Thursday, February 24, 2011

One Year Old Guy!

Carter Blackwell on his first birthday, playing on the slide for the first time, too!

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Until You Master the Needed Social Graces...

Thinking about unwanted religious recruitment always brings one or two funny stories to mind. The best story, ever, belongs to my best friend, Karl. He died young many years ago, but to this day, things happen that only he, of all my friends, would fully appreciate and I miss him quite poignantly at times. I clearly recall the sound of his laughter. Sometimes, I hear him laughing distinctly in my mind and wonder if an earthly sense of humor translates to the spirit world. (I question whether something funny here is sophisticated enough for an expanded consciousness.)

When Karl was a young man attending school in central Kansas after his stint in Vietnam, the Jehovah's Witnesses found their way to his door - repeatedly and irritatingly. Dropping broad hints will never deter these folks. If they believe there is even a tiny chance to bring you to Jesus, they will not give up and continually return to your home. One day they knocked on Karl's door when he was showering. It was the last straw. He opened the door stark naked and growled, "What do you want?" It was the permanent end to the visits.

When the Witnesses began knocking on my door in Topeka, I had enough worldly experience to not invite them in. I always tried to politely discourage them from returning. It seemed that no matter how I phrased it, I was not convincing enough. One day an impeccably dressed older black couple knocked on my front door. The woman was tall, with a huge bosom, wearing a modest hat and a dark tailored suit. The man, a dignified and graying gentleman in a quality pin-stripe, was quite short and well spoken. They were a beautiful couple. Their humble sincerity deeply touched me. There was something quite wholesome and clear about these two people. They truly believed they were doing what God required of them and, for all I honestly know, they were absolutely correct. My heart opened immediately to them and I felt a genuine flush of compassion and gratitude for their earnest ministry. I was not tempted to believe their way, or go to their church, but for a moment I saw them as perhaps the Creator sees their endeavors, as the Creator sees all of our best efforts.

As kindly as I could, I told them my son was Potawatomi and in our house we practiced that spirituality. As they prepared to leave, I impulsively said, "God bless you." I meant it. But, I sincerely hoped they would not pester me again with this religious business.

About two weeks later on a bright Saturday morning, someone unexpectedly knocked on my front door. It was the man and woman, as impeccably dressed and as gracious as ever, and another woman. The couple greeted me by name, then introduced their companion. The dear church lady triumphantly added with a knowing nod of her head, "She is Potawatomi, too."

I distinctly heard Karl laughing - with immense delight. I hear him laughing right now.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

The Best Place To Call Home

When my son and I moved to Spirit Creek we left a house located in an old part of the city. Built in 1884, the neighborhood had evolved around it. The house was three short blocks from a major hospital and regional medical center. It was about six blocks from the police station, and two blocks from a crumbling, crack infested neighborhood. There were sirens all the time screaming at speed past either end of the block. I grew to detest my neighbors whose houses were within feet of mine. Even when something was chained down, crackheads managed to steal from me. The crazy neighbor directly across the street, high on powerful drugs after surgery, admitted he spied on me with binoculars. Sometimes the children's toys disappeared in broad daylight. When I bought that home, I had no idea of the forces that would eventually ruin all possible enjoyment of living in that wonderful old house, on the attractive tree-lined old street.

It has been a dozen years since I fled that horrible place, leaving behind the hateful neighbors, the constant noise, random gun shots, thieving human beings, and the resident angry ghost that tormented my little boy. Needless to say, there has never been a single moment of regret since I left that place. As the seasons wheel past here, I have only grown to love more this sheltered spot on the earth.

After the bitterly cold temperatures, howling winds and abundant snow of these deep winter days, the mild temperatures and humid atmosphere just delivered on mighty winds are most welcome. When I wake in the night, it is my pleasure to slip outside with no other purpose than to listen to the mighty stillness surrounding me here in the prairie.

No matter how quietly I leave the house, the Good Dog Duke hears and comes to accompany me. If all I do is simply stand still beneath the bare prairie trees graceful against the ancient night sky, Duke simply waits, too. He faces away, watching and dutiful. No human being would ever be able to catch me unaware. No rabbit, skunk, opossum, bob cat, coyote - no living creature would be able to get within thirty yards of me unannounced. In fact, turtles making their slow determined trek through the yard receive Duke's alarm barking, at close quarters, until they have made their way out of his red alert zone. Sadly, last summer a large bull frog met a bad end when he hopped too closely to me. I tried to stop Duke, but either fresh frog is too delicious a delicacy, or my loud and urgent screeching and arm waving indicated to Duke the frog was a deadly threat.

