More Discussion of Escape from Freedom

Fromm begins his book — and his argument — with his two definitions of freedom — one positive (Freedom To) and the other negative (Freedom From). I’m not sure I buy those as opposites. Freedom FROM hunger is freedom TO eat. Freedom from oppression is, uh, oh, yeah, freedom. But I’m happy to see where he goes with that (to me) rather arbitrary dichotomy. I know one thing for sure about freedom. It’s difficult to define.

Yesterday the ladies and I went to the museum to see the new exhibit which is all kinds of stuff from the olden days. The idea is to figure out what all these strange things were used for. Lyndsie (the new director) made a guide to go with the objects that are common household tools and objects for farming, things like a cream separator and a seed spreader. We had a good time. It was followed by lunch which wasn’t great.

Elizabeth is Australian and she got up early to watch Queen Elizabeth’s funeral. She’s long held the thought (and frequently expressed it) that the United States needs a royal family. On the drive home, I mentioned I was starting to see her point. That led to a front seat discussion about presidents and who did and did not “act presidential.” They agreed Obama acted presidential; there was dispute over whether Biden does. I was in the back so I had the privilege of listening with Fromm’s book still on my mind. I think a lot depends on what a president inherits when he takes office — and Biden inherited a mountain of shit — divided country, an insurrection, a pandemic and its resultant economic challenges, all followed hard on by a war in Europe.

When I was able to pick up Fromm’s book again — beginning a new chapter, “The Emergence of the Individual and the Ambiguity of Freedom” — I was again stunned.

“The social history of man started with his emerging from a state of oneness with the natural world to the awareness of himself as an entity separate from surrounding nature and men.”

Good god… This was a little challenging for me because I think our separation from the natural world is an illusion. We might THINK we’re free of it, but we’re not and, in this particular case, that is to say it seems to ME, that at this juncture in human history, this drive and (its corresponding illusion) is killing us. The other day, MTG said, “AOC worships the climate. I worship God.” All I could think was, “Uh they are one and the same you stoopnagle.”

Too much abuse of our world, resulting from our freedom to create an environment designed for man, might lead us to a very sinister negative freedom, that is freedom FROM life. But the bizarre end-days cult to which she clings might be all about that, after all Revelations says the world will end in fire. I don’t know. I can’t know what goes on in their twisted little minds.

Fromm went on to discuss the emergence of each of us as an individual, a process he called individuation which is the moment in which a person recognizes that he/she is a separate entity, not connected to parents, but a self of its own. As I read I thought about my own childhood and recognized the moment, though it wasn’t a “moment” so much as a process of self-definition that took about three years. It began on a train crossing Wyoming north to south and culminated in a little movie theater in Nebraska watching Lawrence of Arabia and sucking on sour cherries. The first was the opening of the question, “Who am I?” the end was, “I am no one but myself.” A book was an instrument in the beginning; a film in the completion.

I remembered the numerous times my mom said, “You and your brother were easy as little kids and then?”

Well, mom. I thought of all the times I said, “I’m not you. THIS is what I want to do.” I understood at that point that what I did might not work, but I was OK with that, I was OK with failure. My independence mattered more to me even as a kid than success.

It hurt when friends snubbed me (kids do that) and it wasn’t easy for me to make friends, but after a while that was OK, too. I didn’t feel isolated. I came to understand back then, on some level, that all the kids around me were in this process, too. That was one reason kids fight. That was a motivation behind adults organizing us into team sports where each of us would begin to focus more on a skill than in competing for identity. It seemed to me at the time — and I have no idea if it’s true — that girls were generally less determined to become selves than were the boys. Their playground games were more peaceful and sedentary; their games at home seemed to revolve around role plays of adult life. The boy’s games interested me more; I wanted individual achievement. I wanted to get better at things, run faster, hit more balls, see more, know more.

Fromm then discusses how the moment (process?) of individuation affects people (the process is inevitable). Some people are overwhelmed by the sense of solitude in the universe. Others recognize the solitude, but accept it.

“The process of individuation is one of growing strength and integration of its individual personality but it is at the same time a process in which the original identity with others is lost and in which the child becomes more separate from them. This growing separation may result in an isolation that has the quality of desolation and creates intense anxiety and insecurity, it may result in a new kind of closeness and a solidarity with others if the child has been able to develop the inner strength and productivity which are the premise of this new kind of relatedness to the world.”

Whoa. Person 1 — riddled with anxiety and insecurity — will seek submission to escape that painful solitude. Person 2 won’t, having made peace with freedom, or so it goes more or less. I’m not sure, but this seems to be the argument Fromm is building. Naturally, I brought all this home to people I have known. I saw my mom in a completely different way. I saw that she never made peace with the intrinsic solitude of individuality, never found a way to live productively within it. It struck me that perhaps the foundation of freedom is just that. “I’m alone and it’s OK with me.”

