Saturday, June 10, 2017

What in Tarnation?

I was in grade school when I began fantasizing that I would write a book. I am still fantasizing about it. For a couple of years on the daily commute I noticed three-letter combinations on license plates and imagined a science fiction world where people were given only 3-letter names. Each individual letter represented a ton of information about that person including social status. If a person's status changed by egregious actions, a particular letter in his name would be changed. I found all the names of the principle characters while driving I-70. I imagined some plot changes when a group of subversives began naming their children with any number of letters. It was fun to amuse myself with this fantasy but eventually I decided the stigma of a letter for bad behavior had already been thoroughly covered by the Scarlet Letter, and there are a least a million books regarding subversive behavior saving a society in spite of itself.

No matter where I go my imagination fills in the missing gaps on people I see. I either make things up entirely or I muse regarding what their lives might be based on clues in their clothes or appearance. The latter has caused serious trouble for me a few times. The worst happened in a full Dillon's parking lot. I never park in the handicap spaces though I am sorely tempted (pun intended) at times but I always look for the closest space to save myself the agony my ruined knees. So, I pulled into one of those spaces marked with diagonal lines in a triangle - not truly a parking space but with all the other cars around it, it could have been and should have been. As I parked I noticed the lady directly in front of me exit her car. She stood in the open door drumming her fingers on the hood. She was a very attractive woman and nicely dressed. I took my time getting my things together as I continued to watch her. I wondered who she was waiting for - her husband or her children? I thought she must have a good job based on her car and her clothes, and thought she was likely a manager or department head. She was one of those people who would look impeccably dressed even wearing sweat pants. She had that air about her. I thought she was a very pretty woman and I was imagining a terrific life for her as I slowly got all my stuff together. When I finally got out of my truck, much to my utter surprise, I discovered she was waiting for me! The first thing out of her very loud and angry mouth was "I know you saw me getting ready to leave this parking space!"

WHAT?!!!

How in the world could I know she was driving forward from her parking space? It was broad daylight and her lights were not on. I did not see her car moving. And furthermore, I am absolutely NOT the type of person who would rush in just to cut off another person. I was instantly angry at being falsely accused of being an asshole! Oh, the shouting match was on. The louder she shouted at me, the closer I got to her. I was so incredibly angry at the audacity of this woman - the same woman I had just been casually admiring and imagining in a fine life indeed. I was so angry that when she threatened to kick my ass, I became deadly calm, put my face right in hers and literally growled, "Go for it." If she had made one tiny move in my direction, I was going to tear her up and go down fighting.

I believe she realized she was messing with the wrong old fat lady then, so she backed away from me but it did not shut her up. She continued to shout and berate me from a safe distance. I suddenly realized how ridiculous all of it was, and turned on my heel. She shouted louder at me, and from a very safe distance she hurled the final insult at my back: "Fuck you and your mamma!" Really? What does my mother have to do with any of this? I do not notice anyone else who may have witnessed the shouting match, but I walked right past a very old black man who laughed at me the entire way. He could laugh all he wanted because from his perspective, he just saw an old white lady get chewed out by a younger black lady. Little did he know how close he came to seeing an "aggravated" assault by both parties!

Imagination can get a person in trouble in unexpected ways but it remains my favorite pastime.

I have been matching vocabularies with a Scrabble app on my new dumb phone. I am delighted to win over the computer 9 out of 10 times, even with no cheating using the internet for J or Z or Q words. It is a maddening exercise because it often will not allow words that I know for certain are "real" - words that can be found in the real dictionary. The computer plays words that are, as far as I know, nonsense! The dictionary embedded in the app often offers no definition for suspect words, either! Bah! Humbug!

Here are just a few of the words that I considered nonsense but the app allowed: Kail, Toits, Guid, Tolu. There are so many more! In an act of desperation I began playing letters in correct word structure to see if I might happen upon acceptable words. This morning I discovered "slurb". I had never seen the word before but apparently that is a term for a shady (as in undesirable) suburban area.

Here are some of the made-up words I have attempted to play and - just for fun - their imaginary definitions:

Skathen - the act of skidding across the path of oncoming traffic after falling off a skateboard

Doehobe - a group of female deer gathering at the side of the interstate prior to crossing

Gatsh - the indentations left in the forehead from wearing a hat backwards

Hihen - a small step stool used for reaching the top supermarket shelves

Divehidi - The spurious demeanor of any White House Press Secretary, as in divehidian

Odios - a term of farewell when your friend's destination is an undesirable location or situation

Oeop - Post-op for patients when the surgeon is in a hurry to leave

Prear - the act of driving in reverse using the rearview mirror

Venaex - the charm and beauty of horses

Dustal - the characteristics of hardwood floors in country homes; Megadustal when located next to an Orc mining operation

Neveril - a small weed that grows in an established houseplant's soil

Post Script: Just for fun, I googled each of these and was surprised to find there were returns for all of them - a lot of acronyms, some anime characters, some proper names, and some close spellings. I just made them up from scrabble letters. I think there is nothing original left in the whole wide world. Post Post Script: Kail, toits, guid, and tolu are not recognized by the embedded BlogSpot dictionary either!

