Thursday, January 22, 2015

Cooking Elk, Part II

It took me one hour to make the pot pie and longer than that to try and get a decent photo:

The house where I'm staying, like my house would, is filled with colorful dishes, not so conducive to foodie photos. But rest assured, this was/is delicious. I had a pack of elk steaks remaining in the freezer and one last lonely elk sausage. I adapted the Pioneer Woman's chicken pot pie recipe. And voila...elk pot pie.

I crock-potted the elk in some beef broth on low for about six hours last evening. I put it all, elk and broth and pot, in the fridge for the day.

Put some olive oil in Ginny's big, deep Lodge cast iron pan*, add a medium onion, 2 celery ribs, and 2 carrots, diced fine. Let 'em sit there softening on the stove while you get your act together.

Chop the cooked elk meat into small pieces. Somehow mix your pie crust in the meantime and put it in the fridge to firm up. I used Bob's Red Mill gluten-free pie crust mix plus butter. Worked great.

Put the meat in the pan with the veggies. Add a couple of tablespoons of flour or your pie crust mix and stir it all up. Let the flour coat the meat and veggies and get sticky. Then add some of your cooking liquid from the crock-pot or fresh broth. Add a little wine if you've got it. Add some water. Keep adding liquid as it thickens until your pan is full or it seems right (and this is why I will not have a food blog, ladies and gentlemen). At some point, if you like corn, throw in a half cup of frozen or canned corn. (If it were summer, I'd cook an ear and cut the kernels off; as we've established, though, it is nothing AT ALL like summer right now).

Let it all cook a few minutes. Throw in some turmeric, salt, pepper, and a dash of thyme. The last thing to add is a quarter cup (or a little more) of half and half and stir it all up well.

I hope by now you've decided what pan to cook it in. If I had all my stuff, I would have used my 3 1/2 quart Le Creuset french oven* from start to finish, stove top to oven. Ginny has a similar piece, but it is too big. So I used my old trick of putting the mix back into the crock-pot pot, putting the pie crust over it, and baking it that way for about 30 minutes at 375. Because of the depth of the crock pot, I find I need to broil it at the end for a few minutes to brown up the crust. And you could do the right thing and brush it with an egg before you bake it. Or you could forget...

That's it: more cooking with elk. Delicious.

*Nobody pays anywhere near full price for this stuff, by the way.

Friday, January 16, 2015

My Crazy Life

I’m reading a novel today and in the story they are riding a train somewhere in North Africa. And I’m reminded that I’m a person who has ridden on trains where the bathrooms are just holes that deposit your deposit onto the ground moving underneath. A sign tells you not to use the bathroom while stopped at a station, but of course. That’s an interesting experience to have in one’s pack because it signifies all the experiences that are related and connected.

I am sitting inside today on my coveted day off on my coveted long weekend because I am still, but nearly successfully, getting over this cruddy cold that now is approaching four weeks in duration. The lay low weekend should kick the last of it out so that I can return to normalcy and sing again and have an interest in fruit smoothies and going outside. 

I have not written here in some time: December was a challenge with a death in the family. January has not improved with our cold and snowy weather. There is a solution, of course, and it is spring.

I’m watching a boy in a red knitted hat out the front window playing with the ice chunks in the small river going across the street. It was a skating rink, now more of a swimming pool as our temperatures are in the 40s today. Earlier a man across the street broke up some ice, presumably in the vicinity of a drain. No dice; the long narrow pool remains—to the delight of the hatted youth. 

I am in Colorado. I will not return to Marfa until the weather is better and/or I have license to stay forever. Aside from love, I’m quite accustomed to getting my way…eventually…and when I bend my will toward what is being offered (a not-insignificant caveat). So I am concerned now only about getting through this hell called winter where I so hoped and believed I would not be. Blessedly a house has come my way with a comfortable bed, a luscious shower, and a kitchen that makes me quite happy—a housesitting gig for friends for the winter. And it is full of books that I have not read. So far: Jim Harrison, Cormac McCarthy, Paul Bowles…and the promise of Cervantes when time has cleared Moby Dick out of my head (which I read entirely and with delight in December). 

So in fact the laziness of my current days would not lend one to think of my craziness: though rhyme does suggest contrast. I think I was reading Tolstoy on a train with the toilet hole. I think I was young and impressionable when a friend told me that, like the Bowles character, he preferred to be a traveler, not a tourist. Many years later I realize we all want to be an awful lot of things that maybe we aren’t and never will be. But I have been a traveler.

