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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Big Excitement in a Little Town in these Times

Yesterday I mowed the lawn (as long-suffering readers of my blog know) and the sun was fighting for place behind a dark cloud. The breeze was trying hard to become a strong wind. It was one of those moments. I pushed and turned, and pulled and avoided and did all the things one does when one mows their smallish front lawn. A couple of Hispanic grandmas walked past pushing a stroller. “Morning!!!

“Morning!” Big smiles and incipient laughter from all three of us. “Happy Monday!” one of them says and all three of us crack up.

I finish and start to take the mower down the alley to my garage. I run into my neighbor.

“You’re walking like you’re 102!” she says.

“Yeah, well, this thing makes me feel like I’m 102.”

My neighbor has a heart as big as the world and she said, not knowing I’d already finished the job, “You want me to do that for you?”

I told her my new dream, a dream that came to me while I was mowing the lawn. On the very very very very sad day when Bear is no more, I’m divesting myself of my house and getting a motorhome. Teddy and I are going to become vagabonds. I’m sick of yard work and even at this moment, I’m waiting for a call from the plumber (not someone like him).

“I’m sick of this. I had the line cleaned out in March!”

“I remember.”

We’d texted about this Sunday when the problem started, and I blamed it on 3 ply toilet paper, the only kind I could get during the “great toilet paper crisis” of 2020. Both of us have lived with septic tanks and have experienced the wonder of single ply toilet paper’s unique ability to break down immediately in water. “3 ply toilet paper?” she says, “Might as well flush paper towels.”

We talk some more abut my future dreams of motorhome life, O! the places Teddy and I will go!

“Oooh!” she said, “I have something for you.” The first clap of thunder and five rain drops. “Wait here!”

I said, “I’ll go put this away,” gesturing toward the lawn mower.

“OK. I’ll meet you somewhere.” She hurries to her house. I walk like I’m 102 to the garage and put the mower away.

When I meet her, she has something behind her back. “I never shared this with anyone,” she said, “I’ve never given this to anyone.” She hands me a plastic grocery bag and I know immediately it contains single ply toilet paper.

I’m thrilled! Shortly after I got back inside the house, the sky broke loose with a thunder-booming gully washer, our first real precipitation since December!!!!! Yesterday evening, Bear and were able to sneak onto the golf course. ❤

If I were keeping track on a chart of the number of times I’ve forgotten to use the prompt word in my blog post, I’d have a nice, straight line to the upper right hand corner.

Notes Smuggled From the Bunker

It’s been a bad day. I was awakened at 7 by the dogs needing out — that’s OK, normal even. It means I get up and let the dogs out. If it’s not grimly cold I might leave the back door open. And, since I usually get up at 8, I was happy to leave it open (it was only -2) and go back to bed for a little while. I hoped for at least a half hour more sleep. The news last night of the assassination of the Iranian general and all the consequences to which that might lead to had kept me awake. I was filled with distrust for war-mongering Republicans and what seems to me to have been an act taken irresponsibly and unilaterally as a way to win an election. “You don’t vote against a sitting president during wartime,” said my office mate back in the GWB days.

Lots of people feel that way.

Just a few minutes after I put my head on the pillow, resolving to think good thoughts, my room had filled with a strong odor of diesel fumes. These fumes came from my neighbor’s strange and exotic SUV which has an exhaust pipe that points up into the sky, toward my house, as it happens. The pipe is next to the passenger’s side, front. When it is this cold, the light-weight warmer air (diesel exhaust in this case) is pushed down by the heavier cold air. Temperature inversion. Seeking a way to float, and finding some warmth coming out of my back door, the diesel exhaust took advantage of it and crawled along my floor to the warmest room in my house — my bedroom.

I understand that diesel engines need to warm up in winter because diesel kind of turns to jelly, but really? A tail-end exhaust wouldn’t do that. It’s an obnoxious and pretentious car and the whole family is a little odd (what might they say of me?), but nice. “Hell is other people,” Sartre so wisely pronounced.

