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Just a little tense

June 5, 2006—My blood pressure is 124/82 tonight. That's pretty reasonable for a man my age (56), especially considering that I ran out of my antihypertensive medicine a few days ago. But a few days ago it was much, much higher. Here's the story of my recent ups and downs. Things started off well...

A few months ago when my friend Holly and I released our "Shoot That Quilt!" website, we expected to get a lot of queries from artists photographing their quilts, so I joined the Quiltart discussion list to deal with the more technical questions. I wasn't really expecting to make a lot of friends in this group, but I did. For example, there's Pam RuBert, whose delightful cartoon quilts make me giggle every time I see them. I've corresponded with others in the QA group about everything from cats to RVing to making pizza dough to the state of affairs in Saskatchewan.

So it was a nice surprise when a few weeks ago, QA list member and textile artist Cynthia Wenslow wrote to me out of the blue with an invitation to dinner if I was ever in the Pecos, NM area. Since Pecos is only about 25 miles from Villanueva State Park, I was delighted to accept. A few days after I arrived at Villanueva, Cynthia picked me up at the park and brought me to her small adobe house.

Cynthia is a woman of many talents, in addition to her work with art quilts: she's played piano, guitar and trombone professionally, taught Emergency Medical Technicians, painted, photographed...we had plenty to talk about! After enjoying a sumptuous and beautifully presented salad, we sat and chatted until late. Then Cynthia drove me back to the park, where we got a surprise: the gates had closed at 9:00 p.m.

Closed gate

This was a bit awkward. Fortunately, I had one of my eyeball-shaped LED flashlights clipped to my shirt's lapel—I rarely go out after dark without one. Still, it was a moonless night, and once Cynthia's headlights were gone, the darkness seemed to swallow up that little two-LED beam. I knew I had to walk about a quarter mile into the park, then find the rocky "El Cerro" road branching off to the left and climb it to where Gertie was parked.

As I walked, being careful not to stray off the unmarked road, I thought of the reports of cougars in the area that I'd seen on the park's bulletin board. After what seemed like an endless trek, I finally saw the warning sign for "El Cerro" and began the steep, twisting climb. Although I was anxious to reach the safety of home, I forced myself to trudge slowly. No sense breaking an ankle on a loose stone, up here where my cell phone didn't work!

I finally made it, out of breath but glad to be home.

A couple of days later, Cynthia again picked me up at the park. This time we drove into Santa Fe, where we spent the morning in the Museum of International Folk Art, a beautiful building on Museum Hill. We spent the whole time in one room: the Girard Collection, an amazing array of thousands of folk toys from a hundred countries. Most of the toys are displayed in a series of enchanting village scenes and dioramas, and are beautiful, charming and whimsical. I was entranced! Unfortunately, the museum is one of those mean-spirited places that forbids photography.

I did sneak one picture: a set of Marx Merry Makers, steel-and-tin mechanical toys from the late Twenties or early Thirties made by Louis Marx. I love what the toymakers were able to do with the simplest sheet-metal stampings! I've seen a video of this toy, and there's plenty of action as the piano player sways from side to side, the standing mouse dances, the drummer pounds his snare drum and the mouse on top of the piano saws away on his fiddle (unfortunately missing in this example).

Marx Merry Makers

Lunch at the museum café was the best meal I'd eaten in a long time. I had chicken and chili enchiladas, with a baby spinach salad and a cup of cold avocado soup on the side. The cool, creamy avocado soup was a perfect contrast to the spiciness of the enchiladas. I must learn to make that soup!

I think it was the next day that I ran out of my blood pressure medicine. Not that this was any surprise, of course—I'd known how many pills I had left. But getting more meant setting up an appointment with a doctor—I hadn't had a checkup in a year, so it was definitely time—and that's not always easy when you're traveling. Cynthia suggested the Pecos medical clinic (as a former EMT, she knows the local doctors pretty well)... so on Thursday when I left the Villanueva campground, I planned to stop there.

But Thursday wasn't a good day. To begin with, I woke up to suspicious scrabbling noises that sounded a lot like mice. I'd heard the noises before, but shrugged them off. This time they were louder, though, and hard to ignore. But I didn't have time to search for mice just then, so I set the problem aside.

Gas gauge

Then I discovered I was dangerously low on propane. My tank-mounted gauge is not exactly linear: it stays in the green until the tank is almost empty, then goes quickly through yellow to red. Since I don't use much propane in warm weather, I often don't check the gauge for a week. So it came as a shock to find it sliding into the red. This isn't just a question of hot water or using the range—no propane means no refrigerator.

Things got worse on the 25-mile drive to Pecos. Gertie's engine was roaring the whole way; it sounded as if the transmission didn't want to upshift into third gear. I'd had this happen intermittently over the past month, but it always quieted down after a few minutes. Not this time, though. I knew that before I drove up into the Rockies I'd need to find a good mechanic to look at Gertie, and I knew transmission work wasn't going to be cheap.

By the time I got to the clinic, I had a lot of things on my mind. Although the clinic folks were very friendly and pleasant, when they measured my blood pressure, it was a shockingly high 146/102. I explained the circumstances, and the LPN who examined me was happy to renew my prescription.

When I got back into Gertie I heard a plaintive beeping that I knew all too well: the fridge had run out of propane. Damn, I should have filled up first! Now it was 4:50, and I had to rush to Pecos Propane before they closed. The receptionist at the clinic was a big help: she called ahead to make sure they'd stay open until I got there. I got my propane tank refilled with two minutes to spare, and headed up the road toward Coyote Creek State Park.

