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.

https://ragtagcommunity.wordpress.com/2020/12/02/rdp-wednesday-pugnacious/

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.

https://ragtagcommunity.wordpress.com/2020/11/20/rdp-friday-compassion/

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.

https://ragtagcommunity.wordpress.com/2020/11/18/rdp-wednesday-visceral/

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. ❤

https://ragtagcommunity.wordpress.com/2020/11/08/rdp-sunday-tidbit/

Cranes and Time

It’s not easy to record the flight of cranes in the sky with a phone. Until today, I haven’t had a lot of success, but….

Ta-TAAAAAA

There were thousands of cranes. Cranes on the ground eating and dancing, cranes in the air, doing what you see above. As Teddy and I were walking out, toward Bella, shadows of cranes passed over me and I thought, “Shadows of these birds have been passing over the earth for 350 million years.” I thought of my little life. Of the little lives of my cows that I’d just seen and talked to (I hold Teddy in my arms when we see the cows; he’s WAY too curious). The cranes had passed over the Clovis point people who once lived here. The cranes had passed over Lake Alamosa when it was above ground. The cranes had passed over the mammoths and the dinosaurs.

Wow.

Then, as we had to drive the loop today, I saw an osprey on the highest point of a small cottonwood tree, the lone tree for miles. I stopped to watch him thinking about how lucky I am to walk in the shadows of Sandhill cranes with a sweet dog on a beautiful Indian summer day and spy an osprey. I thought about how I am really a single-issue voter and it’s never been abortion or racial problems or the economy or anything like that. I have always voted for this beautiful planet. As far as I can tell, nothing is more wonderful, more beautiful, or more important. Nothing and no one has ever loved me more. This is my home and home is where the heart is.

When I couldn’t imagine this afternoon could get more amazing, it did. Suddenly THOUSANDS of cranes who had been grazing on a pasture some distance away took flight and filled the sky with their darker forms.

Wow again. Our time on this planet is so brief, but afternoons like this? A little taste of the best of eternity.

My Submission to a Local Literary Magazine

Tasked to write about “A year like no other,” this is what I submitted. It’ll be nice to see my grandfather’s story in print if they accept it. ❤

The Hole in the Ground

We’re surrounded, inundated, addicted to, swamped by, trampled under, a cacophony of noise, news, social media, opinion, some presented intelligently, logically, some mindless, emotion-driven noise. I keep very quiet about a lot of things right now in this world of absolute, black and white, all or nothing points of view. I miss calm and rationality, and I wonder if I miss something that never existed. Some of the people I love most espouse views I deplore. Out of love, I hold my peace. We’re all in the same boat there. From my perspective, facts and science are too often ignored in what I see as a rebellion against reality. These tiring puzzles swarm around us like yellow jackets at a hummingbird feeder. 

Now I’m tasked to write a story about “a year like no other.” I’ve thought about “our year,” of course, our hardships. The thing is, humanity has lived through worse. My parents and grandparents lived through worse.

I have photographs to prove it. They were the “typical” pioneer, westward moving people, starting in the seventeenth century when the first one was shipped to Barbados from Scotland as a prisoner of war and worked as slave on a sugar plantation. At some point, for some reason that I do not know, he got his freedom, moved to Maryland, set himself up as a tobacco farmer then slave-owning planter, had children, some of whom didn’t stay home, but pressed westward across the Cumberland Gap, and so it went. Others? Arrived at different times. Some, Mennonites from Switzerland, arrived in 1743 escaping decades of religious persecution. Others fled the “starvin’” in nineteenth century Ireland, others hunger in Sweden. It’s the story of a lot of us.

My mother’s parents left their farms in Iowa to settle in Montana in the early twentieth century. Among their notable achievements was the founding of the first cemetery in Belfry, Montana. Why? Because their little boy died of pneumonia. Childhood mortality was a common feature of life until, well, today. My heart-broken grandmother couldn’t bear to stay in the beautiful valley (through which runs a tributary to the Clark’s Fork of the Yellowstone River), so they moved east, to Montana’s high plains near Hardin, Montana. 

My grandmother — descendant of those Mennonites — and my grandfather — descendant of that Maryland planter — scraped out a life during the Great Depression. The whole family — parents and nine kids —  lived in a two-room log/sod house. They rented it and worked the farm for someone else. Down the road was the well where my grandmother filled the family cistern, a huge wooden barrel fixed to a sledge and pulled by the family’s two Percherons.

