Family…

This time of year families gather together. For many years, I traveled to Montana, first with my mom, dad and brother to stay with my grandmothers. Then, as an adult, I flew up to Montana from San Diego to be with my mom and then, after she died, I flew to Montana to spend Christmas with my aunts. 

There was a period in there when I broke off with my family — I made some choices I had every right to make, but my mom disowned me, leaving me feeling confused and ashamed. I can’t say the estrangement was a bad thing or a bad time. I now believe it was necessary. In those years I belonged to a new family, this family was in Zürich, and for a few years I flew “home” to Zürich for Christmas. I look on that time as one of the sweetest and magical of my life. 

My mom and I attempted to make amends after one of my cousins died suddenly of a brain tumor, and my mom realized it could have been me. From that came one of the three times she ever called me on the phone (it was my job to call her) and asked me to come “home” for Christmas. I did. It turned out to be the last Christmas of her life. It was a strange, joyless Christmas for both of us. We didn’t like each other. I wasn’t the daughter she wanted, and I had never found anything in common with her, feeling only a sense of duty and the wish for love. My aunt Dickie called me up while I was visiting my mom and attempted a heart-to-heart about my mom’s drinking. But, as my aunt Dickie didn’t want to bad-mouth her sister, and this is the cowboy American west where some things were just not spoken of directly by the older generation, I didn’t get the point. I didn’t even get it when my mom almost crashed the car into a curb… I would learn the truth three months later when a scan of my mom’s brain revealed brain lesions from alcoholism.

The years of Christmas with my aunts were wonderful, fun, warm, friendly, loving, and I savored those times knowing they would not last forever. All of my aunts are gone now and my reflection in the mirror is a collage containing features and expressions of all those people. Interestingly, only the bird finger on my right hand resembles anything about my mom. Go figure.

I think there’s a point in most of our lives — especially those of us who don’t have kids — when we’re the sole survivors. I don’t mind. I loved my family and I miss them, but I’ve understood for a while that we all stand on a curb watching the passing parade. It’s an interesting parade because though we stand and watch, we are also in it, moving at different rates of speed toward the moment when we turn a corner and are no more. 

Ultimately, I found my home in a place on the map my family only passed through. I could have come sooner, but I guess I wasn’t ready or didn’t realize what “home” was. I love Montana, but the winter nights are very long and I like sunshine. I ended up in exactly the right place for me. I began to get an idea about 10 years ago and a search that began in 2002 for a job in Wyoming became a search for home in a small town in Colorado where I could live on the rather frugal income I’d have when I retired. I also wanted mountains, to live at a high elevation, to have snow and sunshine. 

I found it.

And, family, too. Family-less, the blank spaces in my life have been filled by those to whom I have an affinity and they to me. Some are close, some are more distant, but the heart-ties are the same or even more wholesome, cleaner, without some of the loaded expectations we have of family. 

25 years ago I was given a collection of Rumi’s poems by a woman who was a very precious friend and soulmate, both she and her husband. I felt she was my older sister, and in the passage of time, her husband — who was born the same year as my dad — offered me affection and support very like my dad would have if he had been alive. In that collection of poems, I read this one and decided to use it as instructions for finding the right direction.

Anyone who genuinely and constantly with both hands
looks for something, will find it.
Though you are lame and bent over, keep moving toward [it]. With speech, with silence, with sniffing about, stay on the track.
Whenever some kindness comes to you, turn that way, toward the source of kindness.



Meeting the “Anti-Bear”

Bear and I took off yesterday into the gorgeous, chilly Monte Vista afternoon and encountered my neighbor who lives down the street. She was by “our” golf course with her tiny, white Bichon/Poodle mix. He’s the “anti-Bear”. The two have wanted to meet  for a while. Usually the little guy just barks hello at us through the front window of his house as we pass by. I wave and we press on.

During my early rehab from hip surgery, I finally got to talk to this neighbor. Sometimes she’d walk a bit with me, holding her dog in her arms. 

He leaves messages for Bear along the grassy area by the high school and she leaves some for him. In a way, they’ve “known” each other for years. 

“How are you doing now?” my neighbor called out. Unlike dogs, we rely on speech.

“Great!” I said. I still get a little weepy when I answer that question. Maybe I always will.

She leashed her dog. If anyone asks, I tell them that Bear is very gentle and friendly.  I also recommend that, if they want to meet Bear, it’s better if they come to me because Bear can pull me down in her excitement to meet them. If I stand still, I have control over her.  I didn’t have to tell my neighbor. She understood that.

I told Bear to “Sit!” and “Wait!” Bear was perfect, though her tail was sweeping the street at 100 mph. My neighbor came toward us.