Fromm makes that point.

P.S. This might be tedious, but I don’t have anyone around to talk about this with. Writing about it helps me process the ideas. The book is just under 300 pages so this won’t go on forever 😜

NOT Broken, Just Slowed Down a Bit

I spent some time at the local museum yesterday talking about plans for the future. Lyndsie, the new director, is doing an amazing job. We talked about Covid — which we’ve both had — and she said she’d joined a support group for people who are still experiencing challenges related to it. I went to their page later and left my small story, just there, like that, in case it resonated with someone. Later a guy commented saying we had been “broken,” “big Pharma” and some other entities were to blame. I didn’t respond because I don’t want to get involved in stupid discussions, but I thought about it. It’s probably natural to look for someone or something to blame, but I don’t think in this case anyone is to blame. If there’s ONE thing we knew for sure about this virus is that it is a virus and it would make people sick. Nobody did that. No wet market in China, not Dr. Fauci, not the CDC, not even the evil Dr. Scarf. Not even the anti-maskers or the anti-vaxxers, illogical though their views might have been (be?). Sometimes things are just bad.

When we read history, we read that the average lifespan back in the day was 40 something. That isn’t even true. It’s an average between the numerous 70+ year olds and the babies who died at birth. When I was studying my own family tree I saw that pretty much everyone who didn’t die in childbirth, birth, or from an epidemic lived into their late 70s and 80s. They blamed God for stuff like the plague and then sought ways to make it up to God for everything, so maybe blame is a human thing we do. In a way it makes more sense to blame God than to blame each other, though. God doesn’t care “Oh you silly humans. I had nothing to do with this.” We have the potential to hurt each other, adding insult to injury.

I think some of it is point of view, too. I don’t feel “broken.” My hip just hurts — some days more, some days less; I feel fatigued more easily (like ever), but my brain is returning. Goethe said that the biggest influence in any of our lives is the time and place in which we are born. Luck. I think he was right, but we don’t like the idea that it’s all pretty random. I just happen to be alive at this moment in time. I just happened to be somewhere where I could catch the virus. It just happened that my unique vulnerabilities caused it to act like it has with me. Nobody “did it to me.” I hope to be able to langlauf this winter, but maybe I won’t be able to. Well, that can be happen from other causes like no snow. Luck.

Yesterday at the museum I enjoyed the new exhibit which is a collection of weird stuff we don’t use any more and which is really hard to recognize. Lyndsie set it up as an interactive exhibit; people can touch the items and explore them. It’s very cool. The lesson from all that is, “We’re wusses.” I KNEW we were wusses, but seeing what our ancestors considered “labor saving devices” brought it home again. Among the items in the exhibit is a VERY old spinning wheel, the kind we saw in kids’ books when we were (well, I was) learning to read. I’m always amazed by that. They got the wool (flax, cotton), spun it into thread on one of these things (or on a hand spool) then wove it into cloth. They did this for thousands of years. Yeah, we all know this, but every once in a while it sinks in, again. I doubt anyone was ever NOT doing something unless they were extremely wealthy, living in opulent mansions with a phalanx of servants bustling about.

Human Beauty

A couple of days ago Elizabeth and I went to Del Norte for lunch and to see the San Luis Valley Quilt Guild Charity Show. It had been Elizabeth’s birthday the day before and I worked out a way to treat her to the show. She’s pretty fierce about paying her own way, but she and her husband do so many things for me that I can never repay — liking hanging a door on my studio. Besides, she’s awesome.

We had lunch which was great as was the conversation. Then she wanted to cross the street and go to Kathy’s Fabric Trunk to see if they had white crochet thread. I’ve been in this store frequently with her. There’s nothing in there for me to buy, but the owner is a lovely, sweet person and there are dogs. Last time I was there was during Covid and I just went to the front door and knocked. Kathy brought out some seam tape I was picking up for Elizabeth. It was — as were most stores that year — a ghost store.

Tuesday was a different scene completely, leading to a beautiful human scenario.

The store had more stock than I’ve ever seen — quilting season (winter) is approaching — but even then there was MORE. In the “back” (not really, it’s another full sized room beside the main store) were tables around which sat maybe six women. OK, I’m going to say they were all larger women, most in dresses?! It doesn’t matter but I’m painting a scene here. Elizabeth was looking at a crochet thread. There was no white, only ecru which led to a big deliberation about that. Her goal was crocheting angel tree toppers for the upcoming craft boutique. She stood there with the thread deliberating and talking with the women who were all involved in sewing projects.

