Vertical Travel

I’ve been thinking of D. H. Lawrence’ New Mexico essay all day, wondering if I’ve ever known a place “vertically.” I have. A couple of places, in fact. Realizing that, I thought about what it takes to know a place vertically, not just by cruising along the surface of it, but being IN it.

It takes time. A LOT of time. Less time, maybe, if you’re a kid because you’re not dragging as much “world” around with you, but it still takes time. Vertical travel is travel in time at least as much as it is travel through space. More, I think.

The first place I knew vertically was the small forest by my house in Nebraska. I can still look at it on Google Earth and find the trails I hiked and sledded. I know where the ravine is across which we rigged a tire to “Tarzan” across. All those things are — as long as the forest stands — in me just as they are outside of me and that seems to be the point of vertical travel.

The next? A few thousand acres in Southern California — Mission Trails Regional Park, part of it. (It’s grown in the meantime.) “My” part is roughly 5800 acres. Another part is a small fragment of the Laguna Mountains. I’m in the process of traveling “vertically” here in the San Luis Valley.

The thing is, vertical travel takes, maybe, years and years, and it cannot possibly encompass the whole world. Thank goodness we have literature, history, and museums — lenses through which we can gain some knowledge to add depth to our flatter travels.

What Lawrence is really talking about in his essay is intimacy and that takes time, patience, humility, acceptance, and faith. Most of all, time. I remember the day I surrendered, first to the coastal sage chaparral of Mission Trails, then in general. I stood on a higher trail and looked out over green hills that had been black and sear only a month or two before. I asked it, “Why are you so beautiful?”

Well, it answered. “So you would love me.”

I answered, “I do love you.”

It said, “No, you don’t. You only come when I’m cool and green. I don’t see you in the summer when my snakes are out or in the rain.”

(You can call the guys with the white coats and the vans. It’s OK. I realize this isn’t normal…)

Well, that was clear. I didn’t hike in the chaparral in summer. I didn’t like snakes or want to see one. I didn’t like being hot and sweaty, but I had my job description, and a definition of love. I surrendered. From then on? Vertical travel. The absolutely BEST school I ever attended. Among my lessons was how amazing the coastal sage chaparral is in the rain, how fragrant, how filled with color — and how slippery.

It also takes a long time to see more than what we are looking for, to see what is THERE rather than what we expect. At this moment, I’m living near wetlands. I began not knowing anything about them, but since I am constrained by age and ability, and have some concerns for my safety because I’m usually alone, I look for flat places to walk. Wetlands are flat. The Refuge is flat. The San Luis Valley proper is flat. It’s a lake bed. I had no idea what to look for, how to see it, nothing. The Sandhill Cranes were my doorway to this amazingly diverse world.

I’ve also realized that our limitations are an element of vertical travel. Surrender. Within our worlds we are all “selves.”

Today out at the Refuge with Bear, unhurried because her pace is slower and more investigative, I thought about my relationship with that place. I remembered my first visit and wondering if I would come to “know” it. It didn’t become a regular “place” for me until 2020. Like the small fragment of Nebraska forest of my childhood, Mission Trails, the Laguna Mountains, it is a protected area which largely means it mostly gets to be what it is. Humans are involved, but as participants not exploiters.

As I looked around me, I saw the experience in layers of time. “That’s where I saw the hundreds of elk.” “That’s where the herd of mule deer were looking at me in surprise.” “That’s where I showed the crane tourists the bald eagle hunting and told them cranes were somewhat easy food for them.” “That’s where Mark saw the owl during my first Crane Festival.” “That’s where I saw the avocet chicks.” “That’s where the elk fell getting up this slope.” I didn’t see that, but Bear showed me last winter and the story was clear. Bear is a help with this because she has an astonishing memory. “This is where we saw the tiger salamander.” There was one in the same place today.

It hit me; that’s vertical travel. It’s context of a place, knowing where, in February, in which small crevices, the shooting star will bloom in the Southern California chaparral, and it means going there to see it. It’s knowing the grandfather of all manzanita in the fault between two mountain ranges, mourning its loss when an October fire takes it down and celebrating its rebirth from its roots the next spring.

Grandfather manzanita, me and Molly

D. H. Lawrence might have understood this, I don’t know.

As I was walking with Bear today I realized that I read Lawrence’ New Mexico essay in a grad school seminar. I remembered that Lawrence’ idea of vertical vs. horizontal travel had affected, influenced me, left me with the idea that vertical travel was good, better, and what I wanted from life. I sought it every where I traveled which is why I’m not “widely” traveled more “deeply” traveled. Yet some destinations — all destinations — are too immense. I think the only place we can ever hope to travel vertically is the place where we live. And there, we don’t think of ourselves as traveling at all.