My one victory over the torpor of winter, oddly, is dating. I’m dating. It’s part exhausting and part fun and mostly going nowhere. But I like Indian food and pink margaritas and the charcuterie that is enjoying popularity right now as much as the next person. So why not enjoy with company. My terrible habit, alas, is giving them all names instead of really giving them a chance: The Climate Change Denier, The Train Conductor, The Unemployed Clown. In this pursuit, as I hinted above, I’m not accustomed to getting my way, but actually it seems like I am right now—because I really have no expectations. It’s kind of amazing that I’ve found so many men to have a date with. That in itself seems crazy. I think of it as practice…at my age?!

Eh, me and the kids splashing in the urban ice pond. We’re doing the best we can. The crazy part of life rarely seems crazy at the time; it seems like what one must do to breathe and feel like a full human being—only sometimes I do stop and laugh and think, yeah…crazy…and then I keep going because it is what I must do to breathe and feel like I’m using my time in a way that makes sense. And so when I’m using my time in a way that feels wasteful, then I’m bothered (which, to be clear, refers only to my current job and not at all to a day spent reading a good book which is never wasteful). I think that’s what I’ve just spent eight paragraphs sorting out. I think the hatted boys who have now gone home spent a few minutes just now feeling fully human in the ice pond on my street. And I was smart to pay attention.

I'm going now to fry a trout in bacon fat for my supper. 

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Give a Field Guide

One of the great joys of adulthood is learning something new. This can often be enabled with a field guide: to birds, stars, vascular plants of the Southern Rockies--you name it. But some of the most important adult learning is actually about ourselves. And despite the unending supply of self-help books, sometimes one just needs a field guide. This year I found just the right one. I bought this off the table at the Marfa Book Company, a spot that uncannily often/always has waiting the exact book I'm supposed to be reading right now. This one surely qualifies.

The question then is how to get lost. Never to get lost is not to live, not to know how to get lost brings you to destruction, and somewhere in the terra incognita in between lies a life of discovery. 

The book is a few years old, so you can buy it used here...

Or, really, any book at all that speaks to your heart is a welcome gift to a friend on a quest.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Give Holly Hats

My friend Holly makes lots of cool stuff...I mean like fine arts and crafts, not the kindergarten-style products I try and pass off. (I have words; I can't have everything). Anyway, you should get a Holly hat. I think that's all she has available right now--no bags or stuffed sheep or notecards. They are well made, colorful, warm, fuzzy..what more could you want in a hat? Here are a few samples that I own:

Yes, they will take you amazing places. Buy your Holly hat here...

Friday, December 5, 2014

Give Neil

When I was in Marfa last week, my host friend invited me into her current mini-obsession with Cosmos, now streaming on Netflix. This old Carl Sagan series has been brought back to life with astrophysicist Neil DeGrasse Tyson taking on the the role of our host in the universe. It's fun and compelling; and Tyson, as usual, is completely engaging and science-nerd-dreamy.

So today's recommendation is a Neil DeGrasse Tyson action figure! Yay science!

Oh, except they aren't actually real. They are a very cool art project done by some creative dude in his basement or something,

OK, so I kept looking and found this Neil that you can actually buy on Etsy.

To tell you the truth, though, the Etsy doll lacks some essential Neil-ness,

So then I found this, which in the end becomes today's recommendation. 

He's free. You print him and fold him yourself and he can sit on your desk and remind you how absolutely cool you can be if you dig physics too. Better yet, for the holidays, give Neil to a young person for inspiration; the universe is infinite and so should be our dreams. 

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Give a Pass to Understanding

It's hard to think about fun holiday gifts in the light of yesterday's news of a Grand Jury in New York's refusal to indict the officer who killed Eric Garner. So please bear with me if this seems self serving.

Someone you know needs a National Park Pass. Maybe you? I had originally planned to wax poetic about natural parks and sites of cultural significance and fun recreation areas. Please visit those too! But more relevant today are our sites of shame, sites of conscience, sites of civil and human rights. Fortunately for all of us, the National Park Service now preserves these sites too and tells the stories of a more diverse face of America. Working at Manzanar NHS made me aware of how important these stories are to all Americans. It's not a perfect system; we have a long way to go to full inclusivity. But we are getting there, and you can help by visiting these sites and paying witness. As Ranger Michael says, "Stories at National Parks are meaningful and remind us of who we are, where we came from, and potentially where we're going." (The video's a bit corny, but he's spot on about stories.)

