El Barquero Grande and the Girls

Dusty had a great time at day care yesterday. He was in a kennel next to another black barky dog and apparently they barked at each other all day. It’s hard to know if it was for fun or for malice, but when I picked up the dogs, they were all outside in the play yard.

I think they had a good day. Dusty and Bear were both exhausted and Mindy? Mindy was glad to be home. I don’t think it’s the best thing for her, but it isn’t the worst, either.


The kennel is new — opened just last year. It’s beautiful, and the woman who owns it and runs it truly LOVES dogs. Among the dogs hanging out there yesterday was an aged boxer who is blind and deaf. It appears when she came in the first time she went straight to the store room, so Lori, the owner, lets her stay there. It’s a quiet room with a northwest window. The boxer is a very sweet, responsive old dog. I think she and Mindy could share that room.

Other dogs, too. The young woman who works there brings her dog every day, and the dog is Bear’s best friend. There’s a tiny shit-tzu mix who’s prone to peeing on my shoe, but is also very sweet and funny. And yesterday my neighbor’s old basset was there. Most of the dogs are big dogs. There are two samoyeds who’ve been there a long time while their owner had surgery that ended up with complications. An old pyrenees. Yesterday the place was full — probably, partly, because of spring break.

I’m very happy their business is doing well. I really like the people who run it, it’s only 10 minutes from my house and my dogs are cared for and happy there.

The photo above is the view west from Noahs Arf. See the tiny rainbow? Well, it grew and grew and grew yesterday until it spanned the whole San Juan range. Among the topics my friend and I hit in our 3 or so hours on the road was god. She finally said, “So the San Luis Valley is your god?” and I said, “I guess so.” Not a faceless, inscrutable god at all, but a great, immense, wild, gorgeous god.



It was an amazing day. My friend, Perla Kopeloff (Fiberspace) whose hands you see in the photo above, makes beautiful felted clothing. This is a reversible vest. I think it’s the most beautiful of many beautiful things she’s made. She sells some of her work through Artemesia, a small boutique on Bent Street in Taos, so when I go to Taos, it’s most often with her. I’m company in the car and it’s a chance for us to hang out. She’s amazingly productive and we don’t live in the same town, so getting together needs a little arranging. Still, We don’t see each other often enough.

The dogs stayed at “daycare” and it worked great. I didn’t need to worry about them at all, worry that they were bored or anything. I was free to spend more time and relax.

The journey down was full of wild and beautiful skies; rain, a full rainbow, the southern San Luis Valley pulled out ALL the stops today. It was magic. Taos was cloudy and cool, and it had rained so it was pleasant. It’s been a hard year economically for Taos — no snow and the town depends heavily on people coming in to ski over Christmas break.

It was nice to have a break from the usual, to have fun conversation with my friend who is originally from Argentina, has lived many places in the world and has always been a producing artist.

Here’s one shot of the sky — not great, but you get the idea. This is over the Monte Vista Wildlife Refuge, not far from Noahs Arff, the boarding kennel, where, this morning, I was lucky enough to see dozens of cranes, a black shouldered kite hunting and an osprey. 🙂


Here are photos of Perla’s work that we took to Taos today:


Back in the day, I got up every morning at about 4:30 so I could organize myself and have some “me” time — and maybe write my blog — before heading down the highway to school. My first classes were always at 7:30 or 8:00 and it was at least a 40 miinute drive. I got so I didn’t even notice the early hour. My days were long — sometimes I didn’t get home from school until 8 o’clock — and from there the usual evening stuff of making supper and winding down. Then do it again. If I sound like a martyr, that’s OK. I was a martyr.

This morning I’m heading to Taos with a friend, and I need to be at her house at 9 which, I admit, is not that early. For me, having to organize the dogs and myself by a certain time, it’s early. The dogs are going to “day care” — practice for if they need to be boarded while I have my surgery. My friend lives 18 miles away. I had to set the alarm. I get up earlyish as it is (7:00/7:30) but if I didn’t get up this morning by 6:30 I’d have a hard time being ready.

OK, that’s just — here’s the deal. The alarm has become a foreign object to me and as soon as I set an alarm, I can’t sleep. I worry I won’t get up. I worry I won’t sleep. I worry about every possible thing I could worry about. Sure, I probably go right to sleep, but I’ll wake up and say, “Oh, good, I still have five hours” and it will be three hours of angst followed by two hours of sleep followed by, “Oh shit” and fear of the snooze.

But I made it, kind of, sort of, anyway I’m up and awake. I’ve fed the dogs and had my coffee and I have an hour to get ready and out of here.

Yesterday I posted a long story. It was 4000+ words.

As some of the readers of my blog know, I write novels. I don’t only write novels. I’ve been guilty of poetry a time or two, and I write short fiction when I have a good reason. Yesterday I read the daily prompt (talisman) and the only thing that came to my mind was the chapter in a very old work in progress that mentioned “talisman.”

I was intrigued by the comments on its length (but the readers seem to have enjoyed it anyway, which is the main point 🙂 ) Thank you for your patience.