When I began reading the paragraph that began with, “As a matter of fact, our grandfathers, who never went anywhere, in actuality had more experience of the world than we have who have seen everything...” I thought Lawrence might be going there, to the kind of travel that leads a person to know a forest, a trail, a wetlands, a rock wall, a mountain face, but it isn’t where he went.

Anyway, Bear and I had a wonderful time. No deer flies, for one thing. A gently overcast sky, and all the time in the world to meander in our own way in this beautiful world we’ve only begun to know, but which has given us something of itself, some context and some depth. I love it so much.

Here’s a link to part of the essay. I haven’t been able to find all of it online. The featured photo is a desiccated garter snake, the kind of thing you only see with a slow dog.

“The Wedding is the Easy Part”

Seeing the prompt today — “Wedding” — I realized that the only weddings I’ve attended have been my own. I’ve been part of some pre-wedding stuff for my cousins, but otherwise? No. The only person saying “I do” in my life has been me, and as we know, I don’t. I should have said, “I might” not “I do.”

My first wedding was the whole shebang with expensive white dress, people in the church, reception, all of it. I was 22 and had known my husband since 9th grade. Our meeting in Mr. Morland’s biology class was one of those movie things — eyes meet, sparks fly but it was years (four) before we went out together. We’re in some classes together throughout high school. Various girlfriends and boyfriends and finally we find each other. I seriously think this might have been made into a Hollywood movie… Hmmm. ANYHOO it lasted 6 pretty miserable and scary years.

No, I wasn’t that innocent but nice photo…

Looking back I don’t know if it was a mistake or not. Back then, marriage was one of the “easiest” ways for a girl to get out of the family house.

The second wedding was a lot simpler. It happened in my mom’s backyard. I guess I shredded the photos of that in the great Purge of the Evidence of the Examined Life. BUT I had a GREAT dress and everyone had a good time. The only downside is that the man I probably SHOULD have married showed up a couple days before the wedding. I hadn’t seen him in years. He lived in Europe. He’d just packed up, crossed the “pond,” got a job delivering a new car across the US so he could get to me economically. Long story… Anyway, the Good X and I got home from ordering the wedding cake and found him on the steps to our apartment building. The day of my wedding, even my mom said, “So who IS the groom?”

When the universe speaks to me, even shouting isn’t loud enough.

The Good X and I had 12 mostly OK years together. We’re still friends and a kind of family.

There was a third wedding, and it was my favorite. Extremely low-key. It even had a reason beyond “luv'”. In fact the witness — my good friend — took me aside and said, “This doesn’t have anything to do with ‘luv’ does it?”

“No, god no.”

“OK. Then I’ll do it. Let’s go.”

Destiny designs rollercoasters for each of us and these were some of the “thrills” on mine.

Some weddings lead to happy, if complex, lives together. I admire that. Here are two that I know of. ❤

The featured photo is a car in Guangzhou decorated for a wedding back in 1983.


Looking at albums in the nostalgia store in Del Norte the other day made me think of one in particular — Janis Ian’s self-titled album. When I first heard it (on my own turntable in my very living room in my very apartment in Denver in 1981) I fell in love with it. One song spoke especially to me at that moment. I had recently returned from my first ever trip to a big city by myself. I went to talk to a man, a long-time lover, who wanted us to get married. It was problematic because he was gay(ish). Many letters and phone calls persuaded me to take a flight over Labor Day weekend to Chicago where he had moved with his, yes, boyfriend. Suffice it to say, the love aspect of that journey didn’t go well. Among the less surreal adventures, I took the El to downtown Chicago and spent hours in the Chicago Art Institute. It was my first venture out like that, on my own, looking at art, and experiencing a big city.

Completely filled with incredible images, I left and walked down the street looking for lunch. I walked into a restaurant that looked as if it had come out of Sister Carrie, took a table and looked at the menu. A girl at the table next to mine (the booths were separated by low dividers) said, “I’m having pizza. You want to share?” Sure, why not? She walked around to my table, sat down, I said I’d get dessert and we shared a pizza and talked. She was from Poland.

