blairmacg: (FeatherFlow)
I could go on and on and on about the differences between Colorado living and Indiana living. The landscape, the diversity, the climate, the opportunities...

But I'm going to tell you about the deer.

Indiana has white-tailed deer. Colorado has mule deer. I could go on about differences in their mass and height, but the real difference is in attitude.

White-tailed deer are anxiety ridden things, truly.

If they're browsing at the side of the road and a car comes by, they panic and bolt. They often bolt in front of the car.

If they're browsing in a large field and see or hear something disturbing, they panic and bolt. They often bolt toward a road. Where cars are.

And if they're just moving from one field to another, they leap onto roads. When cars are passing.

If the deer is calmly crossing the road, and a car comes close, the deer will sometimes stand in place, or stutter-step back and forth before bounding off. But—and here's the crazy part—that deer will often trot out of the car's path... then change its mind and dash the opposite direction just in time to get hit by the car whose driver thought the deer was (reasonably) going to stay ten feet away.

I lived just outside the edge of town. I saw this a great deal.

Once upon a time, my late husband was driving on 465, the major highway that encircles Indianapolis. He didn't hit a deer. The deer hit him. Slammed right into the side of the car, buckling the rear door and shattering the window.

White-tailed deer are skittish and unpredictable.

Mule deer, on the other hand, don't give a fuck.

Mule deer browse on the side of the road. And when I say "side of the road," I mean they're right there. Two feet from the pavement. They really
don't care about the traffic. They might look up now and then, but it's passing curiosity and nothing more.

If they cross the road, they usually do it as a mosey, and they'll make eye contact as they do it. "Go ahead, hit me," the even stare says. "Just wait until you see what I can do to your car."

(I should mention mule deer look a damn sight more solid than white-tailed deer, too.)

And before they cross the road, I swear they look both ways.

I've come upon mule deer while driving, and they don't spook like white-tailed deer do. They just give me The Look, and keep on with their mosey.

My oddest mule deer moment came when I was driving home from Tai Chi, on a well-used road with development on one side and open hills on the other. I rolled up to a stop sign, and glanced both directions before moving forward.

And caught my breath.

Out the passenger window of my little Hyundai sedan, I could just see the chest and chin of a huge mule deer. I had to lean over to see his antlers. He was massive. And he was just standing there, close enough I could have touched his muzzle were I in the passenger seat (and dared to roll down the window), waiting for me to get the hell out of his way. Sure enough, as I rolled forward, he strolled across the road behind me as if he had all the time in the world. And he looked at my tail lights as if thinking, "Yeah, you better move along, bitch."

But the most unsettling mule deer moment came last fall, when I'd run away to a local campground for a couple nights. My little Tanner-pup spotted a collection of mule deer, ran to the end of her lead, and barked like crazy. The mule deer looked up from their browsing and advanced on usEven Tanner decided it was best to shut up and back down.

White-tailed deer were annoying and dangerous.

Mule deer... I don't want to mess with them at all.
blairmacg: (FeatherFlow)
Unlike Indiana, Colorado requires emissions testing of all vehicles--which is a good thing on one hand, because the wind patterns around Denver can smoosh tons of smoggy ick up against the mountains, and a not-so-great thing on the other hand because the rules often turn such enterprises into fee machines.

But anyway.

My 2007 Hyundai fell into the "must be tested" category because it was manufactured before 2009. The time a tech spent checking my car might have stretched all the way to five minutes, for which I paid $25. Then the tech noticed my out-of-state plate and informed me I also had to have my VIN officially verified. The verification process apparently consisted of the tech copying the VIN visible through the windshield into the appropriate field on a computer form. That cost me $20.

So, $45 to get my car registered in the state, and I haven't found out yet how much the registration would cost.

I poked around online to find a registration cost estimator that asked for make, model, and year of the vehicle, and the current MSRP. Umm...? I had no idea. A quick look-see at cars for sale gave me a general idea. With that information, the online estimator spit out guess of $293. That's about three times what my Indiana registration was! Alas, said Indiana registration expired at the end of December, so I didn't have much choice if I wanted to keep driving.

This is where I paused to look up what Colorado does if your registration is out of date. As far as I can tell, they give you a thirty days of grace, then give you a ticket. In Indiana, if your registration tags aren't up to date and you don't have proof of payment (meaning your tags are in the mail to you), your car will be towed from that location.* It's up to you to get home.

