- Robert L. Giron
This issue features
photography by Jeff Corwin,
nonfiction by Michael Cohen,
poetry by Natalie D.C.,
poetry by Peter Dellolio, and
fiction by Patricia Ljutic
South Ghost Ranch New Mexico 2
South Ghost Ranch New Mexico 2, Photography/Piezography Print, 30x40"
Copyright © 2020 by Jeff Corwin.
About the Artist
Jeff Corwin with over 40+ years as a successful award-winning commercial photographer, has taken photos out of a helicopter, in jungles, on oil rigs and an aircraft carrier. Assignments included portraits of famous faces and photos for well-known corporate clients.
Corwin has turned his discerning eye to fine art photography. He still creates photographs grounded in design. Humble shapes, evocative lines. Eliminate clutter. Light when necessary. Repeat.
His fine art photography has garnered awards, national and international museum exhibitions, gallery shows, work in permanent collections, features in numerous fine art publications, radio and newspaper interviews and representation by several contemporary galleries.
On Getting Lost
You can’t get lost if your GPS is working, a fact that is at once encouraging and sad. The assurance of never losing your way is no doubt comforting, but being lost concentrates the mind in a way that nothing else does. The unique experience of being lost begins in disorientation and moves quickly toward fear, but where it might lead from there is the interesting part.
Ernest Thompson Seton asks a bunch of scouts how often they’ve been lost, and he knows that anyone who answers “never” is a tenderfoot who hasn’t spent much time camping. Seton’s advice, in the very first Boy Scout Handbook of 1911, is to keep warm and stay put, unless there is a sure and obvious way back to camp, such as backtracking along your own snow trail, letting your dog or horse have its head to lead you back, or getting high enough so that you can see camp from where you are. Signal fires and ground signals, patience and calm are his recommendations.
In the 12th edition of the Boy Scout Handbook (2009), that commemorates 100 years of scouting, the advice is not much different. But instead of a group of scouts being asked about being lost, the same point is made in a supposed historic exchange with Daniel Boone. “Have you ever been lost?” someone asks him, and Boone replies, “no, but once I was confused for about five days over where I was.” The actual advice offered the scout here differs little from Seton’s a century earlier. If there are no obvious ways to retrace your steps, stay calm, sit tight, and signal.
There have been a couple of instances when I became lost while flying a small plane. These days, even without GPS, there are remedies for that feeling of being “situationally challenged,” a euphemism pilots use, presumably because they think using the word lost is bad luck that might bring on the fact. Some golfers will never use the word shank for kindred reasons. But a flyer in a place with radar coverage—all of the United States and other developed countries has such coverage—need merely contact Air Traffic Control and tell them he is lost. ATC will give him a code to enter in his radar transponder and his location will light up on ATC’s radar map. The controller can then not only give the flyer’s current position, but also vector him to the nearest airport, or his destination.
Being lost in the air is thus a relative thing, but I believe that the problem occurs fairly often, even though ATC never hears about it. Before I tell you about my own losing my way, let me just mention a famous flyer’s account of his experience in a time and on a continent—South America—where the easy remedies were not available. No GPS, no radar, no ATC. Ernest Gann describes this harrowing event in Fate Is the Hunter (1961): he and a copilot were flying toward Corumbá in Brazil using a map with few details over a jungle that had no landmarks. They set a compass course straight for the city, which is on the river Paraguay, knowing that winds could push them off course one way or the other—reliable weather reporting was not available, either. Short of fuel, they come upon the river, but see no town or airfield. Which way to turn? They have fuel enough to explore only one direction. They choose, for no particular reason, south, and they land safely at Corumbá. The episode illustrates Gann’s thesis, expressed in the book’s title, that only fate kept him from joining the 400 dead flyer friends to whom he dedicates the book; listing their names takes four pages at the beginning. I will come back to Gann’s adventure on the River Paraguay later. But even though it may be anticlimactic after Gann, let me tell you about my first time getting lost.
I was returning from my first solo cross-country flight, one of the required steps on the way to a private pilot’s license. I had successfully flown the first leg of the flight, finding my way to an airport more than fifty nautical miles from my home base, as required. I was flying back and was less than ten miles from my home airport. I should have been able to see it ahead, since various waypoints I had identified from the map confirmed me that I was on the right course. But I could not see the airport ahead, or anywhere to the left or right. I made a slow circle, looking everywhere below, and still could not see it. I had just enough time to feel a panic response—my heart racing—before I remembered that a major east-west state road was only a couple of miles south of the airport. I was approaching from the north. I turned to the west and flew several miles to be sure I would be on that side of the airport. Then I turned south until I reached the road. As soon as I turned back to the east I saw the airport ahead.