At the end of the table in a very helpful wheelchair sat Kathy’s very disabled daughter and, beside her on the floor, was the black lab who never leaves her side.

On a high shelf was a cage with a parrot who talked to me. “Hi! How ya’ doin’?”

To my right, in another space, marked off by shelves, a woman measured fabric. As the parrot and I chatted, a yellow lab came to check on the ladies to see if they were dropping any of their lunch and get pets from me. I was mesmerized by this sight. All the women were so happily engaged with each other and their project. They were interested in Elizabeth’s project and her deliberation. It was so beautiful, enchanting. I wanted to pull out my phone and take a photo, but I thought it might be rude.

I learned later that Kathy now holds classes — conducted by experts in particular sewing and quilting techniques — at her store. I’m sure one of the reasons those women were so buoyantly happy (besides being together) is that they were learning something. From there we went to the Rio Grande County Museum.

As we walked to the museum door, I saw that Elizabeth had her money ready. Lyndsie, the director, waved away the money, “You two are good. You don’t have to pay.” I’d arranged to take income from notecards to pay our donation, but it ended up that Lyndsie paid for us. She gave me the $10 someone paid for a pack of notecards. ❤️ A few minutes later, I gave the $10 “back” by buying a Christmas present that benefited the Quilt Guild. High finance among little ladies…

The quilted sign telling people where their donations go. Tu Casa is an organization that helps adult and child victims of domestic violence. Probably the other two categories are clear. The featured photo — the quail quilt — was done by one of the guild members and hangs in the show.

The quilt show was great, and we got to vote for “best quilt” in a few categories which we like doing. Then, draped over an old sofa (I mean OLD), we saw an amazing quilt, an antique “fancy” quilt a crazy quilt of luxurious fabrics. The legend going with it explained that the quilt maker had been born in 1815. Elizabeth and I kind of agreed that we’d lost something over the years.

There are dozens of 10 inch squares joined together and each square is an elaborately pieced and embroidered work of art. You can see some of it in this photo.

Good news from the museum? Looks like the Holiday Art Show will happen. They were finalizing the document — contract — artists will have to sign releasing the museum for liability. Dates are already being considered. I was happy to hear that and grateful to Lyndsie for advocating for me (us).

I don’t know where I fit in this amazing valley. I think, like a lot of things in life — singing in public for example — my primary role is that of “appreciator.” I wouldn’t be the first “alien” to commit to a life here, as this immigrant’s trunk from Sweden reminded me.

UPDATE: I just got home from the doc. I’m not an expert but I saw my X-rays and everything looks good. The doc explained that joint inflammation seems to be a fairly common post-Covid problem. It’s possible that someone will read my X-rays differently, but I sincerely doubt it. I was so relieved when I saw them, I almost cried and the radiologist hugged me. I needed that hug.

Uh…good thoughts appreciated — I’m off to the doc for hip X-rays. I don’t want to endure surgery again. The extreme inconvenience, pain and complications of it? Just not in the mood. No, it’s nothing like being a refugee from the Russian army or the innumerable worse things that can happen to us humans, but it’s still not fun.

Chautauqua

Yesterday was the first normal day in a month. Well, kind of normal. OK. The first time since I got Covid and recovered that I sat and talked with a living, breathing, human being face-to-face other than the two kids I chatted briefly with when I picked up my groceries. I took four packs of notecards to the museum and chatted with the new director for a while — mostly about politics, strangely. While I was there, an old man came in — a really interesting old man who turned out to have been a retired archeology professor from Indiana — Purdue.

A long time ago I had an idea for the museum and then let it go because of 2020 and the life situation of the former director, my friend Louise. After seeing him, I flashed back to my idea and presented it to the new director. I think we might try to do it. My idea was holding a Chautauqua at the museum in the summer.

Chautauqua is a VERY late 19th century educational movement, that didn’t fade away until the 1930s. They still exist — particularly in their original location in Chautauqua New York. They were a movement, a really beautiful movement with the kind of objectives I think we could really use right now.

During my university life in Boulder attending the University of Colorado I was very immersed in the 19th century. I was an American Literature major. One of the cool things in Boulder is that it was a historical home to a Chautauqua every summer — the old buildings are still there along with the original cabins. When I was a student, the cabins were used as married student housing. In 1997 my best hiking pal — who’d moved to Tennessee — and I met in Colorado. I drove from San Diego with two dogs and picked her up at the airport in Denver. We did a bunch of hiking and stayed in a cabin at Chautauqua. In recent years it’s been gussied up and programs have begun again.

