Friday, December 10, 2010

Snowbird





I live in the mountains of Colorado. During long cold winters I dream of being a snowbird. Buried under an afghan I conjure up warm Caribbean waters, gardens pungent with citrus, sleeveless cotton shirts, bare toes...  
Monday night our first snowfall confirmed what I’d been dreading. Winter had arrived. The outside light illuminated every frigging flake that dropped from sky and splatted on the deck. I paced the living room, sulking and feeling claustrophobic. Tomorrow the roads would be too slippery for driving, the air too cold for walking, wah wah wah.
The next morning the dogs were patiently waiting for our morning hike so I put on my boots, jacket, neck scarf, gloves and hat, and out we went. My two feet trudged along the dirt road while the dogs pranced on all four paws. They snuffled the snow, paused to pee, then joyfully zigzagged from smell to smell. Slivered prisms winked on the crust of snow. 
I almost smiled. 
Grudgingly admitted it was kind of pretty.
We continued on, me walking, the dogs running and leaping. The road curved and the landscape changed from open field to tunneled forest. The path stretched out before me. Pine trees cast slate blue shadows across the snow; overhead a crow flapped his wings. My mind unfurled, empting niggles of tin and brass onto the wayside The woods are lovely, dark, and deep, leaving room for wondering, do frogs hibernate, what would it be like to have a tail, is my soul locked inside my chest or does it float around from knees to neck to  elbow, or is it like a net, everywhere at once, if I could see it, what would it look like But I have promises to keep
So we looped around to the back of the field. This time I made a full stop to admire the rainbowed prisms sprinkled over the snow. 
By the time I arrived home, the grump was gone. For a while. I haven’t given up my dream of being a snowbird, but as long as I’m here, might as well chill.
So how do you all cope with winter?

A deep bow to Walt Whitman for Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening

Friday, October 22, 2010

John Lennon and Martha Greysocks



John Lennon’s birthday, October 9th, was all over the news. We still miss him. Several channels broadcasted an artist’s rendering of what he would have looked like had he lived to see his seventieth birthday. But it’s not the face we miss, it’s the music. What would he be writing and singing and playing today? Think of how much his lyrics grew in the forty years he did have.

From the spring of his youth:
Well, shake it up baby, now
Twist and shout c’mon, c’mon, c’mon, c’mon baby now
Come on and work it on out

To summer’s height:
When I was younger, so much younger than today
I never needed anybody’s help in any way
But now those days are gone, I’m not so self assured
Now I find I’ve changed my mind, I’ve opened up the doors

To fall’s ripening:
I'm just sitting here watching the wheels go round and round,
I really love to watch them roll,
No longer riding on the merry-go-round,
I just had to let it go

John morphed through the seasons unafraid of changing from rock star to househusband, often forcing us to look at our clich├ęs through the bite of his truth.

They say life begins at forty
Age is just a state of mind
If all that's true, you know that I've
Been dead for thirty-nine

Still, he wasn’t afraid to visualize the ideal either.


You may say that I'm a dreamer
But I'm not the only one
I hope someday you'll join us
And the world will live as one

So I wonder how he would have viewed his wintery seventies. I think he may have felt like the character in a wise poem written by a friend of mine, Terre Compton.
 

Martha Greysocks said,


“The journey to the end 
of my obligations
is a long travel.



In spring,
promise of new life
bends to the song of summer.


In fall, my shadow
wrestles with my soul
until first snow.


In winter, things
find a way to survive.
Secrets are like that too.
They have a way of
surfacing from the ground
so that I can know the truth. . .”
                              Terre Compton

One of an artist’s roles is to awaken us from our preoccupation with surfaces. I think John might have mocked winter’s concern with wrinkles, arthritis, and the slowing of the mind, yet reminded us, as Terre does, there are still secrets to discover. Reminded us not to dread winter but to

Imagine
Surfacing from the ground
Where
We all shine on
Like the moon and the stars and the sun