Fan Belt

My radio worked sporadically. I had an old cassette player running on batteries and two tapes. Jane Oliver and Donna Summer. Such music was conducive to melancholy if not a sense of doom. My radio started working as soon as I got south of Las Vegas, and I took that as a good sign.

Ahead about a mile, I saw a highway patrolman spin a wild U-turn across the grass median strip. “Someone’s in trouble,” I thought, singing along to the radio across the open, dry country, my window down. I checked the mirror a little later, and there he was, cherry spinning, motioning me to the side of the road.

He came to my window.

“Hello, sweetheart. Do you have any idea how fast you were going?”

“No sir. My speedometer is broken.” My luck was good. In Colorado, that is something they can give you a ticket for; in New Mexico, it’s almost an excuse for speeding.

“You were going 82 miles per hour, honey.”

All I could think was, “Incredible! In this car? I was going that fast? I am a born mechanic.” I didn’t say that. All I said was, “Really?” The speed limit, of course, was 55.

“Yes, really. Let me see your license and registration.” He took my papers back to his car and made a call on the radio, all the while watching me.

“Do you know your license has expired?”

I knew, but knowledge is not always helpful. “Is it? How can that be? It expires on my birthday.”

“That’s right. Your birthday this year which was ten months ago.”

“Oh no. I thought it was my birthday coming up.”

“No, honey. It was your last birthday. I’m going to give you a warning. I ought to bring you into the Mora County Courthouse, but I’m not going to. I think you honestly didn’t know your license was expired. But listen here. I want you to go home, get a new driver’s license and get that speedometer fixed. If you do that, I’ll give you a twenty dollar fine. If you don’t send me proof that you did those things within sixty days, we’ll have to send you a summons, you’ll have to come back here and it’ll cost you a lot more.”

“Yessir. Thank you.”

“Drive careful, now. There’s no place so important that you have to drive so fast.”

I chugged along toward Albuquerque, but my good feeling, along with the radio, was gone. By the time I got to Pecos Pueblo, I wasn’t sure I was still alive. I thought maybe I was dead and driving on the Interstate Highway of Infinity. I had to get off the road. I knew that, so I took the exit to the pueblo ruins. I wanted to walk for a bit to clear my head.

The ruined church buildings were vivid red in the late afternoon light. It was depressing to think of the builders, long gone, gone with their crazy hopes of saving the souls of the Pecos Indians. Nothing remained but partial walls, pits, shards, all carefully tagged and identified with the latest anthropological conjectures. I went to the ladies room and looked at myself in the mirror. Who was I and what was I doing? I thought seriously of turning around.

It was nearly six when I finally got to Albuquerque. I parked where Charlie’s map had told me to, took a deep breath and walked to the door. I found a note. “Adrienne, if you come. I have gone to the store to buy something for supper. Go in and make yourself comfortable. Charlie.”

The door opened to a strange, stone room, a flagstone patio that had been enclosed. On the wall over the bed was a full-size poster of a Hong Kong movie star in a bra and bikini. I walked through the house, looking for the bathroom. I found it and washed my face and looked closely in the mirror to see if I were really there. Then I returned to the stone room. I didn’t know how Charlie lived. I didn’t know he rented a room in this house or which room was his. I had no idea where the common spaces were. I sat on a sofa and tried to read my book, but I didn’t like it, the stone room or the Hong Kong actress. I went to the kitchen which seemed neutral and safe. I leaned against the counter and tried again to read.

Finally, the door opened and Charlie walked in.

He had the most graceful walk of any man I had ever seen. His legs were strong, with large, muscular, calves. As he walked past me, his eyes met mine and looked at me deeply and long. I knew those eyes. I had one of those experiences where you feel that you’ve known someone before. I was thrilled — and terrified.

“I thought you weren’t coming.”

“I had a flat tire.”

“Did you get it fixed?”

“Yeah. I bought a new one.”

“What? You bought a new tire?”



“I had a flat.”

“How much did you pay for it?”


“Jesus! For a VW tire? That’s crazy. Why didn’t you go to a junk yard or get the old one fixed?”

“I didn’t think of it and I wanted to come here.”

“Wow.” Then he said, “When did this happen?”

“This morning. In Denver, when I was about to leave. That’s why I’m so late. I didn’t get out of Denver until ten o’clock.”

“I wondered. I didn’t think you were going to make it.”

The words “chicken out” hovered unsaid, but so obvious they were almost visible. “No, I came,” I admitted, feeling like an idiot.

“What are you reading?”

“This,” I showed him the book, Monsieur by Lawrence Durrell. “I don’t like it much. I liked the Alexandrian Quartet, but this? Not really.”

“Are you hungry?”

In my imagination, we were going to Old Town that night, but I didn’t say anything about it. I never suggested it, invited him, nothing.

“Let’s cook dinner.” He opened the sack which contained cheese and two cans of tuna. He handed me the cans and told me to open them, but I, who had never thought of getting my tired repaired rather than replacing it, didn’t know how to use his can opener. I suppose he thought I was some kind of pansy who had used only electric can openers, but that wasn’t the case. My can opener was even more primitive than his. “I don’t know how to use this,” I said.

“You don’t?”

“No. I never used one like this.”

