Selective Memory

“…you must know that there is nothing higher and stronger and more wholesome and good for life in the future than some good memory, especially a memory of childhood, of home. People talk to you a great deal about your education but some good, sacred memory preserved from childhood is perhaps the best education. If a man carries many such memories with him into life, he is safe to the end of his days.”

Dostoyevsky, The Brothers Karamazov


I don’t know if anyone ever described Dostoyevsky’s work as “scintillating,” but I loved his books. Thinking of them, though, I have to laugh. When I was writing The Brothers Path, and I was (briefly) in an online writers workshop, one of my “classmates” asked what I was trying to do, be Dostoyevsky? Like there was something wrong with that as an aspiration? My novel, The Brothers Path, has no central protagonist, and that may or may not be a failing, but since the story IS about six brothers all living in the same historical moment in the 16th century, contending with the sudden smorgasbord of alternative Christian faiths, and it’s a book about a family not about a person.

A long time ago I did a dramatic reading of a play for a graduate seminar in James Joyce. The professor had invited my friend, O’Donnell, to read his play and he needed a “Maeve.” It was fun, and I met the chairman of the English department, Sherry Little. She was amazing. We got to be friends and the three of us would sometimes meet in Irish pubs and read to each other. As a result of this, when an opening for a lecturer appeared in the Creative Writing Department at San Diego State, she nominated me. The jury of the Creative Writing Department categorically said, “NO. She doesn’t have a masters in creative writing.”

“No,” said Sherry, “but she can WRITE! And she’s been teaching writing for years!”

“Not creative writing,” they said, and that was that. I was disappointed, but the three of us went out for Guiness, discussion, poetry and stories. I figured I’d gotten the better end of the deal.

The quotation from The Brothers Karamazov has stuck with me since my Dostoyevsky days back in the mid 1980s. I believe it is true. I suspect that those memories emerge when things are dark and in some small, quiet way move us forward out of whatever trench we’re in at the moment. I also suspect that we horde those memories and keep them where we can see them. I say this because all the abuse my mom heaped upon me has never been in front of my mind; in fact, my aunts had to talk to me straight to get me to look at those events as they really happened. I’m grateful for those talks and the truth revealed, but at the same time, except for a deeper personal understanding of myself and “mistakes” I made as a result of deep-seated fear, my life has gone on in its comparatively optimistic look-at-the-brightside kind of way. In fact, I didn’t look at what she did as “abuse.” It was just the way she was.

The holiday season brings up memories for most people, I think, and I hope for everyone it brings up good memories from childhood, but I know that’s not the case for everyone. I’m grateful that, for me, it is. Sure, some of my good memories involve Lutefisk, but… Anyway, the thing about memories is we can make new good memories.



Featured photo: My family on Christmas Eve, 1961. We opened our presents Christmas Eve as was traditional in my mom’s family and over much of German speaking Europe. Christmas Day was for more serious, less materialistic, endeavors such as dinner and playing with presents though there were stockings with an orange in the toe, some walnuts, small toys… I still have the stocking on which my grandma embroidered my initials.

Once Upon a Time I Sang

As a kid living in Nebraska for six of my life’s formative years, I met some refugees without fully understanding their stories or their situations. One of them was my piano teacher, Hans Baer, a refugee from Nazi Germany. He told as much of his story as he felt a 13 year old needed to hear, but in the past few years, through a really amazing series of events, I learned more. Through this blog, I was contacted by a German historian who was putting together a book of the stories of the Jewish musicians who fled Germany for Shanghai. I’d written about my piano teacher. The book was finished recently, MUSIKER UND MUSIKERINNEN IM SHANGHAIER EXIL 1938–1949 . The ultimate sweetness of THAT — for me — was that she attached her articles about my teacher and his wife. As I read them I was happy that I’d actually contributed a little something. He was a remarkable, unforgettable, inspiring man, and I was so lucky to have had him as a teacher, not only of piano but of life philosophy.

The other refugees I met during that time of my life came from Spain. Was one my 7th grade Spanish teacher, Dr. Espinosa, or Espinotha. The very school to which I rode the bus. 🙂 He was pretty adamant about that th sound. He organized our class one year to come to the Spanish/American Club in Omaha to sing Spanish Christmas songs.

