Cross-Country: Adventures Alone Across America and Back

400T E cover

I am proud to announce the publication of my new book, a non-fiction travel narrative entitled  Cross-Country:  Adventures Alone Across America and Back:

After a childhood of summers spent in the back seat of a car, and four months before the turn of the millenium, M.M. Justus decided to follow in the footsteps of her heroes John Steinbeck and William Least-Heat Moon, not to mention Bill Bryson, and drive alone across America’s backroads for three months.  Like the bear going over the mountain, she wanted to see what she could see.

The places she visited ranged from the homely to the exotic, from the Little Town on the Prairie to Scotty’s Castle, from New York’s Twin Towers to an ‘alien’ landing site in Wyoming.  From snow in Vermont to the tropical heat of New Orleans. 

After over 14,000 miles, history both public and personal, and one life-changing event, she finally arrived back where she’d started from, only to discover it wasn’t the same place she’d left behind at all.
It is available in print through Amazon and CreateSpace, and through other retailers coming soon, and as digital editions through Amazon and Smashwords, with other retailers coming soon:

You can read the first chapter for free here:

Thank you for your time.

M.M. Justus
Categories: books, Cross-Country, exploring, highways, Long Trip, museums, national parks, outdoors, parks, philosophy, self-publishing, travel, writing | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

I’m going to miss this place

A sad story aired on the local news here about a month ago.  Van Lierop Bulb Farm is no more.  They’re closing down operations due to the owners’ retirement, and the shop, and more importantly, the display garden, will be closing for good at the end of May.  This leaves the Puyallup Valley, about an hour south of Seattle and once one of the world’s pre-eminent daffodil growing areas, with only one active bulb farm where their used to be over a dozen.

Change can be good.  But this change sure isn’t.

I mean, I understand about wanting to retire, and I understand about children not necessarily wanting to work in the family business, and I also understand about how it’s at least partly land values that have pushed farming out of the fertile valleys within commuting distance of the biggest city in the Pacific Northwest.  But that doesn’t mean I have to like it.

At any rate, I made one last daffodil-season visit to Van Lierop’s a couple of weeks ago, and took pictures of the display garden.  While it was really obvious that the annual bulb-planting did not happen this past fall, daffodils are perennial bulbs, as are several other kinds.  And the trees and shrubs were still beautiful.  But the patches of ground where tulips and hyacinths, which aren’t as reliably perennial, used to crowd in past years were so bare.

Van Lierop’s was the place for Easter pictures in my neck of the woods, and a beautiful place on any given day between early March and early May.  And I’m going to miss it something fierce.

A view of the display garden at Van Lierop's.

A view of the display garden at Van Lierop’s.

And another view, with weeping cherry trees.

And another view, with weeping cherry trees.

Traditional yellow daffodils.

Traditional yellow daffodils.

One forlorn clump of tulips.

One forlorn clump of tulips.

A river of grape hyacinths, which would have been surrounded by tulips in past years.

A river of grape hyacinths, which would have been surrounded by tulips in past years.

And another.

More daffodils.  These are called Ice Follies.

Pieris japonica, one of our mainstay landscaping shrubs here.

Pieris japonica, one of our mainstay landscaping shrubs here.

That's a blue squill in that enormous bed of hardy cyclamen foliage.

That’s a blue squill in that enormous bed of hardy cyclamen foliage.

A bed full of daffodils.

A bed full of daffodils.

An artsy view of the flowers.

An artsy view of the flowers.

Daffodils don't have to be yellow.

Daffodils don’t have to be yellow.  These are descendants of a pink variety called Mrs. R.O. Backhouse.

Categories: gardening, outdoors, parks, philosophy, plants | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment

Happy Thanksgiving

In spite of  the L-tryptophan-induced drowsiness from too much turkey (and too much pie, and way too much of my friend L’s magnificent mashed potatoes), here I am to make a list of what I am thankful for.  This also gives me a great excuse if I forget anything.

So, out of order, although there probably is a particular order I should be putting them in:

I’m thankful that any economic/financial issues I may have are decidedly first-world ones.  I have a lovely roof over my head, more than adequate nutrition and clothing, and a great many of my wants as well as my needs are mine to use and enjoy.

