“Multiple Sclerosis, Vikings and Nordic Skiing”

As I was writing my post yesterday about my sweet ski “adventure” I remembered a rune of a Viking on skis with a bow and arrow and I wanted to put it in my post. I googled it and found it, yay! (should I end this here?) I also found a program on PBS that caught my attention, “Multiple Sclerosis, Vikings and Nordic Skiing.” How could ANYONE not be caught by a title like that? For me it was especially provocative. My dad suffered from MS and, beyond that obvious hook, who isn’t fascinated by Vikings and, yeah, Langlauf. ❤


I already knew that MS is more prevalent among people from Northern Europe. It has a much higher incidence in Scandinavia and among those of Scandinavian descent. Science has now tracked it across the North Atlantic, a disease of the central nervous system carried in Viking Ships. My dad’s mother was from Sweden, and Ancestry tells me I am mostly Scots, Irish and Scandinavian, all parts of the world where MS is comparatively common. Yay Vikings!

MS is an autoimmune disease that most often shows up in young adulthood, but people can have it for a long time without knowing it. The film goes into detail about the diagnosis and the science behind the progress of the disease. It can now be accurately diagnosed with an MRI, which didn’t exist when my dad was alive. My dad’s MS was diagnosed with certainty in an autopsy. If you’re interested, you can learn about MS here, the National Multiple Sclerosis Society webpage.

Dad, me, Aunt Martha 1963

The program followed six people in the United States and Norway who’d been diagnosed with MS. One of the points of the program was how exercise can help people with MS. The problem with exercise is that heat — even a rise in body temperature — can be debilitating, causing fatigue and a relapse of symptoms. The obvious sport for a person with MS is the national sport of Norway; Nordic skiing.

In 2012 and 13 (I believe) the American Birkebeiner worked in partnership with the National Multiple Sclerosis Foundation to raise money for MS. Three of the skiers in the program did the American Birkebeiner race. At the same time, three Norwegian women skied the Norwegian Birkebeiner.

Both American Birkebeiner races drew Norwegian Olympic champion skiers to Wisconsin to race and raise funds. One of those champions has a mom who suffers from MS.

As I watched them race, I was lost, thinking, “Birki WHAT?” I had no idea…

It started in 1206. Birkebeiner skiers, so called for their protective birch bark leggings, skied through the treacherous mountains and rugged forests of Norway’s Osterdalen valley during the winter of 1206, smuggling the son of King Sverresson and Inga of Vartieg to safety. The flight taken during the Norwegian Civil War took the Birkebeiners and prince from Lillehammer to safety in the town of Trondheim. Inga of Vartieg never became queen as the prince’s father was killed before he could return for her in Vartieg. Norwegian history credits the Birkebeiners’ bravery with preserving the life of the boy who later became King Haakon Haakonsson IV and forever changed Northern Europes’ history by his reign.

The story and painting of the flight were the inspiration for the first Birkebeinger ski race held in Norway in 1932. To this day, Norwegian skiers still carry a pack, symbolizing the weight of an 18-month child, in the Worldloppet’s Norwegian Birkebeiner Rennet race from Rena – Lillehammer. Thousands of skiers commemorate the journey with annual Birkebeiner races in Norway, Canada, and the United States.

The race known today as the American Birkebeiner began in 1973 as the dream of the late Tony Wise. Thirty-four men and one lone woman were on the starting line clad in woolen sweaters and knickers for the 50-kilometer race from the Lumberjack Bowl in Hayward to Telemark Lodge in Cable, Wisconsin. Nineteen more women and juniors would ski a shorter race from “OO” to Telemark. Few knew they were going to make history. There were no U.S. Ski Team members or foreign skiers, just a handful of enthusiasts from a couple of midwestern states, out to try something new. Many of the entrants were on cross-country skis for the first season – some for the first time.

Today, over 13,000 skiers of all ages and abilites and 20,000 spectators fromaround the world gather every February in the Cable-Hayward, Wisconsin area to celebrate “The Birkie”, a race which has become a legend in the cross-country ski world. We look forward to you joining us!


The six racers with MS all made it. One of the Norwegian women said she hadn’t expected the race to be fun. “All along the way people cheered me on, gave me coffee, water, food. My time was better than I thought it would be, and I never felt alone. I had so much fun!”