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Squashed




If you live out in the country, you expect that sooner or later it will happen to you. Around late August, early September you get nervous and start locking your doors. Every neighbor with a garden attempts to sneak into your house and fill the fridge with zucchini.
Last Monday we forgot to lock up. When we arrived home there was a paper sack on the kitchen table. My husband and I looked at each other. “You open,” I told him.
“Are you chicken?” he challenged me.
“Wimp,” I said as I bravely strode over and picked up the sack. Out rolled three monstrous spaghetti squash. The culprits left no note but confessed two days later by email. Too late, we couldn’t return the squash as we had already grilled and consumed it. Our neighbor declared that next time she would leave a note saying, you’ve been squashed.
Which started me thinking about the word ‘squash’.
It means not only a vegetable, but also to crush, squeeze, press flat, put down or silence. How on earth did such an abundant, friendly vegetable end up associated with a vicious verb? I think squash gets a bad rap because it’s common. What is common we fail to appreciate and think nothing of rudely squashing.
Look at the dandelion, a beautiful bright yellow that grows just about anywhere, even breaks through concrete. And it’s edible, dandelions aid digestion, are an antiviral, treat jaundice, cirrhosis, high blood pressure, gout, eczema and acne. The greens are high in vitamin A, C, calcium and potassium. The root contains inulin, which lowers blood sugar in diabetics. All for 25 calories a cup. And still we call it a weed, not a miracle. It’s not even considered a wildflower like the columbine, but then that plant is more rare, limited by where it can grow.
            But I digress. Squash is also an excellent source of vitamin A, C, potassium, fiber, manganese, folate, omega-3 fatty acids, thiamin, copper, vitamin B5, vitamin B6, niacin and copper. So eat up. Then go out in search of more common vegetables, and fruits, and animals, and, and, and... In fact, let’s take a day, count all the ordinary things we encounter and try to envision our world without them. What would it be like? Would it be squashed?

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

On Becoming a Firefighter


My husband and I joined Stonewall Volunteer Fire Department about ten years ago. I was approaching fifty. Never, even in my fantasizing youth, did I envision myself as a firefighter. But there was a 300,000 acre wild fire burning not far from us and we were on evacuation alert. We figured we we’d feel better if we did something rather than nothing so we signed up. We didn’t get to go to that fire but there were plenty of others, luckily, none so big.
            I have never subscribed to the ‘no pain, no gain’ mantra, never pushed myself past the ‘starting to sweat, better slow down’ philosophy. When I started digging line, that all changed. Overnight I found out that even though my arms were screaming at me to stop, and my hands had cramped so tight around the handle of my combie they couldn’t let go, and my feet had blisters on every single toe and heel and I had been doing this for over an hour, I couldn’t quit. No one around me was quitting and the fire was still burning so I thought of Bambi and Thumper and dug for another hour, and another, and another.
            Our average fire is several acres and takes about six hours to get under control. I’ve built up muscle my body is now tougher than it used to be. So is the inside of me. Last Saturday I was getting ready for training, putting on my ‘pickle suit’ (yellow shirt, green pants), and I noticed that a change came over me. It wasn’t new, the same thing has been happening for a decade now, but this time I stopped to think about it. When I put on my uniform and turn into a firefighter I become - Macho.
            Me? A fifty something, 5’4”, (I’m not tell how many pounds), English professor?
            Years ago I remember explaining to my husband what it’s like to be me, how in situations like walking through a dark empty parking lot at night which he would do without much concern, I was scared.
            But when I put on my pickle suit I don’t feel so vulnerable. I am a fire fighter, I can swagger across that parking lot. My security is partly an illusion, I’m not superwoman, but partly not. Maybe the creep lurking in the shadows will decide he’d rather tackle easier prey. That toughness feels good.
            Firefighting has taught me a lot more than this but that’s another blog. Today it’s all about surprising yourself. When was the last time you did it? Do we get to surprise ourselves up into our 70s, 80s, and 90s?

