Politics back at Giffords shooting site

Politics again at shooting site.

Politics again at shooting site.

In the 3 years since the Gabrielle Giffords shooting,  a small memorial garden has been built near the spot and political activity has returned once again to this tragic place outside a Safeway grocery in the northern part of Tucson.

Giffords, a former Congresswoman, suffered a head wound and six others attending her “Congress on Your Corner” meeting were killed.

The Safeway is still there at the southeast corner of busy Ina and Oracle Roads, 8 miles north of the city center.  And by all signs on Easter Sunday the store was doing a good business despite the dismal history.

As you walk toward the store from the parking lot, you can not miss a small plot of bright flowers and a large stone on the north side of the Safeway’s entrance.   Two white lilies sprout from a pot in front of the stone.  There is no garish sign to inform you what this is all about.  It is only when you walk around to the stone by the sidewalk that you get a hint of what happened here, but only a hint.  A plaque attached to the stone says:

Honoring the victims of the event of January 8, 2011 / The Tucson Tragedy . . . / we shall never forget.

Beneath the message is a line of 13 stars then “Safeway” and the company’s logo.

That is it.

The memorial near the Safeway store.

The memorial near the Safeway store.

No mention of Giffords or the dead — Christina Green, age 9, Dorothy “Dot” Morris, 76, John Roll, 63, Phyllis Schneck, 79, Dorwan Stoddard, 76, Gabrielle “Gabe” Zimmerman, 30.  No mention of the 12 others wounded.  No mention of the deranged shooter, Jared Loughner, who is in a Springfield, MO, prison serving seven consecutive life sentences.

One could argue the memorial is tasteful and horribly incomplete.

About 10 yards to the south of the memorial, on the other side of the Safeway entrance, stands Robin Auld.  He appears to be a man in his 60s, tanned and dressed smartly in a striped tie and long-sleeve purple shirt, a color that some connote with Easter.  He is gathering signatures to run in the primary elections later this year as a Democratic candidate for Justice of the Peace in Precinct #1.  So says the fold-out sign on the sidewalk.  His “signing desk” is one of the store’s brown wastebaskets.  Some Safeway customers seem eager to sign only to discover they are ineligible because they live outside Auld’s district.

Auld is amenable to a photo.

“Are you a reporter?” he asks.  When I say, no, he looks disappointed.  He lets me shoot my photo anyway.  On reflection, I suppose the camera could have held a handgun.  Maybe a Glock like Loughner used.  I could have been an assassin.  But Auld doesn’t appear concerned.  Instead, he looks for his next signature coming in from the parking lot.

Auld said he was aware of the memorial so close to where he stands and, as I mention it, he sees the significance immediately.

“I’m probably the first politician to campaign here in three years,” he said.

Life goes on.  Memories flee.  And now things are back to normal in front of the Safeway.  For now, anyway.








Down Tucson Way

The following is an account of our trip to Tucson on Easter weekend, April 19-21.

Our goal, Mount Wrightson's summit.

Our goal, Mount Wrightson’s summit.

April 19, Saturday:  Nebra and I decided we’d try to summit Mount Wrightson again during the long Easter weekend. The 9,453-foot peak is located about 40 miles south of Tucson.  We’d last hiked to the top 28 years ago, not long after we met.  So we reserved a room in a north Tucson motel and set out  about 2 o’clock from our home in Phoenix.

Normally it takes about two hours to drive the 110 miles south to The Old Pueblo, as Tucson was once called.  It took four hours today.  That is because we took the so-called backroads, not Interstate 10.   The traffic is much less and the roadsides more interesting this way.  And we did stop twice.  The first time was to hike up a barren basalt pimple of hill to the lonely gravesite of a once-renowned Arizonan, Charles Poston.  The second stop came at the memorial for the old cowboy movie star, Tom Mix, off 79 Highway south of Florence.

South of the Mix memorial, the road gains elevation and the landscape changes from desert drab to lush in comparison.  Lots of chain-fruit cholla and prickly pear cactus, all in bloom.  And the backdrop is the high Catalina Mountains to the south as you approach Oro Valley.  An interesting day again on the backroads.

The Catalinas from HW 79 north of Tucson.

The Catalinas from HW 79 north of Tucson.

April 20, Sunday:  We talked ourselves out of doing Wrightson today.  We’ll do it on Monday.  It’s a daunting hike of nearly 11 miles.  The trail is steep and unrelenting.  An elevation gain of 4,000 feet in 5.5 miles.  Don’t know if I’m ready for it.  Nebra wanted to relax anyway.  So we stayed late in our motel room along North Oracle Road.  The day was warm on the way to a long string of 100-degrees in the coming weeks.

In the afternoon, we visited the site where the Congressman Gabby Giffords was shot in 2011.  Giffords, who suffered a wound to the head, is making a slow recovery.  Six others died in the rampage by a delusional Tucson man, Jared Loughner.  There is a small memorial set aside by the Safeway store where the incident occurred.  A memorial plaque is placed on a large stone at one side. An attractive flower bed  rests on the other.

In late afternoon, we did a 3-mile hike in busy Sabino Canyon.  It’s located in northeast Tucson.  I called it a warm-up for tomorrow’s attempt at the Wrightson summit.  It was a pleasant walk  through saguaro and chaparral.  Cactus flowers bloomed at every turn.  Even the mighty saguaro was showing buds.