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Tis Merely Temporally Temporary

The Old Barn
This was my grandpa's barn and the door on the left is where the horses knew to run into whenever they were herded out of a pasture away from there. This photo is about the loneliest thing I have even seen.

The house faced north, and this is looking east, down what was once the driveway. There was fencing on both sides of the barn. There was a stock tank and gates and horses, people and cattle. There was a well curb to the right in the foreground where my father planted a wild grapevine he found along the river. By the time I arrived on the planet it had overspread the trellis above the well, making a cool, fragrant place to sit in the shade. There is the haymow where my Uncle Superman had a mad scientist laboratory full of pickled snakes, frogs and all manner of gruesome creatures one year. It was the sanctuary where, as often as I possibly could, I would spend time brushing Lady, my father's horse, talking to her and hugging her big coppery neck. If I could not ride, I would climb onto her back and lay against her neck, content to be in the presence of a being I loved with all of my child's heart and soul.

In recently remembering my parents, my grandparents, my aunt and uncles and the ordinary lives we shared here, a round of happy memories arose, coloring my dreams for several nights. The dearest times of our lives come and go, disappearing in the inexorable force of time. We understand no one lives forever but we have no way to change the impermanence of literally everything. Those days and most of those people have been washed far from me by time and life and death. I look back on those green and golden days with a full heart.

The farmstead was halfway up the hillside from a river bottom bend in the Little Walnut River. Atop the hill were the fading scars of buffalo wallows. There was a strong spring a bit further down the hill that ran fresh, cold water continually. And on the high bank of the river, my uncle found dozens of arrowheads and other stone tools, evidence that human beings had appreciated the fresh water spring for centuries before a single European ancestor set foot on the shores of Turtle Island. No one really knows who the first humans were to camp beside the river, or hunt the big game, or fish the water that even in my day still contained freshwater mussels twice as big as a man's hand - fresh water eels - perch and catfish. And, like me, how many hundreds of generations of children gratefully swam just above the shallows during the long, hot days of summer?

I do not know what tribes owned the area that became Butler County. One source mentions the Kansa. Another historical reference speaks of about twenty different Plains tribes gathering in the general vicinity for trade around the time the land was ceded. The final ceding of land came from the Osage, I believe. All I know for certain is that countless generations of people loved the bend of that river as much I did - as much as my whole family loved that place.

Reminiscing about my grandparent's farm, I considered the hours my grandfather poured into his crops and land - the maintenance of fences and pastures and ponds - the tending of his cattle. It was his life's work and the way he and Grandma provided for their family. Every human being alive upon this planet - from the early tribes who could not conceive of the concept of owning the land - to the poorest man struggling in the streets of any one of the enormous modern cities - intimately knows the landscape and all that moves on it. We love the place we call home, no matter how humble - no matter how grand - no matter how paved over it may be. The earth herself returns our love - our attention and our intention. And when the human beings depart, the heart goes out of well loved land.

The tribes who once loved that spring and the small unremarkable river lived from the bounty of the land, though that nomadic life was no easier than any other life. The immigrants who built the old house and barn and set the first fences around the bounty of the tall grass, breaking out the bottoms for corn, loved that place, too. The man who has that land now dug out the spring to make a moat around his house. It seems sacrilegious but someone before my family had built a concrete curb around the spring. The spring persists to this day and as yet has not been contaminated by fracking - though surely it is only a matter of time.

The immigrants, in just over a hundred, years extirpated the buffalo, wolves, mountain lions, antelope and deer from Kansas. Now in the second century since white settlement, I would not swim nor eat fish caught in the river today. Each time I have returned to the Little Walnut, the water is a noxious brownish green, often with dirty foam. It is different than simply being muddy. It is poisoned.

The people who came before left arrowheads and boiling stones, Quivera knives and spear points in the soil of that river bottom. The new people have left fences and old stone foundations and a horrible mix of chemicals and abuse. Perhaps there will be a gradual balancing of the number of human beings then the burden on the earth will lessen. Nature will cover the scars, cleanse the water and soil. Our harmful marks upon the face of the planet will be swept away as surely as tall grass growing where this old barn once stood.  When I stop to consider it - the history and the sweep of time - I am once more struck by the indecipherable riddle of what exactly is the meaning and purpose of life on this planet - and will anyone ever solve it.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

An Uncommonly Beautiful Spring

It is the highest sorcery when the world transforms into shades of blue and green.