Yet, things are far from perfect here. It is a small, humble, disintegrating house. The road is dusty always except for 24 hours after a hard rain, or packed under ice and snow. There are snakes in the warm weather. Mosquitoes. Ticks. People who throw their empty beer cans along my road. Honey locust trees and red junipers assaulting my pasture and fence rows. Predators eat my chickens. The coyotes mournful howling strikes a melancholy chord in my heart, and the owls calling eerily along the creek in the silent winter nights remind me of ghosts and frightening spirits that exist in certain places.

In the twelve years here, I have heard sirens twice - the unfortunate heralds of car crashes. There are gun shots, but not often and only during hunting season. There has been evidence abandoned along the roadside of mobile meth labs a time or two. The most pesky human visitors have been Jehovah's Witnesses. Their efforts to redeem my soul culminated one Saturday morning with three different vehicles in my drive at the same time. Enough! I announced they were most welcome to visit as my friends, to come for a cup of tea, but they could no longer speak to me regarding their spiritual beliefs as I respectfully disagree. Not a single Jehovah's Witness has come to my home since. None of their literature has been placed in my door or in my mailbox. I must be on the list of the damned now, thank God. Duke, the Good Dog, committed his only truly unforgivable transgression that Saturday morning, happily jumping into the van with the Witnesses, enthusiastically supporting their ministry at Spirit Creek. I gave him the evil eye, but forgave him because there were two little girls in the back seat of the van. I assumed it was the children he was so happy about and not the message.

Spirit Creek is the best place to live and I hope to never again, ever, live in a town. On a beautiful winter night like tonight, I am most grateful for my humble home, far from the craziness.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Death, the Constant Companion

Friday evening, I arrived home at the last glowing ember of day. The temperature was warm enough to fill the horse tank with fresh water, so I went straight to the barn. I spent a long time breaking the ice into small enough pieces so I could pick them up. Doctor's orders are not to lift anything over 20 pounds. I had already cheated, moving 50 pound feed sacks and hauling down a few hay bales, but I did so carefully, mostly with my arms. Fishing those those odd shaped and heavy chunks of ice out of the tank require stomach muscles, a whole other concern. I was being cautious and going slow. Making certain water is available to Ginger in the winter is a nuisance but caring for my horse is one of my favorite things.

After the ice was out and the tank filling, I switched off the magic headlamp to lean against the fence. It was the end of a hectic work week and the end of a particularly hectic day. The restful rhythm of Ginger quietly enjoying her evening meal and the winter sky's silent stars are powerful medicine for whatever ails a human in mind, body or spirit.

For some time I rested in the peace and beauty beneath a glorious winter sky, satisfied there would be enough water in the tank to get through the coming week of bad weather. These moments of great peace and simple satisfaction are the reason I choose live in a dumpy old house situated down miles of flint rock road, and put up with ticks and chiggers and poison ivy and flat tires. I live in a valley that has not changed too drastically since the Indians hunted along Spirit Creek. In the deep twilight, in a certain view, it is easy to believe time stood still for these bluffs and tall grass hills. I came into the house a quiet and happy human being.

If there is any plan to life, any power that oversees the unfolding of our earthly experience, it seems to choose such moments to hand us the grim and hard news of events we never want to happen. I checked phone messages that contained tragic news. The son of my best friend had died unexpectedly the day before. He is my daughter's age. We have all been friends, almost family, since my daughter was in grade school. The cruel and inconsolable grief of his parents, his children, and his sisters broke my heart.

Death is our inheritance upon this earth. Though we think it is a distant event, it is rather a constant companion. It is the only thing we know absolutely. After the death of those we love so dearly, we begin to know that freedom from grieving comes only at our own death.

"It is one with this gift of freedom that the children of Men dwell only a short space in the world alive, and are not bound to it..." J.R.R. Tolkien

Rest in peace irrepressible, irreplaceable, and loving Shane.