Ready to Read, Yeah, Really

Wow, that word — tenderfoot — is a, no, not actually a blast from the past, more like a hiss. It brings back dim memories of my mom as a Den Mother for my bro’s Cub Scout troop. He never went forward into Boy Scouts, never became a “Tenderfoot” or went through the ranks to soar as an eagle, but he was a Cub Scout. It just wasn’t his thing. I, on the other hand, devoured the Boy Scout Handbook. I thought it was great. Not so much the organization but all the cool stuff you’d learn — like how to tie all kinds of knots and survive in the back country. I still think the Boy Scout motto is a good one — Be Prepared — even though at this point in my life I know that’s impossible. A more reasonable motto might be “Pay Attention” or “Do the Best You Can” or the Scarlett O’Hara motto, “Tomorrow is Another Day.” Even Aldous Huxley’s wise words from Island “Here and now, boys, here and now.” Still, “Be Prepared”? It’s a good one.

And I am prepared. Boy am I. I have the books I’m reading from this afternoon all marked. My talk all revised and, and and I know what I’m going to wear — clean clothes. As for the poems I’ve chosen? I have no idea if they are the best choice, but I wanted to keep it light and entertaining. I also realized I write most of my poems about dogs and the Refuge. OH well. That’s my life…

Since some people wanted to read my talk, here it is… I’ve timed it at 17 minutes. We’ll see.

Poetry Reading, Rio Grande County Museum, June 24, 2022

Martha Kennedy

Thank you everyone for coming to the Rio Grande County Museum grand re-opening celebration! And thank you for being here to listen to me read some of my poems. 

It’s a little strange because even though I’m a writer — I’ve written five novels and a couple of memoirs — I have never seen myself as a poet. 

In fact, I think poetry is one of the most useless things on the planet. At the same time, it’s one of the most important. I have never been able to reconcile those two realities and even I — a retired English teacher — believe they are both true. 

As for me? My life would diminished without poetry, not the poetry I write particularly, but poetry others have written.

I wrote my first real poem when I was 12. I gave it to my dad to read. He thought it was so good that he gave me his portable typewriter. 

My dad was a mathematician who dreamed of being a poet. He knew his poetry was not great, but he kept at it all his life. When he read my poem, he formed a dream for his little girl. She would grow up to be a poet. 

This past February it hit me hard that my dad died 50 years ago. It seemed impossible so much time had passed, and, somehow, it felt like a fresh wound.

Meanwhile — though I didn’t know it — one of those “cosmic” things was brewing in Alamosa. 

Last fall, when the call came out for submissions to Messages from the Hidden Lake, the literary magazine published by the Friends of the Alamosa Public Library, I submitted three short poems, sonnets, all love poems.

In February, while I was thinking about my dad, I got an email telling me two of my sonnets had won prizes — a third prize and an honorable mention in Adult Poetry. I was surprised. Then I thought, “Hey Dad! Now I’m a poet!” I decided to compile my recent poems into a little book and dedicate it to my dad.

The third prize winner is a love poem to a pair of hiking boots and the places we went together. I wore those boots for more than 15 years, hiking in all kinds of places. I had them resoled four times before they finally blew out.

Dusty Boots —

Dusty boots have been my best friends
Taking me where I’ve been and where I’ve dreamed
Across destiny’s bitter hills again and again
Ancient lakes, morning’s snowbound trails, frozen streams.
Far, shining Alpine peaks, out of my reach
Layers of clay, bright-colored, time-kissed
The tracks of dinosaurs on a rock-hard beach
Juniper bushes, scorpions and mist
Through time, disaster or inspiration
Tree-held or wasted, sage scrub and forest
Sand and shore, wild lilac, golden aspen
Sorrow or hope, the yearning heart rests. 
Where my eyes point, squint, captured by color
Summits or dreams, one foot, then the other.

The poem that won honorable mention is a little different. It’s about how weird life is, how we really never know what’s going on or what something will mean down the road. Sometimes what seems most meaningful in the moment ends right then and there, and other things that don’t seem like such a big deal turn out to be very important — in my case, running on trails with my dogs. The poem was inspired by a meme I saw on Facebook.  “No Seed Ever Sees the Flower.” 

No Seed Ever Sees the Flower

It was all a big blur back then but I
Moved as if I knew what I was doing.
Maybe I thought I did. I had no clue,
Of mysteries the future was brewing.
Every step led somewhere I could not know.
Running blind on sage brushed chaparral hills,
California sun. It was enough to go.
With no idea where. The random thrills,
Falling in love, a moment or a year
A new job, a new friend, a journey. “This
is the ONE!” but it wasn’t. Shed some tears
and keep running. The hard hills listened.
Now I know there is no plot. No sacred shrine
With answers. The trail itself is life’s line.

