Friday, December 31, 2010

Odds and Year Ends

The first decade of the twenty first century is sailing into history with a final surprise: seventy degree weather Thursday, and now in these early morning hours, a thunderstorm! I welcome the Thunders even though they are quite likely bringing ice and treacherous driving conditions. Some form of precipitation is falling against the house, probably sleet, but I refuse to be dismayed. This too will pass, and rather quickly. The weather radar indicates this storm front flying through the county, and nothing coming behind. The sleet has already stopped though I hear some rumbles in the north yet. Farewell Thunders, until Spring of the new year.

It has been a very short year, flying by as quickly as this weather front. The good and bad news is that I am another year older. While my spirit feels 17 years old most of the time, a look into the mirror always comes as a shock: who is that old woman? Why, it looks like Great Aunt Ruth! No! Oh, no!

I admit I have been depressed and uncommonly sad this year, coming to terms with lost youth, and facing the future in the last half of my life. Right on cue, Bob Dylan has a song for what ails my spirit. Every day on the way to work, I listen to "I feel a change comin' on and the last part of the day is already gone..."

But, it is not a sad song. Bob never writes sad songs.

"Everybody got all the money
Everybody got all the beautiful clothes
Everybody got all the flowers
I don't have one single rose
I feel a change coming on
And the fourth part of the day is already gone"

Bob has a ton of money, and could wear beautiful clothes if he wanted, and he knows it is all good. So, of course, the very next song is: "It's All Good", a song about all the bad things.

I just love ol' Bob, and I am looking forward to another album in the new year.

Another good thing quite likely to happen early in the new year is another horse coming to Spirit Creek. Saturday I am going to see a lady about a horse, and not just any horse, but a gorgeous palomino. She is golden and beautiful, with no white markings. She has an impressive American Quarter Horse pedigree and I can buy her for next to nothing because she has a blemished ear - and because she is not trained to ride - and because it is winter. I hope I have the same connection with her from the moment I see her as I did with Annie. Though it will be that beautiful girl's lot in life to live with Ginger the Horrible, I will try to make it up to her.

I received another stellar Christmas gift from my children this year: an e-reader. It is one of the coolest things in the world! (It is even better than the headlamp they gave me two years ago, so you know it is way cool!) It is about the size of a very thin paperback book, and right out of the box, it has enough memory to hold as many 1500 books! I can play chess against it, play music, read the newspaper, and if I so wanted, I could publish this very blog on it. I can go to the bookstore and read any e-book available for free for one hour a day. With a valid credit card, I can purchase any e-book I so desire by just walking into the store. When I drove into the parking lot last night, the WiFi connection was already downloading the first two books I had purchased. Some books can be lent to others to read. I can change the font size. There is a small touch screen at the bottom and I can even turn the "pages" with a swipe of the finger across the screen, as if turning actual pages. Oh, it is cool alright. And if my electronic library becomes too large, I can buy more memory! My Grandma, born in 1898, saw a lot of changes in her long life, from the horse and buggy to men on the moon, but she never saw anything as amazing as an e-reader.

I feel happy about the new year and the future. As long as I can listen to Bob Dylan - as long as Duke and I can look after the horse(s) - as long as I can pay my bills - and my children are safe and happy - then everything is going to be just fine, even if I do look more like Aunt Ruth every goddamned year.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

The Wii Christmas

Everyone who claimed they wanted to travel to my daughter's home for Christmas declined at the last minute, so it was just my own little family: my daughter, her new beau, my son, and myself. I prepared a non-traditional pot roast with golden potatoes. It was a hearty, nutritious meal and my son, a bachelor among bachelors who surely live on fast food and beer, stuffed himself to the maximum.

In the afternoon we fired up the Wii, the game console I purchased for myself two years ago for the express purpose of playing the greatest game on earth: Zelda! The system came with "Wii Sports" which is bowling, golf, baseball, boxing and tennis and only one controller, so we had to take turns, but it was fun. Really fun. Each person builds an avatar to represent him or herself in cyberspace, and everyone's avatar looks just like their human creator. You have to move the controller, and your body, as if you were boxing, bowling, playing tennis or playing baseball. (We did this at Thanksgiving, and my stepfather was bowling at age 88 and cussing too, which made us fall down laughing.) Those Japanese software designers are so clever.

