I was raised by people who didn’t show their feelings. They also had contempt for (and fear of?) people who did. My mom said, “You’re not a cowboy. You’re a Mexican” speaking not of my nationality but of my personality, my nature. She meant that I was emotional, showed my feelings. Since I love Mexican culture and Mexicans in general, and had to acknowledge how at home I felt in the more Latin world than the cowboy world, I didn’t argue. I got her meaning. Learning as a kid to hide my feelings made it difficult for me as a grown-up to fully understand myself and what was going on around me.

The Montana cowboys in my family had the idea that feeling (and showing) emotions was losing control. The most stark example I have of this was when my mom was in the hospital heading toward death. They did a scan of her brain and discovered that she had been an alcoholic for many, many years. The doctor called me to tell me this and that my mom couldn’t live alone. I was shocked. I didn’t know she was a drunk. She was very skillful at hiding it. When I hung up the phone, my aunts wanted to know what the doctor had said, but I was crying. I was going to tell them, but for that moment, I couldn’t.

“Quit yer’ cryin’,” said my truly loving Aunt Jo. “You have work to do.”

Crying at that moment wouldn’t prevent me from the work I had to do, finding my mom a place to live and the rest of it. The way I’m constituted, going THROUGH the emotions would make it easier. I needed to physically feel my feelings, the shock and the sorrow in the message I’d just heard.

Do I think it’s better to feel emotions than not? Yes, I do. I learned in therapy — and from subsequent life experience — that emotions have information for us. Knowing what they have to tell us helps us make choices.

I feel a lot of that cowboy stuff around me now. We’re cowboys out here; it’s all “chin up” and “put a good face on it” and “What can I do to help?” — great in its way but… I know people feel things. I do. Not fear, particularly. I’m not really afraid of dying except for what will happen to Teddy and Bear, but I realized on my walk with Teddy this afternoon that I’m very angry as well as sad. I have a dear friend in Italy where this nightmare has been raging.

My mind and heart a storm of feeling, I decided to head out to The Big Empty, the best “shrink” I know. When Bear wouldn’t let me catch her (I don’t know what’s going on with her lately) I took Teddy and my bad mood to the refuge. It was Teddy’s first trip out there.

Teddy Scratching…

On the way, Mohammed’s Radio, clearly realizing my desperate condition, played “Rocky Mountain High” as a way to say, “Hey, Sweet Cheeks, you’ve lost the big picture here. I’m here.”

There were a LOT of Crane Tourists today. Most of them stay in their cars and drive right past the cranes but OH WELL. There was one car that was NOT Crane Tourists, but a couple who was there for exercise. Not both of them. One of them was clearly an elite runner in her late fifties. The driver of the car drove beside the runner reminding me of some people I saw at the lake last year who drove beside their leashed dog while he exercised by running beside the car. The runner drove Teddy nuts. As a herding dog he felt the necessity to go get her and bring her back to the fold. He’s the kind of dog who would chase cars.

There were many cranes. I heard frogs for the first time this spring. Geese and redwing blackbirds. No meadowlarks or bluebirds today; no Killdeer. It was a glorious clear day out there. New snow on the mountains. A couple of hunting (and disappointed) bald eagles.

Then, in a pond near the road which is a favorite spot of Canadian Geese and cranes, I noticed a gander taking a gander (ha ha) at me, apparently. He started swimming toward me calling and calling and calling. A bunch of his buddies were following along. What? Teddy was captivated and would’ve gone for him, I think (I’d have bet on the goose).

We watched and I wondered WHAT that goose (who kept swimming toward me) was actually after and THEN when he got near the bank, I heart a crazy goose commotion from a patch of high reeds. It looked — and sounded — like he’d intentionally swum into enemy territory!

The goose. Farms on the way to the refuge.

Back at Bella, Teddy securely fastened in (he’s so small he has to ride in front with a doggy seat-belt), I turned on the car. This time *Mohammed’s radio blasted me with a song I don’t think I’ve heard since high school, a song I didn’t like, even. But, today, it seemed to be the Valley reminding me where I am and how I feel about it (and it about me? I believe so…). I just sat in the car, looked out at the Big Empty (which I love so much) and cried.

