Monday, January 1, 2018

The Road Home

My road.

My son's road.

Some years ago, I had the great good fortune to travel to the Medicine Wheel in Wyoming. We camped in the Big Horn Mountains and walked up to the Wheel on the summer solstice, which also coincided with my friend Patti's birthday. Our respective young sons were with us as well. There were so many people on the mountain that day - tourists, New Age people, Native Americans and our little group. We held a Pipe Ceremony in the Wheel. I prayed for many things and Spirit answered my prayers in such a forceful way that it was all I could do to hold myself together. (Note to self: be careful what you pray for...)

Later that afternoon the boys and I went to Mule Falls, not too far from where our campsite was located. As soon as they could get the doors open, the boys burst out of the truck and took off, running down the steep trail. I tried to call them back but a human voice is simply absorbed in that mountain landscape. The trail was a steep switchback, with stands of pines and other thick vegetation that deadened my nearly panicked calling.

There are bears and cougars in that wilderness area. It was late in the afternoon so there was not much daylight left for two young boys to be on an unknown trail alone. I could still walk then but my knees were stiff and troublesome. The trail was covered with pea gravel and very steep. I made my slow, painful way down the trail, calling after the boys. Their voices had gone out of range of my hearing almost immediately. As is normal for me, I immediately imagined them making it to the falls, which I assumed were towering and wildly dangerous. I imagined those boys running headlong down the steep trail and falling into the falls and drowning. I would have to Tell Patti that her son had fallen/drowned/been eaten by a bear while in my care. I laugh now, but at the time, I was in a terrible panic. It was not simply that I was worried. It felt as if they both had already met a terrible fate. It was horrific.

I had no idea how long that terrible trail was but I eventually realized that the further down the trail I went, the harder it would be to back up. Almost in tears, I made the decision to turn back. The trail was so steep, the footing so loose that I pulled on the low tree branches to help myself climb. At last I was reduced to crawling on my hands and knees. All the while the panic was growing in my chest because it was almost dark. The deep valleys and high peaks of the mountains made it worse.

Never in my life had I ever, EVER been unable to physically meet whatever challenge I faced. Never had I been unable to protect my children. I had never been in the position of being left behind nor entirely powerless and helpless. I continued to crawl up the steep slope in such a profound state that I could not even cry. I was in a constant dialogue with the Creator. The only time in my life I had ever felt such an intense soul pain was when my father died. Creator was answering my prayers in a mighty way and it was incredibly painful. I was meant to get this particular message, no mistaking it.

I realized that I could not hang on to my son so tightly. I could not live in fear that life would take him away. Crawling pathetically up the trail, I clearly saw my path end and his path go far beyond my reach. He did not "belong" to me. He would and must go on without me. In fact, he hardly needed me at all even then. It was a painful realization but necessary. The unreasonable bonds of my fears were being cut right in the moment. It was physically and psychically painful.

I eventually made it to the top of the trail and staggered across the level ground to my truck. I pulled out the park map to see what clues it might hold regarding the trail or the falls. It was an ALL DAY hike to the bottom and back! All day! Knowing those boys, they ran headlong and shouting all the way to the bottom. When they realized I was not with them, or if it became dark, or if they were lost... I was in full blown panic by then.

I started the truck and drove on the dirt road back toward a ranger compound we had passed on the way to the trail head. It was miles back and I was driving as fast as I dared, which was far too fast. An enormous plume of dust rose in the still air. I left the truck running and hurried to the front door of a building that looked like it might have people in it. I knocked but no one answered, so I walked in - entirely out of character for me. I was in the kitchen of the rangers' private facilities when the Native American ranger from the Medicine Wheel found me. She asked what I was doing, explaining I was in their private quarters. I apologized and explained what happened. By then other rangers had come in. The woman, half to herself, said I had been through a lot up on the Wheel earlier. How did she know? They gave me water to drink and it helped me calm down.

