Queen Joan of Ours


Princess Joan 1935, Dallas, Texas

Princess Joan
1935, Dallas, Texas

by cheri block

This Morning is quiet on the Rancho.

Oddly, the turkeys and their racket are absent.

A light wind flutters the oak leaves, so laden with acorns. My dear sycamores rustle; the creek dribbles with sympathy.

Light is still off on the eastern horizon; is it possible for this dawn to linger longer?

Queen Joan is dead.

Her legacy—for all who had the great good fortune to know her—is one of courage, resiliency, and gratitude.

Her approach to life in the face of adversity rivals the testaments of the great men and women whose stories color the biblical canons of human record.

May we all be inspired by her example.

Long live the memory of Queen Joan!



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Twin Bridges, Montana



by cheri sabraw

Every town or city in which we stopped, especially in Montana, became an opportunity for speculation. Is this a place where we could live part of the year and exit California congestion?

This line of questioning we pursued from Hamilton, Montana–a charming town in the Bitterroot Valley still undisturbed by tourists–to Great Falls–a city on the Missouri River, protected from California investment by its spartan offerings–frigidity in winter and wind velocity in summer.

Lured by the confluence of four famous Montanan rivers–the Beaverhead, the Big Hole,  the Madison, and the Jeffereson–we drove into Twin Bridges, population 350.

At the end of Main Street we found our lodging, the Kings Motel, owned by Don and Marsha and their son, Matt.


Don’t let the trim outside and gravel road deceive you. Marsha and Don take pride in the cleanliness of their rooms, complete with kitchens, lounge chairs, and homemade furniture.


While my husband fly-fished the Big Hole with Matt, I walked to the Shack for lunch and then crossed the Beaverhead on one of the Twins (bridges). I was on my way to the vacant fairgrounds, around which I had been told, was a walking path. The dry air, hovering at 85 degrees, along with almost a complete absence of other people, put me into a dreamy mood.

The Shack at lunchtime.

The Shack at lunchtime.

IMG_3511Should I order a Bud Light or a Brownie Sundae?

Later, I headed to the fairgrounds, imagining myself on my daily walk here in the Ruby Valley, free of the snarl of cars, the clang of my neighbors’ heavy equipment on Sunday mornings at 7:00 am, or the roar of the 737’s heading into one of three airports in San Francisco, Oakland, or San Jose.

IMG_3524The fairgrounds were vacant alright. Not a steer, lamb, or hog to be found.


I’m sure the dear and deceased Paula, God Rest Her Soul, is thrilled that in her honor, bulls have their way with trapped cows. Makes me wonder what Paula’s hobbies were.

This sight caused me pause: will they name a room at Mission San Jose High School after me when I die? That freakish thought was answered before I could get Paula out of my mind. “Absolutely not, shouted the representative from the California Teachers’ Association! “

The day became hotter; my checked cowboy shirt and jeans began to feel heavy.

The mile loop seemed like part of the arduous  Lewis and Clark expedition, which passed by Twin Bridges at Three Forks. There, to the relief of Meriwether Lewis, Sacajawea saw the Beaverhead Mountains and remembered her homeland.

On my walk by a tributary of the Beaverhead, a fella  enjoyed himself.



I rounded the bend,  about a half a mile from my motel room; the day was as still and dry as cornstarch.

Not much was happening in Twin Bridges. Should I attend  the Gun Show over there in  one of the fairground buildings?


Instead, I headed for the Kings Motel. The path freshened with the river. I called out to moisture. Moisture! Surely you will sooth my parched skin and slumping body.



And then it appeared–the Twin Bridges Oasis–Main Street.


Back at the King’s Motel, I fell into one of the Barca-Lounger chairs in my comfortable room and picked up the book I had deliberately brought to reread while here in Montana–A River Runs Through it.

In my view, this novella is as good as anything Hemingway ever wrote about nature, conflicted relationships, and sport as religion. As I asked my husband later that night at dinner at the Old Hotel in Twin Bridges, ” What do you think the “it” refers to in A River Runs Through It?

Could the pronoun have referred to Twin Bridges?