My son and I made a bet over who would score the most points. I was sure I would win. Twice the group's game was wiped out. An attempt to turn on a light using the bewildering and confusing space age motherboard attached to the wall inexplicably shut off the television and the Wii game, losing our game scores. The wager was left on the table and we started over. Then someone, (I will not mention Bob's name), accidentally "Quit" the game, erasing everyone's scores again! No one won the bet, but we had a great time. (Those Japanese software designers are so clever!)

It has been many years since I enjoyed Christmas as much as I did this year. Maybe it was the magic of the Wii.

As is my custom, though belated, I offer my traditional season's greeting:

Peace on Earth and Good Will Toward (Some) Men
From the Critters and the Crazy Woman at Spirit Creek

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The Winter Solstice

Wonder over the nature of the universe has always fired my imagination. Though the memories are faded, a fluid and magical imagination shaped my childhood days, from my imaginary horses to the effortless, endless shape shifting of clouds. Stars were the most immediate and most beautiful of all childhood mysteries. This fact will not come as a surprise to my family and friends, but I began speaking at six months of age. 'Stars' was one of my first words.

As I grew, the mystery of the universe deepened. What are all those stars? Do they truly stretch away into infinity? Attempting to imagine forever or infinity is a game played as a child and sometimes I still play it. I have never successfully imagined infinity. Our best theoretical scientists say there is a limit to the universe. Perhaps it is that they cannot imagine infinity either.

Sometimes, when I still my mind, answers to mysterious questions will arise, whispery and fleeting. It is nothing magical or strange. Everyone has the ability to tune into this source for at least a fleeting moment. Some people tune in for extended explorations, like Einstein and Mandlebrot. Most often, there is too much noise in our lives and in our minds to hear, or we mistrust what we are given. It is not voices, but a silver spark of insight that arises. If you are not still, you will miss it. Answers match a person's ability to understand. The spark that led to E=MC2 would never have hit a person like me, for instance.

One day I was contemplating the nature of the universe, allowing my imagination to extend the inquiry far out into the reaches between the stars when an answer was returned. The universe, at its most simple, is a time piece - a clock. In a flash, I understood time and space cannot exist separately, they are the opposite sides of the same coin. Like a magnet's poles cannot be separated, time and space cannot be split. If a magnet is cut in half, instead of one positive piece and one negative piece, another whole magnet is formed. If time was cut from space, another fully formed time/space continuum would arise.

Then, I began to consider the spin of galaxies as the powering of time, the orbits of planets as gears in a given sun's clock. And that led to the mystery of the earth's moon being the precise size, and the moon, earth and sun being spaced precisely to allow for solar and lunar eclipses. We take this phenomenon for granted, but the idea that such precision is mere chance is too staggering for even the most skeptical of thinkers. The moon is also the perfect size to stabilize the weather, protect the oceans, and slow our orbit around the sun.

While I was thinking along these lines, I realized that astrology, entirely dismissed by science as ridiculous, actually contains a kernel of truth. Traveling from the Great Void to inhabit a physical body on earth takes cosmic timing. It is true - the stars must favorably align.

There is power available at the summer and winter solstices, and magic in the four quarters of the year. The equinoxes evenly divide day and night. There is inherent balance between the longest day of the year opposite the longest night of the year. We have TIME to live, space to slow down for a lifetime under the benevolence of the sun. We examine things at our leisure and dream. We can imagine horses that speak and watch fables unfold in the theater of clouds. We can cast our astrological charts, and celebrate another birthday spinning here amidst the ticking gears of the Universe.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Imagination

In the late 1970's, a wonderful magazine, Omni, was first published. I saved every issue of it for the first few years or so. I moved the heavy boxes of magazines wherever I went until I finally tired of it and gave them to a used book store.

The first issues were marvelous with fine science fiction stories, and fantastic art work. What I loved the most were the articles on the interesting edge of real science. I discovered the Rubik's Cube and its brilliant mathematician creator in the pages of Omni about a year before they were in stores. When the cubes hit the shelves, I promptly bought one and tortured myself trying to solve it. I could solve to the point of one cube being out of place - so close! My husband was equally intrigued but he eventually solved the puzzle by purchasing a book that demonstrated the sequence of steps required to solve. He memorized the steps, then wowed everyone with how "smart" he was. (I never did entirely solve Rubik's cube. Like a chicken, there is just so far my logic can travel in certain directions.)