I’m a dog lover and over the course of my life I’ve had more than two dozen dogs, usually more than one dog at a time, sometimes four or six dogs. Dogs are great hiking pals .They always want to GO. No discussion. No debate about what trail to take. No, “Well, I don’t know. I was going to clean the fridge.” With a dog. It’s all, “YES! NOW??? Yay!!!”

For a while in the 2000s I was lucky to live with a small pack of Siberian Huskies. All of them were rescues. I lived in the Southern California mountains — where it snows — on 1/4 acre, fenced. It was husky heaven. My huskies were Jasmine, Lily and Cheyenne. At some point I took in a very troubled mixed breed, a lab/dobie mix, a barky, black puppy I named Dusty T. Dog. My huskies adopted him immediately and taught him everything they could about being a Siberian Husky. But Dusty wasn’t a Siberian husky, but he tried. 

Lily T. Wolf and Dusty both came to live with me here in the SLV when I returned to Colorado after I retired. Lily lived to be 17 and enjoyed one real Colorado snowstorm. 

This is Dusty’s poem in memory of his husky sisters. As you might expect, isn’t a sonnet. Naturally, it is doggerel…

Howling Dogs by Dusty T. Dog in 2016

Coyotes howl at the too bright moon
My sisters and I awake in the living room
Lily is first, she howls and yips back,
The next thing I know she’s waked the whole pack.
Cheyenny howls and Jasmine howls too
“Try Dusty,” they say, “Howl at the moon!”
I look at my sisters, lovely and brave,
Singing in moonlight like wolves in a cave,
I throw back my head, but I can just bark
Like some Pomeranian at the dog park.
“It’s all-right little Dusty. Just give it some time,”
Says Jasmine touching her nose to mine.
The years have gone by and now I can howl
When the sirens blare, cops on the prowl.
My human howls, too, in sweet memory
Of Jasmine, Cheyenne and precious Lily.

I still have dogs — two. One is a big, white livestock guardian dog, an Akbash dog, named Polar Bear Yeti T. Dog. The other is a mini-Aussie named Teddy Bear T. Dog. I adopted them both from the Conour Shelter in Monte Vista. They’re best friends to each other and to me. 

When Covid hit, we started taking our long rambles out at the Monte Vista National Wildlife Refuge because with more people home all the time, our usual places became too occupied. My dogs are always leashed; it’s the rule, and its respectful to the animals who belong at the Refuge. Not that we don’t belong there, but our territory is the gravel road. 

From our territory we’ve watched elk, mule deer, coyotes, bald eagles, golden eagles, Harris Hawks, Northern Harriers, red tails, night hawks and great horned owls. All the waterfowl. We’ve listened to the songs of all kinds of birds, and watched a Tiger Salamander as he slowly crossed the road. In winter, while Bear’s nose tells her the whole story, I try to read the animal writing in the snow. Once, in a snowstorm, a black fox crossed our trail. It was magical.

Both my dogs love it, but walking alone with Bear out there on a snowy day is one of the sweetest things in my life. We hate summer. That inspired this poem.

Yearning on a 90 Degree Day

Minus five. The sky is silver with snow. 
Airborne crystalline promises shimmer,
In the morning light. Minute spectra glimmer.
I leash my big white dog, and off we go.
Hoar frost from the bare trees’ smallest branches
shaken free, drifts slowly on my dog and me,
as we walk beneath the cottonwood trees.
With each step of my high boots, fresh snow crunches.
The parallel tracks of Nordic skis shadow 
Our path through this season that ends too soon, 
Blue shadows, the angled light of winter noon.
The distant Sangres gleam white with snow.
I stop, rest my hand on my dog’s warm back, she 
leans against my leg, we savor our frozen paradise.

For Bear and me, winter is never long enough, but sooner or later, spring arrives and it’s not totally awful. There’s plenty about it to love.

First Meadowlark

March north winds blow gusts hard against my cheek
Lift my jacket’s hood, unasked but warming.
Snow squalls brush the mountain’s face, the sun breaks
Through, lights a pond where geese huddle forming
A tight community against the wind.
High above wind’s rush the soaring Sandhill cranes
Circle. My dog and I stop to watch, to listen.
Among the clouds, a golden eagle reigns
He set the cranes in motion, here then gone.
The cranes circle slowly, land, and resume
Their morning. My guide, sniffing, nose down 
finds a scent,  reminds me it’s her walk, too.
From a distance comes a meadowlark’s sweet
song. In that brief moment, two seasons meet.

As you have heard by now, all my love poems are to the San Luis Valley. 

Well, having said so much good stuff about dogs, I’d like to finish by giving cats equal time. They are pretty great animals, but lousy hiking companions. That said, a cat I had as a kid used to follow me into the forest across from our house. He would walk along beside me — 20 feet away. Cats are cats. I recently — here at this museum — met a guy who actually DOES hike with his cat.

