Life Lessons: I Can’t Do Everything Myself?

I had a plan for this summer (I know: Life is what happens while we’re making plans): I would devote myself to narrating the audiobook version of Bless the Birds, my latest memoir and my 13th book.

I’ve procrastinated narrating the audiobook for the entire two and a half years since Bless the Birds was published, partly because I wanted to do the narration myself. It’s my story. (Also, I narrated the audiobook for my first memoir, Walking Nature Home.)

My excuses were good ones: since the book came out, I’ve moved four times, to three different states, and renovated three houses. And until this condo, which has a walk-in closet in the main bedroom, I haven’t had a place I could turn into a home recording studio.

The real reason? I wasn’t ready. Bless the Birds is an intense story. I needed time and distance, and perhaps every one of those four moves, to prepare myself.

This spring, I blocked out June through late July, the weeks between my two weed-management trips to the ranch, for audiobook narration. First, I had figure out the technical end. I watched some videos about audiobook narration and ordered a new microphone and headphones. I experimented with GarageBand, the recording and editing software, which I last used in 2010. Pretty soon, I thought I had it down.

By mid-June, I had set up my studio in my closet, and begun audio work. I recorded and edited the first few files (the front matter, introduction, and chapters one and two) and after listening to them carefully, decided there was too much background noise.

My recording microphone, a Blue Yeti Nano.

So I ordered a boom to hang the mic, with a vibration-dampening mount. When they arrived, I reconfigured my “recording desk”–a bookshelf I use as a dresser.

And started recording again. I would record a chapter, listen to the audio track and edit out any flubs–word mistakes, bad pronunciation, etc–and correct pacing issues, and then record another chapter and edit it. I could do two chapters a day before my voice tired.

About two-thirds of the way through the narration, I decided to make some small changes to the read and show the shift in Richard’s physical voice through the story.

My closet recording studio, set up between my winter coats and my hats!

That meant re-recording some sections and splicing them in. No problem; I’m good at that. I finished the final audio-edit a few days before I was to leave for Wyoming for my second weed-management stint at the ranch.

Before I left, I talked to an engineer highly recommended for audiobook mastering. When I got home, I uploaded some sample files for him.

A few days later, he called. There was good news, and bad news. The good: “You read well, and your voice is compelling.” The bad: My recording levels were too low; when he boosted the levels, the background noise was too high. “You wouldn’t be happy with the final product,” he said. “I suggest you re-record the whole thing.”


Honestly, I said, I didn’t have the heart to start over right then. “Give it some time,” he advised.

I realized that I had just learned a life lesson I managed to avoid for more than 66 years: I can’t do everything myself. Sometimes it’s best to ask for help–before I jump in.

Me and my brother in about 1958, when I would have been two years old, and he four. That’s my “I can do anything you can do!” face. 

Growing up, I was the small, often sickly kid who struggled to keep up with her adored older brother. My first sentence, my mother said once, was “Do it myself!”

I have always believed I could. And here I am at 66, still trying to prove myself. It seems that it’s time for a change.

I called The Guy and poured out my disappointment, and added my realization about not always being able to do everything myself. As I said those words, I remembered one of the few real arguments we had. “You never ask for help!” The Guy said back then, clearly frustrated. “I need to know I bring something to the relationship!”

Now, I reminded The Guy of his words and said, “You were right.” He didn’t gloat. “Yes,” he simply said. “That’s an important realization.” He asked what I planned to do.

“I’m going to look for a recording studio nearby,” I said, “and in the meantime, the new book is taking all of my attention.” I could hear his affirmative nod over the miles between us. “Patience is good,” he said, voice dry.

“Another thing I’m not good at,” I said, and we both laughed.

Learning sometimes comes hard and takes time to digest. Still, I’m grateful to continue to grow.

What have you learned about yourself lately?

Life: Practice in Revision and Adaptation

Noche, my Toyota Highlander hybrid, parked in the driveway of my brother’s house in Washington state.