I’m thankful for the traveling I’ve been able to do.

I’m thankful for the fledgling business that is my day job.  I’m thankful that I find it interesting and challenging, and to be able to find people willing to pay me to do it.  There are times I wish it could be doing better, but if there are reasons it isn’t, well, it’s probably because I don’t devote myself to it singlemindedly 24/7/365.  And I don’t want to.  So it’s my choice, and I’m satisfied with it.

I’m thankful for my friends.  I have some seriously wonderful friends, and you know who you are.

I’m thankful my 88-year-old mother is still going strong and maintaining her independence.

I’m thankful for the new cats in my life.  I never thought I would appreciate two healthy normal untraumatized kittens so much as I have since the fiasco last year.  The boys eat what I put in front of them, they drink enough water, they use the litterbox religiously, they’re beautiful, playful, and affectionate, and I really couldn’t ask for more.

And I am thankful for being able to write, and for those who have read and enjoyed my books.  I hope to keep writing for as long as I can, and I hope people keep enjoying what I write for as long as I can write it and beyond.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Categories: food, philosophy, travel | Tags: | Leave a comment

guest blogging

Writer Meg Mims had some interesting questions to ask me:



Categories: blog touring, philosophy, True Gold, writing | 2 Comments

Once upon a time on a trip to Alaska, day 45

Fullerton, California

Monday, July 30, 1973

HOME!!!”  Which is all that my diary says for that day.  And plenty.

Just out of curiosity, I put our itinerary into Google maps’ directions screen, and discovered that in 45 days, we went roughly 7600 miles, not counting side trips or out-and-backs.  That equals roughly 180 miles a day.  Which really doesn’t sound like much, until you think about it being the equivalent of 180 miles every single day for 45 days.

When I was forty years old, I made what I still refer to as my Long Trip (uppercase intentional).  I drove over 14,000 miles by myself in a little under three months.  I went from here near Seattle across the top of the U.S. to Vermont, down the east coast to Florida, then across the South and Southwest to California, where I rolled my car in the middle of the Mojave Desert.  I then managed to make my way to my sister’s home in the Bay Area and flew home from there.  A year ago I blogged that journey day by day.  Like our Alaska trip, this was another journey from which I still date events in my life.  It was one of the best things I ever did.  The really funny thing is, I drove an average of almost exactly 180 miles a day on that trip, too.  And I thought I was being leisurely about it.

I am hoping to make another Long Trip in a year or two, if I can afford the gas and figure out what to do with my two cats for the duration (for my last long trip, the pair I had at the time went to stay with a friend, but I don’t want to impose on her twice).  This time I want to drive across the middle of the U.S. and come back across Canada.  If I do, I hope to blog it in realtime, or as close as I can manage given where and when I can find wifi.

Anyway, for all of you who stuck with me through forty-five days of driving to Alaska and back, I hope you’ll stick around to see where I’m going in the future.

And I hope you will want to check out my novels:

Repeating History is the first of my Yellowstone stories, and is available from Amazon, Smashwords, Barnes and Noble, and iTunes.  It is about a young man, Chuck McManis, who, by virtue of being in absolutely the wrong place at the wrong time, is flung back in time from 1959 to 1877 in Yellowstone National Park, straight into the middle of an Indian war — the flight of the Nez Perce to Canada, pursued by the U.S. Army — and into his own family’s past.

True Gold  is the second in this series, and picks the story up in the next generation.  It is available through Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Smashwords.  It is the story of Karin Myre, a Norwegian immigrant teenager living in Seattle, who decides to escape a future of too much drudgery and no choices by running off to the Klondike Gold Rush in 1897.  Stowing away on one of the many overcrowded ships bound north, she finds herself trapped in the cargo hold with a crowd of second thoughts.  But her rescue from the captain and a fate worse than death by a determined young prospector from Wyoming and his photographer partner is only the beginning of her search for a future of her own making.

The third novel, tentatively titled Finding Home, picks up the story of the widowed father Chuck left behind in Repeating History, his search for his lost son, and what that search reveals to him about his own murky past.  It will be available for purchase in the spring of 2013.

