Dawn Pisturino's Blog

My Writing Journey

Blooming Desert

(Pink blossoms on a beaver tail cactus. Photo by Dawn Pisturino.)

ALL PHOTOS BY DAWN PISTURINO.

We got enough rain this winter for the cactus to blossom. It truly is a lovely sight when the desert is in bloom.

(Rose-colored blossom on a prickly pear cactus. Photo by Dawn Pisturino.)

But those cactus needles are nothing to mess with! They hurt!

(Creosote bush in bloom. Photo by Dawn Pisturino.)

Creosote bushes are indigenous desert plants with deep roots and waxy green leaves which help them to retain moisture. They mostly stay green year round. But, in the spring, they burst forth with lovely yellow flowers that brighten up the landscape. On the downside, these yellow flowers mark the start of allergy season. Nothing lasts long in the desert, however, so we enjoy them while we can. Achoo!

Have a lovely day, wherever you are!

Dawn Pisturino

May 3, 2022

Copyright 2022 Dawn Pisturino. All Rights Reserved.

16 Comments »

Local Natural Gas Distribution Systems

(Photo: Unisource Energy Services)

If you’ve ever wondered where your natural gas comes from and how it gets to your house or business, here’s an example of how a local natural gas distribution system works. Regulations and construction requirements may differ from state to state.

Case Study: Local Natural Gas Distribution in Kingman, Arizona

Unisource Energy Services (UES) in Kingman, Arizona receives natural gas from the Transwestern Pipeline, which originates in Texas.  The steel transmission pipeline is 30 inches in diameter and operates at pressures from 200 to 1500 psi.  The pressure is reduced to 60 psi at UNS regulator stations and then reduced again to 0.25 psi before it enters the service lines that connect to home appliances (Unisource Energy Services, 2019; Energy Transfer, 2020).

In Arizona, there are four compressor stations along the Transwestern Pipeline at Klagetoh, Leupp, Flagstaff, and Seligman.  The compressors were built by USA Compression (Energy Transfer, 2020; USA Compression, 2020).

“Natural gas is compressed for transmission to minimize the size and cost of the pipe required to transport it” (Busby, 2017, p. 49).  Friction inside the pipe reduces the pressure and flow rate.  The gas is re-compressed at compressor stations in order to boost the pressure in the line.  Compressor stations are generally found every 50 to 100 miles along a pipeline.  They are a crucial part of the transport system that keeps the natural gas flowing through the pipe at the right pressure and flow rate.  Air is mixed in with the gas to lower emissions from the compressor stations (Busby, 2017, p. 49, 51).

Reciprocating compressors use high compression ratios but have limited capacities.  They are driven by internal combustion natural gas engines (Busby, 2017, p. 49).

Centrifugal compressors use lower compression ratios but have high capacities.  They rotate at 4,000 to 7,000 rpm and are driven by natural gas turbines.  They are energy efficient and cost less to install and use (Busby, 2017, p. 49-50).

The Transwestern Pipeline has an interconnect point at Kingman, Arizona, at legal description 21 N, 16 W, in Section 19.  There is a measuring station there that measures the amount of gas delivered to the Kingman interconnect (Energy Transfer, 2020).

Transwestern utilizes all types of meters in its measuring stations: orifice meters to measure gas received or delivered at an interconnect; turbine meters or ultrasonic meters to measure displaced gas; and coriolus meters, all according to the AGA Gas Measurement Manual (Energy Transfer, 2020).

“Metering of gas flow is an important function of pipeline gas operations” (Busby, 2017, p. 51) because customers along the line pay for the amount of natural gas they receive.  Meters must be accurate in order to ensure accurate and reliable billing (Busby, 2017, p. 49).

Many natural gas companies handle seasonal demand by storing natural gas in underground facilities or storing it as liquefied natural gas (LNG).  “Peak shaving is one of the most common domestic uses for LNG today” (ADI Analytics, 2015).  When seasonal demand (usually in the winter) requires a bigger load of natural gas, the “LNG is regasified and sent to the distribution pipelines” (Maverick Engineering, 2016).

Natural gas supplies can also be augmented with synthetic natural gas (SNG) during seasonal demand.  SNG is actually propane-air or liquefied petroleum gas air (LP-air) which “is created by combining vaporized LPG with compressed air” (Transtech Energy, 2020).  During seasonal demand, peak shaving facilities inject SNG into the natural gas distribution system to augment the real natural gas in order to meet increased demand (Transtech Energy, 2020).

Another way to increase the natural gas supply during peak demand is line packing.  This requires installing oversized pipes in transmission lines, which is incredibly expensive, and not always worth the cost (INGAA Foundation, 1996).

Unisource Energy Services has no storage facilities so it must plan ahead and estimate how much natural gas it will need to meet the winter peak demand.  Then it must contract with a reliable natural gas supplier, schedule the deliveries, and submit its Gas Supply Plan to the Arizona Corporation Commission.  This arrangement is called an asset management agreement (AMA) (American Gas Association, 2019; Arizona Corporation Commission, 2017).

As local natural gas distribution companies grow, they must install new lines to accommodate new customers.  The state of Arizona requires that all excavations be reported to the state at least 2 days before the actual trenching.  All utility lines must be discovered and clearly marked.  Only manual digging can be used within 24 inches of marked lines (Arizona 811, 2020).  These requirements were put in place for safety reasons, to prevent damage to buildings and injuries to humans.

Joint trench requirements can differ from city to city, county to county, and state to state. But a typical safe guideline is as follows: a trench at least 36 inches deep and 18 inches wide; 24 inches between gas and electric lines and between natural gas and water lines; 12 inches between natural gas and communication lines; 24 inches between natural gas and sewer lines (Arizona Public Service Electric, 1995; Lane Electric Cooperative, 2020).