But I didn't want a ticket, so down to the DMV I traipsed.

Wait, no. That's what I would have done had adequate DMV information been available online. Instead, I had to visit three different government websites to find out what I needed to bring in transfer the registration, uncover which DMV locations would process the title (because some locations offer only limited services), then cross reference whether the appropriate location was in my county. This is harder than it sounds because there is no list online that I could find. There is instead a map showing all locations. The map doesn't include county boundaries, so you have to keep clicking on locations to find both county and services. Oh, and not all the services are listed.

And... I got it wrong on the first try. A thirty minute drive to the north resulted in the discovery that the location was actually closed. A very nice security guard gave me a paper map showing the other open locations and what services those locations provided. It was, in fact, the very helpful information that was not online.

And... my best bet was to go to from northeast Denver metro to the far south side of the metro. Awesome.

Off I went. I walk inside just as the security guard is taping a note to the check-in kiosk. All credit and debit card processing is offline, so payments must be made in check or cash. Such are the two methods of payment I am most unlikely to have if the bill exceeds ten bucks. The guard assures me it won't be a problem because they'll go ahead with processing the registration while I run out to the local ATM.

But first I must wait my turn, of course, and must check in twice. The first number is for the title and registration. The second is for transferring my license. My numbers are 130 and 87. They call 117 and 75. I settle in to wait.

About half an hour later, the man sitting behind me hands me his ticket because he has to get back to work. His number is 123--the number called not ten minutes later. Hooray!

The registration process goes smoothly, with only one oddity: the clerk asked if I had a fulltime job when I moved here. I didn't answer right away because to me, that means 35-40 hours a week working for someone else. Me, I'm self-employed. When I told her so, she said, "That means you're fulltime, and that makes you a resident." So... if you're staying in Colorado for a bit, and someone pays you on a contract basis, you're apparently a resident because you collected money while in the state. Go figure.

Then the moment I've been dreading: paying up almost $300 for my little Hyundai.

She tells me the registration in under $100. I sat there for a moment, waiting for her to add something else. But no, that's the whole thing. I don't ask for explanation. I check my place in the license-line, and had just enough time to run out to an ATM and return before my second number is called.

The license transfer went without a hitch, though it was odd to be handed off to a second clerk who drilled me on all the answers I'd given the second clerk as if seeking a discrepancy that would necessitate the SWAT team. And it was a good thing I had to take out cash for the registration anyway because all license fees are supposed to be paid in check or cash--never credit or debit. Man, you'd think I was at a bake sale rather than a government office!

I'll spare you the additional details of how new holes had to be drilled in my front bumper to accommodate the second license plate. It's all done now, the car looks lovely with its Rocky Mountain plates, and we wait only in anticipation for what horrible picture the state shall inflict upon me when my new license arrives.

And I guess I'll carry around a little extra cash. Just in case.

*This is an example of poverty begetting poverty. If you're paycheck to paycheck, or got laid off, or had an unexpected expense that devoured your car registration funds, you now cannot get to work or transport your children without the threat of incurring hundreds of dollars in towing and impound fees. And if you can't pay those fees and the registration, you will lose your car altogether. And then, perhaps, your job. It's quite the little racket--one of many in Indiana. Ask my about hypnotherapy sometime. And don't even get me started on the liquor laws!
blairmacg: (FeatherFlow)
Believe it or not, I'm still on the sicker side of things. The cough lingers, as does the exhaustion. I left MileHiCon early yesterday, reaching home in mid-afternoon. By eight, I was in bed. Before nine, I was asleep. I awoke twelve hours later. Now, I've been up an entire five hours, and could sleep again if I permitted myself to crawl under the covers. Sigh.

Ad my mother is still sick, and my father came down with the same thing a few days ago, so we've three of us in the house trying to function while working to ensure no one breathes on Dev and adds him the sick list.

