“This Strange, Eventful History”

I was a little kid when I was introduced to the “theater of life.” My dad sat on one end of the sofa with his big blue Collected Works of Shakespeare (that, decades later, my wolf dog destroyed when I was off on a trip to Italy; she hated it when I wasn’t around). He called me up next to him and put his arm around me and said, “This is the truth, MAK.” He began to read, “All the world’s a stage…” As far as I recall, he didn’t proclaim it; he just read. I didn’t understand much. There on the sofa, in an act from our own lives, we were a play within a play in the small theater of our living room, sitting on the rough, green upholstery of the sofa my grandparents had given us when they redecorated their house — or set.

My dad explained what he could but — at six years old — I didn’t have context for everything he told me. I have the context now and it really is an amazing piece of truth, this little speech.

I’ve been trying to figure out what’s wrong with me that I don’t want to go anywhere and don’t especially want to do anything. Shakespeare probably wrote about that, too, somewhere, though I have no knowledge of a play called Weltschmerz. I was planning to drive up to Colorado Springs, and all I could think was, “Yeah last time was great,” thinking of the injury to my shoulder and all the other things that ensued, half a day in urgent care, pain meds that caused projectile vomiting, all of the FUN I had last year, and another trip up there that resulted in a torn Achilles Tendon. I priced the cost of gas to get there — $120. Then my mind went to all the necessary things in my life that are now more expensive — mortgage payment, trash, utilities, Internet — everything has gone up in price this year eating away the COLA I got from both my retirement plan and Social Security. I’m not alone, I know. And I even understand WHY, but as life has taught me, understanding “why” isn’t always useful. I’m not whining — much. We’re all probably in this boat.

And the news keeps telling me about Kim Kardashian wearing Marilyn Monroe’s dress and Earth trash being left on Mars reminding me of a really handsome guy who attended the same weekly open drawing sessions — life drawing! — $5 and 3 hours with a model in a lovely small auditorium. The coffeehouse of which the auditorium was a part played an FM staton (it was the 70’s) as we drew. It was wonderful, wonderful, wonderful and if such a thing appeared here, right now I would shrug off my Weltschmerz and pay for gas. Garth — the handsome guy — was sitting behind me and my friend Wes. Anyway, invariably the news would come on (once an hour). One evening Garth, disturbed to have the music — and therefore drawing — flow interrupted, said, “That’s not MY news.” As I recall, he growled. 🙂

Speech: “All the world’s a stage”

BY William Shakespeare

(from As You Like It, spoken by Jaques)

                                        All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances;
And one man in his time plays many parts,
His acts being seven ages. At first the infant,
Mewling and puking in the nurse’s arms;
And then the whining school-boy, with his satchel
And shining morning face, creeping like snail
Unwillingly to school. And then the lover,
Sighing like furnace, with a woeful ballad
Made to his mistress’ eyebrow. Then a soldier,
Full of strange oaths, and bearded like the pard,
Jealous in honour, sudden and quick in quarrel,
Seeking the bubble reputation
Even in the cannon’s mouth. And then the justice,
In fair round belly with good capon lin’d,
With eyes severe and beard of formal cut,
Full of wise saws and modern instances;
And so he plays his part. The sixth age shifts
Into the lean and slipper’d pantaloon,
With spectacles on nose and pouch on side;
His youthful hose, well sav’d, a world too wide
For his shrunk shank; and his big manly voice,
Turning again toward childish treble, pipes
And whistles in his sound. Last scene of all,
That ends this strange eventful history,
Is second childishness and mere oblivion;
Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.

The featured photo is from the same edition as my Dad’s Shakespeare. It had beautiful illustrations by Rockwell Kent

and THEN

It was a beautiful, still (comparatively) morning, and Bear WANTED to be caught, so I gently grabbed her collar, put on her harness and changed my shoes. Teddy was only too happy to be caught. It’s been almost a week since we’ve been able to GET OUT THERE. Some wind is better than no wind because it keeps the bugs away and it’s cooling.

It was so nice to see the mountains again after a week or so of skies filled with dust. We got out of Bella and hit the trail. A little ways in was a dead and flattened garter snake, a sign that for the next couple of months dogs don’t get to go sniffing around in the bushes and tall grass. Garter snakes are harmless, but they are not the only snakes on this part of the planet. “You stay away from those guys, all of them, living and dead,” I said to Teddy and he may or may not have gotten that but he’ll hear it again and again in the coming months. Looked to me like someone ran over the snake OR a bird dropped it to kill it and then it got run over.