Categories: Alaska trip, books, cats, exploring, Finding Home, highways, Long Trip, national parks, philosophy, Repeating History, self-publishing, travel, True Gold, writing, Yellowstone | Tags: , , , | 2 Comments

Once upon a time on a trip to Alaska, day 37

Haines, Alaska

Sunday, July 22, 1973

Our second day in Haines, we discovered what it’s like to explore roads that just peter out and end.

I’ve never lived on an island, or anywhere else that isn’t connected by road to the wider world.  When I went to Alaska in 1995, one of the things that really disconcerted me when I rented a car in Juneau (it was the only way at the time to get out to Mendenhall Glacier without hiking for miles since the bus didn’t go that far — I’m not sure why I didn’t just take a taxi because I know there are taxis in Juneau) was that all the roads out of town just ended.  All four of them.  Not at any sort of destination or anything.  The pavement would go for a few miles and peter out into gravel, which gradually changed over to dirt and then just stopped, out in the middle of nowhere.  It was extremely disconcerting.

I remember in Ketchikan, too, asking a lady in one of the shops along Creek Street how she liked living there.  Her response burned into my brain:  “Oh, it’s okay as long as you can get off the rock once in a while.”  It was right then that I realized I could never, ever live in a place I couldn’t just drive away from.  Ferries are all well and good, but they’re expensive and require reservations and run on their own schedule, not mine.  I need to know I can get away when and as often as I need to.

Anyway, except for the Haines Highway that we’d come in on, all the roads in Haines did that, too.  Just petered out.  Ended at nowhere.  All the roads in all of the panhandle of Southeast Alaska still do that, except for the White Pass Highway out of Skagway and the Haines Highway.

In the morning of this day we drove on the Lutak Road out past the ferry terminal where the pavement ended, and on to Chilkoot Lake.

Chilkoot Lake

My diary says it was very pretty, and this picture bears that out.

On our way back from the lake, we stopped at a place where the road fords the river, and my father rinsed the car off.  I suspect it needed it pretty badly by that point.

We also stopped at the ferry terminal and made walk-on reservations to go to Skagway for the day the next day.

In the afternoon, we drove out the Mud Bay Road, which my diary says wasn’t so great, but not why.  But possibly because it started to rain yet again.  We went back to the trailer after that and played more cards.

Oh, and this day was my mother’s birthday.  My diary says that we would celebrate it after we got home.

True Gold, a novel about the Klondike Gold Rush, is now available through Amazon and Smashwords

Categories: Alaska trip, exploring, highways, outdoors, philosophy, travel, True Gold, weather | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

Once upon a time on a trip to Alaska, day 26

Russian River Campground, east of Soldotna, Alaska

Wednesday, July 11, 1973

We left Homer on this day.  Time to go since we’d caught our salmon, I guess.  We didn’t go far after dumping and refilling our water and sewage tanks, just to a campground a few miles east of Soldotna, which is about 75 miles back towards Anchorage from Homer.

The campground was on the banks of the Russian River.  I imagine that name is a holdover from early in the 19th century when the Russians actually owned Alaska.  There’s another Russian River in California, too, which supposedly marks how far the Russians got in their explorations of North America’s Pacific coast back in the day.

We did some more fishing, but as I wrote in my diary, we “discovered that you had to fish with flies,” apparently a state park regulation, so the only thing caught was a minnow, by my father.  “It was cute.”  I think that was the last of the fishing on this trip, if I remember correctly.

That evening after supper, my father took a piece of leftover bread roll and tied it to the end of his fishing line, then set the roll on the picnic table.  Soon a ground squirrel came to investigate, and Daddy teased him by repeatedly tugging it away from him with the fishing line.  “At first I thought it was funny, afterward I didn’t like it.”  Honestly, I remember it not even being funny to begin with.

It was, to use my personal metaphor, like filling someone’s car with popcorn, being deliberately mean to get a laugh at someone else’s expense.  My three sisters all got married the year I turned twelve.  You know how people tie old shoes onto the back of the car when a couple gets married?  Well, at the first wedding reception, my new brother-in-law’s friends decided to do something different, so they filled the honeymoon getaway car with popped popcorn.  All the way to the roof.  Everybody else thought it was funny.  All I can remember is the mess it made and how it took forever to get the car cleaned out enough to drive it.  My sister said that they were still finding popcorn kernels in that car a month later.