Another Norwegian woman said that the race kept her training every day, even when she didn’t feel like it. When race day came, she was nervous, but ended up having a great time.

A young Wisconsin racer, a former competitive skier who’d been dismayed by her diagnosis (naturally) explained — as the camera followed her awkward little pink tight-clad form around the 25 mile course, “I stopped worrying about my time or competing. I was there to have fun and to make it all the way. It was wonderful. I hope I can keep having fun like this way into my 80s!”

A young man whose main symptom was arm weakness, said, “I felt my arms going about half way so, for a while, I just poled every other stroke.” He stood beaming with the Birkebeiner medal around his neck.

Side Canals

Venice is a “city for lovers” but I have no idea why except that historically and physically it’s a perfect metaphor for the complicated and inscrutable labyrinth of love. I have been there three times, two of those times in the midst of a romantic conundrum. Venice was, at least, distracting.

It exerts incredible pressure on the lone female tourist with all the honeymoon couples, posing on the Rialto Bridge over the grand canal, asking me to take their photo while they look into the lens with feigned happiness and real perplexity. Venice is the world’s locus for “Just ask for directions, David!” and “No. I know where we are.”

It’s a good place to visit if you’ve always dreamed of medieval Byzantium because it’s there. Venetians stole it in the 12th century and brought it home as best they could, along with the bones of St. Mark.

I love Venice. Away from the main spots — Piazza San Marco, the Rialto — it’s a secretive, mysterious, living city. I do not know how anyone could see everything without living there a while. I also wish I’d known more history, at least when I was there in 2000. In 2004, I enjoyed the luxury of staying on the train as it discharged passengers and loaded passengers who were, like me, going to Trieste.

There are so many films set in Venice, but my favorite, the one that captures it best, is Bread and Tulips or Pane e Tulipani.


A Story…

I awaken bewildered in this silent compartment. The train has stopped. The calm young lovers speaking in soft tones are gone. I look at the station. Pesceria di Garda. Lago di Garda. It’s not the first time I pass over something without seeing. In the town of Limone, on this same lake, Goethe first saw lemon trees. My sleepy musing comes from the thought of how exotic had been a lemon to Goethe, a symbol of a place so distant and magical, it became the object of all his dreaming. The locomotive shudders to a start. My head against the padded back of the high seat and my face to the window, I quickly return to sleep in this cradle of a train, relentlessly forward, ever side to side.  

Mi scusi, signora, il biglietto per favore.

Who is he talking to? My thoughts are far away and I am with them. Tomorrow is my last day in Italy. I am already in tomorrow or nowhere or in a dream. In regrets? 

Signora?” A gentle tap on my shoulder.

Mi dispiace.”

I hand him my ticket. He validates it with his paper punch and continues moving through the train. There are only two other passengers in my car. Could there be very many more on this whole train? It’s after ten p.m.

He returns, “Are you American?”
“Yes,” I answer, looking up.
“May I sit with you?”
Parla italiano un po, si?”
Si, ma non bene. Solo un po.”
Va bene. Anche io. Parlo un po di Inglesa. Forse possiamo communicare?”
Spero che si!” I laugh. “Ma, per communicare, la lingua non e il unico problema.” I grin at him.

He has sincere blue eyes, pale skin, a receding hairline. He loves to travel; he likes his job because he sometimes meets interesting people, “Like you,” he says, gently flirting. He speaks of Venice, how he likes it better in the winter when the tourists are gone, and the streets are filled with fog.

“Venice like that,” he says, “you can believe you are in the past.”
“All Europe is like that for me,” I tell him, “maybe for all Americans. European streets are stories; they are dreams.” 
“For you?”
“For me, certainly, for me.”
“Do you like Italy?”
“I love Italy.”
“Why? What do you love about Italy?” He settles back, his arms folded across his chest, a warm glint in his eye. “I uomini,” I should say, “The men,” I don’t think to say it. Flirtation is far from my thoughts; he has asked the question I was working out in my sleep. I am leaving Italy and, with all my heart, and longing, I love what I am leaving.
“I have to think.”
“If you have to think, you don’t like anything.”
“No. It’s a language problem. I don’t know how to say it.”
“Say it in English, then.”
“No, just wait. I can do this, I can tell you in Italian.”