They asked what instruction I had given the boys. I explained they tore down the trail so fast that I did not have a chance to say a single thing to them. The rangers said they would not be in danger of falling or getting lost as long as they stayed on the trail. They said the boys likely wore themselves out coming back up. The woman kindly asked one of the men to follow me back. I was so mercifully grateful for their kindness and their help.

I drove only slightly less fast back, mindful of the powdery dust, worse than any Kansas dirt road by far, billowing up in front of the ranger's truck following behind me. About a mile away from the trail, I saw the two boys walking in the road, coming my way. I slammed on the brakes and rushed out of the truck to hug both of them safely in my arms. I was crying with relief and gratitude and happiness that they were safe! Not eaten by a bear or a cougar. Not floating lifelessly at the bottom of Kicking Mule Falls. Not lost and hungry and cold in the dark in the wilderness! I did not have to go back to camp to tell Patti that her son was lost.

There was an old hunting shack located at the top of the trail. When the boys returned to the top of the trail, they found I was gone. My son was certain a crazy Vietnam Vet lived in the shack and had kidnapped his mother and her truck. He was in a bit of panic too.

I did not get a chance to thank the ranger though I sent a letter to the park service after we got home, thanking them for their kindness and apologizing for barging into their private quarters. The ranger wrote back, saying that is was his job and that he was thankful it turned out well. He said I should come back to the Big Horn Mountains to visit, too.

On the surface, it was just not that momentous an event to anyone else but it was one of most powerful things that ever happened to me. It was a turning point in my life but I cannot say that I successfully released my poor son from the web of my unreasonable panic and fear immediately. It was a long process - likely ongoing to this day. I am sure I damaged him and my daughter with all of my craziness. I tried not to but I am certain I did anyway.

Now he is entirely grown and on his own in the big city, wanting a life for himself that bears no physical resemblance to the life I have chosen for myself. He is a decent human being and in many ways he is more similar to me in thought processes and world view than my daughter is. He is his own man. His road goes on without me and that is the way it is supposed to be.

May the new year bring an abundance of happiness and all good things to both of my children, now and always.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017


The farrier came out this afternoon (on Sunday!) to trim the hooves of the wild horses. He is such a great guy. He shows up on time and those hooves are trimmed in a flash! My horses do not even have time to misbehave - if you consider misbehaving as fidgeting - trying to put a hoof down for a second after standing for a long time on only three - trying to scrub your big horse head against any nearby human. Or, the best one: falling asleep leaning on any accommodating human. You can imagine that there are few humans who willingly hold up a dozing horse - virtually none. It was a mild day and those two beasts were calm and accommodating and content.

As I hung up the halters and the lead ropes, I realized how much I love everything about horses - even to the point of dusty halters and curry combs rattling around in the car for days before I take the time to put everything away. If only I could still ride! Those days are gone but I can tend to horses and see them every single day. I am so lucky, so grateful for the horses.

Ginger the Supreme Being, and Walai Lama

I also feed and shelter two dogs - Jakey the Bad Dog and Mattie the Maniac. I was on a waiting list for a German Shepherd puppy from an Oklahoma breeder for almost two years. I was confident that the pup would be smart and beautiful and she is. She is smart as a whip, as that old saying goes. The first six months have been a little bit rocky for both of us. She is expressive and talkative and incredibly high energy. She goes from zero to 180 miles per hour in an instant and oh brother! She is fine when we are here at home alone. Company is so exciting for her that she goes off the charts. I think she will eventually be a very well-behaved dog but it requires a serious and sustained commitment from me. She needs a lot more socialization around other people and other dogs. There have been days that I honestly thought I made a huge mistake investing in such an expensive and crazy dog. We are figuring out how to communicate now and she tries so hard. She is almost seven months old and already taller than Jake. It is imperative that she become a well-behaved dog before she turns into the Hound of Baskerville!

Jake the Bad Dog

Mattie, just before these sweet little girls handed her over for the last time.

