Mary Beth Writes


Long before ladders were about partners terrifying their partners to clean the gutters, ladders were about defense, religion, and honey.

Have you visited cliff dwelling sites in the US’s SW? You probably already know people didn’t live 24/7 in those homes carved high into those beautiful and terrifying cliffs. Mostly people lived, hunted, fished, farmed, and did their daily round of activities down along the valleys and rivers.

But what do you do if warriors from other tribes come around to get you, your family, your food supplies, or you? Climb the ladders and pull them up. What do you do when river floods? Climb the ladders and wait it out.

There are cliff dwellings in China that are nearly 2000 years old. There are cliff homes built into an escarpment in Mali. It isn’t easy way to live, but it does allow one to be safe without too many weapons. OR to farm where there are floods, without being decimated by the floods. Cliff dwellings make more sense than oceanfront golf clubs in Florida.

The technology that makes cliff dwelling possible is ladders.

(Look closely right in the middle. Someone is climbing ladders to a cliff dwelling. This is Bandolier National Monument in New Mexico.)


Religion starts with a prophet who tells you to be kind. Within about five minutes clergy and local pols realize if you can scare or awe the populace, you can get them to do stuff that is not in their best interest. (Not sure if I ever summarized all religions this well, this briefly, and this cynically.)

Humans seem to have an internal religious drive to go up or go down. (Why we invented heaven and hell?) Ladders enable priests, magicians, and builders to create spaces that are scary or inspiring -  sometimes both at once.

Archeologists don’t know if every Mayan temple is built on top of or adjacent to a cave, but they think most are. Priests hauled sacrifices of animals and sometimes other humans up those edifices to cut out their beating hearts to appease the gods. They also sacrificed people deep inside caves. There is a cave in Belize that seems to have been used for the sacrifice of hundreds of children that had probably been kidnapped from up to 200 miles away. They can tell by scientific analysis of the teeth that show those kids were not local.

Why were they so brutal? Mayan myth says people were first made of corn so if one needs to appease the corn god, the way to do it is by sacrificing corn children. Then, hopefully, it will rain enough for crops to grow.

Between 900 and 1200 AD there were 18 multi-year droughts in what we now call southern Mexican and Central America. Before these droughts decimated Mayan culture, there had been nearly a thousand years of jungle slashing that obliterated more than half their forests. Why did they cut down their trees? To clear the land to feed the hundreds of thousands of people required to build the temples. To burn live trees into ash which was the main component of the bright paints used to paint the temples. What happens when you clear forests? Trees that used to catch the moisture and then release to the sky to make the clouds that rain – those trees are missing. The system of the give and take of water is destroyed. Weather goes nuts and long droughts happen.

How do people respond? Sacrifice people and humans who are not from right around where we live, to appease the god/s who must be angry to make these times so tough. How to make a show of those sacrifices? Use a ladder to haul people down into the bowels of the earth. Build stone ladders to the sky.

How did they build St. Peter’s in Rome? Ladders and scaffolding. Have you read Brunelleschi’s Dome by Ross King? This novel-like book talks about the monumental task and genius required to invent the scaffolding to build the Great Cathedral in Florence.

It begs this question. Are cathedrals and temples awe-inspiring? Or are they monuments to the thousands of lives lost, trashed, and wasted to build edifices that enable the already powerful to remain that way?

Before ladders were tools for ordinary people, ladders enabled us to be intimidated by ourselves.

But then there is this.

The lead photo is a 10,000-year-old cave drawing in southern Europe. The picture is a guy climbing a ladder to collect honey. You can even see the buzzing bees!

Left to our own devices, we ordinary blokes know what a ladder’ is for. Get up into the treehouse to get away from your mom, your homework, and the icky neighbor kid. With a stepladder you can store chocolate truffles in the picnic basket on the top shelf where kids and partners never look. Ladders enable people to collect more holiday decorations than anybody needs, because after the season you can put the lights and Victorian villages back in the attic.

