in several languages, stop at the visitor center, or speak to a ranger… or just use common sense?

Tourons sometimes get themselves killed with their reckless actions, or get someone else killed. Children and untended dogs have fallen into hot pools and died. When a person dies in the park, it’s treated as a tragedy – and often followed by lawsuits and outcries about how dangerous this place is.

More often, though, it’s the place they’ve come to see, and the animals who live there, who suffer. It’s not just the clogged hot pools or the traumatized elk giving their precious and hard-earned energy plowing through the snow. It’s a general lack of understanding of how our world works, a disconnect with nature and its processes. Too often, these tragedies are unnoticed by other humans, and there’s no outcry, not even a whimper of protest.

But the implications, for the natives, can be devastating. 

Please, go to the wild places. Learn about them. Marvel at them – they are awe-inspiring, and can shift our understanding of what it means to be human, or an Earthling. So much of our more “civilized” world inflates the importance of humanity at the cost of – well, everything else, sadly. Wild places can center and ground us. They show us that the world can get on just fine without us.

Just one thing.

Yellowstone, the Grand Canyon, the Everglades – all the few wild places we’ve left in this world – they aren’t Disneyland. They aren’t amusement parks, or playgrounds for humans. They are wild, places where others live. Not human others, but fellow Earthlings.

Please respect them, and behave as a good guest in their homes.

Don’t be a touron.

This post is part of the #atozchallenge. For more tempting, terrifying, or theoretical “T” posts, click the banner.

Have you visited wild places? Seen bad behavior there? Learned, perhaps too late, that some of the things you’ve done there were unintentionally harmful or dangerous for yourself or others? Why not clear the air here? OK, here’s a primer on how NOT to interact with wildlife and wild places…how many “Touronic” mistakes do you see?