The horses were their livelihood. At one point, my grandmother supplemented what they made from the farm by driving the horse drawn school bus to pick up the farm kids and take them to school.

My grandmother and the horse-drawn schoolbus. Six of those kids are hers.

“At school, the town kids got hot chocolate for the snack,” my mom  — who was born in 1920 — used to tell me. “Because we were poor, they gave us vegetable soup. It wasn’t fair. We were poor, but we never went hungry. We lived on a farm. We had lots of vegetable soup, but we never had hot chocolate.” Their clothes were made of flour sacks and passed from kid to kid as were their shoes. My mom told the “uphill in the snow at forty below” stories, but I know the place, and those stories were true. Closing school for snow days or until it was 10 above zero? That wasn’t part of my mom’s life.

Every December, my grandfather read James Russell Lowell’s poem, “Snowbound” to his family, and got them through the winter by reading from Les Miserables by Victor Hugo every evening. Reading aloud and reciting poetry were their entertainment. They had no electricity.

Like any kid, I got sick of hearing my mom’s stories about the Depression, but they sank in. I grew up with a sense of gratitude for the advantages I’ve had, among them that my mom grew up in a family that valued education. 

My dad’s story was a little different. His granddad came over as a child from Ireland and ran away from home (Philadelphia) to work on ships that sailed the Great Lakes. He married a French/Finnish/Canadian woman and they ended up in Missoula, Montana, where they had two kids. My great-granddad was the sheriff of Missoula for quite a while. My granddad married the daughter of two Swedish immigrants. My grandmother’s mom, still in her 20s, died of diabetes, leaving behind three kids. My dad’s background was comparatively “urban” — his dad was a building contractor and store owner in Billings, Montana. My dad signed up for the army when he was 17, but he never saw action. His dad signed up, too and spent the war in the Aleutians. 

So here were these people — my people, all of our people — living ALL of this — drought, economic depression, world war, diseases with no cure, for which there was no vaccine, a world where stepping on a nail could kill people, where many had experienced the Spanish Flu epidemic, where kids died of polio or were crippled for life, living through the fear and deprivation brought by a World War. Like our world, it was a time of rapidly expanding technology (cars, typewriters, telephones, electricity, refrigeration, vaccines, antibiotics). I was always amazed that my Mennonite grandmother lived her whole rural, horse-driven life and then, in 1958, sat with six year-old me in a big easy chair to watch Sputnik on a black and white TV. She never got used to the telephone. When it rang she invariably jumped up and cried “Oh my Lord!” She sang hymns all day. 

In 1941 my grandfather (the descendant of the Maryland planter) wrote a short story that is a “photograph” of his world. It’s also the best short story I’ve ever read. Here it is:

The Hole in the Ground

S.A. Beall, Hardin, Montana, 1941:

Between my place and town there is a hole in the ground. A long time ago I noticed some boys digging. I stopped and looked. A small hole. They built a fire and I furnished the marshmallows. We roasted them and then they forgot the hole in the ground. Some played marbles and some flew their kites, but the next spring a new bunch of boys enlarged the hole, built a fire, I furnished the marshmallows and by then it was time to play marbles and fly their kites so year after year a new bunch of boys would enlarge the hole and finally we organized a club. We named it the hole in the ground. I was too old to dig so they elected me an honorary member with the title “Dad.” Every spring a new bunch of boys dig until the hole is big enough for a basement and then came Pearl Harbor. I would go to the depot to see the boys leave. Just boys they shout, “Bye Dad.”

S. A. Beal sometime in the 1950s with a cow and a calf, Billings, MT

So is this “a year like no other” or is it par for the course? I do know that thinking of the brave, tough, kind, enduring people from whom I’m descended has given me both hope and perspective when I head out the door to pick up my pre-ordered groceries, stuff a mask in my pocket, or meet my friends for a socially-distanced “Covid Tea Party” in which everyone brings their own drink. In those moments we suspend our moment and enjoy conversation and friendship and, when it’s over, we say, “That was wonderful. Thank you. We need this. It keeps us sane.” When it comes down to it, in our brief historical moment, the greatest gift we have is the love and friendship we bear for each other. 