But I was tired and my nerves were frazzled... so when I passed through Las Vegas with the sun sinking and about fifty miles still to go, and saw signs for Storrie Lake State Park on the outskirts of town, I made a quick decision to stop there, at least for the night. I found a nice site right next to the lake, with a lovely view of the setting sun over the water, had a quick supper and collapsed into bed without even trying to get online.

Gertie at Storrie Lake

In the morning, on advice from my friend Judie, I called All Terrain Transmission in Las Vegas and made an appointment. I was very lucky: they were willing to take Gertie with only an hour's notice... and they were only three and a half miles back down the very road the state park is located on. So I set out my folding chair with a "Site occupied" sign taped to it and drove to the transmission shop. The owner, Manuel, has a fifth-wheel trailer, so he was sympathetic—and quickly got Gertie up on a lift and started checking out her transmission, while I settled down in the comfortable waiting room to read.

The eventual diagnosis was a surprise: there was nothing wrong with my transmission! Instead, the roaring noise had been due to my fan: its thermostatically controlled clutch had frozen up, so it was churning away even at highway speeds when it wasn't needed. So instead of the thousand bucks or more I'd feared I'd have to spend, the day's work—transmission service, fan replacement (they put in a heavy-duty one) and other odds and ends—cost me "only" $675. Sigh.

It would have been nice to be able to feel that Gertie was in tiptop shape after all this... but while working on the engine, the mechanics found a leak in my right exhaust manifold. That's frustrating, because I had the entire exhaust system rebuilt only last fall in Tucson... but I have no choice but to get it fixed. The transmission shop didn't do exhaust system work, so I'll have to find someplace else. It's not a major safety hazard, because the "doghouse" (engine cover) pretty much seals off that whole compartment, but it's costing me power that I'll need to get over the mountains between here and Cheyenne.

Back at the campground, I looked over my situation. I still had three weeks to get to Cheyenne, so there was no hurry. I had stocked up on groceries on the way home from the transmission shop. My campsite had a wonderful view... so I decided to stay at Storrie Lake a few more days. That's the nice thing about being a fulltimer: I can do things like this. I boiled a big pot of pasta, chopped up a mess of vegetables and made about a gallon and a half of pasta salad—a perfect warm-weather meal.

Chopping veggies

But my run of bad luck wasn't over. I was awakened at 5:00 a.m. the next morning by loud and definite mouse noises. I opened the cabinet under the kitchen sink and discovered a couple of acorns and mouse droppings galore. Great—just what I needed! I set a couple of mousetraps and went back to bed, but of course caught nothing. So that afternoon I spent about three hours wearing sweaty latex gloves and a stifling dust respirator to protect against hantavirus and plague, meticulously cleaning out the cabinets under my sink, where I keep my baking implements and freezer containers. (Thank heaven there's no food stored there.) I also discovered and cleaned out a mouse nest in the storage compartment under my couch—a lovely pile of what appears to be cottonwood fluff—but most of the activity seemed to have been under the sink. I carefully plugged the holes where mice could have gotten in, using lids of steel cans cut to shape. I wound up exhausted, but I was confident that no mice could get in there again.

Next evening I was brushing my teeth, when I heard loud gnawing noises coming from the kitchen. I tracked them by ear to the cabinet under the sink—yes, the one I was so proud of sealing all the holes in! When I opened it up and shone my flashlight in, there was a big mouse holding a huge acorn! He vanished while I grabbed for my camera, and I wondered where he'd gone. Then I looked at the area where he'd been...and discovered that way back there, in an area you can't see unless you actually stick your head into the cupboard, the whole thing is wide open to the adjacent kitchen drawers! While I had been oh-so-carefully sealing up 2" holes around the pipes, there was a huge 8" x 10" opening on each shelf level that I completely overlooked. AAARRGGHH!

The mouse had obviously ducked in there and descended to floor level, but I could still hear it. Fortunately, below the bottom drawer is the water pump, and years ago I had made a 10" x 10" access door for it—otherwise you'd have to stick your hand in through an extremely small drawer opening to get to it. So I moved Marie's dishes out of the way and flung open the door...


...and there was the mouse, crouching in the big hole in the floor that the water pipes run into! Cute little bastard, isn't it? It was now obvious how it had gotten access to the cabinets.

The mouse quickly vanished under the coach somewhere. Fortunately, I had a whole package of steel wool stashed with my carpentry I took a tip from my friend Holly, who lives in the country and has dealt with mice before, and rammed wads of the stuff down that opening under the pump, filling it completely. I packed it pretty tightly, too.

So now I think I have really blocked off access to the under-sink cabinets. But heaven knows where else the mouse or mice can get into. I know the under-couch storage bin is accessible to them, though I haven't seen any signs of activity there since I cleaned out the nest a couple of days ago. I still need to inspect that area, but just don't have the energy right now. I'll have to remove all the things from a coffin-sized volume, clean and disinfect, and then inspect it inch by inch to find where a mouse can get in.

Oh, and by the way, Marie hasn't paid the slightest attention to any of this, other than to look puzzled at the pots and pans I had strewn all over the floor while I was working in the cupboard. Her mousing days are long past, I'm afraid.

Dealing with mice has been pretty frustrating. But it's so nice here at Storrie Lake that I can't be upset for long. I sit and watch the clouds build on the other side of the startlingly green lake... a powerboat zips by, leaving a wake that eventually sloshes against the shore just below me... a crow lands in the pine tree behind me... this is a good place to be. I think I'll stay a few more days, just to let my blood pressure settle down.

Clouds over Storrie Lake
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