Possibilities Arrive in the Mail

Yesterday I got GREAT mail, not any diamonds or rubies, but some great stuff appeared in my maimed mailbox. I got my fishing license which will allow me to take the dogs to the Wildlife Areas when they open next week.

Colorado has a new law that’s due to the increased traffic of people going, “Holy shit, the mall is closed! What are we going to do?” The new law could provide additional revenue and/or keep people off the trails. Initially I was, “What????” But it turned out to be a good deal — under $10 for seniors and to my delight part of that money goes to search and rescue. Compared to California this is a bargain. In many parks and wildlife areas in California, people pay $5 at the door and there IS a door. Not in most of the places I hiked, but lots of places especially those where people actually want to go such as Mount Palomar campground and the trail up to the observatory, and, naturally, various trails in the Redwoods.

After working for a wilderness park, doing trail rehabilitation and organizing volunteers to help with maintenance on heavily used trails, I’m all for keeping ignorant people off trails. I think schools should offer — require — a class in “How to go outside and visit natural landscapes with respect for and consideration of wildlife, plant-life and the ground you walk on.”

I got a new mask. It’s very special and I like it a LOT. It is snowflakes on a winter-sky-blue background with fog and glitter that looks like ice crystals in the air. I don’t think anyone likes wearing a mask. To avoid it I just don’t spend much time where I need one. I go to the store every two weeks and in all this time I’ve made one trip to the vet. Masks are hot and make my glasses steam up and they are, for all of us, reminders of the ubiquitous treachery of a semi-living thing floating around that could hurt us.

It’s weird in these times because what I’m doing right now is actually preserving my life through the choices I have to make. Sometimes I wonder “What the hell is going on?” and then I remember the point of it all which is really December when I can reasonably expect the first snow. It could be sooner, but I see no reason for hoping with reckless abandon which would be snow on Hallowe’en, or throwing caution to the wind and expecting snow in September. It could all happen, but… This little mask looks like the world I’m saving my life for. It’s really that. I just want to go skiing.

Yesterday’s mail also brought the Willow Creek Journal. The Willow Creek Journal is a little literary magazine put out by the Creede Arts Council. It’s a beautiful publication, and I have had paintings published in it two years in a row, including this volume. My painting — Rio Grande in January. — is on the last page. On the same page is a little poem — “Zoetrope (Girl on Skis)” by Wayne Sheldrake. It’s a poem about seeing a girl/woman cross country skiing in the back country and catching her image as she skied a tree-lined trail. I had to look up “zoetrope.” I recognized the word, but it was way back in the convoluted back chambers of my brain, something my brother would say, but its meaning? Lost, lost, lost. It’s perfect, though, for his poem.

Here’s his poem:

From a shuffle
of piked trees,
(still-life on white),
a swiftlet blue
swiftlet of blue
ignited by snowshoe slope
quickened through ice-platinum shadow.

She strobed St. Elmo bright
and lighter than gravity,
through the frozen trees,

like a bird
a strange bird
that knows many secrets
(the invisible looms
and wickets of sylvan
winter flight).

As she turned,
darted away,
bent for open
ice-platinum air,
the trees, bestirred,
sighed with me.

Wayne Sheldrake

The mail was full of promises and reminders of things I love most and I am grateful. I hike at the Wildlife Areas in winter so I can visit the frozen river, a river depicted in my published painting.

https://ragtagcommunity.wordpress.com/2020/07/07/rdp-tuesday-ruby/

Farming

Looks like, clever person that I am, I’ll be growing food this summer. I hadn’t planned on it. My plan was to tear out the raised beds and reclaim my yard from the dogs (if possible) but given that going to the store is what it is in these days… Sadly, I missed the golden hour to order seeds, but they’re still on their way. I can’t put stuff outside until June 1, and I usually start seeds too soon. This year I won’t.