I got up. Closed the back door. Made coffee, etc. the usual morning stuff. I worked on the “story that refuses to be born (so far),” and was pretty much hating life. I was Miss Grumpy pants, thinking about my up-coming birthday and how nice it would be to have a funny, handsome, loving guy to take me out for dinner (yeah right). Even though I am VERY aware of the downside of that, from time-to-time I wish…

Then, for no reason, as I got up from my chair and took ONE step, I fell and hit my head on the floor. It’s a pretty big bump and painful. I lay there for a bit and then got up thinking how good I am at getting up. I don’t think the diesel exhaust was enough to make me dizzy, especially an hour later. There is no major injury, but it was certainly demoralizing and tiring. I’d planned to take the skis out today…

I had to stop, ice my head, submit to the loving and hairy solicitude of my livestock guardian dog. I thought about my birthday and realized what I really want for my birthday is for the nordic club to groom my golf course for walking and skiing.

So the morning wound on unpleasant and strange. My friend called to make sure I was OK and didn’t have a concussion. I was able to ask about her family in Australia. My plans went out the window and I thought of a story my Aunt Jo told me once of a bad day when every time she turned around, she hurt herself, culminating in a fall down the two steps from their back door to the back yard. She told me she just lay there on the ground and said, “I just can’t hurt any more.” It’s kind of a funny story, but also not. It is definitely how I felt today.

Then, I decided to go get the mail.

Outside my door was a box about 24″ x 24″ x 4″. Big. I brought it inside. I saw it came from my cousin — someone I like but with whom I have had a problematic relationship since we were kids. What in the world?

Inside was a wooden platter with an Islamic design inset with mother of pearl. I knew it very well. I reached my palm to touch it, feeling time, my heart seeing a wall on which it once hung. My eyes filled with tears. It had been my Aunt Martha’s and had hung in her home in Colorado for twenty-five years. She bought it in Egypt in the 70’s. From there it went with her to Montana and when she died, it went to my Aunt Dickie where it hung over her fireplace until last year when she died.

This whole day seems like a metaphor for, or a compression of, life. At least here there’s a little guidance.

Anyone who genuinely and constantly
With both hands,
Looks for something
Will find it.

Though you are lame and bent over
Keep moving
Toward the Friend
With speech and silence, with sniffing about, stay on the track

When some kindness comes to you, turn
That way, toward the source of kindness.
Love-things originate in the ocean.
Restlessness leads to rest.

Rumi, One Handed Basket Weaver


So…the kids came over yesterday afternoon with their mom bringing Halloween cookies they’d made. There was much hugging and telling of stories. At one point, Connor found a pile of leaves I’d raked and stood there and threw them into the air so they’d fall on him and his sister. His sister got a little annoyed, but not much, and shook them out of her hair.

I was involved in a talk with their mom, so I only watched Connor out of the corner of my eye. Still, I have a clear image of a little boy in a blue jacket tossing yellow leaves toward the sky.

One of the things the kids do in their own yard is run, racing cars that are passing by. Since I live by the highway, cars go faster, but Connor was giving them a good run.

I’ve always been a kid magnet. I was thinking about that last night and I remembered something in an essay by Larry McMurtry in his collection of essays about the West, In a Narrow Grave. He wrote about an uncle he’d had that all the kids followed everywhere. He described him as an adult who, the kids sensed, had never quite grown up. I know that’s true of me. Maybe that’s why I never felt I would be up to the job of actually raising them.

But kids, like musicians, need appreciators too.

Yesterday as I sat down on the stoop in front of my house so I’d be at “kid height,” I was hit by a memory of some other kids, Kaye and Phi. Their parents were Vietnamese refugees. The years were 1988/90. My ex and I were living in our house in the “barrio” which then was largely populated with people who were living in Section 8 housing and people who’d lived on that street for decades. It was a “hood” in transition. The old-timers were white and Mexican. The new-timers were Asian and African American. Over the years, racial gang warfare escalated in in the hood and throughout the city (originating in the hood). But initially, it was pretty calm.

Kaye and Phi were twins, six years old, but Phi had been born with a disability — her legs were crooked and did not grow at the same rate as the rest of her body. Over the years she had surgery to straighten them, but she would always been extremely short. Kaye spent a lot of time at my house. She wanted to assimilate, to belong. She was very bright, and by the time she was seven, was doing a lot of translating for her mother.