Unisource Energy Services is required by law to follow state and local construction requirements and trenching laws.  The company uses plastic pipes 0.5 to 8 inches in diameter and coated steel pipes 0.75 to 16 inches in diameter (Unisource Energy Services, 2019).  Like all natural gas companies, company engineers must consider line pressures, the length of the line, and estimated load when deciding which pipes to use.

References

ADI Analytics. (2015). A new role for small-scale and peak shaving lng infrastructure.

       Retrieved from https://www.adi-analytics.com/2015/06/03/a-new-role-for-small-scale-and-

       peak-shaving-lng-infrastructure/

American Gas Association. (2019). LDC supply portfolio management during the 2018-2019

       winter heating season. Retrieved from

Arizona 811. (2020). Proper planning. Retrieved from https://www.arizona811.com.

Arizona Corporation Commission. (2017). Winter preparedness. Retrieved from

https://www.azcc.gov/docs/default-source/utilities-files/gas/winter-preparedness-2017/uns-

       gas-2017-winter-prepardness.pdf?sfvrsn=daa79b6f_2.

Arizona Public Service Electric. (1995). Trenching requirements. Retrieved from

https://www.aps.com/en/About/Construction-and-Power-Line-Siting/Construction-Services.

Busby, R.L. (Ed.). (1999). Natural Gas in Nontechnical Language. Tulsa, OK: PennWell.

Energy Transfer. (2020). Natural gas. Retrieved from

https://www.energytransfer.com/natural-gas.

INGAA Foundation. (1996). The use of liquefied natural gas for peaking service. Retrieved from

https://www.ingaa.org/File.aspx?id=21698.

Lane Electric Cooperative. (2020). Typical trench detail. Retrieved from

Maverick Engineering. (2016). Oil & gas: LNG: Peak shaving facilities. Retrieved from

https://www.maveng.com/index.php/business-streams/oil-gas/lng/peak-shaving-facilities.

Transtech Energy. (2020). SNG peak shaving system design & implementation. Retrieved from

https://www.transtechenergy.com/peak-shaving-systems.

Unisource Energy Services. (2019). Construction services. Retrieved from

USA Compression. (2020). Gas compression. Retrieved from

Dawn Pisturino

Thomas Edison State University

November 19, 2020; April 18, 2022

Copyright 2020-2022 Dawn Pisturino. All Rights Reserved.

19 Comments »

Children’s Rebus: Who Ate the Cactus?

(Photo by Pixabay)

What is a rebus? According to Meriam-Webster Dictionary:

Definition of rebus

“a representation of words or syllables by pictures of objects or by symbols whose names resemble the intended words or syllables in sound; also a riddle made up of such pictures or symbols.”

Highlights for Children is a children’s magazine which includes a rebus in nearly every issue.

WHO ATE THE CACTUS?

by Dawn Pisturino

       👦🏾 and 👧 are visiting a 🌵 garden in Arizona.  The 🌵🌵 bloom 🌹🌹, 💐, and 🌺 in the spring.

       The 💐 are pretty.  But something is wrong.  The 🌵🌵 are full of holes.  👦🏾 sees big 🦷🦷 marks along the sides.

       “Who ate the 🌵 ?” 👦🏾 asks.

       “A big red 🐦,” 👧 says.

       “Nah, 🐦🐦 don’t have 🦷🦷.”

       “A slinky green 🦎,” 👧 says.

       “Nope, 🦎🦎 are too small.”

       “How about a 🦈?” 👧 says, laughing.

       Suddenly, two long gray ears pop up from the center of the 🌵 patch.  A huge🐰 leaps out and runs away.

       “Wait!  There goes your answer!” 👧 chuckles.

       👦🏾 agrees.

Dawn Pisturino

October 17, 2012; April 5, 2022

Copyright 2012-2022 Dawn Pisturino. All Rights Reserved.

14 Comments »

Technicolor, VistaVision, and the Widescreen Visual Experience

ATTENTION! SPOILER ALERT!

Not only did John Ford film the 1956 movie, The Searchers, in brilliant Technicolor, but he filmed it in VistaVision, providing the audience with an enhanced widescreen visual experience.

http://www.widescreenmuseum.com/widescreen/vistavision.htm

Movies made in VistaVision were intended to be viewed in theaters with large screens, both in height and width. VistaVision technology created an “optical reduction from a large negative image to the standard release print image . . . [that improved] the front and side seat viewing” (American WideScreen Museum) in widescreen formats.

John Ford’s spectacular landscape shots of Monument Valley (cinematographer Winton C. Hoch) were perfect for both Technicolor and widescreen viewing. Here are some examples:

In this wide angle long shot, the audience sees the renegade Comanches attacking the search party from two sides and chasing them through the valley. The landscape is open and wide, giving the impression of an unlimited environment with no place to hide. Will the search party survive this attack?

In this long shot, the searchers forge ahead with the search for the lost child, Debbie, in spite of a desolate desert landscape, storms, and few provisions. It is a dramatic scene which highlights the grim determination of the men involved.

In the final long shot, John Wayne walks away, after reuniting Debbie with her adopted brother, in order to avoid being arrested for murder. He is framed in black, indicating that this is the end of the story, and he will probably never return. He is a loner who got his revenge, found personal redemption, and saved his family. He is the hero of the story— but he is also a broken man who does not fit into civilized society. He has not necessarily overcome his bitterness and racism. He merely decided that saving one of the last members of his family was more important than killing her.

If John Ford’s intention was to highlight spectacular landscapes and provide the audience with an incredible widescreen experience, Technicolor and VistaVision were the right film stock and technology to use.

But if it was his intention to tell a dramatic and tension-filled story, he might have done better to use black and white film stock. The bright colors and wide angle screen shots detract from the story. It is easy to get caught up in the visual spectacle and miss what’s happening in the story. Barsam and Monahan describe The Searchers as “a psychological western that is concerned less with the traditional western’s struggle between good and evil than with the lead character’s struggle against personal demons” (Barsam and Monahan 216). They conclude that the movie “might have been even more powerful shot in black and white instead of color.  Doing so might have produced a visual mood, as in film noir, that complemented the darkness at the heart of the movie’s narrative” (Barsam and Monahan 216).

