The Land of My Childhood

As I was reading through all the great blogs I follow, I was captivated by some words on “I Didn’t Have My Glasses On.”

“there is no land like the land of your childhood.”-Michael Powell

I guess there might be millions of Michael Powells, but I wondered if this one weren’t one of my all-time favorite filmmakers. A lot of his films are in black and white, made during WW II. I imagine his most well-known film now is the Red Shoes which is an amazing film, but not my favorite.My favorite is A Canterbury Tale.

Even if those are not the words of “my” Michael Powell, they are magical. They made me think of a Christmas card I drew a long time ago of my brother and me sledding through the forest near our home in Nebraska, a small fragment of the forest that grew along the Missouri River. The woods were our playground, and we spent as much time in them as we could.

Part of “our” forest is still there and I’ve even navigated through it on Google Earth. As Michael Powell said, “There is no land like the land of your childhood.” The only way I have to return there is through art. I know now, as an adult, that part of what makes the land of childhood is that it is a land of the mind as much as a land on this planet, so art is a pretty good mode of travel to reach it from this distant point in time, 60 or so years on…

Here are photos we took in “our forest.” My dad let us take the camera. I found the pictures when I was scanning the China slides a few years ago, and I was very happy to see them there. The first photo is me in the grass that filled a big meadow that is no longer there. The middle photo is my brother on the trail that led deep into the woods. We sledded on our Flexible Flyers through this, weaving our way through the trees along a ravine for a short while. The trail ended in a neighborhood of very good sledding hills. It was one fast ride, thrilling, dangerous and fantastic. Where we ended there were always a lot of other kids on the sledding hill. The hill was reached by skying over a low retaining wall. Our parents never knew what we were doing which was for the best (for us). All we got when we got home was, “Did you have a good time?” Luckily we never lost any teeth or broke anything… That would have raised OTHER questions…

The forest belonged to the Columban Fathers. The photo of me standing was taken from the top of a concrete grotto that was one of their Stations of the Cross. The forest was beyond their monastery. I wanted to share the drawing of “the land of my childhood.” 💚

Thankful

When I was a little kid, I learned “grace” to say at the dinner table. My brother got the “For all we eat, for all we wear…” one and I got the thankfulness one.

Thank you for the world so sweet,
Thank you for the food we eat.
Thank you for the birds that sing,
Thank you God for everything.

Thinking about it this morning for the first time since I was 8 or so, I realize nothing has changed for me and this sums it up. As for “God,” I don’t have a better word for the wonder that is the universe or the kindness that brought me here after the OTHER immense kindness of allowing me to exist? To live in this beautiful place? To have the amazing life I have? Blows me away.

Yesterday Bear and I took off for a long ramble. I’m still amazed at what a difference SHOES make in my life.

It was cold and lovely out there, no wind, no people, basically NOTHING. A couple of cars went by, a Subaru (of course) and a bright green Jeep Cherokee driven by a tiny old lady who waved at us like we were Santa Claus. The Jeep sported a wheelchair license plate and I was thankful for that drive loop with the pull outs that makes it possible for her to see quite a lot.

The Refuge has done a LOT to make things accessible to almost everyone. Of course, MOST of the Refuge isn’t accessible to anyone, but this one small part? It’s great. People can see things without bothering anyone (meaning wildlife). Bear’s favorite little loop has helped so many people rehab from joint surgery. Sometimes I see them out there, often a elderly parent with a walker accompanied by their kid or friend, slowly making their way at least part way around that little loop. There are some spots in that loop that need repair, but most of it is accessible to a walker or kid’s stroller. Not many people, but a few.