And felt better, with clearer thoughts and gratitude for where I am, for the people in this valley who have stepped up in a hundred different ways to help their neighbors, for the landscape that makes my heart soar all the time. “You live here,” the Big Empty said, “This Heaven is your home. The right emotion is gratitude.” I cried some more.

I’m just not a cowboy.

*An explanation of “Mohammed’s Radio,” When I was a teenager I (and many others, I’m sure) looked for relationship help in pop songs. I know, I know, pitiful but really, at 14? 15? (“Cherish is the word I use to descriiiibe, all the feeling that I have hiding here for you insiiiiide” right?)

From there evolved the semi-serious theory that the car radio is kind of an oracle. It isn’t but still it’s surprising how often the car radio is on the money.

P.S. The pretty mountain which stands somewhat alone in the center of the featured photo is Mt. Herard. The strip of gray/tan below it is the Great Sand Dunes National Park. ā¤

33 thoughts on “Emotions

  1. Hmmm — I believe I’m a cowboy turned Mexican! My family also did not express emotion well, and I learned to hide them both outwardly and inwardly — more recently, I’ve noticed that Mexican bent coming out more often. I, too, am petty angry — at our leaders, at the virus, at the world in general, etc. — but I have to believe there is light at the end of the tunnel. It’s a time of sudden change, in which control is not ours — not easy to deal with!

    • Yes! We are in a world-changing moment. It would be interesting if it weren’t what it is, I guess. I understand now why my Italian friend compared it to war (which is dad, who fought I WW II) laughed at, but yeah. War changes the world. This will, too. I’m angry at our leaders and the attitudes of some people who are, themselves, scared and angry. I am, at the same time, impressed by the people around me in this poor place who are making medical grade masks for our hospitals, opening up vacant rental property for homeless people who get the virus, packing lunches for school kids who won’t get fed because the schools are closed. I could spend all of every day crying over some aspect of this. I thought of you on my walk to day telling me you hoped Teddy got a turn, too. šŸ™‚

      • Yes — it is super impressive that people come together so well in crisis — and that the poorest seem to come together with the greatest help! I’m glad Teddy got a turn — what’s happening with Bear (is this the same time of year that she ran away when you had to come after her — a taste of freedom then remembered by the trigger of season?

      • I don’t know – she didn’t really like being free so maybe that’s it since we are going in the car now. Maybe she’s remembering that. She’s so complex, actually, and such a “self.” I’m reminded of that whenever I pass a dog like her actually WORKING out there all alone doing a hard job like protecting calves and even able to warn the rancher when there’s problem with calving. She’s pretty special. Which I just told her. ā¤

  2. I was both the emotional and intellectual center of the family. I was also the middle child and the communicator. I’m pretty sure there were bets on when I was going to explode.

  3. Today, I dedicate the internet to Martha. You’ve got me. My family didn’t show emotion. Mom hid it. She still does. And oh can she sugarcoat! We sang every bad situation away around a piano. Music has, and always will be, therapy. The Carpenters move me. Karen Carpenter haunts me. I’m also a middle child. Suppressing my emotions during some traumatic situations only made it worse. I’m learning to embrace uncertainty and am moved to tears by the kind acts of humanity seen during this crisis. I’ve cried THROUGH the situations. And cry joyful tears because I can stand on the other side of the situation~a bit cowboy”ish” and more south-of-the-border than I’ve ever been! P.S.~ The Big Empty loves us back just when we need it~and so do our pups. šŸ¶

    • The Big Empty does love us in the clean and honest way of nature. No shadow shows, no affectations, just the purity of necessity, nature’s laws and supreme beauty. I learned that when I was a little girl and stuff at home would get weird. I’d go to the forest. The first poem I ever wrote was to a tree in that very forest. ā¤ I almost always feel (and today I did) as if God whispers, "I'm glad you're back. Let's go. I have things to show you."