Many years ago, in honor of all my cats, and as a gift for my niece who was a little girl then and who knew them all, I put together a little kids book of cat poems called, Cats I’ve Known. If Dusty’s poem is Doggerel, I guess this is catteral.

God Makes the First Cat

God made the world in just one week,
And every creature he made unique
He made the rabbit, horse and frog,
He made the loyal loving dog.

He made the fish, he made the spider,
A hippo to make the rivers wider.
He worked on butterflies and hens,
Then he sat down to think again.

“In all of my menagerie
There’s something missing. Let me see.
A world needs horses to pull plows,
A world needs chickens, dogs and cows.”

“But when the daily work is done,
A world must find some time for fun.
Some time to frolic and to play
Some time to sit in the sun all day.”

“Time to relax when work allows
I must make something to show them how!
Someone fluffy, someone funny,
But more intelligent than a bunny.”

God decided to make up cats,
To give them work, he made some rats.
When he was done, he picked one out
And started to throw the cat about!

The cat was cute, the cat was fluffy
But he didn’t like to be treated roughly.
The cat scratched God on the back of the hand,
And God said, “If you scratch a man,

“Like you scratched me,
You won’t be forgiven so easily.”
God watched the cat for signs of remorse,
But the cat felt no remorse, of course.

The cat just cleaned his ears and hair
And ignored God as if He weren’t there.
“This will not do,” said God to the cat.
“You won’t succeed if you act like that!”

“You must learn to apologize
Or you won’t be fed and that won’t be nice!”
“Now, please, a penitent meow
and you can have a bowl of cat chow.”

The cat stood up and stretched one leg,
He absolutely refused to beg.
Well, God respects integrity,
In small animals you and me.

“You’re right,” sighed God, “I was too rough,
Don’t you think we’ve argued enough?”
God reached down and stroked the cat,
Behind his ears, and down his back.

He was rubbing his hand on the cat’s soft fur
When the cat began to purr.
“What a soft and soothing sound,”
Said tired old God as he sat down.

The cat curled up in God’s lap and stayed
And so God rested that seventh day.

Thank you so much for enduring so much poetry. And thank you Rio Grande County Museum for allowing me to read. Just so you know, this collection of poetry and all my other books AND Messages from the Hidden Lake are available on Amazon. 

Next, you’re going to see 150 years of Del Norte History come to life — actually, you’re not but the people at the Museum will if they want to.

Museum and Beans

Yesterday I went to the museum to talk to the new director about the grand re-opening and my little part in it. She’s amazing. The interesting thing is that I discovered she has met Goethe. A book fell on her head in a bookstore and she met Goethe that way. She’s just starting to get to know him, and it might not work out, but it might. As I’ve read everything and own a lot and don’t need it anymore, I packed up a bunch of books yesterday and took them to give her. She was very happy to have them and I had my first ever conversation about Goethe in which no one was bored. All of us have treasures, and all of us know we’re not going to live forever. When I can, I want my treasures to go where they will be treasured.

I’m still working on my presentation. I’ve timed it, and it’s within the 20 minutes to which I limit myself so all is well. I may share it later.

The beans are growing like MOFOs out there. I don’t know if I’ve ever had happier beans. There are two growing in the same spot, but they don’t care. There are at least 23 beans in that little plot. The sunflowers are doing a pretty good job keeping up with them. I should probably have started the tomatoes sooner because I doubt they’ll reach maturity, but that’s OK. The grocery store has them, too. I apologized to the beans yesterday for not having named them or having published “their” poems, but they let me know they are themselves their poems so it’s all good. I read an article recently that said plants don’t like us to touch them. I guess that’s probably true, but after five years — now six — growing them, I am SURE my beans like having me around.

I know there’s another hearing today. I thought last night that I already know what happened. I’m happy there is evidence. I don’t think I want to play anymore. I’m kicking aside the door stop and closing the door on this one. All I can do, I have done.

Hello MARTHA KENNEDY, Your Primary Election ballot has been counted by Rio Grande County Elections. Thank you for voting!

Love

Here it is. I’ve only painted one or two other things I’ve been really sad to finish, but if you don’t stop when you should, you end up very sorry. As I cleaned the lapis ultramarine from the brush, I might have shed a tear.

In other good news I spent an hour at the Rio Grande County Museum with the new director whom I already knew and liked. The grand re-opening is a month from now. I took a bunch of notecards and learned that they don’t want to do consignment any more, but they want to sell my cards. Yay!