I read a small but wonderful Omni article about the Game of Life, an exercise the really big computer wizards at the time, with access to Cray computers, used to "race" their computers. Life is played on a grid. Each cell that is On, (contains a dot), is living. Each On cell with one or no neighbors dies in the next generation. If an On cell has four or more neighbors, it dies in the next generation. An On cell with two or three neighbors survives. An Off cell with three On neighbors turns On in the next generation. It starts with several dots you randomly place on a grid, then you map the generations according to the simple rules of On or Off. It theoretically replicates the engine of generations of evolution, creating new shapes, some going extinct, some replicating themselves, some blinking on and off across the generations. For something so simple, it is fascinating, as Spock would say. I played this game on engineering grid paper for years, and sometimes I will still graph out several generations while killing time. Computers are accessible to everyman now, and any one can play the Game of Life online. Game of Life.

I first read about fractals in Omni magazine. It was many years before I saw that word in print again. The Omni article explained that by using fractal mathematics, a coastline could be more accurately measured. Of course, I had no clear idea why that was so, but the shapes generated by fractal mathematics were intriguing and beautiful. I intuitively understood that fractals were closer to natural patterning, and was intrigued to learn many years later that Jackson Pollock's paintings have fractal properties within them. This week on the local PBS channel, a program of the discovery of the mathematics of fractals, the development, and the eventual acceptance of fractal geometry as a genuine branch of mathematics. It includes a layman's explanation of fractals, and some real world applications.

Benoit Mandelbrot, building on the earlier work of others, is the man who brought fractals to the world. He explained that he fell in love with geometry while a school boy, and soon realized he could visualize the formulas. I thought of Einstein's ability to imagine what he would see if he could travel the speed of light. I do not believe the human race needs alien intervention to progress. We do not need to reverse engineer crashed alien spaceships to discover new sciences. We have been given everything we need to progress within our own imagination. The right minds ask the right questions in the right timing. Though Benoit Mandelbrot had the theory well in hand, it was not until he went to work at IBM, with access to the power of computers to rapidly compute the infinite iterations of mathematical replications that fractal geometry came into its own.

Cosmic timing.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

When You Live in an Empty Nest

I googled my name this morning and had to laugh when I visited the first selection on Facebook. That person is very conservative with interests in life that do not match mine in any way. I am fairly sure that neither of us is an axe murder nor a crack addict, so at least we have that in common. She might be dismayed if she is ever mistaken for me. Her ladies groups might be quite shocked to discover she rides a Harley, and at her age!

When you have an empty nest, and you are not too particular about keeping a spotless house, you have a lot of free time to google your own name and waste time playing Spades on the internet.

I asked my daughter last night if she and my son feel burdened by me in anyway, emotionally speaking. I am still earning my own money and usually get to work dressed appropriately, so I assume I am not a burden at this point. I was checking if they held emotional resentments, or if their relationship with me was tiresome, or if they dreaded spending time with me. (I was also probing for clues that they might be planning to bump me off for the life insurance.) She only admitted they worry that Mom has gone down at the farm when they do not hear from me for a while.

I never want to burden my children with any of my emotional dysfunctions. I hope my physical well being never becomes a problem for them. I dread the day just spending time with me becomes tiresome, or that they should begin to feel obligated to spend time with me out of duty only. Right now they are the beneficiaries of all my worldly goods and the pitifully small amount of money I have managed to save despite my entirely inept financial skills. It is not enough money that I worry they are scheming to put me in a home - yet.

I am fine living alone. After the first 17 years of my life as a target for just about everything under the sun that irritated my mother, of being the bane of her existence, I escaped. I married young, was a young mother and not surprisingly, my marriage skills were not up to the challenge. After the first failed marriage, I continued to find the same man. He may have looked different and went by a different name, but he was the same guy, alright. After the disappointment of failed relationships, of which I accept half the blame, I settled for simply raising my kids. I worry that choice burdened my children with lasting emotional damage. It was not always easy, but much easier than being married to a charming lunatic. Now that my children are grown, fully adults, (though I still worry a little about my son the Unabomber), my life is peaceful. I like it this way.

