Grim Humor on a Bright and Sunny Day

Yesterday my neighbors came over to see about installing a folding door into my studio. I am really glad they did because we talked over the options and they persuaded me to get something that is a lot better than what I originally thought. Then we sat and “visited” as my Aunt Jo would say. There was a moment when Elizabeth complimented my new glasses’ frames. She was looking at me very intently, and I somehow understood she wanted to see the scratches over my eye. I took off my glasses, and there was a moment when we were communicating without saying anything. I “told” her somehow about how frightened I was. She’s pretty stoical, and I’m pretty stoical as well; we’re both very independent. I’m 100% sure she got the whole message even though we didn’t say anything.

The conversation turned to Covid and the K95 mask. My perspective on Covid has evolved or something. I think we can be masked and boostered up the whazoo, but Covid isn’t going away. It’s going to be part of our lives forever and part of human life into perpetuity. I believe in vaccinations and being careful, but I no longer thing we’re going to “stop” it because, obviously we’re not. In some paradoxical way, we might owe something to the anti-vaxxers. It’s occurred to me that if our initial reaction had been much calmer and less political we wouldn’t have lost all those people. I don’t know, of course, but the thought has crossed my mind. But then, yesterday, as we were talking about the new advice coming out about masks and how unlikely any of us are to be so close to the face of an unknown human for 20+ minutes, Elizabeth said, “Well, I just decided that I’m going to wear any mask I want!” Elizabeth was one of the wonderful volunteer seamstresses who made masks for local hospitals in the early days of the virus.

I looked at her and said, “I thought about this when I fell. I thought, ‘I could die of a skull fracture in a fall wearing a K95 mask’.” I love my friends for many reasons, but one is that they both found that funny and we three had a good laugh.

Friends are remarkable treasures. One of the things about Covid that I deeply appreciate is the ties between people that have emerged in my life as a result. Crazy if you think that we’ve all be somewhat “isolated,” but there it is. A person can go along being a rugged individualist only as long as no one needs him/her and he/she doesn’t need anyone else. But the reality is we always need each other and we need to be needed by others. ❤

Anyway, I’m getting a device that will tell someone if I’ve fallen and can’t get up, and I have an appointment to see my doctor on Monday. I hope it’s something like an inner ear infection, but if it’s a balance problem, I’m on it already. Hopefully I will not write any more posts like this, but who knows. Time stalks all of us, I guess.

Wonderful Tea Party

It isn’t much in the grand scheme — or even in the normal scheme — but that we could meet in my actual house, drink from my actual coffee cups, and eat from my dishes? Not bring our own tea and our own cookies and sit out in the dust and cold? This is something that hasn’t happened since sometime in 2019. It was very lovely and simple and real and normal.

Friendships have been one of the boons of my post-retirement life. When you work ALL THE TIME (writing teacher with 7 classes), planning and teaching classes, grading infinite numbers of papers, and all your social energy is drained by the classroom, you don’t make friends. I had some in spite of all that, but sweet, simple socializing was very rare especially in the last few years of my career, during and after the recession.

I moved here 7 years ago without knowing anyone, but, to my great good fortune, two really great women live within a hundred yards of me. I made the snowball cookies my Swedish grandma always made. Elizabeth made Saffron buns, Karen made Spritz cookies. I made coffee in the French press. We talked about nothing in particular for an hour and a half. It was great.

I wonder if any of us will take this kind of thing for granted ever again. I hope I don’t.

Nothing is Ordinary

There’s nothing ordinary about life. If you think of the vast number of sperm and eggs who never ever ever ever ever approach the dim possibility of life, that right there indicates that “Wow! Here we are!! HFS!!!” as Mary Oliver’s poem, “The Summer Day,” asks, “What will you do with your one wild and precious life?” It’s all extraordinary, and I feel it all the time — most of the time, OK, if you want to split hairs.