A couple of tourists came in (the museum is also the town/county’s visitor’s center) asking for directions. Somehow the word came out that I’m a painter. The woman asked if any of my paintings were hanging in there. I said no, but I had made notecards of some of my paintings. She wanted to see. I pulled some out. Two of them that I told her about she ended up buying. $20. BUT once again I learned that when someone can talk to the artist and find out something about the story behind the painting, it’s MORE to that person that if it were just something to look at. I told her one of them involved time travel. And showed her, explaining that as she drove out of town she’d see this mountain and these bison, but she’d also see our hospital. Time travel was NOT painting the hospital. This painting is 24 x 36 and is in Maine.

I told her the story behind the big crane painting, too, and how I’d seen him in March 2021 when everyone was still staying home. I explained I’d been out there alone and seen the crane in the willows and thought of him as “my” crane. She was moved by the story and said, “He IS your crane.” Because I gave her something personal, she wanted the images. That’s actually very awesome.

I’ll be helping out a little with the Grand Re-opening, maybe reading a few poems from Shit, Fear and Beauty. I’m very happy the museum is up and running again, and that the new director is a person who actually LOVES the museum. It’s a little place, but its ours and I love it.

Quotidian Update 87.2b.ix

Good news from the back-of-beyond. The Rio Grande County Museum in Del Norte is open again, and the person running it is someone I know AND a person who’s bought one of my paintings. I’m going in later this morning with notecards. Apparently they’ve been doing repairs and cleaning for the past six months (???) and hiring a replacement for my friend Louise. They’re having a grand opening next month to honor the summer solstice. The new director is younger — a woman in her early 40s (I think) — and I think that’s a good thing. Anyway, I’m happy about these developments.

Other good news involves the Scarlet Emperor Beans. They are all in the garden — fifteen of them! I went to visit them before I made my coffee (that shows you my dedication) and they all looked very happy. The weather forecast for the nonce looks good meaning like I won’t have to rush out and cover them.

They do not all have names. I don’t know if they mind or even know “who” they are — well they do know. As for their names? This is the fifth generation and who knows which ancestor pollinated which ancestor. I think they are all each other at this point which is very cool. They are 100% in harmony with their nature as Scarlet Emperor Beans. They are amazing. The packet says plant 1 inch deep. The Internet said 3 inches deep. I did both and the beans didn’t care. They have a strong and joyful inner push to get UP there and GROW. Along with the beans are giant sunflowers. Last year I learned how well they do together and what good friends they are both in attracting beneficial insects and holding each other up.

In other good news, I finished the painting, and I like it a LOT. All it’s missing is my signature. It was a wonderful painting experience because it was a big challenge. I still have a ways to go to be the painter I would like to be, but it was a leap in the right direction. I wish it were bigger, but if I’m going to paint bigger paintings on a surface like this I’m going to have to turn carpenter and stretch my own canvas. The surface — oil primed linen — was wonderful. This is the second painting I’ve done on that material. The other painting was also a wonderful experience to paint and a big challenge. I don’t know if the surface is helping me or what, but wow.

I know there is a lot of random stuff in this hackly post, but after my being so desperately profound yesterday, we all need a break… 😉

Preparing for the Reading

I got famous again, on page 7 of the social section — SLV Lifestyles — of the regional paper. Ah the sweet smell of success.

I’m trying to organize my reading for December 11 and I’m a little oppressed (can one be “a little oppressed?” isn’t one oppressed or not?) by it. I’ve been asked to “entertain” for 45 minutes which is a LONG time to subject anyone to my stories about living in China post-Mao but pre-modernization. Not that I don’t find them interesting — I think they’re VERY interesting — but I don’t imagine they are the first level of interest to most other people. That’s the tricky part; making them interesting.

I realized yesterday that I need a reason for doing this beyond giving the holidays at the museum moment something beyond the exhibit. My purpose is to bring more people into the museum and maybe sell a book or two. I ordered 3 ahead of the event. That said, my INTRINSIC reason for doing this is to honor the experience and the woman who, in 1982, took that leap into a world that passed very quickly.

I can’t read directly from the book and end up with something smooth and coherent to fit the event — which is holiday(s) so I’ve drawn from the book taking parts of the chapters on spending Chinese New Year on Hainan Island and Christmas in Guangzhou that year. I’m torn between introducing it with a narration about meeting people from China out at the Refuge before Thanksgiving (another holiday) or just giving background. I’m pondering taking the TV and putting up a slide show. And hiring a Chinese orchestra or at the very least an Erhu soloist. And giving lessons in the limited Chinese I have retained and/or learned.

My tendency is to over prepare. And why? The ubiquitous doubts. The suspicion that no one will show up — which is possible. The suspicion that the whole SLV will show up — which won’t happen. The knowledge that I can’t possibly know, and that all I can do is prepare and be happy with what/who shows up.