There are some things that other people find hilarious that I find just mean-spirited and nasty.  And teasing some poor hungry ground squirrel is like filling someone’s car with popcorn.

True Gold, a novel about the Klondike Gold Rush, is now available through Amazon and Smashwords

Categories: Alaska trip, animals, exploring, history, outdoors, parks, philosophy, travel, True Gold | Tags: , , , , , | 2 Comments

Once upon a time on a trip to Alaska, day 15

 Mt. McKinley (now Denali) National Park, Alaska

Friday, June 29, 1973

 We left Fairbanks later than usual because of one last car issue, but were on our way by 9 am, and arrived at Mt. McKinley National Park (as it was called then) around three in the afternoon.

 After we set up camp at Riley Creek Campground, where the price of a site was $2.00 a night (as opposed to $22 nowadays), we went on a ranger-guided nature walk on the Morino Trail, which is near the entrance to the park.  Even back then, you were not allowed to drive on the only road into the heart of the park unless you had a reservation at one of the campgrounds along it, and then you could only go that far.  Otherwise you had to take the park service run bus (more about that tomorrow)  Since Riley Creek Campground was near the entrance, that was as far as we could go that day. 

 One of the things that’s really obvious to me in rereading my diary is that I had not realized how much I internalized my parents’ prejudices when I was young.  I am not going to repeat what I wrote about the ranger, except that he was not your standard-brand park ranger as we knew them back then, and we were all rather entertained by this.  Not that I had a clue what the things my parents found so amusing meant at the time.  Now they’re painfully obvious.  Oh, well.  At least I grew out of that particular brand of bigotry, which is more than I can say about my parents.

 The walk was pleasant and informative, however, and so was the talk at the campfire circle that night about Dall sheep, the Alaskan variety of bighorn sheep, one of many animal species native to Mt. McKinley.

 Some of my favorite childhood memories are of going to campfire circles at national parks.  We went to them every chance we got, and since almost every camping trip we took when I was a kid included at least one national park, we went to a great many of them. When I was really little, I got to be one of the kids who were called down to the front of the campground amphitheater to watch while the ranger lit the fire.  I remember one campfire talk at Mesa Verde (I think I was five or six) when we watched Indians dance.  I learned enough silly songs to perform an entire concert of them (not that you’d want me to — I can’t carry a tune in a bucket).  And I learned a great deal about the places we visited because of them.  I have only been to a few campfire programs since I’ve been an adult.  Mostly that’s because I don’t camp in national parks much anymore.  I generally stay in lodging instead, because I mostly travel alone or with friends who aren’t campers.  I don’t know if the park service still does campfire programs, but I hope they do, and that more generations of little kids are coming along who enjoyed them as much as I did.

 True Gold, a novel about the Klondike Gold Rush, is now available through Amazon and Smashwords

Categories: Alaska trip, animals, exploring, hiking, national parks, outdoors, philosophy, travel, True Gold | Tags: , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Visiting a volcano

 I firmly believe that if at all possible, everyone should have a chance to explore his or her surroundings.  And I tend to use the word “surroundings” loosely, generally meaning within a day trip, or, for some exceptional destinations, perhaps an overnight or a weekend. 

 I think this was brought home to me most profoundly by a woman I used to work with when I lived in a small, rather remote (when asked where it’s located, I usually say “thirty miles east of Idaho, eighty miles south of Canada”) town in Montana about twenty years ago.  She was in her forties and had never been more than thirty miles from home.  Given that the nearest city of any size was ninety miles away, and the only other town within that thirty mile limit was about a quarter the size of the one she lived in, that meant her boundaries were circumscribed in a way that I could never imagine.