Today I'm recommending an America the Beautiful pass which gains you entry at all national park units and other federal lands as well. The pass is $80, so a bit more pricey than my other recommendations. Two people can share a pass, and the entry fees it covers are often up to $25 for each park. Keep in mind that many of the memorials, such as the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial shown above on the Mall in Washington D.C., are free to visit.

Other ways to get a pass:

Active Military? Free!
Americans with Disabilities? Free!
Americans 62 years or older? Ten bucks for life.
Volunteer 250 hours a year with the NPS? Free!

Learn more here...and obtain your pass at any federal recreation site that charges fees. If you can use a pass there, you can buy/obtain a pass there.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Give Blooms

A gift that keeps giving for weeks after the holidays are past is the gift of an amaryllis bulb. Find them now at a local garden store or nursery or florist or even a home store. They require little work on the part of the giver or the lucky recipient. And what a payoff come the doldrums of January. Paperwhite narcissus work well too. Buy them...everywhere.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Give Poetry

On this second day of holiday gift suggestions, this one is broad and wide and of a philosophical nature. We all need more poetry in our lives, whether it is a handful of printed words arranged just so on a page or the sensibility of light and the touch of the earth upon our souls.

Mary Ruefle, in my stand-out book of 2013, writes:

Ramakrishna said: Given a choice between going to heaven and hearing a lecture on heaven, people would choose a lecture.

That is remarkably true, and remarkably sad, and the same remarkably true and sad thing can be said about poetry, here among us today.

That slim admonition led me directly to this poet whose 2014 volume is today's recommendation. I cherish this book. You might too. Or any other favorite poet. Read poetry, chew on poetry, share poetry, live poetry, write poetry.

Buy Saint Friend here...

Monday, December 1, 2014

If One Must Shop

Despite my Grinch attitude toward the lead-up to Christmas, it occurs to me that people do like to shop and give gifts, and that in moderation this can be a lovely pastime. In that spirit, perhaps I can make some recommendations of items that would be nice for your loved ones to receive and beneficial to real people who make them. So...

Marfa Brand soap is delicious. This is the new flavor for the holidays, but my absolute favorite is the Cedarwood Sage flavor made with goat milk from Malinda Beeman's happy Marfa goats. Yes, it's pricey, but made by hand and nice to have around.

Buy it

Sunday, November 30, 2014

The End of November

The end of this month represents a few things. First, the end of daily blogging. Thank you to the approximately six of you that read my novel. Second, the end of society as I would choose to be involved in; as I was in Target this morning picking up a feminine product, the clerk asked me if I had a good black friday. I apologize to my family ahead of time, there will be no Christmas shopping. I am planning cards. Third, the end of good weather...i.e. for now the end of Texas weather; the Colorado sky threatens snow today. Finally, the end of the mixed theme NaBloPoMo. I actually enjoy daily blogging if I have a theme. Let me cogitate. Meanwhile, grocery stores are justifiable, but otherwise what hell it is here in civilization.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

The End of Vacation

I took some pictures of myself yesterday, all blue and tan and brown and happy. And I realized that after a week of vacation is a great time for pictures. And what a nice vacation: four days of volunteering; one grand adventure day of scenic drive, hike, and fun with my friend Mary Lou; a museum; visits to many favorite dining establishments; dinner parties with Dedie and Lonn; snuggly comfy beds; and wonderful people familiar and new. Today I drive home. Fortunately I have more vacation coming next month.

Friday, November 28, 2014

The End of the Trail

I visited the Museum of the Big Bend at Sul Ross State University in Alpine this morning. My primary objective was to enjoy their temporary exhibit of aerial photographs by Paul Chaplo. And I did; I enjoyed it immensely. I had just had a conversation with first my father and then my Thanksgiving hosts about my joy of flying commercially over the Colorado Plateau because I knew the landscape which I viewed, some of it intimately by Jeep or foot. This exhibit of the Big Bend showed me a lifetime of exploration opportunities, beginning/continuing with my upcoming Christmas camping trip. A secondary objective was to see an artifact that my host is currently writing an article about for a monthly history journal.


