“Stay in the yard!!!!”

My brother wanted to be a pitcher which meant I, glasses and all, had to be the catcher. I had baseball dreams, too, but they were different from his. I wanted to make friends in my new town where, for the first time, the inner Marthlete could confidently emerge. I had a — have a heart murmur — and in high Colorado I wasn’t (as a kid) allowed to run. But in sea-level Bellevue, Nebraska, I was free. I’d learned that the neighbor kids played softball (in our yards) and I wanted them to like me. Naturally. No one wants to be last pick. I realized the best way to make friends was to hit home runs. Striking out had the opposite effect.

I spent a summer hitting balls out of the yard. I threw them up in the air and hit them, hour after hour. When my dad got home from work, he threw balls for me to catch. We decided I would play center field. Center field in my yard was the very edge. Many of the yards weren’t fenced, so it was just one long string of open lawns with invisible boundaries that we DID NOT CROSS WITHOUT PERMISSION. It was a military town and, therefore, a military neighborhood, so many neighbors were just referred to by rank. To the south lived “the Captain.” To the east, “the Sergeant.” It was a good system because that’s how they wanted kids to refer to them. No “Mr. Bond” or “Mrs. Pumphrey.”

My dreams of growing up to be Willie Mays were thwarted by reality. How often does that happen? First, Willie Mays was Willie Mays, so the position was permanently filled. Second, I am female. Even when our dreams don’t come true — or can’t — we still get something, and my moment came. It was this. (From a post I wrote some time back, “…a Good Memory from Childhood“)

“My dad was ill with MS and not getting better. I knew he would not get better. I went to the VA hospital with him one afternoon and I know he got bad news from what he told me. When I got home, I had to get ready for my softball game. I lived for baseball, but this was the best we had because we were girls. I played center field. Most of the other girls couldn’t play very well so no one ever hit the ball out where I was. I stood in the sunlight sucking on my glove. Then I saw my mom and dad had come to the game. They were setting up a chair under a tree for my dad. My team was up. I hit one home run after another — six in all — just in that one inning because my dad was there and he was watching the game. The pitcher started rolling the ball over the plate, trying to walk me, the only way they’d ever get up to bat again. When we were finally out and I went back out to field nothing, my mom and dad left.”

To a kid a yard is a world. To a gardener, too, I think, and to my dogs, and to many of us over the past year our yards have taken on a different significance. As always, mine is pretty ugly, but my “team” isn’t much for helping me maintain it. It’s getting to be time to organize grow pots and such like. I always do this FAR too early considering that plants cannot go outside into the yard until June 1. I was wondering last night about this year’s Scarlet Emperor Beans and who they will be this year. I don’t know. Many of the emperors of song and story were pretty awful people, so I imagine they will, again, be poets. But from where?

Heard this in the car on the way to the store yesterday (and sang along). ❤ I still love baseball. One of the great things about living in San Diego was going to Padres Games in their stadium downtown.


“Think about it, Martha.”

In spite of a mildly torqued knee. a pulled groin muscle, and a limp, I decided to take Bear out to the Refuge. I thought I’d use a cane for stability, but I’d forgotten that is Bear’s job. She’d kind of forgotten that, too, at the beginning of our walk, but she remembered before she did any damage.

The moment I arrived, I noticed the welcoming party.

Welcoming committee…

It was very deer of them to be there, waiting for me, and I was grateful. I took it as a benediction on what I feared was a bad idea, walking Bear when I am physically a little fragile. I sent them my thanks through ASL (which all muledeer understand perfectly) and my friend and I took off slowly, me limping, Bear wanting to smell everything. I didn’t blame her. Even I could see the stories left in the snow.

We went along. I had no idea how far I would go before I couldn’t go, but it turned out that I was able to go almost as far as usual. The only reason I didn’t go all the way is because my mom told me not to, I mean because I’m less stupid and stubborn than I was three days ago. Bear studied scents, rolled in the snow, dug down to where maybe some little creature had burrowed for warmth.