I don’t like to cross over into the confusing twilight of English that doesn’t belong here. I love my language, sure, but Italian streets–and certainly this day — do not reflect the crushed, rebuilt, borrowed sounds of English, the sliding of syllables into silence. Even constrained by my limited vocabulary and primitive grammar, I have been more in Italy by speaking Italian. Of this day in particular I want every small moment that remains of Venice, my nostalgic espresso in honor of a beloved, now dead, friend, Pietro, beneath the Lion at Piazza San Marco, the changing evocative light above canals, the tourists like strings of bright Venetian beads dragged by destinations across the Rialto Bridge. The only English I’ve heard or spoken all day was but an echo of Goethe; “Please, can you take our photo?” “With pleasure,” I answered, and photographed a honeymooning German couple. Still, I don’t know how I will be able to answer this man’s question or frame my rather complex notion in my Italian baby talk. 

He waits, nervous.

“Ah,” I say, “Posso. Mi piace che in italia la vita classica vive insieme della energia moderna.”
He stares, surprised, then, “Bello. Profondo.
“What do you do? You are not an ordinary person.”
“Sure. I’m ordinary.”
“No. Ordinary people do not say things like ‘The classical life lives together with the modern energy’. That is extraordinary. What do you do?”
I think, only a moment, “I am a writer.”
“What do you write? Romances, stories about love?”
“No, no, that doesn’t interest me.”
“Oh, no. Historical fiction.”
“Ah, that’s why you would be aware of that, the classical life, you would look for it here.”
“I guess so.”
“Are you stopping in Milano?”
“Yes. I’m staying with some friends.”
“How long will you be in Milano?”
“Only one day more. I go back day after tomorrow.”
He looks at me intently. “A pity.”
“I think so, too.”

We look away from each other. He looks out the window across the aisle, I through the window next to me. The train keeps its steady movement. I feel his eyes, and see them reflected in the dark window. I turn.

“You can write about this. You can write about this train ride.”

I look at him for a moment. I see my whole story in this compartment on this train. Though I am going home, I should not go home; I realize in the next moment that I never really will.

“I will. I will write this story.”

The featured photo is one I took in 2000 as I wandered the backstreets of Venice, looking for a real story, distancing myself from my bewildered heart. 

Don’t Look!

I’m one of those people how has “problems with intimacy.” I wasn’t always like that, but life has taught me that the even the lowly pillbug has a few good ideas.

When I had my hip replacement, that whole pillbug notion had to go by the wayside. I had to surrender to heavy drugs, accept that some guy was going to slice open my naked body, shove a little saw inside, and cut off my bone. That was bad, but at least I was unconscious. Afterward, nurses would have to help me use the toilet and various other intimate tasks. I am sure my resistance to intimacy helped me recover faster.

Afterward, someone had to take care of me, at home. When my friend Lois offered, I accepted. I knew she could handle it with finesse and she did. I don’t think it was too gruesome. There was the oxygen problem, and once a bandage had to be changed, but there was no real gore.

The OTHER kind of intimacy, really KNOWING someone, yeah. As a young person I was very interested in long revelatory conversations as parts of friendship. Now I think that friendships evolve in time, through contact, actions that reveal a person’s heart far more than does a late night confidence.

Spring? Just Say NO!!!

Dear Normal People:

Spring is several weeks away. 28 days + 7 or so. Back off. Anyway, what’s so great about it?

Spring is a silly season, ambivalent and immature. It’s childish and makes horrible mistakes. A couple of years ago Spring, in a fit of pique, threw us a hard freeze toward the end of itself, and we had NO apples in the San Luis Valley. Spring is sinister like that. In pictures it looks all pretty like a girl in a prom dress, but seriously? It’s war. 60-70 mph winds, mud, ticks, sandstorms (gravel storms, actually). Nasty. Sure, winter has its problems — ice, cold, but it’s not going to pull the rug out from under your hopes — well, a little bit — but not like spring.

That whore.

And then what? SUMMER! Horror. Lawn mowing, mosquitos, endlessly tending the damned garden, afternoon hail storms, and those long, long hot days when you can’t walk your dogs until 7 pm and people are using the golf course for — golf. No thanks. It’s dark times from March 21 until October with its chill nights, swirling leaves and the promise of winter.

