Small Town Mentality

It’s too soon to say that the drought has broken, but we’ve had three cloudy damp days in a row and yesterday, in the thriving megalopolis of Alamosa, Colorado, there was hail and a flood on the parking lot at City Market. I was there. My neighbor took me shopping at my favorite store. We made it into a scavenger hunt for the strangest objects. She said I won, but I think she did. She found a glow-in-the-dark alien egg. I just found cans of nuts packaged as breakfast food. It is kind of funny that there are nuts packaged as women’s health.

Stop that.

When we got home, she carried in my groceries and helped me put them away. I can’t lift, carry, or bend over so even though I CAN drive to the store, I can only buy one banana at a time…. At the moment, I’m wearing sweat pants I got for the hospital. My Aussie neighbor shortened them for me. In a little while, she’s taking me to my local doc to get my staples removed.

I’m sitting here in this beautiful town surrounded by kindness. It’s as if the divine powers said, “OK, Martha. You’ve gone into those classrooms and fought the good fight for more than 30 years. From now on, you get kindness. You get to be kind, you get to be treated kindly. You get to go where the news is things like the high school kids doing community service — cleaning weeds from various locations around town and walking dogs at the local shelter. In my town that gets two pages. The cemetery tells the town that with the water shortage, they’re going to have to figure out an alternative to lawn this year and they ask for suggestions and help. A group has organized to provide public transportation between some of the towns on my side of the San Luis Valley. It’s a pilot program, and they need two volunteer drivers.

Volunteers.

And best of all….

A local group of developmentally disabled adults — SLV People First — has published its “first book” (they plan on more) entitled Important Things. A staff writer interviewed these people for the article, and while their answers are what you’d expect, the beauty is that their story is in the paper and the book is for sale. The underlying theme of the stories in the book is the determination of these people to live independently and to speak for themselves.

Not long ago a friend of a friend described narrow-minded people as people who have a “small town mentality.” My friend and I were both angered and amused by this. The small-town mentality I know is a bunch of people going out to a fairly remote farm where there is a child in a wheelchair and building a ramp to the front door for the family who lives there.

The stereotype of small town people has — as do all stereotypes — some basis in reality. It’s true that the people in my town are mostly politically and fiscally conservative, but the reason WHY is grounded in the reality that many “social programs” don’t need to be coordinated by a government agency. Some do, naturally, but as a community we depend on each other, our families and our churches — even I, with no family and no church, can rely on friends who can, equally, rely on me. I would be sad to think that the philosophy of love thy neighbor is only a small-town thing, something that has disappeared from the lives of people in big cities.

https://dailypost.wordpress.com/prompts/disappear/

Los Conquistadores

Not too long ago there was a posting on one of the local (small town) Facebook pages about people — Hispanic people — in the San Luis Valley being taught to disown their heritage.

This is true. The post was by a historian, and his assertion was that those bad guys, those Coronados, Cabeza de Vacas, those Ponce de Leons, all those Spanish explorers, the Conquistadors and their armies (many of whose men stayed here and started families who are still here, hundreds of years later), had been shoved under the bus of political correctness because they killed Native Americans.

The historian went on to make the point that these Spaniards had achieved something that would have killed modern humans. I think he’s right. I cannot imagine hundreds of modern humans piling themselves into a wooden ship, with horses, pigs, chickens, goats and sheep, AND priests, and setting sail across a recently understood ocean, (no sea monsters) to land in a place they’d never seen, populated or not (they weren’t sure) with people completely different from them who, in some cases, because of their face paint, haircuts and feathers, resembled paintings in (pre-America) European churches of Satan. All of this with plate armor AND the dangers of pirates, disease, storms at sea, wars.

We don’t even begin to have the skills to manage just the voyage. We forget the Americas WERE Terra Incognita. These guys killed Indians, but they also attempted to “save” them by bringing the “true faith.” In their minds it was the best thing they had. And the people — and their faith — are still here.

Some of their routes became our highways.