Anyway, it occurred to me that the museum could be a small Chautauqua with speakers like the retired archeologist I met yesterday. There’s a guy in Colorado who does Hal Holbrook type costumed representations of historical figures who might want to be invited, and I would do that; I would “become” Sarah Josepha Hale for twenty minutes as part of the whole thing, talk about Godey’s Lady’s Book and why she pressured Abraham Lincoln so hard to set aside a Thanksgiving Day.

The museum director loved the idea and we’re going to start planning.

“How Did the Reading Go, Martha?”

Thanks for asking! It went great and pretty much as I expected it would — all according to the pattern of life in this remote place as I’ve come to know it. Small audience because it was a POETRY reading and because Del Norte is a small town. When it was time to begin I had to get the attention of the people who were there to listen and I said, “Hi everyone, I’m Martha Kennedy and I’ve been asked to read some of my poems. I don’t know if that’s a threat or a promise!” It took a few minutes for people to take their seats, but soon we were set to go.

I pretty much stuck to my “script” — anyway it kept me on track. Years of teaching (which is performance) trained me to be alert to my “audience,” so the talk was a little chattier than the script. When you have a small group sitting on folding chairs looking eagerly — and a little doubtfully — at you, it’s a small club not an auditorium. I watched their faces and saw what made them smile or what touched them with each poem . Most of the poems have stories and, of course, each poem was bracketed in a story. My goal was for them to have a good time and to get the idea that good things happen at the museum.

Two great things happened. One was that they wanted another poem after I’d finished. Encore???? So I told them about my beans and read the bean poem.

This Year’s Beans from Last Year’s Seeds

Reaching for the sun from the first moment 
Pushed into soil, shrouded in darkness 
Each unique being stretches roots, foments 
Life, seminal, integral and artless.
The future. Water, dirt, light harness 
life; some seeds too small to see. Wind-born 
and plumed, or saved from summer’s long morn 
Each fulfills itself from the light it holds inside. 
Every green sprout brings last year’s loss transformed
from buried hope that in our hearts resides.

Then? Applause? Huh??

When it was over I sold my copy of Cats I’ve Known. “God Makes the First Cat” was everyone’s favorite poem, I think. No one asked about the title of my poetry book, which was a little disappointing.

Afterward someone said, “I liked the way you introduced your poems. Those stories were the best part.” Another person said, “I liked your poems. I’ve been to poetry readings where I didn’t understand anything. Maybe the poems meant something to the writer, but…” Which made me think of how English teachers kill poetry for their students. I know. I’ve been in both ends of English classes. It is REALLY a lot like Dead Poets Society.

Last night I couldn’t go to sleep. I felt like all the dead people I loved — mostly family but one friend — had gathered to tell me I did good. Denis Joseph Francis Callahan (RIP) — who loved poetry as much as I do — stuck his head into my memory and said, “You did good work in there.” It was so strange because reading those poems yesterday, to an obviously friendly audience, was no big deal by any standard, but I guess, somehow, somewhere inside me, it was a very big thing.

Ready to Read, Yeah, Really

Wow, that word — tenderfoot — is a, no, not actually a blast from the past, more like a hiss. It brings back dim memories of my mom as a Den Mother for my bro’s Cub Scout troop. He never went forward into Boy Scouts, never became a “Tenderfoot” or went through the ranks to soar as an eagle, but he was a Cub Scout. It just wasn’t his thing. I, on the other hand, devoured the Boy Scout Handbook. I thought it was great. Not so much the organization but all the cool stuff you’d learn — like how to tie all kinds of knots and survive in the back country. I still think the Boy Scout motto is a good one — Be Prepared — even though at this point in my life I know that’s impossible. A more reasonable motto might be “Pay Attention” or “Do the Best You Can” or the Scarlett O’Hara motto, “Tomorrow is Another Day.” Even Aldous Huxley’s wise words from Island “Here and now, boys, here and now.” Still, “Be Prepared”? It’s a good one.

And I am prepared. Boy am I. I have the books I’m reading from this afternoon all marked. My talk all revised and, and and I know what I’m going to wear — clean clothes. As for the poems I’ve chosen? I have no idea if they are the best choice, but I wanted to keep it light and entertaining. I also realized I write most of my poems about dogs and the Refuge. OH well. That’s my life…

Since some people wanted to read my talk, here it is… I’ve timed it at 17 minutes. We’ll see.

Poetry Reading, Rio Grande County Museum, June 24, 2022

Martha Kennedy

Thank you everyone for coming to the Rio Grande County Museum grand re-opening celebration! And thank you for being here to listen to me read some of my poems. 

It’s a little strange because even though I’m a writer — I’ve written five novels and a couple of memoirs — I have never seen myself as a poet. 

In fact, I think poetry is one of the most useless things on the planet. At the same time, it’s one of the most important. I have never been able to reconcile those two realities and even I — a retired English teacher — believe they are both true. 

