Martha Walks Her Dog and Thinks about the Tough Question

Yesterday I managed to more-or-less trap Bear (who, it turns out, was somewhat willing to be trapped) and convince her I had no evil motives for my entrapment, evil motives such as taking her to the vet. I DID want to brush her, uh, how to put this delicately, under the tail area, and I succeeded in that. You don’t own 27 shaggy dogs over a 35 year period without picking up a few tricks. She didn’t mind. Then, she discovered my true motive, it was, wait, can it be, REALLY? You’re taking ME? ME??? Just ME??? And no evil aliens from hell? That’s how we sometimes refer to Teddy. Cute though he is, he is an extremely EAGER dog which can make him a menace to life on this planet.

I wasn’t really in the mood. For some reason yesterday I felt blue and fatalistic. I didn’t know why, but what I needed to contend with a less-than-cheery mood was a walk with Bear on a beautiful, Indian Summer afternoon. Who knew? Ok, Ok, you suspected…

The walk itself? Well, we didn’t see “anything,” but in “nothing” is often everything. Bear smelled and marked and enjoyed herself and I watched the changing light and let whatever was on my mind come to the surface.

I realized that I’m worried about my corporeal form when I shrug off the mortal coil. I didn’t know that, but now I do. My Aunt Martha was in similar but not equal circumstances as I am. She had a raft load of sisters and at least one niece ready to take care of “arrangements.” I don’t have that. Even so, she took care of everything ahead of time. As I walked under the brilliant San Luis Valley sky I thought about what I didn’t know and what I needed to learn. I realized it’s been troubling me since I turned 70. I guess maybe that birthday does that to people.

Bear seemed to understand that I was not 100% there, not 100% my usual dog-walking self and when she’d satisfied her desire to smell and mark, she stopped and stood in front of me. This is a Bear thing. Livestock guardian dogs are “leaners,” and Bear is passionate about it. First thing in the morning she leans against me to keep me from moving. “Where were you all night? I’m keeping you here.” On a walk she will suddenly pause in her Bear direction to lean against me. I understand it as “I’m glad we’re here together.” After that, we walked along, and I rested my hand on her back. This is one of the best things in life, to walk beside a big dog you love in a beautiful place, in mutual companionship. It’s not Paris. It’s not a cruise to an exotic south-sea isle. It’s just a walk with a dog, but I realized a little while ago that I would rather walk in a beautiful place with a dog than almost anything else. For one thing, it doesn’t require going through TSA.

With my dog beside me, I found it easier to let myself think about what, apparently, I needed to think about.

So what do you do when you are a solitary person, and you want to make sure that there’s no big mess or chaos when someone finds your dust and clay and has to do something with it? I came home and did some research about that, annoyed as always by mortuary language and all the jingo that goes with it. It’s not the mortuary’s fault. It’s that death is a dark and awful thing in most people’s minds. Most people also have an afterlife idea. I don’t. I don’t know what happens afterward, and I think a service (which I don’t want anyway) based on that would be incredibly depressing for most people. If there were such a service, and it honored my beliefs, it would be “We’re here to honor the life of Martha Ann Kennedy who had no idea at all about anything. She knows you might miss her and she’s sorry, but if it helps at all, she’s OK wherever she is, if she’s anywhere. Here’s her favorite song.” That’s assuming there’s anyone around who cares, and it’s possible there won’t be. That doesn’t depress me; it’s just a fact of the life I have “chosen.”

I’m in no hurry, but I’ve buried enough people to know that SOMETHING has “to be done.” I thought of all the “services” I’ve attended and decided my brother’s was the best. Survivors need something; that the mortuaries get right. What was my bro’s service? Well, some of his friends and I took a handful of his ashes to the Garden of the Gods and put some of him on the ground and some of him in the air. One of his friends sang one of the silly songs my brother wrote. Afterward we had a nice brunch at my friend Lois’ house. How did he get to be ashes — besides the obvious? That’s what I needed to know. I knew it didn’t cost $10,000. I was finally able to find out. Economical, clear, straight-forward, simple. The insurance I have in my retirement plan would cover it. I do not want to lie in a coffin in a carpeted room surrounded by sprays of carnations and ferns while people come and look at me and say, “She looks so natural.” “Way too much makeup.” Fuck that.