My husband, settled, loose, and unpreoccupied after a day on a river, and having enjoyed several glasses of Pinot Noir, missed the joke.

“Why Cheri, the ‘it’ refers to the tangled relationship that Norman had with his brother Paul.”


The Big Hole River, Twin Bridges, Montana

The Big Hole River, Twin Bridges, Montana




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The Palouse

IMG_6075 by cheri sabraw

We entered the Palouse without knowing it.

As far as the eye could see were golden undulating hills that looked like Mother Earth  had experienced a serious case of the shivers.

From Spokane to the Snake River and on into the Columbia River Gorge, the Palouse astounds the eye with her quiet vast blanket of bumps. On these hills, enormous combines–bigger than any others I have seen in Iowa or Kansas–crawl upward, cutting the wheat in an act that seems to defy gravity. It is a stunning sight and nothing like any other land form I have ever seen. IMG_6070My husband reminds me that in the old days, when the USC  football team would travel to Washington State University in Pullman, the network sports announcer, Keith Jackson, would say, “Well, here we are…..ready for the Trojans to take on the Cougars…here in the Paaaaaa–looooose!” IMG_6069 IMG_6071 The top of this hill has been tilled, ready for new planting. Truly, this is the grand home of Shredded Wheat. Eventually, the Palouse allows herself some some variation on her legumish theme. IMG_6103In a scene that hardly looks real, the Snake River offers a different style of life to the Palouse but she ignores him. In a spontaneous desire to experience the recesses of her hills (as opposed to riding a combine), we stop to play golf. The clubhouse is visible, but the course lies in the secrets of the Palouse. IMG_6086

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In search of buffalo

These markers indicate where members of the 7th Cavalry fell to the Sioux and Cheyenne.

These markers indicate where members of the 7th Cavalry fell to the Sioux and Cheyenne.

by cheri sabraw

In my last post, I left you hanging.

I do apologize.

The sheer size of Montana and the hours it takes to drive  from famous rivers (the Missouri, Yellowstone, Big Hole, and Gallatin) to a Western artist’s  home  to a battlefield  to  famous bars DO tend to set one’s tight schedule back a bit. From Charlie Russell’s studio in Great Falls to the site of Custer’s last stand 20 miles outside of Billings to a good ol mahogany bar in Bozeman (14 North), we have covered vast territory efficiently, like a couple of Great Plains grasshoppers.

For those of you who wondered if we did, in fact, revisit the site of the Battle of the Little Big Horn, I am pleased to report, “Yes.” If you  remember, one of us had a hankering to go back, sure that it had changed. Funny. It looked the same to one of us as it did 30 years ago although the Indians’ point of view and sacrifices are now a part of the narrative and the monument, as they should have been in the first place.

I could have been dreaming but the same corny and over-animated U.S. Government Park Ranger, let’s call him Marvin, gave the same talk he did thirty years ago about the logistics and personalities that clashed in 1876 on these dry Montana hills.

Does anyone feel sorry for George Armstrong Custer, other than his long-dead wife, Libby?

Does anyone feel sorry for George Armstrong Custer, other than his long-dead wife, Libby?

I erroneously reported in my last post that the site where Custer died was marked with a black headstone. Sorry. The headstone, in fact, is white but with a black shield to emphasize the white letters.

Satisfied to have seen the place where Sitting Bull’s warriors, for a brief moment in the late 19th century, rose upon their ponies with bow and arrows and guns to defend their way of life, we turned our mechanical pony south to Yellowstone, where I hoped to see the buffalo.

In the Lamar Valley, we glimpsed from far away, a herd of buffalo.

In the Lamar Valley, we glimpsed a herd of buffalo from far away or are those cattle?


My patient husband tried to keep his eyes on the road while responding to my entreaties to find a place where I could  see a buffalo other than through a pair of binoculars.

Here! Through those willowy cottonwood trees. Here! Cheri. See? There! See them? What a view? Doesn’t this scene look like the Serengeti?


Are those buffalo? I  cannot tell.

Oh my. Here come two buffalo bulls.

Oh my. Here come two buffalo bulls.