It’s a hungry time out here as I realized (once more) seeing that somebody got a nice meal of scrambled eggs.

Duck or coot, I don’t know. Fox, coyote, badger, skunk, musk rat, raccoon, who knows…

And then my watch rang. I love this Dick Tracy thing. It’s just amazing. It was my doctor’s office. My PA.

“Martha? This is Michelle. How are you?”

“I’m great! I’m out with my dogs and the wind isn’t blowing 100 miles and hour.”

“Be careful what you say,” she said, laughing.

“OK. You’re right. It’s not blowing YET.”

“That’s better.” Then she informed me that the test indicated moderate plaque in my arteries, and the doc is upping my dosage of my meds. I didn’t know what that meant, and my heart was in my throat for a minute. BUT I know how to ask questions such as, “That’s good news, right?”

“Oh yes, that’s good news.” If I were a doc’s office I’d start with “Good news!” and then the rest of it.

While all this was going on I was watching a golden eagle hunt. When I hung up I thought, “Well, if I’m going to get old lady news on my Dick Tracy watch in the middle of nowhere, how could it be better than while I’m watching a golden eagle hunt?” Because, you know, I’d be a poorer human if I never saw an eagle fly.

You can barely see him but he’s there. ❤

Creativity???

In creativity news, my drawing of the cranes on a windy day is going to be published in the Willow Creek Journal, the literary/art magazine from the Creede Arts Council. I needed this little “pat on the head.” 🙂

Sandhill Cranes on a Windy Day


I still think of turning the drawing into a painting and I probably will since all that can happen is it doesn’t work which is really not such a big deal.

Creativity is strange. I’ve had the word slung at me as a compliment and as an insult. Some of the people I’ve worked with it were convinced that creative people are unreliable, not quite right in the head. Other people have admired my talent (which is just that, talent, not genius) way more than it deserves. Talent is nothing if it’s not honed and developed. It’s like being born beautiful, an accident of genetics. Talent does not equal creativity.

People like Vincent Van Gogh haven’t done us any favors. 😉 The idea that BESIDES being (probably) bipolar, Van Gogh was also a hardworking, disciplined artist just hasn’t gotten through the hype of madness. So much effort and attention has gone into posthumously appreciating and understanding Van Gogh and truly, I think he might be past caring but there we are. Looking at art through time — all of it — I see imagination, discipline, and necessity. I will always (mildly) wonder what kind of artist he would have been if people had bought his paintings. I think it might have been the best thing for his work (not him) that people didn’t.

Goethe — who was pretty creative — shared that idea, that as a writer he might have been better if it had not been for the meteoric popularity of Sorrows of Young Werther. That book — and its sad story and tragic fallout — followed him most of his life. He even tried running away from it, incognito, to Italy.

For me, Federico Fellini defined creativity best.

“I hate logical plans. I have a horror of set phrases that instead of expressing reality tame it in order to use it in a way that claims to be for the general good but in fact is no use to anyone.

I don’t approve of definitions or labels. Labels should go on suitcases, nowhere else.

Myself, I should find it falls and dangerous to start from some clear, well defined, complete idea and then put it into practice. I must be ignorant of what I shall be doing and I can find the resources I need only when I am plunged into obscurity and ignorance. The child is in darkness at the moment he is formed in his mother’s womb.


Essentially, to me, creativity is this; “Here you are. This is what you have. What are you going to do with it?” A person doesn’t have to be an artist to creatively engage with that question and solve that problem.


Featured photo: Me getting ready to go meet a friend at Bassam’s Coffee House in downtown San Diego, afterwards we’d go to Cafe Sevilla, October 31, 1993, the very day Fellini died.

Cardiac CT Calcium Test

I went to the local hospital today and forked out $102 for a Cardiac CT Calcium Scoring test. Insurance doesn’t cover it yet. Even though it’s a fantastic diagnostic tool, it’s new.

Why did I do this? Well, my former sister-in-law having open heart surgery was the kicker for me. Added to that, my mom had had a stent inserted into her Carotid artery when she was about my age, and my bro had a stroke in his early 50s. I’ve been on “the usual” cocktail of meds for hypertension for the past 12 years.