With a ladder you can get the most amazing thing a human had ever eaten up until that miraculous day in human history.


What have you done with ladders?

Have you wrestled a rented ladder on top your car to transport it to the place where you and your son will hang paper lanterns to decorate for your daughter's wedding this evening? 

Do you clean gutters? Have you painted a celling? Have you shoveled snow off your roof or tuckpointed your chimney?

Have you used a ladder to get further away from noise and closer to the sky?



Once, during the lockdowns, Juan Carlos and I took a drive up the coast to get out of the house for a bit. He wanted to take photos and thought it would be a good idea to bring my 8ft ladder to get some better shots. He never used the ladder on that trip, there wasn’t a good opportunity, so we just said we took the ladder out for a field trip.
Mary Beth's picture

I'm laughing. This is a great story.

I’m laughing. Have you hid chocolate truffles in a picnic basket on the top shelf? I now know more about ladders than I did this morn.
Mary Beth's picture

Possibly ...

Notice that the handsome fellow in the car is checking the rope by crawling halfway out the window. Why doesn't he stand outside the car, you ask, and look at the tier down properly? Could it be that he closed the door first and THEN put the rope through the car?
Mary Beth's picture

So many ways to have adventures.

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Y is for Yellowstone


Back in February I asked you to give me topics to write about that would correspond to the alphabet. Sometimes several of you sent ideas for one letter and sometimes I wrote about all of them (I’s and S’s) Here we are at letter Y for which your suggestions are Yummy Food and Yawns. The word yawn absolutely makes me yawn; no way I could write about that - I would yawn for hours. I worked on Yummy Food but could only find a scolding voice about Americans eating too much sugar. Bah. True but not interesting.

So, I gave Y a go again. Y is for?

"I was Scott Simon's teller."


First of all - Thank you to those of you who came to the Wisconsin Writers Association zoom gala last night. I HAD received an email a week ago which said I would be reading my whole story. Cutting it in half while I was reading was awkward! It was still a happy event for me and the other writers. Thanks for being there! 

X is for Xeriscape


Xeriscape is pronounced ‘zeer-eh-scape’ and it means landscaping with little to no irrigated water. Readers in the west already know about this. Those of us who don’t live in arid or desert places need to wake up to the incredible resource that water is - then begin to accommodate ourselves to “water all around and beneath us all the time” is no longer our reality. Nor is it our right. We’ve got to get smarter and do better.

W is for Wonder


To whomever suggested Wonder - Thank You!  ‘Wonder’ has been bobbing in my mind like a frog in a pond.

However, I have FOUR suggestions from you guys for X - but I do not want to write four X essays. These are the suggestions:

1.) X signature substitution

2.) xylophone on a string pulled by a toddler

3.) xenophobia

4.) Xmas. 

If you have an opinion respond with the one you would like me to attempt. I will choose whichever X gets the most comments.

There will be no gerrymandering in this election.



Grownups Noticing Their Lives


Most of you know about my former weird and lovely job of coordinating an employability skills program for Huber-qualified inmates in the Racine County Jail (that’s a mouthful). Early on I realized that most of the people I would work with were people with 1.) huge addiction problems, and 2.) underlying and over-the-top and to-the-side just lying around mental health issues.

V is for Vocabulary


For those who are new here - This year I am writing about topics, in alphabetical order, that were suggested to me by readers. Sometimes this is hard! 


My cousin-in-law Dave has some powerfully thorough avocations (for fun and profit he earned a PhD in biochemistry; you will notice this in his list). This year, among other pursuits, he has been collecting words which have appeared in our culture since 1945, which was the year he also appeared in our culture.