But if you ignore the week I spent mostly in bed, and the following week spent mostly wishing I could just go back to bed all over again, and this third week that will likely be spent recovering from not sleeping all weekend, I've had a pretty fine October. :)

Between BarCon-ing at Sirens and attending MileHiCon, I've met more local, supportive writers than in the entire eighteen years I spent in Indiana. It's the "supportive" part that has really blown my mind. Someone spent over an hour giving me wide-ranging information and references on alternative health, local gardening,
fandom, book readings, gem and mineral shows, museums and more. Local writers chatted about their projects, my projects, who meets up where, who to get in touch with about what, and so much more. Local martial artists gave me a run-down on different options, and shared hours talking about technique and physiology over drinks.

Here's the thing: In Indiana, there is an underlying vibe of turf-protection. Everything was some sort of zero-sum game. Collaboration was a thing of tension, because it might reveal a person of greater skill and competence. And this wasn't just among the writers. It happened in the alternative health community and the school system, and among speakers and event planners.

Now, I don't want to sound like Pollyanna here. I'm certain I'll be hitting brick walls and assholes along the way. But so far, whenever I've said, "I'm new in town, and here's what I'd love to do in the area," the common response has been, "Hey, I know someone or something that might be able to help you!" You know what I got for years in Indiana? "We don't need anyone to do that, and if we did, we already have someone who'd do it, and since you haven't already done it for us, what makes you think we'd let you?" The only place I felt I was considered wanted and competent was in my dojo. Small wonder I so feared leaving it behind.

When I have more expendable time--and that might be awhile, considering what's on my plate for writing, for SFWA, and for what will pay my bills--I'll give you the details about the panels and the people I met. In the meantime, I can say I'm happier and happier every day that I made the move to Colorado. :)

blairmacg: (FeatherFlow)

According to many people, I put myself in great danger last week. I took an irresponsible risk. I performed an act that, while totally stupid, required great bravery. I did something many others said that they'd like to do, but never would, because of the danger involved.

What did I do?

I—a 44-year-old-woman—camped in a state park without a human companion to share my tent.

Yes, the fun enjoyed by families and couples and (usually male) groups of friends—the outdoor activity that's described as rejuvenating, stress-reducing, and good for one's health—transforms into a courtship of death and dismemberment when undertaken by a woman alone.

Never mind the bears roaming the park in search of final pre-hibernation snacks. Never mind the overnight temperatures dropping into the upper 30s, and the daily potential for thunderstorms and lightning. Never mind the known risk of falling rocks. And certainly never-you-mind the danger of driving first on a highway at 70 mph, then up a mountainside of steep drops and hairpin turns while a local in a sportscar tailgates before passing on a blind curve. No, the danger a solo woman is told is the most dangerous—dangerous enough and likely enough and terrifying enough that any right-thinking woman would abandon all camping aspirations—is sexual violence.

This recent trip of mine was to Golden Gate Canyon State Park, in the mountains above Denver, Colorado, and it was truly a solo camping experience. My tent site was isolated, set back from the dirt road, bounded by forest and rocky slopes, just barely in sight of the parking area up the rise. If I sat still, no one would know I was there.

Since I was there midweek, the two sites that shared my area of the campground were empty. The next-nearest collection of sites was about a football field away, tucked among trees on the other side of the slope, far beyond my line of sight. Only one of those campsites was in use. I saw their truck and, once, passed the woman on the way to the nearest vault toilet.

In fact, I saw fewer than a half dozen humans in three days, and spoke to only one of them. Add in the fact the region is remote enough there's no cell phone service anywhere within the park, and you could say I was somewhat isolated.

And isolation is what most people believe was the most dangerous aspect of my camping trip.

But, my darlings, isolation was actually what made me safe.

In The Woman Traveling Solo Question, writer and traveler Christine Gilbert does a fabulous job outlining the reality of the sexual violence risks women face, and places it in the context of global travel. The same facts—that a woman is overwhelmingly likely to suffer sexual assault in the company of people with whom she has an existing relationship—apply domestically. Yet we tell women to curtail their public lives and experiences by terrifying them with tales of brute men in the bushes and predators lurking in the darkness.

And when we consider the risks to a woman camping alone, she is at greater statistical risk—at greater factual risk—in a crowded RV campground than an isolated campsite.

"You're so brave!" a woman told me. And I don't really know how to respond to that. I certainly don't feel brave for choosing to camp, no more than I felt brave traipsing through London, or driving from New York City to Indiana, or any of the other things I've done in my life.