Dark though all this might seem, my heart was lighter after I learned all this. All I needed to focus my mind on what was bothering me was a walk with my dog in the crystal-clear world that is this valley in which people have lived for, maybe, 10,000 years? I’m aware of that all the time when I’m walking at the Refuge. I can see the Ice Age hunters in my mind’s eye. It’s all good now as William Cullen Bryant wrote in “Thanatopsis,”

     To him who in the love of Nature holds   
Communion with her visible forms, she speaks   
A various language; for his gayer hours   
She has a voice of gladness, and a smile   
And eloquence of beauty, and she glides   
Into his darker musings, with a mild   
And healing sympathy, that steals away   
Their sharpness, ere he is aware.
When thoughts   
Of the last bitter hour come like a blight   
Over thy spirit, and sad images   
Of the stern agony, and shroud, and pall,   
And breathless darkness, and the narrow house,   
Make thee to shudder, and grow sick at heart;—   
Go forth, under the open sky, and list   
To Nature’s teachings,
while from all around— 
Earth and her waters, and the depths of air— 
Comes a still voice— 

                                       Yet a few days, and thee   
The all-beholding sun shall see no more   
In all his course; nor yet in the cold ground,   
Where thy pale form was laid, with many tears,   
Nor in the embrace of ocean, shall exist   
Thy image. Earth, that nourished thee, shall claim   
Thy growth, to be resolved to earth again, 
And, lost each human trace, surrendering up   
Thine individual being, shalt thou go   
To mix for ever with the elements,   
To be a brother to the insensible rock   
And to the sluggish clod, which the rude swain   
turns with his share, and treads upon. The oak   
Shall send his roots abroad, and pierce thy mould.   

     Yet not to thine eternal resting-place   
Shalt thou retire alone, nor couldst thou wish   
Couch more magnificent. Thou shalt lie down   
With patriarchs of the infant world—with kings,   
The powerful of the earth—the wise, the good,   
Fair forms, and hoary seers of ages past,   
All in one mighty sepulchre.   The hills   
Rock-ribbed and ancient as the sun,—the vales   
Stretching in pensive quietness between;   
The venerable woods—rivers that move   
In majesty, and the complaining brooks   
That make the meadows green; and, poured round all,   
Old Ocean’s gray and melancholy waste,—   
Are but the solemn decorations all   
Of the great tomb of man. The golden sun,   
The planets, all the infinite host of heaven,   
Are shining on the sad abodes of death,   
Through the still lapse of ages. All that tread   
The globe are but a handful to the tribes   
That slumber in its bosom.—Take the wings   
Of morning, pierce the Barcan wilderness,   
Or lose thyself in the continuous woods   
Where rolls the Oregon, and hears no sound,   
Save his own dashings—yet the dead are there:   
And millions in those solitudes, since first   
The flight of years began, have laid them down   
In their last sleep—the dead reign there alone. 
So shalt thou rest, and what if thou withdraw   
In silence from the living, and no friend   
Take note of thy departure? All that breathe   
Will share thy destiny.
The gay will laugh 
When thou art gone, the solemn brood of care   
Plod on, and each one as before will chase   
His favorite phantom; yet all these shall leave   
Their mirth and their employments, and shall come 
And make their bed with thee. As the long train   
Of ages glide away, the sons of men,   
The youth in life’s green spring, and he who goes   
In the full strength of years, matron and maid,   
The speechless babe, and the gray-headed man—   
Shall one by one be gathered to thy side,   
By those, who in their turn shall follow them.   

     So live, that when thy summons comes to join   
The innumerable caravan, which moves   
To that mysterious realm, where each shall take   
His chamber in the silent halls of death,   
Thou go not, like the quarry-slave at night,   
Scourged to his dungeon, but, sustained and soothed   
By an unfaltering trust, approach thy grave,   
Like one who wraps the drapery of his couch   
About him, and lies down to pleasant dreams.

Wandering Post about Life and Death (huh?)

The thing about everything is you have to know when to stop and yesterday I kept painting when I shouldn’t have. It’s OK. I will avail myself of a palette knife later on — maybe. Maybe not. It’s more about the experience at this point than the product. Usually I have no problem seeing the moment to pack up, but I was having so much fun.

I guess it’s that adage, “Don’t stay too long at the fair.” Looking up the phrase this morning, I learned it is a song, but wait! I already knew that… Out of the deep dark recesses of my universe Patti Page crawled out to sing this incredibly depressing little ditty. I could see the album cover sitting on the kitchen counter. I could hear adult voices discussing Patti Page and her physical deterioration. “Wonderful voice. Really too bad.”

Was THIS the album? Looks familiar. Yep these songs were on it, but where’s the song about staying too long at the fair?

I remembered asking mom? Dad? What it meant to “stay too long at the fair,” and they explained it somehow and my mom, at some point said, “It’s always good to leave a party when you’re having a good time.”