In life’s flux, I KNOW ONE thing, and that is I owe my dogs my life. Sounds weird — even to me — but that’s what I learned from COVID. I have these two loving beings dependent on me, irrespective of the things I would like to do in my future, and I want a future. Living alone, this is really and truly 100% MY life even though I have friends who are definitely here for me. It is a matter of responsibility to myself.

The machine is pretty interesting. I think it might have been the first for me — though back in 1976, after I got hit by a truck, I dimly remember being in CT scanner to see if I had a skull fracture. Since I didn’t even get my name right after the truck, I am not sure what happened immediately after except some people picked me up off the street and took me to the hospital.

I was nervous today just being at a hospital, so my blood pressure was up. Normally, it isn’t. But, if my blood pressure were too high, the test wouldn’t work, so lying on the platform I did what I could to get my BP down. What was that? First I thought, “Go to your happy place.” I live in my happy place, so I imagined the Refuge with Bear on a wintry March day with the cranes. Then, I decided to recite poetry to myself and I recited Hopkins’ “The Windhover.” It worked and the test went fine.

The machine “speaks” — nothing too profound, just “Breathe in, breathe out, breathe in, hold your breath….you may breathe.” Doesn’t sound like much but being in a metaphorical state of mind from reciting poetry, it seemed pretty significant. Continuing to breathe is the whole point.

The test will go to a cardiologist who will evaluate it and send the results to my doc whose name is Heidi. If there are problems, I have to/should/can make lifestyle changes. The nurse said, “If you want to. That’s your choice.” There are some things I could do without cutting off a body part, but I draw the line at cream in my coffee.

If you’re interested, here is a list of the risk factors.

  • You are male and over 45 years of age.
  • You are female and over 55 years of age, OR you have passed menopause or had your ovaries removed and are not taking estrogen.
  • Your father or brother had a heart attack before age 55 OR your mother or your sister had one before the age of 65.
  • You smoke OR you live/work with someone who smokes regularly.
  • You have a total cholesterol level of 240 or higher.
  • You have high blood pressure.
  • You are 20 pounds or more overweight.
  • You do NOT exercise at least three times a week.
  • You have diabetes OR you need medicine to control your blood flow.

Here’s an article about the procedure. The featured photo is the two bull bison who live at the ranch in front of my hospital/clinic. The females and calves are separated from the boys for now. Along with the bison, I watched a retail hawk swoop down from a tree to pick something.

Here’s “The Windhover” — Hopkins was a Jesuit priest. I didn’t recite it perfectly but so what?

The Windhover

Gerard Manley Hopkins – 1844-1889

I caught this morning morning's minion, king-  
  dom of daylight's dauphin, dapple-dawn-drawn Falcon, in his riding  
  Of the rolling level underneath him steady air, and striding  
High there, how he rung upon the rein of a wimpling wing  
In his ecstasy! then off, off forth on swing,
  As a skate's heel sweeps smooth on a bow-bend: the hurl and gliding  
  Rebuffed the big wind. My heart in hiding  
Stirred for a bird,—the achieve of; the mastery of the thing!  
  
Brute beauty and valour and act, oh, air, pride, plume, here  
  Buckle! AND the fire that breaks from thee then, a billion
Times told lovelier, more dangerous, O my chevalier!  
  
  No wonder of it: shéer plód makes plough down sillion  
Shine, and blue-bleak embers, ah my dear,  
  Fall, gall themselves, and gash gold-vermillion. 

Cities

Looking at albums in the nostalgia store in Del Norte the other day made me think of one in particular — Janis Ian’s self-titled album. When I first heard it (on my own turntable in my very living room in my very apartment in Denver in 1981) I fell in love with it. One song spoke especially to me at that moment. I had recently returned from my first ever trip to a big city by myself. I went to talk to a man, a long-time lover, who wanted us to get married. It was problematic because he was gay(ish). Many letters and phone calls persuaded me to take a flight over Labor Day weekend to Chicago where he had moved with his, yes, boyfriend. Suffice it to say, the love aspect of that journey didn’t go well. Among the less surreal adventures, I took the El to downtown Chicago and spent hours in the Chicago Art Institute. It was my first venture out like that, on my own, looking at art, and experiencing a big city.

