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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What the Dickens?

The photo is from Barnados, a childrens charity in London in the 19th century. 


Argh! I have a new phone because the old one stopped staying charged plus a few more foibles. My phone cost $400 five years ago so it makes sense that it stopped working reliably, right? If an appliance worked like this we would burn that manufacturer to the ground.

Swan Story


I’ve been reading a lot of other people’s writing lately and I have decided there is too much to read. Much of it is very good but there is JUST TOO MUCH!

So my goal going forward is to write shorter posts, more often, that might remind you of the glory, power, and goofiness of your life as well as mine.

So, let me say again what’s always very true. Thank you for reading what I write.


About My Memorial Day Story


Today my story ‘Memorial Day’ is posted at Substack. Read it here. 

Courage, Big & Little



I’m writing fiction this week. I started a story in December that, along the way, turned into a Memorial Day story. It will be my Substack story this Saturday.

This morning I looked for an old newspaper column to rerun and found this one about a time when one of our kids needed to have four teeth pulled.

Cholesterol Numbers & Squirrels


Years ago I was out to dinner with friends. We were all just entering our 40’s and thus were all beginning to get the fun medical tests about this and that and cholesterol. I said, to a friend next to me, that I’d started eating oatmeal everyday for breakfast and my cholesterol had dropped …..

The room went silent.

Everyone heard “cholesterol dropped” and stopped speaking. Everyone wanted to hear how much it had dropped – which was about 8 points. In our twenties the conversation stopper was gossip about sex. Now the secret sauce was HDL and LDL

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