It looked as if the clouds were enclosed behind the barbed wire fences, but the photo was something of a failure, except for that brilliant blue sky.

Big Spaces filled with horizon and sky

The emerald green emerges after the fires and the first rains.

The familiar landmark, Buffalo Mound, visible from Topeka.  Its resemblance to the top line of a buffalo earned its name.

Something happened in the translation of this photograph.  It went from brilliant and strangely lit at sunset to this drab photo.  What??
My nephew made the statement that the cameras in the smart phones take better photos than expensive cameras.  I politely disagreed.  I owe him an apology.  Though I have very little control over the photos taken with my phone, those photos reproduce the brilliant colors much better than my digital camera.  I wish I could post all of the photos I have taken this spring to share the amazing colors and the spectacular light. 

Saturday, May 13, 2017

A Family Tradition

The author on her noble steed, Cricket.
The author's aunt on her noble steed, Cricket.
The noble steed Cricket gave birth to baby Patches on an Easter Sunday!
Patches grown up.

My aunt (sitting behind) and Superman on his noble steed Cricket.


The horse virus infected me surely before I was even born. Had I been born free of that incurable affliction, I was certainly infected almost immediately upon arrival. My paternal grandfather was a respected bronc rider as a young man and he retired a mature, respected cattle man. There was ample room in that time span for the horse virus to spread to those in his family born without natural immunity. The worst symptom is keeping expensive horses (even when the patient is unable to ride) simply because there is a need to see horses every single day. I could never get enough time with horses when I was a kid so I grew up, bought land, planted it to tall grass, built a barn and a fence and now I am the indentured servant to horses every single day. It is a powerful affliction, that horse virus.

I have written about my first loves - my father's cow pony, Lady, and my own first horse, Cricket. I have also written a bit about my grandparents, and my father and his brothers and sister. (Some links are included at the end, in case you are interested.) My aunt emailed these priceless photos and shared memories of the horses and the wonderful, long ago times. Receiving the photographs was better than winning the lottery! My dreams this week have been filled with the horses, my parents and grandparents, and that wonderful old farmstead on the bank of the Little Walnut River. My aunt and I came to the same conclusion that those were the happiest times of our respective lives. Undoubtedly, the secret ingredients were the horses and the freedom we were given to spend our days roaming the river.

I was the last child to ever love the old mare, Cricket. She was almost at the end of her natural life when she was brought to our barn for me to "ride". I was so young that I was more than content to simply sit on her, which was fine with Cricket. I always assumed she was one of my grandpa's retired cowponies but I found out she was actually purchased as a children's horse for the cousins one generation ahead of me. By default she became my aunt's horse, and shortly after, none other than Superman (my Uncle Jerry) laid claim to the gentle horse.

My aunt shared some wonderful stories. She tells them best: "Now you have heard the story of Jerry and Cricket. We had the yard fenced at the time. But he would ride that horse by himself at 18 months old. He would get up and put on all of his gear, neck kerchief, leather cuffs, pair of guns, cowboy hat, boots, pair of jeans and belt and his cowboy shirt and he would ride that horse till he’d go to sleep on her and Cricket would bring him by the front door and Mom would go get him and bring him in and put him in his bed."

And this: "Patches' dad was a big old horse. And Patches was not a good riding horse either. Rough ride! Oh, I remember Cricket when she was found that Easter Sunday as Daddy didn’t tell us. He just said, "Come on, let's take a ride". He took us down by the river and there she was with her baby colt. Didn’t have a clue she was going to have a baby! They never told us a thing! I think Dad was afraid she couldn’t do it cause that horse was so big and she was pretty old at the time. But she did it..."

So there you have a brief history of the wonderful old mare Cricket who carefully nurtured many, many children, not just those in our family. And there is the added wonderful Easter surprise story of Patches, the horse that grew up to step on my bare feet so many times that it had to have been on purpose. Surely she got that ornery streak from her father, the "big old horse" from next door!

Not only did I get a bit more insight and information regarding my dear Grandpa, my father, my aunt and uncle, but photos and stories about the horses, too! What a gift.

Superman

Bonnie Vista

A Sailor Writes Home

Saturday, April 22, 2017

I Finally Arrive in the 21st Century...