Completely filled with incredible images, I left and walked down the street looking for lunch. I walked into a restaurant that looked as if it had come out of Sister Carrie, took a table and looked at the menu. A girl at the table next to mine (the booths were separated by low dividers) said, “I’m having pizza. You want to share?” Sure, why not? She walked around to my table, sat down, I said I’d get dessert and we shared a pizza and talked. She was from Poland.

A few months later I was in Washington, DC for the Foreign Service Exam. Again I found myself alone on the streets of a major city with one day to see things. I knew all the things there were to see in the nation’s capitol and I just figured I’d go to the mall area and look. I went into the capitol building which didn’t do much for me, then out again to the row of museums. Remembering Chicago, I entered the National Gallery where my life changed, my eyes were opened, the world exploded and I saw Picasso’s linoleum cuts. I saw much, much more, but now, 40 years later, that’s what I remember. The next day I flew back to Denver a changed woman. I didn’t know how, or even that, I had changed, but I had.

I waited for the results of the exam, pondered life without the long-term (five years!) lover-like-man (who was spectacular and we were eminently compatible except for the obvious), and fretted about leaving the country for a great adventure. When? How? Would I ever? I learned to X-country ski, skied a lot — downhill and X-country, bungled a relationship with a good guy, had a one-woman show of my paintings, met the Good X, had my appendix out, did linoleum cuts (learning from Picasso) and and and and and and listened to Janis Ian. Let it be known I didn’t like any of her popular songs and still don’t. At 17? Pulease….We’re all ugly teenagers.

So…after a little chat here on my blog with a reader about old albums, I looked for the song.

At the time I owned this album, I lived in an urban neighborhood in Denver, Capitol Hill. I am 100% sure I didn’t imagine then that I would live in the back-of-beyond as a 70 year old woman. But I also didn’t imagine the magnificent cities that I would meet — and in some cases get to know well — over the intervening years or all the experiences that would make this song a completely different song in 2022 than it was in 1981.

As I listened to it Sunday night, I saw Milan where I spent ten days wandering around on foot looking at art. Venice which, even after 3 visits, is incomprehensible to me. Verona where I lived for a month doing a close study of 13th century frescoes and studying Italian. Beijing where I felt so strangely at home. Shanghai which is? Good God, I have no words. Most of all, Guangzhou, that ancient wonder that I navigated by bicycle, and Zürich where, for a few years, I had a family, a city once described to me as “the crossroads of Western Civilization.” I scoffed at that because I was ignorant, but now? Zürich gave me the inspiration to realize one of my life’s biggest dreams.

There are other cities I’ve loved, but images of these cities went through my mind as I listened to this song, images I wanted to show that young restless woman in Denver in 1981 to show her that she was completely right to want to go, and that she would go, much sooner than she knew. ❤

The featured photo is a painting I did after I returned from Chicago, an expurgation of that whole adventure. I think it’s one of the best paintings I’ve ever done.

Article this morning (or yesterday?) interview with Janis Ian…

Earth Day 2022…

I can’t say that nature is voiceless. Godnose she’s speaking loudly now. Driving home from scenic, fun-filled Del Norte yesterday with a friend after celebrating her 70th birthday, all we could talk about was the recent fire in our town and the incredible dryness of the landscape all around us. Everything else in our conversation returned to that.

Whether or not we humans contributed to what’s happening now remains, for many, an open question. For me? No. I’m sure humans have contributed to this. Can we stop it? I don’t think so. Maybe the best we can do right now is not make it worse through our actions. Maybe.

The size of nature is truly beyond our comprehension since it’s basically EVERYTHING including us. That’s why many humans talk about nature as if it were something external, but it isn’t. It is us and we are it. We humans truly cannot live without it. 😉

Me 1965 in the middle of it. ❤

In 1970 when I went to one of the two demonstrations of my life, the first Earth Day, I was only 18. I ditched school, had my mom’s car, took some friends down to Colorado College (Colorado Springs), and we stood around and listened to speeches. I don’t know about my friends, but I felt two things. One, that I was DOING something, two, that it would change things. In reality, I wasn’t DOING anything and the actions taken by people all over the US that day DID change things that desperately needed changing, for one thing the Environmental Protection Agency was formed, partly as a result of Earth Day 1970.



I never imagined Earth Day would turn into an annual event, a semi-holiday and a celebration? What? But 23 years later I was in San Diego representing Mission Trails Regional Park — an urban wilderness park I was working for.