For some years now, I’ve had this dream of a little camper with solar panels on top and a cozy bed, kitchen, and space to write–a super-tiny house on wheels–that I could live in while I do my weeding work in Yellowstone and other wild places. Over the winter, I got as far as putting down a deposit on the compact RV I had chosen. And then, the very same day the sale of my Cody house closed, the RV manufacturer went bankrupt.

So I revised that dream, and settled instead on a sweet trailer made by Colorado Teardrops in Boulder, a  custom shop producing amazingly efficient, beautifully designed trailers, and working on becoming a zero-waste manufacturer. Their designs and values are very appealing.

Only I found that plugging trailer brakes into the hybrid regenerative braking system in Noche, my beloved Toyota Highlander Hybrid, isn’t allowed. (Meaning Toyota can’t guarantee that the system would work with trailer brakes; further, adding the seven-pin hitch and brake socket would void my warranty.)

So I revised the dream again and fitted my basic camping set-up right into Noche, giving me a “micro-camper” with a cozy bed, storage for my clothes, weeding tools, camp-stove, a lap-desk for writing, and even a camp toilet. It’s an amazingly comfortable set-up, if quite basic and compact. (And Noche averages 29-30 miles per gallon of gas, not bad for a vehicle I can sleep in–or transport seven friends or family members at a pinch.)

My micro-camper set-up in Noche. 

It’s also a lot cheaper than the custom camper I started out dreaming. Too, this set-up is better than my old camping space in Red, my pickup, because I’m inside Noche, not in a pickup bed. In bad weather or if something goes wrong, I just climb into Noche’s front seat and head on my way without having to get outside.

I still imagine that the perfect small camper van is out there for me, something energy-efficient, simple, comfy, and well-built–without costing an arm and six legs. Since I haven’t found it yet, I’m quite comfortable with the simpler and smaller, revised version of that dream. Just being able to hit the road is a blessing. I get a lot of thinking done during windshield time, and I get to experience the landscapes I love in all sorts of moods and seasons.

Heart Mountain, north of Cody, from Dead Indian Hill, where the grasslands were unbelievably green this spring.

Revision and adaptation seems to be a major theme in my life right now.

For instance, I spent this spring revising Bless the Birds for what I hope is the final time. It’s since been accepted for publication by SheWrites Press for their Spring, 2021 list. Which brings up an ending: Bless the Birds will go off my desk (finally!) and that opens up space for working on the next book, Weeding Yellowstone.

Another revision and adaptation: I intended to spend a good part of my summer in Yellowstone digging weeds. Then I flunked my annual blood tests, so those plans got revised. Instead, I spent a long weekend in Cody helping my friends Jay and Connie Moody at TAC, a spiritual retreat center, and also got to hang out with Judy, another dear friend, who is recovering from a massive stroke.

The labyrinth at TAC at sunset, with Carter Mountain and the Absaroka Range in the background. 

In other words, I’ve been nurturing friendships instead of ecosystems. That’s fine: tending both brings rewards. I’ll resume my work in Yellowstone when I’m healthier again.

Revising my Yellowstone plans also gave me time to drive to Washington state for a gathering of my family. Our branch of the Tweit clan isn’t big, but we do love getting together. We’ve been having such a good time hanging out, playing Yellowstone National Park Monopoly, taking walks with the dogs, and eating great meals, that I haven’t taken any any pictures at all.

Instead of thinking and planning photo opportunities, I’m enjoying the moments as they arise, reveling in being here and taking part in life, laughter, and love.

That’s a healthy adaptation, I know.

Happy Summer to all!

Calochortus macrocarpus, sagebrush mariposa lily, in the coulee country of eastern Washington

Revising a Cherished Dream

I have spent part of the last several summers in Yellowstone National Park, helping remove invasive weeds as a volunteer, work that feeds my soul even as it tones my body. Spend a day prying a few hundred invasive weeds out of hard soil with a seven-inch plant knife, and you'll know why I call my time in the nation's oldest National Park, "Spa Yellowstone." (You can read more about why I love this work in my essay, "Weeding Yellowstone," in Minding Nature Journal.)  