Eight of us learned to sing some traditional Christmas carols in Spanish and a few South American songs. We had to dress up in grown up clothes. It was my first time in nylons. They felt creepy on my legs, like they were crawling around. It was pre-pantyhose and maybe I was wearing my mom’s girdle. We all went out in the very cold Nebraska December to sing to a group of old people from Spain. They were refugees from Franco’s regime about which I knew nothing.

Over the course of my teaching life I got to know refugees from all over the place and the stories carry one common thread — hope. My student from Somalia was walking across the campus with me one day and said, “Ah, my classmates. Everything bothers them. They just haven’t had to run away from bullets or watch their village burn.” He and his sister had fled their home, not knowing if their family would survive. Their mother had said, “Go!” and they ran. They did find their family and all of them refugeed to the US, but…

I’ve thought a lot about the role of hope in our lives. Hope is totally absurd. To take this absurdity forward into the dark and dangerous unknown, and sometimes with NOTHING else? “Well, what do I have to keep moving forward with? Shit. I got nothing. Necessity. Wait, I have this, too, this small and irrational thing, this tiny bird…

“Hope” is the thing with feathers –
That perches in the soul –
And sings the tune without the words –
And never stops – at all –


And sweetest – in the Gale – is heard –
And sore must be the storm –
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm –


I’ve heard it in the chillest land –
And on the strangest Sea –
Yet – never – in Extremity,
It asked a crumb – of me.


Emily Dickinson

Hope keeps humans from sinking into the twin abysses of dread and loss. The irony of real hope — in contrast with “I hope Santa brings me a” or “I hope I get the winning lottery ticket” — is that when you need it, you probably don’t have anything else. I believe it’s an evolutionary strategy that kept our ancestors going forward when they had no reason to. “Tomorrow will be a better day.” Well, probably not, but it’s a lot easier to go to sleep if you think so. Hope fuels determination and will, powerful forces for change.

Back then, we sang this beautiful Chilean Christmas lullaby, “Arruru”. I don’t think we sounded like this. The melody is what we sang, but the words are a little different. I’ve pasted the “real” lyrics below.

ARRURU

Señora Doña María aquí le traigo a mi hijito
Señora Doña María aquí le traigo a mi hijito
Para que le meza la cuna cuando llora su niñito
Arrurú, Arrurú, duérmete Niño Jesús
Arrurú, Arrurú, duérmete Niño Jesús

Bajando de las montanas allí vienen los pastores
Bajando de las montanas allí vienen los pastores
Para ver el nacimiento han sufrido los rigores
Arrurú, Arrurú, duérmete Niño Jesús
Arrurú, Arrurú, duérmete Niño Jesús

Iluminado el camino la blanca estrella en Belén
Iluminado el camino la blanca estrella en Belén
Resplandece en el cielo sobre Jerusalén
Arrurú, Arrurú, duérmete Niño Jesús
Arrurú, Arrurú, duérmete Niño Jesús

Loose translation: First verse; Here Mary brings her little son and lays him in a crib, she rocks the crib when he cries and sings, “Arruru, sleep little Jesus.” Second, The shepherds come down from the mountains. It’s a hard journey to see the birth. Third, Their way is lit by the white (bright) star over Bethlehem, lighting the sky over Jerusalem.

Angie the Centerpiece Angel

Yesterday, finding I was going to be “stuck” with the tea party centerpiece, I decided to decorate it. It’s not much of a “tree” but how much of a tree does a woman living in the back of beyond with two lively dogs need? THIS is about right. So…

The angel on the top came from Philips Department Store in South Omaha, Nebraska in 1960. My dad and I went shopping for Christmas presents for my mom and brother and he let me pick out an ornament. At the time, I was enchanted with “Sweet Angie the Christmas Tree Angel” and I wanted to exchange the star we usually hung with an angel. We never did, but that strange little angel was — and perhaps still is — “Sweet Angie the Christmas Tree Angel.” I loved her and she’s been with me throughout this whole time when other things I cared about have vanished into the mists.

Yesterday I glue-gunned her broken wing back in place and refreshed the glitter on her dress. Her skirt is cotton thread starched into a mesh with gold glitter on the bottom. Her bodice is foil with some plastic stuff with holes punched out over it. Her arms are pipe cleaners. Her wings and halo are heavy-weight aluminum foil. She has a wooden head painted with a gentle expression that hasn’t changed through all this time. I believe she is supposed to be singing.

