Life As I Know It These Days

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


I should have waited to write the blog post I wrote yesterday, when I came home from a beautiful walk with Bear. Definitely fit today’s Ragtag Daily Prompt. Those glorious moments are pretty uncommon these days, and this morning I had to laugh. When I grabbed my jeans to put on, I noticed I’d sat in bird shit yesterday. Glory is grounded in shit after all, something reinforced when “traffic” (three cars) on the “highway” to the Refuge was slowed by a tractor pulling a manure spreader into a hay field.

Teaching “art” to the kids has inspired me to think about my early years in school. I’ve realized that a LOT of what “they” were doing to us had nothing much to do with what they told us they were teaching us. Neither of the kids writes — prints — halfway decently and the little girl doesn’t even write legibly. Seeing this at first I was shocked and a little worried then it hit me.


I thought about all the hours in school we just sat there with special lined paper and practiced printing letters, then, in second grade, we learned to “…write like grownups” — cursive. As I watch the little girl struggle with her hands when she does anything, I think about how they taught us to control and use the small muscles in our hands. We THOUGHT we were learning to write and it was annoying that we had to keep practicing, but that wasn’t what “they” were doing at all. I thought about how these amazing tools at the ends of our arms contributed to make us human. I wondered if our word “man” came from the Latin word, “manibus,” or “hand.” (I don’t really care what the answer is.)

A person can think a lot of things watching kids make ghosts from tissue paper and egg cartons.

Quotidian Update 9,000,042.a.iiv.2b

In the interim, life goes on (thank goodness) here in the Back of Beyond with life’s usual apparently trivial tasks punctuated by “Well, the clinic finally got flu shots,” and “That’s better,” as this person looks at the former “bean field” which was slapped together as needed last summer and is now a better design with a stronger fence, waiting for next year. I got four more beans from Li Ho yesterday after the hard frost, beautiful big perfect beans that may or may not have been ready to harvest.

The stress of our historical moment bears down as always with a momentary escape to the Big Empty with Bear and the flight of Sandhill Cranes. The herd of pretty Herefords has not left the pasture, and I’m glad because I like them very much. Yesterday I saw some young ones, steers, headed ultimately toward that great “Grass Fed Beef” package in the sky, but in the meantime they’re living large.

“Hi little guy. Is that your dad?”

The wind has cleared the smoke from the sky and fires in the north have been seriously slowed by a snow dump in the last few days. I suspect we in the San Luis Valley are looking at a dry, open winter which isn’t good for agriculture, but is probably good for people dodging the virus.

In other news? Well, there isn’t any.

Trapped in a World…

The difficult thing about our times is its mixture of seriousness and absurdity. It is a LOT like the cover of the Howard the Duck Comic, the one I saw in the window of a comix store on Colfax Avenue in Denver on my way home from work one day, the one I bought and framed and hung in my bathroom in my apartment on Humboldt Street in Denver back in the day.

wait a minute, hold on…

It wasn’t a Howard the Duck cover, it was a cover from a Bizarre Sex comic that I bought at the same time, also because of the cover. At the time, it struck me as hilariously funny, but I can’t share it here, but the words on the cover are enough, “It came from Alpha Centauri Looking for Love.”

Is it my fault that 40 plus years later I conflate my two favorite comic book covers in to one and have Howard the Duck climbing the Empire State Building? I think not.

Back in my late twenties I realized MY life was a mixture of seriousness and absurdity, but believed that the world outside my life was probably OK. Now the tables have turned and my life is probably OK and it’s external reality that’s gone off the rails.

As for the inside of these comics, nothing special. I’m not a big fan of comics, but the covers. They seemed to say everything.


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. πŸ™‚

“Is it Ever Going to Be OK Again?”

This morning I went out to clean up after the dogs and found that the plumbing was again backing up into my backyard. Twice this has been investigated and nary a sign of any problem in my house’ plumbing has been discovered. Both times there was a block at the place where my plumbing goes into the city sewer line. And, indeed, today I saw that it was coming back from that direction. Still, it’s not right.