I was embarrassed to have not seen the airport at first, but I learned things from this little fright. I already knew that a small, single-runway airfield can be hard to see when you approach it at right angles; buildings and even vegetation can hide the runway until you are nearly over it. I knew this, but it hadn’t conditioned and trained the way I was searching for the airport; even without seeing the strip of concrete, a searcher can imagine how it affects the surroundings and look for hangars along it, for example, or a straight-line break in the picture presented to the eye. That little lesson was brought home to me, but more important was the confidence the incident gave me. Even with a little panic rush, I kept thinking. This is, I suppose, the main lesson Seton wanted his scouts to learn.
If you tend to get lost, read a delightful little book by Harold Gatty called Nature Is Your Guide: How to Find Your Way on Land or Sea by Observing Nature (1958). Dover Publications found that title unwieldy and retitled it Finding Your Way without Map or Compass. Neither title does justice to what Gatty gives us. He describes navigation by the Polynesians, the Arabs, and the Scandinavians using migratory routes of birds as guides—and sometimes the birds themselves, as in the land-finding bird releases described in Gilgamesh and Genesis—as well as observations of stars, the use of sea movements such as swells, and the construction of a pre-compass directional device called the pelorus, like a compass card without the needle, that could be oriented by the stars and used to steer a very accurate course over long distances.
Gatty emphasizes observation more than its practical use in navigation. He praises the lifetime habit of seemingly aimless poking around and looking that turned Gilbert White into the prototype of the naturalist and Charles Darwin into the preeminent biological thinker of the nineteenth century. Baden-Powell and the whole scouting movement also come in for admiring notice. This section reminded me of Russell Hoban’s character Tom, who just looks around and messes around and eventually beats the professionals in Hoban’s delightful children’s classic, How Tom Beat Captain Najork and His Hired Sportsmen (1974).
When Gatty is describing all of the methods one can use to keep from traveling in circles when in the wild, he mentions a navigational trick long-distance flyers can use when their destination is on a natural line such as a river or coastline. The method is one of intentional error: purposely steering to one or the other side of the target far enough to overcome an error that might occur through wind, for example. Then, when the river or coast is reached, the flyer turns the other way along it and soon encounters the target. Of course, Gatty’s method reminded me immediately of Gann’s adventure in trying to get to Corumbá.
Why didn’t Gann use the intentional error technique Gatty describes? Gatty was Wiley Post’s navigator in their 1931 round-the-world flight and used the technique to find an airfield on the Amur River in Siberia, where they needed to refuel. Gann’s flight was some years later. Wouldn’t he have known about the method? Or perhaps he did know about and used it, but thought the “which way?” narrative had more suspense and more of the fateful in it. When I read Gatty later, I realized that the method I used to find my way back to my home base on that first cross-country was actually the wayfinding method Gatty described. I flew to the west until I knew I would be on that side of the airport when I got to the road near it. Then when I found the road I turned back to the east, and there was the airport.
The second time I was lost, I had flown from Tucson on my way to the Bisbee-Douglas airport near the border with Mexico. It took me an hour and a half because I wanted to avoid the controlled airspace around Tucson’s public airport and the huge Davis Monthan Air Force Base nearby, and there is a restricted area around the army’s Fort Huachuca base I also needed to avoid. I must have gotten disoriented once I flew into the Lower Sulphur Springs Valley. After looking for my airport for a while—it has runways that form a T and should have been easy to identify—I realized I must have missed it and was south of it. I came upon another small airport. I knew it wasn’t Bisbee because there was no town nearby. It couldn’t be Douglas Municipal for the same reason. (Both towns have their own airports as well as a shared one that is not close to either town.) But I knew I was very near the Mexican border, and I didn’t want to stray into Mexico. So I landed at the little airport and discovered it to be Cochise College’s airfield. Now that I was oriented, I took off again and flew to Bisbee-Douglas to refuel. Then I flew through a pass in the Mule Mountains to the west and over the town of Bisbee and its open-pit copper mine. I also flew east to look at Douglas Muni and its situation, just a mile from the border. I wanted to be sure that I knew just where everything was and how it all fitted into the picture of the valley with mountains to the east and west.
It’s not easy to explain how I became lost in a piece of desert where there are four airports within about twenty miles of each other. I suppose there is no point in arguing that I knew where I was even though I didn’t know exactly where I was. I could at any time have turned around, headed north, and then found my way back to Tucson, with or without the help of Interstate 10, that leads from the top of that valley straight to Tucson. But even though the scout figures out how to make it back to camp, she has had that moment when she knows she is lost.