One of my favorite memories of Mattie will forever be the first moment I saw her. Three little girls, daughters of the breeder, were holding Mattie wrapped in a pink doll blanket. She weighed just a bit over six pounds and I was very disappointed in her appearance. I was expecting a large, fat puppy that weighed 15 pounds or more. Instead she was just a tiny little thing that did not look like a German Shepherd at all. She calmly and consciously looked directly into my eyes when they handed her to me. She was quiet and calm, and rode on the little bed all the way home from Oklahoma. A day later the REAL Mattie showed up - the hysterical barking and frantic behavior! I tried everything that first weekend - even wrapping her in a towel and trying to carry her close to my body in an effort to reassure her. Once that behavior was behind us, she began jumping on me constantly, scratching my arms and legs. I was bloody every single day and night due to her jumping. I was also afraid she was going to cause me to fall. I was seriously considering either returning her to the breeder or finding a new home for her. My neighbor has far more experience with dogs than I do and she helped by keeping Mattie during the day while I was at work. I was so grateful for her help. Mattie continues to be a challenge, but I am determined that she will become a well behaved and happy dog. I am smitten with her beauty and intelligence but think someone who knows a whole lot more about dogs would have been a better match. However, Ginger was not the calmest, most easy horse to be around when I got her, and now the farrier can trim her hooves in a few minutes. So we will get through this puppy/rookie stage and be alright - eventually.

Sometimes I take my home for granted. Sometimes I fall into the habit of only worrying about all the work I can no longer do myself - trimming back brush and tree limbs from the fences, continually picking up branches of all sizes that fall from the veritable forest around here, landscaping around the house or cleaning the gutters. It begins to feel like a burden to live here. Invariably the Kansas winds come calling, rising and falling like the waves on the shore, striking some certain chords in my spirit that call up something I cannot even name - a longing for something almost remembered, something wonderful and clear. Perhaps it is simply the memories of all those days growing up around my grandparents - all those long golden hours spent outdoors, in the moment of childhood, before the suffering of life began in earnest. The winds conjure something immediate and golden in my spirit and I close my eyes in deepest appreciation for the mighty blessings of living a life on this earth, for the lives of my children, for the people I love, and the life I have managed to build for myself here in the bend of the nameless little prairie creek. I am grateful for the memories that come borne on the wind. I am grateful for the tiny little slice of silence where I found a place to build a home. It is not a burden to live here.

Sunset from the front porch.

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Bookends to Almost Every Day in Kansas...

Sunrise from Vera Road

Driving into the sunset on I 70

Sunset from my front door

Cottonwood at dawn - Vera Road

Cannot recall where I was when this was taken.  Looks to be maybe the same morning of the cottonwood sunrise.

Heading in to work.  For some reason, the sun rising into such a vast empty sky across miles of land caused a tremendous melancholy in me.  Where do those strange feelings originate?  It is a mystery.

The End of the Trail Cedar

The shape of this old cedar tree, much the worse for wear, reminds me of the "End of the Trail".  I do not appreciate the original sculpture because Native Americans are still alive - they are still here - and they have not given up!  
The sort of strange trend of Kansas landowners decorating their property with metal silhouette art.  It is only a bare resemblance, now that I can compare them side by side.  

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Visits from the Other Side

When Annie, my young mare, lost her life due to a 100% avoidable accident while in the care of the trainer, I was in shock for the first few days. Annie was young and the natural expectation was that she would be in my life for a very long time. Her loss blindsided me and I acutely grieved for several weeks. A few days after the accident, my daughter and I rode our motorcycles to a picnic at one of the state fishing lakes. It was a beautiful afternoon and there were many people there, very few of whom I knew. Someone had a dog with them. Once my daughter and I were settled in and listening to the proceedings, that dog came to me uninvited - a stranger - one of out of a crowd of perhaps 35 people.  She sat on my feet with her back to me, leaning her full body against my legs. I do not recall any dog ever behaving like this toward me, not even my own dogs. That dog must have sensed my broken heart. Though it may have been wishful thinking, it felt as if my dear little Orphan Annie was near me one last time.