As for me? My life would diminished without poetry, not the poetry I write particularly, but poetry others have written.

I wrote my first real poem when I was 12. I gave it to my dad to read. He thought it was so good that he gave me his portable typewriter. 

My dad was a mathematician who dreamed of being a poet. He knew his poetry was not great, but he kept at it all his life. When he read my poem, he formed a dream for his little girl. She would grow up to be a poet. 

This past February it hit me hard that my dad died 50 years ago. It seemed impossible so much time had passed, and, somehow, it felt like a fresh wound.

Meanwhile — though I didn’t know it — one of those “cosmic” things was brewing in Alamosa. 

Last fall, when the call came out for submissions to Messages from the Hidden Lake, the literary magazine published by the Friends of the Alamosa Public Library, I submitted three short poems, sonnets, all love poems.

In February, while I was thinking about my dad, I got an email telling me two of my sonnets had won prizes — a third prize and an honorable mention in Adult Poetry. I was surprised. Then I thought, “Hey Dad! Now I’m a poet!” I decided to compile my recent poems into a little book and dedicate it to my dad.

The third prize winner is a love poem to a pair of hiking boots and the places we went together. I wore those boots for more than 15 years, hiking in all kinds of places. I had them resoled four times before they finally blew out.

Dusty Boots —

Dusty boots have been my best friends
Taking me where I’ve been and where I’ve dreamed
Across destiny’s bitter hills again and again
Ancient lakes, morning’s snowbound trails, frozen streams.
Far, shining Alpine peaks, out of my reach
Layers of clay, bright-colored, time-kissed
The tracks of dinosaurs on a rock-hard beach
Juniper bushes, scorpions and mist
Through time, disaster or inspiration
Tree-held or wasted, sage scrub and forest
Sand and shore, wild lilac, golden aspen
Sorrow or hope, the yearning heart rests. 
Where my eyes point, squint, captured by color
Summits or dreams, one foot, then the other.

The poem that won honorable mention is a little different. It’s about how weird life is, how we really never know what’s going on or what something will mean down the road. Sometimes what seems most meaningful in the moment ends right then and there, and other things that don’t seem like such a big deal turn out to be very important — in my case, running on trails with my dogs. The poem was inspired by a meme I saw on Facebook.  “No Seed Ever Sees the Flower.” 

No Seed Ever Sees the Flower

It was all a big blur back then but I
Moved as if I knew what I was doing.
Maybe I thought I did. I had no clue,
Of mysteries the future was brewing.
Every step led somewhere I could not know.
Running blind on sage brushed chaparral hills,
California sun. It was enough to go.
With no idea where. The random thrills,
Falling in love, a moment or a year
A new job, a new friend, a journey. “This
is the ONE!” but it wasn’t. Shed some tears
and keep running. The hard hills listened.
Now I know there is no plot. No sacred shrine
With answers. The trail itself is life’s line.

I’m a dog lover and over the course of my life I’ve had more than two dozen dogs, usually more than one dog at a time, sometimes four or six dogs. Dogs are great hiking pals .They always want to GO. No discussion. No debate about what trail to take. No, “Well, I don’t know. I was going to clean the fridge.” With a dog. It’s all, “YES! NOW??? Yay!!!”

For a while in the 2000s I was lucky to live with a small pack of Siberian Huskies. All of them were rescues. I lived in the Southern California mountains — where it snows — on 1/4 acre, fenced. It was husky heaven. My huskies were Jasmine, Lily and Cheyenne. At some point I took in a very troubled mixed breed, a lab/dobie mix, a barky, black puppy I named Dusty T. Dog. My huskies adopted him immediately and taught him everything they could about being a Siberian Husky. But Dusty wasn’t a Siberian husky, but he tried. 

Lily T. Wolf and Dusty both came to live with me here in the SLV when I returned to Colorado after I retired. Lily lived to be 17 and enjoyed one real Colorado snowstorm. 

This is Dusty’s poem in memory of his husky sisters. As you might expect, isn’t a sonnet. Naturally, it is doggerel…

Howling Dogs by Dusty T. Dog in 2016

Coyotes howl at the too bright moon
My sisters and I awake in the living room
Lily is first, she howls and yips back,
The next thing I know she’s waked the whole pack.
Cheyenny howls and Jasmine howls too
“Try Dusty,” they say, “Howl at the moon!”
I look at my sisters, lovely and brave,
Singing in moonlight like wolves in a cave,
I throw back my head, but I can just bark
Like some Pomeranian at the dog park.
“It’s all-right little Dusty. Just give it some time,”
Says Jasmine touching her nose to mine.
The years have gone by and now I can howl
When the sirens blare, cops on the prowl.
My human howls, too, in sweet memory
Of Jasmine, Cheyenne and precious Lily.