I was still missing China and looking at their house (there was one house between our houses and their house faced my front yard) comforted me. Shoes lay outside the front door. Bok Choy dried on strings tied from the side of the house to the back fence. When New Years came, red papers with characters were glued to the sides of the door and a bright red diamond of paper with a door guardian was glued to the door itself. Working in the front yard, I could hear the family talking among them selves, and I loved that. Vietnamese sounds — to me — a lot like Hainanese, the dialect spoken by The Old Mother to her son, my best friends in China. Kaye couldn’t have known this. What she did know was that she was completely welcome at my house and I didn’t find her Vietnameseness in the least alienating.

Every morning the little girls walked to school — a walk that involved going up the street, turning left, walking four blocks to the liquor store, turning left and walking another block. Most of the kids in my hood walked to school. Everyone’s parents worked two or three jobs. How else were the kids going to get there? I am sure at school she experienced ostracism and bullying for being Asian.

Their grandfather lived with them. He had, apparently, experienced something pretty horrific during the Vietnam War. Most of the time he sat calmly outside the front door smoking, but once in a while he lost it completely and would jump up and down yelling, “Fuck! Fuck! Fuck!” in an inconsolable rage. I thought it was funny, but maybe that was just me. But think about it. It is a pretty funny image. His son would bring him into the house.

Finally the family (by working and working and working) saved enough money to move into a better neighborhood with better schools. Kaye and Phi came to tell me goodbye. I sat on the steps leading to the side door of my garage and we talked. I told them it would be better. That our neighborhood wasn’t very nice and she would have better teachers where she was going (Mira Mesa one of the Asian ghettos of San Diego). Just before she left Kaye gave me a little piece of note paper. On it she’d written,

That note stayed on my refrigerator for years. It reminded me of a really great little girl and that being nice was a good direction to take with people in general. Not a very deep message and yet profound in its simplicity.

P.S. in the photo I’m 36 🙂

Good News!!!

In Good News: The kids and their family are still there! They kids and everyone else is fine. They were worried because they hadn’t seen me out walking the dogs. And I haven’t been out walking the dogs because of the foot injury so…

In other good news, Bear and I walked a mile at the golf course and had a wonderful time.

Better Angels

Since starting real physical therapy this past Tuesday, and riding my Airdyne, I’ve finally been feeling that there really will be an end to this and again I will walk and sleep and cut grass and all the various things a person does every day without thinking about it. Still, I think for a long time I WILL think about it and for a while it will all be a kind of miracle, doing all these things without pain.

Yesterday at physical therapy, as I rode the semi-recumbent bike and listened to three songs (10 minutes), I thought about all this from another perspective. I don’t know how long it will be before I’ll really have come to a deep understanding of the changes in me and in my life apart from the repair to my hip, but there have been many. I came home from the hospital after my hip replacement with a list of restrictions beyond which I was supposed to do everything possible on my own, for myself. That meant I needed to learn to ask for help, to let others help me and also be very clear about what I don’t want help with. I learned that the people who care about me will do pretty much anything to help me; it’s my job to tell them how. This required two things of me that are difficult — asking for help before I get into a pickle and asserting boundaries.

I’ve also seen people in a way I would not otherwise have seen them. Every day something has happened that has made Washington DC and all of that so much less important or interesting. Who are we human beings anyway? Are we the monsters we read about in the news or are we the old Hispanic guy coming out of Safeway, using his cane to awaken the electric eye on the entrance so it opens for me making my life easier? Are we my UPS delivery guy showing up to see how I’m doing and offer his help? Are we the owner of my kennel who loves my dogs? Are we a woman I barely know offering to come and give me a ride to her house so I can use her walk-in shower? Are we my neighbors coming out of their houses to keep me company when they see me walking slowly down the street? Are we my neighbor and I discovering that going to the supermarket is fun if we go together? Without the hip surgery, we would never have done that.

Personally, I think that’s who we are. I think our better angels just want half a chance to come out of their hiding places.


