Category Archives: Photography


“It’s morning in America again.”
— Ronald Reagan

I shot all the photos in this post when I woke up on this beautiful fall morning with the New Mexico sunshine streaming in my living room. That hopeful light matched my mood.

I will have more to say about the election after the votes are all counted, but for the moment, it appears our Constitution has weathered yet another challenge. Our government is an operating system with fatal errors written into its .exe file, despite the best efforts of the coders to prevent them. The hard drive has crashed twice — once in 1861 and once in 1929 — and nearly crashed several times since (Vietnam, Watergate, the Clinton scandal, and two elections in which the candidate who came in second was declared the winner under the Electoral College). The Fourth Estate has come under attack by people who would rather not have the public know what they’re up to. The basis of government itself — the counting of votes — is under attack right now. And yet, against all odds, the system prevails.

It’s morning in America again.


If Joe Biden prevails — which seems likely at the moment — I will be celebrating something I’ve wanted since 1984. 

We still have, in the immortal words of the late Helen Reddy, “a long, long way to go.”

But today, I have hope.

It’s morning in America again.


I’d almost forgotten how that felt. 


P.S.: If you share my feelings, please be nice to those who don’t. You know how it feels to have a close race fall apart at the seams and leave you wondering whether the hopes and dreams you’d pinned on your candidate were just air castles, destined to blow away on the winds of politics. After 20 years of division and acrimony, we have had three days of collective uncertainty that ought to endow us with a little more empathy. This is a unique opportunity for us to unite around a shared experience. Don’t squander it by being smug. Celebrate with like-minded friends. Gloat all you want behind closed doors. But be gracious to your acquaintances who don’t share your views and are feeling lost and scared right now. You know how they feel, and the Golden Rule is still better policy than anything any politician ever dreamed up.


I really like this little building.

I’m fascinated by this little building and its mysterious walled backyard. It’s just a few blocks from our house, and we pass that fabulous arched gate several times a week when we walk the dogs. Seeing the Coke sign from a distance, I thought it was a long-shuttered corner store, but as I was taking a picture of the sign the other day, I realized there was a ghost sign above the door:

A beauty shop in this neighborhood makes more sense than a grocery store.

The hours should have been a pretty good tipoff that this wasn’t a grocery store.

This little archway just knocks me out.

Exploring Tucumcari with Ramona is one of my new favorite pastimes. We go out for a walk or a jog almost every evening. She likes sniffing stuff, and I like slowing down and seeing cool stuff like that abandoned salon.

Our evening workouts actually made the Washington Post website recently. Click here to see it. Our part starts at 1:20.

In other news, I worked on office upgrades today. I now have a mount that gets my monitor and laptop up off my desk and a curved shower-curtain rod above my desk with a pretty curtain hanging from it to reduce distractions during Zoom calls with students.

I also went to the hospital today to get a blood test to see whether I had COVID-19 when I got sick in early March. People who have already had the virus can donate plasma to help active patients. I should know whether that applies to me by the middle of next week.


Headed for the light

Ron and I found a welcome light illuminating the darkness this evening on Route 66 here in Tucumcari.

For several weeks, we’d been seeing signs of life at the long-shuttered Apache Motel. Ron talked to the new owner today, and this evening, she sent him a photo showing the lightbulbs around the perimeter of the motel’s iconic neon sign burning brightly.

We immediately grabbed our cameras and headed out.

Apache Motel sign with lights on around edge
The Apache’s new owner got some of the sign to light again.

The Apache was open when we took our first Route 66 trip in 2001. Some of the paint was peeling from the sign, but the neon was still burning, and chasing lights raced dramatically around the edge, calling attention to the motel for at least half a mile in either direction. At the time, I hadn’t yet learned to leave the shutter open long enough to catch all the lights as they flashed on and off, but you can see how vibrant the neon was:

Apache Motel sign in 2001 with neon lit
The Apache sign on Aug. 4, 2001.