“Here.” He showed me opening one can. “Now you do it.”

I did it and drained the oil from the tuna into the sink.

“What are you doing with all that good oil?” he screamed. “You’re wasting it!”

“You cook,” I said, and he did, winding up with a tuna casserole we ate with carrot sticks. Then, it was over. Everything had been prepared, cooked and eaten from one stainless steel pot. I loved it. No Cuisinart for this man; no fancy pasta machine. Just one pot, two knives, two spoons.

“That’s great,” I said.


“That pot.”

“It’s all they use in Nepal, for everything. Cooking, eating, shopping. That’s what I learned there. You don’t need a lot of stuff. You shouldn’t have more stuff than you need because, one way or another, you just have to carry it around with you. The best thing is a thing you can use in a lot of different ways. So, this pot. I brought back two.” He washed it. “Come on. I have to do something. You can help.” We went into what had been planned as a dining room but was now a study. He sat down at the typewriter.

Next to the typewriter was a model of a molecule. I picked it up and said, “Benzene.”

“How did you know?”

“My husband — ex-husband — was a chemistry major.”

“You’re a writer,” he said, suddenly. “I’m trying to write my application for medical school. Maybe you can figure out a good way to say this.”

“OK.” It was the first time I’d heard that I was a writer. The idea was exciting.

“I need to explain why I want to be a doctor.”

“So why do you want to be a doctor? Maybe if you tell me, you can just write down what you say.”

“I don’t know. Inspiration? Inspiration, I guess.”

Inspiration. Wow. I was knocked hard. No one I knew used inspiration as a reason for anything. Reasons were money, success, prestige. Charlie had beautiful legs, a stainless steel pot and ordered his life according to inspiration. I was very, very frightened.

“What inspired you? Write that.”

“India. When I was in India, I saw so many sick, sick people. You can’t imagine. You want to see some pictures?” he got up from the table and went to his room, and I followed like a puppy. I felt like a puppy. I’d been taken in, fed, disciplined and now I wanted to stay.

“Here.” He handed me a big book filled with pictures. I was behind him, still looking all around me. On the wall was a photo of the Taj Majal. There was the dome, some minarets, a slight haze, a reflection; water in the foreground in which beautiful curves moved, curves like the necks of swans or a woman’s arm, everything your mind visualizes with the words, “Taj Mahal.” But, the curves were the necks of camels, not swans; the water was a lake, not the rectangular reflecting pool; the dome was not centered perfectly between the minarets, but stood to one side. The photograph did everything I believe art should do, force you to turn around and look beyond your expectations.

“I love this picture,” I said with solemn reverence.

“It’s mine,” said Charlie.

“You took it?”

“It took me a long time to get everything just right.”

So, now I had to imagine Charlie sitting on an unknown dusty hill in Agra waiting for things to get “just right” so he could take this picture, develop it, hang it on his wall in Albuquerque so that I, a person he didn’t even know, would see it. There was no longer any chance for coherent conversation between us. I sat down and put the book in my lap.

Faces came out of the pages, dirty children smiling in bright red clothes. Mud houses. I remembered a woman I’d known in college, a woman from Afghanistan, whose husband was studying architecture. “What do you build houses with in Afghanistan, Akbar?”

“Mud,” he had replied.

“You mean adobe or bricks?”

“No. Mud.”

Here were mud houses and walls painted with huge, vivid eyes, stupas (for which I had no word at that time) with golden bells, prayer flags on strings waving in the wind, frozen in the pictures. “Is this Nepal?”

“No. That’s Ladakh. That’s where the Dalai Lama lives now since the Chinese threw him out of Tibet.”

“Were you there?”

“No. But that’s what Nepal looks like. You find scenes like that in Nepal. We did. You approach the mountain by hiking through all of these small villages. The children came out of the houses to get money. Nepal is beautiful, but terrible, too. Have you been to Mexico?”


“You know the bridge between Juarez and San Antonio?”

“Not really. I haven’t been there since I was five years old.”

“Well, anyway, Nepal is like that in places. Very poor. They are destroying their forests to get land to grow food. Here’s a Japanese book about the climb up Everest,” said Charlie. I opened it and looked at snow peaks. Since I had known Mark, I had unconsciously avoided the mountains; my one hike with Anne that July had been my first trip up into the mountains in three years.

“Listen,” said Charlie. “Are you hungry?”

“Uh, uh, no, but if you are…” I mumbled, not wanting to look up.

“Let’s go get something to eat.”

He had a motorcycle. We went out back, and he said we could take the bike. It was a big cycle, I don’t remember what kind. I had, fortunately, ridden a motorcycle before so it wasn’t another affair of the can opener. I got on, he started it, we were on our way.

“Do you like motorcycles?”

“Yeah, I do. I used to have a dirt bike.”

“What kind?”

“A small Honda. My ex-father-in-law bought it for me. When I divorced his son, he took it back.”