It is a large swath of open space surrounded by city and a Navy base. I hiked there almost daily with my dogs. I didn’t know it was being fought over by the various “powers” who fight over things, but it was. When I accidentally met the president of the foundation one day, “my” chaparral had only recently achieved protection from development. From there it would move forward to become the largest urban wilderness park in the United States, then 5800 acres, now 7000 acres. In “my day” I was often the only human wandering the trails; now it’s a very popular destination for hikers and mountain bikers. All the work I/we did was to prepare the delicate landscape for its future. Our idea was that if people WENT there, SAW it and LEARNED about it, they would value it and protect it. I don’t know if that theory has held or not. I suspect it’s 50/50. Some people get it, some people don’t. Those who don’t regard the trails and hills as a commodity that exists for their enjoyment; a product, not a living thing.

And THAT is the tension between nature and humans.

I have thought a lot about my evolution as a hiker, not as a matter of the physical changes that take place over time (grrrrr….) but in the depth of my understanding of my own actions. When I first started hiking the chaparral (which is incredibly fragile and highly flammable) I cut trails wherever I wanted to. I followed deer trails up hills, cut across areas where, I later learned, wildflowers grew. I thought I loved nature and that’s why I wasn’t “controlled”by the trails and fire roads that were right there, too. Over time, I began to see that I wasn’t “loving” nature. It wasn’t about my “freedom” to go wherever I wanted. By the time it became a park, and I was working with the rangers to lead groups of volunteers building trails, I was adamant about staying on trails. The advantages of that weren’t just preservation of the landscape, but safety. Rattlesnakes are everywhere in that landscape and a lot more visible on the trail than off.

Yesterday — in the incredibly beautiful magazine (catalog) put out by Patagonia — I read an article on clean climbing by Mailee Hung. Clean climbing is basically climbing rocks in such a way that the rocks are not damaged by the protection used by climbers to stay safe in their ascents and descents. It’s a HUGE topic and I’m no expert. BUT it’s also a philosophy — leave no trace? Pack out your shit (literally and figuratively)? Hung’s article concluded with a statement that sums up exactly what I believe we humans need to shoot for in everything we do — as much as possible. “Clean climbing means restraint in the face of our egos and humility in the face of nature, an effort at self-mastery rather than world-domination.”

That’s the lesson.


Featured photo: My friend Lois’ son, Mark, and me at Earth Day/March for Science, 2017, Colorado Springs

Wrestling with Precious Papers, and Time…

Just shredded all the letters but one from my life’s first great love. They go back all the way to 1971 and stopped sometime in the 80’s. There were some emails in the early 2000s. I last saw him in 2004 at the airport in Atlanta. It was a wonderful meeting wherein we said what we needed to say to each other.

At first I wasn’t sure what to do with this manila envelope filled with airmail letters from Europe, Asia and Africa covering all those years. I found a way to contact him to see if he wanted them, then I thought, “You’re REALLY going to email this guy out of nowhere and ask him if he wants those letters?” I imagined doing that, letting it play out in my mind in all the ways it could and decided, “No. Do both of you a favor. Go shred them.” I saved one he wrote when the Good-X and I were in China. It is a reply to the first letter I sent him from China and it’s wonderful.

I shredded letters from me to my mom and my mom to me when I was at Colorado Woman’s College in 1970, but I saved the note she sent to my high school asking them to let me go early so I could help put my dad in an ambulance to take him to Penrose Hospital for cortisone treatments for his MS. It brought up a vivid, vivid image of coming home that afternoon to find an ambulance in the driveway with the doors open and the light flashing on top. Why? It wasn’t an emergency. I don’t remember how I helped. The paramedics did the work. I think it was moral support. My mom and I rode in the ambulance to the hospital with my dad. The ACTH therapy helped him and when he came home his life was less of a struggle for a little while.

There were a couple of letters from my mission trip in 1968 to Crow Agency where my mom taught in the 1940s. 16 year old girls are pretty silly 😉 I was thinking of that trip the other day as I was scraping flaked paint off my deck. I imagined someone asking, “Where did you learn to do that?”

I’d say, “On a church mission trip to the Baptist Mission at Crow Agency, Montana.”