The bright, red ornaments came with the centerpiece but the others were on the tree we put up for my dad when he was in the nursing home the last two years of his life.

The little clay angel in front came from the Christmas fair held in Tijuana each year in front of the Cathedral. It was so much fun to go to that, this crazy, two-block-long open air market of vendors and spontaneous restaurants, the doors of the Cathedral wide open, the elaborate, life-sized, hand carved Christmas scene ready to receive the Christ child at midnight on Christmas Eve — not a Protestant thing at all. The way I was raised, “If crèche, then Jesus.”

Speaking of broken wings, on the injured shoulder front I have good news. Yesterday I was able to get down on the floor, do some simple yoga poses and get up again. First, if you can’t get up off the ground, you shouldn’t put on skis. Second, it felt good; it was a huge relief psychically and physically. It’s been a long haul.

A Good Time Was Had by All (even me!)

“But you can’t do that if you don’t stay for a while. A tourist never gets to know the people.”

“Wow. The Chinese seem like really nice people. It’s nothing like we hear on the news.”


“You’re a good story-teller, Martha.” (Wow…)

Nine people showed up to listen and I couldn’t have had a nicer more responsive or welcoming audience. The first two who showed up were my special guests, Perla and she brought a surprise, Nancy, a really nice woman I seldom get to see. She works two or three jobs. They came from Alamosa, 32 miles away. It was good they arrived early because I needed help setting up. Then two women I didn’t know arrived and they pitched in, too. For this event, Louise daughter and one of the members of the County Board made cookies. I brought my electric tea kettle and tea. I also had some Chinese “cookies.” They exclaimed over the dragon napkins and no one complained that there were no spoons, no sugar, but no one cared. I was charmed again by the reality of life here.

The lectern was almost as tall as I am, so I sat on a chair and spread my reading on a piano bench. We started on time and, like the teacher I once was, the “reading” was, yes, a reading, but almost equally a conversation. I have never spoken to such engaged listeners. Everything that was supposed to be funny, they found funny. The spots that made me cry made THEM cry. “Home on the Range” in particular. That told me clearly I’d done a good job conveying my love for China, its incredible distance from Colorado, and the inevitable moments of homesickness. I hadn’t obfuscated anything.

I read in two parts — Chinese New Year and then a break for tea and cookies (and questions and to talk to people) then Christmas. No one wanted it to end. That blew me away. One of the most fun parts was the part in my book where the title — As a Baby Duck Listens to Thunder — is made clear. My audience learned the meaning of that phrase and how to say it in Hainanese. Ah-kyak-a-looie. I could use it through the reading and it was beautiful to see them smile in recognition. ❤

One thing I meant to take with me yesterday to the reading was my little statue of the story teller. I guess I didn’t need him, but I’d have liked his company.

Why would I take it? Well, I believe that people who tell stories are a chain of mutual inspiration throughout time. Lao She inspired me, he and his beautiful play, “Teahouse,” which is about (hold on) a tea house in the old days when people came to hear stories and drink tea. Lao She haunted the teahouses of his Beijing neighborhood as a child and dreamed of growing up to be a story-teller himself. Here is the beginning of the play, as Lao She sets the scene:


SCENE: Large teahouses like this are no longer to be seen, but a few decades ago every district in Beijing had at least one, where in addition to tea, simple snacks and meals were served. Every day bird fanciers, after strolling about with their caged orioles and thrushes, would come in to rest awhile, enjoy a pot of tea, and compare the singing abilities of their birds.

Go-betweens (marriage arrangers) and those who had deals to discuss also frequented such teahouses. In those days there were always friends about to calm things down. The two sides would crowd around these mediators who would reason first with one side then the other; then they would all drink tea and down bowls of noodles with minced pork (a specialty of the large teahouses – cheap and quickly prepared), hostility transformed to hospitality. In sum, the teahouse was an important institution of those times, a place where people came to transact business, or simply to while away the time.

