Catching Air

The days reached across spring into the hot long interludes of summer, burning sidewalks and sweat down the back. The little girls, their skate keys on shoestrings tied around their necks, cruised down the street imagining the future of Olympics and Ice Capades. The boys buzzed by on banana-seated sting-rays until someone’s parent yelled down the street, “Supper!” Then the day came when someone took their sister’s skate apart and nailed the wheels to a 2 x 4 and what seemed like destructive mischief was but a bigger thrill, staying up on that wobbly 2 x 4 while riding down the steepest hill they could find.

“Those goddamned things are dangerous. You aren’t riding that. OK we’ll buy one that’s safer, but it belongs to your mom. If she says you can borrow hers, you can. Otherwise? Ride your bikes.”

Then sometime in August the thrill was gone and school couldn’t start soon enough. All this is true — except the banana seat-sting ray. “That’s no goddamned bike. That’s a toy. You’re getting a 3 speed.” My dad had his non-negotiable beliefs, just like everyone else.

The other evening, with the kids and their parents and a friend of theirs, some of these images wafted through my mind. As kids, my brother and I were absolutely free. These kids aren’t. Around the table, there was much staring at phones (not me, of course, obviously because…) The kids were just the same as my brother and me. Virtually interchangeable beings with the little beings I was and with whom I grew up.

I don’t know how things are supposed to be any more. The trap of nostalgia tells all us old people, “Those were the good old days. Kids today….yada yada yada” but I don’t know. I don’t know what world they will grow up to.

One of the Boys on Bikes is sharing his love of BMX with his son and daughter. They’ve joined a very organized BMX club with uniforms and a schedule of races. I think that is awesomely cool. He rides for the team, too. A former pro-trick rider, he’s now racing. The photos of him, the kids, their uniforms and gigantic trophies are wonderful. I’m proud of him and grateful to have had a role in his life during a pivotal few years. I’m glad I had a truck and was willing and able to take him and his pals to the BMX jumps that, sometime in the 70s, kids dug into the hills of same wilderness park where I hiked. I look back on our years of weekends as some of the best times in my life. But the Boys on Bikes didn’t have helmets or uniforms or adult supervision or anything to protect their little bodies from injury. If there was any organization, it came from them and the occasional times when I was there and they asked me. Their sport was dangerous, but so were their lives.

Do I think his kids should be riding helmet-less and hell-bent like he was? No…but. Should kids run wild and free on the summer streets? I guess that depends a little where those streets are.

The other evening, after the cookout, I had to beg permission from the kids’ mom to let them ride their bikes all the way down the alley to my house and back. She was worried someone would pull out of their alley driveway and hit the kids. Since almost no one lives here any more, the chances are slim. Then, I thought, “I think the kids can learn to watch for cars.” So their mom stood by their house and watched as they rode home with me.

I’m not criticizing the mom or anyone else. And I didn’t have kids of my own and the kids in whose lives I was involved are today’s parents. I can’t possibly know what it was like raising kids in the 80s and 90s — or now. All I did with kids was be the nice person down the street they could talk to and a decent stepmom. Is the world dangerous? Yes, but judging from the news one of the most dangerous places for kids is school.

I offered to take the kids for bike rides at the high school. The mom said. “No. The park.” What’s the difference? The high school is a huge parking lot where kids will ride all over the place in every direction. There’s a track kids can ride around and race. There are sidewalks and small hills and lips from which to catch a tiny bit of air. The park is a 3/4 mile track where old people walk off their heart attacks. Lots of kids ride at the high school. I’ve seen them have wonderful times. Little kids with their parents. Older kids without. Oh well. Not my kids. Not my rules. Will I take them? Probably not.

It led me to think about memories of childhood and the sweetness of those recollections of first freedom. ❤

Happy Dog

When you have a birthday close to but after the holidays, sometimes you don’t get much of a celebration when you’re a kid. My mom even said things like, “I don’t think I can face another holiday.” OH WELL. Teddy and I celebrated our birthday quietly as fits our natures (???). Then, day before yesterday I got a text from the kids’ mom. “We made you a Martha sized cake. We forgot your birthday. Can we bring it tomorrow?”

I haven’t been hanging out with the kids for a while. I felt the need to back off a little. The contest for which I read books in winter has begun, and I’m trying to stock my Etsy store ahead of spring having gotten the inspiration that people shop seasonally (who knew? Every retail person since time began, that’s who). Plus, I wasn’t sure I wanted to be part of a family. It’s strange, but true, that the word “family” terrifies some people (raises hand). Family carries expectations that I know I’m not up to and, along with expectations, come disappointments. I don’t want to disappoint those kids, but I have and I will. All that to say I haven’t seen them in several weeks.