Bear met the little guy as my neighbor held him up in her arms. It was incredibly cute. We chatted, and the little dog rested his paw on Bear’s head. “She’s like a horse to him,” said my neighbor. True that.

Bear then did something she hardly ever does. She very slowly and deliberately jumped up on my neighbor. My neighbor has a well-reconstructed club foot, and she’s very slender. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. Bear’s usual thing is to sit on her haunches and hug a person around the knees. I was amazed by my neighbor’s incredible calm. But Bear moved slowly and gently and didn’t push on my neighbor at all. It was as if she just stood up beside her. The two dogs touched noses, and Bear got down.

“I’m sorry,” I said. “She doesn’t usually do that.”

“It’s all right.” 

I scratched the little guy behind the ears, appreciating the virtues of tiny dogs.

Then we were each on our way. “Have a happy Thanksgiving,” I said, proud of myself for remembering.

“You too!” my neighbor called back. When Bear and I passed their house later on our walk, the little dog was conked out on the back of his favorite chair with his face toward the front window. 

I have a lot of respect for “silly looking” tiny white dogs. My mom had a toy poodle by the name of Misty. Misty had been left with my mom to dog sit. When Misty’s owner came back from her vacation, Misty wouldn’t go home with her. She wanted to be my mom’s dog. 

Misty was like Miss Piggy’s poodle, so when I went over to my mom’s to watch The Muppets (I didn’t have a TV) Misty sat beside me on the floor. One afternoon, my mom and I took Misty for a walk on the ditch bank behind my mom’s condo. Three BIG dogs (German Shepherd, Rottweiler, mysterious big dog) came toward us. Misty (leashed!) leapt out of my mom’s control and chased the three big dogs away.


Many a large, brave spirit lives in a tiny body. 

https://ragtagcommunity.wordpress.com/2018/11/21/rdp-wednesday-recommend/

Walking Martha

Bear’s Bliss fell last night, so today Bear and I went tracking ungulates on the golf course. Moose, elk and deer.

When it snows, I can SEE what Bear smells. We get to be a team. I see footprints and , where snow has blown against a cottonwood, even urine splashes on trees.

There are a lot of low leaves on the elm and cottonwood trees between the second and fourth holes so we started there. If there had been no tracks, we’d have left the golf course and wandered out into the fields beyond the driving range where, often, we find fox, raccoon and deer tracks and sometimes animals. But we were lucky.

Tracks and tracks and tracks. Rabbit, squirrel, domestic cat and

Moose??? Elk??? Whitetail Deer???

My personal jury is out on that one. I’ve seen moose tracks on the golf course before, but these seemed a little small, though the right shape. Whitetail deer, possibly. They are around here, too.

Bear caught scent after scent. It was nice for me because I could look ahead and see where she was going. When there’s no snow, I might be yanked in a random direction — random to me.

Once we’d exhausted the tracks, and Bear had several chances to roll in the snow, it was time to check messages. On the map that’s the straight line at the bottom, on E. Prospect Avenue, right in front of Monte Vista High School. Many people walk past there with their dogs, and Bear has many messages to collect — and leave.

My dog walks me, and I love it. It’s never a brisk walk, but Bear is a constant reminder to stop and smell the elk urine.

P.S. Yes, my golf course looks like a glue gun

“What IS That?”

A few years ago my friend Lois and I went to Switzerland. We stayed in the tiny village of Obfelden (I still managed to get lost there), in an 18th century barn (refurbished) belonging to an Australian woman who taught in an international school near Lucerne. It was great and I want to go back and hope to but…

When we got there, one of the first questions we were asked was, “We looked up Monte Vista on Google. What are those circles?”

Really, they do look like they were made by aliens when you look at the satellite view.

Generally, land is measured in acres, half-acres, sections, and something vague called a “parcel.” I hear that phrase a lot less now than I did when I was a kid. The grownups (in Montana) would say, “That was a nice parcel we had down by the river.” Of course that was confusing but language is too dangerous for children.

So, this morning I looked up parcel as it pertained to land. Maybe (I wondered) it’s a legit measurement.

A quarter section is 160 acres (65 ha) and a “quarter-quarter section” is 40 acres (16 ha). In 1832 the smallest area of land that could be acquired was reduced to the 40-acre (16 ha) quarter-quarter section, and this size parcel became entrenched in American mythology. (Wikipedia)

These days when I see farm land advertised, it’s measured in circles. “Working farm, barn, outbuildings, newer house built in 2000, four circles producing.” The circles are made by Center Pivot Irrigation machines which work basically like compasses across the land. It’s an effective and efficient method of water delivery and automatically leaves part of the field fallow which is important for not draining the soil of nutrients. The water “rains” down on the crops. The fields are plowed in whatever way is best for what is growing there — for potatoes there are deep ridges that catch and hold the water taking it to the roots.

