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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A-Z P is for Procrastination


Procrastination. Or how the American Revolution was won. 

"You can lead a horse to water but you can't grant him the serenity to accept the things he cannot change.” (Tweet by Bob Golen) 

P is the next letter to write about in this project to write an essay for every letter of the alphabet. Someone suggested Procrastination.

Guess what? I’ve been putting it off.


GNTL - So Many Words!


Grownups Noticing Their Lives - Words!

The month of May might have been above my paygrade. I contributed to a weeks-long writing project in our congregation. I met friends more often than usual to talk and catch up. Two grandkids came for a sleepover last week. Our daughter and her little dog spent last Friday with us. Saturday another grandkid slept over.

GNTL - Kathryn's Garden


Grownups Noticing Their Lives - Kathryn’s Garden

My friend Kathryn sent some beautiful photos of her garden to me this morning, I asked if I could post them here and she said yes. 

Some of you know Kathryn Rouse so you know this is not a garden-come-lately. She’s been building and growing her garden since, I think, the late 1970’s. The bunny in a hurry is a Bill Reid sculpture.

I think Kathryn's photos are the right frame for the poem.

A-Z Observation

5/24/2023   O is for Observation

Tycho Brahe (1546-1601) was a pre-telescope Danish astronomer who looked at the sky more precisely than anyone before him had done. He was obsessively careful about measuring what he saw and he studied the sky every night he could. To accomplish what he wanted he reinvented and fine-tuned the sky-gauging tools of his era – sextant and quadrant.

You may have seen these tools in paintings of old-time sailors. They would hold them up to their face, look at the stars, figure out where they were in the world.

GNTL - Squirrels & Gardens & the Sonoran Desert


Grownups Noticing Their Lives

My garden thrives in ignominy.

Yesterday I posted some frugal things I’ve done lately at the Non-Consumer Advocate website. I do this because the kinds of people who try to be frugal are often (not always) people who I wish would come over here and read my website, too. I don’t write too much about frugal strategies but I write lot about values. We are in the same Venn diagram, right?

GNTL - Walk, Mounds, Spirit

Grownups Noticing Their Lives


The local TV weather folks talked about ‘a pneumonia front’ for two days. I’d never heard the term before but we all know temps can change fast, right? It’s more generally called life on planet earth. Keep a jacket handy if you can.

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