A few months later I was in Washington, DC for the Foreign Service Exam. Again I found myself alone on the streets of a major city with one day to see things. I knew all the things there were to see in the nation’s capitol and I just figured I’d go to the mall area and look. I went into the capitol building which didn’t do much for me, then out again to the row of museums. Remembering Chicago, I entered the National Gallery where my life changed, my eyes were opened, the world exploded and I saw Picasso’s linoleum cuts. I saw much, much more, but now, 40 years later, that’s what I remember. The next day I flew back to Denver a changed woman. I didn’t know how, or even that, I had changed, but I had.

I waited for the results of the exam, pondered life without the long-term (five years!) lover-like-man (who was spectacular and we were eminently compatible except for the obvious), and fretted about leaving the country for a great adventure. When? How? Would I ever? I learned to X-country ski, skied a lot — downhill and X-country, bungled a relationship with a good guy, had a one-woman show of my paintings, met the Good X, had my appendix out, did linoleum cuts (learning from Picasso) and and and and and and listened to Janis Ian. Let it be known I didn’t like any of her popular songs and still don’t. At 17? Pulease….We’re all ugly teenagers.

So…after a little chat here on my blog with a reader about old albums, I looked for the song.

At the time I owned this album, I lived in an urban neighborhood in Denver, Capitol Hill. I am 100% sure I didn’t imagine then that I would live in the back-of-beyond as a 70 year old woman. But I also didn’t imagine the magnificent cities that I would meet — and in some cases get to know well — over the intervening years or all the experiences that would make this song a completely different song in 2022 than it was in 1981.

As I listened to it Sunday night, I saw Milan where I spent ten days wandering around on foot looking at art. Venice which, even after 3 visits, is incomprehensible to me. Verona where I lived for a month doing a close study of 13th century frescoes and studying Italian. Beijing where I felt so strangely at home. Shanghai which is? Good God, I have no words. Most of all, Guangzhou, that ancient wonder that I navigated by bicycle, and Zürich where, for a few years, I had a family, a city once described to me as “the crossroads of Western Civilization.” I scoffed at that because I was ignorant, but now? Zürich gave me the inspiration to realize one of my life’s biggest dreams.

There are other cities I’ve loved, but images of these cities went through my mind as I listened to this song, images I wanted to show that young restless woman in Denver in 1981 to show her that she was completely right to want to go, and that she would go, much sooner than she knew. ❤

The featured photo is a painting I did after I returned from Chicago, an expurgation of that whole adventure. I think it’s one of the best paintings I’ve ever done.

Article this morning (or yesterday?) interview with Janis Ian…

Earth Day 2022…

I can’t say that nature is voiceless. Godnose she’s speaking loudly now. Driving home from scenic, fun-filled Del Norte yesterday with a friend after celebrating her 70th birthday, all we could talk about was the recent fire in our town and the incredible dryness of the landscape all around us. Everything else in our conversation returned to that.

Whether or not we humans contributed to what’s happening now remains, for many, an open question. For me? No. I’m sure humans have contributed to this. Can we stop it? I don’t think so. Maybe the best we can do right now is not make it worse through our actions. Maybe.

The size of nature is truly beyond our comprehension since it’s basically EVERYTHING including us. That’s why many humans talk about nature as if it were something external, but it isn’t. It is us and we are it. We humans truly cannot live without it. 😉

Me 1965 in the middle of it. ❤

In 1970 when I went to one of the two demonstrations of my life, the first Earth Day, I was only 18. I ditched school, had my mom’s car, took some friends down to Colorado College (Colorado Springs), and we stood around and listened to speeches. I don’t know about my friends, but I felt two things. One, that I was DOING something, two, that it would change things. In reality, I wasn’t DOING anything and the actions taken by people all over the US that day DID change things that desperately needed changing, for one thing the Environmental Protection Agency was formed, partly as a result of Earth Day 1970.

I never imagined Earth Day would turn into an annual event, a semi-holiday and a celebration? What? But 23 years later I was in San Diego representing Mission Trails Regional Park — an urban wilderness park I was working for.

It is a large swath of open space surrounded by city and a Navy base. I hiked there almost daily with my dogs. I didn’t know it was being fought over by the various “powers” who fight over things, but it was. When I accidentally met the president of the foundation one day, “my” chaparral had only recently achieved protection from development. From there it would move forward to become the largest urban wilderness park in the United States, then 5800 acres, now 7000 acres. In “my day” I was often the only human wandering the trails; now it’s a very popular destination for hikers and mountain bikers. All the work I/we did was to prepare the delicate landscape for its future. Our idea was that if people WENT there, SAW it and LEARNED about it, they would value it and protect it. I don’t know if that theory has held or not. I suspect it’s 50/50. Some people get it, some people don’t. Those who don’t regard the trails and hills as a commodity that exists for their enjoyment; a product, not a living thing.