Tag Cloud

9/11 17 minutes 500 Words A-Z AARPtaxes AAUW abortion Acadia accident Accountable Advent aging Alaska anniversary antibiotics antlers apples appointments Arrows art Ashland August Augustine aunts baby Badlands balance Baldwin Barbara Barkskins Beauty Becky Becoming Esther Berry birthday bistro BLM Blue BookReport books boy scout Bread BrokenDays BuyAngry Cabeza de Vaca Cahokia calendars Canada canoe cat romance cats cello Chicago China Choosing Christmas cilantro Cinnabuns circus climate change clouds Clowns clutter Colonialism comet ComfortZone CommonSense community consumerism Cops Corvid-19 Courage Covid-19 Crazy creditreport creosote CrimeShows danger DarkRiver death Debate December DecisionFatigue decluttering democracy dentist depression Destination Today Detroit Didion disasterprep dogs dollhouse Dreams Duty Easter eBay Echoes Eclipse election EmilyDickinson eschatology Esquipulas exit polls eyes Fable FairTrade family farmer Fata Morgana ferns firealarm Fitness Five Flatbread Flexible flu Food Pantry Fort de Chartres frame Franc FrancGarcia friends frugal FrugalHacks Frugality frustration Ft.Ticonderoga fungi fusion Galena Gannets Garden GarfieldParkConservatory Gaspe genius geode GeorgeFloyd gerrymandering ghosts gifts girls GNTL gorgons goulash GovernorThompsonStatePark Graduation grandkids granola groceries Guatemala gum guns Hair happiness HaveYouEver? hawks healthcare Healthinsurance hearings heart heaven HelleKBerry heroes hike History home HomeRepair Honduras Hope HowCrowGotOutofJail humor hurricane Ice Cream idiosyncrasy igloos impeachment Innkeeper Instincts integrity InternetPrivacy Interview InviteMe2Speak James Baldwin Jan 6 Janus jewelry JoyceAndrews Judy JulianofNorwich Jump justice Karen kites ladder Lady Lamb LangstonHuges LaphamPeak laundry LeeLeeMcKnight lemming Len Light Lincoln Little Women LockedOut Loki loneliness LouisArmstrong Love Ludington Macaw macho Manitoulin MargaretFuller Maria Hamilton Marquette marriage Marsden Hartley masks Mayan MayaWorks meme Memories men Middlemarch MilesWallyDiego MindfulChickens Mistakes MLK moon Mother MothersDay mounds mouser movies museums must-haves Mustapha NAMI Nancy Drew Newfoundland New Mexico New York City Nomadland nope observation OBUUC Ocotillo OnaJudge ordinary OscarRomero osprey Outside oximeter Parade mayhem PastorBettyRendon Paul Hessert PDQ Penny persimmon photos Pi Pies pineapples poetry Preaching privacy procrastination Protest QE2 Quern quest Questions Rabbit holes racism reading recipe recipes recommendations Remember RepresentationMatters Reruns responsetoKapenga Retirement rhubarb Ricky rime RitesofPassage romance Rosemary Ruether Roses Roti Ruth SamaritanWoman Sanctuary Sandhillcranes Santuario de Chimayo SaraKurtz SaraRodriguez satellites ScottSimon sculpture Seasons Sermon ServantsoftheQuest sewing Shepherd Shontay ShortStory shoulder sick sickness Slower snow Social Security SofritoBandito solstice South Dakota SpaceShuttle spirituality spring square feet staining stars stele Stereotypes stories StoryStarts stream monitoring stress Survival swim Talent taxes teenager thankgsgiving Thanksgiving TheBridge TheMaid ThePerpetualYou therapy ThreeBillBoards Three Thing ThreeThings Three Things TidalBore TimeBeing toddler Tom tortillas Trains travel Traveler Tubing turtle Twilight Bark Tyrone Ukraine Ulysses Grant Umbrella UnrelatedObservations Up North urgency vacation vaccine Valentines vanilla Vietnam vision VivianWokeUpDrowning Vocabulary vole volunteer WalkingAndSeeing Wampanaog war WarsanShire weather weaving Webs wedding whines WhyAttendChurch Wiley Willa WillaCather Wisteria Won! Wonder words Xeriscape Yellowstone
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