John Ford was not striving for accuracy and authenticity in The Searchers, and the use of color highlights the movie’s many flaws. Viewers in the 1950s were not as familiar with the Southwest as they are today. In 2017, John Ford could not get away with filming a western in Monument Valley (which is located in Northern Arizona and Utah), and slapping on an intertitle identifying the location as Texas. The viewers would not accept it. Neither would they accept a white actor with gray or hazel eyes masquerading as a full-blooded Comanche wearing all-too-bright red and yellow war paint. The women in Scar’s tribe of renegade Comanches are attired in traditional Navajo clothing – including John Wayne’s lost niece, Debbie (Natalie Wood). Today’s Navajos watch movies and would eagerly point out this historical inaccuracy. (Monument Valley is Navajo country, and it is obvious from the movie that Ford employed local natives to masquerade as Comanches. As part of my job, I worked with members of the Navajo, Hopi, and Apache tribes. I found the inaccuracies in The Searchers to be jarring, even though I first saw the movie on TV many years ago as a child.) Black and white film might have minimized the obvious flaws.

Barsam, Richard, and Dave Monahan. Looking at Movies, 5th ed. New York: Norton, 2016.

Ford, John, Dir. The Searchers. Perf. John Wayne. Warner Bros., 1956.

Ryder, Loren L. “The Story of VistaVision.” The American WideScreen Museum. 2006.

       <http://www.widescreenmuseum.com/widescreen/vistavision.htm.

Dawn Pisturino

Thomas Edison State University

January 1, 2018

Copyright 2018-2022 Dawn Pisturino. All Rights Reserved.

11 Comments »

Feeding the Rabbits

(Wild Rabbits – Photo by Dawn Pisturino)

No matter how hot or cold it is outside, our adopted wildlife demand to be fed. And when my daughter visits, she regresses back to her childhood, delighting in spoiling the bunny rabbits. She generally arrives with grocery bags full of carrots and lettuce. The bunnies love it. And, once word gets out, we usually end up with twice as many rabbits as usual. The bunnies are very trusting and will hop right up to you, eager for their meal. And when we don’t get out to feed them at the usual time, they start gathering before the front porch and stand there like little statues until we bring out the food. They truly are delightful to watch!

Dawn Pisturino

February 6, 2022

Copyright 2022 Dawn Pisturino. All Rights Reserved.

18 Comments »

Coyote Spirit

In Navajo culture, Coyote is an “ancient deity” — essential to maintaining the order, balance, and harmony of the world. He is the creative force that created the world and provided the first humans with the basic essentials of food, plants, medicine, animals, fire, and light. As a multi-dimensional character, he is both good and evil; human and god; unpredictable and ambivalent — traveling easily between the human, animal, and sacred worlds.

Coyote is the embodiment of human consciousness and the reservoir for all knowledge. As the original sacred Being, he initiated chaos and death, disrupted the positioning of the stars, and acted to ensure the survival of the human race.

As the trickster, his adventures test the boundaries of the cosmic order, reaffirm the harmony of the world, and expand the possibilities for human interventions and activities in the world. His characteristics of egoism, greed, excessive sexual lust, gluttony, rudeness, interference, and unrestrained curiosity, playfulness, and restlessness mirror his human counterparts. He is intelligent, perceptive, adaptable, flexible, and cunning, all characteristics necessary for survival. Coyote trickster stories are told to children and adults alike to impart important moral lessons.

When the Navajo depended on hunting, Coyote was the powerful, positive impetus that brought success in war, hunting, and running. But when agriculture became the main means of subsistence, Coyote became an evil force that prowled around in the darkness of night, destroying crops and livestock.

Coyoteway is an ancient healing ceremony that is sometimes performed by Shamans to heal illness. While Coyote is capable of healing disease, he is also the one who sends disease when the Coyote People (coyotes, foxes, and wolves) are displeased.

The most frightening entities in Navajo culture are the Skinwalkers — witches who pray to Coyote, shapeshift into coyotes, and enchant people by throwing coyote skins over them. In this regard, Coyote is considered a negative and evil entity. On the other hand, Coyote sends helpful messages to humans through dreams, omens, and signs. His malleable nature allows him to align himself with both good and evil forces.

~

The Coyote and the Giant

“Once a giant was terrorizing the land, and eating people, especially small children. Coyote convinced the giant that if he allowed Coyote to break his leg and then heal it by spitting on it, he would be able to run as fast as Coyote. However, this was one of Coyote’s tricks, and the giant thereafter found it much more difficult to outrun anything, even small children.” ( from Coyote Stories of the Navajo People, 1974)

In this story, Coyote uses his tricks to help humans and becomes a hero.

According to Coyote storytellers in the Navajo tribe, Coyote stories can only be told during the winter, from October to February.

Coyote Superstition

A coyote traveling in any direction but north that crosses your path can be a good omen. However, many Navajos believe that ANY coyote crossing your path means trouble ahead. Beware of the trickster!

Thanks for stopping by!

Dawn Pisturino

January 24, 2022

Copyright 2022 Dawn Pisturino. All Rights Reserved.

13 Comments »

God is Great – a Short Story

Pixabay/WEBSI

(NOTE: Fear and misunderstanding occur any time two cultures come together and clash. I tried to show that in this short story. No offense was intended to any culture or religion.)

~

The sand was blowing so hard against the windshield, he could barely see where he was going. Catching a glimpse of white at the side of the road, he cautiously turned the SUV onto the rough, sand-blown driveway of a small combination gas station and convenience store. He parked in front of the store, uncomfortably aware of the bright neon beer signs in the window. Turning off the engine, he leaned back in the seat, listening to the howling wind as the vehicle rocked gently back and forth.