In the teahouses one could hear the most absurd stories, such as how in a certain place a huge spider had turned into a demon and was then struck by lightning. One could also come in contact with the strangest views; for example, that foreign troops could be prevented from landing by building a Great Wall along the sea coast. Here one might also hear about the latest tune composed by some Beijing Opera star, or the best way to prepare opium. In the teahouses one might also see rare art objects newly acquired by some patron – a jade fan pendant, recently unearthed, or a three-colour glazed snuff bottle.

Yes, the teahouse was indeed an important place; it could even be reckoned a kind of cultural centre. We are about to see just such a teahouse. Just inside the main entrance is the counter and a cookstove – to make things simpler, the stove can be dispensed with if the clatter of pots and pans is heard off stage. The room should be large and high-ceilinged, with both oblong tables and square ones, and traditional teahouse benches and stools. Through the window an inner courtyard can be seen with more benches and stools under a high awning. In the teahouse and under the awning there are hooks for hanging bird cages. Pasted up everywhere are notices: “Don’t discuss state affairs.”

Lao-She, “Teahouse”

For an hour, as I took those nine people on a time machine to China, there were no “state affairs,” or disputes, or politics, or Covid. It was just The Old Mother and “Home on the Range.” Lao She understood the magic and power of a story told by a human being to other human beings. I didn’t, fully, until yesterday. I’m not an “aural” person, but most people are, more than I am, anyway. It was a lesson for me if I do this again, not to underestimate myself but to continue doing the thing I believe my life and my art deserve and that is my service to them.

It was a beautiful experience and I appreciate all of your encouragement as I’ve contended with, you know, public speaking…

Here’s a beautiful piece of music. Jean Michel Jarre was in China when I was. I’d already enjoyed his music. I don’t remember when I bought this — or how. An LP? A cassette tape? A CD? But it is — for me — very evocative. There are films on Youtube of his concerts and travels at that time.

Wonderful Tea Party

It isn’t much in the grand scheme — or even in the normal scheme — but that we could meet in my actual house, drink from my actual coffee cups, and eat from my dishes? Not bring our own tea and our own cookies and sit out in the dust and cold? This is something that hasn’t happened since sometime in 2019. It was very lovely and simple and real and normal.

Friendships have been one of the boons of my post-retirement life. When you work ALL THE TIME (writing teacher with 7 classes), planning and teaching classes, grading infinite numbers of papers, and all your social energy is drained by the classroom, you don’t make friends. I had some in spite of all that, but sweet, simple socializing was very rare especially in the last few years of my career, during and after the recession.

I moved here 7 years ago without knowing anyone, but, to my great good fortune, two really great women live within a hundred yards of me. I made the snowball cookies my Swedish grandma always made. Elizabeth made Saffron buns, Karen made Spritz cookies. I made coffee in the French press. We talked about nothing in particular for an hour and a half. It was great.

I wonder if any of us will take this kind of thing for granted ever again. I hope I don’t.

Lamont and Dude Ponder Sand

“Hey Lamont! The Sand Snowman should be done today. They finished the Sand Christmas Tree yesterday.”

“You don’t see anything strange about that? Consider how many people passing that creation have never seen a real snow man?”

“Yeah, so what? Have you?”

“I don’t know. I’ve been wondering about that, how many iterations I don’t remember and why I just remember those I, well, those I do. I do remember the Ice Age, a couple of times. The good time and the bad time.”

“Oh I guess the ‘bad time’ was the one where my family took you down at the Tar Pits?”

“Well, yeah.”

“Oh Lamont. Sometimes it’s difficult enough with the memories we DO have. Think about it. Because of the persistence of memory, you, for example, you look askance on all human revelry. It might be fun to go out there and enjoy the lighting of the Sand Snowman or the Sand Christmas Tree. Just because it’s NOW doesn’t make it less of a party.”

“You’re right, Dude. I don’t dispute that at all. If I could enjoy it, I would. But I don’t. That kind of facile, systematic, seasonal joy seems contrived.”

“It IS contrived, but it still might be fun. It’s a human thing to have these traditions and seasonal way-stations.”

“Signaling the ever closer approach of our mortality. Do they think about THAT when Santa throws candy from a parade float? No. All this — whether it’s sand or snow — is just a reminder that we are temporary fixtures on this planet. Before long, Mother Ocean will come in and undermine the Sand Snow Man and the Snow Tree but long before THAT they will have been forgotten. Humans are fickle.”