The title today seems apt in continuing the theme that the end of one thing is often if not always the beginning of something extraordinary. But endings are hard, and I don't want to not honor that. So for now we will focus on endings, and meeting them with grace.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

The End of the World

This is a bit of wisdom I came across in my new book, Architecture for Travelers, by Joshua Edwards. He walked from his old home in Galveston to his new home in Marfa and invited us all along by way of a book of poems and stories. He took photos too, but that's another book.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

The End of the Day

Which around here, this week with the new moon, means it's time for the star show.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

The End of an Era

Spent yesterday and part of today helping to pack up the offices of KRTS, Radio for a Wide Range. But not to worry; they are just moving into a new building. The golden age of Marfa Public Radio is still ahead.

Monday, November 24, 2014

The End of the Road

El Rio Grande.
Empanoramacize at

Sunday, November 23, 2014

The End

The End.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Chapter Twenty

After the picnic, Veronica went home, changed into a clean pair of Toughskins, and went out into the back yard to pack up the flying suit. She lingered over the tail section: the bent tubing from the hard landing the night before, the embroidered cat on the pale pink silk. She pulled hard on the threads that held the bracelet to the tail until she made it unravel, and she transferred the bracelet to her wrist. Leonardo rolled in the dirt and shook hard, keeping a close eye on his friend.

 As she worked, Cork and Rackoo came to visit. They made her recount the whole evening’s events, sharing every detail. At first Veronica was wary about reliving it, but she realized that in telling the story she could get it out, all the fear that she had overcome but still weighed on her. Veronica poured the evening out into the air and let it go. Rackoo in particular asked her questions about the flying. Veronica told them about the extreme altitude she’d attained. She showed them the damage to the tail.

“Will you fix it?” asked Cork. “Will you keep flying?”

 “I don’t know,” said Veronica as she zipped up the case. “Gram doesn’t want me to. She worries about me. But I confess I love it. I feel like I was born to it, I guess.”

“We got you a present. I almost forgot!” cawed Rackoo. She disappeared up over the silo and was back a moment later. In her beak was a beautiful hairclip of silver and turquoise. She placed it at Veronica’s feet.

Veronica picked it up and laughed. “It’s beautiful, but I can’t keep this. Where did you get it?”

Cork squawked at Rackoo, “I told you she wouldn’t approve. We took it from the cabin.”

“You need to take it back where Billie can find it,” said Veronica. “But thank you for thinking of me. You don’t need to get me a gift.”

 “I couldn’t help myself,” said Rackoo. “It’s so shiny. But I’ll take it back,” she agreed.

“If you want my opinion,” said Cork, “you should keep flying. Rackoo hasn’t even taught you the fun stuff: barrel rolls, flying upside-down. Lots to learn still.” Rackoo nodded.

Veronica smiled, “and my name is Skypilot, the little blue flower that grows on top of a mountain. We’ll see.” She considered that she had a name now, at 127 points, that didn’t need to match anything. She hoisted the wing case onto her shoulder. “I think I need to go see my grandmother.”

They said their goodbyes and the ravens promised to visit regularly. Veronica carried the suit into the silo, piece by piece, and left it in the workshop. Then she gathered her six precious pieces of parchment and went inside where Gram was cleaning up dishes from the picnic. It was time to talk.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Chapter Nineteen

Veronica woke to a cold breeze blowing her hair around her face and the sound of car wheels pulling on to the gravel next to the road. Light was cracking open the sky in the east. She’d seen enough sunrises this week to last her a year. As she awoke she remembered where she was and turned to see Billie George’s yellow pick-up truck pulled alongside the road where she had been sleeping, tucked in among some acacia bushes. His boots walked around the truck and he came to stand over her.

“I don’t even know what to say, Veronica.”

“I’ve got people coming.”

“I bet you do. Just tell me one thing: are they gone?”

“I thought you didn’t believe in them.” Veronica stood up and looked out in the direction of the ribbon of light, or where she thought it had been—hard to say in the end.

“My father knew them, was visited by them in the mountains,” said Billie. “He never told anybody but me because I was little and I believed him. I feel like I’ve spent my life haunted by those ghosts. I could never tell anybody neither, like it was our secret. So many secrets, so much to be ashamed of. Gets so I don’t even know who I am anymore.”