Old Spanish Trail Map

Northern Routes

images

Southern Routes

 

Right now I’m living in the middle of their world (21st century). The people around me are the descendants of these Spaniards (and Native Americans) and they speak an antique Spanish mixed with Ute and Navajo words. From time to time archeologists dig up a Clovis point below a disintegrating Spanish helmet. Personally, I think it’s amazing. I completely agree with William S. Burrough’s essay, “It Is Necessary to Travel…” Here’s the whole thing.

1

 

Featured photo: Marker for the Old Spanish Trail outside Monte Vista.

https://dailypost.wordpress.com/prompts/explore/

Physical Therapy and the Big Picture

Yesterday I went to my first pre-surgery physical therapy appointment. I didn’t want to go. Like a lot of this stuff I’m going through, I’ve “been there; done that.” But not really.

Last time I had physical therapy (2005) it was to address a condition I didn’t have. I went twice a week for three months and my hip (the right hip) just got more and more painful. Why? Because my “doctor” at the time had not diagnosed the problem correctly.

This time is NOT last time.

Every time I drive to the slough with the dogs I pass the gym which is known as “Monte Vista Athletic Club.” It looks like a barn which is not notable as the most popular building style where I live is big buildings with steel siding; lots of buildings look like barns including barns. It’s beautiful inside; it’s a gorgeous gym. I’m not a gym person, but I’ve been in several and this one is great. I told the person at the counter I was there for physical therapy and he guided me back to the corner of the “barn”. I was checked in and met my therapist — I like him! — a guy named Ron Muhlenhauser (good Swiss name). He sat me down.

The first thing he said when he looked at my chart was, “You don’t look that old.”

I thought, “Huh? Flattery? But why?” I think I look old, but maybe not. It’s a comparative thing, anyway. I explained I’d had hip surgery already on the other hip eleven years ago.

“You’re kidding,” he said.

“No. I…” I didn’t finish. We talked about accidents I might have had that could have caused the hip problem, and I rattled off a litany of sports related injuries.

“So sports, then,” he wrote on his paper. Then he asked me questions about the pain in my hip and how long I’d had it. I don’t think I was too good at the answers, but finally he said, “What are your goals?”

I said, “Hip surgery and the ability to walk better.” I still didn’t know what I was doing there other than fulfilling Medicare requirements. I didn’t think there was any reason beyond that, but I was very, very wrong.

“Here are your doctor’s goals,” and he read them to me. Of course, they were better, clearer and more articulate than mine. They are improving my posture, gait and the the development of good muscles and tendons in my hip. This means, basically, lengthening them so they will work with a new hip joint and so I can stand up straight. “You want to be good from the getgo after your surgery. Your left leg might be a little longer afterward, too. It’s likely.” It’s 1/2 inch shorter at the moment.

I was taught some exercises, and Ron gave me great explanations all the way along. I paid attention, practiced, and, all the while, thought about what I was being told. It began to sink in.

Then he said, “You’ve got the best doctor. Dr. S is the one who can handle the really tough cases. He’s the best there is.”

“Dr. Hunter (surgeon in Salida) recommended him.”

“See?” said Ron. “We’re going to try to teach your joint and your back to straighten up, to lengthen those muscles and teach those tendons to quit protecting your joint.” Ron showed me an exercise to lengthen thigh muscles and said, “You know runners. When they run, the back leg kicks way far back, so far it seems like it’s flying behind the runner, right?”

I visualized that and saw running in a completely new way.  We kept working and Ron explained how the tissues in our bodies replace themselves so that every three months we have all new tissue. I then understood that the purpose behind the cortisone shot is so that these exercises will not hurt me, because, otherwise, I couldn’t possibly do them.

I understood then why the surgery will be three months from now at the soonest. With that realization, suddenly, I got it. I really wanted to cry. My surgeon and the physical therapist are working together to help me emerge from this crysalis of pain and disability into a, yes, older Martha who can still be who the eternal Martha (inside herself) knows herself to be.

The shoes? Well, they’re trail running shoes. I got them on eBay last week. I’ve been wearing Salomon trail running shoes since the early 2000s. They were developed for people who race in the mountains. They were amazing, but they lasted me only about 3 months. Toward the end of the 2000s, Salomon sold the shoe to Adidas, and Adidas changed the way they are made as well as making various models. They are more durable, but less responsive (IMO) Still, they’re the best I know. I didn’t want to fork out the $$$ for brand new ones because I don’t know how this is going to pan out, and they’re expensive. When these arrived, I just hoped they’d have some time left. It turns out they are almost new. I think the previous owner might have worn them twice. I wore them yesterday to PT. They’re going with me the whole way. 🙂

 

They’re EVERYWHERE!!!!