“Well, that’s it,” he said quietly, looking anxiously at his wife. “We’ll have to wait out the storm. Insh’allah – God willing – it will pass quickly.” He reached over and squeezed her hand reassuringly.

She gave him a forced smile, her beautiful dark eyes marred with worry. The baby stirred in the infant seat behind her and began to cry.

“He’s hungry,” she said, unbuckled her seat belt, and turned around to check on the fussy infant. “He needs to be changed.”

The other child in the back seat, a boy of five with sleepy black eyes and a mop of thick black hair, leaned dully against the window, thumb in mouth, unmindful of the blowing hot sand. The woman placed a hand on his forehead.

“He’s still hot,” she said to her husband.

“He needs medicine,” he answered, looking at his watch. “Let’s go inside. We’ll take care of the children in there. It’s already 1:00. We can spread our prayer rugs on the floor and give thanks to Allah for guiding us to this place.”

His wife nodded obediently and pulled her black dupatta closer around her face.

* * *

“Hey, Roy, look at that!”

Blanche Carter suddenly perked up behind the cash register and nodded her permed gray head in the direction of the front door. The beer-belly cowboy leaning lazily against the counter lifted the brim of his black cowboy hat and turned to look.

“What the heck!” he exclaimed, rising to his full six feet.

“Roy,” the cashier said in a low voice. “Do you still have that gun on ya?”

He peeled back the left side of his black leather vest to show her a stiff leather gun holster nestled under his armpit. With his right hand, he unsnapped the top, giving him free access to the small handgun, if the need arose.

“Don’t worry, Blanche,” he grinned. “You’e safe with me.”

“Thank God,” she said gratefully.

They watched intently as a little man with dark skin and hair wrestled with the heavy glass door, making the cowbells hanging from the handle clang furiously. Behind him, the wind tore fiercely at a small woman draped head-to-toe in black. The man held the door open against the wind, and the woman stumbled inside, her black robes flapping, her face nearly invisible in the black folds. A loud wailing competed with the howling wind, and the woman threw back her complicated drapery to reveal an infant carrier heavily swathed with blankets, a blue diaper bag slung over one shoulder, and a small boy clinging desperately to her skirts.

Blanche narrowed her eyes at the spectacle, clenching her jaw and fists. Resisting the urge to spit on the floor, she glared at the woman angrily, feeling a thick wall of resistance rise between them.

As the dark little man cautiously approached the counter, she saw that he carried what looked like a bundle of rugs under one arm and a wicker picnic basket under the other.

“Good day, ma’am . . . sir . . .” he said politely, bowing his head, fear betrayed in his large dark eyes. “If you please, I need some liquid medicine for my son.”

Blanche waited silently for Roy to respond. She was aware that he shifted his weight slightly to create a solid barrier between her and the timid little man. A large American flag was embroidered on the back of his vest, the familiar image giving her hope and comfort. Roy was a proud American, even if he did whore around and drink too much, and he would handle the situation the way he saw fit.

“Over there,” Roy said gruffly, waving his hand to the right.

“Thank you, sir,” the little man said. “I am most grateful. Alhamdu lillah – praise be to God – for your kindness.”

Roy said nothing. But Blanche saw his body stiffen and the whiteness of his big, flabby hands as they curled tightly into fists.

Blanche wanted to scream, Get your stuff and get out! But she was afraid they would complain to the owner of the store, and she would lose her job. It was the only job available for miles around, and she couldn’t afford to lose it. Most of the desert rats around there who bothered to work a steady job commuted to Phoenix. But Blanche was too old and tired to make that long, hot journey every day. She bit her lip and glared, feeling hostile and afraid.

But it don’t make it right, she fumed bitterly. These furriners come to this here country takin’ good jobs away from law-abidin’ Americans — and we jes’ have to put up with it! The government don’t do nothin’. The country’s goin’ down the tubes anyway. That money-grubbin’ TV evangelist, Graham Robertson, is right — the end times are here, and Jesus is comin’! Won’t that be a blast! He’ll give these heathens a run fer their money. Praise be to God! Ain’t He great?

A picture of global disaster — vividly described in the Book of Revelations — filled her limited imagination. She clearly saw the destruction of the world, the cries of the damned, the end of Israel and the Middle East. But what did she care? She attended services every Sunday at Reverend Boyd’s home (there wasn’t enough money in the collection plate to build a church), fervently believed in Jesus as the true Savior of the world, and diligently read her Bible every day. She was one of The Saved!

When the Rapture comes, she thought with satisfaction, I’ll be carried up to Heaven on the wings of a dove with all the rest of The Elect. I won’t even be here when Armageddon comes! Lord Jesus, do your stuff!

She cackled suddenly with glee. “Hey, Roy, lighten up a little and show the man where the medicine is.”

Roy turned and glared at her. What the heck? his eyes said.

Blanche smiled and shrugged her shoulders. “It’s good customer service.”

  • * * *

Ayesha looked at the big fat man with the black cowboy hat, faded blue jeans, and pointed cowboy boots and trembled with fear. This man is dangerous, she thought. Please, Allah, protect us from harm!

She felt the intense hostility emanating like a deadly radiation from the wrinkled up, gray-haired old woman behind the cash register, but she had felt that before from similar women in other parts of Arizona. She knew it originated from fear, and she expected it.

But the man was something different. He looked at her husband with hard, dark eyes — pig eyes, she thought — and he was so big! He dwarfed her husband, making Mahmood appear small and helpless. A terrible sense of foreboding seized her. They were so alone and vulnerable in this desolate pig-sty of a town. Was there even a town? Or was this all?