When I am flying and consulting a map, I look down at a two-dimensional picture where landscape features are symbolically represented, and I literally look down at landscape features that I try to match to my map (most of us call it a map, though seamen and airmen would correct us and call it a chart). But the Gatty method of approaching a destination, and the one I used in getting unlost in my first cross-country, is a procedural wayfinding method—aim left or right, north or south of your target. Then find an artery—river or road—and turn the other way until you come to the spot you’re looking for.
These are two very different methods of finding your way through the world. In one, I find my way home from the pub, befuddled with drink as I may be, by remembering that I turn right at the first corner, walk two blocks, turn left, and then look for the apartment block that has a green light illuminating the street number over the door. In the other method, you see in your mind’s eye a pattern of streets as you step out of the pub. You are on one of these, and your home is several blocks away. The visualized map tells you where to turn and how many blocks to walk before you turn again.
Maura O’Connor looks at these two methods in Wayfinding: The Science and Mystery of How Humans Navigate the World (2019). She also asks what is going on in the brain when our memory of getting from place to place gets translated into actually moving, finding our way, wayfaring. Is information about the world filed in the brain like a mental chart, a “cognitive map” in which points and landmarks are stored and organized into a two-dimensional relation, or the equivalent in firing neurons? Or do we work by “route knowledge,” a sequence of points, landmarks, and natural signs that make a path from one place to another? It turns out that we don’t know where in the brain wayfaring knowledge is stored, though the hippocampus is a likely suspect, and we don’t know whether these methods of wayfaring—cognitive map versus memory of turn and direction sequence—are features of individuals, perhaps genetically determined, or culturally determined. She does arrive at one conviction: the erosion of wayfinding skills by the use of compass, map, and GPS is a loss for human beings, whose culture and brains seem to be adapted to assimilate and remember a myriad of clues in the environment to help us find our way to food and back to each other.
For many of us, getting lost is the way we become aware of what it means not to be lost, to know one’s way, to know where one is. Pilots have a fancy way of saying this—“situational awareness,” which is the simultaneous consciousness of what the attitude of one’s airplane is as well as its altitude, the direction it’s going and its relation to features on the ground. But mostly we navigate in two dimensions rather than three. To know a city, for instance, means to know the grid of its streets, or how the river or railway or coastline turns what might have been a grid into a much more complex pattern. Knowing a city well also means familiarity with its neighborhoods.
Tucson is the city I know best, and knowing it means for me that you could set me down at any intersection in the city and I would not feel lost or disoriented. If, as is likely, I didn’t know exactly where I was, walking a block or two in any direction would be enough to let me know. How is this orientation achieved? Certainly, it is more than knowing the streets. We absorb a sense of neighborhood by becoming aware of its shops, how they look and smell, and getting used to the kinds of houses or apartments we find there. This awareness of particular streets and what’s likely to be found in them is the opposite of being lost. Yet an irony of the process of grounding yourself in an urban landscape is that it is most effectively done by aimless and even directionless wandering that looks like intentionally getting lost. The French named the process flânerie centuries ago. The flâneur strolls or wanders in search of the unique, the outré, the distinctively interesting. These are locating features as well as fascinating ones; once we have absorbed the flavor of a neighborhood, we can place it in the city plan with the locating precision of GPS coordinates. And you can’t get lost if your GPS is working.
About the Author
Michael Cohen is the author of And Other Essays and A Place to Read. Visit his blog:
Country of Mine
my country is
butterfly hot-spotted fields,
plucking primrose and chicory off the side of the highway
to feed the birds breeding in our attic-turned-aviary.
my country is
July nights fueled by
fire crackers and
staying up on a school night,
without worrying that we’re running out of time.
my country isn’t
getting ostracized from the kids across the street
playing on repeat as we
fear for our lives walking through Walmart,
envisioning getting shot down before we can even get one last glimpse of our house; i
never thought it would come to this
where my happy dad’s become a pessimist
asking “do we even have a future here?”
hopping from rising gas prices to hate crimes
as i struggle not to cry; it’s
getting harder to live in a country
that’s gone strange in the head.
my country has always been
a land that’s promised I could
kiss whomever I please, could
be whomever I want to be.
now, it’s nothing but
“political correctness” gone
out the door alongside human decency,
it’s hard to breathe
living in this twisted country of mine.
Copyright © 2023 by Natalie D.C.
About the Author
Natalie D.C. is a 19-year-old artist and writer based in Pittsburgh, PA. Her writing grapples with her erratic mental health and paradoxical queer half-Moroccan identity. She has been published in RMU’s Rune, The Echo, Porridge Magazine, Pile Press and elsewhere. When she isn’t busy working towards her BA in Public & Professional Writing, you can usually find her re-reading her favorite book over and over, watching K-dramas with her little sister or filling her walls with anything and everything that makes her smile. Her debut poetry chapbook, blue pearl, is available from Bottlecap Press.