Just got back from a walk with Dusty and Bear. It was a legit walk even though there were other people at “our” place. I’m just going to have to find a different time of day or branch out to new locales.

It’s an incredibly wonderful thing to take a real stride and follow it with another. I never took that ability for granted as my dad couldn’t walk well or easily because of his MS, still, I’m so savoring the miracle of the cortisone shot, however long it lasts. My research indicates 2 months is about average. That’s fine. I know it’s not a cure.

My town is getting ready for the Crane Festival which is this weekend. It’s rolling out the red carpet. Restaurants are featuring special “crane themed” items. Banners are hanging where the Christmas decorations were hanging until two weeks ago (we don’t hurry here in Monte Vista), the “fair grounds” are going to host an indoor craft and nature fair.

I don’t think the cranes care much about all this follderol, but they should. The wildlife refuge has been flooded (dry winter) for their benefit, and the Amish farmers around the refuge have mowed their fields and left barley on the ground. I wonder if the ancestral memory of this millions of years old species has any recollection of the old days. I wonder what grain originally drew them here — probably the same as draws them to my slough, wild grasses, wild rye, wild barley.

I might charge up the “good” camera (though my iPhone is approaching the quality) and take some photos after the festival is over.

I wrote to this prompt earlier today. I really hated my post so I’ve deleted it. I was doing something I don’t even believe in by writing it. SO… It’s gone.

 

https://dailypost.wordpress.com/prompts/branch/

Weather Report

Yesterday, Monday, day and night, we had storms — a few brief blizzards and gale force winds. Today on our walk, we happened on this sad story. Sad to me, anyway. In the grand scheme (which is where our walk was taking place) it’s just a dead owl. It’s even possible (but not likely) that it wasn’t a dead owl, but an owl playing dead over its prey. These owls — great horned owls — do this and, as Dusty reached it a second or two before Bear and I reached it, it’s possible.

And I thought, “To me this is sad. I don’t want this owl to be dead, but nothing around me cares at ALL except Dusty and Bear and THEY are just curious to know if it’s edible.”

Once upon a time I collected feathers. I once found a red-tail hawk that had been thrown against a hill by the wind and then eaten by coyotes. I brought home his wings. I’m not that person now. I don’t want souvenirs from nature any more. My mind is so full of those souvenirs that objects are meaningless — besides, the owl was beautiful and pristine lying beside the chamisa in the winter grass. Someone will eat him; it could even be another owl.

Seconds before I encountered the dead owl, I watched and listened to a dozen Sandhill Cranes lift into flight just a few feet in front of me.

All around it is early spring in the San Luis Valley — well, pre-spring in the San Luis Valley. Pre-spring has arrived a few weeks early. My crocus are blooming a week early, the Sandhill cranes have arrived in full force, and the Rio Grande Wildlife Refuge has closed about three weeks ahead of normal to allow the birds — water birds and bald eagles — to nest.

Wind in the San Juans

 

The Cranes of Monte Vista

They’ll be here soon if they’re not here already. I’m not sure they ever completely left for the southern climes of New Mexico this winter as we’ve had virtually no snow, comparatively (compared to Cutbank, Montana) warm temperatures, and the water in the various sloughs, rivers and preserves has not completely frozen. If I were a Sandhill Crane, I’d still migrate. I think most of the fun is with the extended flock.

In a month Monte Vista will open its arms to a profusion of crane tourists from all over the world who have dreamed all their lives of visiting a small town in Colorado and seeing more than 20,000 Sandhill Cranes. It is truly one of life’s most amazing sights, hundreds of bundled up baby-boomer wayfarers with binoculars pointed at the meadow of the world, listening to a park ranger explain what the cranes are doing.

And what are they doing? They dance. They are VERY busy finding luv’ and making babies.