I just grit my teeth and try to get through Spring and Summer. I’m in no hurry.

Yesterday I was driven to write poetry in response to blog posts about longing for spring. Here they are…

Stay away spring
with your oozing, sticky mud
your wind and dust storms
your promises and betrayals
apple blossoms blown from trees.

Stay away spring
A little more snow
more trails and skiing
Places for my dog to bound
through deep soft drifts
before the fecund nightmare
starts again.


Everyone yearns for spring.
I wish winter stayed longer
Deep drifts and ski tracks.

I woke up this morning thinking I’d done the right thing going into debt temporarily to buy my skis because it MIGHT be that won’t happen again on the golf course and I hesitate to go up to the mountains alone, especially with a non-4WD car. Then I thought, “How stupid. No one had 4WD cars back in the day but we all went to the mountains. What fearful wusses we have become. And with cell phones!!!”

BUT… I am not in the spring or summer or even autumn (well, maybe I’m in November or something, late autumn) of my life anymore. That’s a non-negotiable, material difference. Back in the summer of my life, I did strap my skis to the top of my VW Bug and head to the untrammeled wilds alone. I didn’t consider the dangers back then, only the thrill of skiing up (then down) favorite hiking trails.

Next year I will attend the early season socials of the San Juan Nordic Club, the heroes who groom the trails around here. I’ll stifle my shyness and bring my potluck dish. Who knows? I might meet a similar soul who needs a pal for the back country.

Your pals,

Martha and Polar Bear Yeti T. Dog


Lamont and Dude Confront Reality

“Remember the volcanoes, Lamont? The beautiful flares of flame from a distance? I’d love to see that again. What’s wrong, buddy?”

“Yeah. Wish I’d known then what I know now.”


“You know. About seismic events.”

“Oh you mean when the earth moves.”

“Yes, Dude. I’m glad the girl down the boardwalk finally recognized your peculiar, I mean indisputable, charms.”

“I didn’t mean that. I meant volcanoes, earthquakes, asteroids, meteors and the like. What are you reading?”

“I’m reading about the meteor crater. Dude, I think our memories are seriously messed up. It seems we’ve conflated events, locales, everything. No wonder everyone laughs at me on television and thinks I’m a stand up comic.”

“No, Lamont. Your memories are fine. You just got the meteor wrong. We were no where near Arizona, and neither was the meteor. It was in the Yucatan. And the meteor didn’t kill us. It was the stuff that came after, the dust cloud, the sulphur dioxide released into the atmosphere, the resulting drastic cooling of the Earth’s atmosphere that killed plant life. Animals starved. We never ‘ran away’ from the meteor. The way I remember it, we went around eating carcasses for a while until, well, I got some bad meat, man. You were still there, but maybe you ate some too.”

“How prosaic. But, Dude. You’ve studied this.”

“Yeah. I’ve been hit in the head by my surfboard more than once. I wasn’t going to rely on my MIND.”

“So where were we, Dude?”

“Don’t be so downcast, Lamont. It’s not like the places are real in any real sense. Somewhere in Asia, probably. Maybe Alberta. I don’t really know.”

“Wow. All this time I’ve imagined…”

“I know, buddy. I know. Reality is a bitch.”


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

Hitler Strikes Again

I inadvertently got in a “debate” on Twitter about the meaning of “globalism.” This happened after I saw a video clip of a young de-brained black woman who said Hitler’s nationalism was OK until Hitler got into globalism. Globalism = the invasion of Poland, etc.

“I think that the definition [of nationalism] gets poisoned by elitists that actually want globalism. Globalism is what I don’t want,” Owens said. “Whenever we say ‘nationalism,’ the first thing people think about, at least in America, is Hitler. You know, he was a national socialist, but if Hitler just wanted to make Germany great and have things run well, OK, fine.” 

She continued, “The problem is that he wanted — he had dreams outside of Germany. He wanted to globalize. He wanted everybody to be German, everybody to be speaking German. Everybody to look a different way. That’s not, to me, that’s not nationalism. In thinking about how we could go bad down the line, I don’t really have an issue with nationalism. I really don’t. I think that it’s OK.” 


She’s a spokesperson for a far right student group, the Turning Point. I dug a bit to see who they are. WTF? I am aghast.