Veronica kicked at the ground, not sure why Billie was telling her all this. But he continued. “I guess I thought if I could make those ghosts disappear there wouldn’t be any more secrets, that maybe they’d take my ghosts with them.”

“Well, they’re gone.” Veronica looked at Billie’s sad face and realized hers probably looked the same. “I hope it works out for you.”

“Yeah,” said Billie. “You too.” They shared a raw moment. Then Billie turned to leave. “You really got people coming for you?”

“I do, yes.” He tossed her a bottle of Gatorade and she watched Billie drive away. Only later did she realize that she needed to tell him to go search that cabin for the stolen jewelry, but maybe he knew that too.

Sure enough, it wasn’t another half hour when down the road Veronica saw the white Jeep driving her way. Alkali pulled up, rolled down his window, and nonchalant as you please asked Veronica if she needed a ride somewhere. Before he could even open his door, tears were rolling down her cheeks. He hopped out and held her as she fell down on the pavement and bawled like a child.

When Alkali dropped Veronica at home, Gram had already gone to church but Leonardo was standing guard on the porch awaiting her safe return. Johanna’s horses and the ghost burros were out in the pasture with the goats, and Johanna was asleep in Veronica’s bed. Veronica crawled in beside her with Leonardo and was soon asleep herself. After church was out at Gram’s church and mass was done at the Catholic Church, Gram and Aileen George came and woke them up, then went and got Rita. Mrs. Salazar and Ramón were down in Carpathia at the hospital. Although exhausted, the girls managed to bathe and dress in the pretty clothes put in front of them to wear to the picnic. Veronica even let Gram comb out her hair.

Every Easter the three churches in town worked together to put on the community picnic in the village park. The picnic tables were set up at the opposite end from the engraved stone tablets of the Little Pine Veterans Memorial. The whole town arrived wearing their best clothes. Little girls in long pastel dresses and boys in suits they would soon outgrow ran around the park, hunting for eggs and chasing the dogs that came to enjoy the picnic too. Streamers decorated the gazebo where a mariachi band played. Tables laden with food represented the blend of cultures that made up the small town: baked hams and deviled eggs, roasted goat and tamales, and mesquite fry bread with honey.

The girls saw that everyone from town had come out today. They waved hello to Miss Bernal and Mr. César serving food, and there was Miss Esperanza enjoying a laugh with the couple who ran the café who were sitting next to Mr. Lautenbacher and the rent-a-cops. Across the park, they saw Alkali sitting at an empty table. He waved them over. In the tree above him, Veronica saw Rackoo and Cork. She called up to them and they responded in their raven caws. Rackoo hopped down next to them on the ground, nibbling a friendly hello on Leonardo’s ear, where she wouldn’t be noticed by the crowd.

“You did well, I hear,” said Rackoo.


“We want to hear all about it later,” said Rackoo. She cocked her head and looked up at Veronica. “I’m proud of you.” Then she took off and Cork joined her, flying away above the town.

The girls sat with Alkali and didn’t talk much. They all had just one thing on their minds, and they didn’t want to discuss it in such a public setting.

Alkali broke the silence, “Have you heard from your mother, Rita? About Ramón?”

“She called a little while ago,” said Rita. “He’s gonna be OK. He’s dehydrated and he needed stitches for a cut on his leg. They should be back soon.”

“Too bad Miss Guy isn’t here. I think she would like a party,” said Veronica, looking around at the crowd.

Alkali smiled and said, “She throws her own Easter party and usually I attend, but today I wanted to be here with you. She sends her regards, by the way. And she’s ready to tell you what she saw in those tea leaves, but it’s nothing that you don’t already know.”

Gram and Aileen came and sat down with them, their plates full of good food. Gram added some things to Veronica’s plate. Then Johanna saw her father drive up the street and park by the fence along the side of the park. She waved him over to them. As he walked up, John looked serious. The girls made room for him to sit down.

“No, I can’t stay,” said John. “I just wanted you all to know what’s going on. Billie rode up to that cabin this morning and found all the stolen jewelry, some of it going back decades. I guess you girls know all about that.”

“I’m sorry Dad. We didn’t know what we were getting into,” interrupted Johanna.

John put his hand on her shoulder. “No, honey, I’m sorry. We can talk more about it later, but, but…my daughter took down Los Descarriados! I’m just so proud of you girls.”

Johanna looked at her friends. They didn’t feel proud; they felt exhausted.