Last year — a real winter — I saw cranes every month of the year, but this year, because it’s been so warm, there have been a lot more people out where I walk with the dogs. That has got to be at least as disturbing to the lingering cranes as it is to me.

Along with the advent of the cranes, in early March most of the wildlife area where we walk will close to allow geese and various other birds to nest unmolested. This will leave one small place for us to walk. The golf course usually opens around the time the wildlife area closes, signifying the arrival of my dogs’ and my least favorite seasons — spring and summer.

P.S. Rereading this, I guess I woke up on the curmudgeonly side of the bed this morning…

You can learn more about the Crane Festival here.

Where I Live

Today Mindy got groomed. My groomer has a small farm. Really small. She lives in a mobile home across from my vet. In the backyard are a couple of sheds. One is for storing bikes on one end and a pony on the other. The other is her really pretty grooming studio. There are pens for sheep and the goat. It’s far and away from any urban grooming set up like you might see at Petco or something. She LOVES animals and she has two great kids who help out.

Mindy loves to go there and they love Mindy. “She doesn’t have a mean bone in her body,” says the groomer. “She’s the most cooperative dog; she seems to know what you need and helps you.” Mindy is 10 or 11; she has bad hips. I don’t like brushing her because I’m afraid I’ll hurt her, so it’s great I have found Muddy Paws.

Mindy the groomed

“Aren’t I pretty?”

When I picked Mindy up we talked about what people talk about in an agricultural community. I didn’t grow up here. I never farmed anything or raised any stock, but I like it. I would have liked doing it if I’d been plopped down in that world. I’d have been happy. I know that because I was always happy in Montana with my family and their borderline farms. I am happier here than I’ve been ever in my life.

In a farming community, you talk about the weather and it’s NOT small talk. We’re having the driest winter Colorado has seen in 30 years. It was 56 degrees this afternoon; for reference, on this day last year, it got up to 12. That’s normal for January.

This is nuts.

“I don’t know what to think,” I said. “I like the cold and snow, but it’s kind of nice not having to worry about it.”

“I know what you mean. By now, usually, I don’t have any grooming business but I’m booked solid.”

“Last January I wouldn’t have brought Mindy. It was 20 below!”

“It’s strange,” she said. “This weather is good for the loggers, but the farmers? We got a lot of rain in the summer.”

“Seven inches extra for last year,” I said.

“That’s a whole year of moisture,” she nodded. “I think we’re going to have another one of those wet summers. That’s bad. I’m lambing now and we’re good, but next year, if we have another wet summer, hay is going to be sky high.”

“And the potatoes,” I said. “That was a little iffy last summer.”

“Yeah, it was. I don’t know what to wish for. I guess it depends on your work.”

And work depends on the land and the weather. I like that so much. I like those imperatives so much more than some arcane discussion about teaching methods or what degree I have or how I manage a classroom. I know farming (and everything else that happens here) isn’t easy for a lot of people and a lot of people are having a hard time, but  man. When nature is your partner there’s a lot different kind of negotiation and if you lose your job, it’s not because some dumbass boss doesn’t like you.

While Mindy was being groomed, Bear and I walked for a mile and a half along the river. It’s mostly frozen, here and there the unfrozen channel surfaces, but sections of it are like a mirror. We found the femur of a deceased large mammal — probably a deer — a little bit of fur hanging on, but mostly cleaned off completely.

Femur

 

Animals that walk along the river during other times of day include bears, coyotes, foxes, stray dogs, a cougar, badgers — and human hunters. Who knows how that femur came to be beside the trail and it wasn’t saying anything. I think Bear has some idea, but she’s not saying, either.

 

Sweet Day

When I was teaching, I had almost no social life. I taught literally all the time. I taught writing which means hundreds of essays to read, correct and respond to. And, I taught seven classes. A full load for a tenured faculty member is four classes one semester, three the next. This means in a whole YEAR that person teaches as many classes as I taught in a semester. Usually they had grading assistants to help with their load. I had grading assistants two semesters in my entire 35+ year career. Seven classes means I normally taught three classes a day. My seventh class was usually on Saturday morning. I really didn’t have the time or inclination to get to know anyone.

When I moved away from California, I left virtually no friends behind except the one who, a year or two later, moved to Colorado Springs, and my wonderful neighbors who’d already moved to work and live on a ranch in Northern California.