The trip was absolutely magical BECAUSE of my mom’s connection and because I went there with that connection. I looked for the people she had known and met some of them. Our group got to attend a Crow funeral service (Crow + Catholic) at the St. Xavier Mission at sunset one June evening — and a June sunset after a thunderstorm in south central Montana is incredible, golden and slanty with a rainbow — all beyond words. The service was all in Crow.

My mom spoke Crow adequately, and when I was a kid she used Crow words to (secretly) get my brother and me in line when there were other people around. Two of the first words I learned in any language were “Stop that” and “Come here” in Crow. I learned more words when at Crow on the mission trip, and I haven’t forgotten all of them.

The whole thing was a strange journey for me first, because I’d been at Crow often. My aunt and uncle had run the general store there for many years. And then, we weren’t there to learn about the Crow or “fraternize.” We were there to live our very white segregated lives and paint the church. That made no sense to me.

I got in trouble on that trip because I took off with an Indian kid (really a kid about 10) on horseback. We rode along the Little Bighorn River. When I got back from that ride, I was in terrible trouble. Because of me the planned trip to Yellowstone Park on the way back to Colorado Springs was scrapped. Peculiar thing to punish everyone for the actions of ONE person, but there it was.

We live so many lives in our lifetimes. Anyway, that plastic bin the size of a boot-box was the hardest one to deal with — to my knowledge. There may be other booby traps as I continue this shredding operation, but none like that. As I shredded, it occurred to me that the papers and souvenirs aren’t my life, anyway. They are just a kind of reassurance that all that really happened and that all those beloved people were real. I feel a little melancholy, but I know in a day or two I’ll just feel lighter.

Maundy Thursday

As a Panentheist who was raised with the Bible and writes novels centered on religion and is not anti-Christian (or any other faith) it’s impossible for me to ignore the week between Palm Sunday and Easter. For me the big day is the day Jesus told God he’d really rather stay on Earth than go through everything he knew was ahead of him. Except for the early-morning betrayal by Judas, it’s kind of a non-event. Guy goes to garden with his friends. Friends are soporific from a big dinner and wine and promptly go to sleep in spite of Jesus asking someone, for the love of God, to stay awake with him (for reasons he knew and we all found out later). OH well.

It’s not cool to know your fate. It’s a question that was debated a lot in my house because my dad KNEW his fate, roughly how long he had to live and what would kill him. Not cool. Better to be surprised especially if you KNOW there’s a crucifixion ahead of you. THAT makes this world all the more beautiful — even in my dad’s case one of the last things he wanted was to see Pikes Peak (we lived in Colorado Springs) one more time.

So every year I celebrate this day of the Earth’s beauty by walking my dogs. Out at the Refuge, I was happy to find that the wind has died down in general (though we are still under a Red Flag Warning). We were able to get out early enough to beat the wind entirely. It was absolutely quiet out there except for the songs and sounds of birds. I watched a pair of red-tailed hawks hunt and, later on, an osprey flew over and in front of me. The songs of red-winged blackbirds and meadowlarks serenaded us along our way. The cinnamon teals — beautiful red ducks with a teal band on their wings — were swimming peacefully. The geese were chill, literally, on some ice left over from the very cold night we had. No people. “The cranes have left. There’s nothing to see.” I’m honestly glad they think so.

“I Have No Idea What’s Going On”

“Biden accuses Russia of genocide in Ukraine, Elon Musk is sued by former Twitter shareholders, and police in New York City search for a gunman who attacked people on a subway.” Reuters

Big mistake to get the news in my email…


Everyone wants security. It’s not news. I had to teach Maslow’s Triangle in my classes (part of my Critical Thinking book). Critical thinking is essentially logic, but the foundation of a logical argument is the acknowledgement of — after the recognition of — the obvious. I’m the first one to say the obvious isn’t all that obvious (to me). Any-hoo the base of that triangle is (obviously?) food, clothing, and shelter. NEXT safety. We’ve seen it a lot in the last couple of years, fear of losing our food, clothing and shelter (ie. “normal” life) used to whip people up into a mental place where logic is impossible.

The thing I’ve noticed since 2016 is that people seem to like feeling insecure and scared. I’ve tried to figure that out (from my pinnacle of wisdom here) and I think it’s because fear gives us focus and simplifies our lives. It also seems to drive people to one of Maslow’s OTHER layers which is “belonging.”