Peter J. Dellolio
Stillness of a Lizard
Stillness of a lizard
as if it is stone
as if it is a photograph
that it will no longer move
that it is an imitation of itself
the motionlessness of death
the immobility of death
a feeling that nothing can change
a feeling that finality is eternal
that is the feeling
leaving the chapel
walking away from the casket
walking away from the body
that has the
stillness of a lizard.
Copyright © 2023 by Peter J. Dellolio.
Thoughts of White and Blue
Thoughts of white
and blue, a piece
of wood and a canvas patch,
as the man in an old
sailor cap hurries across
his shoulder at this
thinking thoughts of sea and surf,
the little boy decides
that there must be a
lighthouse waiting for
this man who is walking so
briskly and has already
disappeared into the chaos
of rushing pedestrians
across the street.
People should stop and politely
greet him! the child thinks
to himself. Someone in their
family could be on one of the
ships he guides.
He tugs his mother’s hand to share this
revelation but she has to finish her
shopping and hurries towards
the supermarket with her son in tow.
Copyright © 2023 by Peter J. Dellolio.
About the Author
Peter J. Dellolio latest book of poetry A Box of Crazy Toys was published in 2018. His work has appeared in Both Sides Now, the Midwest Quarterly, The Yale Poets Anthology, AURA Literary Arts Review, and in the Romanian journal Revista Acolada.
The beast’s robotic arm lifts and empties the green recycling bin just two homes from where Eric digs through an identical container. The recycling truck scrapes and whines, devouring discarded Dr. Pepper and Pepsi cans, 5-hour Energy and Aquafina bottles, cardboard, tissue paper, plastic forks, and milk cartons. Eric hustles, fumbles, and drops two precious aluminum cans on the ground. Dreg spill from the cans onto his canvas sneakers.
Usually, Eric scavenges blocks ahead of the truck. But triple-digit days and nights and a late-night car crash near his encampment made the other occupants restless, and their constant chatter kept him awake. Eric curses his late start.
He rushes to beat the truck. This last house yields dozens of soda cans and water bottles that Eric brings to the redemption center for cash payments. His thin arms fanatically compete with the truck, scooping up everything he can before the beast reaches him. The owner dumped it all loose into the bin. Last week he sliced his left palm on a smashed wine bottle. The wound still stings. He curses the throbbing pain that prevents him from making up for the lost time.
The loose cans and bottles are sticky with sugar and smell like sour orange and apple juice spilled from the small boxes littered throughout the bin. He tosses the bottles and cans into a pillowcase. Eric can’t trust his calloused, dirty hands to identify broken glass and the sharp edges of smashed cans. Rushing like this is dangerous work. People put all kinds of stuff in recycling Just now, his fingers find a peanut butter jar. Some of the spread still clings to the inside of the container. The smell of creamy peanuts excites his hunger, but the asphalt trembles under Eric’s feet reminding him that the beast is next door.
Ignoring the peanut butter on his fingers, Eric tosses the jar on top of the bags in his cart and keeps digging. Once he crams one pillowcase full of aluminum and plastic, Eric drops it into his shopping cart and starts loading up an empty one.
Behind him, Eric hears the low growl of the diesel engine as the beast idles, then the brakes engage.
“Get out of there!”
The truck operator has stepped into the street, shouting, arms splayed out from his sides. “Get out of there.” The man is shorter than Eric but broader, sturdier. He’s wearing steel-tipped boots.
Eric steps back. No one has ever yelled at him for scavenging. Eric sizes up the driver. While Eric is taller, the driver is thick, aggressive, and probably hasn’t missed a meal in his life. But it’s the steel toed boots that scare Eric. Hard to pick up cans with broken ribs. Eric pushes his cart toward the other side of the street, away from the driver. The worn wheels rattle against the asphalt as he retreats.
Marching up to the front of the cart, the truck operator blocks Eric’s path. “What’s wrong with you, man? You can’t go digging in our bins. Get out of here.”
Adrenaline rushes through Eric. His hands grip the handle, and he feels the urge to shove the cart into the guy’s belly. He resists. A fight could mean losing his cart. “It’s just trash. I recycle it.”
The operator throws back his shoulders and thrusts his chest forward. He snatches a bulging pillowcase out of the cart and shakes it at Eric. Then the driver grabs a second over-stuffed pillowcase and stomps toward the truck.
“Stop!” Eric walks around the cart toward the operator, “This is how I eat.”