And THAT is the tension between nature and humans.

I have thought a lot about my evolution as a hiker, not as a matter of the physical changes that take place over time (grrrrr….) but in the depth of my understanding of my own actions. When I first started hiking the chaparral (which is incredibly fragile and highly flammable) I cut trails wherever I wanted to. I followed deer trails up hills, cut across areas where, I later learned, wildflowers grew. I thought I loved nature and that’s why I wasn’t “controlled”by the trails and fire roads that were right there, too. Over time, I began to see that I wasn’t “loving” nature. It wasn’t about my “freedom” to go wherever I wanted. By the time it became a park, and I was working with the rangers to lead groups of volunteers building trails, I was adamant about staying on trails. The advantages of that weren’t just preservation of the landscape, but safety. Rattlesnakes are everywhere in that landscape and a lot more visible on the trail than off.

Yesterday — in the incredibly beautiful magazine (catalog) put out by Patagonia — I read an article on clean climbing by Mailee Hung. Clean climbing is basically climbing rocks in such a way that the rocks are not damaged by the protection used by climbers to stay safe in their ascents and descents. It’s a HUGE topic and I’m no expert. BUT it’s also a philosophy — leave no trace? Pack out your shit (literally and figuratively)? Hung’s article concluded with a statement that sums up exactly what I believe we humans need to shoot for in everything we do — as much as possible. “Clean climbing means restraint in the face of our egos and humility in the face of nature, an effort at self-mastery rather than world-domination.”

That’s the lesson.

Featured photo: My friend Lois’ son, Mark, and me at Earth Day/March for Science, 2017, Colorado Springs

Wrestling with Precious Papers, and Time…

Just shredded all the letters but one from my life’s first great love. They go back all the way to 1971 and stopped sometime in the 80’s. There were some emails in the early 2000s. I last saw him in 2004 at the airport in Atlanta. It was a wonderful meeting wherein we said what we needed to say to each other.

At first I wasn’t sure what to do with this manila envelope filled with airmail letters from Europe, Asia and Africa covering all those years. I found a way to contact him to see if he wanted them, then I thought, “You’re REALLY going to email this guy out of nowhere and ask him if he wants those letters?” I imagined doing that, letting it play out in my mind in all the ways it could and decided, “No. Do both of you a favor. Go shred them.” I saved one he wrote when the Good-X and I were in China. It is a reply to the first letter I sent him from China and it’s wonderful.

I shredded letters from me to my mom and my mom to me when I was at Colorado Woman’s College in 1970, but I saved the note she sent to my high school asking them to let me go early so I could help put my dad in an ambulance to take him to Penrose Hospital for cortisone treatments for his MS. It brought up a vivid, vivid image of coming home that afternoon to find an ambulance in the driveway with the doors open and the light flashing on top. Why? It wasn’t an emergency. I don’t remember how I helped. The paramedics did the work. I think it was moral support. My mom and I rode in the ambulance to the hospital with my dad. The ACTH therapy helped him and when he came home his life was less of a struggle for a little while.

There were a couple of letters from my mission trip in 1968 to Crow Agency where my mom taught in the 1940s. 16 year old girls are pretty silly 😉 I was thinking of that trip the other day as I was scraping flaked paint off my deck. I imagined someone asking, “Where did you learn to do that?”

I’d say, “On a church mission trip to the Baptist Mission at Crow Agency, Montana.”

The trip was absolutely magical BECAUSE of my mom’s connection and because I went there with that connection. I looked for the people she had known and met some of them. Our group got to attend a Crow funeral service (Crow + Catholic) at the St. Xavier Mission at sunset one June evening — and a June sunset after a thunderstorm in south central Montana is incredible, golden and slanty with a rainbow — all beyond words. The service was all in Crow.

My mom spoke Crow adequately, and when I was a kid she used Crow words to (secretly) get my brother and me in line when there were other people around. Two of the first words I learned in any language were “Stop that” and “Come here” in Crow. I learned more words when at Crow on the mission trip, and I haven’t forgotten all of them.