 I was born in New Orleans.  I grew up in the suburbs of Los Angeles, Denver, and San Francisco.  My parents always made a big deal of exploring and getting to know the area around us every time we moved.  Since then I have lived in Oregon, another part of Colorado, Indiana, Ohio, Montana, and Washington state, and I have kept up the tradition of exploration.  Any circumscription of my boundaries is pretty well stretched to the point where it won’t snap back.

 Anyway.  A few years ago I discovered that my best local friend, whose father and husband were both military and so is even more well-moved than I am, had never really had a chance to explore once she moved here.  Kids and a full-time job just didn’t let her.  So I started a campaign to take her someplace she’s never visited before at least once a year.

 This year’s jaunt was to Mt. St. Helens.

 It was a beautiful, almost too warm day.  Classic Pacific Northwest August sunshine.  It also happened to be the first time I left the kittens to their own devices for the entire day; as it turned out, they managed just fine and didn’t even destroy the house. 

 But I digress.  We packed a picnic and drove the two and a half hours down I-5 and east along the Toutle River, first to Coldwater Lake, where there’s a trail/boardwalk along the lakeshore with signs telling about how the lake was formed by the 1980 eruption, and a picnic area, and a restroom that looks like a bunker for surviving nuclear war.  Now that I think about it, maybe it’s designed to help anyone stranded there survive another eruption.

 After lunch, we drove up to the Johnston Ridge Observatory, where we listened to a ranger talk about the eruption and went through the exhibits, where, among other things I jumped up and down on a platform to create my own tick on a seismograph.  My inner ten-year-old liked that a great deal. 

 There’s a pleasant trail leading up the hillside above the observatory, where plenty of wildflowers were in bloom.  It leads past a viewpoint, and a memorial listing all of the names of the 57 people who died in the eruption.  The views from the top are quite spectacular, but there aren’t many views in the monument that aren’t.

All in all, it was an extremely satisfactory “taking L somewhere she’s never been” day.  I hope she enjoyed it as much as I did.

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Categories: exploring, museums, national parks, outdoors, philosophy, plants, travel, weather | Tags: , , , | 2 Comments

Every cat is different

Ivan in back, and Teddy in front. They are growing like little weeds.


 So.  Call me mistress of the obvious, but I honestly did not realize how much difference there would be between a bottle-raised kitten and one who had a mother.  And I did not realize how much difference there would be between a single kitten and a pair. 

Due to circumstances beyond my control, and, really, anyone’s control, the two kittens I picked out from a local fosterer had to come home one at a time.  Oh, I suppose I could have waited until both were ready to leave the fosterer, but I’d been waiting for three weeks already (they were only four weeks old when I first met them, and still drinking kitty formula from a bottle).  So I brought Theodore, aka Teddy, home first, while Ivan, who had a slight skin infection, needed the health all-clear before he could be sprung a week and a half later.

Both the boys were bottle fed.  They and their two siblings arrived at Charlotte’s as the result of a phone call from a man who said he had orphan kittens in his barn, that the mother had disappeared and not come back.  He thought they were six weeks old.  They turned out to be less than half that age.  So Charlotte bottle-fed them and did all the other things one does to help kittens of that age survive and thrive.

The only reason I met them at such an early age was because she couldn’t leave them home alone all day during her usual adoption day at PetSmart. 

So.  The difference between a single kitten and a pair is obvious.  Until Ivan came home Teddy got lonely really easily, and followed me around like a puppy.   I hadn’t spent that much time giving an animal attention in a very long time (note, this is decidedly not a complaint — he and his brother are both amazingly easy to spoil).  It wasn’t so much a surprise but just that I’d forgotten what it was like.  But he was so much happier when Ivan came home.  He went from sitting on me every single chance he got to, “Oh, hi, Mom, gotta go play now!” in the span of about fifteen minutes.  Ivan, of course, has been that way from the moment he stepped out of the carrier.

And the difference between bottle fed and mama fed is that they’ve both bonded to me faster than Super to Glue.  I’ve always thought of cats as being sort of aloof.  I’m not sure Teddy and Ivan could spell aloof with a feline dictionary. 

I still think it was a good idea to bring Teddy home first, but I have to admit this was an entirely different experience than I was expecting.  In the best possible way.

Categories: animals, cats, philosophy | Tags: , | 4 Comments

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