Services at the Church of the Big Empty

It’s been a while since Bear and I have attended services at the Church of the Big Empty, not because we haven’t gone out there, but it just doesn’t always happen. I don’t know what factors conspire to make it happen, but I’m happy when they do. It seems to be most often a winter thing, so I’m thinking that possibly solitude and silence enter into it, and then there is the amazing sky, the clouds that behave unpredictably, giving warnings and telling the news. The clouds are the only messengers I know that accurately foretell the future. Today they were offering mixed signals — which is pretty much what the weather forecasters are offering, too.

Teddy has learned what it means “Not today, little guy. I just want to go out with Bear. You have to stay home.” He sits in front of the sofa in complete understanding. One thing about having two dogs — one of which was here first — it matters that once in a while the first dogs gets to be the ONLY dog, especially when the two dogs are such incredibly good friends as Bear and Teddy are.

And so… We strolled along, covering 1.08 miles in a little under an hour. Bear got to smell EVERYTHING her heart desired and I got to stare off into space as much as MY heart desired.

At one point I could almost see a little boy in a loin cloth, the clear water of the ancient lake just below his knees. He was looking intently into the water. He held a pointed stick raised and ready. I felt as if I knew him. Was him? This place has some kind of mysterious fascination for me. Sometimes — not always — when I’m out there, I feel it. I painted it long before I saw it in a painting titled, “Ancestral Memory.” What if?

Bear and I walked on until she stopped in front of me to lean for a while. It’s her thing. We resumed our walk, Bear next to me, curling her head around my left left. I rested my hand on her back and we went on like that for a while, until a smell captured her attention again.

Bear leaning…and walking

I love these walks. I love it when the magic happens, and I love that I can’t MAKE it happen. In these times I feel that every other thing in my world is completely irrelevant, “Passatempo“.

When we reached the car, I looked up to see a very large raptor — the Golden Eagle from last week? — cruising low over the grasslands. He didn’t come nearer, and above him I noticed a very interesting cloud — a cloud that had been turning lenticular, but was hit on the face by some air currents that made it resemble 1930s permanent waves. You can kind of see it in the photo below. The snowy mountain farthest left facing is Mt. Herard and at the base are the Great Sand Dunes.

The sky out there has so much going on in any single moment (unless there are no clouds). The sun breaking through here and there and there, and here lit the distant Sangres like spotlights in a Broadway show. Now this, now the Sand Dunes, now the Crestones. Now colors on Mt. Blanca. In another direction was this — lines as if the the wind were a comb. A little hard to see…

Most people drive that loop road at 30 mph. The speed limit is 15. I drive between 10 and 15 because there are things to see along the way. I thought about that as I drove, watching the sky and the space between earth and sky for raptors. It’s all there.

I thought again of how grateful I am to Mission Trails Regional Park in San Diego, though the “empty” season there is summer. One December afternoon I stood on a ridge looking toward the north and winter’s lush green chaparral. I spoke to it, “God, why are you so beautiful?”

God in this case was just a word, but I got an answer. “So you would love me.”

I answered, “I do love you.”

IT answered, “No you don’t. You don’t come when it’s hot, my snakes are out, and nothing is green. You only come when everything is like this.”

Talk about the smack down. After that? I got the best lesson of my whole life; how to see a place that might, to superficial outward appearance be “nothing,” but which is, in fact, everything. In 1988, with my first real dog, Truffle, I began my apprenticeship in “How to take a walk.” No, it wasn’t my first walk or hike by any means, but it was the beginning of walking knowing I was not just on a trail going somewhere. I already WAS somewhere. My job was learning to BE there. Emerson wrote it in Nature:

Within these plantations of God, a decorum and sanctity reign, a perennial festival is dressed, and the guest sees not how he should tire of them in a thousand years. In the woods, we return to reason and faith. There I feel that nothing can befall me in life, — no disgrace, no calamity, (leaving me my eyes,)  which nature cannot repair. Standing on the bare ground,  — my head bathed by the blithe air, and uplifted into infinite space, — all mean egotism vanishes. I become a transparent eye-ball; I am nothing; I see all; the currents of the Universal Being circulate through me; I am part or particle of God. https://archive.vcu.edu/english/engweb/transcendentalism/authors/emerson/nature.html

Featured photo: the only snow Bear could reach — she said it was better than nothing, but it’s pretty hard. And I found on the gravel road a beautiful green stone, that made me think of Zorba the Greek. I picked it up and put it with the feathers in my car.