An uprooted Houndstongue (Cynoglossum officianale) plant with my plant knife for scale, plus one of the day's haul of weed-filled bags. 

There is no pay for this work, though I do get an official tan polyester NPS volunteer shirt and a volunteer ball-cap that I wear with pride (and wash frequently, as both get pretty sweaty). And Heidi Anderson, the Park Botanist and my wonderful boss, arranges for a free campsite at the Mammoth Campground, the one nearest where I do most of my work. The satisfaction of doing something positive for this extraordinary planet and the joy of spending weeks at a time in Yellowstone are reward enough. 

While I'm in Yellowstone, I live in Red, my trusty Toyota Tacoma pickup. The nest under the topper I have created is comfy even in spring or fall snowstorms, and suits my in-born need to be frugal and climate-conscious. 

My cozy "home" inside Red's topper, complete with four-inch-thick mattress, summer-winter sleeping bag, crate for a nightstand, and camp toilet (under the green towel). 

But it lacks heat for those freezing days and nights, and a space to sit and write, which I do every day–at the picnic table of my campsite in good weather, and in the lobby of the Mammoth Hotel when the weather is not fine. My truck-topper camper also doesn't offer weather-tight kitchen space either–I cook on my backpacking stove on the tailgate, which makes for chilly breakfasts on snowy days. And it's a wet kitchen in the rain. 

My snug home after a snowstorm the night before my birthday in September. I stayed in bed as long as I could that morning!

I love the weeding work and would like to take my plant knife to other places, but I am constrained by what Red lacks. So I've dreamed of buying a small RV, a camper-van of the sort I could live in for a month or more, roaming national parks and other public lands, and offering my services as an eradicator of invasive plants in return for time to explore and soak up these unique and wild landscapes. I grew up camping with my family in campers my dad and granddad built in stripped-down delivery vans, and I cherish those memories. 

I imagine spending a couple of weeks weeding in Zion National Park in spring, for instance, and Mesa Verde. Or Big Bend National Park in Texas, Lava Beds National Monument in Idaho, North Cascades National Park in Washington, and Saguaro National Park in Arizona. 

After my first season in Yellowstone, I did some research and found what looked like the perfect small RV for me, a Roadtrek Zion SRT, a 20-foot-long camper built on a Dodge Ram chassis, with a comfy queen bed in the back that converts into a dinette, a small and well-equipped kitchen, a wet bath (a bathroom that converts to a shower stall, common in small RVs), a heater, and best of all, solar panels to charge its batteries. 

Roadtrek Zion SRT

I talked to Roadtrek owners I met at Yellowstone, and they raved about the design and performance of their vehicles. The space is efficiently used, the materials environmentally friendly, the quality high, and their reliability and fuel-efficiency are legendary in the industry. One couple I talked to had been living in theirs for two years, working remotely from national parks they visited. 

I began planning, saving, and dreaming of buying my own Roadtrek, which I thought of as my rolling writing studio, a mobile and comfy home. Downsizing from my gorgeous restored Mid-Century Modern house and yard in Cody would allow me to cash out and buy my dream Zion SRT, solar panels, cherrywood-stained cabinetry and all. 

Zion SRT interior (partial)

In January, after the Cody house went under contract, I treated myself with a trip to La Mesa RV in Albuquerque, where I drove a Zion very like the one I wanted, and traded camping memories with the no-pressure salesman (thank you, John Zimmerman!). He answered all of my questions and assured me that if I put down my deposit in the next month or so, I could have exactly the Roadtrek I wanted built by late spring. 

I told John I would get back to him in a few weeks, once the house contract had cleared the major hurdles. And I drove home jazzed. I could see my dream coming true. I began planning my summer in Yellowstone, only with my comfy new Roadtrek, which I had already named Mercuria for her silver color. 