Snow squalls were playing around over the San Juan Mountains, but the big event was the snow remaining within Bear’s reach. Lots of tracks, lots of smells, and opportunities to roll in the snow. Bear was happy. I wasn’t exactly happy, having had something to think about — when that happens to me, it’s like having a splinter in my mind. I have to work it out. I did, I think, and comments from you helped me see more sides of the situation. I thank you so much for that. No one in the range of my voice would have been able to relate to that situation, and, well, I’m a writer not a talker anyway…

Last week we got about 3 inches of snow. Not a lot. It has stayed very cold, so the snow hasn’t melted except in the spots where the sun hits it. North and south here in winter are very distinct even on a flat, totally exposed, cultivated field. Un-touched landscape has ways of keeping all the moisture it can. This was obvious out there yesterday. Bear still had snow up to her, uh, ankles? on the north side of the low ditches beside the road. A friends who lives in a snowier place asked if our snow was already gone, so I took a couple of photos to show her what this high desert wetlands does to keep the snow as long as possible, protecting it from the wind and the sun.

The bushes that fill the landscape form a snow-keeping conspiracy, shading the white treasure from the intense, high-altitude sun. The snow in the cattails isn’t going anywhere, either, unless it gets a lot warmer than it’s likely to get until April. Some of the patches of snow in the second photo are on top of small, frozen. ponds. The only way it’s going anywhere is through evaporation unless it warms up a LOT.

In my Facebook memories this morning I found photos of the Refuge that I took 8 years ago when I had lived here only a few months. I don’t know why I happened to go out there; it wasn’t my thing back then. It took COVID to show me the treasure within my reach. One thing I notice in this photo is that iPhones have WAY better cameras now!

Featured photo: Bear found a perfect patch of snow in front of a sign telling people about the birds that nest on the ground. She laid down in it, took a couple of snowballs out of her front foot, and looked up at me for all the world like she was saying, “Thank you, Martha. Wasn’t this fun?” Then she got up and walked to the car which was parked about 8 feet away.

And ON and ON and ON (Politics)

My message to Adam Frisch having learned of his conceding to Boobert when the small difference in the votes would have launched an automatic recount for which the state would pay. No fundraising involved:

You’re a tool. Seriously. This would be an automatic recount. Even if you lost that (and you probably would) it would say something to the Democrats in D3 who didn’t think it worth their time to vote at all. Maybe you think this is “dignified” and “respects the electoral process” or something, but no. Part of that process is a recount to be sure human error didn’t enter in. It’s not like you called the Secretary of State and asked her to find you 18,000 votes or something. It would be a message to the National Democratic Committee, too, to get behind EVERY democratic candidate in EVERY state because NOTHING is a done deal until it’s a done deal and empirical probability is just a bad guess; it’s not real unless you’re looking at nature or science. Very disappointed in you.

With votes coming in from the military oversees and ballots that needed to be “cured,” there are now only five-hundred votes between Boobert and her contender, Adam Frisch. Both of them are in Washington learning how to be representatives for Colorado. I hope she listens this time, but I dunno…

Since the votes will ALL be counted by noon today (that’s pretty soon), it looks the closeness of the votes will trigger an automatic recount. As there are (or were) only 300 votes left, Frisch will not “win” in the usual sense. A recount could give him the lead, but I personally doubt that will happen. And in such an unlikely situation, would Boobert accept a loss? Since she’s gone on these two years insisting that TFG is the legitimate president, I don’t think so.

Regardless who wins at this point the Republicans have the House. Last night I read their plans for the upcoming term and none of them involve leading the country. They are going after the Democrats. Heather Cox Richardson summed it up, stating first that the Republicans ran on inflation but…

Yesterday, midterm results gave Republicans control of the House of Representatives after a campaign in which they emphasized inflation; today, Representative Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), who has received his party’s nomination to become speaker of the House, along with other Republican leadership, outlined for reporters their plans for the session. “We must be relentless in our oversight of this administration,” the number 2 Republican in the House, Representative Steve Scalise of Louisiana, told his colleagues. They plan to begin a raft of investigations: into President Joe Biden’s son Hunter, the origins of Covid-19, the FBI, the withdrawal from Afghanistan, and so on. But not, apparently, inflation.

They are also going to investigate the prison conditions of the January 6 prisoners who have not bailed themselves out of jail or found anyone to do it for them. That is absurd since none of them have to stay in prison.

For my part, I don’t know what Hunter Biden has to do with anything. We know enough about the origins of Covid 19. The FBI is a branch of the gubmint acting on orders of an apolitical government branch. After what, 21 years? Withdrawal from Afghanistan could have been easy or without cost. Could we please move forward? Please? I know it’s hard, but… It’s like a bad marriage.