That made NO sense to me. How could you stay too long at the fair? Fairs are GREAT. The only fair I’d ever been to was the Mountain Empire Fair in Billings, and I didn’t get to eat cotton candy (“NO!”), but I did ride the ferris wheel and I got to see a LOT of animals, and it was AWESOME. And why would any one leave a fun party?

But it’s definitely possible to stay too long at the fair and my mom’s advice is right on.

I recently finished watching Grace and Frankie. There was a moment when I despaired of the direction of this show, but I paid $10 for the privilege of watching it on Netflix. Then, suddenly, in the midst of the absurdity and outright stupidity, BAM. Wow. The moral of the story — that we need each other — isn’t new, but it is still true. The silly meanderings that drive the storyline of Grace and Frankie to the conclusion are funny at times, but the conclusion hit me hard. In our lives, we don’t really have the option of NOT staying too long at the fair. We leave the fair whenever the universe has programmed us to leave the fair. Some of us leave the fair before it’s even opened for the day; others leave the fair/party when they’re having fun; others are lucky enough to leave the fair when they’re well and truly tired of the fair or have lost the capacity to enjoy it. Who knows? Most of us don’t.

So what about the fair? and the party? I don’t know. I do know that there’s a corner of my painting that is NOT what it needs to be. Or maybe it is. Time will tell.

No Lead in My Studio (So far…)

Yesterday I went to the museum in Del Norte to collect some money and restock my notecard offerings. It was a good weekend for me financially, and I was able to buy surfaces to paint on. Not the BIG canvas, but some pretty good sized panels and a linen canvas. With all drugs, you can be happy with “cheap Mexi” until someone gives you something better. Last summer I painted on oil-primed linen and I don’t think I’ll ever be the same woman.

It’s a small painting — 8″ x 10″. It turned out that this oil-primed linen is a wonderful, wonderful surface. For the last little while I’ve been trying to figure out how I could organize this technology myself, stretching and priming my own canvas, and it turns out I don’t want to. A lot of the stuff that becomes paint and related substances is poisonous. Some of it is very poisonous. I had to draw a line. Sometime down the road? I don’t know but for now…

The woman who runs the museum is also my friend and as you might know if you read this blog regularly, she lost her husband this past summer. They were married for 58 years. I’ve been listening/talking to her about it all this time and, recently I’ve heard something different in her voice which is she is beginning to see what she CAN do now; she’s looking into the future.

I spent some time Thanksgiving chatting with a friend in Switzerland who lost her dog not long ago. Through a lovely concatenation of events, she has a puppy, but the emptiness of the loss is still eating her up. I can imagine — but don’t know — people saying “She was just a dog,” and the kinds of things people say when losing an animal is out of their experience. Obviously, I don’t feel that way, but I have lost 25 dogs so I have a lot of experience losing and recovering.

As I was talking with my friend at the museum I tried to support her recent decisions to paint her house and travel to Europe (yay!) with the salient point that we live here and forward. I remember the moment I realized that. It wasn’t all that long after my mom died. I was opening the garage door and suddenly had an epiphany that my eyes were in front of my face for a reason. The same with my Swiss friend. Nothing replaces what we’ve lost, but it seems to me that even in calm and ordinary times, we’re a slightly different person every day than we were the day before. A big loss hastens the transformation.

I think that’s part of the sorrow, strangely enough. We don’t just lose the person/dog we loved, we lose the part of ourself who was (in a way) an attenuation of that person/dog. I recognized quickly when I had to put my last Siberian Husky, Lily, to sleep that it marked the end of trail-running Martha even though I hadn’t been able to run for a while. The possibility of that person existing was completely gone with Lily’s passing. I didn’t just lose my beloved — and very old! — dog; I lost a big part of myself, or the way I saw myself.

These recent weeks — selling paintings and confronting the inner Wicked Witch of the West — I have realized I’ve held onto my mom without even knowing it. Part of my trauma with selling a painting to strangers was letting go of yet one more finger of that woman whom I loved in spite of everything.


The protests against the police brutality that killed George Floyd have gone on for 9 days? 10 days? Yesterday I found myself wondering what the goal is. When will protestors know they are finished or is it a thing now that will go on and on and on and on?

Last night is the first night I’ve slept since the protests started. If their goal was to make white people think about things they haven’t thought about before, it worked here. I wrote one blog post about (now set to private) and a letter to Obama (never sent).