She wished they had never come on this trip. They could’ve spent the weekend at home, safe, sound, and secure. But Mahmood was feeling restless after being on call all week at the hospital and wanted to get away for the weekend. Let’s do something fun, he had pleaded, convincing her with boyish black eyes lit up with excitement. He worked so hard and was such a good provider, she couldn’t turn him down. So they had booked a room at a fancy hotel and spa in Phoenix and started out early in the morning.

The wind was blowing even then, but not like now! The last few miles had been torture, Mahmood driving at a snail’s pace, trying desperately to follow the broken yellow lines in the center of the road and the solid white line at the edge. They had stopped several times along the way and waited for the hot, sandy wind to abate. But it only seemed to grow worse.

Ayesha was afraid, but she kept her feelings to herself. The baby had slept most of the way, and five-year-old Akbar, who was usually so energetic, seemed to droop in the back seat. She finally realized that he was sick. He looked at her with glazed eyes, oblivious to the fearful wind, and finally fell asleep with his chin hanging down on his chest. When she touched his forehead with her hand, it felt hot and damp. The poor boy was sweating despite the air conditioning inside the SUV. Ayesha was worried.

The big fat cowboy moved now, scowling as he showed Mahmood the display of cold medicines, allergy tablets, boxes of generic headache pills, and bottles of liquid medicine. Mahmood chose the appropriate bottle, thanked the big fat man, and headed for the counter.

Ayesha relaxed a little when the old woman smiled at Mahmood and cheerfully rang up the purchase. She spied the restroom sign on the wall and carried the infant into the women’s bathroom, her older son trailing close behind.

  • * * *

Roy stroked the rough stubble on his chin and shook his head in disbelief. What the heck has gotten into Blanche? He knew she resented these foreign intruders as much as he did. But suddenly, she had decided to be POLITE and SERVE them! Was she just afraid? Hadn’t he reassured her that he would handle any trouble that came up? Obviously, she didn’t believe him. Did she think he was just another ordinary American kow-towing to these vermin who were infesting his beloved country while the government stood by and did nothing? He would show her, alright! He might be the last of a dying breed, but he would go down fighting — just like his brother did in Desert Storm.

He had been mighty proud of his brother Eddie for joining the Army and going off to the Gulf to kick Saddam Hussein’s rotten behind. He had even been proud when his brother came home in a body bag. After all, he had died bravely in battle and would receive a Purple Heart. Roy’s heart had nearly bust wide open in his chest, he was so proud. But when President Bush Senior had pulled back the troops and ended the war before finishing their God-given job to destroy that monster Saddam Hussein, he had raged with fury, going so far as to beat his wife Gladys black and blue. She had left him not long after that, fearing for her life, and he had raged even more, going on a drunken spree that lasted two weeks.

When he woke up finally in a detox unit in Phoenix, he had vowed not only to straighten himself out, temporarily, but to hate the American government that had betrayed his brother and all the other soldiers who had given their lives in the Gulf War.

After his release from the detox unit, Roy contacted all his neighbors and formed The People’s Militia. They erected a rustic shooting range in the isolated wash way back in the hills, where they met every Saturday morning for target practice. Beneath the floorboards of an abandoned barn, they constructed an underground bunker, where they were slowly gathering quite a stockpile of water, food, explosives, firearms, and ammunition. He had learned how to do this from some Mormons down in Showlow, who were preparing for the end of the world. But Roy and his gang had already agreed to begin their own reign of terror if the government didn’t get its act together. They would call themselves the Warriors of Allah and blame their crimes on the large Arab population in Phoenix. The whole idea had belonged to Jed Turlock. Now who would have thought that a grizzly old man like Jed could come up with such a brilliant idea?

  • * * *

Mahmood spread the small woolen prayer rugs, bearing woven images of the Ka’ba in Mecca, onto the hard linoleum floor in front of the cooler containing gallon jugs of milk, quart bottles of orange juice, boxes of butter, and packages of cheese. He hurried to the men’s restroom to perform the ritual ablutions, which involved purifying various parts of the body with water, then returned to wait for his wife to finish breast-feeding the baby and toileting the eldest boy, Akbar. He removed his shoes and knelt down on a prayer rug to give thanks to God.

His wife Ayesha presently returned with the children. The baby was quiet now, and she placed the infant carrier on the floor in front of a prayer rug, where she could keep a watchful eye. She measured out a dose of liquid medicine into the small plastic cup attached to the top of the medicine bottle, managed to get it into the elder boy, removed his shoes, and encouraged him to lie down on one of the rugs to take a nap. Then she removed her own simple shoes and stood quietly, waiting for her husband to begin the prayers.

He stood up and cupped both hands behind his ears, crying, “Allahu Akbar!” (God is Great!) Then, crossing his arms across his chest, he proceeded to chant, the sacred Arabic words rolling with melodic harmony out of his mouth. His wife mimicked his motions but remained silent.

Bismillah-i-Rahman-ir-Raheem.” (In the name of God, the Benevolent, the Merciful.)

Alhamdu-lillah-i-Rabbil’aalameen-ar-Rahman-ir-Rahim . . .” (Praise be to God, Lord of the Universe, the Benevolent, the Merciful . . .)

  • * * *

Blanche couldn’t believe her ears. Horrified by the sounds of heathens performing pagan prayers on Christian territory, she motioned to Roy to sneak around to the back of the store and stand guard at the end of the aisle. Fascinated by this strange turn of events, she adjusted the security camera so that it pointed directly down on the devout couple. She wanted to act as witness against their treacherous performance and capture them on tape.

Qul hu-Allahu Ahad, Allahu-Samad . . .” (Say: He is Allah, the One — Allah, the eternal . . .) The dark little man chanted loudly and earnestly with poetic rhythm, pouring his heart out to heaven.

Blanche was about to spew out her indignation when the musical chanting seemed to capture her soul, calming her turbulent spirits. She kept her eyes glued to the video monitor, listening intently, not understanding the ancient Arabic words, but responding to their holy sound, mesmerized by the rhythmic chant.