Somehow I didn’t know that we elected officials whose main job was to investigate other officials that we had elected. I thought they had another job, like leading the nation and producing policies for the welfare of the people. I wonder why we pay them. I get the January 6 Committee — the events of Jan 6 were an attempted coup against a new administration that had been elected by the majority of the people — but I don’t get this. I guess I’m very naive or maybe it’s that only recently (last six years?) I’ve paid attention to government at all. I’m very conflicted about a lot of things. Like the central government is immense and expensive; what should its role actually BE? I know here in the bark-of-beyond and all the other barks-of-beyond in this country people feel alienated from the federal government and wonder what it’s doing there; and they vote Republican, which, I realize, is really voting AGAINST the federal government; it’s a Libertarian leaning.

I could fall into dark dudgeon over this stuff, but I don’t think I have much to do with it. I’m beginning to question the usefulness of “staying informed.” In fact, I’m questioning a lot of things right now.

One thing I DON’T have to question is the meaning of the expression on this little dog’s face:


He got his wish and as soon as we arrived, we were “met” by a group of more than fifty cranes calling out, spiraling higher and higher in the sky. I discovered four more muskrat nests (featured photo). It was a cold but beautiful afternoon out in the Bark-of-Beyond.

All the stuff on the floor — I live in a house that is more or less a dog house depending on the conditions in the yard which, right now, are pretty dirty/muddy/snowy. My living room rug is mostly white. You get the idea. The kitchen is a passageway to the living room. The ONLY time this is a purely human house is when I’m having human guests for a few hours. It’s the way it is when you have a giant dog who will dig a hole bigger than she is and then continue to refine and perfect it.

Philosophical Talk with My Plumber

Spooky or scary? I’ll give you scary. You’re taking a shower and suddenly you hear, “Glu glu glug glug GURRRGLE glug.” Sure, you say, “I’m just out of my mind, that wasn’t real,” but this time you’re NOT out of your mind and, deeply aware of your sanity, you get out, dry off, get dressed and follow through with step two of denial. “Naw.” But you don’t believe yourself because remember; you’re not out of your mind.

So… You get your phone, you make the call. Because it’s a sparsely populated valley, when you say, “This is Martha Kennedy” Debbie says, “Hi Martha. Uh oh.” After a brief chat, the plan is laid. Tim, the former bronc rider, will show up late tomorrow morning.

But minutes later your Dick Tim Tracy watch alerts you to the reality that Debbie is calling you. “Hi!”

“Hey, Tim says he can come right now.”

“Oh man, that is so great. Tim’s my favorite philosopher.”

“Isn’t he?”

“Yep. Two years ago when everyone was so mean, he came out when I had that terrible mess. He was here awhile. We talked and he said ‘You know what I think? If we can’t be nice to each other, what’s the point of living?'”

“That’s Tim.”

So, reality wrapped up, you head out to the driveway which you DIDN’T shovel, shovel it, uncover the clean outs in that back yard that were covered with snow. You look at your watch. Tim arrives. The job begins. You shut the dogs in your room. Roots. The job is done. Tim packs up and you walk out to the alley with him. “Two years,” you say.

“Yeah. I thought it’d been a while. Finding that other clean out changed everything,” says Tim. “Of course you’re the one who has to pay when there’s a problem, but…”

“It’s weird. The last time (two years ago, flooded back yard, learned that my neighbor’s sewage goes under my yard in an old-fashioned sewage easement, no longer done), well you know how you get angry at people but you don’t want to? Then something happens and you’re not mad any more?”

“Yeah, I know about that.”

“Well, I was mad at my neighbor, but I like her a lot, and I didn’t want to be mad at her. Then she cut down her trees so they wouldn’t fall on my roof.”

“Wow. Well there you go,” said Tim.

“And the other guy who used to live in the green house? Great guy. I liked him too. I didn’t want to be mad at my neighbors.”

“You’re probably paying for their sewer line, though.”

“Yeah. I called the city about that and they told me what to do.”

“That wouldn’t be fun.”