Quotidian Update 7,000,000.a.2iv

There are a couple of little kids waiting in anticipation this morning for me to drink my coffee, eat my breakfast, wash up and head to their house. It’s a very strange thing to be the BIG DEAL in anyone’s day. We will be making these:

Paper bag mask featuring Teddy T. Dog

which was something I remember making in school.

Yesterday Bear, E, K and E’s husband, B, and I went to walk at the Refuge. It was a perfect day and a good time was had by all. There were dozens of cranes, the mountains were white in the distance, the air was cool, the wind was mostly quiet. It was a perfect day and everyone had a good time.

K and E walked faster than B and me, maybe a block ahead of us the whole way. I used to walk 4 mph — and run — and now? I can keep up with K and E, but I don’t. I think in the experiences with the hip and all, needing to walk slowly (if I was going to walk at all) slowly changed me as a person. And Bear changed me. Or something. Anyway, it isn’t important, just interesting to me how my own life has been a teacher.

There’s a philosophy that our souls are immortal and inhabit earthly vessels for a period of time in order to learn things. If that’s true, then this little earthly vessel (which has always been a little fragile) is here to teach me the power of my own will and the stronger power of surrendering my will. It’s like when I’m walking along, paying attention to Bear, thinking my own thoughts, and suddenly I hear cranes warbling in the distance, the warble moving closer and I stop thinking, I stop moving, I search the sky and I wait. Somehow I think I have something to learn from these birds, a species that’s been on earth for at least 2.5 million years.

The other day I was about 30 feet away from three cranes. They knew I hadn’t seen them and began making a sound I hadn’t heard before. Their camouflage is good and it was a while before I made out their forms against the gray and beige of the dead grass. Bear and I stood quietly watching as they kept “talking.” A sandhill crane is 4 feet tall. I’m 5. They are big birds and they have perfected survival. “Well, there’s that little lady again. She’s no threat, but I think we should say something in case she was planning to come this way.”

I have no idea what I’ll learn from the cranes; nature is not that kind of school, anyway. They are fascinating and beautiful, so I’ll just keep hanging out where they are and watching them. Whatever else, I get sky, mountains, the company of friends and dogs and a little exercise.

https://ragtagcommunity.wordpress.com/2020/10/30/rdp-friday-anticipation/

Life As I Know It These Days

The ladies and I met on my deck for another COVID tea party yesterday and had a wonderful time. One thing in particular touched me and I think it’s meaningful in a more general way. As they left they thanked me.

I didn’t do anything but hose off the deck, wash the table and chairs, and get the patio umbrella in the right position. I made a joke, “Well, it’s pretty easy when you bring your cups of tea over, and I bring my water bottle outside, and, you know.” Laughter.

There was a lot of laughter, even when I told an off color joke about a young sheepherder. It had a context..

The conversations were random and wide ranging in their way. E, my neighbor who is originally from Australia, and Church of England, told a story about a recent Zoom meeting she attended pertaining her her leadership position in the Colorado Episcopalian church. She told how this bishop (?) explained he’d discovered during these times how much time he wasted BEFORE just being busy and important. He explained that C-19 had awakened him to an emptiness in his life he hadn’t been aware of.

This came up because I mentioned a note I got along with a sweatshirt I’d ordered from Poshmark. I said it was amazing the thoughtfulness and care that we express to each other now that we wouldn’t have last year.

When the party was over and I walked everyone to the front gate, K asked if I’d seen the garden sign I painted her in June. She said they’d hung it up. We all went to her house to see it. When the wood fades, the painting will be more visible, but meantime, I think it does its job pretty well, its job being to cheer people up. It’s hanging on their new shed.

My other activities yesterday were a little more arduous. I’m a small person. Five feet tall, so when it comes to framing large paintings it’s more like a wrestling match than it would be for a taller person. I had to order a roll of 4″ wide brown paper to properly frame the big painting. There’s more to framing an oil for which you have respect than there is to putting a photo in a frame. You have to fasten the painting into the frame and then you have to make sure that dust and other nasties won’t find their way to the painting. I use brown paper. I base my framing methods on those used by my grandfather’s favorite artist, Leroy Greene, a 20th century Montana impressionist.

Yesterday morning I spent three hours getting the backing on the painting of the tree. I don’t even have a table big enough so I was using my small drawing table. When I was done, I was finally able to hang up the painting and see it on a wall.