My neighbors recently had to redo all the plumbing from their house to the main line. I anticipate doing the same, but I’d rather not do it now. BUT the guy has been out here twice in six months and that’s a LOT.

I called my neighbor to get the number of the company that did her work. Somewhere in one of our conversations she said, “Is it ever going to be OK again?” She’s going through harder stuff than I am right now (for the moment, knock on wood, etc.) We agreed that we had to believe that it will all be “OK” again.

You see, we don’t want much. The big deal about doing this work in my yard for me is that they have to tear out my fence and they won’t put it back up. I will have to board the dogs for the duration and then have a fence built. I’m having a hard time putting a good face on that, in fact, I just feel daunted.

And just in the trough of dauntedness this afternoon I went outside to photograph the mural with the horses on it and saw a guy in my OTHER neighbor’s yard cutting down elm trees. I said “Hi” and he let me know he was cutting down the tree that hangs over my house and that was ripe to fall on my roof in the next heavy snow.

A person bought a painting for twice what I charged for it and said it was worth it to her.

All of this has left me with the sense that nothing makes sense and maybe things are always OK in some strange paradoxical way that we don’t understand.

Thinking about Art and Kids

Today I had my little art class. I was worried about it since last week I came up against some problems that I wasn’t sure I was equipped to deal with, mainly that one of my little students has a physical problem that gives her challenges learning, the same little girl for whom I wrote the book, “Are You Smart?” Last week she struggled to fold paper correctly to make a little folder for her art cards. (You can learn what that means here) and struggled even harder to write the notes about the card she’d chosen.

So today I thought I wouldn’t make them write. If we did the art cards today (as was on their calendar) they could just tell me. The lesson plan was to make a watercolor color wheel using only red, blue and yellow. I got there and said, “We’re going to do magic today.”

“I like magic!” said the little girl.

Mom had set up the table with baby food jars filled with water in front of each of our spots and paper towels. I brought watercolor paper for them. I’d drawn a circle and divided it into six “pie” pieces. I wrote Red, Yellow and Blue over the ones they needed to paint those colors. I had one too. We did it together.

They were 100% into it. Then we got to the part of mixing the colors, and they thought it really WAS magic (it is). Then the little girl said, “We’re making a rainbow!”

When we finished, the little boy said, “What are we going to do now?”

I said, “I don’t know. What do you want to do? We can draw…”

He and his sister both said, “The cards.”

I said, “OK. Do you want to talk or do you want to write?”

The little girl said, “Write.” I was happy. They even had their folders ready. (Thanks mom)

I spread six cards out on the table for them to choose. My favorite was a painting by Kandinsky but I said, “I don’t even know what is the top.” The little boy is AMAZINGLY attentive, saw printed in faint gray on the card an arrow pointing and the words, “This is up.”

Yellow, Red, Blue

They did their worksheets writing in the name of the painting, the artist, and why they like the picture. The little girl didn’t follow instructions and I called her on it. I said, “You need to read. See? What does it say here?” So she fixed her mistake. I learned today that she responds very well to inductive teaching, and I will do that with her as often as possible from now on since it compels her to focus and she’s rewarded when she reasons correctly.

Then her mom said, “We’ll figure out a way to pay you.”

I didn’t say anything directly to that. Something heavy and profound hit me, something about art and me.

I have been thinking about that all day. Art is two things. It’s something people look at and appreciate, a language across time and culture that adds an important dimension to humanity, maybe even defines humanity. But what it is to the artist? I cannot speak for anyone but myself, but art very literally saved my life. I didn’t get support for it from my mom, though as long as he lived, my dad nurtured both my brother and me as artists. I didn’t get much support in school, either. I had a couple of teachers who saw something in me and were encouraging, but most of the rest? Nope. But it didn’t matter. Art is a thing inside of me, an inexplicable, indomitable something that is in and of itself all the reward I need.

When my brother — an extremely talented artist — threw his life away on alcohol, one of the many things I couldn’t understand was why he didn’t turn to his art instead of booze. There’s the theory (which may have a basis in fact, though I doubt it) that artists are tortured souls. That may or may not be true on an individual basis, but I don’t think it’s art that tortures them. Maybe money? Maybe wishing they could be famous? I don’t know.