Alkali, more than the other adults, recognized what the girls were feeling. “I think we need a ritual,” he suggested. “A ceremony.”

“You’re absolutely right, my friend. Hang on, I’ll be right back.” John walked over to talk to some of his tribemates who were setting up their drum circle in the gazebo to play next. He asked them to play a warrior song. Then he walked to his car and dug around in the trunk for a few minutes. He found what he was looking for and came back to the table. As the drum group started playing and singing, John presided over the makeshift ceremony.

He began by lighting the bundle of sweetgrass in his hand. As he spoke, he wafted the smoke around the girls. “To the warriors of our families who have risked much to provide heroic services to our community, we thank you. We give you honor for putting the needs of the community above your own needs. And we rejoice in your safe return.”

People at other tables were watching what was going on without understanding the reason. But they knew John to be a serious and good man and stopped talking and eating for a few minutes; many of them stood. When John was finished, Gram chimed in with “Amen.” Others at the table followed.

Then Alkali stood and took a turn. “You all were curious about how I got my name Alkali. Such a name may not be chosen, but only given. And today you have each earned a name. You may use it if you like, or keep it to yourself. For Rita, brave and true Rita, I would like to call you Cielita Valienta, our brave little heaven. Johanna, I call you Wind Horse, a symbol of strength and well-being. And Veronica, Skypilot. This is a small blue flower that grows on the tallest mountains, high above any other plant. You must venture very high to find its smiling face. Yes, you are our Skypilot.” To close, Alkali put his hands together as if to pray and made a bow to the girls. “Mazel tov,” he whispered.

As the crowd was thinning out, Rita was leaving with Johanna’s family, and Gram was making herself busy packing up casserole dishes, Alkali took Veronica aside. He took from his inner jacket pocket one more piece of parchment paper, unfolded it, and handed it to Veronica. “We are now at liberty to discuss this when you would like.”

Veronica took the paper which had a drawing of a bird flying over a river and a family with a baby sitting by the river.

Dear Polly,
The flower has bloomed and it seems impossible that the creator could not love her creation. What looks like un-love is another kind of love that wants to be love. I will love my beautiful blue-eyed flower who wants to be everything including a flower, a bird, a river, a mountain, and a star. And if a sound wants to be something not a sound, I will close my eyes and feel the vibration of the moment on my tear-stained cheek and fall to the ground in gratitude for joy of the sound not sounding. My flower will fly and I will blow the wind that carries her wings. We have named you Veronica and I will be the love that loves what she is and what she wants to be.

“You are Polly,” said Alkali. “Short for polliwog, who wants to be a frog.” Your mother wrote these for you when she was pregnant with you. And then you were born.”

“But they’re in my father’s handwriting.”

“He wanted to make you a book as you grew up so he made the drawings on the nice paper and added your mother’s words.”

“My flower will fly and I will blow the wind that carries her wings.” Veronica read. “Maybe that’s why it’s so much easier for me to fly than it was for him, because he didn’t have his mother blowing his wind.” And Alkali gave Veronica a long, firm hug so that she wouldn’t see the tears forming, this time, in his eyes.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Chapter Eighteen

Ramón ran up to Virgilio and Eloy as they returned to the campfire for the big surprise of guests. Rita listened as Ramón explained who the girls were, hoping that they could talk their way out of this. She translated for Johanna who was removing the flashlight and the colored plastic from her pocket to signal red to Veronica: emergency, don’t land. Then Ramón ran back to Rita and asked why Veronica was flying around. Rita was taken aback that he could know that. She told him that they had come to rescue him.

 “No offense,” said Rita to the ghosts, “but his mom is real worried about him.” She was relieved when the ghosts nodded in understanding.

Then Virgilio, whom Rita took to be the leader of the group, spoke. She had a bit of trouble understanding his accent and old fashioned language, but she did her best to translate: “We have enjoyed the boy too long, we know. I apologize. Don’t worry—we fed him and gave him water and a good place to sleep. I think he has enjoyed us too. He has been missing his father and brothers and does not know his grandfathers. Maybe we can be his grandfathers.”

Then Ramón spoke up: “Do I have to go home, Rita? I like it here. They only have to take a bath once a year!” Johanna laughed at this translation despite the stress of their situation. They smelled like they never took a bath. Must be coming up on the annual event.

