Tag Archives: Writing

Someone we need to remember

this Memorial Day: Kara Hultgreen F-14 pilot in the U.S. Navy, who perished in a tragic accident in 1994. I got to know Hultgreen lo so many years ago while researching Tailspin: Women at War in the Wake of Tailhook. I wrote the book at a tipping point – in 1992, the Navy changed its outdated policies on recruitment, retention, training and selection of occupational fields to be “gender neutral to the maximum extent possible.” Women could now serve in all combat positions except SEAL commando units and submarines, and the top brass was putting them on aircraft carriers methodically, albeit slowly. Of course, women had long served honorably, and they had earned this expanded role.

Just as the book was going to press, Hultgreen died.

When she trained as an F-14 Tomcat pilot alongside men when she didn’t know if she would ever get to serve as anything other than as an instructor. Now that the Navy had changed its rules for women, she would get the chance to go out on real missions. Hultgreen was rangy and brash and smart, like so many of her male counterparts in Navy flying. I had spent hours with her, much because so many people I had interviewed said, Kara, she’s the one you should talk to. She’s the real thingA real Top Gun. Her handle was The Hulk. Now she had carrier qualified (brought her F-14 to land on the deck of the carrier with its tailhook catching the wire stretched across the deck) and she’d joined the Black Lions of VF-213, who were getting ready to deploy to the Persian Gulf. Her squadron’s aircraft carrier was the USS Abraham Lincoln, or, as Hultgreen enjoyed calling it, the Babe-raham Lincoln – the Babe.

I was writing the last few pages of Tailspin, writing about Kara and the future of naval aviation’s women, when I opened the Times on October 26, 1994 to see her picture. During a practice run over the Pacific, as Hultgreen was readying her plane to land, the aircraft suddenly lost altitude and crashed into the ocean. She wasn’t able to eject in time to survive the accident.

Women in today’s military know the chances they are taking.  That old chestnut, She died doing what she loved, is one I have always found a bit dubious, yet in this case it was so true. As you enjoy the blockbuster Top GunMaverick, remember Kara as a true maverick and leader in naval aviation.


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The zig zag trail leads…where?

First you have to see it. Can you see it?

Maybe you can’t go all the way. Maybe the rocks underfoot prove too much for you, even if the saguaro forest at Spur Cross Ranch tempts you.

Beefy, odd, some more masculine than others.

A well placed bench welcomes us. Behind is a mature mesquite, shaggy and fissured.

A plaque on the back of the seat has a few words from

Walking in Beauty, the closing prayer from the Navajo Way blessing ceremony:
In beauty I walk
With beauty before me I walk
With beauty behind me I walk
With beauty above me I walk
With beauty around me I walk
It has become beauty again

The lines are supposed to bring peace and calm, and I’m beginning to feel iit, surrounded by an intense aroma that floats on the hot air, herbal and intoxicating, combined with the smell of horse. So many ride these Cave Creek trails.

My father would always find a bench. I don’t like to walk, he always said. I never understood. You’d find him seated, whether on the side of a trail, say, or on a bench at one end of a museum exhibit even when the greatest Jackson Pollack canvas in the world could be found at the other end. He wouldn’t move.

This trail has ancient rocks that have never moved, hot to the touch.

My mother says it’s strange because when my father hit the tennis court he was a demon, with a killer serve.

I think now he was just at home in his skin. He didn’t need art, or a view from a hiking trail.

Sometimes you find a tableau in the desert. Frozen, totally stationary, looking as if were posed by a mighty hand. My mother found one today.

Sometimes you see a saguaro that took protection as it grew under a larger plant, one quite different from itself.

My father never blinked when I said I wanted to go to grad school for an MFA in poetry. What a useless endeavor! He bankrolled the whole thing, and launched me as a writer.

Am I growing up yet? Like the saguaro, I’m taking a long time to be in my skin. I’m trying to be patient. “Patience is also a form of action,” said Auguste Rodin.

There might be birds here, sometime, if you wait patiently.