There are things related to it that I haven’t thought of for decades, one of which is Louis Farrakhan. It’s a fact that not all white people are racist and not all black people are NOT racist. Farrakhan, who is an extremely angry man — has claimed that it’s impossible for black people to be racists. Any anger they feel toward the white oppressor is justified and any action taken against whites is legitimate. The Southern Poverty Law Center identifies Farrakhan — and his organization — as black nationalist and black supremacist.

He spoke once at the university where I was teaching. It was a hate fueled speech. It made the work of ordinary people — I’ll say ordinary white people — seem hopeless. The next day, when I got to school, I found the ground littered with 4 x 5 inch black and white flyers, printed with swastikas and the words, “White men built this country.”

One extreme brought out the other.

I picked up a couple of those flyers and took them home and stuck them in a drawer imagining a future collage that never happened. “It’s never going to work,” I remember thinking, “as long as entire groups of people categorically hate each other.”


In other news, the hike I’d planned with my friends yesterday didn’t happen. I texted everyone at 5 am yesterday and said, “I haven’t been sleeping. I’m going to keep trying.” or something. I finally went to sleep and woke up at 8:30 to see their texts. They answered immediately planning between them an alternative way that we could get together. It turned out to be a “Bring your own cuppa'” tea party in Elizabeth’s beautiful back yard.

The other thing on my phone when I woke up was a voicemail from the Good-X. I listened and then I screamed. He’d had a major heart attack and was in the hospital but he said, “They fixed me up.” I called him back after I’d had some coffee and got the whole story and answered some questions he had for me. As we were saying goodbye, I had to hold myself back from saying, “I love you.” How would he understand those words? Two people can have a terrible marriage and yet form a functional and mostly happy life together. We did for 12 years. His younger son is “my” son and between his family and me all the “I love you’s” are said often. In the “I love you” that I did not say are all the experiences we shared — China being one of them. Part of it, also, is “I get who you are now.” Instead of “I love you,” I said, “Come back and visit me. That was fun last time.” He and his step-grandson came through Monte Vista a few years ago on their way to Durango to meet his wife who was at a dahlia conference.

“I will. That was fun,” he said.

I told my friends about it at the tea party later. When I told them about wanting to tell my ex “I love you,” they understood. We talked about C-19, our encounters with people during this time, the weirdness, the beauty.. We laughed and did all the things that make friendships and, I think, for all of us, it was an incredible relief. None of us has been sleeping and as we talked about it, it seemed that our sleep was taking the same trajectory. Going to sleep, waking up thinking and then either getting up ungodly early or going to sleep a few hours later. I asked if they’d like to go on a evening hike to the Refuge with me when the skies and light are beautiful and the breeze is calm and fresh. Now we sort of have a plan.

Elizabeth’s husband, Bob, came out of the garage where he’s building a 1957 T-bird. I like talking to Bob and he likes telling me stories, so as my friends went off to cut rhubarb (some for me) Bob told me stories about airplanes. I don’t know that he always has a willing listener and the words just poured out of him. Later he came over and installed a new pneumatic spring on my storm door.

The day went on with curious intensity, culminating in a 1 1/2 hour phone call with my formerly lost cousin, Linda. We’re catching up on each others entire adult lives. She wanted to know about how my brother’s death affected me. That’s a long story. We talked about the deaths of the people we loved, a strange coda to my morning.

I was struck again that all we really have in this life are dreams, memories and the love we bear for others. That’s it.

Die For

Watching all the violence and unrest over the past two weeks, listening to the President essentially turn our nation into a dictatorship this afternoon, I thought again about what I decided today while I was riding the bike-to-nowhere.

Not even I will claim that the bike-to-nowhere is interesting. I like the road trip videos I watch, and I even have a favorite (Picos de Europa, in Spain). Still, I’m pretty sure the bike-to-nowhere is why I can walk now and do not look quite like Jaba the Hut.

There are a lot of ways to ride that thing and for a while I’ve been going for longer rides, but I have a couple of goals with it and one of those is burning calories. I don’t eat a lot, but I have a very efficient metabolism. I’ve had to struggle with my weight since I was a younger woman.

I did Weight Watchers in my 20s — that was surreal. The diet centered on fish and peas with other weird stuff included, such as strawberry pie made with whole wheat bread smashed into a pie pan to look like crust and strawberries suspended in diet Jell-o. BUT if you’ve ever wondered how Barbi keeps HER figure (besides that she’s made of plastic) I’ve seen Barbie plastic meals and they are fish and peas.

After that experience I realized the best way to keep things under control was to manage my portions and exercise. I never viewed exercises as “exercise” (I don’t even view the bike-to-nowhere as “exercise” — it’s the sport I can do right now). When your joints are no longer “joining” (ha ha) all of this is a challenge.