On the way I noticed a large bird in one of the cottonwood trees. Then it went “ooo-hooo” and I realized it was “my” great horned owl. Too far away for a good photo, but when has that deterred me?

I should really take a camera…

When Bear and I turned around, Bear did her lean thing which I interpret to mean, “Thank you Martha,” but it might mean, “Aren’t we going to hunt some more?” We walked along together, my hand on my dog’s back, and I thought, “Is this so bad, Martha? Really, what’s wrong with this? Your best friend is here. Your welcoming committee was waiting for you. The snow is one big mantle of diamonds and stories. And look at that! Look, right in front of you!!”

I did. I stood there and looked at the little grouping of mountains I’ve painted so many times that they’re almost a part of my hand, and I started to cry. “We are hardly a consolation prize,” murmured all the features of the landscape, “And we’re yours. You came here for this and we are here for you. Do you have to live according to some idea of yourself or can’t you just do what we do and BE?”

There were no human footprints anywhere. A couple signs of someone on X-country skis maybe three days ago, but otherwise? As it is most of the year, it was just us, Bear and me and sometimes Teddy, too. I like the cold, the wind, the changes, the tracks, the possibilities of seeing other animals besides me and my dogs. I like what I see going slowly.

So, I will be selling my skis.

A New Brush

Lettering is really difficult, maybe in general, but certainly for me. Last week I did a little research into how I could make it easier and do a better job on the garden signs. There are a lot of tools out there but most of the fancy and easy ones seem to be for lettering on paper, not plywood. Then I looked specifically for lettering brushes.

I think it was back in 2009 when I built the art shed outside my house in Descanso, CA and I had some “extra” money (little did I know that the economy was about to go CRASH and my income with it). Anyway, I went online to find my old-time favorite art store in Denver and I bought a bunch of fancy and expensive brushes. I don’t remember the criteria I used, either. Maybe it was totally random, but I ended up with a bunch of very beautiful brushes. I had the belief, then, that I was on the verge of becoming a serious artist. Of course, the economy came in between that belief and reality, but I still had the brushes.

A long time ago, back in college, I learned the difference between real vs. symbolic wealth from Alan Watts. REAL wealth is things that you own. So, I was rich in brushes I didn’t know how to use but cash poor.

Values, right?

So there I was online the other day trying to learn how to letter signs more easily and better and I finally found lettering brushes. I put one in my cart on Dick Blick Art Supplies but didn’t buy it because I KNEW that the giant bouquet of inscrutable brushes, about which I know nothing, might…

Real Wealth

And THERE it was.

“How will I ever us that thing?”

So, having acted on one of my New Year resolutions yesterday, I realized I needed to get AT something, start something fresh, so I started a new sign. At a certain moment, I had to put words on it. I grabbed (well, I was gentler than that) this brush, took a deep breath and picked up a brand new, unused, fresh brush.

I still have a lot to learn, but it was a better lettering experience than I’ve had so far. I thought it was a good sign (ha ha)

Some of the garden signs I’ve painted in the past year…


Run away! Run away!!!

When I first retired from teaching in 2014 and moved to Monte Vista, I had the idea of becoming a substitute English teacher at the high school. When I looked into it, and imagined walking into another classroom, I shuddered. That wasn’t happening. The whole idea gave me chills. I wondered how I could be THAT done with something I’d loved for the bigger part of 35 years?

I recently read — and reviewed — a novel that another reviewer called a “coming of age” novel. That’s kind of an important “tag” for a book, so I gave it some thought and decided the book Blind Turn is not a coming of age novel, not really, though the teenage character DOES a lot of growing up. The “mom” character in the book “grows up” every bit as much as her daughter does. “Coming of age” normally refers to that turning point between immaturity and maturity, something that happens in the late teen years, but in real life we do it all the time at all different stages of our lives.