My friend Lois is here and our conversation (poor Lois, she’s in a house with a woman who has hardly spoken to anyone in 2 years… Well, somewhat of an exaggeration, but…) touched on that very thing. She has had some incredible luck in the horse riding dimension of her life — and that’s her passion. She has the opportunity to ride horses as a favor to an older couple who love horses, have several, and have a beautiful small horse ranch. Her horse story is beautiful and moving. Most of the time she rides in the same landscape which is a beautiful landscape between Colorado Springs and Denver. “It’s always the same road,” she said.

“It’s never the same road,” I said. My mantra, I guess.

“No, and I take the same photos over and over. I see that in my Facebook memories. But then, the Refuge,” referring to me.

“Yeah.” I laughed we’d just gotten back from there, as it happens. “It’s never the same, and I take the same photo over and over, too.”

Lois noticed something yesterday I hadn’t noticed before. Little mammals swimming in a pond — river otters? What? I messaged the refuges to ask, but a little research last night narrowed them down to mink or river otters. River otters are more rare, so, for the moment, my money is on mink.

Yesterday Lois took the “same” photo at the Refuge. ❤ This is the pond where we saw the little mammals.

That’s what I learned in California when I had a great place to hike — nearby — and not much time. Every day I took one or the other of a handful of trails depending on the time I had to hike. The first year and a half I hiked there I really DID hike only ONE trail. That’s when I learned how fabulously extraordinary the “ordinary” — or familiar (isn’t that what we consider ordinary?) — might be. It’s only when our eyes are not distracted by mere novelty that we start to see something.

Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean—
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down—
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don't know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?

—Mary Oliver

Walk with a Friend

Lucky for Bear, she can’t read the weather forecast or she would be feeling all the emotions of disappointment, betrayal, longing. Snow was predicted at a VERY high percentage of probability. I fully expected and/or hoped to wake up to a tiny sift of snow on the ground. Yesterday I found Bear napping in her “snow” spot in the yard, the spot against the fence which is the last to see the snow and ice vanish in spring. As things turned out, it didn’t snow, and she’s just lying here on the floor per usual chewing on a rawhide pencil. It’s drizzly and dark out there, though, so there might be some slight, very slight, hope of snow in spite of what the coin tossers at NOAA have to say. Seriously, I think they make this stuff up. I get more accurate information from the sky.

This is what the weather gamblers have in the forecast for today…

Yesterday, on the spur of the moment, we picked up our friend Elizabeth and headed out for a walk in a windy and beautiful Refuge. Bear likes it when another human is along. She feels less pressure to take care of me (the other human can have that job). Bear smelled all kinds of great things and even found a scent worth rolling in. Fortunately there was nothing (excrement, corpse, etc.) but a scent. The wind blew, but not terribly, the sky was perfectly clear, the mountains seemed near, the conversation was peerless. Bear walked close enough to Elizabeth so Elizabeth could rest her hand on Bear’s back, reminding me that friendship is a very precious thing.

The featured photo is of the sun hitting a small grove of cottonwoods. I took it day-before-yesterday when I was out with Teddy. Yesterday’s clear and open sky was more like this from a year ago today.

Early Morning

For the last couple of months I’ve been attempting to help a friend who has been in dark night of the soul for a long time. I attempted even when I knew that, in a way, no one ever helped anyone except, maybe, by holding on. People are complicated creatures. The crisis reached a turning point (funny how that always happens) and he ended up having to contend with himself. The thing is, he is one of the luckiest people on the planet and he didn’t have to contend for long. Just when he let go of an opportunity (which he was right to do), the very opportunity he wanted fell into his lap. He’s a relentlessly fortunate person, so much so that often he can’t even see it.

My work here is done. Very very very done. Dumb as I feel for ever attempting, I also think humanity would be a lot less human if people didn’t try.