Which is why my daughter is in danger of losing her inheritance! Last night she asked me why I did not want to go out with a local business man who is not attractive, not charming, not interesting, not my type. She must assume that I am a desperate old woman willing to settle for just any old dude simply because he works! Wow. She needs a spanking.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

A Round of Significat Events

After two days of roaring winds and falling temperatures, the sun is blazing in a cloudless sky. I know it will be cold when I step outside, so I am postponing it, practicing sloth. I have not assembled all of my winter gear: the old ripped work coat - the spider infested fur lined boots - the long knitted scarf. I have yet to find a good pair of warm work gloves. I threw out the expensive dress gloves this summer because they had shriveled to unrecognizable shapes and dried into stiff lumps of abused leather. They were originally purchased to wear to my civilized job in the real world, but they were so warm that I wore them to do chores. It only took one trip to the barn to ruin them for society. Do the glove industry mavens not understand that in some backward sects of America, people still work outside in the winter and need warm, resilient, tough gloves to keep their fingers fit for posting to their blogs?

So, while I am planning a trip to the big city this afternoon in search of warm work gloves, I am considering the recent string of strange events that ran through my life last week. How in the world can these things happen all together in a tiny nexus of time and what does it all mean? Does it mean anything at all?

First, I was rudely jolted awake from an innocent and peaceful slumber last Thursday with frightening, wrenching pains in my chest and stomach area. After enduring about an hour with the escalating pain, I decided I might be having a heart attack and headed for the hospital at 50 miles an hour, the fastest speed I could withstand. I had to pull over on I70 to be sick. I was hoping no law enforcement type would stop to hassle me for "drunk" driving.

I made it to the emergency room the same time my daughter arrived. Though the front clerk got all the information and hooked me to an EKG machine right away, there was no bed available, so I had to sit upright in those torture devices known as waiting room chairs for almost two hours. I reasoned if I was having a heart attack, they would have at least found a cot for me, so that was comforting. Ultimately, I decided that if I was going to be suffering like the proverbial bastard anyway, I should be suffering at home and left. I paced the floor at my daughter's house for the next four hours in such misery that I truly regretted leaving the hospital. Perhaps they would have given me something for the excruciating pain. But then, pain management is never a concern with American doctors. They prefer their patients to suffer as much as possible, deliberately torture them, and then expect to be paid handsomely for it.

Sometime in the black, lonely, early hours of Friday morning, the pain suddenly went off the charts and I truly, truly, genuinely and humbly regretted not staying at the hospital. I became violently ill but then a miraculous thing happened: I was free of pain! I was cured! I did not want to go back to the hospital but my daughter had been scared to death. There was no way I was going home at that point. She took me back to the hospital and called in two of her friends to make sure I stayed there. Though I told the hospital staff flat out I did not want another EKG and I did not want them to inject some sort of lethal dye into my bloodstream, they did anyway. I should have run away but I was wearing a hideous nightgown. I doubt if I would have had any success catching a ride home.

The final diagnosis is gall stones. My own doctor said "Gallstones - stoneZZZZZ." He emphasized the plural for me, glaring over his reading glasses. He has recommended I get that troublesome gallbladder removed several times. I sort of like all my parts, even the ones that give me trouble. I really do not trust any of my working parts in the hands of people with deadly drugs, sharp instruments, and outrageous torture devices. I genuinely do not want to turn over any of my money to these sadists, either. But it looks as if I have to. Though I have medical insurance, these costs will certainly indefinitely delay building my house. Oh well. I would rather not find my old self vomiting on my shoes along the highway like a drunken frat boy ever again.

On the third day after this horrendous adventure, I received the very sad news that my son's father had fallen into a coma. The decision to remove him from life support had been made and there were only hours left. No place to run with that acute pain, no medicine, no procedure, no hope. Nothing could be done to change anything, past or present. It was hard to feel sad for anyone except my son and the man's mother , two people whose love was unacknowledged and unrequited for decades. It was a mystery, and the secret went to the grave. I bear no ill will toward the father of my son. I once dearly loved him, and still hold him dear in my heart but my son may have a different measure. Farewell and god speed toward peace and wholeness and respite from the plagues of this world.

The last event in this strange week of suffering and sadness was one of triumph - pomp and circumstance - victory over the forces of darkness and despair! My daughter walked across the stage in Bramilage Coliseum to accept the honors of a Masters Degree. I shed a few silent tears, silent because my son and brother were there. I could not cry freely unless I wanted to be teased mercilessly for the rest of the day. It was absolutely wonderful, and my daughter is more brave and more kick-ass than Princess Leia AND Queen Amidala combined.