  • * * *

What kind of voodoo is this, Roy muttered silently to himself as he followed Blanche’s prompting and strode quietly to the rear of the store. He mentally stuffed his ears with cotton, refusing to listen to the foreign mumbo jumbo. After all, who knew what hexes and curses these people could place on him and Blanche? Everybody knew they had spread their religion across Asia and parts of Europe with the sword. Maybe now, with Saddam Hussein dead and Osama bin Laden on the run, they were resorting to witchcraft. Anything was possible, right?

He planted himself in the center of the aisle and watched from behind as the man and woman bent forward at the waist, placing their hands on their knees.

Subhana Rabbiyal-Azeem!” (How glorious is God, the Great!)

Roy sucked in his breath as reverently, deliberately, the man and woman continued their prayers, then fell humbly to their knees and prostrated themselves across their prayer rugs, their heads touching the ground.

Subhana Rabbiyal-a’la.” (All glory be to God, the Most High.)

Roy’s muscles tensed, and his stomach twisted, making him want to puke. He felt the waves of bitter anger rise up into his throat. He covered his ears with his hands, squeezed his eyes shut, and silently pleaded, Please, God, make it stop!

Then he turned to Blanche and hissed, “Make them stop, Blanche, make them stop!” But she only ignored him, spellbound, her eyes glued to the video monitor, her face shining, her eyes serene and far away.

They’ve got Blanche, he thought frantically. He took a step forward and shouted, “Stop!” But they only ignored him and began the sequence of prayer all over again.

Allahu Akbar!

Once more, Roy covered his ears with his hands, the fear and anxiety growing steadily inside him, making his heart race and his head pound. He saw his brother’s face in his mind, heard his voice in his ears, remembered the casket draped with an American flag lowered into the ground.

He died for his country, his mother said softly, wiping away the tears from her eyes. He was so brave!

He died for nothing! Roy shouted inside. Here’s the proof!

Qul a’oothoo bi rabbin nas . . .” (Say: I seek refuge in the Sustainer of Mankind . . .)

Roy thought of his brother rotting in the grave, a formless mass of flesh and bones, gone forever — and the family he had left behind. His beautiful, faithful wife, who had cried on Roy’s shoulder at the funeral. The pretty little girl with blonde pigtails who had grown up bitter and destroyed herself with drugs. The baby boy raised without a father who had run off to San Francisco at the age of sixteen, declaring himself gay.

Allahu Akbar!

More bowing at the waist. Roy slipped his right hand inside his vest and fingered the smooth end of the handgun under his arm. This is my country, he silently declared. And my God is the only god.

The man and his wife were kneeling again, ready to fall forward on the ground. Slowly, ever so slowly, Roy drew the shiny handgun from its holster and pointed it at the dark-skinned little man lying prostrate on the ground. As the man raised himself again to a kneeling position, Roy aimed the pistol at the back of the little man’s head.

Allahu Akbar!”

With a steady hand, Roy concentrated hard and slowly began to squeeze the trigger. But suddenly, clang! The cowbells hanging on the front door began to loudly ring as the heavy glass door burst open and the local sheriff came through the door.

“Thank God that wind has stopped,” he exclaimed, brushing the sand from his uniform. “Blanche! Where the heck are you?”

Assalamu ‘alaikum wa rahmatu’ allah.” (The peace and mercy of Allah be upon you.)

Startled, Roy lowered the gun and shoved it quickly back into its holster. He saw Blanche shake her head, wake up from her reverie, and tear herself away from the video monitor.

“Did you say the storm was over?” she asked blankly.

“See for yourself,” the sheriff said. “How about filling up my thermos with hot coffee?”

“Right away.”

Roy headed for the men’s restroom, his hands shaking, his legs weak and wobbly. My God, he thought in horror, nearly wetting his pants. My God, my God, what was I about to do?

  • * * *

Insh’allah, the storm is over,” Mahmood said with relief, rolling up his prayer rug.

“I’m so happy!” Ayesha said, giving him a big grin. She roused the older boy from his nap and felt his forehead. It was cool and dry. “Everything will be okay now. Allahu Akbar!

Dawn Pisturino

October 31, 2007

Copyright 2007-2022 Dawn Pisturino. All Rights Reserved.

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Three Godfathers: Cowboy Christmas Movie

Mise-en-scene is a French phrase meaning production. In theatrical terms, this means “staging or putting on an action or scene” (Barsam 165). The two largest components of mise-en-scene are design and composition, which include settings, props, lighting, actors, makeup, hairstyles, costumes, overall organization, presentation, and integration. The finished product must look and feel cohesive and balanced, fully supporting the story and theme of the movie, as well as the genre, in every respect.

The 1948 movie, 3 Godfathers, directed by John Ford and Merian C. Cooper, stars John Wayne, Pedro Armendariz, Harry Carey, Jr., and Ward Bond. The story is John Ford’s version (and vision) of the New Testament story of the Three Wise Men, incorporated into the western genre. Above all, it is a story about sin and redemption, supported by Biblical symbolism and themes of Old West justice.

The movie setting is open because the characters have to be able to move around. Most of the movie was filmed on location in Death Valley, California (not Arizona.) Rousing western music, composed of themes from well-known cowboy songs, supports the title scenes. The major underlying musical theme is from the song “Streets of Laredo.” The movie is filmed in Technicolor, which adds vibrancy to the spectacular natural scenery, costumes, and characters.

While the titles play, we see a train chugging along from the right of the scene, crossing the open desert. The camera cuts to three horsemen riding through the desert. They are dressed in typical cowboy clothing. The Mexican cowboy is appropriately dressed in Mexican clothing. The next cut shows John Wayne sitting on a horse at twilight, framed by two saguaro cactuses. He is clearly the main character. A quotation appears in white letters: “Bright star of the early western sky . . .” These scenes confirm that viewers are watching a western set some time in the 1880s-1890s. The quote reminds viewers of the star of Bethlehem. At the end of the titles, the viewers see a wide shot of the western landscape and the three horsemen riding toward the camera.