And then… The day my real estate agent texted to say that the Cody house sale had made it through the last hurdle, and closing was just over two weeks away, I checked the newsletter of a journalist who is also a Roadtrek owner. He reported disturbing rumors about possible financial irregularities revealed in the family-owned company's books. The factory had shut down temporarily, he said. Uh oh. 

I called John. He had heard the rumors too, but the talk in the industry was reassuring: Roadtrek was a valuable brand, the factory would re-start soon, and all would be well. But since the factory had ceased production, John offered to check with the other branches of the dealership to see if any had "my" dream Zion SRT in stock. It turned out there was one in Arizona, and La Mesa could truck it to Albuquerque in a few days. We talked price, and trade-in for Red, and struck a deal. I gulped, put down $5,000 for a deposit, with closing on the sale to happen a few days after my Cody house sold. 

When Mercuria arrived in Albuquerque, John texted photos. I couldn't wait to see her, do a final test-drive, and drive her home to Santa Fe. My dream was coming true!


House closing in Cody went off without a hitch on Friday, February 15th. And that same day, Roadtrek went belly up. All 850 workers at the two plants in Ontario came to work and were told that they no longer had jobs, a huge loss for them and their families. $300 million had somehow gone missing from the company's assets, and it was going into receivership. 

The dealership went into action: They purchased a stem-to-stern warranty program to substitute for what Roadtrek could no longer provide, they began stockpiling parts, especially the proprietary lithium batteries, from Roadtrek suppliers; they offered their decades of experience and continuing support. All of which I appreciated. 

My head said go for it: Mercuria was my dream tiny rolling home and I was getting a good deal at a steep discount. Except… I began having anxiety dreams and waking in the night, heart racing. I read all the news I could find about the company: people were snapping up the remaining available inventory, industry insiders speculated that the brand would be bought out of bankruptcy, the factories re-opened, and warranties would be honored again. All of which was reassuring. 

But… my gut still felt deeply uneasy about investing such a large chunk of my retirement cash in the RV I had dreamed of without a company to back it up. This morning when I woke up at four am worrying again, I decided to let that dream go. Mercuria isn't right for me now. But I know she will be perfect for someone else. 

What is Plan B? 

I've spent the day looking at other RVs on the internet, and found that there just isn't anything I love enough to justify paying out what to me is a stupendous sum of money. Furthermore, I realized that at heart, I am the homemade, back-of-a-truck, small-footprint sort of camper. I need something more all-weather than Red's topper, but not something as fancy as Mercuria.

So I've re-thought my plan and gone back to a dream I tried unsuccessfully to convince Richard to go for years ago: Buy a small SUV (a hybrid now that they're becoming available) and a tiny teardrop trailer, just big enough for a bed and sitting area, with a back hatch that opens into a covered kitchen. 

Teardrop trailer in the snow. Photo: Colorado Teardrops

I think I know just the trailer, a Basedrop from Colorado Teardrops, kitted out with extras like a solar panel for power, a pumped water supply, and star-gazing skylight. For the tow vehicle, I'm inclined toward a Toyota Rav4 hybrid, a small and fuel-efficient SUV with the comforts I've gotten used to, like heated seats and a good stereo system for long road-trips. 

Basedrop kitchen Photo from Colorado Teardrops

The lesson: Adapt. Don't cling to dreams that no longer suit us. Times change–and if we don't change with the times, we risk making decisions and going in directions we will likely at least regret later, if not actually suffer for.

So I've let go of Mercuria, and saved a bunch of money in the doing. I can see myself tooling down the road in my Rav4 hybrid, blue I think, towing a tiny solar-powered trailer where I can cook myself dinner, write and read, and sleep soundly after a long day of digging weeds, snug as can be. That sounds like me… 

Life Lessons from Windshield Time

The drive home from my working weekend in New Mexico was a little more exciting than my windshield time usually is, in part because of long stretches of road construction and drivers who behaved like they had never seen orange barrels before and either drove VERY slowly down the middle of the two-lane highway so to avoid those scary edges, or drove VERY fast, weaving around the other traffic. 

