And It Was….

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December 31, 2019-

It was a time of loss.

The decade took Penny, my wife of twenty-eight years and nine months, both her parents Norm and Ruth (“Bunny”), two of her aunts Averala and Helen (“Honey”), two of  her cousins, Tom and Jean, and a cousin-in-law, Richard.

It took my maternal uncles, Carl and James,  Carl’s two children-Keith and Carla, and our cousin Ronnie.

It did not spare my father’s side of the family, either, taking Uncle George, Aunt Adeline (“Sissy”) and her son Bob.

It brought several others to the Life Beyond, friends all:  Christie Serino, Drew Crotty, Larry Silipigni, Alan and Rick Belyea, from my hometown of Saugus, MA;  Alison Sipes, from Indiana; Mildred “Mildoo” Forney, who, along with her daughter, made my visits to Oley, PA an annual pleasure; my American Legion comrades Bob Wittmann, Dennis Young, John Mortimer, Sue Chambers, Al Tercero-among several;  a host of Baha’i  fellows- Ali and Violette Nakhjavani, Nancy Coker, John Cook, Firuz Khazemzadeh, Avid Navidi, Dick Sloman, Moses Nakai, Russ Garcia, Chester Kahn, Roy Dewa, Tom Smith, Keith John Manybeads.

 It was a time of change.

It saw me get out of town, leaving Phoenix, after ten years.  Prescott, once more, became Home Base.

It saw our son, Aram, follow in the footsteps of many of his forebears, on both sides of the family and enter the service of his country, serving in the United States Navy, for nine years.

It saw him enter into matrimony.  Having returned to Korea, the land of his birth, as part of his service, Aram met and married Yunhee, a superlative addition to our family.

It saw us honour two of my nieces, who preceded him down the aisle, also bringing spouses who add luster to the Boivin brood.

It was a time of growth.

It brought in fourteen new members of my Grandniece/nephew Club and some new additions to my Greater Tribe.

There were a couple of good years, working full time, at Prescott High School, and several others spent substitute teaching.

The decade brought me the joy of giving back- with the American Red Cross, Slow Food, school garden projects, and the Farmers’ Market, as well as American Legion Post 6 and the Baha’i community.  It has brought me many new friends, members of my Tribe, who consistently make this life a thing of beauty.

Then, there were those journeys- annually to see family, on the East Coast, in the South and in the Midwest, which is never “Flyover Country” to me; my first solo visit to Europe, partly on my father-in-law’s behalf and partly because  I wanted to connect with the lands of my ancestors;  I returned to Korea, to  fully embrace my son’s wedding and to recap our life in Jeju; Hawaii welcomed me, in advance of the Tiger Cruise from Honolulu to San Diego, as Aram & crew returned from a Pacific Rim deployment; I fulfilled some of the dreams I shared with Penny, and explored the Pacific Northwest, a bit of British Columbia; southeast Alaska and eastern Canada; California, Nevada, Texas and Colorado were constantly seeing my face-largely to spend time with far-flung members of my Tribe.  Shorter, but no less meaningful, jaunts around Arizona, Utah and New Mexico filled in the blanks.

Now, the sun has risen on a new decade, for much of the world and the year, which once loomed as a pinnacle in my life, has a remaining shelf life of nine hours, here in the Mountain Standard Time Zone.

This decade of joy, sorrow, gain, loss, advances and setbacks will soon give way to another, likely much more of each.  Happy 2020, one and all!

2010-19: How I’ve Changed

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December 30, 2019-

It’s said that nothing in the Universe remains static for long. Even inanimate objects experience molecular change.  Of course, it’s been a while since I’ve been likened to a piece of furniture, and the blessed soul who made that comparison is himself long departed from our midst.

The decade now ending has been, in many ways, the most seismic in my life, since the 1980’s. In that decade, the changes were commensurate with full adulthood:  Finding spiritual footing, courting and marriage, solidifying of a career, loss of a parent, and  my own parenthood.

The changes that have come in the 2010s have been more in keeping with true maturity.  I’m not altogether there yet.  Few of us ever are.  The process has been in fits and starts, and suitably so, as everyone’s late middle age is unique.