At a water hole, John Wayne (Robert Hightower) orders the other two men to fill up all canteens and water bags because they won’t find another water hole for at least 60 miles. The camera zooms in on Robert smoking and looking out over the landscape. He is clearly the leader. He joins Pedro, the Mexican, in a tight close-up, and they plan robbing the bank in the nearby town of Welcome, Arizona. Next, Robert crouches down at the third man’s level in a close-up shot of him and William. William is the youngest member of this gang.

The gang rides into the town. It is obviously a well-established town because of the grown trees and flower gardens. John Ford introduces a joke here. The first man the gang meets is B. Sweet (Ward Bond), who is tending his oleander bushes. The men laugh and joke about his name. His wife comes out of the house, dressed in a traditional western gown and hairstyle. She calls her husband “Pearly.” The laughs get even louder over this. Sweet redeems his manhood by clarifying that his name is actually Buck. He swats his wife on the behind with an oleander branch, telling the gang that his wife is a former dancer (presumably in a saloon.) He slips on his leather sheriff’s vest and star, and the gang is caught off guard. The implication is clear: B. Sweet is no tenderfoot from the East but a hardened westerner and experienced lawman. He and his wife offer hospitality to the men, believing they are cowboys from a cattle drive passing through town, and mention that their niece and her never-do-well husband are traveling to Welcome along the Mormon Trail.

Asking for the location of the bank does not rouse much suspicion. But William forgets himself, reveling in the motherly attention he is receiving from the sheriff’s wife, and mentions that people also call him The Abilene Kid. The Sheriff immediately becomes suspicious. When the men leave for the bank, he looks through a book of wanted posters and finds one of The Abilene Kid.

On the way to the bank, a stage pulls into town. A well-dressed young lady greets the gang, happy to leave civilization in Denver and return to her less-civilized town. She reveals that she is the bank president’s daughter and overwhelms the gang with sweetness and perfect manners. (As a minor character, she represents civilized manners and social status.) Two young dandies greet her with bouquets of oleanders (a desert-thriving plant), and it’s clear that she is a popular young lady. Her homecoming provides a distraction for the town while the gang robs the bank.

The typical western scene ensues. Shots are fired, and the sheriff and his deputies rush to capture the men. There are wonderful scenes of a man trying to calm a bucking horse and a scared horse running through the street, pulling an empty covered wagon. As the sheriff and his men chase the gang in a buckboard wagon, William is shot and rescued by Robert. The posse chases the gang into the desert wilderness and quits after the sheriff shoots a hole in Robert’s water bag. Although the sheriff says, “They aren’t paying me to kill folks,” he knows that the gang will die without water.

When Robert discovers the ruined water bag, he laments, “You know, he busted that on purpose,” understanding that the sheriff has condemned the men to death in the desert (Old West justice.) Robert observes that they are playing a game of chess with the sheriff and changes their flight plan.

At this point, the gang is forced to leave all vestiges of civilization and head into the barren desert. (Biblically, this represents the Hebrews going into the desert during the Exodus and undergoing cleansing and purification in order to learn obedience and faith in God.) They immediately plunge into a world of sand dunes, sandstorms, salt flats, and rocks. It’s man against nature.

In many scenes, Ford has the characters walking into the sun, the wind, the sand storms, making their journey even more arduous. He uses tight close-up shots to convey the tight bond between the men. He uses wide screen shots to convey the barrenness and openness of the environment. The landscape is beautiful, yes, but dangerous and deadly.

The men lose their horses after a sandstorm and have to walk. Pedro swears that “the devils came in the middle of the night.” The sheriff arrives at Apache Wells with his men (some locations are named after Arizona Indian tribes.) It is here that we learn it is Christmas time. Snow-capped mountains rise up in the background.

The gang arrives at Terrapin Tanks, and this is where the story changes from a typical western to a morality play. The men plan to get water to fill their canteens but discover a wagon containing a pregnant woman instead. Her husband, out of a greenhorn’s ignorance, has blown up the water hole with dynamite, believing he could retrieve more water. Instead, he has permanently lost access to the water supply. Since he is not around, the gang assumes that he is dead. But they celebrate his death. His actions have ensured the deaths of future travelers looking for water. Old West justice demands that the man die.

Pedro demonstrates great compassion and tenderness when he helps the woman give birth to a son (the Christ Child.) The other two men squeeze water out of barrel head cactuses and give it to the mother. It’s night, and the mother asks the three men to be godfathers to her son and keep him alive. They agree. She names the child Robert William Pedro Hightower, after the three men. Finally, the mother says, “We must be moving on,” and dies. The camera focuses on a dead tree and a lighted lantern, framed in the back opening of the wagon’s canvas cover. The lantern dies out, and the dead tree forms a foreboding and forbidding vision of death.

The men give the mother a proper Christian burial. Robert stands by as a skeptic. But the baby brings the men joy, wonder, and hope. They argue over how to care for the baby, demonstrate their love, compassion, and tenderness for the new life, and overcome some of their roughness.  The baby also brings some much-needed comic relief. At the same time, in parallel shots, the sheriff at Apache Wells is viewing Robert as a good chess player and figures out that the gang has gone to Terrapin Tanks. The chase is on.

As the men become more desperate for water, they argue and draw guns on each other. William uses the Bible for guidance and decides that they were not brought into the desert by accident. Like the Three Wise Men in the Bible, they were meant to find the baby (the Christ Child) and save him (from the elements instead of King Herod.) After throwing out the names of nearby towns (all Biblical), they decide to head East to New Jerusalem (representing redemption and salvation.) The camera cuts to a beautifully-photographed scene showing a bright star in the eastern sky, shining down on sand dunes rippled with shadowy contrasts. The three men trudge across the scene, traveling West to East, receiving hope and strength from the star.