I’ve done a few of those just in the past 10 years. The life I left behind 7 years ago seems very unreal to me. I have tried to identify the moment when that life ended (it was before I moved here) and I can’t pinpoint a precise moment. It was just a long process of discovering that it didn’t fit me any more. It had become too difficult and the rewards too few. What’s more, I saw it.

Why cling to one life
till it is soiled and ragged?
The sun dies and dies
squandering a hundred lived
every instant
God has decreed life for you
and He will give 
another and another and another”

Rumi, The Mathnawi of Jalalu’ddin Rumi, Vol 5, Persian Text

Or, in Goethe’s words: “Hold your powers together for something good, and let everything go that is for you without result and is not suited to you.”

But, I did end up spending a lot of time at the high school. It’s truly Bear’s favorite place to walk.


Humanity’s Wide Ramble

My first “book” is a semi-autobiographical story that was, long long long ago, titled “Vast Chain of Dancers.” I dimly remember Aristotle describing humanity that way, as a “vast chain of dancers,” but my boyfriend at the time said he had a hard time imagining a “vast” chain, a chain being this long narrow thing and anything vast being more along the lines of the ocean, amorphous and all over the damned place.

The book fell into the darkness for many years, then I resurrected it and worked on it some more. It fell into oblivion again, for a long time, then not all that long after I moved here, without a project, and having found it in the move, I worked on it again. About two years ago I finally finished the book — no longer titled “A Vast Chain of Dancers,” but now Fledging. I printed two copies. One for me and one for the amazing woman who is kind of an adopted mom, mentor, hero.

Thinking of her returns me to the notion of a vast chain. My boyfriend was wrong, but he didn’t live long enough to understand what Aristotle meant. I might not know what Aristotle meant, either, but I get the metaphor at 68, two weeks shy of 69, as I didn’t at 27.

The woman I just mentioned, we’ll call her Bianca, is the mother of a man, Chris, who became my friend and with whom I worked in an online support group for families of addicts. We never met in real life. I met Chris through George, the husband of a Sarah, a wonderful woman with whom I had taught a decade or more earlier. George was an amazing man who “got” me, and was ally and guide for many years as I struggled to overcome life’s fardles and write well. Chris was killed in a very tragic accident. Not long before he died he hooked Bianca up with an iPad and a Facebook account. He linked her up with people he thought she should know, one of whom was me. Another was a woman named Flame. I knew flame from many years earlier as we both struggled toward and through hip resurfacing at the same time and discovered we had much in common other than fucked up joints. That was a bizarre coincidence, to me, but all of these people (except Bianca) were linked by a common faith. They were all practicing Hindus who had been part of the same ashram in the Bay Area. Flame, her husband, and Sarah had all lived for many years in India.

Monte Vista. I’m here because of a house that I saw online. I couldn’t buy it, but it’s only a block away. Since I walked my dogs almost every day, going down the alley to the golf course or high school if I didn’t head out somewhere “more” interesting (that’s a point of view thing) I passed a house. Two years ago a family moved in and the little boy, then 5 years old, said “Hi!” to me. And so, yesterday,

Yesterday — almost exactly two years after I met this little boy — Bear and I stopped by his house to take him and his sister for a walk. Since they hardly ever get to go anywhere, it was a big big big deal for them. We walked up to the high school, then I asked them if they wanted to go through a secret gate and, of course, they were all about it, so we “sneaked” in a back gate to the golf course. There were animal tracks in the snow so I taught the kids what creature made what tracks. Bear rolled in the snow where the scent was strong enough for her to smell (not me, thankfully). The kids ran and explored and felt they’d had an adventure. They climbed the great pile of snow that came from all of our town’s streets and then summited one of the golf course berms. I told them to plant their flag so I could take the summit photograph (featured photo).

“Can I climb that mountain, Miss Martha?”
“God yes,” I think, “climb them all.” I say, “Sure, but be careful.”