So there they were, in the alley, with a pretty cake, a cardboard box with a pillow they made me so I could take a nap, and birthday cards they’d made. It was a beautiful scene, but truly, the most beautiful scene of all was when they came in the yard to see Bear. Bear was in RAPTURES that her kids were IN HER VERY OWN YARD. Bear ran up to M (and scared her) then raced around the yard several times. “That’s her happy dance,” I told the kids as the nut-brown dust blew up all around us. Dry, dry, dry winter… The kids examined the masterwork of holes Bear has been digging under a lilac bush for five years, watched the birds who live in my hedge and generally hung out in Bear’s world. When they left, Bear sat beside me at the gate and bid them farewell as if she had invited them to a tea party and it was time for them to go.

Bear’s masterpiece

Humanity’s Wide Ramble

My first “book” is a semi-autobiographical story that was, long long long ago, titled “Vast Chain of Dancers.” I dimly remember Aristotle describing humanity that way, as a “vast chain of dancers,” but my boyfriend at the time said he had a hard time imagining a “vast” chain, a chain being this long narrow thing and anything vast being more along the lines of the ocean, amorphous and all over the damned place.

The book fell into the darkness for many years, then I resurrected it and worked on it some more. It fell into oblivion again, for a long time, then not all that long after I moved here, without a project, and having found it in the move, I worked on it again. About two years ago I finally finished the book — no longer titled “A Vast Chain of Dancers,” but now Fledging. I printed two copies. One for me and one for the amazing woman who is kind of an adopted mom, mentor, hero.

Thinking of her returns me to the notion of a vast chain. My boyfriend was wrong, but he didn’t live long enough to understand what Aristotle meant. I might not know what Aristotle meant, either, but I get the metaphor at 68, two weeks shy of 69, as I didn’t at 27.

The woman I just mentioned, we’ll call her Bianca, is the mother of a man, Chris, who became my friend and with whom I worked in an online support group for families of addicts. We never met in real life. I met Chris through George, the husband of a Sarah, a wonderful woman with whom I had taught a decade or more earlier. George was an amazing man who “got” me, and was ally and guide for many years as I struggled to overcome life’s fardles and write well. Chris was killed in a very tragic accident. Not long before he died he hooked Bianca up with an iPad and a Facebook account. He linked her up with people he thought she should know, one of whom was me. Another was a woman named Flame. I knew flame from many years earlier as we both struggled toward and through hip resurfacing at the same time and discovered we had much in common other than fucked up joints. That was a bizarre coincidence, to me, but all of these people (except Bianca) were linked by a common faith. They were all practicing Hindus who had been part of the same ashram in the Bay Area. Flame, her husband, and Sarah had all lived for many years in India.

Monte Vista. I’m here because of a house that I saw online. I couldn’t buy it, but it’s only a block away. Since I walked my dogs almost every day, going down the alley to the golf course or high school if I didn’t head out somewhere “more” interesting (that’s a point of view thing) I passed a house. Two years ago a family moved in and the little boy, then 5 years old, said “Hi!” to me. And so, yesterday,

Yesterday — almost exactly two years after I met this little boy — Bear and I stopped by his house to take him and his sister for a walk. Since they hardly ever get to go anywhere, it was a big big big deal for them. We walked up to the high school, then I asked them if they wanted to go through a secret gate and, of course, they were all about it, so we “sneaked” in a back gate to the golf course. There were animal tracks in the snow so I taught the kids what creature made what tracks. Bear rolled in the snow where the scent was strong enough for her to smell (not me, thankfully). The kids ran and explored and felt they’d had an adventure. They climbed the great pile of snow that came from all of our town’s streets and then summited one of the golf course berms. I told them to plant their flag so I could take the summit photograph (featured photo).

“Can I climb that mountain, Miss Martha?”
“God yes,” I think, “climb them all.” I say, “Sure, but be careful.”

Everything we did we did because I was once a little girl with a little brother, not because I know anything about kids. I don’t. I just remember what Kirk and I thought was great. So, though these kids don’t see the OTHER two kids running and climbing with them, they — we — are there.