It would involve each of my neighbors digging up their yard and somehow sending their own lines out to the main line in the alley which is beside my house. It would really be a nightmare for all three of us. I’d have to tear out my garage and driveway. OR I could tear up my yard, sidewalk, fences and driveway and send my OWN line out to the alley, but theirs would still go through my yard.

“No. Anyway, I don’t want to be a dick. I just don’t.”

“Nope. There are enough dicks in the world already,” said Tim. “That’s what I think. Sometimes people tell me I’m too nice, but how can that be? The way I figure it you can be a dick or not.”

Tim is one of the nicest people I’ve ever met. It’s his actual philosophical position, his stance in life.

After a little more deep philosophical discussion on topics of human behavior and choices, Tim the former bronc rider drives into the sunset (actually, down the alley toward the north). Still, the sun is about down, and once that happens, there is no warmth outdoors except what a person carries on their person. You flip your hood over your ears thinking that Tim came to clean out the sewer line when he should’ve been on his way home. He CHOSE to do that because, by tomorrow, there would have been a flood in your yard.

Sauntering in Bearadise

One conversation at the table during the fancy dinner was about what we did during the ogreish cold of winter here in the Bark-of-Beyond. People argue other’s personal preferences and call it conversation. We all know that. Someone asked me what I liked to do in winter, and when I said “Go outside,” it caused a minor ruckus. Voices were raised in protest, but I stuck to my guns, “I love the cold. I’m out in it whenever I can.” I added that I loved it in May when people started reappearing, and that helped a little. When winter arrived yesterday, Bear and I didn’t hesitate. We know what we love.

The snow wasn’t deep, just a few inches, and the day wasn’t exactly cold, but cold enough not to melt the snow in a flash of San Luis Valley sunlight. No surprise that we were alone out there, except for two geese and one poor hungry Harris hawk. As I watched him flying low over the snowy world I thought that raptors’ great energy-saving efficiency in flight is an evolutionary feature of not getting to eat often and having to fly far to find food. They must get enough or they wouldn’t stick around, but not more than that.

We took Bear’s favorite trail, a path built around a pond that often overflows in spring. For me, it was wonderful because I could see what Bear smells. A fox had been hunting earlier that morning. Kangaroo rats and deer mice left their furtive traces. If snow is a transient catalog of events (it is), it was earlier yesterday morning, around the same time the fox was after them. Bear was fascinated by the fox — and has been even when I couldn’t see any evidence of his passing. But now I know what appeals to her so much. At one point it looked like the story went sideways for some little creature and the fox got breakfast.


We finished that small loop (1/3 mile) and continued on the main road. Bear found even more wonders — including the snow itself — and a couple of times nearly pulled me into a shallow ditch. I wish I didn’t have to leash her, but I do. First, it’s the rule at the Refuge; second, she would roam. It’s part of the nature of her breed. She’d come back sooner or later. I’m even sure she’d come all the way HOME if she got loose, but she’s my Bear, and when I adopted her I promised her I would keep her safe. Dogs like her who are employed and working with sheep stay with their sheep, but that was not to be Bear’s destiny. I try to give her at least SOME of that life, and, since she’s always been here with me, I don’t think she knows the difference.

She finally found something worth rolling in and made a snow angel.

As we walked, a squall formed over the Refuge and, lucky for us with our perverse idea of fun, it snowed. We just stood there for a while and savored it. Last year we had ONE snowstorm and it was in January. This really felt too good to be true. Where snow is concerned I learned in Southern California to seize the day. Good training for this desert valley. Some winters we get a LOT of snow; some winters next to none. We have rain shadows in all directions. The BEST direction for snow to actually reach us is from the south or southwest and that’s what brought this storm. This is what the first snow looks like falling on the natural landscape of the San Luis Valley. All the plants are perfectly designed to capture moisture.

Bear and I were pretty bushed when we got home after a couple hours out there.

I sometimes feel as if Bear thinks I GAVE her the snow, but it is definitely a bond between us. Teddy is OK with it, but Bear truly loves it. She’s out in the yard right now taking a nap in it. This is what she did last night, snoring softly and smiling in her sleep.