The whole thing was a strange journey for me first, because I’d been at Crow often. My aunt and uncle had run the general store there for many years. And then, we weren’t there to learn about the Crow or “fraternize.” We were there to live our very white segregated lives and paint the church. That made no sense to me.

I got in trouble on that trip because I took off with an Indian kid (really a kid about 10) on horseback. We rode along the Little Bighorn River. When I got back from that ride, I was in terrible trouble. Because of me the planned trip to Yellowstone Park on the way back to Colorado Springs was scrapped. Peculiar thing to punish everyone for the actions of ONE person, but there it was.

We live so many lives in our lifetimes. Anyway, that plastic bin the size of a boot-box was the hardest one to deal with — to my knowledge. There may be other booby traps as I continue this shredding operation, but none like that. As I shredded, it occurred to me that the papers and souvenirs aren’t my life, anyway. They are just a kind of reassurance that all that really happened and that all those beloved people were real. I feel a little melancholy, but I know in a day or two I’ll just feel lighter.

Palm Sunday at the Church of the Big Empty

Akbash dogs are stubborn AND they know what they think is right, and Bear did not think it was right for me to take her out for a walk without Teddy, so she wouldn’t let me catch her. It got incredibly frustrating. I went to the garage and opened the back door of Bella and tried to fool Bear into letting me leash her. She wasn’t having it. Finally I opened the kitchen door. Teddy, who was in the house, ran out, raced down the walk into the garage, and jumped up into his seat in the car. Bear didn’t know he was in the car, ready to go, and STILL refused to be leashed. 

“I’m ready Martha!”

“I know, Teddy, but I have to catch Bear. Besides, I didn’t want to take you.”

“Really?” There’s NO way he would believe that.

“Never mind little guy.”

Finally I got Teddy and went into the house. Before long, Bear was inside. I grabbed her collar, leashed her, and took them both for a very very very very windy Palm Sunday Service at the Church of the Big Empty. It was a wonderful “service” even with the wind gusting at 40 mph. I watched an osprey and a Harris hawk hunt, saw some cinnamon teal take advantage of a lull in the wind to fly from the ditch to the pond and there were NO other people. 

And then… 

“Isn’t this all-right, Martha?” “It” said. “It” is my notion of God.
“This. Isn’t it enough. Do you really need to travel far and wide? You’ll just come home to this. Think about it. It took your whole life for you to get here.” There was no arguing that.

I turned and looked at Mt. Blanca through the pastel haze of the dusty air. 

“I brought you here,” It said again. “Isn’t this enough?”

My eyes filled with tears. It’s so much more than “enough.” I said “Thank you” and continued my uphill push on the flat road with the two parishioners who also find it to be “enough.” 

As I walked I pondered the journey that I thought I wanted to take and the financial and physical challenges it would present. Greece. Then I thought, “You have everything they left behind for you. You have even had the privilege to teach it.” And I thought about that and said “Thank you,” again. 

So, that’s it. ❤

P.S. The photo is my very strange garage. The “leak” you see was repaired a long time ago, but I saw no point in taking the particle board down and discovering what else I should probably do. Also, Bear loves Teddy. When we come in from a walk, she stands back and lets him drink first. Sometimes she will go alone on a walk with me, but usually, she wants Teddy to come along. It’s very difficult to win an argument with an Akbash dog without a lasso — and the ability to use it. I have neither.

Good Grief Charlie Brown

Yesterday I spent a little time looking for a trip. I’ve been — with a couple short jaunts up to Colorado Springs — in the San Luis Valley for the past three years. Yeah. One reason, of course, has been Covid. The other money. Boarding dogs isn’t cheap. A lot of people choose not to have pets because they want the freedom to travel. I guess I’ve done the converse.

In the process of looking for a trip, I did, of course, find a couple. Then I read the fine print and some of it concerned me. Even thought they are well-organized group tours for “seniors,” they have this:

Tour pacing & mobility

  • You will walk for at least 2 hours daily across moderately uneven terrain, including paved roads and unpaved trails, with some hills and stairs.
  • Travelers should be healthy enough to participate in all included walks without assistance. Adding optional excursions may increase the total amount of walking on your tour.
  • You should feel comfortable managing your own baggage at times, as well as getting in and out of boats and ferries.
  • Go Ahead Tours and the Tour Director who accompanies your group are unable to provide special, individual mobility assistance to travelers on tour. The responsibility of the Tour Director is to ensure the group as a whole enjoys a relaxing and informative journey, and he or she cannot be relied upon to provide ongoing, individualized assistance to any one traveler.
  • If you have any mobility concerns or physical restrictions, please contact our Customer Experience Team.