But I’m worn out. I woke up this morning at 4 and couldn’t go back to sleep which, for me, is unusual. I just wanted a cup of coffee. I didn’t want anything else from life at that point. I tried going back to sleep, but no luck. It was like a big cup of hot coffee was drifting along, just out of reach. So here I am, a couple hours earlier than usual, drinking the coffee (yum), pondering whether it would be OK to have another one, but, usually the second one isn’t as good as the first and just leaves me kind of nervous and weird.

It looks like the sun is about to rise.

In other news, Bear and I headed out for a saunter late yesterday morning. It was lovely.

It Doesn’t Always Work Out

Many years ago my friend Jenny (RIP) was having all kinds of personal problems. She ate lunch every day at a Chinese restaurant near our offices at San Diego State, not so much because of the food, but because of the fortune cookies. The longer I knew Jenny, the more aware I became that personal problems were a ubiquitous aspect of her life (mine too, yours, too, possibly).

One year I made her a “painting” collage thing of dozens of photo copied fortune cookies floating in a bright, blue sky. Out of each one came a fortune — all of them bromides. We’d decided at that point that these sayings — almost nonsense in some cases — were useful and often true. There was, “It’ll all work out.” “Tomorrow is another day.” “Put a good face on it.” “In the fullness of time.” “One day at a time.” “Time will tell.” “There’s no way to know.” “Wait and see.” “It was meant to be.” “The course of true love never ran smooth.” (We have Shakespeare to thank for a lot of these.) A bunch more. Jenny put the picture on a wall between her kitchen and dining area, by the back door and the entrance to her studio. The point of the “art” was to cheer her up. Maybe it worked.

I’ve noticed that these phrases come out of my mouth when a friend is sharing his/her problems with me, telling me what’s on their mind. I understand now that the important part for them is not my stellar, sagacious advice or perceptive insight, it’s “It’ll work out.” or “I’m so sorry. Time will tell, I guess.” In most situations I don’t want to GIVE my opinion beyond a general observation such as, “That sucks.” The exception? If I have something concrete to offer like, “It’s OK. I’ll loan you my can opener.”

Going further? Usually ill-advised. My friend Jenny pushed me beyond the bromides after I moved away from California and we could no longer hang out. Her “boy”friend (a man of 80) was an abusive shit — to her and to her friends. Her daughters despised him. BUT Jenny felt she needed him (she was physically disabled to some extent) and couldn’t break away. The reality was that she loved him. Our relationship shifted to a phone relationship when I moved to Colorado. I became the “sob sister.”

I loved Jenny like a sister. She was my longest-time friend and when I finally had to say, “I can’t listen to this any more, Jenny. If that’s all you call to talk about, don’t call me any more,” it was very very hard. The experience of moving to a new town where I knew no one and leaving a career of 35+ years was pretty intense and scary for me, but my life never entered our conversations. Jenny didn’t understand how harrowing it was to hear one recitation after another of this man’s abuses from a 1000+ miles away.

Finally I asked her, “Jen, do you love X?”

“I do,” she said. “You don’t seem to understand that.”

I did understand that. I’ve “loved” abusive men myself. It’s something I still find beyond description and not exactly love. But I understood that until she loved herself more than she “loved” X I was going to endure these nightmare phone calls from a friend I couldn’t help.

“OK, Jen. Don’t call me as long as X is in your life and hurting you. I’m too far away to do anything to help you. I love you.” Click.

She wrote me a very angry letter and said she’d forgive me under certain conditions. I tossed it and cried. Sometimes these situations go beyond, “It’ll all work out.” It doesn’t always work out.

Still, these apparently facile and trite attempts at consolation and hope are often useful and true. The time remedy, especially… My injured shoulder is starting to feel normal again, and last night I had a real night’s sleep, the first one is more than four weeks. I can almost use my shoulder normally. All of those bromides applied to this situation 100%.

On the Town

Yesterday my friend/neighbors and I went “out on the town” — the first time since the pandemic hit. The town, of course, is the scenic county seat of Rio Grande County, Colorado, Del Norte. Del Norte is a typical one-main street western town, that street lined with restaurants and other small businesses that change frequently because it’s hard to “make a go of it” down here when the season of actual human beings is already short and, last year, VERY short, like didn’t happen.