Enveloped

Three inches of snow fell in the night, enveloping my small world. I know during the interlude of dogs being awake and my not being awake, there was a big snow party outside. I don’t know what’s on the agenda (agenda, ha ha) for later but I HOPE it’s me, Bear, the Refuge, snow and sunlight, but the snow could go fast today. My Facebook memories told me earlier that the first snow of the year has fallen twice on exactly this date (November 13/14) and those two years were fine, snowy winters so paws and fingers crossed. Almost enough snow to put the skis down, but not quite. If it were heavier, I might give it a shot.

Today I hope to finish my article about Saturday’s soiree. I’m still tired from it. Crazy. I’m wondering how long it takes for the effects of Covid to fully go away from the human brain and body. I still feel alienated and disengaged from my own life. I’m struggling to find a hand or finger hold somewhere that feels authentic, but so far no luck except the dogs and the odd moment out at the Refuge. Most of the rest of the things I do feel like someone else play acting “Martha.”

I’ve wondered if maybe it’s not Covid per se, but a lingering hangover from the last several years, but I didn’t feel this way before I got sick.

This blog has been so important to me in staying somewhat grounded and in the world of before. Writing sonnets has been very good, but extremely difficult. I feel like I was chugging along happily and freely, I got sick, and I’m no longer chugging happily along. It’s like I remember a person, but I’m not that person. I think feeling authentic matters a lot, and I don’t. A little research shows me this is a “thing,” along with depressive symptoms after Covid, especially in older adults with the additional good news that it lasts a long time.

OH well…

One of the women at my table during the soiree had had Covid twice. It was nice to hear what she had to say about lingering stuff.

Writing feels real and I think painting will feel real. If I finish the article today, I’ll give the Molly Ski painting a shot. I’ve been thinking about it and may have figured out how to do the underpainting. That’s been weird, too. I feel like I have the dextrous skills, but not the mind, the ability to see and imagine.

My big white dog just came in with snowballs in her furry feet. I can’t take her out yet, but wow. I hope I can soon.

Thanks for listening.

The Fancy Dinner

Among the events last night I managed to get out of the house dressed in black velvet and cashmere without being covered with the love filaments of my canine partners. As I drove to the fancy dinner, the valley showed me all its snowy mountains, the Sangres, draped in the pink of sunset. On the edge of Del Norte I slowed down for a small herd of mule deer.

The dinner was wonderful! Delicious and beautifully served. Every seat was filled. Warm and friendly conversations everywhere. I sat at a table with museum people which was good. I don’t know how well I did as a journalist, but I can fill in blanks since I have a month before the deadline in December.

It’s always going to be a little strange living in a place where people have known each other and each other’s families going back generations. Such a thing would never have been my life no matter what my life had been. I have always belonged more to a landscape than to the people who live in it, but, like the people among whom I live now, I was also a “property” of a large extended family, so this isn’t really alien to me. My family just happened to be in Montana, but their lives going back in a generation or two were similar to the lives of the families of the people around me. Over time, I realized that if I have a “home” somewhere, it’s Montana. Maybe “home” is the place to which you return from wandering, time and again. I know that one reason the valley attracted me is its resemblance to the part of Montana I know best, the big, blue sky, the golden plains, the distant blue mountains.

Over the years I’ve learned that, in a way, every place is the same place and a traveller is a traveller by nature. The I-Ching taught me about that a long time ago. I’m never going to “belong” here except as an accepted outsider, truly a lovely thing, and partly my choice. A traveler — to be at peace wherever he/she travels — has to cultivate a certain attitude and that attitude came pretty naturally to me. Though I am friendly, and sincerely like people, my personality is a little detached. Some people in my life (including my mom) have complained about that, but it’s just who I am. I am private and self-contained. Some of my family understood that, and it didn’t bother them; others felt put-off and rejected. But we are all who we are.

I chose a long time ago to be what I understood to be “a citizen of the world.”