So:

Losing a spouse– This was a long haul, and arguably something about which Penny warned me, several times throughout our wedlock..  It was the culmination of a lifelong, hereditary disease, that had come for a reckoning.  It made me responsible for the care of a vulnerable adult, at a time when a burgeoning adult needed us both.  There was always a balance to be struck.  The biggest lesson in this, was that never again could I indulge in the slightest amount of self-pity.  Buus Huus, the imaginary Roman patron of the woebegone, had taken his flight.

Altering my sense of community– I left Phoenix, after ten years, being alternately comforted in my sorrow and admonished about abandoning my duty to the community.  I found the latter ironic, as the West, especially in its urban and suburban contexts, has relied, to a great extent on the safety to be found in maintaining anonymity, in entering and exiting one’s residence, through the garage and inside a vehicle.

Prescott became my community, but it was, and is, more Home Base than castle.  I have dear friends here, who are never far from my mind.  Yet, the closest of them, even my best friend, know and accept that I have concern with people far afield.  Part of this is my Sagittarian being, part is boundless love.

Connecting with people– It’s become far easier for my mildly Asperger’s/autistic self to reach out to those not previously known to me, and to engage in meaningful conversation.  That has made both quotidian life and novel experiences more meaningful.  Largely gone is the concern with rejection.

Shedding long-held shackles– Subconscious  and  self-limiting views onto which I held, about women, people of colour and just about anyone different from me, have fallen away.  I’ve long known that overarching prejudice is wrong and have managed my behaviour accordingly.  In 2014, I was reproached regarding the residual bias, the microprejudices which, in retrospect, were continuing to cause difficulties in life.  Things like subtly expecting less of someone, because of gender, ethnicity or physical status constitute a forest that is hard to see for its trees-until someone comes along and blows the wake-up dog whistle.  Now, it is not possible for me to regard anyone solely on anything other than his or her merits.

Finally, self-acceptance– With all of these other changes comes a view of myself as fully worthy of taking my place in society.  There are few people, in Prescott and elsewhere, who choose to show me disrespect, and I know to disengage myself from such people, unless and until they change their attitudes.  Fall, 2018 was a litmus test of that practice, and was the first time, in many years,  that I totally blocked someone from my life.  The roof didn’t cave and life has proceeded just fine.

The changes that accompanied this decade are sure to have import for the years to come.  It’ll be fascinating to live.

My Top Reads of 2019

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December 29, 2019- 

I covered a decade, yesterday, but today I will take a brief look at the books which mattered most to me, this year.  I have covered key books of years past, as I finished them.

10.  Abby Wize:  AWAY (Revision)– This Baha’i-themed book was revised to include more detail and to flesh out a previously one-dimensional character.  It is the account of a young girl who has a vision of a spiritually-advanced society of the future, after suffering a head injury.

9. Spiritwalker– This tale, similar to Abby Wize, involves communication between a Hawaiian man and one of his descendants, in the far future.  It is more dystopian than Abby Wize, so expect a description of a more seemingly primitive future environment.

8. Winter of the World– The second volume of Ken Follett’s series of novels on the Twentieth Century, this tale covers several families’ experiences in Britain, the United States, Germany and Russia, in the 1930’s and 1940’s.

7.  Swimming for Sunlight– This novel follows a newly-divorced young woman, as she overcomes her guilt stemming from her father’s tragic death and her fear of life, that results from that guilt.

6. Testaments- (Reading in progress)- This novel is a sequel to Margaret Atwood’s “A Handmaid’s Tale”, offering details into the lives of individual women during the period of the fictional Republic of Gilead.

5.  Twelve Rules for Life (Reading in progress)- This non-fiction book, by Jordan Peterson, discusses twelve ethical principles and their application to both modern life and traditional Western thought.

4. The Alchemist– Paolo Coelho’s classic tale of a young man, traveling from Spain to Egypt, across the Sahara Desert and back, and of the spiritual transformation this brings about, in his life and that of those around him.