And more…last night I did a video chat with the younger son of the Good-X with whom I’m close, his wife, S, and their kids. Their little girl has my mother’s name. She’s 7 and recently became very interested in American Indians. Her mom alerted me to this and told the little girl, “Oma Martha knows about Indians.” I haven’t met the kids in real life. It’s expensive for them and for me to make the trips involved. In a conference with S I decided to send H (the little girl) some of the Indian things I have including a bracelet made for me by one of my mom’s friends on the Crow Reservation where my mom taught in the 1940’s. I got it out of its safe place, repaired the snap that closes it and packed it up with a little pin from the Zuni Pueblo and a small black pot made by Maria Martinez. Last night I watched as H struggled to fasten the bracelet on her wrist (it was never easy). S stepped in to help her, and I thought, “Well, Mom, it found a home.” H is thrilled to have REAL Indian things and I am happy she has them. But what a journey for these small bits of life.

When I look around me at life, I see many of these “chains” forming a wide and timeless net. Maybe this is what Aristotle meant. We really do not know whose lives we will enter and touch.

Stay on Your Bike

Even though I wish it would snow, I’m glad it hasn’t snowed. Is THAT the ultimate human paradox? It’s nice to head out the door without lots of coats, boots, shoveling and worring about icy roads etc. all the winter stuff I normally like and desire but, this year? Less than usual. Not-snow is a little more spontaneous than snow.

I felt this yesterday when I found myself on the golf course with the kids, and they were rolling down a hill that was built to hold up one of the challenging holes. I worry all the time when I’m out with them because they’re little kids, so if they find something that’s rough (they are kids) and yet, safe, I’m happy.

The hill isn’t high. It’s pretty much just ideal small-kid-roll-down size. They ran up, and rolled down, ran up and rolled down, ran up and rolled down. You know. If you’ve been a kid or had them, you know. At one point they took off their jackets and I thought, “Awesome. December 7.” It’s not even a bad little hill for sleds if you’re a little kid.

Of course, as all old people do, I compared their lives with mine “back in the day.” They are 7 and almost 9 (next week). At 7 and 9 my brother and I had more freedom than, well, than I have now. It was normal to say, “Mom, we’re going to the woods,” and we took off, crossing a busy street, running into the forests and fields. Or we’d say, “We’re going to ride our bikes,” and we were out the door getting our bikes out of the garage and riding them, first just on our street, then anywhere we wanted to go. When we were each ten, we got a 3 speeds with skinny tires and GEARS. REAL freedom.

Thinking about bikes as I watched the kids, I thought of a promise one of the Boys on Bikes and I made to each other; that we would stay on our bikes. We agreed staying on our bikes was the best way for us to stay out of trouble. A couple of the boys had gotten off their bikes and ended up in serious — grave — trouble. My life was at a very dangerous juncture, too. 18 isn’t the only sketchy moment in the life of humans.

He’s 44 now and teaching his kids (about the same age as the kids I hang out with) to ride BMX. They recently joined I guess what you’d call a club and had the first race. He was a pro freestyle rider, not a racer. Over this past weekend all three of them won a trophy; he got his first racing trophy. I love it so much. (Thank you Facebook)

With that on my mind yesterday, when the kids and I got back to their house, I said to their mom, “Does M’s bike still have a flat tire?” M is the little girl.

“Yeah. We’re going to fix it. Now that G (husband) is working again we might be able to get one of those tires that can’t go flat.”

“There are a lot of goat-head thorns around here.” I see them bloom, tiny yellow flowers in pernicious faux-clover plants, and sometimes pull a thorn out of a dog’s paw. “If you do, I’ll take the kids to the high school parking lot so they can ride.”

In my mind’s eye I see boys flying helmetless over dirt jumps while I lie in the dirt, pointing a video camera at them. I see my brother and I flying — helmetless — down Bellevue, Nebraska’s steepest hills getting speeding tickets as we raced to the movie theater. I see me, in my forties, rehabbing an injured knee riding my first ever mountain bike, feeling like a hawk as I rocket down the narrow trials and like a slug when I push that sucker up some hills too long and steep to ride, just to get to the top where I could SEE something and ride a certain rollercoaster fire road. I hear a friend say, “Martha! You caught air!”

Watching the kids yesterday, the mantra, “Stay on your bike,” rang through my mind. I see the future of the two little people I spend time with, and I am sure that they need to stay on their bikes, too. I came home and bought each one a gift card for Walmart for Christmas. For bike tires.

News Flash from the San Luis Valley: More of the Same and that’s OK

Yesterday I sought refuge with Bear and there was a whiff of fall in the air, the fragrance of damp fallen leaves by the pond. Fall was more apparent in the colors of the landscape which here, in the high valley, are universally golden except for the wild currant bush that turns bright red.

None of these out at the refuge.

I saw “my” cows, but Beautiful Bessie was no where in sight. Not that these are ugly cows.