  4. I didn’t hear the Zevon version until much later. I heard it originally in the Linda Rondstadt version.

    My family had no problem showing their emotions, mostly negative ones. I came to love the wild as a refuge and a place of self-repair.

  5. I’m a bit bored/restless today. When I looked at your photo, all I could focus on was your hiking shoes. That is a sign, Martha.
    I am always surprised by people’s ability to switch off and be calm. I associate it with being
    an adult which I clearly am not. Faced with implacability, one can’t be heard. That must have been incredibly frustrating, and even scary, for you, Martha.
    I’ve only felt that I have a bit of Italian in my blood. Maybe you have too.
    PS. I am planning to have On Top Of the World sung by Shonen Knife, as one of my Friday songs. Have a listen and tell me what you think.

  6. Hi Martha, sorry for my absence recently. I’ve had to give up blogging altogether for a while owing to a very heavy study load and too much going on. It just became impossible so something had to give. Still, it’s nice to get back into it, even if it may be a bit patchy because of all the chaos we’re now living through. It’s interesting to read how your family dealt with emotions and your take on them. In my view, emotions are there for a reason, and they have a function. They help us make sense of the world and deal with what happens to us. My dad was a bit like your family, the old stiff upper lip, and he found it very difficult to show emotions. I don’t think it was good for him. But towards the end of his life, when I did something nice for him or gave him gifts or cards, there was always a tear running down his Parkinsons-stiffened face. It was always all there, just under the surface.

    I hope you are keeping well, and the lovely doggies of course. Great post, and thanks for the beautiful pictures too, which really gave me a lift at a time when I’m feeling pretty low myself with all this lockdown chaos we’re all having to go through. Strange times. All the best and look after yourself. All šŸ™‚

    • I’ve been watching a series on the history of the Celts and I thought of you the other evening when they showed a GIGANTIC mead cauldron that had been buried with an important Celtic chieftain. I thought, “I hope while this is going on, Alli still has some mead lying around to hoist in her tankards.” ā¤

      • Gosh, I could do with a gigantic cauldron of mead right now – sounds as though the celts had the right idea! Sadly, Sticky Rogers is still maturing in his bottles so we can’t break into him yet, although we’re still enjoying some of the other meads we tried in the Quest, although they’re disappearing fast! šŸ™‚ ā¤

  7. I loved that song…Cherish… šŸ™‚ My transistor radio was always at my side. Emotions? As the oldest, I had to set an example. Crying was a sign of..not sure, weakness? Or something my mother couldn’t handle. “Turn off the waterworks” she’d often say. Very confusing. I love your walks and tales of what you see. Beautiful photos. Escaping to the “woods” was my magic answer to feeling better when I was a child. It helps now too šŸ™‚

    • Weakness, yep. When Cherish came out, our family moved from Nebraska to Colorado and I had to leave behind my first boyfriend. Cherish. I’d CRY in my bedroom, crying over the end of my world. With the door closed so no one knew. ā¤

  8. Incredibly inciteful ant touching, Martha. No one showed emotion in my family either. My mother was “stoic” and I learned to be “stoic” as well. I am finding after extensive self-questioning that it’s ok to cry and feel your feelings. I am a lot more emotional as I’ve gotten older. Songs touch me and a tear forms, poetry, beauty, it’s amazing. Loved this, thank you for sharing somethng incredibly valuable for all!

    • You’re welcome. ā¤ I think — for our parents — growing up during the 30s and then maturing into a World War — that must have been their way of getting through.

      • Yes I imagine so. It would make sense. Fortunately, or at least I’m hoping so, people will be able to be more open with their emotions, at least acknowledge them.

  9. My father was not stoic but very controlled. He would laugh and show anger and kindness and compassion but never hurt. I took my cues from him and it helped as I weathered 26 years of working for a bully in a hostile environment. We were not as physically demonstrative as Sparky’s family but I’ve gotten used to and actually enjoy the rounds of hello and goodbye hugs. Well, not any hugs now since we aren’t gathering but once this is over I’m sure there will be lots of hugging going on!
    Love this post!!

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