Call Your Neighbors; Don’t Shoot their Dog

Dusty T. Dog wrote his first ever blog post today. Unfortunately, one of my blogging friends’ little dogs — Duke — also barky, but little, was shot by the neighbors today. He was shot with a pellet gun, it isn’t fatal or even (hopefully) serious.

I see no reason to shoot someone’s dog unless that dog is killing your livestock. Even then I would try to contact the owner first. But my first reaction when I heard of it was that it’s a good thing I wasn’t there. THAT’S the problem. This stuff can escalate FAR beyond what anyone in a fit of temper with pellet gun in their hand probably expects.

It’s just wrong to injure an animal wantonly and sadistically. It’s also wrong (and risky) to be unkind to your neighbors.

SO, I reposted Dusty’s once and only ever blog because it had taken on a sad life it didn’t ask for on another topic completely. More important, the topics of neighbors and bothersome animals is real and serious. A dog writing a blog is not only NOT serious but unlikely.



Best NEIGHbors in the World

Good Fences? Who are your neighbors? Are you friends with them, barely say hi, or avoid them altogether? Tell us a story — real or invented — about the people on the other side of your wall (or street, or farm, or… you get the point). 

I love my neighbors. They are like family to me. There are three kids between 9 and 4 and two parents. Mexicans. The dad is a real cowboy. There are two little girls and a little boy, the youngest. They are a constant source of wonder. My love for them is returned. It took a little time to overcome the suspicion and reserve of the grownups. The mom doesn’t speak English and the dad has worked FOR whites all his life. At first he called me “Ma’am.” No more. But from the very beginning — well, kids and animals just like me.

I don’t even think grandparents see what I’ve seen just watching these kids. If I were attached to them, and had an expected and formalized relationship, I think it would be different. To show you what I mean completely, this post would end up very, very long, so just one amazing vignette.

Last week they got a horse. I’m not sure that the parents’ relationship was improved by the arrival of the horse, but the kids wanted a horse, it was free, there’s room for him, godnose the dad is great at handling horses, so here he is. I fell in love with him at first sight. He’s smart, gentle, friendly and really likes kids (and, of course, me). Later on that first day I went outside to get the mail and Andy, the little boy, was handing bits of hay to his horse.

“This is my horse, Martha!” AL

“I know, Andy, you are a really lucky kid. He’s beautiful. I love him.”

“Thank you.”

Andy then climbed to the top rail of the pen and leaned forward to wrap his arms around the horse. This boy has no fear of anything. This might be genetic. His dad was riding bulls when he was 7 years old. Later on the girls came home from school, and I got an excited phone call from Gabby, the oldest, “You gotta’ see our horse! Mom says you have a name for it!”

I did. I had named it Splash because of the white on his shoulder. The name didn’t stick. The kids named him “Brownie.”

“I’ll come outside.”

I found all three hanging on this horse, loving it and getting to know it. The horse was in, uh, Horse Heaven.

Every day since Splash/Brownie arrived, I’ve given him a carrot or two.  I feel happy when I come home from a long day and the horse paws the ground and whinnies, glad to see me.

Day before yesterday, when I headed out the door to school, Andy was hanging out with his horse. “Martha! Martha!”

“Morning, cowboy!”

“But I don’t have my hat on!”

“You’re still a cowboy.”

“Come here!”

I was late, but a person has to have priorities, and a little guy climbing on a fence to love his horse is more to me than going to work. I went to the pen and reached up to give Brownie/Splash a pat on the nose.

“I love him, Andy. He’s the best horse ever.”

“I know.”

“I gotta’ go to school. Hug the horse for me!” Andy climbed higher and wrapped his arms around what is now (after some days of rain) a dirty horse. The horse rested his nose on Andy’s little shoulder. Then Andy climbed over to my 6 foot fence with his arms outstretched to ME. He’s at that age where one minute he wants to hug and kiss the females in his life, and the next the whole thing disgusts him. I’d caught him in a hugging and kissing moment, so I went back and hugged him goodbye.

“Now get off that fence, Andy. See you later alligator.”

“After a while (incoherent syllables rhyming with ‘while’).”