Not long after that, the sign went dark, and the motel sat empty until 2006, when new owners bought it and restored it to its mid-century glory. I stayed there during a November 2006 road trip, which I blogged about at the time.

The motel closed almost as quickly as it reopened, and it’s been quietly decaying ever since — a heartbreaking sight, given the work that went into restoring it.

The timing of the coronavirus pandemic — arriving in the United States just on the cusp of tourist season — couldn’t be worse for my beloved Route 66. But looking up at the Apache sign this evening, I was reminded of one of the things I love most about this old road: Its seemingly endless capacity for renewal.

Just ask the Over the Hill Gang in Arcadia, Oklahoma; the Illinois Route 66 Association’s Historic Preservation Committee; the owners of the “Murder Bordello” in Galena, Kansas; Dawn Welch, whose Rock Cafe literally rose from the ashes after a 2008 fire that gutted its interior and collapsed its roof; or Ned Leuchtner, who reconstructed Cool Springs Camp from a pair of stone pillars.

The Mother Road and her children may see some casualties in the coming years. But as Ma Joad said: “We’re the people that live. They can’t wipe us out; they can’t lick us. We’ll go on forever … ’cause we’re the people.”


Tiny Tuesday: Digitize your photos

Last year, as part of my ongoing effort to minimize the amount of stuff I have to store, I started sorting through my collection of 35mm prints and scanning as many as possible.

Digitizing your collection is a worthwhile undertaking for several reasons.

First, it saves space. You can fit thousands of high-res images on a thumb drive; 4×6 prints of those same images could take up an entire closet. Second, it allows you to keep an off-site backup of your memories so you won’t lose your cherished family photos in the event of a flood, fire, or other disaster. Third, and maybe most importantly, it gives you an excuse to sift through your personal history.

Here are a few of the memories I found while I was going through my collection of prints from trips I’ve taken on Route 66:

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My rules of thumb for sorting old photos:

1. Keep all your negatives. They don’t take up that much space, and you never know who might want to see them in the future. Even the shots you aren’t especially proud of could prove useful to a historian two or three decades from now.

2. Scan as much as you can. Even the mediocre stuff. Digital files are much easier to search than boxes of negatives if, for instance, somebody needs to know the color of the neon at Jobe’s Drive-In or the type of shingles on the roof of the Bagdad Cafe in 2001.

3. Keep one print of the shots you’re really proud of. Sometimes it’s nice to look at actual prints.

4. Share pictures that might be meaningful to somebody else. While I was sorting photos last spring, I put together several little packets of prints to send to friends. One packet featured images of a friend and his late wife working on a couple of projects they’d spearheaded years ago. Our friend later told me he’d really appreciated seeing those photos and remembering happy times we’d all spent together.

5. Organize as you go. This means using memorable filenames and saving things in folders that make sense instead of just letting your scanner call them “scan001” and save them to some random default folder you may or may not be able to find later.


P.S.: The top image is of El Rancho on Route 66 in Gallup, New Mexico. I think I shot that in 2002.

Eco-Saturday: Spreading the gospel

It’s good to live an environmentally responsible lifestyle. But it’s even better to share your experiences with other people, because Madison Avenue is doing its best to convince people they need to consume more — of everything, from space to energy to food to material possessions — when most of us would be just as happy with a lot less. I think a lot of people know that, deep down, but they’re afraid to step outside their comfort zone and try a simpler life.

That’s why we participated in the Solar Home Tour in Tulsa a few years ago. It’s why I do this Eco-Saturday feature. It’s why I never, ever said no to anybody who wanted to interview us about our grid-tied solar power system at our old house, and I’ll never say no to anybody who wants to talk to me about anything I’m doing here to shrink our environmental footprint. And it’s why, a few weeks ago, I submitted some information and photos of our house to Lloyd Kahn, author of Tiny Homes, for a new Shelter Publications book he is doing about people who live in houses that are small but not tiny. If it’s as good as his other books, it should be a great resource for people looking to downsize without giving up creature comforts.

