Going Shopping

Everyone likes going shopping on occasion, though I must admit I generally find things online and then target the store where I can find the item, blast in and get it then I'm gone or I'll order it online and have it delivered saving a couple hours of driving.  But this shopping trip required my presence.

I've never done funeral arrangements for anyone, but now I've done it for myself. Sort of odd feeling shopping for the final arrangements for oneself. Since the plan is to transition from the farm at my sisters house I chose the local funeral home in Atlanta Illinois. They are close so it won't be a long drive for the pickup and I'm supporting the local business community. I met with the funeral director who knew I was shopping for cremation services. He went through all the options about services he offered and I settled on a basic package of services including the pickup, obituarys (for family), a stack of death certificates, and of course the cremation. No urn, no service, nothing else since the ashes will end up back in Arizona and New Mexico and a service is planned for the local Episcopal church in Lincoln Il.

During the meeting the director collected a bunch of personal information for the obituary (which suggests I should write my own) and then it was on to fees. The total cost was very reasonable, a little less than $2200.00, for the whole thing, so I began signing paperwork. All the funds are insured and placed in escrow until services are rendered so I'm covered.. The director then said I could write a check and I responded “no way, I'm paying cash”. With a shocked look on his face he looked to my sister who just shrugged and I began counting out bills. I did not realize how flustered I had him when as recounting the cash he fumbled around for change. All he had in his wallet was a 20 dollar bill so I got a 8 dollar discount. I got the impression it was an uncommon event, a pre-payer who used cash, and should make a good story in funeral directors circles. Although in speaking with a friend I found out she also has prepaid all the final expenses for her earth suit once she is gone, so while I learned something new, I'm clearly not the only one who has thought about this aspect of death (what to do with the earth suit).

So another checkoff on my list. I should also say that this journey involves a lot more work than I anticipated especially detail work, especially paperwork. One would think that such a natural process would be easier to navigate.

As an aside, I'm amazed at how I can go from feeling great one moment and like shit the next especially if I've fallen behind on the pain medication.  I'm slowing learning to set the alarm on my phone to keep on schedule with medications, especially at night.  Though I tend to wake up to wake up when the meds are wearing off and I'm learning to keep a dose on the bed stand so I don.t have to get up.


An Uneasy Alliance

We all go through life wearing a meat sack that is our body. It is not us but rather just the outward manifestation, what we wear around as we move through life. This container, vessel, handy carrying case is issued at birth and sticks around until we leave. It operates pretty much independently of our conscience mind pretty much doing its' own thing and generally providing a safe place of refuge. As we grow up we quickly learn many of the operational limitations of our bodies, what it will allow and what it won't allow (like getting drunk as a teenager and puking everywhere), or all the changes associated with puberty, or from a male perspective the daily experience of morning wood. But what happens when things go awry? When we feel that our body betrays us by breaking down. Not the normal aging process that comes with entropy and biological processes but rather an active revolt. The first time I recognized this emotion was with the brain tumor, I initially took it as a personal affront and that our alliance was not so much a partnership but rather just a meeting of overlapping mutual interests. Speaking with my sister and comparing notes, her with leukemia and me with first the brain tumor and now colon cancer we had exactly the same thoughts, our bodies let us down. While we can blame it on genetics, lifestyle, past choices but it all boils down to a parting of the ways between who we are and the meat sack we wander around in. A close friend recently joked when he asked “who did you piss off? First the brain tumor now this”. I don't believe I pissed anyone off it is just chance that I would get to play this game twice.

So what does this have to do with my current adventure? Well several things, first of all the idea of privacy. As a patient, privacy goes out the window. For the professionals to do their jobs they are going to see the meat sack in all its' glorious imperfections. I realized that with the brain tumor, the professionals are there to fix the meat sack not me, so I had to get over the idea of privacy. Second, how we see ourselves. I passed by a full length mirror yesterday and was shocked at what I saw. Although I never carried much weight, 150-155 weight stable, the loss of 25 lbs over the past 8 weeks shows clearly on my body. Thighs are thin and I can almost put my hand completely around my bicep. The fat mass is gone and muscle mass is going. A somewhat discouraging sight, but remember it is not me it is just the bag of flesh that carries me around. Finally, after making a trip to the cancer center at Memorial hospital early yesterday, my sister and I emerged to a waiting area full of patients. My sister observed that as we passed by, everyone looked at me then lowered their head. They were there with their own personal battles and here comes this emaciated old fart who didn't look so good. Not great encouragement for those dealing with similar issues. But I take faith in the fact that although I and my body are parting ways, what you physically see is not me. And I don't feel betrayed by my body and recognize that the parting of the ways is nothing personal, I moving on and my body will be recycled.