“That’s mean,” said Charlie. Charlie was trying to help me to relax. I was so scared and so tense that even the least perceptive person would notice and Charlie was NOT the least perceptive person. A fast trip on a big cycle would give us lots of chances to touch, and touching would have helped, but I kept my hands in the back pockets of my jeans. We rode around Albuquerque, by Old Town and downtown, stopping in a small, unfinished, mall. His old girlfriend was an architect; maybe this was one of her projects? I think he still loved her then; I think it was she who broke it off, but I don’t know. Anyway, we drove past her house, then down a busy street filled with low-riders and neon lights.

He stopped at a hot-dog stand and got a hot-dog, which he ate, telling me about filmmaking school in San Francisco and a three minute film he’d made about The Doggie Diner, hot-dogs and dachshunds. Then we went back. We sat in the living room in the dark and talked. Charlie tried to “draw me out.” “Do you climb?” he asked.

“I did in high school,” I answered. “Free climbing.”

“Didn’t you like it? Why did you stop?”

“I loved it. Most of my friends were climbers. I never got into the technical bit, though. I never did a big climb. I have problems telling my right from left and I was afraid of the knots I would tie. I just climbed around on the rocks in The Garden of the Gods, some rocks in Eldorado Canyon, places like that. Some of my friends did a lot. One of them lost his toes on some mountain, I don’t know where, California? It didn’t seem worth it to me.”

“I thought you loved mountains.”

“I love mountains, but it seems like a long time since I’ve been in them.”


I didn’t want to tell him what I thought the reason was. There was something luminous about Charlie and I didn’t want to throw shadows on the moment by revealing anything about my life with Mark, or the suddenly stupid, vapid, supposedly sophisticated evenings I spent with my “successful” attorney friends. Charlie was touching something I’d been about to leave behind.

“I guess I haven’t had time. I just finished my thesis, you know. And I work full time. What about you? How do you feel when you’re up there?”

“You know, I was reading, here, look at this,” he handed me a magazine, but it was too dark in the room to read. “Well, anyway, these guys are hang-gliding. Imagine that, imagine putting these wings on, walking to the edge of a cliff, then — bam! — stepping off, trusting the wind and the wings to carry you. What that must take!”

I had been reading a lot of Hemingway. The question of courage in his books seemed to point not so much at the kind of courage it takes to step off a cliff, but the kind of courage it takes to live what Thoreau termed “a life of quiet desperation.” For all of his wars and bullfights, Hemingway spoke of heroism in the modern, urban world; maintaining your soul and integrity — and life! — when life offers no real adventures for sustaining courage. Charlie had another courage in mind; something that had to do with death. I didn’t have anything to say because, at that moment, I recognized my own position. I was on the edge of a cliff and I didn’t know if I had wings.

“You’re probably tired,” he said, standing. When he came back, he had his sleeping bag and pad. He rolled them out on the living room carpet. “You can have my bed.”

I followed him into his room. He was carrying a small tin can in his hand. Placing it on the table next to his bed, he said, “This is for you.” It was a peanut butter can from India, “Prutina Peanut Butter.” On the side was a face of a blonde girl in pigtails who looked like she came off a wrapper for Swiss chocolate. It was a present for me. I imagined it being in his bag on his climb.

“Let’s go to the balloon festival tomorrow morning,” he said. “I went today. There was a mass ascension. You can’t believe how beautiful it is when eight hundred balloons take off together. We have to get there before sunrise.”

“That sounds great,” I said.

“Pleasant dreams.”

“I have a lot to dream about. All the pictures.”

“Yes. A lot of new visions.”

Charlie’s words struck me. I have always understood things as images, visions, contours. The images in my mind that night were not entirely new.

“Goodnight,” I said.

“If you get cold, pull that sleeping bag up over you.”

“OK. Goodnight.” I lay on the bed a long time, trying to relax.

Suddenly, I remembered what made the images from the books familiar. When I was a child, I never missed Lowell Thomas Presents. It was on Wednesday nights at 7:30, at the same time as my little brother’s Little League games. I loved baseball, and I practiced with his team, but I wouldn’t miss Lowell Thomas for anything. Strangely enough, although we never had a color television set, my memories of those travelogues are in color. In color Lowell Thomas chased down the Dalai Lama; he visited the dye pots of Timbuktu; he climbed the High Atlas Mountains. I drifted to sleep, Charlie’s pictures and Lowell Thomas’ trips melting together in my brain. Still, it didn’t account for the frightening sense of recognition I felt when Charlie’s eyes met mine in the kitchen.

It got cold in the night. October in New Mexico — maybe warm days, but the nights are cold. I was awake early because of the cold, but not awake enough to cover myself better. At 5:30 Charlie knocked on the door. “Come on if we’re going to eat breakfast and make it in time.”

“I’m awake.” I got up. I was even more tired than the day before, but I was determined to be less catatonic and stupid.

“Hi. Do you like yoghurt?”


“I got this thing for Christmas.” He pointed toward a yoghurt machine. “Here, try it. It’s good. How about sprouted wheat? Can you eat that?”

I was thinking, “Health food?” but I said, “Why not?”

“My mother can’t. She can’t seem to digest it. I made bread yesterday. Do you like honey?”

“Sure.” He poured honey over my yoghurt and on my bread. The bread was tough and chewy, dense like a brick. “That’s my dad’s honey,” said Charlie. “He keeps bees.”