Moving to Monte Vista changed my life in almost every way, but the desire to know people has been one of the best. I moved into a neighborhood and, in my neighborhood, I found friends.

Yesterday we got together for one of our infamous tea parties (but we had coffee). This was kind of special because it was on St. Lucia’s Day which, in my family, was always the first day of Christmas. It was the day we put up our tree. Sometimes my mother invited guests for dinner and she cooked Lutefisk of song and legend. She wasn’t Swedish, but my dad’s mom was. It was a huge event if that’s what happened.

Lutefisk is dried, salted whitefish that’s been preserved in lye. (Cue Viking music.) Lutefisk wasn’t easy to find, but my mom always managed to find it. It had to soak over night, transforming from a whiteish, silverish, grayish boardlike thing to a gelatinous mass. It was then boiled, served on boiled potatoes with a creamy white sauce that my grandmother made with real butter, my mom with margarine. Along with it we had lingonberries and potato sausage (yum). Sometimes Swedish rye bread.

My neighbor, K, is Swedish and last year we talked of a tea party on St. Lucia’s day, but I was very sick last year and it didn’t happen.

But it happened yesterday. My neighbor, E, made traditional Swedish saffron buns and I made Swedish fruit soup. Remembering that no Swede in my life EVER drank tea, I made coffee.

Our conversation went from cooking to memories to family to the future in the hands of upcoming generations (none-to-soon, IMO) to the sudden preponderance of complaints by women of sexual harassment. It’s a hot-button topic for me, not the most congenial subject, but there we were. Having been — most of the time — a single, working woman — I have had WAY too many experiences with it. When I complained to bosses, supervisors, I was NEVER believed. “He didn’t mean that,” was one response I got from a boss when a fellow teacher stood behind me while I was working on the shared computer in our office and said, “You know you want to stick your hand down my pants. Why don’t you?” He harassed another woman, too, and rather being reprimanded, he was told to get psychiatric help. Another case involved a fellow teacher who was on the tenure review committee when I was going for a tenured position. He made it very clear to me that if I didn’t “do him” I could forget tenure. I didn’t “do him” and I didn’t get tenure. When I complained, a supervising colleague believed me, but the Dean did not. These are just two stories of a long litany that left me thinking that some men (most men? all men?) will demonstrate dominance in whatever way they can whether it’s sexually or, as in the case of a boss at SDSU, by verbally abusing me in front of staff.

E seemed to think the “Me Too” movement would have an effect on changing the society. My take is that it’s human nature and that’s pretty hard to change, but maybe it would make people think twice. We didn’t reach a conclusion.

I don’t know. I am just grateful not to be on the road any more. Not to be walking into classrooms or called in by some boss who doesn’t understand what I do because he’s a system’s analyst and I’m a writing teacher. I love this valley with all my heart and soul. I like my neighbors very much and I’m grateful to have been dropped into this little nexus of kindness and old-fashioned values and manners. I don’t know the answer to the world’s problems, but I suspect more Swedish saffron buns, more fruit soup, more congenial conversations, more good neighbors, more generosity of heart and soul could fix a lot of things.

 

 

https://dailypost.wordpress.com/prompts/legend/

Nostalgia

Things are going to sparkle around here. Monte Vista is doing its Christmas thing today and tomorrow. One of the events leading up to it has been the re-garlanding of the Happy Holiday sign at the west entrance to my town (the end of my block). It’s a Christmas tradition. Tradition is big in Monte Vista.

I’ve been thinking about nostalgia. Gabriel Garcia Marquez’ novel, One Hundred Years of Solitude, looks at the pernicious power of nostalgia. I read it back in the 70s, and I don’t remember the plot clearly, but I remember images thanks to Marquez’ way of writing. The book is about a once flourishing town — Macondo — in the process of dying of nostalgia.

Nostalgia is killing my town, too. People here moan, “Monte is not like it was.” “This town has turned to shit,” but they don’t come up with a plan to change it or a vision for the future of what they want the town to be within the constraints of objective reality NOW, 2017. The recent election? The coalition that won ran on nostalgia, the promise to bring Monte Vista back to the town it was in the 1970’s. They’re good guys, but had no clear plan, not one they communicated, anyway. They knew how to reach the voter, though.