Yesterday I opened the composter (I didn’t even open it last year). It’s so dry here that the compost is more desiccated than decayed, kind of like the Dead Sea Scrolls. The banana peels are still legible in places…

I stirred it all around like burger in a skillet, pulling up the lower layers (2015) and pushing down the older layers (2018), dragging out indomitable strands of zucchini vines and the allegedly compostable bags from my kitchen composter (which I tossed). When I’d worked it over good, I decided it would be a good augmentation to the tired soil in the beds. I loaded up the Worx Aerocart (wheelbarrow) and went to work. The bed with more shade will have Swiss chard and salad veggies. The bed with more sunlight will have Scarlet Emperor beans, tomatoes and Genovese basil — and I will attempt again an Australian pumpkin ❤

Nasty weather here, though. Sunny, breezy, 60ish, dry, according to some people, “glorious spring weather.” I find it gruesome, but any good farmer knows there’s nothing to do about the weather. Bear isn’t faring so well. Some of her day is spent searching the yard for somewhere cool, reminiscent of a normal April. I’m putting ice cubes in a bag and saving them so when I get enough, I can make her a “happy place” out there. Three years ago we got a foot of snow at this point in the year. It was THE BEST for all of us as well as for the barley which is now emerging from the winter fields.

Well, that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

https://ragtagcommunity.wordpress.com/2020/04/05/rdp-sunday-clever/

Family Ties

When I found myself writing fiction that was based on what was known of my family in Switzerland (not much is known; the stories are 98% fiction), I examined my ancestry. I’m not into genealogy, but that was the source of the answers to my questions. Had Rudolf von Lunkhofen had children? Who were they? Where did they live? How about later, during the Reformation in the 16th century? Was the family still there? Who were they? How many? By any remote chance had they been involved in the terrifying events of the time? Were any of them Anabaptists? Then, later, knowing by virtue of my BEING on this continent, that some of them had had to have emigrated, I began looking for THEM.

They were pretty easy to find, even down to the ship on which they sailed — and more.

Luckily, one of my cousins married a Mormon woman, and my mom had been a passionate genealogical researcher in the 1960s, and they’d exchanged information, so the great data base of the Mormon Church had fed into the vast number of places into which one can look for their ancestry. The fantastic Swiss Lexicon told me about my family during the Reformation. I was stunned to learn that two of the Schneebeli brothers had fought in the Second War of Kappel and one of them, the pastor, was killed. As for the rest? I was on my own — within certain parameters — to determine what might have been their lives.

Then, as I cleaned out the boxes in my garage, boxes that I inherited from my mom, I started to photograph (with my phone) pictures I knew I was going to throw out but that I wanted to keep with the thought of uploading them to the pretty extensive family tree I had built on Ancestry.com. Why did I do that?

For posterity. I did it very consciously for the kids of my cousins and my own niece. The photos — some old photos — are cool and the stories of the people are interesting. I truly love the family I’ve known. I’m proud of them and they interest me. I suspected they might interest the future.

And then came the DNA tests. I did it for fun and learned NOTHING new, but unknown to me, some of my relatives were taking it to. The upshot of that was I was emailed by the daughter of one of my cousins with some sincere and serious questions. I wasn’t as helpful as she might have wished, but at least I showed up on the other end of her messages.

That’s what I wanted. I want them to know those people. So when I find photos, I put them up. Because I knew them (not the very old ones, of course) and have a really amazing memory I feel a kind of responsibility to those people who aren’t here any more to share a bit of them to any of the future who asks. I’m a story teller, after all. ❤

The San Luis Valley and Me: the Mystery

LONG before I retired and moved back to Colorado I painted this painting:

It’s supposed to represent the phenomenon of writing about my actual Swiss ancestors before I knew anything about them, the sense I had that the whole earth is an immense grave and anywhere we go, any place we dig, we find people and stories — maybe our own people and our own stories. It’s a personal painting. I don’t show it if I hang my paintings anywhere. The figure in the painting is me. I am digging in the ground essentially for stories. The sprouts are “human beans.”

When I moved to Monte Vista several years later and hung the painting it wasn’t long before I realized that without ever having been here I had painted the landscape in which I now live, and very very accurately. Here. You can see it in these two photos my friend took last evening when we went out to see the cranes. In the first photo if you look at the silhouette of the mountains, it is what I painted. In the second, if you look at the far right facing of the sunset, it is what I painted. The mountain landscape is static; this sunset happens similarly often.