It was a small but jubilant party - my daughter and her boyfriend, my son and my brother. We lauded our smart girl with presents and cards and hugs, and we ate like kings and queens.

I never know what to expect from my son. I called him early in the day, afraid he would oversleep and not make it to the ceremony in time. He was already on the road, and I was impressed, but not for long. He said he was not dressed up and wondered if that was going to be a problem? When he got up that morning to take a shower, he found the water service had been terminated. Three college dudes, not one of them has a serious girlfriend right now, so paying the water bill is not a high priority. I said I doubted anyone would notice, but I did wonder how LONG he had been without a shower...

When we met, I was relieved that he appeared as a normal college student, except he had a beard, the product of the "No-vember, No shave" policy he and his roommates implemented. He normally has short, tidy hair but due to the lack of water, he was wearing a damn stocking hat and a hoodie. He looked like a terrorist to his sister when she spotted him in the crowd taking photos. She told us later she did not recognize him at first, thinking to herself as she walked off the stage "Wow, that guy looks like a terrorist!" I called him the Unabomber the rest of the day.

It was a strange grouping of events that took place in the space of one week. After suffering and loss, great victory and good food. That is the way life should always go.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

The Winter's Turn

We have the daily illusion that our physical lives go on forever despite all evidence to the contrary. The illusion permits us to waste time watching television, delaying difficult chores, avoiding emotional confrontations, and wasting away in a job simply for the income. If the Buddhists are correct, it does not matter how much time we waste. We are drawn here again and again and again until we tire of suffering and become enlightened. How many lifetimes before I am enlightened, I wonder. How many more turns around the galaxy on this little rock before I stop creating karma, I wonder. Perhaps the Dalai Lama is the most enlightened person on the planet right now, and even he will be reborn. It is not looking good for me.

Sometimes I am enormously tired of the drama in my life, especially when I examine how boring and insignificant that drama is. In fact, it does not even qualify as drama. I have spent two years posting about "nothing" in my blog. That is how dramatic my life is. Not that I intend to tempt fate into sending a flood or a tornado or a plague of grasshoppers to my house by whining over how boring and wasteful my life is! No sir, no one needs that kind of drama. I am certain I am enlightened beyond the need for that particular suffering.

I wish I could reach enlightenment through the path of great riches and luxury and sensual pleasures.  Alas, it is sloth, considered a sin by Christians, that is my chosen path toward enlightenment this time around. I am committed mightily to that particular path.

So, here I am on my slothful path, avoiding heavy work and needless drama, dutifully practicing procrastination, when winter descends again and I am not quite prepared. I do just enough to get by. Annie's constant pawing and standing in the old water tank had split the side and cracked the bottom. The cost for the same tank increased $35 since I purchased the same model a few years ago. A factory leak is cleverly included in the higher price, but it is too late to return it now.

The temperature was well above freezing yesterday, so I hurried home in order to fill the new tank to the brim while the hoses were not frozen. A storm is on the way, with very low temperatures and several inches of snow predicted. On my way to the barn in the dark, wearing my trusty headlamp, something glowing brightly in the grass stopped me in my tracks. It was the eye of a spider reflecting as brightly as a cat's eye in the beam. I aimed more carefully and found two tiny eyes staring directly into the light. The spider emerged all the way from its den, and squared off toward me. All the times I have seen these tiny glowing spheres of light in the grass I thought they were mice eyes. Now I know better.

I stood watching the spider, marveling over the intense reflection of its impossibly small eyes. I felt pity for it knowing a snowstorm was on the way. Quite likely, the snow will mean the end to its life.

I spoke quietly, "Grandmother, you should go back into your warm nest. A snowstorm is coming."

The spider disappeared into the earth.

I made sure the water tank was filled to the very top. I attempted to pet my horse, scratch behind her ears and under her belly, but I have been demoted to an even lower status than usual and was not allowed to touch the Queen of the Universe. Ginger impatiently moved away from me, so I bribed her with extra hay. I could pet her as she sorted through the hay for the most delectable bits. I realized then that her path toward enlightenment must include belonging to me, a dolt and a dumb ass. Good luck with that, Ginger.