I still have dogs — two. One is a big, white livestock guardian dog, an Akbash dog, named Polar Bear Yeti T. Dog. The other is a mini-Aussie named Teddy Bear T. Dog. I adopted them both from the Conour Shelter in Monte Vista. They’re best friends to each other and to me. 

When Covid hit, we started taking our long rambles out at the Monte Vista National Wildlife Refuge because with more people home all the time, our usual places became too occupied. My dogs are always leashed; it’s the rule, and its respectful to the animals who belong at the Refuge. Not that we don’t belong there, but our territory is the gravel road. 

From our territory we’ve watched elk, mule deer, coyotes, bald eagles, golden eagles, Harris Hawks, Northern Harriers, red tails, night hawks and great horned owls. All the waterfowl. We’ve listened to the songs of all kinds of birds, and watched a Tiger Salamander as he slowly crossed the road. In winter, while Bear’s nose tells her the whole story, I try to read the animal writing in the snow. Once, in a snowstorm, a black fox crossed our trail. It was magical.

Both my dogs love it, but walking alone with Bear out there on a snowy day is one of the sweetest things in my life. We hate summer. That inspired this poem.

Yearning on a 90 Degree Day

Minus five. The sky is silver with snow. 
Airborne crystalline promises shimmer,
In the morning light. Minute spectra glimmer.
I leash my big white dog, and off we go.
Hoar frost from the bare trees’ smallest branches
shaken free, drifts slowly on my dog and me,
as we walk beneath the cottonwood trees.
With each step of my high boots, fresh snow crunches.
The parallel tracks of Nordic skis shadow 
Our path through this season that ends too soon, 
Blue shadows, the angled light of winter noon.
The distant Sangres gleam white with snow.
I stop, rest my hand on my dog’s warm back, she 
leans against my leg, we savor our frozen paradise.

For Bear and me, winter is never long enough, but sooner or later, spring arrives and it’s not totally awful. There’s plenty about it to love.

First Meadowlark

March north winds blow gusts hard against my cheek
Lift my jacket’s hood, unasked but warming.
Snow squalls brush the mountain’s face, the sun breaks
Through, lights a pond where geese huddle forming
A tight community against the wind.
High above wind’s rush the soaring Sandhill cranes
Circle. My dog and I stop to watch, to listen.
Among the clouds, a golden eagle reigns
He set the cranes in motion, here then gone.
The cranes circle slowly, land, and resume
Their morning. My guide, sniffing, nose down 
finds a scent,  reminds me it’s her walk, too.
From a distance comes a meadowlark’s sweet
song. In that brief moment, two seasons meet.

As you have heard by now, all my love poems are to the San Luis Valley. 

Well, having said so much good stuff about dogs, I’d like to finish by giving cats equal time. They are pretty great animals, but lousy hiking companions. That said, a cat I had as a kid used to follow me into the forest across from our house. He would walk along beside me — 20 feet away. Cats are cats. I recently — here at this museum — met a guy who actually DOES hike with his cat.

Many years ago, in honor of all my cats, and as a gift for my niece who was a little girl then and who knew them all, I put together a little kids book of cat poems called, Cats I’ve Known. If Dusty’s poem is Doggerel, I guess this is catteral.

God Makes the First Cat

God made the world in just one week,
And every creature he made unique
He made the rabbit, horse and frog,
He made the loyal loving dog.

He made the fish, he made the spider,
A hippo to make the rivers wider.
He worked on butterflies and hens,
Then he sat down to think again.

“In all of my menagerie
There’s something missing. Let me see.
A world needs horses to pull plows,
A world needs chickens, dogs and cows.”

“But when the daily work is done,
A world must find some time for fun.
Some time to frolic and to play
Some time to sit in the sun all day.”

“Time to relax when work allows
I must make something to show them how!
Someone fluffy, someone funny,
But more intelligent than a bunny.”

God decided to make up cats,
To give them work, he made some rats.
When he was done, he picked one out
And started to throw the cat about!

The cat was cute, the cat was fluffy
But he didn’t like to be treated roughly.
The cat scratched God on the back of the hand,
And God said, “If you scratch a man,

“Like you scratched me,
You won’t be forgiven so easily.”
God watched the cat for signs of remorse,
But the cat felt no remorse, of course.

The cat just cleaned his ears and hair
And ignored God as if He weren’t there.
“This will not do,” said God to the cat.
“You won’t succeed if you act like that!”

“You must learn to apologize
Or you won’t be fed and that won’t be nice!”
“Now, please, a penitent meow
and you can have a bowl of cat chow.”