The 91 year old man from Del Norte — who now lives in Seattle — the man who has been ordering my notecards and wrote me the beautiful note about his travels in China in 2013? I sent him a copy of the book since he can’t possibly attend the reading. He must have read it in one or two sittings. I got a text from him a couple nights ago.

As I read the text I thought of how short our lives are and how, as we go along, we find new lives we’d like to live and (all too often) forks in the road where we took the “wrong” turn, but there’s no going back. The good thing is when we realize we were brave and beautiful at least ONCE. Public speaking, for me, is/was always completely terrifying. The first time I had to stand up in front of a group of people and say something (in this case it was a 5 line invocation in church) I passed out, that’s right, on the floor the poofy dress my mom had bought for me and made me wear, up over my chest. Quite a show for a 12 year old. I knew after that I had to do SOMETHING about this terror but what could I do?

In high school I did competitive speaking and took (miracle of miracles) second place in the state of Colorado for original oratory. You’d think that would have “cured” me, but it didn’t. It wasn’t until I was invited by a student to give a university-wide lecture on overcoming the fear of public speaking that I got over it. That was probably 2010 — maybe a few years earlier. When it was over, a lovely but terrified young woman came up to talk to me. She wanted to know how she could get over being terrified speaking in front of people and, instead, be like me. Calm, collected, funny, articulate. I looked at her and stood up. I took off my jacket so she could see the giant armpit stains on my shirt. “That’s how calm I was,” I said. “I’m just like you. The trick — if there’s a trick — is to be so convinced in the importance of your message that you don’t think about yourself.”

So, Christmas in Guangzhou…

Where We Left Off

Back in the fall of 2019 I was pretty famous here in the back of beyond. The China book! I did a reading at the local independent bookstore, a couple of radio interviews, another reading at the museum. Other things — even involving other books — were lining up and it was really cool after the first one. I enjoyed being a famous writer (on this scale) and loved meeting people in my community in this way. I did a beautiful display for the book, too. In fact, the first time I participated in the holiday show at the Rio Grande County Museum, it wasn’t as a visual artist, but as a writer.

I didn’t even know that I LIKED reading my books to people or that I LIKED being on the radio.

Then, suddenly, the whole world was under the weather, and that was the end of that.The China book, which was such a labor of love, just kind of got pushed aside like everything else as I — along with everyone else — tried to figure out what was going on and how to respond to it.

Yesterday I got the local paper which is 8 pages. There is also — with it — another, thicker, paper “Lifestyles,” which tells about events that affect the entire San Luis Valley population of 40,000 people. I look through these journalistic missives pretty quickly before consigning them to recycling or package wrapping, whichever. On the front page of the thick insert I read a write up of Louise’ (Rio Grande County Museum) press release about the upcoming holiday art show. It said, “Martha Kennedy will be doing a reading and a story of her experience of a Christmas in China.”

I thought, “OK, this is where we left off.” And I understood that is exactly right.

If you can see it, there’s an article about a kid’s park that was built in my town entirely by volunteers. That’s also where we left off.

Still, it seems like eons ago — another lifetime, anyway — since 2019 and the publication of As a Baby Duck Listens to Thunder. It wasn’t, but it feels like it. <3. Here’s the story about the featured photo.

Little House on the Prairie?

Throughout my valley are log cabins. Some of them have been taken care of, some of them have been abandoned, some of them are slanting against the wind, some of them — well you can’t hardly tell what they are or were other than the trees planted as a windbreak in a rectangle around a house-sized open space that was once a homestead.

We tend to think that those houses were from the Wild West and the Frontier Days but not necessarily. Here’s my mom’s family in the 1920s. The house had been there a while. Most of their kids were born in it.

1922-23

You can see how the window had been put in to replace a door and the structure itself had been added to a few times. It was a lousy place to live, by all reports. I heard seemingly endless stories of pasting newspapers to the inside walls to keep the wind out. The wind would have been fierce, too, on the high plains of Montana and desperately cold in winter. Believe me, I know my deep love of winter hinges on having a heated house.

My grandparents were settlers, but this cabin (which they had not built, anyway) on the plains was not their first Montana home. They’d come from Iowa and settled first in the Clark’s Fork valley in the town of Belfry but, according to my mom, the hills and trees there (it’s beautiful) had given my grandma claustrophobia so they ended up here. Apparently my grandmother — like this granddaughter — had a thing about seeing the horizon.

I think, also, their move might have had something to do with the death of their son, Martin. I know it broke my grandmother’s heart. Maybe she didn’t want to live there any more because of that. She’s not here to ask, so…

I’ve been there but I can’t say exactly where it is. I believe it had a Hardin, MT address. When the kids grew up enough to get jobs, sometime in the 1930s, the family moved into Hardin, a real town, and I think life might have been easier.