I thought about this for a while. Well, I’m still thinking about it. My walking problems aren’t a matter of endurance. I can’t define exactly what they are. I think it’s the reality that artificial joints just don’t work like the joints we’re born with and yeah, I have a messed up knee which adds to awkwardness when I’m tired. Getting in and out of a tour bus wouldn’t be easy for me. Walking on uneven terrain? That’s fine.

When my first hip went south almost 20 years ago now, I grieved that loss as if it were a person because it was a person. The person was me, the person I’d always been, the person through whose eyes I saw the world. The abilities taken for granted (and enjoyed by this person!) defined a big part of my identity. “I’m not sure who I am, but I can go four miles in an hour in the mountains.” Nothing else worked. My romances didn’t work. I never got tenure so I worked as a lecturer at three schools, one of which, true, gave me three year contracts. No big publisher wanted my books or stories but dammit! I could go four miles an hour in the mountains. And then, suddenly — it was pretty sudden — I was doing 12 miles with a kid from one of my classes, a collegiate athlete, a body-builder who hiked with me every weekend for his aerobic training — and I was in excruciating pain several times, and had to stop. “I don’t know what’s going on,” I said to him.

“It’s OK. We all get injured.” He sat down on a log and took a drink from his water bottle. “Stretch for a while. We can rest.”

I put a hand out to balance beside a tree and did a few hamstring stretches until I felt better, a little loser in my hip joint. Back in those days, I got massages regularly and my masseuse had noticed there was no space in my hip joint. She diagnosed it a year before it began to hurt and three years before my (incompetent) doc sent me for a hip X-ray.

All my life until then — from childhood — if something went wrong at home, at school, anywhere, I could go for a good run and regain my balance. All that running led to my being a very fast young girl, and my coach wanted to send me to Olympic Training Camp when I was 13 or 14.

Running was my ONE thing, and suddenly it was gone forever.

We think of grief as the emotion we feel when we lose people (and animals) we care about, but we can also grieve parts of ourselves, abilities, independence, beauty, potential. I don’t know that we “recover” from grief; I think we just learn to live with the loss. There’s a lot of stuff about “recovery” and the “lessons we learn” all that — yesterday I read in one of the little literary anthologies published in the Valley every spring how humans learn from pain. The story — an anecdote about losing a beloved dog — said that animals don’t have this ability (I disagree…) and it’s the ability humans have to learn from pain that makes grief redemptive. I’m not sure grief is exactly “redemptive,” but continuing one’s life after a major loss is definitely another fucking growth opportunity.

As a positive person (positive meaning concerned with the possible) I looked around for help in redefining myself and existence without the ONE THING I could do. Direction was everywhere. Like the night I got the X-ray results (finally) in 2006 I leashed my sainted Lily T. Wolf and we went out in the darkness to walk up the road. The road that passed my house in Descanso, California, didn’t have much traffic, especially at night, so it was a quiet walk. The stars shone in the moonless sky. At the end of the road was a pasture with several red horses. As we approached their fence I heard them all move toward me. I walked over to the fence and found five soft horse noses reaching for me. I’d walked down this road many times and the horses had never lifted their heads.

I stroked their noses and any other parts of their heads and necks I could reach. They leaned over the fence to touch noses with Lily. As I walked along the fence, they followed me. In the next pasture, the horses there did the same thing. I must have petted ten horses that night.

The next day, on my way home from school, I bought a big bag of carrots and returned to the horses. They all gathered at the fence and I noticed that ALL of them were old, arthritic, with swollen joints. Many walked slowly favoring a sore leg. One horse couldn’t chew the carrot so I chewed it for her and gave it to her on the palm of my hand. I stayed with the horses for a long time and cried. A few months later the horses were gone. Glue? Dog food? I don’t know, but for me the time they spent with me had been a miracle.

I am 100% convinced they knew everything that was going on inside my heart and saw me as a fellow traveler.

I decided then that everything I would need to cope with this major loss of self would appear somehow. I just had to be open to it. I was about to enter a new world with a yet undiscovered self.

