An ode to teaching

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This week, I left my classroom for the last time. I turned the key and walked away after 20 years of teaching in the same Title I high school in Phoenix, Arizona.

I did not join the teaching ranks because I thought I might enjoy standing in front of a bunch of kids hours on end. I’d been forced out of my career as a sportscaster, a victim of ageism, no longer pretty enough to be in front of a camera. I did a great deal of feeling sorry for myself as I stumbled around, trying to find a job that I loved as much as I loved being a reporter.

Because of my history as an amateur sports official, which had me dealing with young people on a regular basis, a number of friends and acquaintances suggested I go into teaching. Did I jump right in? Not at all. I just couldn’t see myself running a classroom.

Finally, with no other options, I went back to college, my bachelor’s degree in Communications not enough to get me through the education door. I spent two years earning a teaching certificate. I entered my first classroom saddled with college debt and ready to teach my students journalism and video production techniques. At least, I thought I was ready.

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When I was a reporter, nice never entered into the equation.

What I never expected was just how hard teaching is. My 15 years of reporting in both television and print had turned me into a driven sort, anxious to get whatever I needed to accomplish done quickly and thoroughly, since one never knew when a story would pop up and all of my well-thought-out plans would be shredded, leaving me with just a few minutes to make adjustments before that red camera light went on.

Looking back, I can see why my students hated me. I demanded they produce their completed work on time without exception. I was blinded to the fact that I was dealing with children not professional adults. Most of my students lived in poverty and were saddled with living conditions that made homework far from the top of their to-do list. They found me abrasive and rigid. At one point, an entire class revolted and walked out, leaving me alone. I’ll admit here that I cried in front of that empty classroom.

Eventually – I’m a stubborn sort – I came to realize it was my attitude that had to change. I will be forever grateful to my fellow teacher Ann Miles for sitting me down one day. She stared across her desk. “You know, you could be … nicer.”

“Nicer! What’s nice got to do with it?” I shot back.

Last Game Touchdown

As a sports official, I never expected people to be nice, so changing my attitude was difficult.

To her ever-lasting credit, my not-so-nice words didn’t ruffle her a bit. When I left that day, I thought about what she’d said and mentally defended myself. No one cared if I was nice in the newsroom! Are people always nice to me when I officiate games? Of course not! When coaches and fans scream at me, I don’t walk off the field. I just do my job.

But gradually I came to understand that Ann was right.

Now, I’d like to tell you that being nice is all one needs to be a good teacher, but that is far from the truth. Students are individuals with their own hopes and dreams and problems – personal, academic, and social. As a teacher, I had to determine the best way to reach each student, and frankly sometimes not so nice did work. Think freshmen boys, here. They seem to respect tough more than nice.

What I’m trying to say is teachers need lots of personality traits in their tool belts, attitudes they can quickly access when needed. A teacher needs to be thoughtful, firm, flexible, accessible, compassionate, trustworthy and, yes, nice. And though I worked on nice all the time, I was not entirely successful.

I paused in my classroom and reflected on the children I met there over the years.  I realized that some of my students loved me and others hated me. There didn’t seem to be too many in the middle. I mention this because maybe I never got the formula completely right.

As I pulled my classroom door closed, I hoped my students, especially those who didn’t particularly like me, might someday understand that I tried.

I guess that’s all I can ask.

51TMG11M-rL

A WOMAN FLEES AN ABUSIVE HUSBAND

AND FINDS HOPE IN THE WILDS OF THE ARIZONA DESERT.

Rebecca Quinn escapes her controlling husband and, with nowhere else to go, hops the red-eye to Arizona. There, Gaby Strand – her aunt’s college roommate – gives her shelter at the Salt River Inn, a 1930’s guesthouse located in the wildly beautiful Tonto National Forest.

Becca struggles with post-traumatic stress, but is enthralled by the splendor and fragility of the Sonoran Desert. The once aspiring artist meets Noah Tanner, a cattle rancher and beekeeper, Oscar Billingsley, a retired psychiatrist and avid birder, and a blacksmith named Walt. Thanks to her new friends and a small band of wild horses, Becca adjusts to life in the desert and rekindles her love of art.

Then, Becca’s husband tracks her down, forcing her to summon all her strength. But can she finally stop running away?