And also because of the weather. Cumulus clouds clogged the sky in a way that reminded me of the Navajo saying: It takes many sheep before the rain comes. (The sheep in the clouds in the photo above are beginning to flock over June-green prairie.)

As those cloud-sheep gathered, I drove through the streaming virga (curtains) of a few hard showers, loving the smell of rain on dry soil. And then, about an hour from home in the high desert of the San Luis Valley, the sheep grew into towering cumulonimbus clouds, and the wind began to gust, slapping the truck. 


As I drove toward this virga, it thickened and shut out the sun beyond it. And then, when I was directly under it, the dark cloud let loose and marble-sized hail began to smack Red's already-cracked windshield and explode like rifle shots off the roof and hood. In moments, the visibility shrank from miles to yards, and the pavement went from dry to slippery with thousands of hail ball-bearings.

I slowed from 70 mph to 45, and then to 35 as the curtain of hail narrowed the visibility even more and my wipers began to gum up with slushy ice. The hail begn to piled up, and an oncoming truck suddenly shot off the now slippery road, fortunately coming to a stop upright and undamaged. A car followed it. I slowed and both drivers waved, so I crept on, squinting through the hail to see the road ahead as best I could. 

A few loud minutes later, the car that had been half a mile ahead of me metamorphosed in the banging curtain of hail, stopped dead in the middle of the road. I rolled down my window, but that driver waved me on too, so Red and I slalomed around it, and kept on going. 

A long mile or so later, I saw sun ahead, and thought to shoot a photo of the hail (and my gummed up windshield wiper, as it passed by). What looks like sand in the roadside ditches is actually hail, and the pavement is awash in hail, now beginning to melt. Whew!

That little storm was definitely more exciting than I prefer my windshield time to be, and I hope all emerged unscathed as Red and I did. 

Mountain weather is definitely unpredictable. But that's true of all of life, really, isn't it?

We like to think we are in control and know what's ahead. But we aren't and we don't. 

So perhaps my windshield time yesterday was simply life-practice. Here's the wisdom I take from it:

  • When the hail of life hits without warning, don't panic and drive off the road. Or stop in the middle of the pavement. 
  • Take a deep breath and continue on at a reasonable pace.
  • Stay alert; offer help whenever possible.
  • Be open to wonder, even if it's the cacophony of hail on a steel truck roof and the cracking of ice-balls on the windshield. 
  • Watch for the sunshine ahead. No storm lasts forever, even though the moments in it may feel like that. 

On Thursday, I'm hitting the road again, this time bound for Wyoming and an adventure that makes me a little anxious. First a weekend in Cody teaching "Design With Nature" at Thomas the Apostle Center. That I'm looking foward to. 

Then I head for Yellowstone National Park and two weeks of volunteering on whatever ecological restoration work the Park Botanist would like me to do.

Why am I anxious?

First, I'm not young anymore. It's been 35 years since I last worked in Yellowstone. (I'll be sixty this fall.)

Second, I'll be camping in Red for two weeks, the longest I've gone without sleeping in a bed and having indoor plumbing for… well, decades. 

Third, Yellowstone's roads may be clogged with millions of visitors in summer, but go a quarter mile off the road, the crowds vanish, and wilderness takes over. I revel in that wildness and the level of being present it asks of me, but I also know from personal experience how easy it is to go afoul of the big predators, or simply fall and never make it out.

So I'm going to keep the windshield-time life lessons from yesterday's hailstorm in mind. I won't panic.

I'll slow down, stay alert, be open to wonder, and no matter how bad the storm, I'll look for the sunshine ahead. 

I'll also do my best to post about my adventures, but I don't know how often I'll have internet access. So if I'm quiet for a few weeks, don't worry. I'm off on an adventure, doing the planet-healing work I love, and refreshing my essential stores of wonder and joy.