My resolution to be articulate vanished. Homemade, sprouted wheat bread, homegrown honey and yoghurt. I thought of my usual — Carnation Instant Breakfast and espresso. Charlie appeared with dental floss. He flossed comfortably, happily, talking. I had quit flossing when my first husband told me it wasn’t appealing. Every small, everyday thing this man did pushed me further into my pit of silence. We got on the motorcycle and went to the fairgrounds were the balloons were firing up. I managed the ride to the fairgrounds without touching him.

Truly it might be the most beautiful sight in the world, 800 balloons in dazzling colors, expanding in the early morning sunshine, then taking off steadily higher with the sun until all the balloons and the sun are well above the Earth. The balloons drifted silently toward the mountains. Near eleven, Charlie said, “Let’s go. I have work to do today.”

We went back to his place. Once there, I actually opened my mouth and invited him for dinner that night.

“I didn’t know you could stay so long,” he said. “I have plans to go to a volleyball tournament tonight. We only have a few tickets, or I’d ask you to come along. But you can stay if you want. I’ll be back around eleven.”

I should have felt rejected or brushed off, but I felt relieved. I was off the hook. It wasn’t just images of children’s dirty faces, snow peaks and the Taj Majal. Other things had happened and were clamoring to be thought about. I knew at that moment that I wanted to go home. I wanted to go home and write stories. I realized it was all I had ever wanted to do. Succeed, fail, whatever the outcome, there was nothing else. Inspiration, no other motive, deserved my life.

“No, I’ll head out. It’s sort of ridiculous to hang around if you have to study and have plans. I would have to leave early in the morning, anyway, if I leave tomorrow, so what’s the point? I’ll go get my stuff together. I went to his room and put my few things into my backpack. Charlie stood at the doorway watching me. The most important thing, to me was to remember the peanut butter can and take a long look at the Taj Mahal.

“Do you have a spare fan belt?” he asked.

“No. Why?”

“You should have one.”

“Oh no,” I said, “I don’t want to be outside of Walsenburg in the dark changing a fan belt.”

“I don’t want you to, either. That’s why you should get one before you leave.”

Now that I was leaving, my personality was returning. I thought to myself, “What is it? Some kind of charm?”

Charlie said, “It’s like a talisman. If you have one, you won’t need it. Your fan belt won’t break.”

“So, do I wear it around my neck?”

“Yes, exactly,” and he smiled. “Here, go to Target. It’s on your way out of town.”

We walked out back together. I decided to check my oil. I opened the hood of my VW and pulled out the dipstick. “Did I tell you I got a speeding ticket?”

“No. Where?”

“South of Las Vegas. I was going 82. Can you believe it? I was so excited. It was fantastic!”


“Oh yeah, you see, three months ago I tuned up my engine and cleaned and rebuilt the carburetor myself. Isn’t it beautiful?” I put my hand on the carburetor.

“That’s amazing! I just did the same to my car!” His Karmann Ghia was sitting next to my Bug. He opened the hood. I was curious to see what the differences were between the Karmann Ghia and a Bug since os many of my friends seemed to think the Ghia was a piece of junk. It was not as simply and elegantly laid out as my engine, but it was OK. Charlie reached in a gently placed his hand on the carburetor of his car. We stood together, our hands on our respective carburetors, as if they were small, cherished pets. It was the first time I had felt relaxed with Charlie. Obviously we shared the same affectionate feelings toward our carburetors. It was something. “It’s incredible, you know? It’s something I couldn’t have done before I took chemistry. It’s been good, taking all of these courses.”

“You mean in summer school?”

“Yeah. I was a literature major — you know that. I had to get as many of my pre-med requirements this summer as I could because I’m almost too old to be accepted anywhere. I don’t have them all, yet. Now I’m taking Inorganic. It’s tough.”

“I know what Inorganic is. The one that killed my ex was Physical Chemistry.”

“I liked that one. So, you’re going?”


“And you’re going to get a fan belt?”

“Right. Well, thanks for the pictures and the balloons.”

He looked at me intently and strangely. “Could you at least give me a hug good-bye?”

“God,” I thought. “Maybe not.” I walked to him and put my arms around him. Since I’d been asked for it, I didn’t die or faint. “Well, bye. If you’re ever in Devoid, let me know.”

“I will. Be careful. Get your fan belt, OK?”

“OK.” He followed me to the car. There in my back seat were my hiking boots. “Hey,” I said. “There are my boots.”

“Are those the ones you wrote me about?”

“Yep. That’s them. Probably have blood stains on the heels.”

“Why do you still have them?”

“I don’t know.”

“Why would anyone keep boots that hurt their feet? Give them to me. I’ll sell them for you and send you the money.”

I handed over the boots, awed by Charlie’s simple sanity. Why would anyone keep boots that hurt their feet?

“Well, goodbye,” I said, “thanks for unloading the boots. That should help my mileage not to tote them back to Denver.”

“They are heavy, but they’re good Italian boots.”

“They are, but they don’t fit me.”