When I think of art — my own art — this is a story that evokes the magic for me every time. Making art is an experience that doesn’t always have something to do with the end product. For me the end product is just what happens if you finish something.

My mother hated that I am an artist, but toward the end of her life there was a moment. At the end of her garden there was a large wild plum bush. It grew in a field that belonged to her neighbor, the man and his wife who’d owned and farmed the land before it was developed. They Davises were were well into their 80s. My mom said to me, “Why don’t you go pick those plums for Mrs. Davis. She wants to make jam and she can’t pick them any more. She can’t leave Mr. Davis alone very long and she can’t walk well now.”

I picked up a paper grocery bag and went out and picked plums. When I looked at them in the bag I thought they were so very beautiful. Red, pink, golden, purple, plum (duh). I took them inside and said to my mom, “I want to paint them first.” She didn’t say anything. I had paints there — maybe my brother’s, I don’t know.

I did a watercolor of the plums then took them to Mrs. Davis’ house and left them on the back porch. They weren’t home.

Several hours later she called my mom and said, “Tell Martha Ann to come out.”

Mrs. Davis stood in her yard, white hair back-lit with late afternoon Montana light (there’s no light like that anywhere) holding a plate with a big white cake she’d made for me. I was still living in the painting I’d just finished, and the scene was just one more enchantment brought by those beautiful plums.

I sold the painting to a friend sometime later.

I don’t know if I’ve conveyed “art” the way I want to. It’s — for me — the enchantment of life. It’s a gift I have been given by the creator or DNA or whatever, helped by some good teaching, natural curiosity, pleasure in doing it, travel, excellent museums. I’ve held onto it like Ariadne’s thread throughout my life. Art saved me when I was in a major depression, suicidal, terrified, fragile. Drawing every day, just that, a magical ladder of color out of the abyss.

My body, my abilities, all I’ve learned? I’m just a vessel carrying this around for this moment in time. Like every artist. Every single fucking artist who ever lived has done nothing more than say, “Here is the world as I have seen it, as my hands can depict it. Here.” From the first cave painter to me. It’s ONE thing. THIS is what I am teaching the kids. To be paid for that? No. It’s my honor to hold it in my hands and to be able to share it at all. It’s Mrs. Davis holding a beautiful white cake, behind her Montana’s afternoon summer sun breaking against the Beartooth Mountains.

Quotidian Update 43.9.iv.7

WordPress wants more clams for my OTHER blog, My plan NOW is to create a new landing page for THIS blog and pages for books and paintings. Since its inception a few years ago, I don’t think my “website” has garnered a dozen followers. I started making those changes yesterday, but a migraine interceded and you don’t stare at a screen long when you eyes and brain are giving you someone else’s acid trip.

In other news, driven by the migraine (???) I called another number to get help with my yard. And guess what…

As you see, Teddy is completely confused. It’s a really nice yard. I wish so much it were more accessible directly from the house. To get to it, you go out the back door, down a long ramp and through a gate. It’s quieter than “my” yard where the deck is and shady most of the day. I originally set it up as a garden and there’s a little cement slab I thought could be a patio but it’s just annoying. I think next year, though, I’m going to put the vegetables out there because there’s more sunlight.

Getting rid of the storm damage and making the yard safe from the coming autumn winds that may (god willing) be followed by snow was a job. The guy cut down most of two elm trees, dealt with the one threatening my garage and hauled everything away. He has another job here next month. Really nice guy, too. Everything I wanted in someone to help me with this stuff.

You can all relax now knowing that things here in the Back of Beyond are going on more or less normally. I hope the same for all of you.


Six years ago today, I arrived in Colorado, having made my exit from Hotel California with my Muttley Crew — Lily, Dusty, and Mindy.

Dusty and Mindy

Exit is more straight-forward than arrival, especially when it’s irrevocable and the result of a decision driven by necessity. Arrival is a little more complicated. Sometime this past year, I fully arrived in Colorado psychically. You don’t abandon 30 years of your life in an instant. I think I arrived when I was doing my reading from As a Baby Duck Listens to Thunder at the Narrow Gauge Book Coop last October.