April 21, Monday:  Up early and nibbled on trail mix as we drove south of Tucson on I-19  toward Wrightson.  The trailhead is 47.5 miles from our motel.  As we neared the towns of Sahuarita, Green Valley and Continental along the freeway, Wrightson loomed like a monster in front of us.

We hit the trail at 10:30, thinking it would take six hours round-trip to the summit and back.  The trail was steep and I pooped out at Old Baldy Saddle at about 8,800 feet elevation.  Nebra did better but was also ready to turn around.  We were then about 9/10 of a mile of steep and rocky terrain from reaching the top, having completed 4.85 miles of torture.  Another day perhaps.

It was after 6 when we reached the parking lot and our car.  We’d done a total of  9.47 miles on the trail, our bodies exhausted and legs aching.  It was past time to head home.  Had a big supper at the pleasant Arizona Family Restaurant in Green Valley and got back in Phoenix a little before 11 pm.







Mr. Bundy, meet Mr. Trenary

Cliven Bundy’s attempted land grab in Nevada brought to mind Burhl Trenary.

For about 50 years, Mr. Trenary rented a two-story house and 45 acres of land in Oklahoma from my family.   He held a job as a janitor at a nearby school until he retired.

Mr. Trenary loved the place.  He and wife Fannie spent more than half of their lives there, on a sylvan land at the edge of a small city.   Forest pushed in on three sides.  Wild blackberries sprouted down the hill by a big ravine and were canning-ready like clockwork every Fourth of July.  Deer emerged from the woods every evening to dine.  That included partaking from Fannie’s vegetable and flower gardens.  The Trenarys raised their family in that two -story house.  Their three children knew no other home.

The place originally belonged to Lulu, my maternal grandmother.  It was her Indian allotment.  She was part Cherokee.  Her Quaker husband ran a general store in town, a mile off, and took a horse and buggy to work.  They called the place Edgewood Farm.  For years, they had an orchard and, I believe, a small vineyard.   They kept a milk cow or two, chickens and hogs.   My mother was born in that house in 1909 and raised there.  A great grandmother of mine died in the southeast bedroom.

My grandparents eventually moved away and began renting the property.  My dad ended up managing the place.

Not long after the end of World War II, my dad struck a deal with Burhl Trenary.  Burhl would pay only $50 rent for as long as he lived on the property and would do repairs and other minor work at his own expense.

“I told him,” my dad said, “to treat the place like it was his.”  And for the next half-century Mr. Trenary did just that.  In fact the place became known locally as “the Trenary place.”

Somewhere around 2000, the Trenarys decided to move.  It was their choice.  They had become ill, now in their 90s, and the children had long moved away and started lives of their own.  They couldn’t take care of Edgewood anymore.

But not once did Mr. Trenary claim ownership to a property where he had lived twice as long as my family had and knew the land much better.  He always understood.  He did not own the land.  The law is the law.

The basic difference between Mr. Trenary’s compliance with the law and Mr. Bundy’s rejection of it in Nye County is this.   Bundy’s landlord isn’t a person.  It’s the government.  The “hated” federal government.  He thinks living on the land long enough makes it his.   A lot like it was in the Old West with the Indians.  Just take it.

I’m guessing if Mr. Trenary were alive today, he would be scratching his head about Mr. Bundy’s land grab.  I talked with him a few years before he passed and he told me this about the oral contract he made with my father.

“It was a good deal for you dad,” he said, “and it was a good deal for me.”


A Monster at last

My first Gila Monster sighting.

My first Gila Monster sighting.

I have now characterized my 2014 hikes as the Year of the Reptile.  For the first time, after traversing hundreds and hundred of desert miles, I saw a chuckwalla and a rattlesnake in the wild.  I had all but given up on the most exotic reptile of all in the Sonoran Desert.  Until yesterday.

It was just another beautiful afternoon in Arizona’s still-young spring, and the loop trail I followed around Cone Mountain was filled with wildflowers, blooming cactus, birds, cottontails and squirrels.  I was not distracted enough by the lush surroundings to lose all caution.  I kept my eye out for snakes.  I was walking only a mile west of where I came across the Western Diamondback about three weeks ago.

As I rounded the northwest side of the mountain, something caught my eye to the left.  I turned my head and spotted it, moving away from me, up a sandy wash.  My first thought, “What a large chuckwalla!”  Reality soon stepped in.

It was a well-fed Gila Monster, 2-3 feet in length and six to eight inches wide.  I was so startled, and thrilled, that I fumbled for the Canon on my shoulder.  Rather than do the sensible thing and focus through the viewfinder, I tried to capture the Monster by blowing it up on the LCD screen.  Any idiot knows that is trouble.  You can easily lose the object, and that’s what happened to me.  In the end, I shot only two photos before my prize eased up a bank and vanished into heavy brush.

The Monster slipping away toward safety.

The Monster slipping away toward safety.

For good reason, I was never afraid.  While these largest of land lizards look ferocious, they seek no trouble and move slowly.  If one decided to come after you, it would be easy to walk away from it.  At one point, when I got too close, the Monster pulled to a stop and turned its head toward me as if more curious than anything.   It is venomous but you almost have to place your hand in its mouth to be “attacked.”

I marked the spot of encounter with my GPS and thought of putting the coordinates on an Arizona hiking website.  But at last common sense rushed in.  I do not wish to imperil this ancient creature.  I fear the two-legged predators might read the post and try to make a little money by capturing it.  Everything is money anymore.

For now, I’m just glad I live in an era in which wildlife is valued and somewhat protected.  No matter how ugly it may seem or how much you fear it.