Then, to my ecstatic delight, these two creatures, representing in one sense, a lost time in Native American history, begin to approach our car.

At last, that iconic image of a gentle giant moved within 20 feet of my camera.

At last, that iconic image of a gentle giant moved within 20 feet of my camera.

And there he stands!

In order to steady my heart and draw me back from my thoughts about the heartbreaking devastation that was the Battle of the Little Big Horn, symbolic of Native American losses of land, spirit, and buffalo, I asked that we stop and gaze into the Yellowstone River.

IMG_5998Which we did.

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On the way to Great Falls, Montana… and the Little Big Horn




by cheri sabraw

We have begun to listen to Stephen Ambrose’s Undaunted Courage, as we travel out of the stunning, rugged landscape found in Glacier National Park.

Great Falls, Montana, is the home to the Lewis and Clark Museum, as well as to the iconic Western artist Charles Russell. These rich deposits to our early cultural heritage we hope to see today.

Very quickly, the thick forests that blanket the sharp and towering snow-capped peaks of Glacier are gone, replaced by low hills topped by rock formations. As we approach Browning, a humble city in the heart of the Blackfeet Indian Nation, the Great Plains of Montana meets our eyes. The scene is hard to describe; to put such space and sky into words seems a task fit only for heavenly scribes.


Some further information must be supplied to this narrative, if not for informational purposes, then for insight into the mindsets of two people—we—who are eager to drive hundreds of miles through vast golden valleys shaded in splotches by clouds, floating like large comfortable pillows in an expansive and glorious sky that Montanans refer to as “Big Sky.”

Although one of the two of us has professed a lifelong desire to experience Montana—one of the least populated states in the Union (a million people)—one of the two of us has also carried a fascination with the events that occurred at the Little Big Horn in 1876, where George Armstrong Custer met his fate at the hands and guns of the Lakota Sioux and Cheyenne Indian tribes.


Both of us, along with our two children, visited the Custer monument in 1988. If my memory serves me, we all walked in blistering heat along the knoll of the grassy hill, and inspected the soldiers’ gravestones, lying haphazardly where each of them  met his death in what historians have described as a furry of rage. In the middle of white headstones, our eyes focused on  a black one.

In short speed, we found ourselves staring down and only a few steps away from the spot where—as other historians have speculated— Custer’s brother Tom fired a bullet into Custer’s left temple, ending Custer’s life and the pain emanating from a fatal wound at the hands of the Indians. The Sioux had exacted their revenge.

That visit was our last to the Little Big Horn. After all, it is all the way across the State of Montana. It is one of those sites that only need to be seen once. Or so I thought.

I should have known that while on our way to Montana, as we listened to The Last Stand by Nathaniel Philbrick,  the narrative would engender such keen interest that it would rekindle in one of us such newly minted curiosity that two of us now are headed, once again, to see where Custer got what he deserved.



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An earthquake of years

IMG_6576by cheri sabraw

In my walk around a little beach community where we have a tiny house, I am amused by all of those old folks feeding birds.

Some of those old folks, in their retirement, have taken up bird-house building. Three-story English cottages, Berkeley bungalows, and modern metal Deco homes–sure to entice the most discriminating of birds–dangle from eaves in front of breakfast nooks.

Oh those poor souls, I muse. Souls without active lives anymore. Souls who can’t wait to awake at 5:00 am to retrieve their morning Tribune, pour their cup of Folgers, and watch the birds chittering and tittering, from cottage to bungalow to Deco.

In that same beach town, on my usual walk with my dog tugging at her leash, her keen peripheral vision scanning from left to right for a pretzel or chip crumb, I crinkle my eyes, hidden under enormous sunglasses, and secretly smile at the collection of windmills, tchotchkys, and feel-good signs in these old folks’ gardens.

Welcome to Gramma’s Garden, Life’s a Beach, Relax!

Good God, I thought. Is this what it is like to get old? 

Last night, the San Francisco Bay Area experienced a serious 6.0 earthquake. Although not  on my fault line–the one that our home sits directly upon–the Hayward Fault line of the mighty San Andreas Fault, the temblor rattled every dish and glass in the house, awaking me from a deep sleep at 3:20 am. The dog barked.