Nostalgia.

The problem with nostalgia is that it’s smokey-eyed, bleary and romantic. The 1970s had its ugliness and sorrow, too. People probably bitched about things then, how “things weren’t what they used to be,” as people do all the time everywhere. If that coalition took apart their nostalgia, they might see that the ordinary habits of people have changed.

“Nostalgia, as always, had wiped away the bad memories and magnified the good ones. no one was safe from its onslaught.” Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Nostalgia is a normal feeling. I feel nostalgia for hills I once hiked but no longer can. Men I once loved, and won’t love again. Family members and moments shared that cannot return. Denver. I prefer it as it was from the 1950s to the late 70s/early 80s when I left and, for that reason, I’m not eager to return and explore it now. Fuck it. Denver doesn’t care whether I’m there or not.

One thing that propelled me back here was nostalgia. I saw the streets of Monte Vista and I saw all the small towns I’d loved as a kid. I also saw the architecture of my favorite neighborhoods in Denver. There was nostalgia for winter, too. In California, even though where I lived it did snow, it was never “real” winter. But I did not choose other aspects of my early life. I had learned to love sunshine and chose to live where the sun shines upward of 300 days/year and the days never shorten dramatically in winter. I wanted a new life. A lot of things here are completely, totally new to me. I’ve never lived in a farming community, for example, or so close to the Northern New Mexican culture that I’ve always loved, that’s always fascinated me. Now I live between mountain ranges and near a river — that’s new. I didn’t go back to the family homeland, Montana. I moved to the far north end of the great Sonoran Desert. I recognized that I am not the same person I was in the early 80s when I left Colorado. I’m a very different person, and “You can’t go home again.”

Where and what was “home” anyway? In the meantime, I’d started living with dogs and that wasn’t going to stop. I’ve traveled and seen some of the world. I’ve learned languages. My physical abilities are diminished, lots of stuff is new… I don’t want to live in the past. It wasn’t THAT good. But some things are — in memory — sweet.

Nostalgia is a reasonable feeling for things that are gone forever. It is not a normal feeling for things that are alive and want to move forward, into the future, where they will live (and maybe you won’t?). The future should sparkle, beckon, an open horizon of possibility, an illusion of its own kind, but not the sepia-toned, hazy opiate of nostalgia.

 

 

https://dailypost.wordpress.com/prompts/sparkle/

Some Bad Days are Good

Yesterday I took Dusty T. and Polar Bear Yeti T. Dogs out to the slough for a walk. Walking is painful a lot of the time right now, not all the time, but a lot of the time. I’m allergic to aspirin and all its pals, so I’m kind of screwed in the “take an anti-inflammatory and shut up” category. Tylenol kind of works… ANY-hoo… Some days are better than others. I just figure we’ll go slow.

To my relief (and delight?) no one was there. Dusty “ran” FREEEEEEEE and I could lean on my trekking pole. Bear is learning to go slow and not to pull me. I realize if this is an injury I’m dealing with, she probably did it to me pulling suddenly on the leash. Still, I don’t blame her. She’s a dog.

We reached a bend in the trail and I stopped. Just then, six Sandhill cranes took flight about 100 yards away. I was thrilled. Then there were more. Through our little walk, I saw at least a dozen take flight and head south, too far away for us to have startled them, moved by some inscrutable Sandhill crane impulse to take flight. As they fly, they call out to the world and to each other, a joyous cacophony that makes my heart sing.

On our way home, I was watching a flock pass in front of my car, really pissing off the guy who was tailgating me. I pulled over, thinking, “Life is really fucking short, and sometimes it’s painful. Moments like this should be savored as long as possible. Where in hell do you need to go so badly that you have to tailgate me on a country road? What if you never see the cranes in flight again?”

If you have never heard them, I recommend going to this website where you can hear an excellent recording of most of their sounds. The sound that I’ve heard most often when they’re on the ground is strangely soothing.

Cornell Lab of Ornithology — All about Birds, Sandhill Crane

https://dailypost.wordpress.com/prompts/cacophony/