The last photograph of me in New Mexico may be found here.  I'm the skinny guy on the right. 


A recent commenter on this post made a great suggestion, instead of meat sack how about "earth suit", which is a much better description of what we walk around in.  So mentally please substitute earth suit for meat sack in the above post.  As I have said before "language is our common currency and some days my wallet is empty", and clearly it was an empty wallet day when writing and editing this post.  Thanks to Timothy for an eminently practical suggestion. 


Quality versus Quantity

A wise man once said the best death is an unexpected death. On the other hand there are advantages to having some time to prepare, allowing all the loose ends we generate throughout our lives to be resolved. But I've run into an obstacle. Having been given some time prepare I have been slowly moving through my list, contacting friends, resolving old issues, and of course doing the paperwork.  When I was admitted to the hospital I made it clear to the colorectal surgeon that I was interested in quality not quantity, he disagreed, saying he wished I would do more. His opinion but not mine. The most telling sign that my position had validity was the diversional colostomy which did not touch the primary tumor except for biopsy. If it was so important to go full bore in treating this thing then why was the tumor left in place. Well it's simple, the tumor had spread to my liver, lungs, spine, and omentum so removing the primary tumor had little benefit and exposed me to a much longer surgical procedure. The next medical professional was the oncologist. Upon our initial meeting I also made it clear that my long term goals were quality not quantity. The 5 year survival stats are less than 10% and the survival curve, with treatment, was not encouraging with 50% survival after 1 year for stage 4 colon cancer. He made a strong argument for palliative chemotherapy. He gave 80% confidence that I would see some improvement and extend my life. What he neglected to mention was that after chemotherapy became ineffective I would still go through the possibly messy end stages. So really it is a choice about time (quantity and not quality). This confusion between quality and quantity in the minds of medical professionals is understandable, they mostly deal with families, with often differing and conflicting needs so quantity could easily be equated with quality in families seeking to extract the absolute maximum amount of time with a loved one. He made the same argument at our first office appointment, saying 59 was to young to die, but since all the possible medical intervention he can muster would not give me an average lifespan or even a median lifespan. When I pointed out that this was essentially a quantity argument he quite looking at me and physically turned to my sister and began addressing her as if she would convince me to follow his plan. But he did not know was that my sister has also walked the cancer path with leukemia. And in typical Thompson fashion she did not tell anyone until she well into chemotherapy. She completely supports my position having been down this road herself. Her only question was “would he (the oncologist) sign the death certificate so the corner would not have to do an autopsy”, to which he replied yes. I told the oncologist that I would consider his arguments again and let him know my decision by the end of the day. After stopping for some Chick-fil-A we headed back to the farm. I ate and then slept for several hours and upon rising from my nap was still comfortable with my decision and called his office and let one of nurses know my decision and asking for a belly line so I can drain acities from my belly. So, the next step is done. It is off to the lawyer tomorrow, then the local Episcopal Priest to get aquainted so the funeral, for the benefit of my mother, will have some substance. 

As  a final observation, I finally had a poo through the new colostomy, but you know it's just not the same feeling of goodness and relief.  A good poo, the old fashioned way, is orders of magnitude more satisfying.


New Adventures in the Journey of Life, in case anyone asks

Life is always full of new adventures, some expected others unexpected and I've started down a new unexpected path.