3. Gulistan (Reading in progress)-  This is a collection of poetry and stories, fdrawn from both the life and from the observations of a doctor who has keen insights into both Indian and American cultures and mores.

2.  Reflections of A Wonderful Life– These are the memoirs of my brother, presented in the form of answers to questions posed by his three children.  They mirror my own memories, in many ways.   Both this book and Gulistan have influenced my own memoirs, in terms of the format in which they will be presented.  No promises, but I look to getting them written, by this coming Fall.

1. The Brothers Karamazov– Feodor Dostoevsky’s seminal novel on the human condition, this novel is not so much concerned with Good vs. Evil, as it is with internal versus external loci of control.  The atheist paints a nihilistic portrait of the bleak Tsarist environment, whilst his own fervently religious brother, alternately optimistic and despairing, sees only the Will of God behind all happenings, both positive and negative.  The eldest brother  is presented as a rake, who fiercely clashes with his simpleton father, over a woman.  The resulting conflict has deadly results, giving rise to the novel’s debates among the brothers on matters of free will and morality.

These are the reads which influenced me the strongest, over the past twelve months.

 

The Decade’s Top Ten: Visual Media

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December 28, 2019- 

It’s high time for me to reflect back on 2010-19, with regard to a couple of topics, today and tomorrow, at least.  In my mind, the decade is nearly over.  I know there are those who figure that this decade has another year to run-as there was no “Year Zero”, and therefore, the first decade A.D. started with Year 1.  Technically, they’re correct, but I was born in 1950, so MY decades start with numbers ending in zero.  Anyone else may figure the passage of time, as s(he) sees fit.

Anyway, let me look at my ten favourite films and television series of the past ten years.

10.  Law and Order:  SVU– The subject matter is odious and the antagonists are almost always unsympathetic, but the role played by such peace officers as bring sexual perpetrators, no matter how well-connected, to justice, is gratifying to see.  The great Mariska Hargitay’s portrayal of an all-too-human Section Leader has been quite a year-to-year evolution.

9. Game of Thrones– Also chock full of odious subject matter, and the Grand Daddy of “Medieval Life meets Modern English Profanity” (which is now found in abundance, across Netflix and Prime Video).  It is, however, a well-crafted blend of stories and romans-a-clef, unfolding over eight seasons. The series writers did seem to run out of steam and rushed things along, in the last two episodes, but all in all it was a riveting series.

8. Mr. Robot– This mix of Sci Fi and government intrigue is also riveting, over time, with a good dose of snarkiness, especially in the way it portrays “secret” government operations and corporate decision-making.

7.  The Star Wars series- The last three films mirror the first three, which were actually the middle episodes.  The main pull, for me, was seeing how age had affected the three young heroes of the original triad. They were twenty-somethings when I was in that decade of life, so their aging reflected my aging, though I remain happily earthbound.

6.  Supernatural– The original monster hunters, (the maudlin Ghostbusters                       notwithstanding),  two brothers who have one another’s backs and don’t flinch at the most hideous of demons, are among the few TV protagonists I find worthy of bing-watching.

5.  The Hunger Games series- I never tire of watching Jennifer Lawrence prevail over both obvious and slightly-concealed adversaries, and she never plays the same role in more than one film, or series. I also am a huge fan of common folk, especially young people, speaking, and bringing, truth to power.  There was enough intrigue and trickery employed by the snarky Donald Sutherland and the diabolical Julianne Moore to make Jenn and her allies keep thinking on their feet.

4.  Winter’s Bone– While I am referencing Ms. Lawrence, the role where she first got my attention was that of Ree Dolley, the unsupervised teen who  looks for answers about the disappearance of her father.  This was a dark and saddening film, but the girl who won’t give up is one character type for whom I am always cheering.

3.  Dr. Who– I admit, I am a latecomer to this series, one of television’s most enduring SciFi entries.  Nonetheless, the concept of time travel, especially for the purpose of righting wrongs, is a fascinating notion-even if, in practice, it would engender never-ending chaos.

2.  The Martian– I am a die-hard “Earthbounder”, but Matt Damon’s semi-comedic astronaut gave much food for thought, and a little for nutrition, in this exploration of the practical side of interplanetary settlement.