He emailed me back and asked me to get somebody to take pictures of Ron and me in our house to give readers an idea of how it looks with somebody actually living in it, so I swapped our awesome photo editor, Laura Simon, some beer and a bowl of green chile stew for a photo shoot one afternoon a couple of weeks ago. I don’t want to give away everything, just in case some of it ends up in the book, but I thought I’d share a few of the images she got.

Lillian wasn't thrilled by whatever I was doing on the computer.
Lillian wasn’t thrilled by whatever I was doing on the computer.

Family portrait, minus Walter, who was hiding under the bed because he's scared of strangers.
Family portrait, minus Walter, who was hiding under the bed because he’s scared of strangers.

Pouring myself a cup of coffee on a lazy Saturday afternoon. I don't know what Ron is doing. Looking busy, I think.
Pouring myself a cup of coffee on a lazy Saturday afternoon. I don’t know what Ron is doing. Looking busy, I think.

Songdog gets some airtime as he jumps up to take a dog biscuit from my hand.
Songdog gets some airtime as he jumps up to take a dog biscuit from my hand.

If you’re not familiar with Kahn’s work, The Shelter Blog is a good place to start looking. Pick up a copy of Tiny Homes if you can. It’s a great source of inspiration and ideas, even if you’re not quite ready to commit to life in a micro-house.

What are you doing to shrink your footprint? Share your ideas. The more people we can get to take steps to live a more planet-friendly life, the better off we’ll all be.



I feel a creative outburst brewing, but I’ve got a nasty headache and feel too cruddy to do anything about it. I think I’ll just make myself a big cup of Sleepytime Extra and crash for a while. I’ve got a feeling Things will be Created when I wake. I feel amazingly awful, but it’s like storm-in-the-Texas-Panhandle awful — big and dark and dramatic, but way off in the distance, just between the clouds and the horizon, I can see a glimmer of light, and I know I’m going to drive out from under the storm and into this:


I’m gonna go drink this tea and take a nap so I can hurry up and get to the good part. Have a good night, wherever you are.


Winter. Dammit.

The view from my front porch this evening. Completely unacceptable. It's not even Thanksgiving yet, winter. GO HOME.
The view from my front porch this evening. Completely unacceptable. It’s not even Thanksgiving yet, winter. GO HOME.

The sundial on my deck. No sun. Just cold, dark nastiness.
The sundial on my deck. No sun. Just cold, dark nastiness.

Poor little lizard. Looks kind of like he did the day I bought him at Little Tin Barn.
Poor little lizard. Looks kind of like he did the day I bought him at Little Tin Barn.

Come to think of it, the mermaid looks a lot like she did the day I met her, too.
Come to think of it, the mermaid looks a lot like she did the day I met her, too.

And know we know why Weeping Angels cover their eyes. They don't want to look at this crap, either.
And know we know why Weeping Angels cover their eyes. They don’t want to look at this crap, either.

Y’all know how much I hate winter. I spent most of today trying to ignore it: making avocado-and-quail-egg sandwiches for brunch, starting a batch of yogurt in the Crock-Pot, picking up a couple of gallons of sweet cider at Rendleman’s Orchard, sanitizing the keg to ferment the cider (I will have a post on the glory of homemade hard cider in the not-too-distant future), installing plastic over the windows, finishing up the second Roman shade for the living room, and having dinner at the Pilot House, which we’d never been to before, and which we really enjoyed.

We’re fond of stopping at promising-looking roadhouses when we travel, and the Pilot House, which is tucked next to a little creek on one of the back roads to Jackson, was a nice find. It might be all of five miles from home, but it felt like the sort of place we’d stop on 66 or 61 or maybe the Lincoln Highway — sort of like the Elbow Inn or the Luna Cafe or that crazy place we found out near Middlegate, Nevada, on the Loneliest Road where they serve the “Monster Burger” with olives for eyes. They’ve got the wheel from a riverboat mounted on the ceiling above the bar, and the bar itself is covered with pennies embedded in resin or something. I had a ribeye sandwich that tasted exactly like a ribeye sandwich from a bar is supposed to taste, and Ron had a barbecue sandwich that I will almost certainly order next time we’re there.