The girls outstanding in their field

The big fire in northwestern Colorado is keeping the mountains out of sight.

The cranes have arrived in their autumn numbers, different from spring when tens of thousands converge on the refuge more or less at once. In fall they kind of straggle in and head off at some point for New Mexico where they’ll stay until March. That’s the story, anyway, but my life here has shown me that they are around all year in limited numbers.

Today is a “school” day, and Hallowe’en is on the horizon. We’ll be making these little guys:

This is Megan, a prototype that we will take apart so the kids know how to put her together again. I will put her together again so at the end of the film I can add in the credits, “No paper and pipe-cleaner spiders were permanently damaged in the making of this film.”

And once more, I tip my hat to elementary school teachers. I don’t know how you do it. I just have two who like me and want to learn and it’s WAY more than I can deal with (in truth). And how do you do it now that recess doesn’t exist any more? I remember elementary school, and by the time recess came around I was so wound up it wasn’t funny and I was one of the calm ones…


When I was in my late 30s and early 40s I found myself surrounded by a bunch of boys who were the right age to have been my kids. They ranged in age from 10 to 15. They were ALWAYS at my house except to sleep. They went hiking with me. I took them to the BMX jumps. We went out for pizza together. We talked about life. We went to the mountains. We made a movie about BMXing. They had free run of my fridge. The youngest one, Mikey, was 10 and soon learned that I loved to see a hawk and that I called them, “My love.” He would point at them high in the sky and say, “Martha! There’s your love!”

Most often I’d hike for several hours and then walk back a 2 mile road to my truck which was parked near the BMX jumps. In the cool of a late summer afternoon, sweat drying on my back, my dogs beside me, tired and happy, I’d look up at a particular rock and see a kid watching for me. Then I’d hear, “She’s here!” By the time I’d reach them, usually their stuff would be packed up and they had loaded it into the truck. I remember one day feeling, “Wow. I always wanted to be part of a group of friends. Who knew they’d be adolescent boys and I’d be 40?”

Today I loaded Bear into the car to go to the Refuge, but when I got to the end of the alley, I noticed the golf course was pretty empty. The little boy came running to the fence. I rolled down the car window. “Miss Martha! Miss Martha!” His mom followed. I asked if I could park there, thinking I’d just take Bear to her happiest of happy places — the golf course. Then, deciding it was probably illegal, I decided just to drive back up the alley and park in my driveway.

“Can I go with Miss Martha?” he asked his mom.

“If it’s OK with her.” It was. He ran out of his yard like this was the GREATEST THING EVER TO HAPPEN, hopped up in Bella and fastened the seat belt.

We drove a ways up toward the golf course so I could turn around legally. There was a HUGE crane truck there with an IMMENSE boom.

“That’s the biggest boom I’ve ever seen,” he said.

“Do you remember the first thing you said to me?” I asked him. “You said, ‘There’s a crane!'”

“Well I never saw one that close before.” That was two years ago and he was five. A crane was lifting the roof from the pump house belonging to the golf course, and he was in his yard, in the snow, watching it.

We took Bella home and walked back with Bear. He got permission to go with me. His mom said, “Maybe I should go get his sister,” but I said no, that the little boy and Bear were all I could handle. Maybe that wasn’t completely true, but his sister has a much larger personality, and the little guy needs his chance, too, an adventure all his own.

We walked across the golf course, I took his picture by the crane truck, I explained why there are “sand holes” and what kind of club you use to get the ball out. He exclaimed over the REALLY tall cottonwood trees that would “…take all day to climb.” I answered his questions about how a golf course works. He’s lived across the street from it for 2 years and never saw it before, except the hole beside his house. He worried that his mom couldn’t see him, but he wanted to keep going. She’d prepared him with a hat and a full water bottle.

We headed back and I noticed a beautiful aspen leaf. I said something. He picked it up and found a couple more pretty leaves on his own to go with the golf ball and tee he’d picked up. We stopped and listened to the wind blowing the leaves of an aspen tree.

When we got back to his house he ran up to his sister and said, “I got to ride in Miss Martha’s car and go to the golf course!” like all that was Disneyland. He gave the leaves to his sister and showed her his golf ball and tee. I chatted a bit and headed home. Then I heard, “Miss Martha! Wait!” I stopped. He caught up and said, “Here’s a cookie for you.”

I thought about this when I got home. It’s true that us old people have more time for meanderings of a childlike nature than does the generation currently holding up the sky, but my values have always been these. Maybe that’s why my first group of friends was a bunch of teenage boys. 🙂


Any of you who’ve had kids and grandkids probably know what it’s like to watch a little kid learn how to read. Until yesterday I had not had the experience.