Here’s most of the family in front of the house in Hardin. Grandfather, the prophetic looking bearded guy in the overalls. Grandma is behind my mom who’s in the front row, Dutch boy haircut, wide collar, looking down and at the camera at the same time — one of her all time favorite poses I learned from looking at a lot of photos. There is an extra girl in this photo and one son is missing. My aunt Florence (who was working) is in the fur collared coat.

Settling the frontier is a big theme here on what is still kind of a frontier. Plenty of people in the San Luis Valley sport the license plate that sets them apart as descending from original settlers.

Like them, I’m proud of my family, its courage and resilience. I love my local history museum, the Rio Grande County Museum, because it’s a safe home for the relics of settlers’ lives, and, what’s more, their stories.

There’s a similar museum in Hardin, Montana — The Bighorn County Museum — that contains photos and stories of my own family. It’s one of those amazing museums that covers a few acres and on which old buildings have been moved, erected and restored. They have an entire camp from one of the places where my uncles worked, the enormous Campbell Wheat Farms. In the museum you can see their thumbprint sized faces in more than one photo of this historic farming operation. The Campbell Farming Corporation had 95,000 acres under cultivation. It shut down in 1987. Flying into Billings from Denver, I could look down from the plane onto the Pryor Mountains, and see fields of wheat that might have been visible from space. I don’t know.

One of the buildings at the Bighorn County Museum is a one room schoolhouse, the Halfway School, which played a role in my mom’s stories about dancing with cowboys. There is the German Lutheran Church with its German Bible and hymn books. Museums like this are more than places to see old stuff.

I guess if I lived in Montana (Iowa, Ohio, Indiana, Virginia, Pennsylvania) I could sport a license plate like this, but I don’t think I would. I had an epiphany in Switzerland in 1997 and realized I would NOT have emigrated. I’d have changed my religion. But then, how do I know who I would have been back in the 17th century?

https://ragtagcommunity.wordpress.com/2020/05/22/rdp-friday-settle/

Quotidian Update 91.2b.ii

Li Bai inspecting the bean field

Yesterday I spent the hottest part of the day overcoming a 4 foot square patch of dirt and grass. I’m proud to say that, for now, I’ve achieved mastery over the bean field. I hope next weekend to convey Li Bai, Tu Fu and Li Ho to their residences.

There’s something satisfying about going at the ground with a pick axe, mainly that it works. It breaks the sod, it cuts deep enough for any plant and for the 2 x 4s I use for the borders. Another satisfying tool is the hand saw. I had an 8 foot 2 x 4 and when I had the field measured out all I had to do was lay the board on the ground and saw it.

One of the good things about gardening is you get to see something happen for the better which, in these times, is pretty cool.

Yesterday I got an email from Louise, the woman who runs the Rio Grande County Museum in Del Norte where I did a reading last December from As A Baby Duck Listens to Thunder. Our plan for June was another reading, this time from one of my Swiss books — The Price- and an exhibit of the Swiss immigrants to Rio Grande County, Colorado. There were many. I was going to put together a timeline/mural of Swiss events from the 16th century to the 18th when my family emigrated, and Louise, who runs the museum, was going to do the same thing for the people who’d settled here.

Louise’ family and that of her husband were among the original non-Hispanic settlers of the San Luis Valley and they both have incredible stories, the kind that, in the old days, you might sit around the fireplace and listen to into the wee hours.

Naturally, this is on hold indefinitely. We can’t meet to discuss it or share materials. I haven’t been able to think about it, but now I’m thinking that working on it now might be an act of faith.

As is gardening, when it comes to it. One of my favorite films (liked it better than the book 😦 ) is Milagro Beanfield War. It was filmed in the village of Truchas, New Mexico, about 1 hour south of me. It is really about a bean field. The other bean field that went through my mind as I broke the earth open with my trusty pick axe was Thoreau’s bean field, described in Walden.

Thoreau’s bean field was a few acres and he tilled it by hand. My bean field will hold three bean plants that will give me fruit I might not even eat. It’s really all about watching them grow and attract butterflies and hummingbirds, plus, the beans are growing from beans I grew myself. Thoreau writes of his bean field as I could write about standing out there in the Big Empty and maybe as any farmer could write about the San Luis Valley:

As I drew a still fresher soil about the rows with my hoe, I disturbed the ashes of unchronicled nations who in primeval years lived under these heavens, and their small implements of war and hunting were brought to the light of this modern day. They lay mingled with other natural stones, some of which bore the marks of having been burned by Indian fires, and some by the sun, and also bits of pottery and glass brought hither by the recent cultivators of the soil. When my hoe tinkled against the stones, that music echoed to the woods and the sky, and was an accompaniment to my labor which yielded an instant and immeasurable crop. It was no longer beans that I hoed, nor I that hoed beans…

The nighthawk circled overhead in the sunny afternoons…like a mote in the eye, or in heaven’s eye, falling from time to time with a swoop and a sound as if the heavens were rent, torn at last to very rags and tatters, and yet a seamless cope remained; small imps that fill the air and lay their eggs on the ground on bare sand or rocks on the tops of hills, where few have found them; graceful and slender like ripples caught up from the pond, as leaves are raised by the wind to float in the heavens; such kinship is in nature. The hawk is aerial brother of the wave which he sails over and surveys… When I paused to lean on my hoe, these sounds and sights I heard and saw anywhere in the row, a part of the inexhaustible entertainment which the country offers.