So, looking at my “Map-my-Walk” workout log I saw I wanted to burn more calories in a week than I have been and realized I could do it by 7 shorter rides a week. Strange but true. I commenced that regimen yesterday. It’s kind of fun (relatively) to ride against the clock. I can do that AND walk a dog every day so it’s good for all of us. I can’t walk the dogs far enough to do me much good in the calorie department, though in the soul department it’s necessary to get out there as often as possible.

Anyway, as I was riding in this different way, I finally felt the stirrings of inspiration that have been missing since the virus started. “Yellowstone Park,” I thought, suddenly. “I’ll train to ski at Yellowstone Park this winter.” And then I thought, “For that I would risk my life.” I was stunned by the realization, but it also made me happy. It’s not the Birkebeiner, it wouldn’t be a crowd of people, and who’s to say that by January — assuming we still have a country — we might not have better treatments or even a vaccine?

There is no better summer training for Langlauf than what I’m doing. Suddenly summer seems less oppressive, the virus is still the virus and this fucked up situation is still fucked up but if I make it through? Maybe I’ll see wolves running through the snow and the steam from the hot springs making phantoms of the bison.

Mom from Hell, Literally?

“My mom, my mom, I know you’re sick of hearing about my mom…” Eminem “My Mom.”

I read a blog post this morning that has engendered this response. Since I don’t think it’s fair to write long self-confessions as comments on someone else’s blog because it’s THEIR blog I’m doing this instead.

Rebecca Wallick, a retired attorney, author of “Wild Sensibility” today wrote a post about something she learned from her first pro bono client. It’s a compelling post and a good story. Like me, Rebecca had a narcissistic mom, and if you have also been so blessed you’ll understand how incomprehensible, hurtful and indefatigable those bitches can be. Rebecca wrote about her mom’s death.

As the responsible, good child in my family, it fell upon me to head up to Montana in the dead of winter, leaving behind my jobs for however long it was going to take to sort out what to do with my mom. She’d become suddenly very confused, and my Aunt Jo had taken her to the hospital. Mom was admitted. I was called. The docs were still trying to figure out what had happened. Ultimately [this is (one of) the funny part(s)] my mom had OD’d on Tums. She’d poisoned herself with excessive calcium self-medicating an ulcer.

The afternoon/evening before I left California for Montana, my truck broke down, my washing machine broke, I tripped over the door of my dishwasher and it broke. Even pushing the button 10 times wouldn’t make it run. A stray dog we’d taken in showed up with scabies and ALL six of my dogs had to be treated. My roommate and I had to buy and treat ourselves with Quell or Rid or whatever, too. My purse was stolen from my truck while we were parked at the vet. Yep. All that after I got the call about my mom.

I got to Billings just after a major snow dump — more than a foot — and though my aunts managed to collect me at the airport, they didn’t want to drive. I had my mom’s car and chauffeured people around Billings’ frozen streets, back and forth to the hospital. After ten days, my mom had to be discharged into extended care. I had to find her a nursing home. It snowed again, 18 inches total on the ground and more in open spaces and drifts. All in all, it had been a cold MF winter, 40 below for two weeks (the theory is that’s what drove my mom crazy but I think THAT happened long ago).

My mom hadn’t signed a power of attorney which meant that, compos mentis or not, she had to sign herself out of the hospital and into “the home.” I had to “force” her to do it. I found her a place. I then went to the hospital with the papers not knowing how in hell I was going to accomplish this. She’d already asked me one morning as I was helping her out of the bathroom, pulling up her diapers, if I was going to stay and take care of her. That moment was my first inkling of my real feelings toward this person, “I’d rather die,” I thought and it was the truth.

She was holding court — meaning entertaining visitors. She’d turned on all of her immense charm for them, the funny, sweet person she was to my friends, to strangers, to my second husband. Seeing me arrive, they got up to leave. My Aunt Jo and my Aunt Martha were already there, knowing what was ahead for my mom and for me. My Aunt Jo was right behind me. “We’ll wait outside, sweetie,” she said.

I put the papers in front of my mom and set forth the facts. “Mom, you have recovered enough that the hospital has to discharge you, but you’re not OK enough to go home yet. I found a nursing home for you two blocks from Aunt Dickie. It’s really nice and you’ll have your own room until you’re ready to go home.”

Her face darkened, every nuance of evil settled into her features. “I knew you’d do this to me,” she said, and grabbed the pen from my hand, signed the paper and said, “Are you happy now? You should stay here and take care of me but no. So you’ve finally gotten rid of me. Now get out. I never want to see you again.” The nurses came and, as I recall, had to restrain her.