When they arrived to set up the deck, Connor told me he was Hobbes and Michelle was Calvin. I said, “How come you get to be the tiger?”

“We played for it and I lost.”

Personally, I think it’s better to be a tiger, but that’s just me.

Lots of stuff happened in kid time while the project went on. At one point,
Michelle sat in front of me with a well-read Calvin and Hobbes comic book. She read slowly, not totally getting the essence of what the words said, but pointing at the words and sounding them out old-school.

One of the new words was “garden.” I commenced the Socratic method almost instinctively. “Where do flowers grow?”


After a couple failures (this is not university) her mom said, “Sound it out, honey.”

“Gar-den.” She jumped up in delight! “GARDEN!!!”

Then she said down and kept reading to me. I had tears in my eyes at the beauty of this. I looked over at her mom who was kind of teary, too. In my mind I saw the WHOLE WORLD OPEN for Michelle.

P.S. Obviously I’m not a stickler for writing to the prompt.

Hakuna Matata

As dog-pupils go, Teddy is definitely the most dedicated in the class. He’ll perform tricks over and over for the SAME rawhide pencil. For Teddy it’s about attention as much as it’s about treats. He LOVES learning, cares about getting things right and performs every chance he gets. He’s also very affectionate and lovable. It’s fun walking him when the kids are in their yard, particularly the little girl for whom a sight of Bear and Teddy is as good as a Fourth of July Parade. The other day we were coming back toward our street from a training circuit of the high school and Michelle saw us. She stood absolutely still in her yard until we got there. I’d taught her not to run toward the fence because Bear would pull me down.

“Hi Teddy Bear! Hi Polar Bear!”

The dogs are happy to see her, but their happiness does not compare to hers at seeing them.

Is there really anything better than two friendly dogs and an old lady who enjoys talking to you? On that particular day, Michelle had just gotten two little stuffed animals — Simba and Nala. We talked about films and she encouraged me to see Lion King Two. She also highly recommended The Incredibles but I’m not sure that’s my cup of, of, chocolate milk. I didn’t even see The Lion King until I was in my 50s and teaching “The Allegory of the Cave.” One of my students said, “Professor, ‘The Allegory of the Cave’ is like The Lion King.” She brought her DVD to class and she was right. I loved it.

“I like the Hakuna matata part,” said Michelle.

Those are words my brother used to say when I was upset at him on the phone. Of course, they came through the exchange in a drunken voice with an edge. His “No worries” meant, “Shut up and leave me alone.” It was all well and good for him to say, “No worries,” but I was working my ass off supporting him.

“What was the name of that pig?” I asked Michelle.

“I don’t remember.” She looked a little worried.

“It doesn’t matter. He was cool though, don’t you think?”


Bear and Teddy were hot so I said we had to go home. We all walked together along her fence and she held Teddy’s leash over the top of the fence.

I recently learned from a friend that her young grandson has “come out.” I’m glad he is alive now and not 40 years ago. I’m glad it won’t, probably, be as harrowing for him as it was for many of my friends — and my boyfriend — back then. While I don’t think LGBTQ rights are the biggest item on the national agenda, I’m glad people in many parts of this country take them seriously. At the same time I have never understood why anyone’s sexual preferences are anyone’s business, but that’s how we are. And, while I don’t understand why ANYONE would want to get married, I’m glad those who do want to can. At the same time, I’m sorry for him. Even in the most enlightened world, he will live a kind of exile. Even I, straight and all, have lived a kind of exile just from not having children, not being married, not making the usual choices. I couldn’t have made those choices. I tried. As my boyfriend back in the day, a great love, in fact, said, “Who would choose this? Who would choose to live outside the world where 99% of humanity lives?” That won’t have changed, but maybe…

I’m impressed at the self-knowledge of my friend’s grandson. I hope everything good for him. Hakuna matata.

Thinking about that I thought about Michelle and Connor. A few years away from puberty and homeschooled, they’re still in the Garden of Eden. Their big-for-them back yard, their loving (though struggling) parents, big events like me and my dogs, freedom for their imagination, nothing worse happening to them than “time out”. Childhood isn’t easy, and for some children it’s very, very hard, but it still has the filaments of Heaven attached to it, the capacity for wonder. One of my most beautiful memories, toward the end of this past beautiful winter, during the bleak moments when the snow had begun melting, 😦 was Connor running in excitement to the fence saying, “We still have a bit patch of snow for Bear to roll in!”