1.  Spotlight– It didn’t quite go far enough, in exposing the true lengths, to which powerful people go, in protecting those who abuse and intimidate children, but the Spotlight series, the result of an intense investigation by my first hometown newspaper, The Boston Globe,  opened the gates for worldwide exposure of not only Catholic priests committing sexual abuse, but of a wide variety of institutions, whose members transgressed their boundaries.  It was the father of #MeToo, in many ways. The film brought the investigation out, masterfully.

This is just my own list, and there are many other visual media that merit praise.  I am always interested in what others regard as worthy of mention.

Points of Pride

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December 27, 2019-

I am in the process of looking back, at the year, and at the decade.  Some things, like saying farewells to those who left this life, and listing the Top Ten things that occurred in my small universe, are best left until the last day or so, of any given year.

Today, though, with four days left of the year, and decade, it’s fairly safe to talk about those in whom I feel the most pride.  There are, as it happens, ten such people.

In reverse order:

10.  A friend, Judy, always generous with her support of those who are struggling, emotionally, and with help for those who have a particular short-term need.  She’s not neglectful of herself, either, facing a health challenge that she’s found concerning, with consistent and carefully-planned progress.

9.  Another friend, Jenn, a born decorator and entertainer, who never tires of giving to our community, in both small and large ways. Suffice it to say, she has to do this work, even in the face of personal challenges.

8.  Cati, also a friend, who has realized the value of self-love and taking on life, with the support of strong friends and her true love.  May her strength long continue to grow.

7. Glenn, my brother, who casts a light before him, several miles long, leading us with a road map of facing what is , literally, the darkest of personal challenges:  Blindness.  He was Man of the Year, named by the Carroll Center for the Blind, a few years back.  The Carroll has served him well, but nowhere near as much as he has served himself, constantly moving forward on his own power.

6.  Friend, Monica, also dealing full-on with a severe personal health challenge, yet rarely without a smile and a kind word for friends and family.

5 and 4 .  Lexi and Austin, a young couple who have stepped forward together, and will leave an indelible mark on the world around them.

3. Friend, Melissa, who has faced every challenge in front of her, relying some on her Faith, yet not shrinking from dealing with unexpected challenges.

2 and 1-  My son and daughter-in-law, Aram and Yunhee, leaving behind a life of relative comfort, confident in their abilities, singly and together, to build a new life in a community unfamiliar to either of them.

There are many others, of whom I’m proud.  Some would never want to be publicly mentioned-and I’m sure that is a bit true of those above.  Regardless, to the extent that each of us throws ourselves into both the harshness and the solace afforded by this life, we can take a measure of self-pride.

 

Not A Grey Week

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December 26, 2019-

It was one of the nicest Christmas gatherings I’ve attended, in many years.  The weather was spotty, with flakes flying through the air, but not sticking.  We did wake up to a smidgen of snow on the ground, but it quickly dissolved into the dry soil.  Nonetheless, it’s always the camaraderie that makes the difference, regardless of weather, and  those of us who knew each other beforehand, quickly found even more friends, yesterday evening.

Today was similar, weatherwise, but different in focus.  I took care of a couple of errands, in Scottsdale and in Phoenix, while Yunhee checked an outlet mall, north of town.  We headed back before the predicted snow got going, and made it back with no issues.  She got to enjoy another of my favourite local eateries:  Bill’s Grill, before we went back to our respective lairs.

The days after Christmas, when I was growing up, were either our time to get into the toys and games we received, and learn their rules and proper usage.  I also spent a goodly amount of time with the Connect-the-Dots and colouring books that came in my Christmas stocking.  Sometimes, life seemed to get under our parents’ skin, in the last week of the year, and I began to be concerned, especially as a teen, that maybe all this holiday business was taking on the trappings of a second full-time job, for  Mom especially, when in my opinion, she worked hard enough, during the rest of the year.  It struck me that this greyness was the cost of all the Reds and Greens, even the White.