Everything we did we did because I was once a little girl with a little brother, not because I know anything about kids. I don’t. I just remember what Kirk and I thought was great. So, though these kids don’t see the OTHER two kids running and climbing with them, they — we — are there.

And more…last night I did a video chat with the younger son of the Good-X with whom I’m close, his wife, S, and their kids. Their little girl has my mother’s name. She’s 7 and recently became very interested in American Indians. Her mom alerted me to this and told the little girl, “Oma Martha knows about Indians.” I haven’t met the kids in real life. It’s expensive for them and for me to make the trips involved. In a conference with S I decided to send H (the little girl) some of the Indian things I have including a bracelet made for me by one of my mom’s friends on the Crow Reservation where my mom taught in the 1940’s. I got it out of its safe place, repaired the snap that closes it and packed it up with a little pin from the Zuni Pueblo and a small black pot made by Maria Martinez. Last night I watched as H struggled to fasten the bracelet on her wrist (it was never easy). S stepped in to help her, and I thought, “Well, Mom, it found a home.” H is thrilled to have REAL Indian things and I am happy she has them. But what a journey for these small bits of life.

When I look around me at life, I see many of these “chains” forming a wide and timeless net. Maybe this is what Aristotle meant. We really do not know whose lives we will enter and touch.



For Christmas in 1962 I got an oil painting set that contained narrow tubes of Grumbacher oil paint, brushes, turpentine and linseed oil, a canvas, an easel and a pallette that had disposable papers. I wanted to start right away, and did, but my mom didn’t really like me setting up a “studio” on the dining room table, so at some point I had to pack it all up and take it to the basement. Based on this photo, sometime in the summer I got back on it.

I remember really liking oil paints. Acrylics had been invented but weren’t available easily. My dad had painted in oils at some point in his life and he gave me some instruction. He explained that I cleaned my brushes with turpentine and thinned my paint with linseed oil. I didn’t enjoy watercolor back then because no one in my house had been initiated to the wonders of watercolor paper on which watercolors DON’T pool up and bleed into each other (unless you want them to).

There was a big tree in the middle of the big meadow at The Mission — a mission of Columbian Fathers that was essentially across the street from our house. Their land was mostly untouched deciduous forest, the kind you find along the Missouri River in Nebraska. I decided to paint that. The tree in the painting doesn’t look anything like that ancient oak tree, but a 10 year old painting half-way from her imagination using a new medium is probably not going to be the soul of accuracy. Besides, even though they appear static, trees AREN’T static and I never found them particularly easy to paint.

Finding this painting yesterday, my heart went out to this little girl, painting in her basement, at night, so earnestly, while her dad pointed his 35mm Kodak camera at her. I don’t even know if she’s really painting or if her dad posed her because, in all the pictures of her and her brother in the basement, she’s wearing the same shirt.

When I scanned ALL the slides that were in my house last year, I found the “cycle” of striped t-shirt photos. Thinking about the little collection of photos, I wonder if my dad hadn’t been inspired to take pictures of his kids and their ordinary life. He knew he wouldn’t be around for us later on and maybe he wanted to show us something later, when he was gone and we were grown up.

Photos were a lot more complicated in 1962 than they are now. They involved film — which no one ever remembered to buy — and then the whole thing of developing the film which, at that time, where I lived, meant taking the film to the drugstore and handing it to the person working the “film” counter. Since that was also the cashier, it could involve a long wait. Then, it took forever for the film to come back. Polaroid cameras eliminated some of this, but the photos just weren’t that great, the film was expensive and you still had to remember to buy it.

What struck me about the painting I’m doing in this photo is that I finally succeeded at it this year.

The tree is in the same spot. There is a road (path) not that visible in the 1962 painting, and this year’s painting, too, depicts sunset, though more in the metaphorical than pink-cloud sense.