“Hexagram 56: The traveler arrives at an inn. All of his belongings are with him. He gains the trust of a youthful attendant. In this situation, the traveler is a humble and well-mannered person. He understands that for a traveler the only place where he finds a resting point is attained through a constant and renewing introspection of his inner principles. Since he does not find a home in the outside world he must find refuge within himself. Because of his modest and proper approach he will be greeted as a friend. He will find assistance among the others and his purpose will be achieved. He will even gain the support of a person who will become a loyal and sincere friend. This is a priceless benefit for a man who travels through the lives of others. “

The entire hexagram is applicable to me. But this part always strikes home. I’ve been lucky here to find true friends who take me as I am and appreciate — and accept — what I have to offer them. My companion here is the valley itself. Extremely good company and I don’t want to be anywhere else.

The level of “gussied” up here in the San Luis Valley is completely acceptable to me — I was on the fancy end of that. I could’ve worn jeans and a sweatshirt, but… I haven’t been in an environment like that for years. The last time was the student/athlete’s banquet at San Diego State in 2007? Ah, some conferences — 2012, 2013. That too. I thought about that as I drove home with the moon rising half full. Such events were once a part of my life, no big deal. It’s funny that when we retire we don’t first realize all that we retire FROM.

I have a lot to process and some interviews to line up and a few photos to take before I can write the story. I’m happy my deadline is a month away.

PS 1633 A5 Manifest with a Dewey Decimal Number

With a little searching, I was able to get this book on eBay for $6. It is a discontinued library book from the Lindenhurst Memorial Library in Lindenhurst NY via Betterworld Books. It’s a small book, 81 pages, the kind a person might carry in his/her pocket. It’s letters from Ralph Waldo Emerson (who seems to have called himself Waldo so now we know where Waldo is) to one of his friends. No where have I learned to whom these letters were written other than it was a person 9 years younger than Emerson. There’s clearly a lot of affection and respect and sometimes humor.

As I read I wondered what I’d do if I’d ever gotten a letter like these from anyone. These are just ordinary letters but 19th century language, and the kind of education it assumes, is really NOT like today.

He writes about some writers that I like, too, like Thomas Carlyle, Tennyson, Wordsworth and Longfellow but the big difference I that to Emerson these were living breathing people. That’s not to say that their words don’t still live and breathe, but there’s a difference between someone you might share a meal with and someone whose book you pick up a hundred or more years later and appreciate. One thing that made me really want to talk to him was when he said he’d received Goethe’s and Schiller’s Letters and wasn’t impressed. I like that book a lot, and I really wanted to ask Emerson “Why not?” Then I thought, “Dude, these are letters between a couple of friends. What is there to like or dislike?” I couldn’t find Emerson for comment so I let it go.

He didn’t like Philadelphia — he wanted more intellectual stimulation there, expected more, and was disappointed. Here’s his humor:

“Very fair and pleasant people, but thus far, no originals. If the world was all Philadelphia, although the poultry and dairy market would be admirable, I fear suicide would exceedingly prevail.” He softens it, a bit, saying, “I must thank the Quaker City, however, for a new conviction, that this whim called friendship was the highest thought in what Eden or Olympus it first occurred.”

It made me think of W. C. Fields famed epitaph (“I’d rather be in Philadelphia”) that never made it to his tombstone. Here’s a cool article about that…

There were other things — he thinks more highly of poetry than of painting; doesn’t see a lot of difference between spots on a wall and a painting, an idea possibly derived from Leonardo who said something about that, too, that a rock or spots on a wall would look like a landscape. I don’t know — I think that’s just because humans are pattern recognition animals as a matter of survival. We’re going to see “something” in everything because we suck as animals and are hunters. We’re instinctively going to look for prey or predators and places to hide. For people who like to label things, it’s called pareidolia.

I know that one reason I love nature is because it doesn’t look “like” anything. It IS everything. No problems discerning what’s what out there except recognizing animals, oncoming storms, birds. It’s nice in this world where words are used to obfuscate reality.

Here are some lovely things I pulled out of the book and wanted to share.