But first some back story on how this particular journey started. About 6 weeks ago I decided to grill up 5 lbs of chicken I had sitting in the freezer. Many of the chicken breasts were freezer burned but not wanting to waste food I grilled them up anyway. Nice and crispy (burnt) I dug into a couple for dinner. A little hard to cut because the cooked breasts were dry I added some butter and some sauce to add a little liquid to moisten them up. I retired for the evening a short time later but was awakened later that night by a sharp pain just below my sternum. Rubbing the area I noticed a lump. My first thought was “great the dried out over cooked chicken has bound up my gut, this should be fun” and went back to sleep. The next day I was constipated lending credence to the idea my cooking skills were responsible. This continued for several days so I ordered an enema bag to flush things out. I finally began to see some waste movement and the enemas seemed to help (hurrah for Amazon and deliveries to the bootheel of New Mexico). I continued with the enemas on a regular basis and noticed no pain just some discomfort and a full feeling during the day while outside working. The owner had scheduled a visit to help me with some jobs on the estate and with his arrival we got to work finishing the installation of the new pool cover. I also serviced the pool's solar heating system in preparation for winter. But I was spending more and more time in the bathroom. The owners concern grew and he eventually wanted me to get checked out. Through the hard work of Marlenia Baska the P.A. at the Animas clinic which is now open 4 days a week, I was able to get checked out. She sent me to Silver City for an ultrasound. The Gila River Regional Medical is 2 ½ hrs away and the owner graciously postponed his return and carried me up there for the procedure. The only tip off I heard was a question about how much alcohol I drank, to which I responded “I don't drink”. They cut me loose after the ultrasound (which I saw as a positive) and we headed home. A day or so later it was back to the Hidalgo county medical clinic for results. The ultrasound revealed 2 large masses (7 cm in my left lobe and 10 cm in my right lobe) in the liver and was suggestive of metastatic liver cancer. Oops, wasn't expecting that one. Having walked this path before with the brain tumor I knew things were about to get exciting and messy. So now on to the next step, notifications. I let the owner know so we could start planning the transition to make sure guests were taken care of in my absence. Then then family call. I remember making this family call when I was in the hospital with the brain tumor, not the most fun call. My sister immediately said she and her husband would drive out and get me. I immediately responded yes, since I knew a plane flight would be mistake and driving back and to Silver City for treatment would be very difficult, so she and her husband Bob headed cross country to pick me up. After three days out and 3 days back I was ensconced in central Illinois. I hadn't been in central Illinois since 1987 when I finished my PhD at the University of Illinois in
Campaign Urbana. I then went to the emergency room at Springfield Memorial and handed over my test results and was admitted.

Since my symptoms were progressing my immediate goals were to 1. - have a good old fashioned morning poo. You know, after getting up and brushing your teeth and peeing followed by a hot cup of coffee nothing feels better than a morning evacuation of the bowels. 2. - a good meal. I'd not been eating much since it took so long to get stuff through my system and I had a good appetite, I just wanted a tasty meal.

After abdominal, pelvic, and head CAT scans with contrast the next phase was planned. I had a maximum of 3 options, 1. a bowel stint to open things up, 2. tumor resection, and 3. a diversional colostomy with primary tumor left in place. Well my choice was curtain number 1 but a lower GI test showed complete blockage. The extent of the disease showed the primary tumor in the lower colon, complete liver involvement, and evidence of metastases in the spine, lungs and omentum. This pretty much ruled out option 2 since the benefit derived would be minimal, so curtain 3 became the best choice. After a laparoscopic colostomy I was done, about 36 hours after walking in the door to the emergency room. Pain medications ranged from acetaminophen with codeine (helped with incision pain but nothing else) to morphine. I must admit a fondness for morphine, it washed all the pain away and allowed me to get a good nights sleep. I could also now eat and was craving bacon and eggs which I had every morning after the procedure as well as a variety of other treats. Unlike many other hospitals, you order your meals from a menu at your convenience and perhaps the best part of the morphine availability is, at least in my case, no risk of addiction.

So I have a place to finish up and some time to wrap up loose ends which is a good thing. Although I won't be able to get back to the valley, the farm here is not a bad place to be. I'm planning a photo essay of Hoblit Farms so I have something occupy my time and will try and post when I can.

One more sunrise over the Peloncillo Mountains

I wish everyone well and will miss the place terribly, but some new adventures can not be put off.


Chiricahua Peloncillo Heritage Days 2016

I missed the talks at this years Chiricahua Peloncillo Heritage Days but did help with one of the walks on Sunday.  Co-sponsored by the Chiricahua Peloncillo Historical Society, the walk covered the historic Catanzaro Ranch which is north of Highway 9 and the Painted Pony Resort.  Because of illness Craig McEwan and I were last minute fill ins and the discussion centered on early transportation in the valley. First a discussion of early "roads" in the valley starting with the old road, the first trail running north/south through the valley connecting native villages and used by the Spanish.  Then on to the highway that preceded the Current Highway 80.  This highway shows up on the 1917 topographic map (labeled the "Borderland Highway") lies one mile east of the current Highway 80 and crosses the San Simon with a low concrete bridge.  The bridge has no markings indicating its construction date so I compared the first topographic map of the area with satellite imagery.  Shown on the 1917 topographic map this highway and bridge also paralleled the San Simon riverbed, spanning over the lowest portion of the San Simon river.  During heavy rains the river can carry a significant amount of water as shown below in some historical images.  We followed this early highway north, now passable only with high clearance vehicles, to a homestead of one of Gus Chenoeth's offspring on the other side of low hills leading to cowboy pass north of the current ranch house.  After finishing with the old bridge and drive along this early "Borderland Highway" the group moved on to the old Rodeo Intermediate Field where I talked about the history and uses of the old airfield from its' inception as part of early commercial aviation through its use as an Army Auxiliary field during WWII, then as a private facility, and finally abandonment.  A good day all in all and I had a chance to learn, see, and explore a little more the area's history as well as sharing what I have found with others.