It really did happen when I wrote Savior that I wrote a novel about my family without knowing that it was my family. When a Swiss man who had read Martin of Gfen wrote me a kind of fan email and suggested I had Swiss ancestry, I finally did some patient genealogical research and found my own family, beginning in the 11th and 12th centuries, living on the exact mountain (small mountain) I had written of in my story. Their castle/fortress was as I had described it. Even their names — except for that of one character — were the same. It was so creepy, so eerie, so unbelievable that I didn’t sleep for a couple of nights.

Way too “Twilight Zone” for me.

So here I am, living in the very landscape I painted in 2012, two years before I ever saw this place.

Myopia (After a Sleepless Night)

Macro/micro — we are a microcosm in a macrocosm but the micro is so much easier to grasp. The immensity of immensity is too much for us and our little hands, which, in my case are about 7 inches from wrist to the tip of the bird finger. That we might have a role in the immensity is completely beyond our comprehension. We can’t even fathom our effect on our little microcosm, our planet.

In one of the books I’ve been reading (as part of evaluating books) I learned of a “cat killer” in Australia. Why does this guy have such a raging vendetta against cats? The domestic cat has done incredible damage to the native species in Australia, and this man is out to do his part in helping some of those endangered species come back. But what 18th century ship did NOT have cats aboard to help fight rat population? The author puts forth that the cats were brought to Australia as pets, and while that’s possible, I think a lot of them were stowaways, freeloaders. The ships were a huge rendition of a human body unwittingly transporting a contagious disease to an un-protected population.

People yammer on about “But look at the big picture!” or “The devil is in the details!” or “Pay attention to the small stuff!” and I honestly don’t know how we can ever tell whether the picture we’re looking at is a big picture or “small stuff.” It happens often that the entire big picture depends on the small stuff. And the big picture? Who’s to say it’s not small stuff?

Back in the 1950s, we didn’t have garbage disposals. We had a thing called “wet garbage” and a corollary called “dry garbage.” I think some of the wet garbage went into the garden and other wet garbage went into the 10 gallon trash can with a lid that sat outside the back fence and was picked up once a week by the trash guys. These guys lifted the trash can and tossed the trash in the back of the dump truck. That’s a trash can about the size of what most of us have in our kitchen. The dry trash was burned in a backyard incinerator. We didn’t have plastic everything. Plastic was an up-and-coming product whose uses were barely exploited. Nylon was still considered to be “fake silk.”

If you think about it, this was all what we would now term “responsible recycling,” but for my parents it was just daily life. For their parents? For my mom’s family, the disposal of trash was even MORE meticulous and what we would term “responsible.” They lived on a farm. The pigs and poultry got much of the “wet garbage.”

In the 70s the incinerators were “bad” because the smoke caused air pollution. Plastics were suddenly everywhere (thank god for plastic shampoo bottles, seriously, but…) and our trash cans became immense. Trash trucks developed into enormous beetles that lifted enormous bins over their backs and emptied them into a churning abyss to break things down for an overflowing landfill. The first time I saw one of these in action I was 22.

Each little person made these changes believing them to be for the “betterment” of the world and the safety of people. These are tiny changes, microcosm level changes. Where are we now? The macrocosm (relative to us) is in trouble, serious trouble.

My point is that we just don’t have any idea at ALL what we’re doing. We go through our lives like scurrying, near-sighted moles. The values of the future are predicated on the choices we make today, and I don’t think we have any idea what those choices will mean in fifty or one-hundred years.

In micro news, I changed my voter registration this morning. This person (me) who was originally a Libertarian, then a Republican, then an Independent is now a registered Democrat. What changed my mind? The “Tweet” posted as the featured photo.