Time has gone by,  and the greyness no longer much registers.  Instead, there is this  sense that each day, having within itself a kernel of brightness, transcends whatever dullness is outwardly covering our midst.  So, whatever the humdrum rigmarole that must be settled, in the last few business days of the year, it can carry with it a portion of the joy, that the day which immediately preceded it, has imparted to us all, even if we accept it grudgingly.  Ebenezer learned this, and so have countless others.

How This Christmas Happened

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December 25, 2019-

There was a thin coating of snow, greeting us in Prescott, as the sun rose this morning.  A few more flakes fell from the sky, throughout the day.  Across the continent, a similar light snow fell in my home town of Saugus.

The day was quiet for many in my extended family, and for much of the day, it was quiet for me as well.  At 2:45, Yunhee and I headed over to the home of  a steadfast and enduring friend.  I brought my signature lasagna, though in retrospect, it could have used more sauce.   Yunhee brought her own creation, an applesauce pie-and I looked at it and saw that it was good.

Well, after about thirty minutes of banter, during which it was pointed out, by one of those present, that both major political extremist movements of the 1930’s and ’40’s used the word “Socialist” in their official titles, I was reminded again of the old saw that extreme right and extreme left will bump into each other on the bottom part of the political ellipse.  Then, the conversation drifted back to how we’re all in this together.

We started with too much food and not that many people.  God provides what Man needs, though, and along came five more guests.  It was perfect- not quite a “Loaves and Fishes” moment, but a definite example of how the Universe and the Spirit bring need and provision together.

The conversation flowed beautifully, in the dining area, and the antics of the youths played out just as smoothly, in the front room.  Yes, a good time was had by all-even the dog, a “pet-sat” addition to the mix.  We had mini-lessons on phrases of four languages:  Mandarin, Korean, Thai – and German.

This is as Christmas should be- a time of unity and fellowship, without regard for the illusion of the Chasm.

Family

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December 25, 2019-

There is no group of people in all the world,

who matter more, than those called family.

As far back as I can remember,

there were four of us,

my sister always being in my memory bank.

One grandfather existed only in my subconscious,

as a spirit guide, who never left me,

even though I was willful,

and selective about hearing

what he was telling me.

My paternal grandfather was

all too fleeting a presence,

but his lesson was

to enjoy life to the fullest,

even as he had to leave

too soon.

Nana and Gramma though,

were solid presences,

both farm women,

who had to settle

for a more citified life,

in their later years.

My birth family

peaked at seven.

David’s first steps

on his own,

greeted me one day,

when I came home from school.

I’ve been proud of him

ever since.

Glenn has led a masterful,

ever forward-looking life.

He will always be

the sailor, the golfer,

the Man of the Year.

Cheryl has survived

so much of life’s challenges,

raised the strongest of families,

and is the most beloved of Nanas.

Brian taught us, me most of all,

to have patience and to see

the world through eternally

innocent eyes.

He left us, too soon,

but much the better

for having lived in his midst.

Dad also left, way too soon.

I like to think,

that in the end,

I have made him proud.

Through all life’s struggles,

I have always followed

his admonition:

“Land on your feet!

That’s why the Good Lord

gave them to you.”

Mom is still here,

the beloved matriarch,

having proven.

time and again,

that there is nothing

a man can do,

that a determined woman

cannot equal.

Time  passed,

and each of us raised

families of our own.

Penny was by my side,

teaching me that there were,

and will ever be,

people who love me

for myself.

She also passed beyond

a lifetime of suffering,

and is foremost in the firmament

of those who urge me forward.

Now, it’s my turn,

to be something of  a mentor,

as my son and his beloved

begin their life,

in the private sector.

I would enjoy being

a grandfather, but

that’s not my decision to make.

I love those whom God has

brought into my life,

always on their own merits.

I can hear the voice of my youngest brother,

telling me: “Leave them alone,

and it’ll be alright.”

Finally, there is the family of choice:

My indomitable sisters-in-law,

whose parents gave from the very core of their being;

The many friends and extended family,

many of whom are still in this world,

and whose sometimes daily messages

and acts of kindness,

remind me that God never has,

and never will, leave Man alone.