Henry David Thoreau, Walden, “The Bean Field”

https://ragtagcommunity.wordpress.com/2020/05/17/rdp-sunday-overcome/

It’s a Small World, After All

Yesterday I learned that my little town had a POW camp during WW II. It’s a little hard to imagine this, German soldiers being brought all the way here, but they were. In fact, Colorado had several of these camps.

My friends and I went on an adventure yesterday to Del Norte (our primo destination) that involved lunch, a short stop at the fabric shop, and a long stop at the Rio Grande County Museum. I guess I’m just going to take you with me.

I picked them up at my neighbor’s house and we hit the road in Bella. Lots of chat in the car and me driving, looking at the mountains, noticing a herd of buffalo close to town that I’d heard of and never seen. Stock around here have a lot of different ranges and are trucked from place to place as well as sometimes driven on horseback. I didn’t say anything because my friends were pretty involved in the conversation.

We had lunch at the comparatively new Colorado Grille. Why the “e” I don’t know, must be residue from the days of “shoppe” etc. Lunch was good, the conversation was better. The waitress called me “honey” and I’m afraid the moniker has stuck. It is pretty funny. She was perky beyond all rational levels of perkiness, but what can you do? My brain was a little fuzzy when we set out, I think from all the books I’m contending with, but it cleared up over lunch, thank goodness. From there we went to a florist shop up the street.

There one of my friends engaged a young cowboy (about 9) in a chat. I just listened until she suggested he call me “honey.” Neither he nor I was having that. He’d been to the dentist and was relating the import of that experience to my friend who very charmingly drew him out. Cowboys around here pretty much start at birth. Later on I heard him walking, dragging the heels of this c’boy boots the way my mom would yell at my brother and I for doing, but it’s a great sound for a kid. “Don’t drag your heels! You’ll wreck your boots!”

Then we went to Kathy’s Fabric Trunk because I needed ribbon and elastic for my epic sewing project. Kathy has a daughter who is severely disabled and spends time in an elaborate chair under the watchful eye of a Labrador retriever. As we got there, she was on her way out. The Labrador and a little shit-zu/pekingese mix met us at the door. They came right to me. Kathy hugged my friends and when the dogs were finished acknowledging my presence (I honor that Lab with all my heart) I said to Kathy, “I’m kind of a dog person.”

“I noticed. So did they,” and she hugged me.

I got my “notions” and we headed to the museum.

The biggest treasures in that museum are the people, Louise and her husband, Alex. I love all the things that are there, but I love those two people more. They’re good, they’re passionate about their home where both their families have lived for many generations, they have incredible knowledge. Alex is struggling with dementia, but he KNOWS he’s struggling. Sometimes he knows me (no one knows why he would, but he does) and other times he doesn’t. But he always tells me a story.

Yesterday he told me about being stationed in Europe during the Korean War. My best guess is that the story took place somewhere that was German controlled during WW II possibly the Alsace. Alex had said he had been sightseeing with buddies in Holland, Belgium, and “other places.” He told of being in a town that was circular. That’s pretty common for medieval towns that have survived into the present, labyrinths of concentric, narrow streets. Alex said he and his buddy couldn’t find a way out and they asked all kinds of people for help but no one spoke English.

They finally found a man who could help them. Alex then asked the man, “Where did you learn English?” and was stunned to hear that the man had been a POW in Monte Vista, Colorado. What’s more, he’d known Alex as a little boy. The town was even smaller then and the POW camp was essentially in Alex’ neighborhood.

I came home and wanted to know more about the POWs. I haven’t found much, but I haven’t talked to the people at Monte Vista’s historical society. I found a fascinating article on POW camps in Colorado, though. Most of the POWs were captured in the North African campaign. They worked during the harvest season in the potato fields, taking the place of the Americans who had gone to fight.

The Featured Photo shows sketches done by a German POW. The Rocky Mountains, the Colorado State Capitol, and a tunnel — I think it’s the Moffatt Tunnel.