The human drive to “belong” to groups formed around the motivation of fear is, well, I don’t think I need to go there. And though Maslow’s triangle (pyramid, hierarchy of needs) is pretty cool, there are good arguments against it, specifically that people can transcend their “place” in the hierarchy through inspiration, compassion, urgency. I have a decent intellectual understanding of the top layer — self-actualization — but I’ve always wondered who we are if we are NOT ourselves? Wouldn’t the self propel anyone through life in one way or another, subject to external factors?

As for the war in Ukraine. It’s going to go on a long, long, long time. It’s made me think of diplomatic defense alliances. Zelensky wanted to be part of NATO. NATO was, “Uh, dude, that’s like a commitment to a world war. We don’t want that.” The situation resembles (to me) the mother moose who lets her young calf drown in a flooding river because saving him would mean the loss of her life. In this situation, the baby moose has to sink or swim on its own. Our “human” hearts and human values are horrified by this; in a way, we cannot even think about it. This puts us in a double-bind situation. Yes, the mother should live. No, the calf shouldn’t die. HFS!!!

“For too long man has burdened other animals with the aspirations and idealizations of his own society. Only by discarding all myths can he hope to understand himself.” George Schaller, Stones of Silence

This is an important point, I think. We forget (Maslow hasn’t) we’re animals, too.

Putin wants two Ukrainian states. He’s been trying for almost 10 years (or longer!). The question seems to be should Ukraine sacrifice its calves (the two states in question) for the sake of peace or should the world sacrifice its calf (Ukraine) for the sake of peace. I think Ukraine should let the calves drown, let everyone come home, start rebuilding itself. I’d far rather see all the money going for weapons going for rebuilding bombed houses and cities but I am sure I don’t understand the situation completely.

In other news, I would be very grateful if anyone who’s bought the little poetry book could leave a review. I’m not sure about the quality of the poetry (it’s uneven) but wow. The book came out beautifully! Here’s a link where you can leave a review. Shit, Fear, and Beauty

Good Grief Charlie Brown

Yesterday I spent a little time looking for a trip. I’ve been — with a couple short jaunts up to Colorado Springs — in the San Luis Valley for the past three years. Yeah. One reason, of course, has been Covid. The other money. Boarding dogs isn’t cheap. A lot of people choose not to have pets because they want the freedom to travel. I guess I’ve done the converse.

In the process of looking for a trip, I did, of course, find a couple. Then I read the fine print and some of it concerned me. Even thought they are well-organized group tours for “seniors,” they have this:

Tour pacing & mobility

  • You will walk for at least 2 hours daily across moderately uneven terrain, including paved roads and unpaved trails, with some hills and stairs.
  • Travelers should be healthy enough to participate in all included walks without assistance. Adding optional excursions may increase the total amount of walking on your tour.
  • You should feel comfortable managing your own baggage at times, as well as getting in and out of boats and ferries.
  • Go Ahead Tours and the Tour Director who accompanies your group are unable to provide special, individual mobility assistance to travelers on tour. The responsibility of the Tour Director is to ensure the group as a whole enjoys a relaxing and informative journey, and he or she cannot be relied upon to provide ongoing, individualized assistance to any one traveler.
  • If you have any mobility concerns or physical restrictions, please contact our Customer Experience Team.

I thought about this for a while. Well, I’m still thinking about it. My walking problems aren’t a matter of endurance. I can’t define exactly what they are. I think it’s the reality that artificial joints just don’t work like the joints we’re born with and yeah, I have a messed up knee which adds to awkwardness when I’m tired. Getting in and out of a tour bus wouldn’t be easy for me. Walking on uneven terrain? That’s fine.

When my first hip went south almost 20 years ago now, I grieved that loss as if it were a person because it was a person. The person was me, the person I’d always been, the person through whose eyes I saw the world. The abilities taken for granted (and enjoyed by this person!) defined a big part of my identity. “I’m not sure who I am, but I can go four miles in an hour in the mountains.” Nothing else worked. My romances didn’t work. I never got tenure so I worked as a lecturer at three schools, one of which, true, gave me three year contracts. No big publisher wanted my books or stories but dammit! I could go four miles an hour in the mountains. And then, suddenly — it was pretty sudden — I was doing 12 miles with a kid from one of my classes, a collegiate athlete, a body-builder who hiked with me every weekend for his aerobic training — and I was in excruciating pain several times, and had to stop. “I don’t know what’s going on,” I said to him.