What I do feel is "prepared." I pack up my food and pack out my trash every night to deter bears and other wild things from snuffling around my campsite because I know a bear preparing for hibernation is far more dangerous than a skulking human. I bring along a variety of things that'll help me keep warm in case temperatures drop more than anticipated and/or I end up soaking wet. I'm educated about what to do in the event of a severe thunderstorm, a possible flash flood, a brush fire. I bring my dog—not because he's an attack dog (because he is so not!), but because he's a excellent alarm. And yes, I carry weapons that are legal and that I am trained to use, while recognizing the realistically rare need I'll have for them.

So what would I consider most dangerous? Camping under the conditions in which I camped without ever considering any of those non-sexual things. The real idiot isn't the woman who camps alone. It's the parent or scout leader who takes kids for a hike on the mountain while lightning flashes overhead. The person who doesn't think to pack in waterproof matches or a handful of dry tinder. The person who thinks it's just fine to keep a bag of fruit and beef jerky in the tent because no bear would really come close to humans. And it's the person who assumes the woman is in great danger because no one else is around to protect her.

I absolutely, positively refuse to curtail my life, my aspirations, my visceral experience of living, and so I choose to camp alone.

I sit alone in the cool mountain sunshine and listen to the wind caress the trees, to the whoosh of a raven's wings, to the chitter of chipmunks.

I take my dog on a hike and immerse in the experience of wild places, and learn to read the signs of my dog's even greater sensory immersion.

I sit by a campfire after sunset to feel both infinitesimal in the darkness and secure in the night.

I creep out of the tent in the wee hours to see the silver and shadows of unsullied moonlight, and the swath of crystal dust in the sky.

And I return to people knowing myself, rather than a camping companion, better.

And, frankly, if driving across town for a movie is worth the rather high risk I'll be injured or killed in in an auto accident, it's more than worth it for me to "risk" camping alone.

I'd invite y'all to join me but I'd much rather you invite yourself to a personal retreat. Don't listen to the doubters. Know what's real.

Y'see, knowledge is potential. Action is power. Put them together, and you have the freedom of discovery. :)


Dec. 20th, 2013 06:46 pm
blairmacg: (FeatherFlow)
As of today, I have two weeks off teaching. I'd planned to have a better... well, plan for what to do with that time, but it really boils down to, "Get stuff done, and enjoy it."

The tree is in the house, awaiting decorations. Dev and I were going to decorate last Tuesday, but watched The Walking Dead instead. I really, really love the show for so many reasons. (But I found the episode "Live Bait" so disturbing on so many levels, I was glad when it was over.) Alas, we are now all caught up with available episodes and must await new ones in February. Thus the tree shall receive our belated attention.

I'm sure the Normal Folks would think it odd, at best, that zombie drama trumps holiday activities in this house.

So the Colorado trip was most awesome. We headed into the mountains to explore Morrison, Evergreen, and Golden. For Dev, the first highlight was exploring Red Rocks Amphitheater. The last one, on our last day, was Golden. He fell in love with the town on the spot. I was a mere half-spot behind. :)

I visited the North Pole (a kid-sized amusement park with a theme you can guess) with my nephews, cliff dwellings with my mother, and poked around Buckley Air Force Base with my dad. Dev spent a bunch of time with Grandpa, visiting air and space museums and learning to drive the car he will buy from Grandpa in the spring. And we all ate outstanding Lebanese food in a little place in Golden, and got to see my nephews perform in their Christmas musical.

The next time we come out, Dev and I plan to take a couple days on our own to do some hiking. We love sightseeing with my folks, but neither want to do the sort of trekking Dev and I want to do. And we're going to spend time around Colorado Springs, where there are a million and a half things to see and do.

Would I move there? Yeppers. Dev is still somewhat ambivalent, due in part to his inherent dislike of change, his age, and the lingering sense that moving is a bit like leaving his father behind. He isn't against the idea, and does indeed love Golden, but he isn't there yet. A good thing, really, since I can't move yet anyway.

A few more pictures:

Dev and my folks on the road to Red Rocks:


Dev and my folks on the road to Red Rocks when I realized a car was speeding toward us:


The view from cliff dwellings outside Colorado Springs:

Dev's cool pic from Red Rocks:

And lastly, Buckley Air Force Base in Denver, at sunset:


blairmacg: (Default)

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