“To create a painting, should be like telling a story to a friend. The grammar, the choice of words, the thought, the knowledge of the subject, plus the joy of the telling, makes the difference between a good or a crude story. Just so in painting. The technique, the colors and the knowledge of the subject are most important, but without feeling and inspiration, and the sheer delight in the subject, the resulting painting will be short of being a work of art.” LeRoy Greene.

And, this is the sixth anniversary of actually LIVING in my house in Monte Vista, a life that still seems too good to be true, like a fantasy. ❤

https://ragtagcommunity.wordpress.com/2020/10/21/rdp-wednesday-fantasy/

Color’s Determined Boldness

I recently decided to participate more fully in our pandemic by letting The Washington Post send me a week of advice/activities for dealing with the “lockdown.” I got the first one today. One thing it said struck me. It relates to time.

“…attention, emotion, stress and novelty, researchers say, are all related to how we perceive time.” 

The article goes on to say, “… time, as we perceive it, is “extremely malleable,” said Martin Wiener, an assistant professor of psychology at George Mason University. It acts just like a sense does, he said. And like hearing or sight, it can be tricked… Factors like attention, emotion, stress and novelty…are all related to how we perceive time. Uncertainty, grief and isolation have stretched them all.

Time is a weird thing. Some belief systems say there is no time; that it’s an illusion, and what we have is duration. I like that idea, though it’s admittedly a little difficult for me to wrap my head around.

Living alone and retired in a small mountain town is at least half-way toward a “lockdown” so, I can’t say I’ve really experienced the “timewarp” of the pandemic. That’s fine with me. My experience of it is mostly through my awareness of the deadly, political blustering of our Asshole in Chief balanced by scientific information from the ambient world and the wisdom of my state’s governor.

“On call with campaign staff, President Trump says people are tired of hearing about coronavirus. ‘People are saying whatever. Just leave us alone. They’re tired of it. People are tired of hearing Fauci and all these idiots…Fauci is a nice guy. He’s been here for 500 years’.”

The pandemic’s effect on my daily life has been through my understanding that it’s scary and my resolution not to get sick. I also feel the reality that no one is OK right now. The “ordinary” tragedies of life are not on lockdown. People are still going to struggle with their lives, personal problems, dread diseases. COVID 19 is like a glaze an artist might paint over an entire painting to give it a particular color “cast,” or the sobering darkness left by time on a work of dazzling color.

I enjoy watching Waldemar Januszczak’s art history documentaries. I get to see paintings and places, and I learn a little something. 😉 Last night I was watching his biographical piece on Manet. There was a painting — The Old Musician — being restored at the National Gallery. Waldemar said to the restorer, “Wow! Is this the same painting?”

“Yes,” she said. “We’ve removed all the yellow varnish. Now we have all these colors.” Since the viewer probably had no memory of the painting before, the film showed the restoration process in progress at one point. I was moved by the determination of color.

P.S. I don’t think I’ll ever use the word “hardihood.” Sorry. It’s just kind of weird.

https://ragtagcommunity.wordpress.com/2020/10/19/rdp-monday-hardihood/

Kids’ Art Class Update

As I headed to art “class,” the kids were already waiting in the alley. We had class outside today which was kind of funny considering this is the San Luis Valley which is ALWAYS windy and we were working with tissue paper. There were plenty of rocks around to hold stuff down and, godnose, we’re used to the wind. The whole time we were outside working, Bear heard us and barked. We heard her a block away.

We made ghosts. I showed them a finished one and asked them to tell me how I made it. Good strategy. The kids made a bunch, hung them all around, put glow-in-the-dark paint on the ghosts’ eyes. They’re going to tell me later if the ghosts’ eyes glow. “Do you want to stay for supper and wait to see if the ghosts’ eyes glow?” asked the little girl. Because we were outside, there was much running around, then we drew a haunted house.

My drawing is hanging in the little boy’s room. Finally got my gallery show.

The little girl threaded a needle for the first time. They got new snow boots. The little girl offered to come home with me and pick up Teddy’s toys from the back yard. The little boy told me to text his mom when Bear decides where she wants to take her walk today. Going for a walk with Bear and me is his best thing EVER.

I watch them and take in all the beautiful pictures of what they do for the scrapbook of wonder I keep in my mind.