The cat stood up and stretched one leg,
He absolutely refused to beg.
Well, God respects integrity,
In small animals you and me.

“You’re right,” sighed God, “I was too rough,
Don’t you think we’ve argued enough?”
God reached down and stroked the cat,
Behind his ears, and down his back.

He was rubbing his hand on the cat’s soft fur
When the cat began to purr.
“What a soft and soothing sound,”
Said tired old God as he sat down.

The cat curled up in God’s lap and stayed
And so God rested that seventh day.

Thank you so much for enduring so much poetry. And thank you Rio Grande County Museum for allowing me to read. Just so you know, this collection of poetry and all my other books AND Messages from the Hidden Lake are available on Amazon. 

Next, you’re going to see 150 years of Del Norte History come to life — actually, you’re not but the people at the Museum will if they want to.

Museum and Beans

Yesterday I went to the museum to talk to the new director about the grand re-opening and my little part in it. She’s amazing. The interesting thing is that I discovered she has met Goethe. A book fell on her head in a bookstore and she met Goethe that way. She’s just starting to get to know him, and it might not work out, but it might. As I’ve read everything and own a lot and don’t need it anymore, I packed up a bunch of books yesterday and took them to give her. She was very happy to have them and I had my first ever conversation about Goethe in which no one was bored. All of us have treasures, and all of us know we’re not going to live forever. When I can, I want my treasures to go where they will be treasured.

I’m still working on my presentation. I’ve timed it, and it’s within the 20 minutes to which I limit myself so all is well. I may share it later.

The beans are growing like MOFOs out there. I don’t know if I’ve ever had happier beans. There are two growing in the same spot, but they don’t care. There are at least 23 beans in that little plot. The sunflowers are doing a pretty good job keeping up with them. I should probably have started the tomatoes sooner because I doubt they’ll reach maturity, but that’s OK. The grocery store has them, too. I apologized to the beans yesterday for not having named them or having published “their” poems, but they let me know they are themselves their poems so it’s all good. I read an article recently that said plants don’t like us to touch them. I guess that’s probably true, but after five years — now six — growing them, I am SURE my beans like having me around.

I know there’s another hearing today. I thought last night that I already know what happened. I’m happy there is evidence. I don’t think I want to play anymore. I’m kicking aside the door stop and closing the door on this one. All I can do, I have done.

Hello MARTHA KENNEDY, Your Primary Election ballot has been counted by Rio Grande County Elections. Thank you for voting!

Love

Here it is. I’ve only painted one or two other things I’ve been really sad to finish, but if you don’t stop when you should, you end up very sorry. As I cleaned the lapis ultramarine from the brush, I might have shed a tear.

In other good news I spent an hour at the Rio Grande County Museum with the new director whom I already knew and liked. The grand re-opening is a month from now. I took a bunch of notecards and learned that they don’t want to do consignment any more, but they want to sell my cards. Yay!

A couple of tourists came in (the museum is also the town/county’s visitor’s center) asking for directions. Somehow the word came out that I’m a painter. The woman asked if any of my paintings were hanging in there. I said no, but I had made notecards of some of my paintings. She wanted to see. I pulled some out. Two of them that I told her about she ended up buying. $20. BUT once again I learned that when someone can talk to the artist and find out something about the story behind the painting, it’s MORE to that person that if it were just something to look at. I told her one of them involved time travel. And showed her, explaining that as she drove out of town she’d see this mountain and these bison, but she’d also see our hospital. Time travel was NOT painting the hospital. This painting is 24 x 36 and is in Maine.

I told her the story behind the big crane painting, too, and how I’d seen him in March 2021 when everyone was still staying home. I explained I’d been out there alone and seen the crane in the willows and thought of him as “my” crane. She was moved by the story and said, “He IS your crane.” Because I gave her something personal, she wanted the images. That’s actually very awesome.

I’ll be helping out a little with the Grand Re-opening, maybe reading a few poems from Shit, Fear and Beauty. I’m very happy the museum is up and running again, and that the new director is a person who actually LOVES the museum. It’s a little place, but its ours and I love it.

Quotidian Update 87.2b.ix

Good news from the back-of-beyond. The Rio Grande County Museum in Del Norte is open again, and the person running it is someone I know AND a person who’s bought one of my paintings. I’m going in later this morning with notecards. Apparently they’ve been doing repairs and cleaning for the past six months (???) and hiring a replacement for my friend Louise. They’re having a grand opening next month to honor the summer solstice. The new director is younger — a woman in her early 40s (I think) — and I think that’s a good thing. Anyway, I’m happy about these developments.