Craig McEwan talking to the group just below the Catanzaro Ranch house.

Looking back NW across one of "Gus" Chenoweth's offspring homestead toward cowboy pass (on the left).
Looking east at the old Highway bridge surrounded by a sea of Giant Sacaton grasses.

San Simon river flowing under the old Borderland Highway bridge.  .
1917 topographic map overlaid on Google earth showing the early highway from Rodeo and bridge location.  Rodeo is at the bottom just off the overlay
                                    Video about the Rodeo Intermediate Field


After the Storm

Hurricane Newton came up the Baja and into Arizona and New Mexico.  Flash flood warnings were posted for both states and I battened down the hatches here at the Painted Pony Resort to get ready for some significant rains.  Unlike Hurricane Odile 2 years ago, Newton did not deliver the anticipated rainfall totals to the San Simon Valley.  While many residents I'm sure are happy to not have the roads wash out, we sure could use the rains.  The estate received a total of 0.8" from the remnants of the storm with higher rainfall totals to the west. The morning after the storm I captured the image below of Portal Peak with some sun and lingering clouds from the storm.  This brings the yearly rainfall total to 6.93" so far for the year. 

Hurricanes reaching Arizona are not unknown, with 47 hurricanes/tropical storms/depressions having reached Arizona since 1921.  A frequency of one ever couple of years.  I never thought of hurricanes reaching the high desert but they do and apparently on a regular basis.  Although heavy rains can cause problems on denuded landscapes, restoration efforts can minimize the negative effects by slowing the water. 

Portal Peak after the rains.


Progress and a Measure of Success in Land Restoration

Before and after photographs, or repeat photography, are useful tools for measuring success of any prescription applied as an intervention in landscape restoration.  In the case of the area around the rustic cabin the first prescription applied was fencing.  The 240 acres encompassing the cabin and the river bottom were fenced to exclude grazers and create a seed reservoir for existing grasses to reseed the surrounding landscape, both on and off the estate.  Later topsoil restoration barriers were added to benches above the west side of the riverbed where only clay hard pan subsoil was present as a result of poor range management practices.  After 2 seasons plants are not only growing on the subsoil but the areas surrounding the hard pan have more plants.  While there are some native grasses, woody shrubs also are also present.  This is in contrast to early descriptions of the San Simon Valley describing a "luxuriant growth of grasses, affording excellent pasturage for all kinds of stock."  It is clear that a variety of factors combined to significantly alter the landscape and recovering the original grasslands presents a number of problems.  Since the soil types above the riverbed are sandy/gravelly loam, decaying biomass is essential to building healthy new topsoil and the first step is any plant that creates biomass and prevents further erosion, grasses or shrubs.  The conversion of soil minerals into useful Biomass provides a home to soil microbes and nematodes which will benefit the next plants (ideally only grasses) in a succession of species that leads back to a productive landscape. It should be noted that this plant growth is especially encouraging since the area has received less than 6" of rain this year (PRISM climate model average rainfall for the estate is 12.17").

Initial view with topsoil restoration barriers installed at the Rustic Cabin.  This is after fencing.  Note
the large area without subsoil or plant life.

Two seasons later and the return of plant life.  Especially noteworthy are plants growing in the hard pan subsoil
creating biomass for new topsoil.

topsoil restoration barrier

The same topsoil restoration barrier after 2 seasons.

Some online references:
5.  Slides from a landscape restoration talk presented at the the 2015 Chiricahua Peloncillo Heritage Days -


Recycling a most Important Resource

Water is the life blood of the desert and a precious resource.  Making wise use of the rains and pumped ground water only makes sense.  While the estate does irrigate, the Painted Pony Resort also makes use of waste water. 

The Painted Pony Resort is rural and relies on septic tanks for waste.  Waste is fed into septic tanks associated with each building with drainage fields for each.  The location of the drainage field for the main house runs the length of the front garden. Although the drainage field is deep it does provide a layer of moisture under the garden making better use of irrigation water.

In addition to septic drain fields the estate also makes use of gray water.  The guest laundry room in the guest house has a separate drain, not connected to the septic system, and instead drains out 175' north of the laundry room.  Originally planted with some small trees which quickly died, I decided to resurrect the area with more appropriate desert plants to take advantage of this periodic water source.  I initially settled on Agave, primarily because I had grown several specimens which were ready for transplanting and Agave can tolerate irregular watering, grow large, and would provide another species of plant on the estate.  Once the Agave starts growing additional plants can be added to the area to create more color.

