Monday, July 30, 2012

The Vacation of Disappointment and Despair

My adult children attempted to bicycle across the corn field that is Iowa last week.  They were greatly disappointed in themselves when they could not complete the full route.  I was still proud of them.  They gave it the old college try.  They were not well equipped for long distance nor were they in the top physical conditioning needed for such a grueling trip, and the hot weather was literally a killer.  The good news is that I spent a lot of time with them and we had a lot of fun.  Though we were financed and equipped only for camping for the entire week, we managed to spend a couple of nights in air conditioned comfort.  We ate well and slept well and traveled well, though a dark pall of great disappointment shrouded the party despite brave attempts to cheer up when we drove away from the bike route in utter defeat.

Both of my kids have those incredible phones loaded with technology and GPS and access to the world wide web.  For most of the trip we instantly found what we needed to know.  There were so many thousands of people participating in the Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa (RAGBRAI) that almost no one's cell phone worked.  When we most needed to be able to communicate with each other, we could not.  All was not lost because the Iowa bike event was an experience unlike anything else. Thousands of people ride and party and enjoy themselves. Many groups arrive in old school buses refitted for hauling people and equipment. Most have named their buses, my favorite being "The Wasted Potential". 

Once it was clear that neither of my kids could continue the ride, an emergency alternate plan was formed.  We decided to visit the Omaha zoo and aquarium.  Though it was a great idea, the zoo held a major life disappointment and milestone for me.  My right knee is in such bad shape that I can no longer walk more than about a hundred yards without excruciating pain.  I have ignored this problem for as long as I can possibly ignore it.  Even a stubborn ass like myself must sometimes face reality.  Walking through the zoo would be physically impossible.  I either stayed at the motel or I rented a scooter.  So, the old Harley rider, the girl who could run 100 yards faster than any other girl on her high school track team, the woman who could dance all night, rented an electric scooter and joined the ranks of the partially disabled impairing America's general progress and interfering with the national chi.

In a word, it was terrible.  At first.  I was humiliated and ashamed to be riding a wimpy scooter like an old woman - like a lazy person - like a fool.  But after about ten minutes, it was fun because I was comfortable.  I had to be careful not to run into anyone, especially children who surged around the scooter, innocently oblivious to the possibility of being run over by a crazy woman.  My daughter hitched a ride on the arm several times even though the zoo official warned no one else was allowed to ride.  The zoo was worth the humiliation of the scooter.  We truly enjoyed the whole day.

My kids were great.  The path to the rhinoceros pens was very steep and I had been warned to not attempt riding the scooter into that area.  I was going to walk, leaving the scooter at the bottom of the hill but my kids insisted they could get the scooter up the hill.  One on either side, using the scooter's own power, they pushed it up the hill.  I limped along behind, hoping the battery did not fail, causing the heavy scooter to roll down the hill over me.  The care and concern my children showed to me that entire day was unprecedented and greatly appreciated.  It took the terrible sting out of renting the scooter... and paid me back for all of their teenaged years.  It was that wonderful.

On the final leg of the trip home, we stopped to eat at the Potawatomi casino - until we saw those prices on the menu!  We decided to play the penny slots instead.  I put $5 in my slot machine and promptly won $39.00!  Seated at the machine next to me, my son won almost $70.  My daughter won .90.  Not bad for twenty minutes work and a $15 investment.  It will help finance my knee replacement.

Our Transpotation

Rolling Out at Dawn Full of Hope

One of the Party Buses

The Agony of  Defeat

My Progeny

Thursday, July 19, 2012

A Thousand Pounds of Irritability

The extreme weather takes its toll on everyone and everything.  The Weather Channel announced that over 2200 weather records have been broken across the US this summer thus far.  When it is so uncomfortable night and day, it wears on everyone's patience.  