It hurt, but I was OK with that. I didn’t want to see her again, either. Never, ever, ever.

At that time I didn’t understand the underlying dynamic of our non-relationship. I just thought I wasn’t good enough, and she was complicated. Thankfully the next day I would return to California, to my students, to my life.

Outside my mom’s room, I found my Aunt Martha waiting. Jo had gone home and Martha had stayed so I wouldn’t be alone when the ordeal was finished. “Jo went home to cook dinner,” said Aunt Martha

We sat together on a bench in the hallway for a few minutes. I was emotionally shot, I wanted to cry, but those Montana cowboys don’t cry, so I didn’t. In a way, what could have been better than my two aunts making sure they had my back and I knew it? It wasn’t like my mom was easy for anyone.

My Aunt Martha and my mom were less than a year apart in age. They’d gone through school together, same grade. They’d been best friends their whole lives until, not so many years before, they’d had a falling out and my mom had ejected Aunt Martha from her life. It didn’t diminish my aunt’s loyalty or love for my mom, but Aunt Martha kept her distance. My Aunt Martha and I had always been very close. From the time I was a little kid, I adored her, liked her, appreciated her, enjoyed her and it was mutual. I am certain my mom was jealous because she envied anyone who had anything that she (felt? imagined?) she did not. She always saw herself as having been screwed over by life while other people hadn’t. The narcissist is always the center of the world and is incapable of empathy or perspective.

“I even gave you my family!” my mom said to my Aunt Martha in that fated fight. My aunt had remained single all her life.

I felt the turmoil of inchoate emotions and exhaustion. When I’d collected myself enough to go back out on the icy streets in February’s dim dusk, we went home for supper. My Aunt Jo had cooked the supper I liked best when I was a little kid and had stayed with them one summer.

My mom died a few weeks later, and I went back to Billings to deal with that. By then my brother (who was homeless) had arrived and was staying at my mom’s condo. The funeral ensued, I got pneumonia, yada yada and the day came to go to the attorney with the will. I drove my mom’s (new) car downtown to see the guy. Here’s the second funny part.

In her will my mom left my alcoholic brother her new car. The whole time my mom was in the hospital she’d said, to me, to my aunts, to everyone, “Don’t let that boy (my brother) drive that car! He’ll wreck it!” In her will she left me both of her televisions. Great except that for some 20 years we’d fought over the fact that I didn’t own a television and didn’t want one. When I told my Aunt Jo, she about died laughing. Everything else was divided logically down the middle…

Fast forward 20 some years to this past Friday and my fall (“Notes Smuggled from the Bunker”), my head bump, my black eye.

I have thought for a while that my mom is still doing things to me. I think that even as I think that’s a completely crazy idea. But it was only a few days after I arranged to read from the China Book at the bookstore in Alamosa that an insidious hiding rock on a soft, safe, dirt and grass trail, did a long-term number on my foot that put me out of walking commission for more than 2 months. Just a DAY before the reading, I reinjured the foot in my own living room on NOTHING. “Mom???”

Friday, my head-bump fall came more or less at the same time my Aunt Martha’s platter arrived at my door.

I think I need an exorcist.

P.S. This song by Eminem is great, and, for me, illuminating, but also a little “colorful.” You’ve been warned. 🙂

Thomas Hardy vs. Grief

In Tenebris

Thomas Hardy

Percussus sum sicut foenum, et aruit cor meum.” —Ps. ci.

Wintertime nighs; 
But my bereavement-pain 
It cannot bring again: 
Twice no one dies. 

Flower-petals flee; 
But, since it once hath been, 
No more that severing scene 
Can harrow me. 

Birds faint in dread: 
I shall not lose old strength 
In the lone frost’s black length: 
Strength long since fled! 

Leaves freeze to dun; 
But friends can not turn cold 
This season as of old 
For him with none. 

Tempests may scath; 
But love can not make smart 
Again this year his heart 
Who no heart hath. 

Black is night’s cope; 
But death will not appal 
One who, past doubtings all, 
Waits in unhope. 

Long long ago in a dormitory not so far away — five hours — I was confronted with this poem. At the time my dad was in a nursing home in Colorado Springs, his life suspended between a reclining wing-backed chair and a coma. Most Fridays I got on the Continental Trailways bus which I caught at the terminal in downtown Denver. Thinking about it, I can still smell the winter air and diesel wafting from the cold garage into the bus terminal waiting room with its chrome-armed benches and light green plastic upholstery from which the original pattern of pale ice cubes remained only on the sides where no one sat. $1.85 to get to Colorado Springs. I always had that, whatever expenses the week brought.