On this 2019th commemoration

of the Birth of Christ,

no more powerful message can be shared.

On The Cusp of Yule

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December 24, 2019-

It’s raining, it’s pouring, but this older man is not snoring.  There is much to get done today, including a haircut.  There will also be drop-ins at a few of my favourite shops downtown, to wish all a Merry Christmas.  For many, the day before Christmas tends to be THE time to get together with friends and family, for revelry and perhaps some of the gift giving that comes with the season, as we know it.  This aspect of Christmas is derived from the pre-Christian Yule, a staple of ancient Western and Northern Europe, and itself a brightening of dreary winter days.

Tomorrow, the true spiritual essence of the day will have a special significance, as I will celebrate with one of my best friends, and my daughter-in-law will be there for the occasion.  Those who know me at all, know that while I live alone, the importance of family and friends in my life can never be minimized.  Son would be here, but he is tending to separation from active duty, and that brief sacrifice of time with his loved ones will come to an end, in a week’s time.

There will also be time spent on the phone, starting with  a call to an ailing cousin, this afternoon, and to my mother, siblings and in-laws tomorrow.  Cards are a fading tradition, for many, so we find other ways to connect.  Gifts, at least from yours truly, have been given or sent- or are ready to be given in person, tomorrow.

Finally, there is this:  In the core of my being, I know that the Creator never has left us alone and never will.  It is constant, daily remembrance of His love for us, which brings hope and joy, even in what is, outwardly, the darkest of days.  Today will sparkle, in spite of the grey skies and rainfall.  So, too, will tomorrow.

 

Everyone’s Big Hole

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December 23, 2019, Grand Canyon Village-

The Centenary of Grand Canyon National Park is drawing to a close.  So, naturally, the combination of  time to spare and my daughter-in-law’s visit led to us going up to the South Rim, this morning, and spending the day, walking along the paved Rim Trail, from Mather Point to Maricopa Point.

We had spent last night in our respective rooms, at the comfortable America’s Best Value, in Williams.  The high point of yesterday was a visit to the Scheinlen-Pena family, in Paulden (of whom, more tomorrow).  After being warmed by thick, nutritious soup and salad, we headed to Williams, so as to not spend time going back over the same route, this morning.

The Grand Canyon seemed to strike Yunhee in a way similar to the impression it first makes on others:  It’s almost incomprehensible in its size.  Of course, photos don’t do it justice (though I’ll post a few, anyway.)  The best thing to do here is to choose a few spots where the magnitude of the place can be somewhat encapsulated.

So, here are four such interludes:

Mather Point- An introduction to the Canyon, for many, as it is near the Visitors’ Center.  Yunhee opted out of the 22-minute intro video, in favour of direct contact with the view from the Rim.

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Yavapai Point:  Here is a view of a cave that would seem to be a rock climber’s dream and probably something on which I’d pass.

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Along the Rim Trail, just shy of this village:  There is a fairly new display, all along the Rim Trail, which shows stone that is from increasingly ancient layers of rock.  This Dox Sandstone dates from one billion, one hundred thirty million years ago.

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The El Tovar Hotel:  Grand Canyon Village, being home to some, and a welcoming host to countless others, does holidays up nicely!

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Kolb Brothers Studio:  Here is a place that’s both historical and full of artistry.  The brothers were photographers here, alternately in conflict and grudging cooperation with Fred Harvey’s Lookout Studio, from 1901-1976.  Today, both the Lookout Studio and Kolb Brothers Studio are gift shops and prime places from which to view the Canyon,

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as well as the Village:

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Near Hopi Point:  Crevices always interest me, though not to the extent that I’d try to straddle one.

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Near Maricopa Point:   The Canyon is evolving, and that means there will be collapses along its many walls, as well as continued uplift.

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Next year will bring a few more visits to Everyone’s Hole:  A jaunt from Maricopa Point to Hermit’s Rest, on the west side of South Rim, in late March and a hike on the Uncle Jim Trail, North Rim, on what would have been my late Uncle Jim’s 86th birthday, June 3.