When you get a hip prosthesis the advertising promises all kinds of things. You see guys skiing moguls on them, running on them, all kinds of things which are indeed possible. But there is the question the ads don’t tell you about which is, “Should you?” The answer there is that depends on how often you are willing to go under the knife. One of the things I’ve learned from this is that the surgery is nothing. You’re knocked out. Rehab is long, and, though it’s rewarding because the pain is gone, there are always ancillary annoyances like kicking opioid pain killers and picking up your life where it was before. After my second hip (I have prostheses in both hips) I got cross country skis which proved to be the ONE true compensation for not running, but I don’t have any friends who X-country ski so I’m limited where I can go. I’m willing to go anywhere by myself, but I’m also not foolish. I know I can get hurt or stuck or godnose, so… Anyway, I don’t know anyone who wants to do it as much as I do. It’s always something. Like no snow…. Grrrrrrr…

I haven’t gotten over the loss. I doubt I ever will and reading “fine print” like that I read last night about mobility? The bottom line is I’m still walking and I have a big white dog who understands me and a little black dog who is the realization of joie de vivre when we’re out there doing whatever it is we do on that gravel road in the magnificent light, surrounded by mountains.

The featured photo is the pasture and two of the red horses. You can see how one of them is standing (back horse) with her leg lifted off the ground. The mountain is Cuyamaca Peak. The photo is taken from the exact spot where Lily and I spent time with the red horses. The hills behind the horses burned in the Cedar Fire a couple years before I took this photo.

Real Love Story in an Old Journal

I know how love is supposed to have been,
But my love didn’t turn out that way.
I have a stack of letters, tied with green
And every letter came from Italy.
A fall afternoon on a chaparral
hill became a lifetime’s love story.
Moon rise, while twilight held the day in thrall.
The lovers’ hearts remained a mystery
in that eternal moment. Letters filled 
These six thousand miles and thirty years.
Journeys, losses, loves; time does not stand still. 
Their two hearts hid predicaments and fears,
Written here, in my handwriting. Turning
pages, I read bewilderment — and yearning. 

I’m sorry. I got so wrapped up in this I forgot to use the word of the day, clink. Too bad, too, it’s pretty easy word to rhyme.

This is another Shakespearean sonnet (sort of) but it’s actually (OMG!) about love. I’ve been cleaning out and shredding journals and journal pages, but I found one yesterday I will not touch. For the most part, my journals are full of really dumb stuff. They aren’t “my past,” so much as me attempting to contend with some trivial problem in a former present. They are really mind-boggling examples of stream of tedium. As for my past, I’m its product, the fruit of it. I have kept things that I really do not want to part with — but it’s amazing after going through 7 of the 27 volumes of The Examined Life, the pile is pretty small. The question I ask as I work is, “How often have I needed to see this?” And most of the time the answer is, “I never need to see this.” ❤

OH Well…

Today’s word is acceptance. That’s been a big part of my thoughts for a the past — what — 20 years? Last night I learned that my little family up the alley is moving to Montana. We’ve been a out of contact for the last couple of months for various reasons — theirs and mine.

I’m sad about it. I love that little family a lot and I think we’ve added a lot of joy to each others lives over the past three years. For sure they’ve been a treasure in my life. They “get” me, and I think I “get” them. But, I can’t make it possible for them stay, so we’ll be saying goodbye in a little bit. I have things for them to take with them that I have to organize.

That’s the whole thing. That phrase, “It is what it is” is annoying, but it’s still true. And, as much as I HATE that Kansas song, “Dust in the Wind,” it’s true that nothing lasts forever but the earth and sky.

“As for man, his days are as grass…”

15 As a flower of the field, so he flourisheth. 16 For the wind passeth over it, and it is gone; and the place thereof shall know it no more. (Psalm 103, KJV)

As any regular reader of my blog knows, I spent 6 years of my childhood two miles away from the #2 Cold War target in the US, Offutt AFB, home of the Strategic Air Command. Most people from my generation have experienced school bomb drills and air raid sirens. Many people built bomb shelters to protect themselves and their family from The Bomb.

Mad Magazine was big in our house (never underestimate an irreverent Irishman with a dark sense of humor and the highest government security clearance) and among the song parodies that filled that magazine was this:

“Mine eyes have seen the horror of the coming of the Reds
They are tearing up Old Glory into 50 million shreds
They are hiding in our closets they are underneath our beds …
They are peeking through my window late at night when I watch (Jack)Paar
I have seen them in the glove compartment of the family car
They are hiding in the treetops they control the DAR
Let’s fight until they’re gone” (
“Battle Hymn of the John Birch Society” Mad Magazine)

And, of course, Tom Lehrer’s great song, “We’ll All Go Together When We Go.”