“Joy is in the moment, Lamont. Drag it out too long it just becomes an orgy or a war.”

“Good point, Dude.”

“But, since you’re such a downer this morning, I’m going to catch some waves. Wanna’ come? It might cheer you up.”


Lamont and Dude are characters I came up with a few years ago. They have the uncanny ability to remember many of their past incarnations which gives them a unique perspective on life, the universe and everything.

Julte

Bear and I took a ramble yesterday as per usual and the changes happening in the Refuge right now are right up our alley. On the way, I watched a murder of migrating crows — maybe 100? — take flight from the field they were gleaning. That was the first time I’ve seen that at all EVER, and it was spectacular.

“There’s nothing out there” seems to be the word of the day as far as other people are concerned which means it’s empty and silent. The ducks and geese have adapted to the mostly frozen ponds. It’s hard to say what they will do in the next weeks. That depends completely on what the weather does, but my guess is that soon the Refuge will be mostly deserted except for me and my dogs. Temps are still warm(ish), but 1 F/-17C night temps are predicted for the end of this week. Of course, I’m not out there 24/7 so there could be all kinds of stuff going on that doesn’t coincide with my activities.

We talk a lot about change and have a million memes and clichés to advise ourselves and each other. I remember when I was young (25) thinking that change is the only constant. I thought I was pretty deep. If I were as deep now as I was at 25 I’d say change is infinite, but I’m just not that deep any more.

In a couple of days the ladies and I are going to have a real tea party, our first one INSIDE SOMEONE’S HOUSE since the big sudden change wrought by Covid. Everyone is very happy, even excited, about this. I don’t even have to cook! I just had to have the idea, then to set the table and make coffee.

It is more or less in honor of St. Lucia’s day which is Monday, December 13, but that’s not a good day for all of us so we’re doing it earlier. The last time we celebrated that was 2017 and it looked like this, including Swedish fruit soup that I made and Swedish Saffron Buns made my my Aussie friend.

When I was a kid, we put up our tree on St. Lucia’s day. It was the start of Christmas. One of the two ladies is a Swede, and the day means something to her, too. This year the big change is purely and simply that we’re doing it. I may make the cookies my Swedish grandmother made.

Change is not always change per se. Sometimes it’s just that we don’t know something and then we find out. On one hand, I don’t care about the European nationalities that comprise my ancestry; on the other hand, I find it very interesting as a matter of curiosity and strangeness. I did Ancestry’s spit test some years back. They consistently refine their findings as new techniques evolve. In the beginning I was told that I’m mostly British with a big splonk of Irish. Well, yeah, I have an Irish last name and even legit, brogue-speaking Irishmen have asked me, “When were you last home?” as they sang sad songs into their beer in Irish pubs in San Diego, but Ancestry’s newest even MORE accurate assessment is that I’m barely Irish a’tall. I’m a Scots bohunk, a Scandahoovian, a Swedish Viking. Consider that the Vikings invaded and colonized Scotland over and over for 500 years? Still, I know where my mom’s DNA originated; in the Tyrol. I don’t care WHAT reality says, I’m sticking with that. Me, Ötsi and Reinhold Messner. 🙂


Ancestry could revise all that tomorrow, but for now I’m preparing my ships and strapping on my skis…

As for the meme — I don’t know if Stephen Hawking said that and I’m sure he didn’t write it like that, but it’s still cool.

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…

Where We Left Off

Back in the fall of 2019 I was pretty famous here in the back of beyond. The China book! I did a reading at the local independent bookstore, a couple of radio interviews, another reading at the museum. Other things — even involving other books — were lining up and it was really cool after the first one. I enjoyed being a famous writer (on this scale) and loved meeting people in my community in this way. I did a beautiful display for the book, too. In fact, the first time I participated in the holiday show at the Rio Grande County Museum, it wasn’t as a visual artist, but as a writer.

I didn’t even know that I LIKED reading my books to people or that I LIKED being on the radio.

Then, suddenly, the whole world was under the weather, and that was the end of that.The China book, which was such a labor of love, just kind of got pushed aside like everything else as I — along with everyone else — tried to figure out what was going on and how to respond to it.