Why? Porque, en mi vida, algunos de mis mejores amigos han sido hablantes nativos de español. I was horrified to hear some of the members of Offal’s “team” describe themselves as “true Americans” because they speak only English. Apropos to the “macro” theme of today’s prompt, we don’t live in a nation. We live on a world. Y, por eso, por tantos años, por lo major parte de mi vida, he creído que necesitábamos hablar más idiomas que nuestro idioma nativo. My Spanish is far from fluent or perfect (I used Google translate to check my sentences here) but I am happy to speak with anyone who allows me to or needs me to.

Anyway reading that Tweet it suddenly hit me. I may not like the Democrats all that much, but certain of my values align with the party line much better than with whatever the fuck it is the Republicans are doing now. I want leadership that recognizes that we are part of the WORLD. I want leadership that is open to others and the idea of conscientiously attacking the problems we’ve created along the way. While it might have been smarter to continue using incinerators (with filters to capture pollutants on the chimneys as we use on fireplaces), at least those people’s hearts were in the right place. BTW, Switzerland gets a large percentage of its electrical power from burning trash.

https://ragtagcommunity.wordpress.com/2020/01/24/rdp-friday-macro/

Back to the Future

A week or so after Thanksgiving I was at the BIG STORE in the BIG CITY (City Market in Alamosa). I really wanted to bake a mincemeat pie. Last year I made one for Thanksgiving dinner at my friend’s house and I had a dim idea of where the mincemeat might be — in a random temporary display someplace between the craft beer and the frozen pizza.

I looked everywhere and couldn’t find it.

Damn.

At the check stand I asked, “Do you know where I would find mincemeat?”

Young checker gives me a blank look and says, “In the meat department.” Her eyes add, “You idiot.”

“It’s not meat. It’s pie filling.”

“Pie filling is on aisle 4.”

“It’s not there. Last year it had it’s own little display in a random place.”

The checker looks at me with that deer in the headlights expression. Meanwhile an elderly Hispanic farmer has taken a spot in line behind me. He’s wearing a black serape over his Carhart jacket and jeans. He is built like a bomb and has two teeth, but even so he has a beautiful smile. He says, in English, “I know what that is.” In Spanish he mentions two New Mexico — one empanadas — holiday pastries that use mincemeat. “I haven’t had that in a long time.”

The bagger, who’s 12, says, “I can find it,” and takes off. My groceries are checked through and I pay for them. The bagger comes back. “Look in the canned meat,” she says to me. I shrug.

As I am leaving, an older stock person says, “We might have it closer to Christmas.”

“Thanks,” I answer, seeing a future in which no one has eaten mincemeat pie.

But…

Amazon.

Today I’m going to “do” some of the Christmas things there are to do here in the “hood.” My friend Lois is here from Colorado Springs to hear my reading, give me moral support and hang out. I sold three little paintings and I have to deliver them to their buyer who will be in South Fork today at an art and craft show, so Lois and I will go up there, deliver the goods, see what there is to see, then go to Del Norte in time for me to help at the museum if I’m needed and then I’ll read from Baby Duck and, I hope, a bit from Martin of Gfenn.

In preparation for Lois visit, I made a mincemeat pie. Lois said as we ate some pie, “I bet most people alive today have never tried this.” I think she’s right.

Take that, future. You won’t know what you’ll be missing.

P.S. In other news, yesterday I took the ankle brace off. I realized IT hurt more than my foot did, meaning, it was hurting my foot. My foot is finally doing better. I’m cautiously happy about this. I’d be jubilant, but that’s too risky.

Cross Country Ski Trail of My Dreams

Today we went up to Dick Boyce Cross Country Ski Area which is pretty close to my house — maybe 15 miles on paved and good gravel roads. I learned how to get there when, as I tell Bear, the good times return. The trail is totally within my range of abilities and is two miles RT. I had good cell service all the way along it. That matters since sometimes I’ll probably go alone.

We talked briefly about “What’s your next writing project?” and I said I had no idea.

One of my friends said, “Write about three ladies who go hiking together.”
I said I couldn’t because right now I’m in the middle of that story and it’s a very sweet one.