At long, long last I caved in to the pressure and bought a "stupid" phone. I am not an idiot. Well. I am not an idiot ALL the time, but that cursed device makes me feel like one! I had to turn off the autocorrect feature because for one thing, it would not let me cuss. It would change all of my cussing and profanity into similar but entirely incorrect and inappropriate words that did not have the precise meaning I needed to sincerely express myself.

Then there is the maddening problem of the N letter never typing in the first time. Why does this happe ? It causes my texts to look like shut!

It is supposed to be a phone but I have only used it for calls about a dozen times. I missed the first three or four calls because I did not know how to answer! Every other goddamned function on it happens at the lightest touch of the screen. Someone had to tell me that you swipe across the button to answer. After that I noticed the flashing direction arrows next to the 'answer' and 'end call' buttons.

I can ask aloud and, verily, from the sum total of the human species' wisdom and knowledge, an answer appears instantly on the screen. (I now know that Ian Somerhalder is 5'10" tall.)

Now when I am dining out with the younger members of my family, I too can whip out my phone and silently ignore the dearest, most important people on the planet who are also staring at their phones.

My phone can tell me where an address is and how to get there. I can take unlimited photos of everything at any time. Better yet, I can record in living color, sound and movement the mundane events of my life and share it all with the rest of humanity - if I want to and if I can figure out the technology.

I admit it is sort of fun.

The irony of the modern smart phone is that I speak less to my family now than ever before. One of my brothers answers my calls about 85% of the time, the other 1% of the time. If I call, text, message, Facebook and email enough times, the 1%er eventually answers or calls me. My son's limit is around the sixty second mark for actual conversation, and that is only if we have not talked within the last sixty days. He is available by text most of the time though he has mastered the art of texting, reducing every fact and emotion to the absolute fewest characters possible. He is a Zen master of minimalist texting.

On the other hand, my daughter and I burn through texts and video chats and voice messages and live calls every day as if we have not seen each other for a decade. It is awesome.

To maintain a single apron string tie to my grown son, he and I play scrabble using our expensive and outlandishly functional smart phones. An app provides a method to play scrabble over time and distance, and a game can span several days. He has obliterated me in all the games so far, usually by at least 100 points. My vocabulary is more than adequate to spar with him, but I have not been using my smart phone to my advantage by looking up "words that end with the letter z" or "words that contain J". I do not know the common two and three letter nonsense words that can make two and three other words at once in the later stages of the game for 40 and 50+ points. He kills me with those in the end game.

You can guess which text is mine...

Monday, April 3, 2017

Loop Quantum Gravity Theories and Other Farm Related Discussions

My neighbor, a retired PhD, has been reading scholarly books about quantum theories, including an advanced college text book to help translate the terms and ideas. (My feeble efforts over the years have been to read layman's books such as "Einstein's Universe" by Nigel Calder; "The Dancing Wu Li Masters" by Gary Zukav; "The Elegant Universe" by Brian Greene; and "Introduction to Superstrings" by Michio Kaku.) I also spent a lot of time reading everything on Stephen Hawking's web page way back when I got my first desk top home computer. (Remember AOL?!) At any rate, I have not had occasion to discuss theories of relativity since my good friend Karl died almost 30 years ago. The discussions with Karl lent color and depth to much of my poetry written as a young woman and has fired my imagination since.

I admit I am intimidated by my neighbor's formally educated mind. I know my undisciplined and heavily existential bent is no match, but I do not let that stop me from making an ass out of myself. Here is my response to her summation of her recent inquiry into loop quantum gravity and string theories:

"You want to know something truly amazing? The more I get into the Buddhist world view, and the more I find out about the TRUE nature of what those monks had been doing in Tibet all of these centuries... our modern scientific theories coincide with their incredibly disciplined mental inquiry into the true nature of reality. At its purest, Buddhism is not considered a religion and the Buddha was not considered divine or a deity - but considered "conscious" or awake. It is amazing to me that the mainstreaming of relativity and quantum theories roughly coincide with the dispersion of the Tibetan monks across the world. I have been reading a lot about some of the contemporary Buddhist adepts in discussion with the best theoretical western minds and realizing they are discussing the same conclusions. Isn't that astounding?

Perhaps we are witnessing the actual evolution into a far more enlightened species as these ideas have spread across the entire planet and are consciously available in mundane reality to everyone. What if we are just on the cusp of a profound tipping point of conscious expansion - something akin to all those epochs of time while our ancestors slowly evolved until that one remarkable change produced homo sapiens with our big brains? What if we are soon going to take another leap of evolution and become an enlightened species as well? Hard to believe when the best the USA can do is elect Trump, but not every early homo sapiens unit survived... it was survival of the fittest. Maybe evolution is going to weed out the dumbasses for a millennia or two, starting with those who elected Trump? (I read a disturbing article the other day that blue collar white people are dying at an increasing rate in America - attributed to despair due to economics - but it's just because they are addicted to Fox News.) Only the brightest of the first homo sapiens survived, so maybe going forward only the most conscious will survive to reproduce. By that logic, Fox News is an agent of evolution!"