Kindle Pre-orders available at:

https://www.amazon.com/dp/B085ZX1WCZ?tag=creati0a5-20

Paperback Pre-orders will be available soon.

 

Southwestern wildfires fueled by invasive species

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Arizona wildfires, fuled by invasive species, are becoming more problematic every year.

A wildfire plays a prominent role in my new novel Wild Horses on the Salt, which will be released on June 14, 2020. For those of us who dwell in the desert, brush fires have become all too common, and though fires in the Southwest are a normal phenomenon, today they are stronger and hotter and more long lived than in the past.

What happened? People. The desert Southwest used to be sparsely populated, the result of searing summers and scattered water resources. Then, the draw of copper, silver, and gold enticed fortune hunters to the area. Large-scale population growth did not occur until the end of World War II when returning soldiers began looking for affordable housing. Then, an incredible invention changed the face of the desert: home air conditioning. From that time forward, the warmer climates of the Southwest began to draw people who were tired of the long, dark winters in other portions of the country.

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Phoenix, Arizona is the 6th largest city in the U.S. and it contiues to grow, sprawling into the surrounding desert.

Today, the Phoenix metro area is home to about 4.5 million people. The city is the 6th largest in the U.S. And here is where invasive species and their effects on wildfires come in. Some people, unaccustomed to the strange desert plants they encounter here, bring their favorite foliage with them, reminders of the homes they’d left behind.

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Beautiful desert wildflowers and grasses become food for widfires when the die and dry out.

While there is certainly no malice intended by those who revel in bright green lawns and non-native plants, their choices are irreparably altering the desert environment. Seeds are devoured by birds and transported to open areas where they are deposited. Seasonal heavy rains allow the plants to grow and spread, filling the empty spaces between desert trees, shrubs, and cactuses. In the past, a wildfire might eat up a relatively small area because the barren ground between these plants prevented the fire from spreading. Today, non-native grasses and shrubs give flames a clear pathway, resulting in massive infernos that consume huge swaths of land and burn for weeks at a time.

Add to that the fact that people keep moving into previously wild lands that were once allowed to burn, but which now require fire suppression to save lives, homes, and businesses. The problem is deserts and forests need fires to clear out brush and promote growth. For too long we have tried to extinguish all fires, which has led to much larger and more destructive blazes.

With the addition of climate change exacerbating a decades-long drought in the Southwest, the wildfire situation is already dire. The solution will surely be complicated and expensive.

51TMG11M-rL

A WOMAN FLEES AN ABUSIVE HUSBAND

AND FINDS HOPE IN THE WILDS OF THE ARIZONA DESERT.

Rebecca Quinn escapes her controlling husband and, with nowhere else to go, hops the red-eye to Arizona. There, Gaby Strand – her aunt’s college roommate – gives her shelter at the Salt River Inn, a 1930’s guesthouse located in the wildly beautiful Tonto National Forest.

Becca struggles with post-traumatic stress, but is enthralled by the splendor and fragility of the Sonoran Desert. The once aspiring artist meets Noah Tanner, a cattle rancher and beekeeper, Oscar Billingsley, a retired psychiatrist and avid birder, and a blacksmith named Walt. Thanks to her new friends and a small band of wild horses, Becca adjusts to life in the desert and rekindles her love of art.

Then, Becca’s husband tracks her down, forcing her to summon all her strength. But can she finally stop running away?

Kindle Pre-orders available at:

https://www.amazon.com/dp/B085ZX1WCZ?tag=creati0a5-20

Paperback Pre-orders will be available soon.

 

Birds: a world without them would be empty

When I was in 1st grade, my teacher, Miss. Pippert, gathered me and my classmates together and walked us through the woods near our elementary school. The destination was my house.

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A pair of Eastern blubirds nested in my back yard when I was a child.

A short time later, we sat quiely in the grass. The object of our fascination a pair of nesting bluebirds that had taken up residence in a tree in my backyard. We watched the bluebirds flutter about, tending their nest, blue plumage startling against the bright green leaves of spring.

What drew us there? Even then the sighting of Eastern bluebirds was declining due to loss of habitat and nesting sites. The newly-built, suburban community in which we lived – one of probably hundreds in Northern New Jersey at the time – had taken the place of the wild land the birds favored.