I stepped up the three steps with my little blue suitcase carrying homework and underwear (backpacks hadn’t become “the thing” yet), and handed my ticket to the conductor and took my seat by the window. Sometimes there was someone sitting beside me with stories to tell, often not. I wondered if my boyfriend would meet my bus or my mom. Usually it was my boyfriend, a man I later married, but that’s a subject for a blog post that will remain unwritten.

“Go see your dad,” said my mom when I walked in the front door, as if I needed to be told.

Whatever I found at the nursing home, I stayed. If he were lying in a coma, I did homework. If he were sitting up, we talked. By that time his speech was very garbled and he often used a Ouija board (imagine!) as an alphabet board to spell out the words he wanted to speak. He would point with his finger — spastic though his hands were, frustrating though it was for this short-tempered Irishman — and we would talk, sometimes for hours. He would tell me what to buy my mom to give her for Christmas, birthday, anniversary from him. His gifts to my mom were always something lovely. I would go to the new mall, The Citadel, filled with importance, carrying the checkbook that was our joint checking account, make the purchase and buy a mushy card on which Dad would scrawl what he could of the words, “I love you, Bill.” I always hoped that a gift would fix everything. I wonder if my dad hoped that, too.

Then the day came when I learned once and forever that hope is not enough. That paradoxical human thing without which we cannot live, but which cannot, in itself, keep anything alive, except itself. Hardy’s poem, which had been completely incomprehensible to me when I studied it the year before my father’s death, suddenly made too much sense, but it had a message I’ve retained all my life, “Twice no one dies…” followed by, “

… But death will not appal 
One who, past doubtings all, 
Waits in unhope. 

I spent the next three months pretty much alone at school, avoiding friends, studying, trying to make sense of life without my best friend. My dad’s death was a rocket that shot me into a universe none of my peers seemed to inhabit. I could see them from a distance, but I couldn’t hear them.

It took a L–O–N–G time to understand hope, and, again, Thomas Hardy (whose poetry I had in a HUGE book, The Poems of Thomas Hardy, by that time, not just in my even HUGER anthology of Victorian poetry) spoke to me in his poem, “The Darkling Thrush”

I leant upon a coppice gate
      When Frost was spectre-grey,
And Winter’s dregs made desolate
      The weakening eye of day.
The tangled bine-stems scored the sky
      Like strings of broken lyres,
And all mankind that haunted nigh
      Had sought their household fires.

The land’s sharp features seemed to be
      The Century’s corpse outleant,
His crypt the cloudy canopy,
      The wind his death-lament.
The ancient pulse of germ and birth
      Was shrunken hard and dry,
And every spirit upon earth
      Seemed fervourless as I.

At once a voice arose among
      The bleak twigs overhead
In a full-hearted evensong
      Of joy illimited;
An aged thrush, frail, gaunt, and small,
      In blast-beruffled plume,
Had chosen thus to fling his soul
      Upon the growing gloom.

So little cause for carolings
      Of such ecstatic sound
Was written on terrestrial things
      Afar or nigh around,
That I could think there trembled through
      His happy good-night air
Some blessed Hope, whereof he knew
      And I was unaware.

Featured photo: Bus station in Colorado Springs back in the day… My dad had multiple sclerosis, diagnosed when he was 27, died when he was 45. I was 20.

Heaven is a Garage?

Last night I dreamed I hadn’t seen Dusty T. Dog in a few days, and I was worried about him. I looked every where. I finally found him in a garage with my affectionate, long-haired, long-ago tabby cat, Triffid, and my sweet black and white husky, Jasmine. I’m not sure Dusty was going to stay there. Maybe that’s Heaven’s anteroom or maybe animal Heaven is a garage.

Anyway, he seemed fine and Jasmine — Jammie — was there with him. When he was a puppy, Jasmine was the one who took care of him most of the time. My cat, Triffid, lived all his life among big dogs. Dusty looked a little hesitant in the dream until he saw me. He loped over to me, and I scratched his ears and snuggled his neck. I said, “I love you, boy. I’m glad you’re OK.”

And I woke up.

I guess I miss my dog.

I don’t know what happens when people (dogs?) die
Can’t seem to grasp it as hard as I try
It’s like a song playing right in my ear
That I can’t sing
I can’t help listening… Jackson Browne

Dusty T. Dog’s Memorial Service

Yesterday I had to have Dusty T. Dog put to sleep. He had a stroke — I witnessed it — and having experienced this with other dogs, I knew I wasn’t going to let Dusty have another. It wasn’t a difficult decision.