The sheriff finds the abandoned wagon and figures out that it belonged to his niece and her worthless husband. He blames the gang for blowing up the water hole with dynamite, even though they are innocent. He curses them as murderers of future travelers and swears to hunt them down.

William and Pedro both die while crossing a cracked, parched salt flat after asking for forgiveness from God. Robert saves William’s Bible and moves on. It is Christmas. He must climb over the mountain. (Biblically, going up into the mountain represents searching for God.) He takes shelter in a rock-walled passage, which resembles a cave. He falls down, hopeless. He gives the last water to the baby and starts throwing away unnecessary items. In a last desperate act, he opens up the Bible and reads the passage. The passage tells him to take the donkey and its colt. Angrily, Robert throws away the Bible, considering the passage a cruel joke.

Crazed by thirst, Robert hears William and Pedro talking and singing and egging him on. The camera shows them as ghosts walking behind him. Suddenly, framed by the rock walls, Robert sees a donkey and its colt. He cannot believe it, but they are real, and he looks up to the sky, hardly believing that the New Testament passage has come true.

Robert makes it to town and bursts into a saloon, where the people are somberly singing Christmas carols. The people are overjoyed to see the baby, and the piano player plays “Silent Night.” The sheriff confronts Robert here, and he collapses to the floor.

An obvious fade out/fade in pushes the story forward into the future. The whole town treats Robert like a King for saving the baby. The judge sentences him to only one year and one day in prison and grants him custody. As Robert is leaving on the train for prison, the banker’s daughter asks him if she can write, and it is obvious that she will wait for him. When Robert returns, he has a chance of becoming a civilized man.

Dawn Pisturino

Thomas Edison State University

December 18, 2017; December 15, 2021

Copyright 2017-2021 Dawn Pisturino. All Rights Reserved.

Works Cited:

Barsam, Richard, and Dave Monahan. Looking at Movies, 5th ed. New York: Norton, 2016.

6 Comments »

The Cows are Back!

(Photo by Dawn Pisturino)

Yesterday was a perfect, God-filled Sunday!

All week, we’ve experienced frigid temperatures at night and cold, windy weather during the day. The water we leave out for the wildlife has been frozen solid every morning. The poor birds walk around on the ice, pecking at the solidified water.

Sunday morning was sunny, bright, and calm, although the air was still crisp and clear. I smiled to see the baby coyote lying down in the sunshine in the backyard, waiting for his breakfast. He looked perfectly content, soaking up the sun, while disgruntled quail and doves milled around him with ruffled feathers, trying to stay warm.

A couple of hours later, a bull and cow wandered into the front yard, looking for water. Luckily, my husband was home, and he filled up a tub of water for them and moved it over by the driveway. But then, they didn’t want to leave! They just stood there and looked at us when we tried to shoo them away. (My post, Free Range, explains the free range laws in Arizona.)

The coyote, who had left earlier, saw his territory invaded by these two great beasts and kept coming back to check things out. They weren’t scared of him, which surprised me, and he wasn’t scared of them.

The coyote and the cattle were after the same thing – WATER! – and both were keeping an eye on their territory and the available water supply. It was very interesting to watch, especially since they were so POLITE about it.

I really felt God’s presence here Sunday morning, and it reminded me of just how PRECIOUS WATER IS! The animals know it. More people need to get a grip and realize that we can live without WiFi, Facebook, and other modern inventions. BUT WE CAN’T LIVE WITHOUT WATER! We can’t live without the basic necessities of life.

(Cow peering at me from behind the oleander bush. Photo by Dawn Pisturino.)

Dawn Pisturino

December 13, 2021

Copyright 2021 Dawn Pisturino. All Rights Reserved.

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Coyote Update

(Close up photo of the Baby coyote and wild birds. Photo by Dawn Pisturino.)

This morning, the baby coyote was lying down in the backyard, waiting for his breakfast. (This is an update to my post, Coyote Whisperer.) As soon as he saw me, he stood up and waited patiently while I put out his dry dog food. Actually, he was patient for about two seconds, then he began dancing around in anticipation of eating.

He looks so healthy and beautiful! His winter coat is shiny and full, he’s put on weight, and his fur has beautiful markings on it. He let me get up close enough to take pictures with my phone (camera clicks scare them), but what I really wanted to do was stroke his lush fur with my hands. I’m not foolish enough to attempt that, however! I really can’t even call him a baby anymore, and I don’t actually know if he’s a male or a female. (And there again, I’m not going to risk getting mauled by poking around.) We call all the coyotes “Bambi,” regardless of sex. That’s our signal to let them know we are going to feed them.

Not long after, his Mom and Dad showed up. They, also, look healthy and thriving, which makes me very happy.

(Mother coyote standing guard while Father coyote eats. Photo by Dawn Pisturino.)

Coyotes are very sensitive to noise, and they’re always sniffing the air and looking out for predators who might harm them. They don’t like my neighbor’s dogs, who chase them back out into the open fields. They’re used to our dog, Max, who’s usually locked up in his kennel, and playfully tease him because they know he isn’t going to hurt them. Even if he chases them, they just run a short distance, stop, and turn around and look at him. Then they wait for us to call him back. It’s like a game to them. And when Max goes after the Baby, they chase each other around a bush until we call the dog back. It’s the cutest thing to watch. But the Baby isn’t afraid. He just wants his food.

(Max. Photo by Dawn Pisturino.)

And then there’s the birds!

(Hungry quail. They are very aggressive when they are hungry. Photo by Dawn Pisturino.)

Well, that’s how our day starts out every morning!

Dawn Pisturino

December 7, 2021

Remember Pearl Harbor Today.

Pearl Harbor Day, December 7th

Copyright 2021 Dawn Pisturino. All Rights Reserved.

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