 

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Potato field in the San Luis Valley and Center Pivot irrigation

 

It seems to be a good method for dryland farming. I know that in more rain-rich areas farms are still measured in squares.

The satellite image above is centered just north and west of Monte Vista. The dark, jagged line is Rio Grande and the trees lining it. You can see some square “parcels” in the farms nearer the river — mostly pastures and grassland for grazing in winter, not land under cultivation.

It just looks like home to me.

If you’re curious, here’s some good information.

https://ragtagcommunity.wordpress.com/2018/11/06/rdp-tuesday-parcel/

My Home IS on the Range

That’s a loaded word, “home.” You can’t go there, according to Thomas Wolfe, but you could look in its general direction, angelically.

One night in an Irish bar in San Diego, where I had been taken by my date, an Irishman who’d been my student, I was introduced to a man who, after looking at me quizzically through blearily drunken tired eyes and hearing my name said, “Och, and when were ye last home?”

“He means Ireland,” said my date. I nodded, didn’t know what to say. “Home” as Ireland? Never been there.

So what is this “home” of which you speak?

When I was a kid, home was always Montana, wherever we lived. “We’re going home for Christmas,” my mom would say, and I’d wonder where in hell we were when my mom said, “Come right home after school.” Parental language is designed to keep kids off balance. In a part of my mind, Montana is still “home” but I will probably never return. The people who made it home are all dead.

In 2014 my friend Lois picked me up at the airport in Denver. I was going to look at a house in Monte Vista — a town I’d never seen. To get there, we drove over Poncha Pass and dropped down into the San Luis Valley. I knew immediately that I was home. The light was right. The mountains were right. The emptiness was perfect. I found a house that fit me perfectly. For the first couple of years, I frequently wondered if I had died and gone to Heaven.

But I got to Heaven without dying, and I was finally home.

My dad’s favorite singing cowboy brings it all…home.

https://ragtagcommunity.wordpress.com/2018/10/28/rdp-sunday-home/

Monte Vista Skies

Polar Bear Yeti T. Dog has had a proclivity for getting car sick which makes her a bad bet for my hiking buddy. This morning I decided to drive my ballot to the county seat and put it directly in the County Clerk’s box. What if I gave Bear the chance NOT to get sick on a 28-mile round trip jaunt?

Tricked her into getting her leash on (she knows when we’re supposed to go and when it might be a vet trip) and off we went.

There’s a storm coming over the mountains, already snowing hard at the summit of Wolf  Creek Pass and at the ski area, so the sky was in the early stages of storm drama. Fantastic.

Bear didn’t get carsick, and I didn’t want to go home. The Sandhill cranes are still here, so we turned down the road to the refuge. One of the signs on this road is an Amish Buggy warning sign.

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The first time I saw this I thought it was a joke, but it’s not. There’s a (comparatively) large Amish community in Monte Vista’s rural area. Over the weekend, one of these buggies was hit by a pickup, and the horse was injured. I see no reason at all for a pickup to hit an Amish buggy.

So we got to the refuge and there were many cranes off in the fields. They’re on their way to New Mexico and I can imagine they know a storm is coming at least as well as I do. I took Bear to a viewing area where there were no cranes. She deserved a reward for riding 50 miles without getting sick, and I wanted to photograph the sky. We had a lovely walk and a big flock of cranes flew overhead, calling and cooing and bringing joy to my heart.

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I just LOVE them.

 

 

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When ON the Course of Human Events…

 

Yesterday I got a canister of bear spray — it’s pepper spray. The canister is a lot larger than I expected — between 10 inches and a foot — and it has a holster. I don’t see me strapping that on and going to walk the dogs at the slough. I was hoping it was a simple four-inch can of spray with a holster I could clip to my pocket or pack strap in front, but this… I don’t need it for a bear. I need for a grubby man who makes me nervous and scares Dusty.

So, last evening, as I took Dusty T. Dog and Polar Bear Yeti T. Dog for our usual walk around the hood and high school, I noticed the golf course was empty. Really empty. Two cars in front of the club house. A familiar high school golfer walking around with his bag to the holes that challenge him.

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They close next month, but right now the course is beautiful. In the beginning of the summer — May, June, most of July — it was aching from the drought like everything else was, but six weeks or so of regular rain and careful tending…

Why was it empty?

“Don’t look a gift course in the mouth,” I said to myself.