Veronica continued circling overhead, ignoring the red light and fearing for her friends. Trusting, hoping, that the ghosts meant them no harm, Johanna told Rita to ask them if they would allow their friend to land. Of course, they said. She flashed the white light until Veronica landed near the fire. Ramón ran over and grabbed Veronica around the waist, and she maneuvered to not let him hurt the suit. Rita explained to the ghosts about the suit and about their planned rescue attempt. In all, Los Descarriados were being perfect gentleman. Santiago even asked Johanna if she would like a can of beans. Through gestures and her broken Spanish, she declined.

With help from her friends, Veronica removed her suit and the seven of them sat down around the campfire in an uneasy truce. Ramón took responsibility for adding more wood when needed. Under the light of the moon, the ghosts told many stories of their long years of wandering, translated by Rita and embellished by Ramón who had been listening to their stories for many days.

They told stories of the people they had watched, talking to the occasional person who noticed them: stories of heartbroken hard times, hobos on trains without enough food or clothes against the bitter winds, farmers escaping ruin by drought brought down by battering floods, evil swindlers who preyed on the beaten down, women dying in childbirth, the babies unable to break their way out in time, the fearful, the lonely, the desperately bored. Virgilio tried to intersperse these with happy moments they had glimpsed: a laughing family panning for gold for fun along a cold, fast-flowing creek in the high Rockies of Colorado just a few years ago, the strains of an accordion deep into a starry night with the earth-shaking pulse of one hundred dancing feet, their very own Little Pine Easter picnics from years past, the medicinal smell of the high desert after a cooling rain. Yes, Virgilio smiled, they could still smell. And he apologized for their present odor.

Then Virgilio told a story of a vagabond philosopher they had met many decades ago, a young man who also traveled by burro in the red-tinged canyon country of southern Utah. The young gringo man befuddled the men with his philosophic ramblings in broken Spanish during their time camped out together along a small stream that flowed into the San Juan River. But they enjoyed each other’s company. They taught him a trick to catching rabbits with a stick and a string. In exchange, this young man, Len, taught them to see stories in the stars: the animals, the warriors, the saints. Virgilio confessed that in thirty-two years of living and forty-eight years of death up until that time, he had never allowed himself to ponder the meaning of the stars that filled the heavens.

“What happened to Len?” asked Veronica.

“We heard he disappeared. They wrote a song for him,” said Virgilio.

“Which shows, as you know, that it is short, life,” added Eloy. “Unlike death, which is long.”

Then Santiago, the quiet one, spoke up. “But it won’t be for you because you can fly, so don’t worry about it.”

“True, true,” said Eloy. “Alas, we are ghosts who cannot fly. That is why we are stuck here, forever to wander.”

“What does flying have to do with it?” asked Rita.

“Have you ever heard of a ghost who can’t fly?” asked Eloy. “That’s how you move on to the next world. Your soul leaves your body and it floats up into the air. It finds a path to the portal and then is gone. Easy. But something happened when we died and we don’t float, don’t fly, can’t get to the portal.” The three ghosts sat in the firelight: dejected, lost, wayward.

“And you keep coming back to this spot because it’s where you died so you think you might find something you missed before?” asked Veronica.

“Oh no, it’s depressing to come back here,” said Virgilio. “We come back here because there is a portal nearby.”

“And that nice woman leaves the whiskey for us,” admitted Santiago.

At Johanna’s request, Virgilio told about the portal. Los Descarriados had heard many times from recently deceased ghosts who floated by about the portal just south of here at a place called Warnock Flat. If a spirit could follow a path to the portal, it would be transported on to the next world on a ribbon of light.

Veronica and Johanna looked at each other as their eyes grew wide: the Bee Springs Lights. For decades, myths and suspicions existed about this strange twinkling of lights in the night sky down south of Bee Springs. They had learned in school how scientists attributed the lights to a unique localized atmospheric condition, explaining away all paranormal theories. But now they were being told it was, in fact, related to ghosts.

Virgilio continued complaining about their inability to access the portal, being those rare earthbound ghosts. And then Veronica got thinking. “Do you suppose,” she asked, “a live human being could find that portal?”

Virgilio eyed the strange flying contraption. “You mean with that?” The three ghosts and the three girls looked over at the flying suit on the ground. If it was a bad idea, none of them would say. Virgilio stood up and inspected the suit. As he talked to Eloy and Santiago, Rita translated that they were trying to figure out how to hang on or attach themselves.