Cats do not last long here on the farm if they venture outdoors. There are simply too many predators. So, when I adopted the darling green-eyed, coal black kitten from the shelter, the intention was to never let her outside. Keeping a cat inside that is determined to get outdoors is like keeping a genie in a bottle. She thought it was a game to dart past me and squeeze through the rapidly closing door. Once escaped, there was no possibility of me catching her. I named her Avalon, and she was the most delightful cat I have ever known. She was very small and very beautiful and exceedingly loving. When she had entirely defeated me in the war for her freedom, she would follow Duke and me to the barn and back every day. It made me laugh to see the three of us lined up on the well-worn path.

As a kitten, she found her way to the tiny space between the shelf and the top of the computer monitor. This put her slightly above my eye level, which is the correct and proper height for feline royalty. This was her favorite perch, though I do not know how she comfortably managed to squeeze herself into that space once she was grown. Everyone in the family came under Avalon's spell. Of course it is my fault that she disappeared. I knew exactly what would eventually happen if she ventured out of the house. She was so determined to get outside that it seemed cruel to never let her out. Though there were several tense nights when she did not come when called, eventually I would hear her at the door. I thought perhaps she was smart enough to stay out of trouble. The night inevitably came when she never came to the door. After a few days, I knew that she was gone for good.

One winter night several months after she had disappeared, I was working at the computer when I felt a cat brushing against my legs. It was unmistakable and I knew it was Avalon. I could feel her presence so strongly. She was present for about fifteen minutes and then she was gone and she has never returned. Perhaps she has since been reborn as a beautiful actress or singer. She certainly possessed star quality. I still feel guilty that I did not prevail in keeping her safely inside the house.

About two years ago just as I was drifting off to sleep, I felt the mattress depress behind me as if someone had sat down next to me on the bed. In a blinding flash of adrenaline, I ran through the mental check list: Did I lock the doors? Who could have come into my house without me hearing? Am I going to die?! But then, just as rapidly, I realized it was the old dog Duke who had come for a visit. He was settling in next to me on the bed. I suppose it was something he had wished he could do his entire life. He was a farm dog and his duties were to live outdoors and keep an eye on things. In return for giving up the luxury of living indoors, he lived his entire life free of a kennel, pen, fence or chain. He never had to wait 10 long hours until I came home to let him out. He was free to run and roam and chase rabbits or dig determinedly after prairie voles. I never witnessed him catch a rabbit. I never saw that he caught any voles either. When I took him to the vet in Topeka, they remarked on how incredibly strong he was. It was because he was free to live a real dog's life, to run and chase any critter that would run from him. He had about 30 acres to police and explore and protect. When it was bitterly cold outside, he slept just inside the front door on a rug but for the most part he loved the winter. He was part German Shepherd, part Chow and part Gold Retriever and part who-knows-what else. His thick double coat allowed him to delight in the cold winters. He was happiest when it was cold as hell, running around like a maniac in celebration of the frigid weather. Snow was his absolute favorite delight. I hope the old dog has reincarnated as a wolf on the Siberian Steppes or a snow leopard in the Himalayas, or perhaps he came back to a loving family with children to love and look after. Wherever in the Universe his spirit may be, I hope he is at peace.

I no longer care if people believe my ghost stories or not.  I do not care if people think I am crazy.  I know what happened and I know exactly who came calling.  What a gift for those beloveds to visit me once last time.  I hardly deserve it.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Late Summer Early Morning

One of the most wonderful things where I live is the view on the way to work in the morning, and the view on the way home in the evening. No matter how stressed, worried, bored, depressed, uncomfortable, broke or upset I may be, my spirits are lifted by this common beauty. I love where I live and as often as I think to do it, I offer a prayer of gratitude for the good fortune that led me to the little patch of land - even if it is down five miles of gravel roads no matter what direction I take to get home. It is ordinary, everyday stuff.