A restaurant where we like to have lunch was very smart last year and when the pandemic hit, they almost immediately got a food truck and used it to promote their FUTURE business by setting up in all the local towns during the week. They didn’t fight the mask mandate, they just took the challenge. We wandered around on the very hot street (south side, of course) as the sun exsiccated every drop of moisture from our skin. The temperature wasn’t crazy hot — only 85 F (31 c) or something — but at 8000 feet (2438 m) it’s almost like the sun is RIGHT ON TOP of you.

We investigated new businesses and some old businesses. I was really happy to discover a small, natural foods grocery store. I don’t know, but they might get my grocery business, though they might be more expensive than City Market (Kroger). Across the street (in the SHADE!!!) is a small new bakery where we stopped for dessert.

It was really nice to hang out again. I’m often grateful for randomness of fate that landed me in a little house where I would find neighbors who became friends.

Meanwhile, I’m off to Colorado Springs (a city?) tomorrow to collect my paintings and visit friends.

Historical Hugs

Human to human hugs are sparse around here at the best of times, and these may or may not be the best of times (something we don’t seem to understand until they’ve passed), but human to dog hugs are pretty common. I guess science has determined that we need that kind of contact with our kind in order to remain mentally healthy. I remember back in the 70s when “hug therapy” became a thing. People would stand around wearing signs that said, “Free hugs.” Paying for hugs seems a little sketchy anyway. The last time I saw such a sign wasn’t that long ago, maybe 2003. A young guy wearing the sign was on the pier at Pacific Beach in San Diego.

But why did it become a thing? I can surmise that it was partly because my parents’ generation was a LOT less “touchy feely” than people are today. Some of my mom’s sisters (and my mom) would even say, “No, I’m not a hugger.” Because of this, some of the hugs with my aunts were definitely memorable, like the ONLY time I remember hugging my Aunt Dickie, for example. It was the late 1970s and my Aunt Kelly had died in New Mexico. The Montanans (Aunt Dickie and Uncle Stocky) drove to Denver in their RV to gather my mom and my Aunt Martha to head down for the funeral. I was at my mom’s house to lock the door behind them and take care of my mom’s heroic little miniature poodle, Misty. When my Aunt Dickie came into the house, she made a beeline for me, wrapped her arms around me, and said, “I’m so sad about Kelly.” “Huh?” I thought. Besides not hugging, they did not say how they felt about things. I wondered, “Why me?” That hug was unforgettable. It was in those moments that I realized how my Aunt Dickie felt about me and that proved to be true clear to the end of her life. Hugs from those people were a kind of honor.

One of my more recent hugs was a virtual hug on Christmas Eve from my step-granddaughter who was talking to me on her TV screen. I was talking to her on my phone so it was impossible to return the hug and I didn’t even know why she was rushing at me like that. “What was that?” I asked her mom.

“She hugged you,” said my step-daughter-in-law cracking up.

Last year at the Monte Vista Crane Festival at the Education and Craft Fair I experienced a veritable orgy of hugging. The neighborhood is vast and friends can be far-flung. That event is a giant valley-wide reunion and I got to see lots of people (five) I like very much but seldom see in real life. There was much satisfying hugging and catching up. I think that’s why, yesterday, when I learned that the Crane Festival would be virtual — which wasn’t surprising — I felt very sad. I think I had my hardest Covid experience in those moments. Until this year, the Crane Festival has meant my friend Lois comes from Colorado Springs and we have a great weekend of cranes, craft fair, seeing rescued raptors, conversation plus seeing friends from all over the Valley. It is easily my most “human contact” weekend of the year.