The man turns back. “Me too. You’re lucky I don’t take that cart and everything in it.”
If he comes for the cart, Eric must fight. He has sores on his legs from spider and gnat bites, a cut on his hand, a stiff right shoulder, and an empty stomach. How could he win?
A harsh voice belts itself though the truck’s metallic hum. “What do you think you’re doing?” An overweight, white-haired woman with swollen ankles, wearing pink Crocs and a robe decorated with large pink roses, marches into the street.
The operator stares at the woman. He frowns. “I’m just taking back company property.”
She stands five feet away from him and points at the pillowcases. “That’s my garbage.”
He smirks. “Once you put it in the bin, it’s our garbage.”
“What are you talking about?”
The man shakes his head. “Lady, it’s our container. You toss it in there, and it’s ours.”
“But that man,” she points to Eric, “he comes every Monday and collects the recycling before you come.”
The driver glances at Eric, then back at the woman. “Ma’am, you can lodge a complaint on our website.” He steps toward the truck, but she blocks his way and keeps pointing.
“I paid for that trash. I pay the state recycling fees, and I pay you to take it away. If I want to give my trash to him, that’s my business.”
Grim-faced, the driver says, “This. Trash. Belongs. To. National Reuse.”
He then dashes around the woman, opens the driver’s side door, and tosses Eric’s filled pillowcases into the cab. As he climbs back into the truck, the woman shakes her fist at him, “You won’t be getting your hands on my recycling anymore.”
This is crazy. If Eric walks two blocks or so, he might be able to get ahead of the truck and make up for what the operator took. He takes control of his cart and begins wheeling it away, but the woman moves in front of him and blocks his cart. She is almost as wide as she is tall and smells of too much lavender. “Where you going?” she says. “Come on over to my yard.”
The hungry beast rolls past them with a roar.
Eric nods and follows her to her fence line.
“Stay here,” she says.
Eric fantasizes about receiving five dollars. It seems too much to hope for ten.
The lavender lady returns faster than he expects with a shopping bag full of cans, a bottle of water, and a cream-filled doughnut.
“Here,” she says, handing him the shopping bag, “I know what it feels like to have an empty belly. These are the bottles that didn’t make it into the trash. Here’s some water and a doughnut. I see you working for your food.”
Erick looks down at what she doles out to him, and he takes it all. “Thank you,” he says, wanting to bite into the pastry immediately but waiting because the woman keeps talking.
“I won’t be feeding you again. I don’t give handouts, but my trash belongs to me. Every damn bottle and can has a five cents recycling fee that I pay. Five cents! Money ain’t worth nothing anymore. But I’ll decide who gets my trash and that money. You show up here on Mondays, and I’ll set recycling inside my gate. Just there.” She points to the left side of the gate. “You come open the gate, take it, and leave. Don’t cause me any trouble, and my bags will be waiting here for you every week.”
Eric stares at her white hair and swollen, pasty skin. If he shows how he feels, how angry he is living off of other people’s trash, that this life is one big shit-show, there won’t be any cans for him. And the doughnut smells so sweet; it’s making him dizzy.
Lavender lady keeps talking. “No man will tell me what I can do or can’t do with my trash. I’ll do what I want with what belongs to me. Do you know that most of the stuff we turn in doesn’t even get recycled? It gets buried in some landfill or shipped off to a foreign country. Might as well make it worth something. As long as you cause me no problems and leave no mess for me to clean up like that damn truck sometimes does, you can take it to the redemption center down the road there and make use of my five cents.”
She turns and closes the door without saying another word. Eric stuffs half the doughnut into his mouth and chews. It’s so sweet the cream melts on his tongue and soothes his dry throat. Feeling the pleasure and surge of sugar, he shuts his eyes. In two more bites, he finishes the pastry and licks the remnants of the sugar glaze and cream from his finger, then gulps the water. It’s transformative to eat.
If he takes Fourth and then runs up Wright Avenue, Eric can get ahead of the truck and beat the beast to its meal. Eric grabs the handle of his cart and pushes it in front of him. As he runs, the clanking of the wheels sounds like a fanfare.
Copyright © 2023 by Patricia Ljutic.
About the Author
Patricia Ljutic writes literary, speculative and flash fiction, essays, poetry and an occasional horror story. Her work has appeared in Bards and Sage Quarterly, upstreet Literary Magazine, Everyday Fiction, Chicken Soup for Soul, Down in the Dirt Magazine, Pulse: Voices from the Heart of Medicine, Cup of Comfort, Dark Fire Fiction, Cradle Songs: An Anthology of Poems About Motherhood and elsewhere. She lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her husband and son.