Other good news involves the Scarlet Emperor Beans. They are all in the garden — fifteen of them! I went to visit them before I made my coffee (that shows you my dedication) and they all looked very happy. The weather forecast for the nonce looks good meaning like I won’t have to rush out and cover them.

They do not all have names. I don’t know if they mind or even know “who” they are — well they do know. As for their names? This is the fifth generation and who knows which ancestor pollinated which ancestor. I think they are all each other at this point which is very cool. They are 100% in harmony with their nature as Scarlet Emperor Beans. They are amazing. The packet says plant 1 inch deep. The Internet said 3 inches deep. I did both and the beans didn’t care. They have a strong and joyful inner push to get UP there and GROW. Along with the beans are giant sunflowers. Last year I learned how well they do together and what good friends they are both in attracting beneficial insects and holding each other up.

In other good news, I finished the painting, and I like it a LOT. All it’s missing is my signature. It was a wonderful painting experience because it was a big challenge. I still have a ways to go to be the painter I would like to be, but it was a leap in the right direction. I wish it were bigger, but if I’m going to paint bigger paintings on a surface like this I’m going to have to turn carpenter and stretch my own canvas. The surface — oil primed linen — was wonderful. This is the second painting I’ve done on that material. The other painting was also a wonderful experience to paint and a big challenge. I don’t know if the surface is helping me or what, but wow.

I know there is a lot of random stuff in this hackly post, but after my being so desperately profound yesterday, we all need a break… 😉

Preparing for the Reading

I got famous again, on page 7 of the social section — SLV Lifestyles — of the regional paper. Ah the sweet smell of success.

I’m trying to organize my reading for December 11 and I’m a little oppressed (can one be “a little oppressed?” isn’t one oppressed or not?) by it. I’ve been asked to “entertain” for 45 minutes which is a LONG time to subject anyone to my stories about living in China post-Mao but pre-modernization. Not that I don’t find them interesting — I think they’re VERY interesting — but I don’t imagine they are the first level of interest to most other people. That’s the tricky part; making them interesting.

I realized yesterday that I need a reason for doing this beyond giving the holidays at the museum moment something beyond the exhibit. My purpose is to bring more people into the museum and maybe sell a book or two. I ordered 3 ahead of the event. That said, my INTRINSIC reason for doing this is to honor the experience and the woman who, in 1982, took that leap into a world that passed very quickly.

I can’t read directly from the book and end up with something smooth and coherent to fit the event — which is holiday(s) so I’ve drawn from the book taking parts of the chapters on spending Chinese New Year on Hainan Island and Christmas in Guangzhou that year. I’m torn between introducing it with a narration about meeting people from China out at the Refuge before Thanksgiving (another holiday) or just giving background. I’m pondering taking the TV and putting up a slide show. And hiring a Chinese orchestra or at the very least an Erhu soloist. And giving lessons in the limited Chinese I have retained and/or learned.

My tendency is to over prepare. And why? The ubiquitous doubts. The suspicion that no one will show up — which is possible. The suspicion that the whole SLV will show up — which won’t happen. The knowledge that I can’t possibly know, and that all I can do is prepare and be happy with what/who shows up.

The 91 year old man from Del Norte — who now lives in Seattle — the man who has been ordering my notecards and wrote me the beautiful note about his travels in China in 2013? I sent him a copy of the book since he can’t possibly attend the reading. He must have read it in one or two sittings. I got a text from him a couple nights ago.

As I read the text I thought of how short our lives are and how, as we go along, we find new lives we’d like to live and (all too often) forks in the road where we took the “wrong” turn, but there’s no going back. The good thing is when we realize we were brave and beautiful at least ONCE. Public speaking, for me, is/was always completely terrifying. The first time I had to stand up in front of a group of people and say something (in this case it was a 5 line invocation in church) I passed out, that’s right, on the floor the poofy dress my mom had bought for me and made me wear, up over my chest. Quite a show for a 12 year old. I knew after that I had to do SOMETHING about this terror but what could I do?

In high school I did competitive speaking and took (miracle of miracles) second place in the state of Colorado for original oratory. You’d think that would have “cured” me, but it didn’t. It wasn’t until I was invited by a student to give a university-wide lecture on overcoming the fear of public speaking that I got over it. That was probably 2010 — maybe a few years earlier. When it was over, a lovely but terrified young woman came up to talk to me. She wanted to know how she could get over being terrified speaking in front of people and, instead, be like me. Calm, collected, funny, articulate. I looked at her and stood up. I took off my jacket so she could see the giant armpit stains on my shirt. “That’s how calm I was,” I said. “I’m just like you. The trick — if there’s a trick — is to be so convinced in the importance of your message that you don’t think about yourself.”

So, Christmas in Guangzhou…