We’d had a kind of deep and earnest talk earlier about maybe we shouldn’t bitch about getting old(er). I said I don’t really bitch, and that sometimes remembering I’m 67 going on 68 helps me remember that I’m not 30, that I used my body hard, that stuff happened to it, and I have to figure out where I am now because I can’t go back even to what I was when I was fifty. I said I sometimes feel like a failure until I remember I’m nearly 70. In earlier days, before my hip surgery, when we took off together, many things were difficult for me, and my friends were there to witness and help. I told them today I can do anything now, but I have a problem with apprehension; I’m a little afraid.

Elizabeth said that’s natural and to be expected.

Karen says she feels like herself until she looks in the mirror. I laughed because the other day I looked in the mirror and said, “Well, I could be a lot uglier.”

I guess that’s kind of an affirmation.

Deep inside, for me, what matters is continuing to try to find wonderful things to do. I think I share that with my friends. Each of us found a treasure, too. 🙂

Hakuna Matata

As dog-pupils go, Teddy is definitely the most dedicated in the class. He’ll perform tricks over and over for the SAME rawhide pencil. For Teddy it’s about attention as much as it’s about treats. He LOVES learning, cares about getting things right and performs every chance he gets. He’s also very affectionate and lovable. It’s fun walking him when the kids are in their yard, particularly the little girl for whom a sight of Bear and Teddy is as good as a Fourth of July Parade. The other day we were coming back toward our street from a training circuit of the high school and Michelle saw us. She stood absolutely still in her yard until we got there. I’d taught her not to run toward the fence because Bear would pull me down.

“Hi Teddy Bear! Hi Polar Bear!”

The dogs are happy to see her, but their happiness does not compare to hers at seeing them.

Is there really anything better than two friendly dogs and an old lady who enjoys talking to you? On that particular day, Michelle had just gotten two little stuffed animals — Simba and Nala. We talked about films and she encouraged me to see Lion King Two. She also highly recommended The Incredibles but I’m not sure that’s my cup of, of, chocolate milk. I didn’t even see The Lion King until I was in my 50s and teaching “The Allegory of the Cave.” One of my students said, “Professor, ‘The Allegory of the Cave’ is like The Lion King.” She brought her DVD to class and she was right. I loved it.

“I like the Hakuna matata part,” said Michelle.

Those are words my brother used to say when I was upset at him on the phone. Of course, they came through the exchange in a drunken voice with an edge. His “No worries” meant, “Shut up and leave me alone.” It was all well and good for him to say, “No worries,” but I was working my ass off supporting him.

“What was the name of that pig?” I asked Michelle.

“I don’t remember.” She looked a little worried.

“It doesn’t matter. He was cool though, don’t you think?”

“Yeah.”

Bear and Teddy were hot so I said we had to go home. We all walked together along her fence and she held Teddy’s leash over the top of the fence.

I recently learned from a friend that her young grandson has “come out.” I’m glad he is alive now and not 40 years ago. I’m glad it won’t, probably, be as harrowing for him as it was for many of my friends — and my boyfriend — back then. While I don’t think LGBTQ rights are the biggest item on the national agenda, I’m glad people in many parts of this country take them seriously. At the same time I have never understood why anyone’s sexual preferences are anyone’s business, but that’s how we are. And, while I don’t understand why ANYONE would want to get married, I’m glad those who do want to can. At the same time, I’m sorry for him. Even in the most enlightened world, he will live a kind of exile. Even I, straight and all, have lived a kind of exile just from not having children, not being married, not making the usual choices. I couldn’t have made those choices. I tried. As my boyfriend back in the day, a great love, in fact, said, “Who would choose this? Who would choose to live outside the world where 99% of humanity lives?” That won’t have changed, but maybe…

I’m impressed at the self-knowledge of my friend’s grandson. I hope everything good for him. Hakuna matata.