Sunday, July 25, 2010

A Rattle in the Rocks

One evening my husband and I were sitting on the back deck when we heard a heart-stopping rattle and jumped up to investigate. One of our cats had its paw stuck in a gap of the rock fountain, trying to capture a rattlesnake. I grabbed the cat, Gary grabbed the shovel. Our dog, Smokey ran up, bellyaching as only a Malamute can. He hates snakes. Gary poked and prodded at the hole for twenty minutes but the snake wouldn’t budge. Frustrated, we stuck a hose in the gap and tried flushing it out, but that didn’t work either. Half an hour later we hit on an idea. We splashed charcoal lighter around one side of the gap and lit it on fire. Sure enough the rattler crawled out the other side and Gary chopped its head off with the shovel.
Once humans, cats, and dogs were all safe, the adrenalin ebbed from my limbs I started to feel bad for the snake. It thought it had found a cool place to nap, hidden from predators. I remembered a reading I’d attended a few months earlier by Leslie Marmon Silko, one of my favorite authors. She described her home outside of Tucson. On the patio she has a long row of pots that she waters by hand. The morning had been cool with a promise of blazing afternoon heat and she had gone up and down the row several times with the hose. She was making her way back to the house when she looked down. Between two pots, curled up in the shade, inches from her bare foot was a rattlesnake. It must have been there the entire time she’d been watering.
She let it be.
I think she was able to do that because she trusted that the snake knew she wasn’t a threat or food. I know that both were true. Yet when faced with a rattler my reaction was a murderous one and if it happens tomorrow it will probably be the same. I have no more trust in the natural world than in the human one. I suspect that just as there are a few but significant number of stupid and paranoid people, I may run into a stupid snake that doesn’t realize I’m too big too eat or a paranoid one that sees everything as a threat. I would love to have Silko’s trust and relationship with nature, but it seems risky to me. I remember Treadwell, the guy in Alaska who loved and lived with bears. Until they turned on him. Maybe he just picked the wrong bears to trust. I’ve done that with people before.
I wonder how many of us are truly comfortable with nature.
How comfortable?

Monday, July 12, 2010

Wabi Sabi


I first encountered the term wabi sabi in pottery class. Laura, my instructor, explained that pottery requires a certain attitude. Clay is a natural product and so one bag is never exactly like the next, it may have more or less sand, iron, bentonite, and other minerals. Hence, you get different results from bag to bag. When fired the clay’s reaction will vary according to air temperature, humidity, the makeup of the pot next to it, and how much tobacco Trish threw into the kiln. Even though you think that what you’ve made is a work of beauty, once you put the piece into the kiln, it’s best to let go. Nature may add a crack, stain the spout, or transform the glaze that was a turquoise the last 27 times you used it into a purplish brown.

But simply letting go is not enough; the attitude of wabi sabi must be developed. The Japanese term means to see beauty in so called “imperfection.” It’s derived from wabi, meaning simple, in tune with nature, and sabi, the changes that happen with time and age.

Last night I watched Kid Rock (who I sometimes like and sometimes don’t) on Storytellers. He told the audience that while a few of his songs may play in places like Baxter or Trinidad, those same songs would never make it on the radio or in Hollywood. They weren’t “smooth”, they had “scars”, dealt with emotions that weren’t nice or pretty, but were honest.

And so now I’m at the point where I apply wabi sabi to me, to the cracks/wrinkles nature has given me without my permission, and see their beauty. To see an age spot as a beauty mark. Okay, I haven’t reached that level yet. How about a freckle?
But even more difficult is to look inside at my rough spots that I think I’ve hidden from the world but still leave tracks and to see their beauty too. My imperfection is also my humanity.
All we create, whether it be with paint, piano, clay, or words has a flaw somewhere, just as the lives we create have flaws. How we got those wrinkles, developed that fear of spiders, or lost our way is our history, our story, which is all we have in the end.

Because we are all wabi sabi, aren’t we?

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Helping Hands



When my sister saw the name of my blog she told me that she and a friend take day trips and often encounter turtles crossing the road. They always stop and carry them to the other side, their limbs swimming frantically through the air, mouths opening and closing as if to complain, whoa, slow down, this is waaay too fast. Set down on tierra firma, they scramble off without so much as a backward glance. But Sher and Bonnie just laugh; they’re on a Good Samaritan high.
Which reminded me of a time years ago. An old boyfriend and I were on the River Road and we encountered a turtle making his way across the hot pavement. We stopped, and I assumed he was going to help the turtle cross. Instead he ran down to the river with it. Now I admit that had I been that turtle I would have preferred to slip into the river and let cool water fill my shell, but maybe he had a friend to meet or thought that on top of that steep hill the breeze would funnel through his shell while he admired the view and chomped on the grass. (Is there anything better than a shell? Protection from heat, cold, hungry wildlife, and scary giant hands reaching down for you).
But I digress. My point is - if you’re helping someone cross the road, think about which direction they’re headed.