Her response to that was one line. (I think she understood it was a joke.)

So, that was yesterday. I woke in the wee hours this morning with a dizzying glimpse of ideas too big for my normal thinking. The faint echo of what I had been dreaming was the question of what exactly is the nature of numbers that theoretical physicists can describe the nature of reality using them? And here I was thinking numbers merely evolved as an easier way for humans to barter potatoes for beer or some such basic evolutionary need! It is like when my meditation teacher instructs us to "be aware of being aware". It is too goddamned mind boggling.

My neighbor dropped this little gem on me yesterday: the idea that space is made of discrete particles. Meaning, in my admittedly limited understanding, space is not mere emptiness but consists of quantifiable amounts of the smallest indivisible space "particle". I guess that means we can take infinite space and chop it up into its own "space" atoms. So, if you can dismantle a space particle into even smaller units of something else the way you can break an H2O molecule into hydrogen and oxygen, what would the smallest unit of space be?  And what would its components be? What is less than space?

I will be thinking about this on the drive to work every morning for months!

Monday, March 27, 2017

One Brother's Revenge Against His Bossy Older Sister


There is an established science now of the effect of birth order on children, apparently influencing even such things as career choice later in life. I was the first born in my nuclear family with two younger brothers. If there is one thing in this world that I know for certain, I was born bossy. For as long as I can remember I have known my way was right and everyone else was wrong. Of course, experience has taught me a vastly different truth but to this day my first inclination is that I am right and everyone else is wrong! With such an attitude you know my little brothers never stood a chance.

From the moment he was born my brother Randy was the apple of my mother's eye, so in addition to believing I was the supreme dictator of the universe, I was also inescapably jealous of my little brother. I committed various acts of terrorism against him when he was too small to defend himself - things like kicking up a red ant hill then setting him down amid the angry ants. I pushed him down the stairs. He was a gentle soul who simply wanted to be left in peace but I took every chance I had to torment him I am ashamed to admit.

As we grew a bit older our sibling spats grew into fist fights. Physical fighting only lasted until he became stronger than me then the warfare shifted to sabotage and terrorism. It was every kid for him or herself if there was a chance we could tattle on each other to our mother. As I recall, by some basic instinct of survival, we would not tell on each other to our father who never messed around with getting to the bottom of the matter nor cared about any fine points of justice.

It was not all one-sided. I had worked long and hard to sculpt a clay horse that fell victim to a murderous coup my brother committed when he tore it apart. He could not wait until I discovered the massacre but tauntingly admitted to it during an argument. My poor mother was left to referee and settle such skirmishes.

Of course, my brother and I could knock-down drag-out fight, argue and be generally mean to each other all day long but no one else better lay a finger on either one of us. Then our blood loyalty kicked in, and all the skills we honed fighting each other would be turned against a common enemy. I believe this is how the human species has survived to become the dominate force on the planet.

We were teenagers when my brother committed the last act of terrorism against me. I devoured books by the dozens and one of my favorite things was to prepare a large bowl of popcorn then retire to the safe refuge of my room to read in peace. One of my brother's friends had a plaster cast of a very large snake someone had killed. It was not even painted but as a cast it was intricately detailed and, of course, uber-realistic. I had a large bowl of popcorn in the crook of one arm, my book in the other when I stepped into my bedroom to see a horrifyingly huge, pure white snake curled up on a little pink fuzzy rug. There was one millionth of a stunned second before chaos!

Yes, my brother absolutely knew the ultimate weakness of his first and most formidable enemy: my fear of snakes! Even though some part of my brain registered that there were no such things as pure white snakes, all other data indicated "huge snake" and my lizard brain took immediate control. I simultaneously screamed bloody murder, threw the bowl and the book as I astral projected down the stairs, leaving a trail of fresh popcorn. This was the best possible outcome for my brother and his friend, who were howling with laughter. I was crying adrenaline tears of fear and relief and outrage. My mother, who never made an effort to hide her opinion that I typically got what was coming to me even as she tried to judiciously settle our sibling squabbles, took my side though her defense was lukewarm. (It WAS funny!) She told my brother that sort of thing was not funny to a person as afraid of snakes as I was. But it was damned funny to my brother and his friend... and to me, still, all these many long years later.