I headed out of town, stopping for a fan belt. I felt light, luminous. In the sky I could still see balloons drifting off. I drove the short way, through Taos, but I got lost and found myself driving dirt roads in circles in aspen filled canyons at the base of Taos Mountain.

I love Taos. Miracles can happen there — or could, years ago. One day, as a tourist at Taos Pueblo, I stood on a bridge over a stream and looked at the mountain. My eyes wandered down to the buildings, the piles of homes that make up the pueblo. I saw that the rooms were heaped in such a way that they mimicked the shape of the mountain. It seemed that was true from every point in which I stood, the pueblo and the mountain were the same shape.

I found the highway and drove through the San Luis Valley at sunset. I climbed the pass and dropped into Walsenburg at dusk. I stopped for gas and got a burger at the A&W. The way home was dark, and I felt slightly paranoid about the fan belt, but at least I was no longer suffering from neurotic flat tires. The drive was long, the car unheated, but I was warm with excitement. I knew what I was doing and why for the first time in years, maybe ever. I was a writer, and I was going home to write. All the difficulties of my life and relationships were minor, now. They were food for stories. I couldn’t wait. The Law School Admission Test, which I was taking the following Saturday, seemed like a big joke. Let others be lawyers; I had decided to take the step off the cliff. That was the only way I could know if I had wings.

Just after midnight, I unlocked my door. I turned on my desk lamp, opened my bag and unpacked. In the bottom I found the peanut butter can. On the bottom was written “CM Glass Jar.” I took off the lid. Inside I found plastic bubble wrap. I carefully pulled it out and unwrapped a stone jar small enough to sit in the palm of my hand and exactly the right shape.


Old ladies write — and talk — about their health challenges. Ah well… There is no talisman against time.

Yesterday I went to my third physical therapy session. My PT guy is on vacation (spring break) so I had a different therapist. I liked him, too.

Today I saw my neighbors. They are a decade or so older than I. B had surgery to repair his thumb. Part of a tendon in his wrist was cut out to replace worn cartilage in his thumb. He’s cruising around with a cast holding his thumb in place.

It’s pretty miraculous. I thought of Mrs. Thornton, my piano teacher when I was in 6th and 7th grade. The arthritis in her hands was so bad she was in constant pain and couldn’t play. To add to the pain she already suffered was all of our bad playing. She just hit us when we made mistakes, or dragged our hands against the keys if we fucked up an arpeggio. No one was repairing arthritic hands back in the 60s.

At the moment it seems like the main focus of my life is on preparing for a new hip. It really does take a lot of time and, the morning after PT can be quite painful. This morning I woke up wondering why I’m doing it. There is no fountain of youth. I thought, “This is my version of a facelift.”


Going Along

It’s taken a long time, but I’ve finally realized people don’t always see things the way I do.   😀 When I was growing up, that was already true at home. “Your feelings don’t matter,” my mom said more than once, right out there, a clear message. At school I got a different message, which was that my ideas mattered. I entered the world with the understanding, “Feelings? Useless. Ideas? Good.”

That isn’t true. Feelings are not useless and the world has been — generally — no more interested in my ideas than my mom was in my feelings. It’s kind of a surprise when, somewhere in adulthood, later in adulthood, usually, I think, but I could be wrong, we realize that we’re not all that important in the grand scheme. We’re actually pretty invisible.

To advance our ideas we have to express them, support them, often fight for them and, if we fight, it is often against something a lot more powerful than we will ever be. It’s often against the invisible force known as the zeitgeist. If we’re not (as my brother would say) “on the public pulse” our chances are not great. If Hillary Clinton (whom I did not like but believed would be a better president than His Orangeness) had listened to me, she might have won. What did I tell her? Oh, stuff like, “It’s not about being the first woman president, sweet cheeks. It might be to YOU; it isn’t to US. In the immortal words of Jello Biafra, ‘We have a bigger problem now’.” But she didn’t hear me and probably never heard of the Dead Kennedys or of Jello Biafra and, for all I know, thinks punk rock is a bunch of skin heads…

It isn’t just Hillary. Through my whole life, I have been relentlessly off the mark. Here’s an example. During the 20+ years I was teaching writing at community colleges, many theories about the teaching and learning of writing were gaining traction. In the last decade, one was a particularly formulaic five paragraph essay taught in basic writing classes. It was not the five paragraph essay as I’d learned it in high school, but something far more rote. Begin the essay with a quotation to get the reader’s attention; cover some basic information in 3 sentences following the attention grabber (which you purloin from BrainyQuotes); write your thesis statement.

Students who learned this, universally believed that, to find a thesis statement, all you had to do was look at the last sentence in the first pagagraph. Wrong.

Since I taught writing at a slightly higher level than this five paragraph essay (next class and at the university), I got to read a lot of these. They were horrible, especially when the writer was writing about something he or she had read and could actually glean a relevant quote from their reading. OK, well, it was a start, but I didn’t think it was the best start because there’s more to writing than that formula. I also knew that — at the university level — this patent structure was scorned.

Time marched on and a job opened up at a community college. I got an interview. Part of the interview was my boss pretending to be a student coming to me for help revising the paper. I did my best. Told her to find a relevant quotation from her reading rather than Googling “quotes about XYZ”. I suggested some other things that were absolutely counter to the formula.