The coolest thing about this, though, to me, is how well my dad knew what I would like to see in a photo some 60 years later. I love the little girl in this photo and I’m grateful to my dad. It’s not all glittery, but neither am I.


It’s a Pulcritudinous Day in the Neighborhood

Back in the day, when we were approaching high school graduation, we began prepping for the college boards. College back then wasn’t community college; it was a four year liberal arts institution that’s still around, I think. ANYhoo, there were a couple of exams we had to take in order to apply to institutions of higher learning and these were the ACT and the SAT. There was a little debate about whether we needed to take BOTH tests but since some schools wanted one and other schools wanted the other, many of us took both. Both exams are still around.

I didn’t expect to pass the math sections of either exam. I don’t believe I did. That was about the time “pocket” calculators came out and they were incredibly expensive and not allowed in the exams, anyway. I didn’t go to school with any kind of math tool except my strange brain that moves numbers around and recognizes 3 as B and 5 as S and l as 1 etc. and my two hands. My teachers coached me around my fear and frustration, “It will be fine, Martha. You’ll score very high on the verbal sections, and you have all your extra-curricular activity to make you an attractive candidate.”

It’s true. I did a lot of extra-curricular stuff in high school. I don’t even remember all of it at this point, but I got a full ride to a woman’s college in Denver. That was my mother’s dream. I couldn’t really go very far away from home because my dad was so ill and the family so friable.

We were intensely prepped with vocabulary, but anyone with the predilection I had for Victorian fiction was ahead of that game. People back in the 19th century seem to have truly loved words. And then, those with a good education usually studied Latin, Greek and a modern language bringing even MORE words into their world. At that moment in my education I believed that truly educated people had a classical education and I meant to get one. Learning vocabulary for the college boards was a breeze for me. Pugnacious, bellicose, belligerent, quarrelsome. Bring it on.

I suppose I was pretty obnoxious because the best friend of my boyfriend said, “You kiss HER? Isn’t that like kissing a book?”

Fighting words.


Complex vs. Simple Compassion

“Love and compassion are necessities, not luxuries. Without them, humanity cannot survive.” Dalai Lama

Compassion is the key to everything, but as I had to learn the hard way, it doesn’t always feel good. I always thought of compassion as being nice to people, seeing their side, walking a mile in their shoes, but at a certain moment in my life I realized it might not mean “being nice” at all.

Being nice is easy. You do the nice thing and walk away feeling good about life the universe and everything — and ones self. But then…

My alcoholic brother.

“You think you’re being compassionate by taking care of him, paying his bills, listening to him on the phone, all of that, but it’s taking a huge toll on you, or why would you be here?”

My therapist.

“But I have to help my brother.”

“Who said? Are you helping him? Is he better because you pay his electric bills? Maybe you’re hurting him.”

I had a whole week to think about that — or hike and run about that.

I got my therapist’s point, and I even saw what I had to do, mechanically. I even saw that my “help” was just helping him NOT recover from alcoholism, and that if I really wanted to help him, I had to stop “helping” him. After that, it wasn’t just me mechanically not “helping” him any more. I had to deal with myself, and that has taken decades. I’ve thought a lot about compassion. Ultimately, compassion is self-care.

We live in a historical moment where compassion is simple. It doesn’t demand therapy or making the excruciating decision to let one’s glorious, talented, beloved little brother go wherever he has to go on his own. It just means we wear a mask when we’re around others to inhibit the spray of germs that issues from our mouths when we speak or breathe. Just this could keep businesses open, could keep people out of hospitals and could save lives. Heroic. But NOoooo. It’s political. Wearing masks inhibits our “freedom” and tramples our rights.

We call people heroes when they pull someone from a burning car wreck, save a child from drowning in a pool, give a kidney to a stranger, but here we are needing government officials to enforce behavior that would make all of us heroes if we just had the compassion to strap a stupid fucking piece of cloth across our nose and mouth.

Here are some smart words and thoughts from a kid.