I jumped out of bed with a start since my husband was not home.

I ran down the stairs and outside to our patio to make sure that my decorative glass hummingbird feeders had not fallen off their hooks.

Luckily the fresh bird-seed I had just purchased to fill my little nuthatch, junco, and finch feeder had not tipped off the counter, sending 20 pounds of cracked sunflower seeds onto the floor of my kitchen.

As I trundled back up the stairs in the dead of night, I glanced out our front door to see that the Welcome sign was still vertical.

All is well, dear.




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by cheri sabraw

Oh Swallowtail!

Oh Swallowtail!



Did the cotton candy clouds drop you from butterfly heaven?

Did the cotton candy clouds drop you from butterfly heaven?


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In Your Own Backyard



by cheri sabraw

Most of us  have read Paulo Coehlo’s The Alchemist, the prototypical tale of a traveler’s search for meaning, who  discovers what he had been looking for in his own backyard. He accomplished this revelation by the hard work of wrestling with himself.

This journey–that of searching for meaning–is not one every person is prepared to embark upon. Those who go through life living theirs largely unexamined do so for a number of reasons: the Self’s protection, stubbornness, genetics, and laziness.

Great novelists and playwrights have told the stories of heart-breaking, agonizing, yet stimulating searches for meaning. In Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter,  a young woman pays a life-time penance for her adulterous indiscretion, a sentence exacted by community members  who shun her and her illegitimate daughter Pearl, for whom she paid “a great price.” Through solitude and aloneness (she lives at the edge of town) and charity (she sews and embroiders for community members), she grows stronger and the reader senses that by the novel’s conclusion, the woman’s suffering has contributed to her depth of character.

And then there is Willy Loman, Arthur Miller’s tragic figure in Death of A Salesman. To search for meaning and examine his life would not be possible for him. Wholly unenlightened–a big-talking adulterer, selfish father, and braggadocio, Willy Loman is the conductor of his own family’s train-wreck. We find ourselves intellectually unsurprised by his suicide, brought on by the little bubbles of profound regret and anger trying to work their way to his consciousness, but that are unable to break the surface. He dies unenlightened.

I’d like to think that as death approaches, all of us ask the big questions about our lives, about those whom we have touched and not touched, about our deepest relationships, about what mark we had hoped to stamp upon our loved ones, our friends, our associates.

Strangely, many people go to their graves having done zero introspection, more concerned about the placement of their bedpan than the quality of their legacy.

Then again, how does the outsider, the family member, or the caring observer know whether or not someone is self-reflective?

We are all travelers.

We are all on a journey. It’s just that some journeys labor to go forward despite the tonnage of past generations, shackles that some people stubbornly refuse to uncouple from their present lives.

In what type of conversation with yourself and with others do you engage?

If such conversation explores your motivations, shortcomings, and deepest fears, then you are on your way to enlightenment, no matter what your age may be.



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Queen Joan


by cheri blockIMG_1837


Yesterday, handmaiden that I am, I paid a short visit to Queen Joan and concluded on my way back to my humble quarters that there are some people in the world who are so special that when in their presence, you are sure the world has a soul.

Queen Joan is one of those unique people.

When I entered her chamber, she sat on her throne–a throne that befits her limitations. Her walker and wheelchair rounded out her furnishings, along with a stiff kitchen-table chair for me, her loyal servant.

The Court Trainer had just left with strict instructions concerning the Queen’s diet. No more Oreo cookies! No more Sees candies! The Queen is putting on weight! Because she has no balance and no active life, no hearing and clearly no discipline, it must be her attendants that need culinary restraint!!

Joan is no stranger to court trainers, servants, and of course, the court doctors.

Her ebullient smile and soft eyes belie the circumstances that under her reign have provided a steady stream of work for the entire court medical staff: her audiologist, her pain specialist, her rheumatologist, her radiologist, oncologist, hematologist, gastro-enterologist, urologist, and dermatologist. As one of her heroes, Sir Mel Brooks, aptly stated, ” It’s good to be the Queen.”