“What turns a person gay?”

That got your attention…

My friend is disturbed because her daughter-in-law refers to her son (my friend’s grandson) as “beautiful.” My friend is clearly worried that somehow an adjective like that will confuse the kid about his sexuality, maybe turn him gay. As I listened, I chose not to answer. She didn’t say that straight out, but it was what she was thinking. I steered the conversation elsewhere because…

I don’t enter the discussion about the pronouns, either, or the discussion about the difference between sex and gender. Not interested in those things. They’re — to me — as superficial as the “person” vs. “woman” thing from the 70s and 80s. This is really about the private natures of individual people, in my opinion. 

I went to an all woman’s college. What’s sometimes said about all women colleges was true; a lot of my schoolmates were lesbians. I’m not. Why not? I’m not just not and THAT folks is the bottom line of this whole discussion. Calling a boy “beautiful” won’t change him. Sleeping on the breast of the most beautiful girl (a ballerina!) in my college on the long drive back to Denver from Omaha after an art trip didn’t turn me lesbian — if anything would, it would be that, Marbie Ingles was wow, a Botticelli Venus, intelligent, talented — and a lesbian. When I woke up somewhere around McCook, Nebraska, she was gently stroking my hair. I just felt complimented. Then there was another attempt on the part of talented pianist at my school, but no. Then there was the time I was caught sleeping in the same bed as another girl, but that was because her roommate locked her out of their room not because we were lesbians. We were friends, so she came to my room. Still rumors abounded. Do I have a problem with this? None. Love isn’t easy to find and finding it? Luck? Maybe, but definitely a tremendous gift. 

My mostly gay but somewhat bisexual boyfriend, Peter, said it best. “I’m gay, but I hope that’s not ALL I am.” I was a huge confusion in his life — and he in mine. But I cherish every memory of our time together. It was great, intense, inscrutable, interesting — an adventure; he was brilliant, well-traveled, had graduated with highest honors from Harvard after winning a scholarship that had once been awarded to Thoreau. He was beautiful (yes) to look at, fascinating to talk to, irreverently witty, and we were eminently compatible.

From Peter I understood even more deeply that no one “turns” anyone anything. “Would I choose this?” he said one evening, tears streaming down his face during the time he was trying to figure out if he COULD marry me, “and be shut out of every normal human thing? The most basic human thing? A family and a home?” The first serious writing I did was about our time together. He read it and liked it. His words — in a letter — are in a frame in my studio along with other words that are precious to me. Among his words are, “I like it. It has energy. Keep writing!” He was one of my life’s great loves.

As for whether a gay guy can be attracted to a woman? Yes. Some yes, others no. There is no “one size fits all.” I believe that, fundamentally, we love a PERSON.

From these and other experiences I realized that human sexuality may be indefinable. I doubt that the range of possible human desires can even be charted. 

And… I didn’t even mention to my friend that many other languages don’t have two words for male and female beauty. In Italian a handsome man is a “bell’uomo” a beautiful man. Sometimes silence is the better part of valor. 

So, the president signed legislation that, if we were better, kinder, more imaginative and compassionate people, would never need to be codified. 


I posted this, and deleted it. A reader sent it to me because he gets my posts in his email. I’m grateful to him and resolve to be braver.

Tools…

This morning WP is asking me what one thing I would change about myself (WP, if you’re listening, I really HATE seeing those questions when I open a new page. “Yeah but you’re responding to them!””Shut up, WP.”). That’s kind of an interesting question, and, in its way, jibes with what’s on my mind this morning. I wonder if any of us is exactly who or how we would like to be. I’m not, but when I look at the broken bits or the less than ideal bits and the parts that are OK and the few parts that are WOW! it all seems to make a kind of harmonious whole in the midst of the constant flux that is life.

In China I taught an American lit survey class to fourth year students, students on the cusp of graduating and becoming, themselves, English teachers. One of the poems I taught was Longfellow’s “A Psalm of Life” which he wrote when he was 19. In the pronunciation of Guangzhou, Longfellow became Rongferrow. I loved that so much. I heard, “Wrongferrow,” as my students talked about him and read “Rongferrow” sometimes and “Longfellow” most of the time in their essays.

The underlying concept in the poem is that our lives are something we “make.” I explained this by drawing pictures on the board and comparing the idea with a statue that we spend our lives carving, all this based on the lines,

“Lives of great men all remind us
We can make our lives sublime
And departing leave behind us
Footprints in the sands of time.”