“It’s OK. We all get injured.” He sat down on a log and took a drink from his water bottle. “Stretch for a while. We can rest.”

I put a hand out to balance beside a tree and did a few hamstring stretches until I felt better, a little loser in my hip joint. Back in those days, I got massages regularly and my masseuse had noticed there was no space in my hip joint. She diagnosed it a year before it began to hurt and three years before my (incompetent) doc sent me for a hip X-ray.

All my life until then — from childhood — if something went wrong at home, at school, anywhere, I could go for a good run and regain my balance. All that running led to my being a very fast young girl, and my coach wanted to send me to Olympic Training Camp when I was 13 or 14.

Running was my ONE thing, and suddenly it was gone forever.

We think of grief as the emotion we feel when we lose people (and animals) we care about, but we can also grieve parts of ourselves, abilities, independence, beauty, potential. I don’t know that we “recover” from grief; I think we just learn to live with the loss. There’s a lot of stuff about “recovery” and the “lessons we learn” all that — yesterday I read in one of the little literary anthologies published in the Valley every spring how humans learn from pain. The story — an anecdote about losing a beloved dog — said that animals don’t have this ability (I disagree…) and it’s the ability humans have to learn from pain that makes grief redemptive. I’m not sure grief is exactly “redemptive,” but continuing one’s life after a major loss is definitely another fucking growth opportunity.

As a positive person (positive meaning concerned with the possible) I looked around for help in redefining myself and existence without the ONE THING I could do. Direction was everywhere. Like the night I got the X-ray results (finally) in 2006 I leashed my sainted Lily T. Wolf and we went out in the darkness to walk up the road. The road that passed my house in Descanso, California, didn’t have much traffic, especially at night, so it was a quiet walk. The stars shone in the moonless sky. At the end of the road was a pasture with several red horses. As we approached their fence I heard them all move toward me. I walked over to the fence and found five soft horse noses reaching for me. I’d walked down this road many times and the horses had never lifted their heads.

I stroked their noses and any other parts of their heads and necks I could reach. They leaned over the fence to touch noses with Lily. As I walked along the fence, they followed me. In the next pasture, the horses there did the same thing. I must have petted ten horses that night.

The next day, on my way home from school, I bought a big bag of carrots and returned to the horses. They all gathered at the fence and I noticed that ALL of them were old, arthritic, with swollen joints. Many walked slowly favoring a sore leg. One horse couldn’t chew the carrot so I chewed it for her and gave it to her on the palm of my hand. I stayed with the horses for a long time and cried. A few months later the horses were gone. Glue? Dog food? I don’t know, but for me the time they spent with me had been a miracle.

I am 100% convinced they knew everything that was going on inside my heart and saw me as a fellow traveler.

I decided then that everything I would need to cope with this major loss of self would appear somehow. I just had to be open to it. I was about to enter a new world with a yet undiscovered self.

When you get a hip prosthesis the advertising promises all kinds of things. You see guys skiing moguls on them, running on them, all kinds of things which are indeed possible. But there is the question the ads don’t tell you about which is, “Should you?” The answer there is that depends on how often you are willing to go under the knife. One of the things I’ve learned from this is that the surgery is nothing. You’re knocked out. Rehab is long, and, though it’s rewarding because the pain is gone, there are always ancillary annoyances like kicking opioid pain killers and picking up your life where it was before. After my second hip (I have prostheses in both hips) I got cross country skis which proved to be the ONE true compensation for not running, but I don’t have any friends who X-country ski so I’m limited where I can go. I’m willing to go anywhere by myself, but I’m also not foolish. I know I can get hurt or stuck or godnose, so… Anyway, I don’t know anyone who wants to do it as much as I do. It’s always something. Like no snow…. Grrrrrrr…

I haven’t gotten over the loss. I doubt I ever will and reading “fine print” like that I read last night about mobility? The bottom line is I’m still walking and I have a big white dog who understands me and a little black dog who is the realization of joie de vivre when we’re out there doing whatever it is we do on that gravel road in the magnificent light, surrounded by mountains.


The featured photo is the pasture and two of the red horses. You can see how one of them is standing (back horse) with her leg lifted off the ground. The mountain is Cuyamaca Peak. The photo is taken from the exact spot where Lily and I spent time with the red horses. The hills behind the horses burned in the Cedar Fire a couple years before I took this photo.