Island of Tranquility in the Midst of National Idiocy

The virus chugs on, the president denies he lost an election, 15 counties in Colorado go to the arbitrarily (?) designated “Level Red” which, when I looked it up only means:

According to the state, ‘level red’ indicates severe risk and is reserved for counties with high levels of transmission, hospitalizations, and positivity rates related to COVID-19. Under this level of restrictions, most indoor activities are prohibited or strictly limited. Among major changes with the shift to ‘level red’ includes a drop to 10 percent capacity at gyms and fitness centers, an 8 PM last call for alcohol, and the closure of indoor dining. 

Surprised that this “Level Red” wasn’t much of a “thing” I saw that we now have an additional level which is “Level Purple.” At that point people would be told to stay at home. It is “a level of more extreme risk than ‘level red’, reserved for counties where hospital capacity is at extreme risk of being overloaded.

I also learned yesterday that scientists have discerned that the virus probably DIDN’T originate in Wuhan, but somewhere in Italy. Va bene.

Such is life in America this morning, November 18, 2020. On a visceral level, since the beginning of this shit show, I’ve “thought,” “Avoid people as much as possible. Wear a mask if you must be around others.” Seems obvious to me, but for some it’s easier said than done.

That said, yesterday my neighbors and I took our little two-car caravan out to the Wildlife Refuge for a saunter. More cranes have arrived. It was a cloudless day with no wind. There was a couple there with a leashed dog so part of our walk was spent taking detours to avoid them. Bear really does not like other dogs. My friends are so amazing that they just went along with the bizarre little circuitous wandering we had to do at the beginning of the walk. It’s not like it was really punishment. We walked in splendor wherever we were.

As always, my neighbor’s husband and I were far behind the girls. We’re just slower. We noticed the girls had stopped ahead of us and were staring into a field. I knew why. There’s a big field with a small pond and the cranes LOVE it.

It was the time of the afternoon when the cranes go from the refuge to a barley field across the street so we were regaled with many large swoops of cranes taking off from this field, flying around us and off. We all stood there a long time watching the magic and talking about life right now. It was a beautiful afternoon, the kind you know belongs in a glass globe on a shelf so whenever you need a good day you can have it again.


Quotidian Update 4,600,000.e.2.ii

Every little tidbit of whatever has been wrung out of me. It’s been weird enough having a little dog who likes soft rock AND The Dead Kennedys (huh?) and a big white dog who thinks all tears are sorrow (No, Bear, it’s OK. I’m happy). In fact, it’s kind of weird living with dogs as I have been since March, but…

A friend of mine from Switzerland (who has lived in the US for 20 years) texted me this:

It’s nice to see happy people, not in fatigues and brandishing weapons. I just can’t believe it. It all sounds too good to be true. It’s like a bizarro universe — he’s the opposite of Pumpkinhead. I loved how Biden finished his speech, and then the announcer was, “Well, let’s go back to football!”

One of the best parts, to me, is no more Betsy DeVos and a First Lady who is a college English teacher. I loved reading all the messages from all over Europe, the mayor of Paris, “Welcome back, America!” Most of all, I love that we will be returning to some attempt to contend with climate change. I don’t feel it’s as high on anyone’s agenda as I think it should be, but I don’t rule the world.

I know it’s not over until January 20, but I’m more than hopeful right now. I learned that many of the people voting for Trump believed they were voting for “law and order.” Law and order can come to a people in two ways; from the outside in police brutality and repressive systems, and from the inside, through education, social support and care. I prefer the second method.

Of all the cool memes and graphics that came out yesterday, I love this one most. We see the bad easily. It’s usually noisy and ugly and gets a lot of attention. But the good is often simply quiet and steadfast.

The featured photo is the back of the crane garden sign. The woman for whom I painted it is someone I “met” here on WordPress ten years ago. In these fraught and surreal times, I have been very grateful for my “town” here in the cybersphere. ❤