The next part of the interview was a teaching demo. I had a PowerPoint (because most of my colleagues were still struggling with it and it was a requirement of the job to have that kind of techxpertise). The topic of the lecture was supposed to be “the four sentence types.” I did my lecture and that was the end of the interview.

I had no idea that I had stepped firmly on the feet — not just the toes —  of many of the people on the committee.

Turned out it was my BOSS who had come up with the formula for THAT particular formulaic five paragraph essay, something that had been discussed in numerous conferences over a period of a few years. She was the one who came up with the idea that students could Google salient quotations to hook the reader. She’d contributed to a textbook and so on and so forth. The four sentence types? Well, in that world it was far more important that students memorize the four sentence types and how to construct them than it is that they learn to use language to say something.

Form over substance. That’s how I saw it. I didn’t get the job. Obviously. BUT they continued to give me as many classes as they could every semester because what I did in the classroom worked.

Was I right? Were THEY right? I’d say both, but IF you’re not going with the tide, you are against the tide or carried along in spite of yourself. I was carried along and grateful to be because I needed to earn a living, but when the water level dropped, I was left on the bank.

Thank God.



Let’s Do It Again…

“So what would you call this TV show, Lamont?”

“Some names have been tossed around. ‘First You Die and Then You Die,’ didn’t fly but I thought it was funny.”

“You see the challenge, don’t you?”

“I see a lot of challenges. Which one are you referring to?”

“Death is not a cheerful subject for most people.”

“That’s true, and I had thought of that. Most people don’t see it as the gateway to a possible incarnation as an oak tree. They probably think all oak trees are identical, not a network of unique beings.”


“I don’t think they’re even ready for a consequenceless afterlife.”

“No. They would see coming back as a bug a bad thing.”

“It’s not. It’s a pretty good life. Plenty of food, that part’s good, but predators. A bug’s life is usually pretty short.”

“They don’t see that as good thing, either.”

“There’s no ‘good’ Dude. No ‘bad’. It’s just what it is.”

“I know that. It’s difficult to… I try to live in the moment. That doesn’t come back as an oak tree, velociraptor, anything.”

“You got me there, Dude. So no on the TV show?”

“I told you, Lamont. I’m not doing it.”

“I guess you’re right. I thought it might be fun, but if we can’t even name it…”

“People don’t believe us, anyway. Grab your board. Let’s catch some waves.”


Part One: Lamont and Dude discuss their Own TV Show

Lamont and Dude are characters I came up with a few years ago. Because they remember many of their past incarnations, they have a unique perspective on life, the universe and everything.


Lamont and Dude Discuss their Own TV Show



“We’ve been invited to pilot a television talk show.”

“Like Ellen?”

“I don’t think we’ll be in the least like Ellen.”

“Naw, Lamont. You can do it. It’s not my thing, you know, television. Talking to a television audience, none of that. Naw. I don’t want to. I’m not like you. I don’t have your sardonic outlook and your pithy turn of phrase.”

“They want you to appear as a smilodon.”

“I’m not a smilodon any more, well, except on weekends.”

“What if I tell you it’s a kid’s talk show with a decided political bias to which you subscribe?”


“The idea is that we subtly make the point…”

“You’ve never made a subtle point in your lives, Lamont.”

“OK, but the idea is that we gently assert…”

“You’ve never asserted gently, Lamont. It’s not you.”

“We are going to help kids understand how important it is to take care of the planet because maybe they were once dandelions, ladybugs and velociraptors.”

“I think kids would like to be velociraptors. The ones I see up there in LA on weekends, anyway. They definitely like pretending to be smilodons. It’s not far psychologically from smilodon to velociraptor.”

“There you go. Now will you do it? It was your smilodon performance that made the network interested.”


“Are you blushing?”

“Shut up.”


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



Teaching is a Teacher

Over my many years in the classroom, I developed patience. I saw over and over how things could evolve if I just left them alone, how an intractable student could mellow out (yeah, I’m in that generation) all on his/her own. I realized there’s just no way to force an outcome. This all happened without my even noticing it, believing I was, as my mom always said, “So impatient, Martha Ann! Learn a little patience!” Then one day one of my students said, “I don’t see how you  can be so patient, Professor, I’d be, I don’t know. Apeshit. Sorry.”

“Ah, well, you guys have a hard job here. You’re doing things you never did before. You’re afraid you won’t succeed. There’s a lot of stuff you’re going through right now that I’m not. You just have to do it, and I have to help you.”

At that moment I realized that I’d become patient. When and how, I have no idea, but I’m glad.



Opening of “The Schneebelis Go to America” (Working [or not working] title)

Currant Jelly

“Verena!” Hans Kaspar called through the open door. Inside, he saw Verena and Katarina, the kitchen maid, making jelly. It bubbled in the copper kettle like liquid rubies.

Hearing his voice, Verena’s heart filled the sky. “I will be right back.” She handed the wooden spoon to Katarina. Hans Kaspar stood in the shade of the apple tree, a traveling bag over his shoulder.