My favorite vet appeared at my house with his veterinarian truck — think a 2019 version of All Creatures Great and Small. When I called them at 1:00 he was out somewhere in the country doing James Herriot type things. I had to wait two hours, but I just put the China book on Kindle using new software. It was a good distraction.

By then Dusty had improved, but still couldn’t easily get up or stand steadily on his feet. Dusty loved this vet and tried to demonstrate happiness to see him at our house, but couldn’t really. Dr. Crawford greeted Dusty with a hearty, “Hello, handsome,” and scratched his ears. He did a thorough exam and except for not being able to stand and appearing confused, Dusty seemed fine. “All his vitals are good, but he’s not right, is he. What happened? “

I described it.

“He’s suffered what we call TIA in humans. He’ll improve, but there’s every chance he’ll have another.”

I said, “I don’t want Dusty to go through another day like this.”

“You must really love this dog,” said my vet.

He explained the procedure — which I’m either unfortunately or fortunately, depending on your perspective — familiar with. I said, “It’s OK. I know. I’ve had nearly 30 dogs.”


“Yeah. I like dogs.”

“A little bit, I’d say. So now you’ll just have one dog?” He knows Bear.

“No. I got a mini-Aussie a couple of weeks ago.”

“How do they do together?”

“They play all the time.”

“Thirty dogs?”

“Yeah, I always wanted a dog but my parents wouldn’t let me. When I was 35 I got my own house and realized I could finally have a dog.”

“You made up for lost time.”

“You have to seize the day,” I said, thinking of all the dogs I’d been privileged to love and put down when the time came. Dr. Crawford and I talked a bit about that, too, how the procedure for which we were prepping Dusty would have been humane for some people we’d loved.

Dusty went to the Enchanted Forest peacefully where he is now playing with his Siberian husky sisters that he loved so much. Lily was waiting for him, or, anyway, that’s how I choose to look at it. I miss him. We were together for fourteen years through all kinds of changes in life.

After I’d cleaned up the house I took Bear and Teddy for a walk and on the way back, we got to talk to the little girl, Michelle. She saw us and was so excited that she would get to see Bear and Teddy and talk to me. It’s amazing to be such an important event in a little girl’s life, humbling and a great honor.

“Teddy’s so cute,” she said.

“Yeah, he’s a good dog. Are you thirsty, Teddy?” I asked him. He was panting. “He can’t really talk.”


“Well, he’s a dog. I have to watch what he does to know what he wants to tell me.”

“Oh. Where’s Dusty? Was he bad?” I get from that that she and her brother get time-outs or lose privileges when they’re “bad.”

She only got to meet Dusty once, and she liked him a lot. That was only this past Monday. It just happened that I was walking Dusty alone, and it was easy to bring him to their fence to meet.

I don’t lie to kids. “Dusty is dead, Michelle. He died today.”

“What happened to him?”

“He had a stroke.”

“Oh. C’mere Teddy.”

“I have take these guys home for a drink of water.”

“OK.” So I walked along their fence (chain link, 3 feet) and Michelle walked beside me then, took off to run to the gate beside the alley, behind what was once a chicken house. When I arrived there she had the gate open and was ready. “Bye! See you next time!!!” Waving at us with all her heart.

I thought that was a pretty good memorial service for Dusty T. Dog


Today Bear is very tired and sad. She spent all of her life so far with Dusty T. Dog and they were friends. Because of her breed, its sensitivity to the feelings of the creatures around her and being unsettled by change, I think it might take her a while to return to the “real” Bear. Teddy is a puppy who only knew Dusty for 2 1/2 weeks.

I’m looking at my empty coffee cup and for the first time in many, many years I won’t put it on the floor for my big, black dog to lick the cream from the sides.

Lamont and Dude, “Nobody Walks in LA, or How I Killed My Friend, Again) 3rd Episode in the great saga


— Your stragedy worked?

Yes, by the grace of, grace of, I don’t know what. I veered quickly right. I felt a splash of water and tar on my rear left leg. I turned and saw Dude lunge into the pool. He fought, of course, and the more he fought the more firmly stuck he became. He called out, in tiger, of course. I trumpeted my apologies and said I hoped I’d see him later when we weren’t in this miserable predator-prey connection. Soon bubbles rose to the surface.

— Wow.

Next time I saw Dude, we were both trees. But that’s LA for you. If it’s not traffic it’s tar pits.

Lamont and Dude are characters I came up with in 2014. They have the uncanny ability to remember many of their past incarnations which gives them an unusual perspective on life, the universe and everything.