The idea I wanted to communicate to them is that — in Wrongferrow’s view — we make our lives into something comparable to a beautiful statue, an inspiring creation. We do that. Life isn’t random; we have something to say about it, if only in our attitude toward it. I did this by drawing a big, solid rectangle on the board with chalk and taking bits out until it was a person. They loved it.

In China at the time no one had much to say about what happened with their lives. It was right after the Cultural Revolution and my students weren’t there because it was their burning dream to become middle school English teachers; the government had put them there. I NOW think that none of us has complete freedom in the determination of our destiny; we DO have something to say about WHO we are approaching our destiny.

But POETRY, the beauty of that poem — they felt it. Add the fact that someone their age had written it! Those students loved it. Teaching poetry to Chinese students was one of the most wonderful things in my teaching life. They had been tuned into poetry all their lives. There was no need to persuade them that it was worth their time to struggle through the language, metaphors, similes, etc.

I have been thinking about the effect we have on each other. Yesterday Elizabeth came over to buy Christmas cards. I don’t have many any more because I can’t afford to have them printed, I haven’t completely solved the printing at home problem, and I haven’t had time to work on it. Later on I realized it wasn’t about Christmas cards. It was about socks. She came over armed with two $20. The price of two pair of socks at the boutique where I bought two pair of the socks she knits (and are the best for walking the dogs and dressing up and and and OK just generally the best). We’re neighbors, but friends, and kind of family. She didn’t want me to buy them, but the Holiday Boutique is a craft fair. We don’t carve these stones alone.

I woke up this morning with the idea that maybe life is going to push us in this stone carving business to, after a long process of carving and overcoming, to the point where we are faced with the THING, the monster in the closet, the bit of stone that has resisted everything, the bit we don’t even want to LOOK at let alone start carving. And I’m there. I can see it and I find myself marshaling all the tools I’ve acquired in the meantime that I didn’t know I had. I might succeed in finishing this thing the way I want to, but it’s a little scary.

And then, there’s Goethe, whose work Rongferrow translated. But this, “Have the courage to be what nature intended you to be.” Thanks for listening to my yammering. 😀

Yet ANOTHER Walk with Bear and Teddy 🐾 🐾

All kinds of intensity swirling around me right now, at the moment (knock on wood) I’m not the target of the intensity but I know that can change. I am grateful for peace, and yesterday ( Guess what? ) the dogs and I went into the Refuge. They were in search of adventure; I was just mostly doing my job taking out my dogs. The sky was this strange thing that happens in winter, blanched and blank, the clouds indeterminate, vapor trails crossing the sky in immense X’s, shadowless and waiting. The only clear expression in that vast expanse of pale blue was a lenticular cloud riding atop Mt. Blanca, resting there, making me wonder if maybe Goethe was right in his assertion that mountains make weather. I had looked at the weather forecast earlier yesterday morning, and saw snow forecast but in low percentages. The cloud riding there told me that in the Sangre de Cristos, at least, there could be a lot of snow.

We walked. The dogs are getting used to the new “drill” and it’s so much more pleasant than it used to be taking them both out together. I’m proud of them. Teddy’s idea of “heeling” is to walk on my right side, where Bear walks, instead of the left side, the side where he does his explorations. It’s OK with me as long as I can let Bear explore the world on a loose leash.

The moment I turned into the Refuge I saw a large raptor, cruising low. I thought it was my “friend” the Harris Hawk, but no. It was a Golden Eagle. I stopped the car to watch him, then slowly continued on my way as he hunted. He knew I was there but didn’t pay any attention to me, finally settling on a fence post. As long as the ground is clear, there’s food for them. Most of the snow — even in the sheltered pockets — has melted. A little tired snow remains on the deep north of the slope falling down from the road and Bear carped all the diem she could out of that.

It was almost completely silent out there, the companionable silence of nature, a silence through which a person could hear the news he needed if he were a Pleistocene hunter. I wondered how those people would have heard the silence — comforting or threatening? And would it have been as silent with all the big animals roaming around? What would it have been like? I often feel them when I’m out there — people and animals — in the timeless ever-changing wildness of this valley in a time where the road on which Bear, Teddy and I walk would have been a lake. Our routes are their routes, the road that skirts the Refuge would have been their pathway.

In the unchallenging light, the quiet sky, the silence of the moment, I felt tension drop from my shoulders, tension I didn’t know I felt.

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.

Cities

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.
“Huh?”
“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.