“Come with me,” he said. “Now.” He reached for her hand and pulled her close.

“We’re in the middle of making jelly.”

“Jelly?” Hans Kaspar sighed in exasperation. “Verena.” he looked into her blue eyes. “I’ve missed you so much, and — JELLY?”

“Come help us. We’re about to pour it.”

Hans Kaspar followed her, ducking to escape a head-banging on the low lintel. He was useful. He was strong and tall enough to lift the copper kettle high and pour the boiling liquid into the jars.

When they were finished tying oiled paper to the top of each small jar, Hans Kaspar took Verena’s hand and led her outside.“I brought you something.” He held out a linen packet tied with string. “Open it.”


“Open it.”

Verena untied the string. Inside was a shift made of linen so fine she could almost see through it. It was edged in subtle cutwork that had come from Bruges. It laced up the back with a blue ribbon.

“Hans Kaspar. It’s beautiful. Where did you…?” Verena blushed.

“A customer paid me with that lace. I had the linen left from a shirt I made for someone or another.”

It was an intimate gift, saying many things that had not been spoken between them. Verena did not know what to think. He’d thought of her, imagined her wearing this, made it. She held the fine linen to her cheek, feeling deeply happy and deeply confused at the same time.

He took her hand and held it to his chest. “Come with me now, Verena. There’s a meeting in the forest, half a dozen or so people who are also interested in going America. It won’t be long. Then we can go to my rooms.”

Verena’s heart sank. Hans Kaspar had been gone for six months. He’d traveled with his brothers, Othmar and Kleinhans, to help them settle in the Alsace, the first stepping stone to their great plan of life in America. They planned to emigrate within the year. America was Hans Kaspar’s obsession, but he was not ready, not financially, and not yet settled in his heart, so he had come home. Verena let go of his hand.


“I’ll see you tomorrow, Hans Kaspar, if you come by, and I am home.” She handed him the shift and turned toward the house.

“Verena, you are unfair,” he called after her, grabbing her arm. “I do not say I’m going to America, but I have pamphlets and letters for those who are. And this is yours.” He put the package back into in her hands.

She shook her arm loose from his grip, but she took the linen blouse with her.


Hans Kaspar lifted Verena’s long, brown hair and kissed the back of her neck. He found her hand, entwined his fingers with hers and pulled her down beside him. She sighed deeply in the warmth of love returned.

He held her close on the narrow bed in the cubby in his room upstairs from the tailor shop. “Would you, Verena? Would you come with me to America?”

Shaken from the warmth of their intimacy, she sat up.

“Verena, please! If you truly love me, you would want us to share this adventure. Our children growing up in a new world, free to worship and to live as they please. We could be happy there, Verena.”

“How can you think that I could leave my father, Hans Kaspar?”

“He can come with us.”

“He is old, Hans Kaspar. He would not survive the voyage. We might not survive the voyage. Why can’t we be happy HERE?”

“If you would but read the words of Mr. Penn.” William Penn’s promise of religious freedom and land appealed to these people who — for six generations — had been hounded, imprisoned, killed; their property taken.

“I have read those promises. We all have. Father says if something seems too good to be true then it is too good to be true. How is risking your life that way better than taking your chances here? Your father is rich. You have a trade. With your brothers in America, you will be the only son still in Affoltern. Your father will need you.”

“Maybe you just need to think about it.”

“I have thought about it.” Verena sat on the edge of the bed.

“Let’s not think talk about it now. Come to sleep, my love,” he said, reaching for her. “Now we have each other, and we are alone.”

But for Verena the bed had grown cold.

Hans Kaspar had not even twenty-four hours for her and only her. She blinked away tears of frustration. Her beautiful linen shift, untied at the top, the remaining deshabille from their night together.

“Next time I’ll make you one that’s easier for you,” said Hans Kaspar in a soft voice, gently joking as he tied the laces himself.

Verena opened the curtain.

“Where are you going?”


“I thought you understood.”

Understanding is not enough,” she thought, pulling her shawl close around her.

“See you later?” he called out as Verena closed the door behind her.

“Not if I can help it,” she thought.

She ran down the stairs and stepped outside into the low fog of early morning. She was soon out of the village, on the road toward home.

Though the ash, alder and linden were still in summer green. The mist swirling from the hollows promised autumn. A pile of rocks overgrown with vines, all that remained of a long-fallen castle wall, marked her turning. The road led to her father’s half-timber farm house on a hilltop that dropped into a wide meadow, a barn and corral.

Verena hoped the long walk through the forest to the farm would soothe her aching heart, but anger had sped her along, and she’d had no chance to think. The sun broke in earnest against the horizon.

She sat down on the pile of rubble, took off her cap, and shook her hair loose in the breeze. The bottom of her skirt was soaked in dew. She picked up a loose stone and threw it at the rotting trunk of a fallen linden tree. “Who would care for my father? There is no one else. Hans Kaspar asks too much. He should stay here, care for his father and make a home with me. Why does he think America will fix anything?”

You have nothing left with which to persuade him,” whispered her heart.

“Oh why did I not hear him the first time?” she said, throwing another rock.

You did not want to,” said the same small voice.