So for these dweebs-in-training “globalism” is the same as world domination. The ONLY good thing about their — I’ll be kind — “misapprehension” is that they don’t seem to think world domination is a good thing.

Hitler emoticon

Mentioning Hitler in any positive way is a sure way to get attention. (Insert Hitler emoticon) and push any shred of thought right out of the brain. She got the knee-jerk reaction to Hitler to which she was playing. “Hitler!” = “Holocaust!” not “Hitler!” = “World conquest!” The protest the young woman garnered was focused on the extermination of Jews and Romani (which she never mentioned or defended), not on her egregious take on globalism (which was her point).

We just walk back and forth in mental trenches…

SO…I posted that globalism is not world domination; it’s an extenuation of the belief that we are, besides citizens of our respective nations, citizens of the world.

The storm that ensued from that sagacious philosophical position was scary. I quickly deleted and retreated. I saw that many people don’t get it that the boundaries of our nations are man-made things.

The world we live in now gives far too many people a platform with which to proclaim their ignorance.

I began seeing myself as a citizen of the world when I was a teenager. It was kind of a romantic notion (not “warm and fuzzy” as one of the Twitter assailants said, mistaking me for one of the squishier liberals). I saw myself as Richard Halliburton in my Seven League boots. To me, being a citizen of the world meant leaving the known and pursuing the unknown.

Globalism — being a citizen of the world — means understanding that what happens in another nation affects me and vice versa. This isn’t a new thought. It’s why the US landed on the beaches of Normandy. In my immediate reality, in this tiny town in the middle of nowhere, “globalism” means that the local Waste Management company is not offering recycling. Because of Trump’s trade war with China, China isn’t buying our trash right now with which to make Patagonia’s expensive recycled products.


Happy Place

In my tiny little town are many magnificent churches like you’d find in a bigger city. Looking at them, a person can understand the vast and optimistic vision of those early settlers.

I’ve only been to one, St. Stephens the Martyr, Episcopal Church and beloved sanctuary of my friend, Elizabeth. It’s not a magnificent church. It’s a tiny chapel, built by some English settlers, to look exactly like their chapel at home. Early photos of it show a little English church surrounded by chamisa flats and the big empty. They are heart-rending.

St. Stephens the Martyr, Monte Vista before the door was replaced with one that looks like the original door.

I don’t really need a sanctuary any more, but I did for years and years and years and years. It was always out in the woods or hills, under the open sky. I found it when I was eight years old or so and we lived across the street from a forest. The forest was part of the mission of the Columban Fathers, but that was irrelevant to me. I didn’t even know who they were until I read How the Irish Saved Civilization. The forest was part of the deciduous woods that line the Missouri River. We called our woods “the Mission.” From time to time we saw a monk wandering between the trees, carrying a Bible or a missal.

Me, age 12 or 13, at “the Mission”

After six years, we moved back to Colorado and I had to find a new sanctuary. Things in the famdamily had gotten to the point where sometimes I needed to run away. Lucky for me, we lived near a place now formally named “Palmer Park” but known by savants as “the bluffs.” In the bluffs, I found my tree, about which I’ve written many, many times.

Me and my tree, January 2018, a few months before my hip surgery.

But NOW everything is my sanctuary.

Le Fardeau du Temps

Not long ago I found a letter my youngest aunt, Aunt Dickie, had written to my mom. My mom was going to be the maid of honor at Dickie’s wedding. It was 1949. My mom and dad were already in Colorado, not yet married a year. Both my mom and my aunt were in their late 20s.

My aunt wrote about her dress, how she’d conferred with “Mom” (my grandma) about whether to get long white dress or something she could wear later. The decision was something to wear later and Aunt Dickie described it in detail — gray wool shot through with silver threads. Aunt Dickie wrote about the apartment they would move into, the car she wasn’t going to buy, how she wanted to call my mom but long distance was so expensive. These were exciting decisions and she clearly couldn’t wait.

It was lovely to read but haunting. All of life stretched ahead of these two young women. I read the letter knowing how everything would turn out for them, the rollercoasters fate had prepared for both. It tore at my heartstrings.

As time fulfilled itself, my mom was a complicated person, our relationship fraught and impossible. My aunt was a resolute and grounded woman who saw with piercing clarity the situation I was in and loved me.