I didn’t understand this as a child, but I do remember my mother bitterly denoncing the family cat when he killed the bluebird father. We mourned the creature’s loss. After that, the mother bird left, never to return.

Today, birds of all kinds face possible extinction. Recent studies show that North America has lost three billion birds, dropping from ten billion in 1970 to seven billion birds today. Bird populations in the US and Canada have declined 29% in the last 50 years.

It wasn’t until I began researching my new novel, Wild Horses on the Salt, that the plight of birds again came to my attention. I learned the horses that roam free along Arizona’s Salt River are damaging the ecosystem on which both resident and migratory birds rely. Horses eat the cottonwood and willow saplings, decimating nesting sites birds need to survive.

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Woman in the late 19th and early 20th centuries preferred their fashions with feathers, a practice that put many bird species in peril.

The good news is that since 1918 the United States has enforced the Migratory Bird Act which makes it illegal to kill or injure any of the 1,000 bird species that are listed under the law. The rule was put in place when it became obvious that the millions of feathers being collected to adorn women’s fashions would ultimately eliminate many avian species.

The MBA also makes it unlawful to “pursue, hunt, take, capture, kill, possess, sell, purchase, barter, import, export, or transport any migratory bird, or any part, nest, or egg or any such bird, unless authorized under a permit issued by the Secretary of the Interior.”

Despite the MBA, however, bird species continue to decline. According to the USA Today article, “3 billion birds lost since 1970 in N. America,” “The cause is primarily habitat loss, as birds are losing the places they need to live, find food, rest and raise their young. Other threats include free-roaming cats, collisions with glass, toxic pesticides and insect decline.”

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Despite the Migratory Bird Act, bird populations continue to decline.

While I have always liked watching birds, I have taken them for granted. I didn’t realize how much they add to our existence until I traveled to China, where, with the exception of a pair of ducks in a city pond, I noticed not a single bird. I mentioned this to a friend, an avid birder, and he wasn’t the least bit surprised. He explained that humans have lived in China for many thousands of years. Over that time, bird populations were plundered for food. Countries in Europe and Africa face the same issue. The Americas, however, have only been heavily populated for the last couple of hundred years, so our bird populations have not yet been decimated.

But they still could be, if we’re not careful.

Since that trip to China, I find myself paying closer attention to the birds that visit my neighborhood and the ones I see out on the Salt River and in the wild desert beyond.

Our world would be so empty without them.

51TMG11M-rL

A WOMAN FLEES AN ABUSIVE HUSBAND

AND FINDS HOPE IN THE WILDS OF THE ARIZONA DESERT.

Rebecca Quinn escapes her controlling husband and, with nowhere else to go, hops the red-eye to Arizona. There, Gaby Strand – her aunt’s college roommate – gives her shelter at the Salt River Inn, a 1930’s guesthouse located in the wildly beautiful Tonto National Forest.

Becca struggles with post-traumatic stress, but is enthralled by the splendor and fragility of the Sonoran Desert. The once aspiring artist meets Noah Tanner, a cattle rancher and beekeeper, Oscar Billingsley, a retired psychiatrist and avid birder, and a blacksmith named Walt. Thanks to her new friends and a small band of wild horses, Becca adjusts to life in the desert and rekindles her love of art.

Then, Becca’s husband tracks her down, forcing her to summon all her strength. But can she finally stop running away?

Kindle Pre-orders available at:

https://www.amazon.com/dp/B085ZX1WCZ?tag=creati0a5-20

Paperback Pre-orders will be available soon.

 

 

I love horses, but…

Horses run in river

Wild horses are beautful but terribly destructive.

Horses are breathtaking creatures, especially when running wild. Watching them move over open landscape is magical. However, that does not mean the existence of roaming horses in our modern world is not problematic.

I had the chance to study wild horses while researching my upcoming novel Wild Horses on the Salt, which is set for release on June 14, 2020.

The issues surrounding these animals are many. First, there are those who don’t believe what we call wild horses are wild at all. Some environmentalists call them an invasive species, because horses died out in the Americas 12,000 years ago during the last ice age and were not returned to the Western Hemisphere until Columbus landed in the Virgin Islands in 1493.

Others, especially in regard to the Salt River Horses here in Arizona, believe the creatures are feral animals. Tim Kenney of the Red Mountain Cattle Company which sits along the Salt River explained how at least some of these horses ended up roaming free.