Thinking about that I thought about Michelle and Connor. A few years away from puberty and homeschooled, they’re still in the Garden of Eden. Their big-for-them back yard, their loving (though struggling) parents, big events like me and my dogs, freedom for their imagination, nothing worse happening to them than “time out”. Childhood isn’t easy, and for some children it’s very, very hard, but it still has the filaments of Heaven attached to it, the capacity for wonder. One of my most beautiful memories, toward the end of this past beautiful winter, during the bleak moments when the snow had begun melting, 😦 was Connor running in excitement to the fence saying, “We still have a bit patch of snow for Bear to roll in!”

https://ragtagcommunity.wordpress.com/2019/07/02/rdp-tuesday-pupil/

Direction…

I’ve been bored by my blog for a while now, and the process of deleting posts has been educational. The posts that I’ve kept in the purge of more than 1000 (so far) are most of Lamont and Dude (naturally), some thought pieces, travel pieces, and short stories. Personally, I found some of the Quotidian updates interesting because they show me something about where my life has been (and is going?). But I also saw that back in the day when I was interested in my blog, I wrote a lot of stories.

And, as much as I sometimes hated (and reviled) the Daily Prompt, some of those prompts were engaging and led my writing in interesting directions. After thinking about it, and knowing I don’t want to stop writing every morning (as if Dusty T. Dog would allow it) I’ve decided to consciously move back to writing short stories and less about my daily life which, honestly, doesn’t vary much. It’s not that I’m not interested in my life (or reading posts about others’ lives) it’s that isn’t what I want to write.

I’ve also been lately inspired to convert some of the stories (all of which are largely dialogue) into short plays. While the formatting is tedious, the process of imagining the characters in sets and scenes and moving through space has been intellectually very interesting. There are also a lot of local contests that seek scripts of very short and one-act plays and I think that could be fun.

I hope that’s OK with you. 🙂

The Road Ahead

Because I’m in earshot of 70 years old (3 years away), and I just got Nordic Skis and have been out on them ten times in the six weeks I’ve had them, I’m concerned about the future. Nordic skiing makes me happy. It always has, but I have not always lived where I could easily find snow and I have — for the biggest part of a decade — been dealing with debilitating arthritis in my hips.

There’s nothing else I really want to do, honestly. As time has peeled away aspirations and goals, I stand here with only a couple of things that matter to me. I want to be able to *langlauf. I want to be able to hike in the mountains (because there is not always snow). I want to be able to do these things for a long time.

I already know what bad stuff can happen. I had my first hip surgery when I was 54. My second in 2018, at 66.

How does this happen? I always loved those things. Why did so much get in the way? Why didn’t I see as clearly long ago? No idea. But what matters is doing whatever I can to be able to keep going.

I did some research — tried to do some research — on how best to keep going as long as possible. The short answer is weight training. The long answer? Well, it’s long, OK?

I found a lot of articles written by young people about old athletes. There was no escaping that the whole idea of a geriatric runner or something else is kind of a freak show. This is strange, because I know people who are still running, hiking, and skiing well into their 70s. They don’t see themselves as a freak show and neither do I. It seems that some of the younger people looking at us have forgotten (or don’t know?) that it’s FUN to ski, it’s fun to race, it’s fun to hike. Sure, maybe not for everyone, but who would expect it to be? In all my years hiking, I was most often completely alone (in an urban wilderness park).

One article I read was a review of a photo book with an interview — Racing Age by Angela Jimenez. In this book, a former college decathlete documents several elderly track and field competitors. Jimenez goal is to blast the stereotypes of old folks, stereotypes that old folks — that is to say we are,

“…sick or vulnerable or kind of cute—I had seen those jokey greeting cards of a grandmother lifting a barbell or something—and I felt, as someone who was just starting to think about age myself, a sense of rebellion against that,” says Jimenez. “That’s something I’m always interested in doing with photography—countering visual stereotypes and thinking about how is a group of people being depicted in a simplistic way and what could I do to explore that.”

https://www.outsideonline.com/2153626/these-80-year-old-athletes-will-blow-your-mind


The photos included in the article are great. The photographer seems like an intriguing person. These athletes are completely engaged in their sports as any real athlete would be.

The sub-heading of the article says,

“The new photography book ‘Racing Age reminds us that it’s a whole lot of fun to be a competitive athlete for life.”

For me, that’s the whole thing. I don’t want to compete, I just want to play.

*Langlauf — German for Nordic skiing