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
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.
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.