They also had Stag on tap, which is invariably a good sign. Stag on tap at a roadhouse is like sweet tea at a barbecue joint or horchata at a taqueria: If they have it, you can safely assume you’re in good hands.


Eco-Saturday: Darwin gardening


In the Southwest, xeriscaping is popular, as it involves planting only native and/or drought-tolerant species in your garden so you don’t end up draining every aquifer west of Amarillo in a misguided effort to keep some delicate green thing alive.

Here in the Midwest, I practice a variant I developed by accident, which I call “Darwin gardening.”

Sage is a reliable perennial for a Darwin Garden.
Sage is a reliable perennial for a Darwin Garden.

The original Darwin Garden was located in our backyard in Belleville, Illinois, and it happened by accident: I started with a neat garden divided into four-foot squares delineated with old bricks I’d found in the garage, with neat mulched paths between them, and by the time we left, my laziness and absolute refusal to coddle weak plants left me with an unruly but outrageously productive tangle of perennials and vigorous self-seeding annuals that included echinacea, parsley, Roman chamomile, chives, dill, sage, spinach, cilantro, mint, marjoram, oregano, carrots, blackberries, and waist-high collards that thought they were perennials.

The Darwin Garden wasn’t neatly manicured, but it was healthy, low-maintenance, and completely organic. When you let natural selection dictate your landscaping design, you don’t need pesticides, heavy watering or other environmentally questionable practices to keep your garden thriving. You also don’t need huge blocks of time to take care of your garden, because your plants will be sturdy enough to survive without constant coddling.

Arugula -- a vigorous self-seeder if allowed to bolt -- has replanted itself all over the center bed and beyond.
Arugula — a vigorous self-seeder if allowed to bolt — has replanted itself all over the center bed and beyond.

We have a similar garden here. When we moved in last year, I planted a small garden, watered it occasionally, and otherwise ignored it, knowing the fastest way to find out which plants were suited to the local growing conditions was to neglect them and see whether they survived.

That's not a yellow Easter egg. It's an overripe cucumber I'm leaving to rot over the winter. Come spring, it will put out a whole clump of seedlings.
That’s not a yellow Easter egg. It’s an overripe cucumber I’m leaving to rot over the winter. Come spring, it will put out a whole clump of seedlings.

A year into that experiment, I’ve got sage, strawberries, mint, basil and Shasta daisies that came up with no help from me, and next year’s arugula and cucumbers have already planted themselves.

Late lavender blossoms. Lavender is known as a reliable perennial, though this is the first year I've had any luck growing it.
Late lavender blossoms. Lavender is known as a reliable perennial, though this is the first year I’ve had any luck growing it.

If you’re a little bit concerned about the environment and a lot lazy, consider planting your own Darwin Garden. If you can tolerate the frustrations of that first year, you’ll find it pays big dividends in subsequent seasons.


Dreaming Kerouac


I love this alley downtown. Alleys always make me think of Jack Kerouac. I took this picture shortly after we moved, but I think I forgot to post it at the time, because I was busy trying to settle into the new house and sell the old one and learn ropes and tie up loose ends, and blogging got lost in the shuffle for a while.

Sometimes I forget how fast we moved. I was thinking about that tonight, when a girl from Tulsa tweeted to say hello and ask how the bees were doing. I used to exchange tweets with her often when I worked at the hotel,  but then I moved, and my schedule changed, and I didn’t see her on my timeline as much. I hadn’t talked to her in ages, and she didn’t realize we’d moved until I mentioned it this evening. It struck me that the whole moving process happened so quickly that if you blinked, you’d miss it. I emailed my resume to my editor one evening in March, and a month later, the movers were unloading the U-Haul 450 miles away. I think a few people commented on the suddenness at the time, but I was too busy coordinating the logistics to give it much thought. Looking back, I’m still not sure how we pulled it off, but I’m still glad we did.