“In this country we need whatever is generous and beautiful in character more than ever because of the general mediocrity of thought produced by the arts of gain.” Emerson in Letters to a Friend. 1839 (things don’t change, I guess…)

“…if I trust myself in the woods or in a boat upon the pond, nature makes a Bramin of me presently: eternal necessity, eternal compensation, unfathomable power, unbroken silence — this is her creed. Peace, she saith to me, and purity and absolute abandonment — these penances expiate all sin…” Emerson was reading the Vedas. Letters from Emerson to a Friend 1839

“…we are optimists when the sun shines.” Letters from Emerson to a Friend 1841

“I have long ago found that we belong to our life, not that it belongs to us…Letters from Emerson to a Friend 1849

“I saw Longfellow at Lowell’s two days ago, and he declared that his faith in clubs was firm. ‘I will very gladly,’ he said, ‘meet with Ward and you and Lowell and three or four others, and dine together.’ Lowell remarked, ‘Well, if he agrees to dinner, though he refuses supper, we will continue the dinner till next morning!’.” Letters from Emerson to a Friend 1850 (They were discussing a club, The Anthology Club, which had existed a long time; Emerson’s father had been a member)

I wasn’t looking for this book when I pulled out this catalog card. It was in a pile to use for writing down call numbers for people using the computerized search system that replaced the card catalog at the San Diego State University Library. I have held onto it unintentionally since I don’t know, 2000? Whenever that change-over happened. Finding it, I decided to find the book. I’m glad I found it now. In 2000 I wouldn’t have appreciated it half as much. It feels like a small gift from another time.

For the backstory and chapter one of this post, go here.

Put a Good Face on It

When my Aunt Martha got ready for work — or to go out on a date — there was a period of time when she had to “put on her face.” This involved foundation, eye makeup, powder and lipstick. That woman never washed her face with soap and water, either. The idea appalled her! She used an expensive brand of cold cream you didn’t buy at the drug store or the supermarket, but in the nicer department stores. Dorothy Gray



My friend Melanie, seeing a photo of my Aunt Martha at 80, said, “She’s a 10.”

I said, “Wait a minute. We get rated even when we’re 80?”

“Sure. There are ratings the whole time.”

Maybe it was the cold cream. Personally, I think how a person’s skin holds up depends on sun exposure and genetics.

As for her niece, I’ve never “put on my face,” and I use water, and, over the years, various kinds of cleaning materials — at the moment Neutrogena glycerine bar since I’m trying to reduce my use of plastic bottles. All my face ever got from me was mascara, eye shadow and lipstick in the appropriate locations, of course. This bothered my aunt. I remember arriving at her townhouse in what was Littleton and is now Columbine, CO after driving 8 hours from Albuquerque. The first thing she said was, “Not even a little lipstick?” Seriously. I just never cared that much about “my face.” I’m more a what you see is what you get kind of woman. My aunt could say the most outrageous things to me, and they always rolled off my back because I knew — and she knew — how much we meant to each other. I just laughed.

I’m thinking about this now because it’s pretty likely that if my Aunt Martha were here now she’d be putting on her face later, before we went to…

…the fancy dinner at the Windsor Hotel in Del Norte. It’s a benefit to raise money to move the old (how could it be new?) stage coach office from a park in Del Norte to the courtyard of the Rio Grande County Museum. I’m good to go, though I am going to go air out my sweater since it hasn’t been worn since last Christmas time when I read at the museum.

I’ve known since I moved here that Del Norte was in contention to become the capitol of Colorado. I could never figure that out. If there’s one thing the San Luis Valley has always been it’s inconvenient to get to. I think it was LESS inconvenient in the days of the stagecoach, when every place was inconvenient and no one expected anything else, and the railroad? But how and why, I mean, Del Norte? Turns out the richest gold mines were near Del Norte. I didn’t know that until I attended a Zoom “class” a couple of weeks ago. Well, yeah. Where there’s gold, there’s power.

Of course I didn’t know this. I grew up in a different part of Colorado where the gold mine stories — though there were a lot of them — were about different mines and different legendary “heroes”.

So, anyway, I’ll be doing my low-key version of getting gussied up and attend an event in a fancy (for the 1870s) hotel tonight, praying I don’t have an asthma attack. Yes, I’m taking my inhaler.

Oh, I heard this great song this morning. Really haven’t heard it since back in the day.