“Can we do this?” asked Virgilio. “We would very much like to do this.”

Veronica answered. “We can try to do this. I can’t guarantee that we can find the portal. I also don’t know if I can carry enough fuel to get us there. I don’t even know if I can fly with you hanging on.”

“OK, so we try,” smiled Virgilio. He marched into the cabin as Eloy gestured the girls to follow.

“Come, we can pay you,” explained Eloy. The girls followed. Ramón came after them with a burning stick to light up the rooms. Virgilio got down on his hands and knees and removed an old straw mat from the floor. Underneath, he lifted up some floor boards and exposed a wooden crate stamped with the name Arbuckle Coffee full of a small portion of a hundred years of burglaries. Jewelry, paper money, and coins filled the old wooden box. The girls were speechless.

Rita found her voice and thanked them and said there was no way they could accept this. Johanna and Veronica nodded. No one spoke for a moment.

“But we have collected this all these years so that someone would help us,” said Virgilio.

Veronica understood and gave him the answer they sought. “We will take this. This is fair trade.” Virgilio smiled and ushered them all outside.

Johanna was concerned for her friend and took her aside, but Veronica was beyond her fear. In the conversation of the evening, she had come to feel great sympathy for the ghosts and their plight. Maybe for this I have been learning courage, she thought. She assured Johanna that she wanted to do this. “I’m sure I won’t have fuel to get back, though, so send Alkali to find me when it gets light. Tell him to look for me on a road with stripes.”

And so Veronica suited up with Rita’s help. The ghosts grabbed on to the suit where Veronica told them to hold. Johanna returned from the clearing with kerosene and topped off her tanks. In the flurry of activity, only Ramón stayed by the fire, quiet. As Veronica prepared to take off with his friends, he began wailing inconsolably. Santiago stepped away from Veronica and held the boy in his stinking, vaporous arms. He whispered in Ramón’s ear all that he had learned: “Be true, my son, and follow your dreams.”

Veronica met no resistance on take-off with her unusual cargo. She climbed as high as she had ever been and headed south toward this place called Warnock Flat. She could hear the ghosts talking to each other, yelling over the sound of the jet pack. But she didn’t think they were talking to her, so she paid attention to finding winds to conserve her fuel.

She flew out over the southern edge of the Matilda Mountains, over the lights of Little Pine far below, and over the long, sloping plain toward Bee Springs. The rocky outcroppings were just tiny moonlit scabs on the surface of the land from that far up in the sky.

After a little while, she saw the lights of Bee Springs approach and pass underneath and she continued on. Not long after, Virgilio called her name and said something that Veronica understood to mean that he saw something. He said, “left,” and “a little, a little,” and she followed his directions. His words then became more animated and she couldn’t understand. She also felt a growing updraft and reduced her fuel. Then the three of them started shouting like crazy. Virgilio again called her name and offered a clear simple direction to turn right and then go straight ahead. The ghosts were quiet.

Then as if a light had been switched on, they entered a silver ribbon of light. The sensation for Veronica was of pure, blinding daylight as if she had flown into the very heart of a white sun. She felt a powerful updraft sweep under her, and she cut the engine and fought to hold the wings steady. Instead of being silent, though, without the engine, the light was full of sounds that she would never be able to describe—a combination of electronic buzz, voices, and hum. She could only describe later the overwhelming and inexplicable sense of chaotic peace or peaceful chaos that she felt being in the light.

When she had stabilized her suit, she looked around to consult with her crew, but could not see them. She called out their names but got no answer. They were gone, and she hadn’t had a chance to give them a message to her parents.

Veronica realized, with momentary panic, that she needed to get out of the portal. She fired up the jet pack, pulled full power in the direction she was facing, and roared out of the light. Just like that she was back into the night. She reduced power and circled around to look where she had been. As her eyes readjusted to the darkness, she could just make out the twinkling edges of the ribbon, enough to avoid flying back into it. And then she looked down.

The updraft had brought her so high that she could see a hundred miles in each direction. Below her, the lights of Bee Springs were but a speck. She caught her breath as the panic came back, and she felt disoriented. She concentrated on getting out of the updraft and losing altitude. Her training kicked in, and she began a slow spiral downward. Veronica didn’t even think about getting home; she just wanted to be on the ground.