Dad had a poster that said, “In case of nuclear attack, put your head between your legs and kiss your ass goodbye.” Putting our heads down between our knees WAS one of THE bomb raid protocols.

None of this was very serious to me until I saw the film, On the Beach. It terrified me. I was 11.

For years I’d been lulled to sleep by the sounds of the B-52 jets down the street either cleaning out their engines or preparing to take off for the nightly flights to protect American air space. But the night after watching that movie, I couldn’t go to sleep. My dad came in to talk to me, and I explained that I was afraid of the bomb. I didn’t want to end up like Ava Gardner and Gregory Peck on a beach in New Zealand waiting for the fallout to get me.

My dad was very understanding and he explained that because we lived on a primary target we wouldn’t have to worry about fallout because we would be vaporized. Maybe not every kid would find that comforting, but I went to sleep knowing that a death like that was better than a long, drawn-out, painful, scary, debilitating death. At 11 I was concerned about the quality of life and death.

So that was my dad when he was alive, pretty young and pretty frisky.

Less than a decade later, he was dead, and not at the hands of the Russians in a moment of bright vapor, but after 20 years fighting a progressive, debilitating illness. It was my yellow cat under the bed, anyway, not the Red Army. He died of one of the many complications of Multiple Sclerosis, specifically, pneumonia. He was 46.

The last time I saw him alive was around February 18, 1972. I went to the nursing home to visit and do my homework as I did almost every weekend when I took the Greyhound home from college. He had been in a coma for a month or more. We knew what was happening. One of the tasks I often performed for him during that time was suctioning the mucus from his throat so he could breathe. A lot of things like that are deep down in my memory, like once (my brother told me) I’d done mouth-to-mouth on my dad because he stopped breathing. I think living through things like that, our memory just says, in the fullness of time, “Dude, I can’t handle ALL of this so some of it’s going into the vault, ‘K?” Anyhoo…

That afternoon I sat beside my dad, reading some poetry from some anthology assigned for school. I held his hand as I read. It was warm and alive, but not responsive to my hand, normally. But suddenly that afternoon, I felt him grasp my hand in return. That could be something awful — or not. I looked at him, and his snow-shadow blue eyes were open. In them was all the love in the world. We looked at each other for a long time, and I got the message that what was ahead of him was all right with him. Then I realized his sudden movement had pulled the IV out of his arm, and I had to call a nurse. That cascaded into having to phone my mom and my moment with my dad was over.

The next weekend I was up in Winter Park with my friend Susie and her family. Sunday morning, I wanted out of there worse than anything. They were hemming and hawing about driving down Berthoud Pass in the snow, and I was just, “We have to GO!” I was a real asshole, determined to get out of there. Their car was stuck in front of our cabin. I unstuck that mofo using cardboard. I wanted to leave Winter Park (instead of staying to ski?) and there was no real reason other than school the next day. Finally, we left. The pass was clear, the dorm was the dorm, and Monday morning came. I went to class. While the professor was lecturing, someone came to the door and the prof gestured to me to come up. “Your Aunt Martha is waiting for you in your dorm,” he said.

I didn’t need to be told, but she told me anyway. We went to my room, and I packed what I would need for a couple weeks. After that, all the bullshit of funerals and words began, and with all that, the important part; the inescapable personal lesson that death is irrevocable, permanent, non-negotiable, finito.

That was fifty years ago and the calendar this year — except for 2022 not being a leap year — is the same. Monday is February 28 just as it was in 1972. And, for some bizarre reason, I’m missing my dad more than I have since the year he died.

He wasn’t always my dad, and he wasn’t always sick. For a while he was a teenager attending high school in Livingston, MT and living with his aunt and uncle. He was — I know mostly from having found some of his high school homework — a pretty deep-thinking kid. As I wrote here a few days ago, he wanted badly to be a poet. His favorite book was The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam translated in 1859 by Edward Fitzgerald. Here’s a poem my dad wrote when he was 17, clearly trying very hard to imitate the poetry in his favorite book.

“And should it be, with yourself you are not ‘friends,’
How expect you more than the bitterest of ends?
Where will you find life-long, true, companions?”

Nowhere. This is a lesson I have learned, dad, and you were right. ❤

My dad, at age 17, was pretty wise. When I was 40 or so I realized I was embarking on the part of life my dad didn’t get to live. I hope I did all-right with the gift I’ve been given. I loved my dad — and I liked him. I know that even though I only “had” him for a short time, I was fortunate in the man who was my father. ❤