Two century plants side by side, one quite dead, one obviously alive.

Sometimes the llve and the dead grasses grow together.

In one of his most acute descriptions, Walt Whitman praised “the beautiful uncut hair of graves.”

Today, down a hill, Cave Creek.

Little more than a trickle now. In another season the rains will come and the creek will rise.

All we can do is observe and be patient.

Wendell Berry writes:

It may be that when we no longer know what to do 
we have come our real work, 

and that when we no longer know which way to go 
we have come to our real journey. 

The mind that is not baffled is not employed. 

The impeded stream is the one that sings.

Not a long trail today, but one just the right length.

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A few corny sentiments

are in order when you’re sprung from your Covid cell, told you’ve tested negative and are free to storm the world again.

I walked in the miraculous Arizona desert landscape, among plants that are ancient yet fresh, survivors on only a few drops of rainfall a year.

The oft-quoted lines from a Mary Oliver poem seemed relevant, as sentimental as they sometimes seem: “what is it you plan to do/With your one wild and precious life?” Well, I thought about it as I walked.

What in fact do I want to do?

Pacing the perimeter of my parents’ development, I thought I might want to take some inspiration.

To kiss and to hug. That’s something that you think of first when you’ve been told not to come up close to anybody, even wearing a mask.

To hydrate.

The city of  Scottsdale actually goes out and dribbles water on individual plants. That’s responsible.

Allow my book to germinate.

Toughen my hide.


Stretch out.


Pay attention to what’s above.

Be thornier.

Burst forth.

If I can do any of these things with a microcosmic bit of the spirit of the sage inhabitants of the desert, it will be awesome.


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Not MY Stokes,

I thought when I saw the 1905 statue that stands square in the middle of Ocean Grove, New Jersey.

My Stokes, of course, is I.N. Phelps Stokes, the white-shoe iconographer and Manhattan-phile I wrote about in Love, Fiercely: A Gilded Age Romance. This was a different branch of the Stokes clan and a man famous for a completely different kind of endeavor: saving souls.

Ellwood Stokes founded Ocean Grove in the mid-nineteenth century and it rapidly became a Methodist camp  meeting community with regular revivals at over which he presided. Pastors still come to the place to share their wisdom, although the subject matter differs a bit. When we leaned into the godly precincts there was an avid audience of worshippers laughing as the minister described his wife’s morning sickness and linked it to Godliness.

If you want to find out the conditions for swimming at the delightful beach you get a biblical proverb too, something to ponder as you tan. Bruce Springsteen grew up right down the way, but I have a feeling he did not come here for spiritual inspiration.

Ocean Grove is one of the most picturesque towns I’ve been to. Totally dry, too.

Houses are almost impossibly charming. It seemed people were sleeping in the Saturday we visited, it was so quiet.

Gingerbread to die for.

Flaming crape myrtle in almost every yard.

When Stokes founded the place those houses would not have existed.

He was so proud when the 9,000 seat Great Auditorium went up.

Parishioners set up modest platform tents to be nearer to the action.

They still stand, and are a hot commodity.

The real estate in Ocean Grove is competitive, but writer-types still manage to sneak in. Introducing Nancy Naglin, who with her husband J.J. Kane first summered here and then wound up as a permanent resident.

Nancy wrote an incredible book called Orphan of the Century, a wild ride that depicts a boy born in 1923 as he roams the underworlds of Poland, China and other countries as a crack pool player – an epic story of gambling, survival, sexual identity and the dignity of the human heart.

Orphan of the Century may be purchased at Amazon and will make a fine gift for anyone who likes adventure and fun in a summer read as well as the occasional racy tweak. To quote the back, which is sometimes a good idea, the novel “is an epic story of gambling, survival, sexual identity and the dignity of the human heart.” It’s on my bedside table now. I think Ellwood Stokes would have read it in secret for some private titillation.

Come to Ocean Grove and spend an afternoon under the town’s lovely park of white pines. Nancy will sign a copy for you.


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