My! I rheumanated, as I sneaked into the kitchen,  worried that the Court Trainer might return to  the Queen’s Chamber at any time. My! I rheumanated, shall I provide the Queen with a small sweet, sure to inject her pensive demeanor with a delirium of crunchy, chocolaty, and nutty delight?

Her bib in place, she opened with color like a kaleidoscope.

While she was relishing her treat, she looked over at me–her trusty attendant and inquired, “Who gave me this drumstick?”

“I did,  your highness.”



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The Annex

by cheri sabraw


This weathered structure  sits like an old, wrinkled Indian storyteller, waiting for a little one to beg for a tale about “the way it used to be.”

Once Tom and Kate Palache’s cook’s cabin, it has rested way too comfortably on our land for ten years. Although we do not know its exact age, we have learned that in 1923 the Palaches journeyed from San Francisco to buy acreage from A.A. Moore, who owned most of the property in the vicinity. Historians have told us that the house, in which the Palaches slept while staying on this property, appears on a land grant map in 1877.

Tom was an insurance agent. Kate was a medical doctor. They lived in San Francisco on Ellis Street. Tom was an amateur photographer: we found his camera and many boxes of lantern plates taken before the turn of the 20th century. We even have a slide of U.C. Berkeley in 1898 and the San Francisco Bay before the Bay Bridge was built. A framed stock certificate with Thomas Hood Palache’s name and his purchase of one share  sits above our library door. One intriguing side note we learned some years ago was that Tom Palache was William Keith‘s insurance agent. When Keith lost many of his paintings in the San Francisco 1906 earthquake, Palache was more than helpful.

Tom and Kate were childless. When unable to spend time on the TK Rancho, they sold the property to Kate’s niece, Margaret. She and her husband Ed lived in the Palache’s original home which was 50 feet from the cook’s cabin– until Margaret died in 1982. Ed wanted out of the dark house, made so by the enormous canopy of non-native trees the Palaches had planted. After selling some of his property to us, he moved across the creek and onto a treeless, hot spot where he plunked  a mobile home down that he called The Establishment.  Ed died in 1993, a year before we finished building our house.

Ed called the Palache’s cook’s  little cabin The Annex.

The Annex is about 215 square feet with a bedroom, a sitting room, and a bathroom. Our son Ben was forced to inhabit the Annex while we were living in a fifth-wheel trailer, building the house. A junior in high school, he was a good sport; that is, until a big black spider bit him on the chest and left a welt the size of a dried apricot. Things really soured when he brought his gorgeous Junior Prom date, Laurie, up the road for pictures, and as he was pinning on the rosebud corsage,  she burst out laughing. Those days in the early part of the 1990’s seem long ago.

I’ve always thought the Annex would be a perfect place for me to write without the distractions of a Labrador Retriever whose nervous system is calibrated to my every movement.

So, today, I decided to clean it up. The process, I think, will be glacial.

I’m impressed with before and after pictures, so today, I catalogued the before.


This is the back of the Annex. We found a number of treasures though that little door on the lower right. I might add that mice, rats, and squirrels have also appreciated the darkness of the Annex’s underbelly.

You can see the overgrowth of Vinca, the thick pile of oak and walnut leaves, and dirt that has solidified into a cement.

You can see the overgrowth of Vinca, the thick pile of oak and walnut leaves, and the dirt that has solidified into a cement.

To walk down to the front door is a hazard. The rock walls that the Palaches built all over the property in the 1920’s are now camouflaged , buried under adobe dirt and sycamore, oak, walnut, pine, and mulberry leaves. I know there is a “secret sidewalk” somewhere near the Annex that provided hard footing for the cook to deliver the meals to the Palache’s house, so today, like an archeologist, I intend to locate it and resurrect it to its former function.

With my rake in hand, a leaf blower, a shovel, gloves, and a long gizmo to trim the branches, I began my labor.

My project for today: to clean around all of the bricks and rocks.

My project for today: to clean around all of the bricks and rocks.

The Annex has potential!

The Annex has potential!


As you can see for yourself, if you don’t stay on top of the land, it will stay on top of you.

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