Featured photo: Aunt Martha with her face on sometime in the early 1960s when she was in her 40’s. Dorothy Gray or not, to me she was beautiful.

Wow

Just got back from a perfect walk with Bear. Perfect sky. Perfect light. Perfect (chilly) temperature. Silent except for our steps and a few cranes in the distance. Only two cars, one belonging to a guy from Taos who loves Teddy but hasn’t met Bear. We waved. New shoes. Wow. Elizabeth socks. We walked and walked and walked and had a perfect time. Bear smelled many wonderful things (I’m given to understand) and I savored every moment of our time in this amazing place, surrounded by white peaks. Good God, how did I get here? It amazes me almost daily.

I’ve been thinking about the many wonderful things that happen only once in our lives. Just one time. We can’t repeat them. Every single moment is a one-shot deal. For me that list involves things that have happened randomly in nature, or seem to have been random but maybe aren’t. I can’t say. I wrote a sonnet about this, but it only scratched the surface. Fourteen lines is ENOUGH, I’m just not that good at it.

I realized I have been trying to paint some of those moments. I think that’s a good goal. One painting is the cranes flying over Bear and me last spring.

I mean things like (this list is in no particular order and no where near complete) last winter Teddy and I crossed paths in the snow and fog with a black fox. How often does that even happen AT ALL? Crazy. Or the first fox I ever saw, coming out of the fog on a snowy day while a golden eagle circled above us. Bear and Dusty were so stunned they didn’t react; they just watched. The deer my dog Ariel led me to one afternoon; we walked into a thicket and the doe stared right at me, a foot away. The deer and I were both deeply surprised, neither of us frightened, and my wolf dog just proud of how well she tracked? It was something. Maybe the cherry on the sundae is the mountain lion in 2004. It’s hard to say WHAT that cherry might be, there are so many wonders — a blue skink? A rare Laguna Mountain Kingsnake? The rosy boa I carried in a pocket in my cargo pants for most of a hike? The coyote that appeared to run across the hills with the spirit of my dog Lupo? Skiing through two seasons in one day with Molly? Going to pick up my Aunt Martha who suffered from dementia and finding dozens of post-it notes in her apartment all of which said, “Martha Ann Comes Today!” Standing on the EXACT point of the rain shadow that makes the great American desert, one arm in winter, the other in, in, in? I don’t know but it wasn’t snowing on that half of me. A twilight hike to the overlook of the Delicate Arch with a man with whom I share a precious, inexplicable, bond? A spontaneous 28 mile hike with Molly just because it was a godawful beautiful December day and we wanted to see EVERYTHING? A birthday party in a Vietnamese restaurant in Zürich? Granitas in Venice? Walking with friendly, belled cows down from the Eigerwand Station of the Jungfraubahn? Crossing the Zürichberg with the ONE person in the world who is as interested in Gfenn as I am? A heart-breaking hour at a hospital in Billings, MT, returning to my Aunt Jo’s house to find she had fixed my very favorite dinner from when I was a kid? Riding my bike to the Guangzhou Botanical Garden for a picnic with students, being passed by a lorry carrying the students who sing “This Land is Your Land” to me as they pass by? Crossing the stage to get my Master’s Degree and hearing, “YEEEE-haw!” from the back row where my aunt and uncle were sitting, bringing real life and Montana into that stuffy, solemn, moment. Hearing John Bayley recite “The Windhover,” a famous, stuttering English professor from Oxford who, reciting that poem, didn’t stutter at all, watching his hand move like a hawk in flight. Seeing my dad in the coffin, reaching for his hand, touching it, and understanding in that moment what death is, breaking down, collapsing, and feeling the strong arms of my Aunt Kelly and Uncle John who were prepared for that moment and there to help me? My Aunt Martha arriving on the street car for dinner at our house, and little girl me, running down the street to meet her.

A fraction, a tiny fraction of the long catalog of miracles.

Seriously, this life thing. Fuck. As I walked in the beauty with Bear this afternoon, so many of these moments passed through my mind, and, as I thought about them, Bear took a break from smelling things to come and lean on me.

-

Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean—
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down—
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don't know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?

—Mary Oliver