I sometimes think most people believe scenery must be majestic like the mountains or dramatic like the sea before it can be sufficiently moving. Certainly magnificent, dramatic landscapes are inspiring. The giant surf on the North Shore of Oahu is the unimpeachable apex of inspiration so far in my life, followed by the nearly pristine quilt of Indian fields draped on the slopes of Mexico's central mountains, and the free vistas of Wyoming's Big Horn Mountains. For simple, ordinary everyday inspiration, I will settle for the view along Vera Road in good old Kansas.

Everything is beautiful in the early sunlight.

It took the earth 4 billion years to create this view... (minus the pond).

A beautiful landscape in every season.

According to the book Tallgrass Prairie Wildflowers, this is Dotted Blazing Star

Looking South toward home.

Monday, August 21, 2017

Totality Beside a Nebraska Cornfield!

North on Highway 75 - Original destination: north of Hiawatha, Kansas. Nothing but rain across the entire northern horizon.

It rained most of the way and it did not look promising for seeing any phase of the eclipse.  But once I had chosen the spot to watch from, no matter how hopeless it looked at the time, a hole opened in the clouds above me and I was able to witness the entire eclipse!

If I looked through the magic glasses, about 1/3 of the sun was eclipsed.  When I put the magic glasses over my phone, all I got was this!

The country road southeast of Pawnee City, Nebraska.  This is looking due west a bit before totality.
Totality!  My photography skills and eclipse gremlins did everything in their power to prevent me from getting any photos.

Same view to the west at totality.  The brightest light to the left is the farmer's mercury light that came on well before totality.
Looking north at totality.

West just seconds before totality.

Due east at totality.

I thought I had planned for everything in my personal 2017 Total Eclipse Viewing Sojourn: viewing glasses, camera, coffee, cash and smart phone so I could monitor the weather and have access to Google Maps in case I had to try to change destinations due to cloud cover/rain. I filled the tank last night and left very early to get to a viewing site well ahead of time. Still struggling with the realities of the smart phone, I did not realize that out on the road I would not have access to a 4G connection. That meant no maps and no Doppler radar screen.  All I could do was desperately text my children and hope one or both of them were screwing off at work long enough to answer my texts! Luckily, my son answered. In highly technical terms I could understand, he texted: You're out in the boonies. No internet.  (I am sure he was diligently working hard and just happened to check his phone...)

I asked him to check the Doppler radar for the Hiawatha area. He sent me a screen shot. Not good.  I could also see the storm to the northeast. I frantically texted him to find a Nebraska town northwest of Hiawatha that was in the path of totality, and to send directions to it from the intersection of Hwy 75 and Hwy 36.  That is how I came to be on a country road in Nebraska, next to a cornfield southeast of the dapper little town of Pawnee City, Nebraska. Though the sky never fully cleared overhead, there was a "hole" in the clouds right above me and I was able to watch the entire eclipse. I saw the entire event!

Something strange was interfering with my camera and my phone. It is a wonder that I got any photos at all. It was one odd and unusual thing after another. None of the photos will win any awards - but they are good enough for me.  It was perplexing the way the electronics of my phone and my camera were misfiring - for want of a better word.

But, it happened.  I witnessed a total eclipse of the sun - in my lifetime - not far from home. And it was marvelous and mysterious to consider the unimaginable "coincidence" that the moon is the exact size and at the exact distance for a total eclipse to occur. At the instant of totality, the entire sky overhead goes black and the sun's corona bursts into view. I removed the crazy glasses and looked at the magnificent corona flaming outward. A bright star was also immediately visible. I made a slow 360 degree survey of the strange colors in the sky on the horizons that I could see. I snapped some quick photos for posterity.  I was so caught up in the experience that I forgot to look for the wavy shadows.

It was over in a heartbeat but I was thrilled that I had witnessed such a rare event. Once again Kansas serves up a spectacle that I did not have to cross the world in order to see - though technically I was in Nebraska.  I was less than 2 hours from home. Close enough.

Post script: Thank you Son for your remote navigating! You saved the day.