Here’s a link to the entire article in case I have piqued your interest. https://www.historycolorado.org/sites/default/files/media/document/2018/ColoradoMagazine_Summer-Fall1979.pdf

https://ragtagcommunity.wordpress.com/2020/03/05/rdp-thursday-cinch/

February 29, 1972

On February 27, 1972 I was at Winter Park with my friend Susie and her family. They were from Chicago, had rented a large cabin and we were all having a GREAT time. The next day it snowed heavily, and I was gripped with a terrible and irrational apprehension that we wouldn’t be able to get back to Denver that day. I had an exam the next day, as I recall. Still, it shouldn’t have mattered, but it did. I was bossing everyone around, putting cardboard under stuck wheels and generally being a pain in the ass. We made it back to Denver and, safe and snug in my dorm room, I went to sleep.

The next morning — a bright and shining day — I went to my 9 am history class. About 30 minutes into it, someone from my dorm called out my prof and he came back and asked me to come with him. I walked with this woman back to the dorm office where my Aunt Martha was standing. I knew everything just seeing her there.

“Martha Ann, you dad passed away last night. It’s for the best.”

I couldn’t argue that it wasn’t for the best. He’d suffered a lot during the last two years from deterioration caused by MS. My aunt went up to my room with me and I packed.

I didn’t feel anything until I saw him in the casket at the mortuary. I reached into the casket to hold his hand as I had innumerable times at the nursing home when he was in one coma or another. The hand was cold, unbelievably cold, and then I knew that all my love really COULDN’T save his life. My aunt Kelly and uncle Johnny were with me and took me out of the room and sat with me until I calmed down. After that, I held it together, helping my mom contact family, taking clothes to the mortuary, even reading from my dad’s favorite poem during the service in Colorado Springs. I was pretty OK until the funeral in Montana when the casket was placed in the ground when I lost it again. Fortunately, my grandmother was there and we sheltered together in the limousine.

My dad died at 45. I’m 23 years older than he was when he died. Sometime in my late 30s I realized I was about to live the life my dad couldn’t. That meant something to me.

When this day rolls around every four years I’m a little messed up. Luckily, this time, I was here in the San Luis Valley, and it exerted all of its magic for me today. I had reason to write a blog post that meant something to me. Then I went to the Rio Grande County Museum with some notecards to sell, but also to see how the new show — Colorado and the Suffrage Movement — was doing. Louise, who runs the museum, is an amazing woman, and I sense we share a common heart. She told me about some of her new discoveries and then her husband, Alex, came in. Alex has lived here forever, his family has lived here forever. He’s a pretty incredible person, too. We talked about runaway horses, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, the ventilation of potato cellars and much, much more. I love learning about this place, and I left feeling a little intoxicated.

From there I drove west to take a photo of another potato cellar I hope to paint, one that’s in terrible condition. I went to the store and came home to find that one of my stories (originally published here in my blog) won first prize at a contest I entered in December, a contest held by the Alamosa Library’s literary magazine, Messages from the Hidden Lake. There was a party last week, but I forgot about it. 🙂

After lunch, I took Bear to the golf course so she could roll in whatever snow remains (there was some). On the way I stopped to talk to the kids and their mom. I heard yet another amazing story about her dad, on horseback, in the mountains, going over a little ravine and his horse fell on him. His dog — a dog like Bear — Zip — stayed with him and protected him until help came more than 12 hours later. Zip even wanted to get on the helicopter.

Bear and I took a wandering ramble nowhere in the world of smells that is Bear’s somewhere. Fifty cranes flew over us, calling to each other. On the way back, the little girl was in the yard and we had a long talk about little brothers. She told me that sometimes she and her little brother (two years younger, just like my brother and me) have terrible fights. I told her my brother and I did, too.

“What do you fight about?” she asked me.

“Oh, you know, ‘Get out of my room!’ ‘That’s not YOURS! It’s MINE!'”

She nodded in profound understanding and told me about a time that her little brother helped her clean her room.

“Yeah, that’s a good brother,” I told her.

“Once my brother hurt my feelings. He said he didn’t love me.” She looked sad.

“He didn’t mean it. That’s just little brothers. You know, my brother was my best friend.”

She nodded. “Yeah, but someday we will have our own families and won’t live together any more.”

“He’ll still be your brother.”

She smiled and launched into a wonderful long story about a game of pretend they’d played after seeing Frozen. It was wonderful, involving, as it did, an evil snow man and an enchanted forest.

All this has been the gift this miraculous valley has given me on this day that comes every four years, a day on which I cannot help but feel sad.

Featured photo: My dad and me in his basement office. We built the shelves together, framed and paneled the whole thing. I was 12. In the photo below, I’m 11. You can see I reached my adult height early. My dad was 5’8″.

My dad looks kind of pissed off, but he wasn’t. 🙂 Bellevue, Nebraska, 1963