Yesterday I got the local paper which is 8 pages. There is also — with it — another, thicker, paper “Lifestyles,” which tells about events that affect the entire San Luis Valley population of 40,000 people. I look through these journalistic missives pretty quickly before consigning them to recycling or package wrapping, whichever. On the front page of the thick insert I read a write up of Louise’ (Rio Grande County Museum) press release about the upcoming holiday art show. It said, “Martha Kennedy will be doing a reading and a story of her experience of a Christmas in China.”

I thought, “OK, this is where we left off.” And I understood that is exactly right.

If you can see it, there’s an article about a kid’s park that was built in my town entirely by volunteers. That’s also where we left off.

Still, it seems like eons ago — another lifetime, anyway — since 2019 and the publication of As a Baby Duck Listens to Thunder. It wasn’t, but it feels like it. <3. Here’s the story about the featured photo.

“Will We Get More, Martha?

…not like this isn’t nice.”


You’ve waited SO LONG Bear.

Last year — or any other year — I wasn’t walking out at the Monte Vista Wildlife Refuge. It never occurred to me to walk there until this past March when Covid hit. My usual walks were at the beautiful Shriver/Wright Wildlife Area and Rio Grande Wildlife Area, but when Covid hit, the trails at Shriver/Wright became too often frequented by people who let their dogs out of the car at the parking lot to run, and the Rio Grande Wildlife Area closes from February to July so birds can nest.

I’d gone out to the Refuge to walk once when the cranes were at their peak and saw that it would be a GREAT place for the dogs and me. Well enforced leash law. Wide trails so rattlesnakes would be visible come snake season. Animals. Few people and most of them in cars. Wide, soul-filling vistas.

It took a little while for my Big White Dog to accept it. Livestock guardian dogs don’t like change, but I knew the more often we went, the more content she would be and soon she would turn it — with its smells and landscape — into her territory, and so she has. I’ve written a lot about it on this blog because it’s been one very good thing in my life during this time. I’ve (obviously) loved every moment I’ve spent with the cranes. Endured the deer flies and mosquitoes of summer, the admission price to summer sunsets. And best of all (so far), fall with chill days, cranes and beautiful skies. At one point this fall my friends became interested in going along and that has been very nice. Once in spring, my next-door neighbor and I took a long walk out there and talked about so many of the things that were troubling us.

Still, winter is my favorite season, and I’ve been anticipating the experience of the Refuge in snow and cold, in winter’s angled light and often silvery skies.

The migraines have been a little worrisome and the approaching holiday? Well, as it happens, I’m not crazy about Christmas as a celebration anyway, but it still has a quiet and important place in my heart and life. Over the years, as many of my Christmases have been solitary since all my family has died, I’ve experienced some miraculous Christmas Eves, so many that I no longer plan anything. I just let them happen. One year my stepson and his wife showed up with German Christmas (my step-daughter-in-law is German) and suddenly I was celebrating Christmas Eve exactly as I’d celebrated it growing up — dinner and a gift exchange. Sandi, who’s from the area near Dresden, brought all the foods she was used to on Christmas Eve. I baked mince pie. It was a warm and lovely evening spent with two people I love dearly. Another year I was surprised to find myself riding a horse when I’d thought there was no way I could get on one.

Lately, in the midst of this strange year, I’ve felt (as many of us have) the melancholy of the holidays combined with the sad statistics of Covid-19 and lurking dread of 45 who just won’t stop. And so…

This morning I was finally feeling brave enough to face the glare of snow, and I took Bear to the Refuge. It was the first time I’d walked there in winter and it was magical. Silent and immense with the infinitely varying sky that’s a feature of the San Luis Valley. Bear was blissful — snow holds smells to the ground the way grass doesn’t — and I was happy that animal tracks told me something about what she was smelling. Hundreds of ducks had taken flight the moment we arrived and I watched them circle and dive and land back on the pond. Walking on snow is dream walking. I felt like I could go forever. I saw how great this place will be on X-country skies and felt a lilt of anticipation. When we turned around and the angle of the sun changed, I watched a hawk circle in the silvery winter sky.

“Spend Christmas with us,” said the Refuge. I looked around at the few trees and bushes, thought of the hungry birds, and of putting suet balls on one or two of them on Christmas Eve.

“I will. Thank you for the invitation,” I said, excited to be spending Christmas Eve with someone I love.