Agave planted downhill from laundry room gray water drain


Got It

It is a slow process trying to identify the plants around here, especially in the front garden.  Over time, I have added to the diversity of plant species growing in the garden area and have identified many of the species already present, but several species have eluded my attempts at identification.  Well, I was finally able to generate a tentative identification of one of the hardier species that grows in the front garden.  A wildlife (deer) resistant species that likes full sun, little water, it is a perennial that produces volunteer seedlings easily.  Producing stems small yellow flowers along a spike like raceme, it attracts bees and butterflies before producing elongated seed pods.  The velvet leafed senna, Senna lindheimeriana, is particularly rugged and well adapted growing about 6' in height and should make a nice addition to the other areas of the estate.

Since it meets the standards established for planting on the estate I have planted seed and transplanted a number of volunteer seedlings into buckets in hopes of growing specimens along the curve in the driveway where topsoil barriers have been in place for several years.  This area was originally all hard pan clay subsoil but is slowly regaining soil, pants, and biomass.  It is not irrigated and requires plant species that are well adapted to the high desert and little rain.  In addition, I have planted seed for the Desert bird of Paradise, Caesalpinia gilliesii, as well as Sacred Datura, Datura wrightii, for the owners wife.  Commonly known as Jimson weed, sacred datura is hardy perennial species, grows low and produces a fair amount of biomass which should assist in the areas restoration.  While the bird of paradise also requires little water, it should also do well in this restoration area.

The goal is to fill in this area with grass and perennials for guests staying at the Painted Pony Resort.

Aerial view of the corner with topsoil restoration barriers at the corner of the drive

Ground view of topsoil restoration barriers with new grass and plant growth
Velvet leaf senna (Lindheimers senna).

Desert bird of paradise


Gardening with a 1%er

I'm not a gardener, nor do I have a green thumb, but persistence seems to be the key to growing plants.  Living in the high desert with little yearly rainfall and working with an overgrazed landscape doesn't help, but again persistence.  I had a success with a barrel cactus I moved this spring into the front garden and it is now blooming, but trying to germinate plants from seed proves to be much more difficult, at least for me.  I have constructed a pallet garden filled with soil from the river bottom and with several layers of rabbit protection have tried again to start plants from seed.  As a result, I have started to develop a list of requirements for plant species I will try to grow on the estate.

1.  Extreme drought tolerance.  The irrigation system on the estate is taxed and new plantings do not receive irrigation so their growth has to rely on the yearly rains once established.

2.  Perennials.  If I go to all the trouble of growing a plant from seed and manage to get something I can transplant I want to come back year after year.

3.  Nice flower displays.  The goal is to create an inviting landscape.  So nice flowers with a variety of colors makes for an area with lots of hummingbirds, butterflies, and native bees.

4.  Unappetizing to mammals.  Rabbits, Deer, and Javelina can do a number on plants especially during times of drought when there is little feed and mammals have destroyed a number of projects.  Deer love Crepe Myrtle and have damaged several young pines I had ready for planting, rabbits love spineless Prickly Pear, and Javilena will dig up Red Yucca with a vengeance.

5.  Germinates easily.  Plant species that meet the above requirements must also germinate easily.  I generally average a germination rate of about 0.0001% for many plants, so a species that germinates easily and grows rapidly is always a plus in my book.  I have tried oaks a number of times, both germinating from seed as well as cloning, without success.  I currently have a single oak that has sprouted in the pallet garden and hope it survives.  One mechanism used to identify species that germinate easily is to look for volunteers.  Plants like Lantana produce lots of seed and have volunteered in a number of places around the estate.  Mexican Bird of Paradise is another easily germinated species.  So I harvest the volunteers as well as seed for planting in other areas.

At the suggestion of the owners wife I constructed a pallet garden for seed collected from around the estate as well as some herbs and peppers.  Because of the poor soil conditions, soil from the riverbed was transported and used for the planting beds.  Planting garlic, hatch chilies, bell peppers, and a variety of collected seed like roses, things have started to sprout.  Protection from rabbits is key to getting anything to grow.  At the back of the garden are a series of buckets with spineless prickly pear, all eaten by rabbits, but within the protection of the pallet garden they are beginning to recover producing new pads.

Pallet garden with 2 layers of rabbit protection. For sprouting seeds in a protected environment  
Transplanted and recovering plants in individual buckets.

Transplanted Barrel Cactus in bloom.

Volunteer Mexican Bird of Paradise in the front garden.