“There was an alfalfa crisis. The cost was $14 a bale. That was $10,000 a truck load,” Kenny said. “Horses were too expensive to keep, so people turned them lose.”

Salt River Horses I didn't take this one. copy

Wild horses eat away at riverside vegetation, destoying habitat needed by birds and other desert creatures.

And those animals bred. The question is if a horse is born in the wild is it actually wild? Merriam-Webster defines a wild horse as “an undomesticated horse or a feral domestic horse,” but many scientists disagree. Science Daily says, “The true wild horse is not merely a feral horse like the Mustang; a true wild horse is one that was never successfully domesticated.”

Truly wild or not, the horses cause problems, especially as the modern world encroaches on their habitat. Despite the myriad Horse Crossing signs along the roads skirting the Salt River, car accidents that injure both animals and humans are sadly common. The horses, naturally drawn to the river, degrade the streambed, eating cottonwood and willow saplings, preventing the regrowth of the massive trees, the spreading branches of which once cooled the water and protected fish hatchlings and other aquatic life from the hot desert sun. The horses eat other desert plants, as well, destroying nesting sites of both resident and migrating birds and allowing the growth of invasive species like the massive and almost indestructible giant reed that chokes the riverside.

Ted Williams, an avid hunter and fisherman and long-time contributor to Audubon magazine, was quoted as saying that the environmental destruction caused by wild horses is devastating and is leading to the demise of many other creatures.

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Invasive giant reed takes over the riverside, providing neither nesting sites for birds nor shade to shield aquatic life from the scorching desert sun.

“Because horses are the only ungulates in North America with solid hooves and meshing teeth, they are particularly destructive of native vegetation,” he said. “A feral horse is a far greater threat to native ecosystems than a cow. When grass between shrubs is gone cows move on; horses stomp the shrubs into the dirt to get the last blade. What’s more, when cattle deplete forage they’re moved to new allotments, and they’re taken off the range in winter. But horses pound vegetation all year. And because horses live on range incapable of consistently sustaining them they sometimes starve and, in the process, cause the starvation of such sensitive desert creatures as sage grouse, bighorn sheep, Gila monsters, pronghorns, and desert tortoises.”

As the Phoenix metropolitan footprint expands, the horses are forced into smaller corridors, where there isn’t enough food. As Williams explained, frequently, they starve. Then, well-meaning but perhaps misguided people feed them. The Arizona Game and Fish Department warns that providing food for wild animals can be dangerous and detrimental, still horse groups ignore the warning.

The situation has become politicized with the cattle ranchers, environmentalists, and bird fanciers facing off against horse lovers. I discovered just how politicized when I stopped along the road to watch as bales of hay were being tossed to a group of waiting horses.

A large man stared at me as I approached. “Are you with us or against us!” he said.

“I’m not taking sides,” I answered, surprised at the question. Though I stayed and watched the volunteers feed the horses, no one spoke to me, unhappy, I suppose, that I did not appear to be an avid supporter.

Don’t get me wrong. I want the horses to be well and free. But, right now, no one knows how to accomplish that goal. Nor do we have a handle on the ultimate cost required to save these beautiful creatures, both in dollars and environmental degradation.

 

51TMG11M-rL

A woman flees an abusive husband

and finds hope in the wilds of the Arizona desert.

Rebecca Quinn escapes her controlling husband and, with nowhere else to go, hops the red-eye to Arizona. There, Gaby Strand – her aunt’s college roommate – gives her shelter at the Salt River Inn, a 1930’s guesthouse located in the wildly beautiful Tonto National Forest.

Becca struggles with post-traumatic stress, but is enthralled by the splendor and fragility of the Sonoran Desert. The once aspiring artist meets Noah Tanner, a cattle rancher and beekeeper, Oscar Billingsley, a retired psychiatrist and avid birder, and a blacksmith named Walt. Thanks to her new friends and a small band of wild horses, Becca adjusts to life in the desert and rekindles her love of art.

Then, Becca’s husband tracks her down, forcing her to summon all her strength. But can she finally stop running away?

Kindle Pre-orders available at:

https://www.amazon.com/dp/B085ZX1WCZ?tag=creati0a5-20

Paperback Pre-orders will be available soon.