When we talk about the baggage of life, it’s usually not good stuff, but some of what we carry is love. Love is not only weightless, but has wings to lift the heavier burdens from our shoulders.


* Time’s burdens — stolen from Baudelaire who, in his poem “Enivrez-vous” seems, in a way, to be answering Hamlet, but that’s maybe a story for another day…

Quotidian Update 43.2.a

Well, that break didn’t last long. It appears my NOT writing a daily blog while drinking my coffee in the morning disturbs the balance of life on Planet Martha. I get it. It corresponds with the rawhide pencil moment of my dogs’ lives, and it’s part of Dusty’s morning coffee (cup). Dogs are creatures of habit, but it might go deeper. I think it might be ritual.

Yesterday I cleaned out the art-room/studio/play room and assessed my art supplies. I guess during the working years I amassed supplies ahead of “someday.” Someday is now. I’m going to have to start manufacturing artwork and not watercolors on paper that take up no space and use almost no materials. I have to get into the oil paints and start turning out Elvis portraits. Tout suite!

The big news (in two days, you can’t expect a lot) is that I got my tax refund and paid for my skis. For the last several days, while the local mountains have been dumped on, we’ve had a melt. I was out there with Bear day before yesterday. The tracks looked OK, but we had more warm temps yesterday. The cross-country skiing is good up at Wolf Creek, the local ski area, but I don’t have anyone to go with and since it’s off to the side of the mountain, in the woods, and not patrolled. I don’t feel so good about going by myself.

In political news, I watched part of the State of the Union. What I do not understand is WHY that man doesn’t care about or respond to the fact that more than half the people in this country despise (fear? loathe?) him. He doesn’t seem to recognize that there’s a legitimate parallel America doing its best to function beside his bizarro America. He doesn’t get that he’s (ostensibly) the leader of THAT America, too, and owes them (us) a debt of responsibility.

As I looked at the sea of representatives from all over the country I thought that one side represents the future and the other the past. I can’t say I like the face of either side, and, even more significant, I am sad that there are “sides.” I’m tired of the ignorance. Socialism and Freedom are not opposites, for example.

OH well…

In other news (cheerier) on my dog walk yesterday, I found this note on the sidewalk. It had white ribbon and had been attached to a scarf that had been tied around a slumbering flowering crab apple tree.

I have to go paint something.

Why a Break…

Dear Dangerspouse (and everyone else):

I’ve learned over the years that nothing makes my teeth itch more than worrying about marketing my writing. But…I started this blog in 2013 just for that reason. I read a book about marketing self-published books (was that book self-published?) and it said that writing a blog on WordPress was essential to selling self-published books. At the time I was trying to sell Martin of Gfenn and Savior. There’s something to that. I think many of the books I sold over the years have been to readers of my blog. But…

So I made a profile and looked around to see what was going on here. I’d had blogs on Blogger, mostly private, written as I used to write my journals, a place to think, to vent, but the online thing was better because of pictures.

I saw a thing called the “Daily Prompt” (RIP) and thought it was just fucking stupid, but the book also said I had to build an audience on my blog, so I started writing the prompt every morning. What I learned was that — at 4:30 in the morning, the hour at which I got out of bed at the time — it was nice to sit and think with my cup of coffee before the horror-show of my life began in earnest. My morning blog post became a kind of sanctuary, and I wrote some good stories. That was surprising.

People who talk, write, and think about “How to become a writer” often say, “Write every day until it becomes a habit.” I’ve had that habit all my life. Writing isn’t usually stressful for me, and when it is, it’s stressful because of where a story is going.

The China project was pretty intense. All those stories (and it’s just the surface) have been waiting for 35+ years. I thought there would be more. Then a moment came and I knew there were a lot of stories I didn’t want to share. The question, not share HERE or not share at all? I don’t know.

The little break or more I feel I need right now is mostly because I feel I need some down time to do/write/think about different things. As long as there’s snow (and there isn’t now, boo hoo hoo) I’m going to be most interested in my skis and that’s one story, “I went out and I skied and I came back home. It’s the best.” The little water colors are mildly consuming and take some time. So, just a break until I have something to say. At the moment, it’s just feeling a little ho-hum. ❤


*The featured photo shows the strata of an examined life…