Life is a strange thing. You can be going along and everything is fine. Things get a little rocky, so you make hundreds of small adjustments and you keep on. Then something happens that nullifies all the small adjustments, and you are suddenly in the midst of a major life change.

I was propelled out of my (happy) life in a truly desperate moment. I lost my main job due to some Machievellian machinations by the college of business in which I taught. The income I needed to hold my life together wasn’t just threatened; it was gone. Not just mine; but three other teachers with contracts were upgefucht, but they were not sole-providers. They were married to someone who was employed. A little different situation.

I remember my first thought was to attempt a continuation of small-adjustments to keep the life going, but then it was clear, “This party’s over, sweet cheeks.” All of my attention then went to making the huge change as quickly as possible.

So there I was, September 20, 2014, rolling into the parking lot of the Spruce Lodge in South Fork, Colorado, where I’d rented a cabin for at least a month. I called it “My Giant Dog Crate in the Mountains” because, well, three pretty big dogs took up most of the living room.

It was nice, the perfect place for us to land. Not home, not not home. I began the process of living in Colorado, in a place I didn’t know, where everyone was a stranger. I’m a Colorado native, but it was impossible for me to afford a home in any of the places I’d lived before. Necessity drove me to Heaven. ❀

Lily T. Wolf and Mindy T. Dog happy to have landed.

I’d thought this morning that I would write about independence. I recently read a meme that said that extreme independence was the result of trauma. It listed a bunch of causes, life events, that make a person turn to themselves instead of others. There were six on the list and four of them happened in my life, a couple more than once. Those that applied to me were abandonment/loss, abuse, experiencing a natural disaster and witnessing death. The meme led to an article in Psychology Today. I read it. It said that such a person had lost the ability to trust and needed to work to rebuild that.

My first thought was, “Why?” Isn’t it acquired knowledge that — for an example — a huge wildfire can come and threaten (or succeed) to wipe out your town, your house, your LIFE? Or that someone can say they love you and beat you up? That your nearest and dearest parent can suffer a terminal disease and die? Life is a pretty long litany of stuff that doesn’t pan out. What is the big deal with trust in an untrustworthy world? Does it make a person happier?

I wondered why independence is considered a pathology. Not long ago a friend said, “You’re extremely independent.” I asked her why she thought so, and she said, “You moved here all by yourself and you didn’t even know anyone.” I remembered my students telling me I wasn’t like other teachers. OK, but what are OTHER people like? How did other teachers teach? I have no idea. But, when sold my house and packed my stuff to move here, I heard all time time. “You’re so independent. I could never do what you’re doing.”

Friends thought I was embarking on a great adventure, like one of the early explorers setting out for unknown places across wild and mysterious oceans. They talked me into writing a blog about my “adventure.” “Adventure?” I was doing what I had to do.

So, I don’t know. Maybe I am extremely independent, but I still don’t get why that’s a bad thing.

No Legacies for Me, Thanks…

I wrote a poem a long time ago that went like this:

The man without the camera
Walks entirely on rocks.

There was more, maybe, but I don’t remember what.

I’d learned from a friend that he had been in Saudi Arabia and taught for a year but never took a single photo of his time there.

I thought that was kind of cool and it inspired a poem.

The thought is the opposite of the quote by Maya Angelou on todays Ragtag Daily Prompt. The man who walks on rocks has no record of where he has been and the earth has none either. What’s his legacy? I remember what I was thinking at the time, sometime in late 80s, and that was that I wasn’t going to accomplish great things after all. I was at THAT moment in life. I was learning to be cool with the idea that I was just a face in the crowd.

“Make a mark on the world that can’t be erased…” is a dangerous — possibly irresponsible — admonition. The easiest way to do that is through destruction. Building something meaningful can take a lifetime. Even then, the future is going to do whatever it wants with it. One’s legacy — no matter how beautiful — is never going to wander through time unscathed.

I don’t know what else Maya Angelou had to say in the printed world from which this quotation was extracted, but no. Don’t live so you leave a legacy. Live so you have had a LIFE. The future will do whatever it wants with whomever you were and whatever you did.