It was really good to be back. I’m pretty sure “Grizzly Man” won’t take daily walks there and as much as I love the slough, the views from it don’t compare to those from the open plain of the pasture, I mean driving range. As for animals, I’ve seen more at the golf course than at the wildlife refuge. This isn’t cold comfort at all.

https://ragtagcommunity.wordpress.com/2018/09/14/friday-rdp-grubby/

Potato Festival #4 (Of My Life)

The area around my town is potato country. That’s right. Next to Idaho, the San Luis Valley of Colorado grows the most potatoes in the United States. It’s (I believe) our main source of income. Now ye give tat a tink, will ye’ knowin’ tat sum a yer Irish ancestor’s arrived in America during the starvin’ and ye might be a bit worried. All ‘at remains is a lurkin’ fear tat a potato might betray me…

I don’t like them much, except French fries, my Aunt Martha’s potatoes fried with onions and the occasional hashbrowns which do business in Switzerland as a thing called Rösti.

But the festival is great. My friend Lois and her developmentally disabled son, Mark, came down from Colorado Springs to partake in the wonders of Heaven (Monte Vista).

I didn’t take pictures, but my friend did. I’ll let them round out the thousand or so words I might have written extoling the wonders of it all. BUT I did have a couple of great experiences myself.

Something rather personal. I am a tiger. I guess it’s my totem. I didn’t pick it; years ago my therapist said, (in a French accent because she was French) “Martha you are a tiger. You see what you want or need and you go do it.” She was right. I then learned about tigers and was surprised at the similarities. They are solitary. They like to live in cold, snowy places (I am a Siberian tiger). They find relationships dangerous because (in the case of the female) they can die in the mating process. There are other similarities, but I’ll stop there.

Of course, as this was a country fair, there was face painting. As we were leaving I saw a little boy — 3 years old? — with his face painted perfectly as a tiger. I said, “It’s a tiger boy!” He turned around, looked at me, and roared and took a paw swipe. I roared back. We roared at each other for quite a while and did some paw swipes. It was wonderful. I said, “It takes one to know one,” by way of explaining to his mother who was laughing.

After that, I actually felt lighter in my heart. It’s good to find a kindred soul.

~~~

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Refurbished, beautiful old trucks

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The local riding stable brought ponies in 3 sizes and a horse.

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What Potato Festival would it be without Mr. Potato Head (but he kept losing his nose)

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The San Luis Valley has an alligator rescue. Seriously. They live year round on a working farm in hot springs pools.

 

https://ragtagcommunity.wordpress.com/2018/09/09/bonus-prompt-weekend/

This Valley is for the Birds

Birds are big where I live, I mean that literally and figuratively. The biggest economic  boom to my town each year is the Crane Festival when people come from all over the world to watch Sandhill Cranes cavort. But there are other great birds here. All kinds of raptors (bald eagles nest here). The Rio Grande threads through the valley and there are hundreds of artesian wells. On a recent walk along the river, we watched a Great Blue Heron take flight in front of us. At the slough, of course, there is every kind of water bird who might like fishing in these climes. Last week I saw my first Killdeer. In my very yard are humingbirds, sparrows, house finches, gold finches and yellow warblers. Of course, I plant things for them. The finches like the seeds of Bachelor Buttons (aka cornflowers) and everything hangs around sunflowers.

Long long ago when the dinosaurs roamed this valley was a huge lake. The lake is now underground and farmers have relied on it for centuries. Because of that ancient lake what would otherwise be a desert is, well, still a desert, but one in which crops grow.

I have a political sign in my yard right now — the first one since 1980 when I worked on John Anderson’s campaign. Yes, that’s obscure but if you’re really interested there’s this thing called Google 😉 Yesterday on my walk with Bear, I was near home when I saw a young, tall, handsome Hispanic guy in a concha belt and cowboy hat in the sidewalk in front of me. Bear and I approached. He remained calm and just patted Bear’s head, demonstrating some knowledge of how to be with a big dog.

“Nice dog. I’m Donald Valdez. I’m running for State Legislature.”

“What do you stand for?”

He was taken back a bit but he answered. “I stand for farmers and ranches, affordable health care and education. I believe in education. People complain about crowded prisons, but I think spending on education is more important. A good farmer doesn’t just put a seed in the ground and forget about it. Seeds are like children. They have to be taught and nurtured.”

I don’t know how you teach a seed, but I got his point. I had to ask the requisite question of the San Luis Valley which is, “Are you from here?” Not from the usual reason but because if he represents the people here, he should know who they are. His family has a ranch in La Jara and he pronounced La Jarrrra correctly.

And now I have his sign in my yard.

Back to birds.

At the moment there are white pelicans at the lake. They are beautiful birds, especially in flight.

Now we are waiting for the fall return of the Sandhill Cranes on their commute from Yellowstone to New Mexico. The cranes ARE our seasons. When they begin flying over again in February, we know spring is on the way. When they come south again, we know winter is coming.

https://ragtagcommunity.wordpress.com/2018/09/08/rdp-saturday-bird/

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/