Beans and Friendship

It’s pretty woodsy in my backyard at the moment. I went out yesterday with my trusty branch saw to reconnoiter and decided it was way too dangerous for me to approach. How do I know but what one little handsawable branch isn’t holding up the universe? I don’t. I said, “Teddy get out from under there,” and came back inside.

Today I’m taking the day off. Yesterday, I spent hours cleaning the remnants of the snowpocalypse from the garden part of my yard. I had a long chat with the beans, explaining that I was sorry a bunch of their leaves were hanging there near death from being weighted down by a wet and frozen bed sheet. I then told them the story of Faith, the Indomitable Aussie Pumpkin who came into the world this time last year and STILL grew to be almost 10 inches in diameter. “Buck up, Poets,” I said. “It was just a snowpocalypse. Not the end of the world.”

The tomatoes are just going, “Well THAT was different.”

Meanwhile, everything that’s not broken looks like nothing happened, like summer was never interrupted, and now it’s business as usual.

Today my Facebook memories brought a photo of me with a woman who was one of my dearest friends for thirty years. She was my boss at the first teaching job I had in San Diego, and our relationship evolved from a not especially great boss/employee relationship to real friendship. She was an extraordinarily talented painter, and some of her paints are in my “studio”. I don’t use them. I do use her palette knife and some of her brushes. In the paint box, in the colors she used, and even in the way the brushes are “worn,” I see Sally, her way of painting and, well, her. It’s very lovely. The featured photo is us together at her house, Thanksgiving 1997.


For the past week I’ve had more human contact than I’ve had since C-19 started. My neighbor and I spent a couple mornings together moving and placing flagstones — and talking, then we took a morning for a hike and conversation. Saturday Elizabeth came over with some produce from her garden and later on my friend Lois and her husband Michael met me in Del Norte where we ate pizza on the patio of 3 Barrel Brewery, social distanced and masked, but it was impossible not to hug. We usually see each other every couple of months, and the last time was early March at the Crane Festival. It was really, really wonderful to be together.

Then, last evening, I was walking Teddy, and as we turned toward home after sneaking onto the golf course for the last leg of our walk, I saw the kids by their fence waving frantically at me. In those moments I’d happily die because life really does not get better than two kids jumping up and down in joy because you’re coming to visit them. But, I didn’t die (thankfully) so we got to hang out.

A few weeks ago M told me that when she grew up she was going to ride wild horses. C, her brother, is going to ride bulls. Most of the people in their family — including their mom — have rodeoed so it just makes sense. I said to M, “You’re afraid of Teddy! How are you going to ride a wild horse?” She thought about it and nodded.

Last evening, they ended up out in the alley briefly (they’re not supposed to be there) and M decided she was going to pet Teddy. I told her to reach UNDER his chin not over his head. I made him sit. She petted him and even scratched his ears. Then she said, “Now I can ride a wild horse.”

This morning my friend Perla, an artist from Argentina who’s lived in the US since the 80s, came to visit. First we made a tour of Monte Vista’s trees so she could collect a variety of leaves for her eco-printing projects. Afterward, we sat in the shade in my front yard and talked for a couple of hours about what we’re going to do when Trump wins the upcoming election. Yes, I said “when” because I think it’s distinctly likely. Whether our plans are real or just dreams to help us through this anxiety provoking moment, I don’t know, but Perla already escaped an authoritarian regime and her perspective on current events is different, less complacent, even than mine.

I like our escape plan, but I hope I don’t need it. I love my little niche in the world — still, at the same time, the escape plan would be an amazing adventure.

I’m tired from this extremely unusual amount of human contact, but I feel very warm inside from being loved and loving in return. One thing this whole thing has shown me — including my recent fear that perhaps Bear had a very bad bone cancer — was how much courage it takes to love something, someone, and allow oneself to become attached to it. I believe this is a lesson I’ve gotten from being here in a world where my love for it is returned and magnified. This valley spread itself in front of me, poor beat up legs and all, as if it were saying, “There is more here for you than you can now imagine. Give me time to show you everything.”