I haven’t posted much for a while. The past 8 or 9 months have been a busy and distracted time. And very melancholy toward the end. I spent a lot of that period in Florida, or flying to or from Florida. But I won’t be going there again. My mother’s treatment last summer put her into remission from small-cell lung cancer, but the treatment itself left her profoundly debilitated. Then the cancer–it’s a very aggressive form of lung cancer–returned. She declined quickly and died on January 26.

Last Sunday night Zachary and I arrived home after a 10-day drive from her home in Punta Gorda, Florida–a house that, amazingly, I was able to sell. I managed to get all of her multitudinous possessions dispersed and then turned the place over to its new owners.

Z and I drove home in my mother’s car, with some mementos that I had not wanted to ship. We took a southern route, following I-10 from northern Florida all the way to southern California, for two reasons: to avoid possible bad weather in the Plains and Rockies, and to see some things along that route that I wanted to see, such as Carlsbad Caverns and my old friends Mark and Peter in Tucson.

Carlsbad was wonderful. We spent about 8 hours doing the full self-guided tour (and, for Z, taking many pix). We much regretted that our schedule did not permit us to stay over a weekend, when we could’ve participated in the guided off-trail crawls/squirms/rappels that you can do with advance reservations. We would love to go back for that one day. The public part of the cave accounts for just a small fraction of what has been mapped; when you go off-trail you get to see a bit more. As for the big public cave itself, and the long descent  to it on foot, I will just say that if I were to have a child (the odds, I need hardly say, are vanishingly small) I would name that child Carlsbad in honor of a spectacular and thrilling place. Yes, it’s a developed attraction and not a natural cave, but the NPS has done a pretty tasteful job with the lighting and signage, clearly trying to preserve as much as possible of the raw cave experience. In fact, it was pretty dark overall. And it was very uncrowded, to boot. The only other disappointment was that the famous bats are not in residence at this time of year. I would have liked to see that evening bat flight.

In southern Cal we spent an afternoon/evening and the following morning at Joshua Tree, another place Z had visited in the long-ago but I had never seen. It was grand, too–the meeting zone of two different kinds of desert, with weird and wonderful cactus-scapes in the southern zone and equally delightful vistas of the eponymous trees (a large species of yucca) in the northern. From a high viewpoint I got a hazy peek at the Salton Sea, the San Andreas Fault, and Mexico. From Joshua Tree we headed north on 395 along the Eastern Sierra, around Lake Tahoe, through the mountains to visit Z’s stepmom and stepsis in Chico for a night, and finally eight hours of rainy driving to home. Total mileage: 4,049.

We took a new Garmin GPS with us, not for route-finding but for info on hotels, places to eat, etc. along the way. The 6 million data points it contains include motel locations and phone numbers, so we could call ahead for room rates and availability as we got close to stopping for the night. The GPS also guided us to some way-off-the-beaten-track places to eat. Thanks to the good folk at Garmin we had fried catfish po’ boys in Pascagoula and barbecued pork sandwiches at a drive-up shack in the Texas hill country.

Our reunion with Xerxes when we rushed into the house was touching. There was frisking, purring, rolling on the floor, even some drooling. Xerxes seemed pleased, too.

Zach had to be back at work on Monday, which I devoted to opening mail and doing laundry. Now things seem back to (somewhat) normal, and I am tackling my (revised) deadline schedule. On said schedule for what remains of this year are: 5 books in the Forensics series for middle-school-age readers (these are short and fun, and I’ve already written 4 of them, so no series-learning curve); a book on Land Management for an environmental issues series for middle school and high school (don’t yet know anything about this series, so may need to do some homework); and critical bios of Stephen King and Philip Pullman for a series on contemporary authors, targeting high-school-age readers. Yum on those last two.

Here’s hoping for a settled and productive (and dare I hope even a creative?) rest of 2009.