The Wally Lama, the new horse, though I love him very much, has one terrible habit.  When the water tank is low enough, he tips it over.  I do not know why he does this but in the extreme heat, it is a very bad thing to do.  The tank holds sixty gallons and I think he is tipping the tub over when it is about half full.  It is wasteful and it is terribly worrisome.  Two thirsty horses and 108 degree temperatures empty the tank past the halfway mark much faster than I can imagine.  If I am late getting home at night, the horses may have gone all day without water, depending on when Wally dumps the tub over.  I know that horses are pretty tough and not likely to die of thirst in one day, but when animals are confined by human beings, then human beings have a tremendous responsibility to make certain those animals are well tended.  That is the legacy I inherited from my family tree, full of farmers and ranchers back to the first immigrants to America, but it was my mother who ingrained this cardinal rule into my psyche.  It is a good rule.

Early Wednesday morning I found the water tank on its side with a tiny little pool of water left - turned over sometime in the night.  Both horses were waiting impatiently for me to set the tub up and turn on the hose.  In her customary role as dictator and self-serving queen of the barnyard, Miss Thing aims her hind end toward Wally while she is eating or drinking.  Some horses are willing to companionably share food and water and space, but not my Ginger.  If Wally gets too close to the water tank, he gets threatened with both hooves.  Luckily, Wally is a smart horse and keeps his distance.  I, on the other hand, am a slow-witted human being.

After all these years of taking care of Ginger, I know she will not deliberately hurt me.  I still pay attention because horses can accidentally hurt human beings.  I was in a bit of a hurry so while Ginger was drinking I tried to spray her with insect repellent.  Luckily for me, she squealed in warning before gathering up those hind legs.  I RAN toward the front of the horse and of course immediately stopped with the irritating spraying - alright already!  Also luckily for me, penned into the corner of the fence and against the water tank, Ginger is not a killer horse.  She did not take advantage of the fact that I was trapped to pummel me into jelly.  When I was sure she knew it was me and not Wally, I walked away and sprayed Wally instead.  As soon as Ginger finished drinking, she came to me and offered the equivalent of a horse apology.  She lowered her head and stood submissively in front of me.  This is a rare event.  Most of the time, I am regally snubbed.  Sometimes she rudely shoves me with her nose, but she almost always does what I ask of her.  That is how I know Ginger grants me an interspecies respect, one supreme being to another (though we all know Ginger is the better supreme being).

A few weeks ago, I caught Jake harassing one of my little hens.  He was closing in for the kill actually, and I was chasing after Jake and the hen, trying to save her.  I was screaming at Jake, panicked and horrified.  I was certain he was going to kill her and I was almost beside myself.  The commotion lasted for a few minutes - until I finally got my hands on Jake.  Ginger was drowsing at the water tank.  As soon as I stopped screaming, I heard her worriedly making the throaty noise horses make to reassure one another.  She knew from the sound of my voice that something bad was taking place.  She was just checking. 

The Indians have a creation myth that tell of a time when human beings and animals could speak to one another.  I believe we still have that capacity, but humans just need to work at it with more humility.  A little conscious respect could go a long way, too.  I should have waited until Miss Thing at least had her morning drink before rudely spraying her with chemicals!

Supreme Being

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

So Long Ol' Bob

I have given up the one true love in my life:  my Harley Davidson.  Someone finally took one look at the ol' Street Bob and knew in his heart, "That's the bike for me!".  Sometime soon, I will sign the title away and Ol' Bob will go live with someone else.

I have been mostly a recreational rider these last few years and it is an expensive machine to simply collect dust in the garage.  Though I can still ride like the wind on the open road, riding in heavy traffic and navigating the hordes of texters and cell phone talkers behind the wheel of almost every vehicle on the street is becoming more of a challenge than I care to admit.  It takes a certain amount of confidence to ride a motorcycle safely.  You have to believe that you can take care of yourself.  Though you can never be too careful riding, you can be too cautious.

I have sold a Harley before so I know how painful it will be when I hear the unmistakable sound of a big v-twin engine coming down the road.  I know how poignantly I will pine for my own Harley every time I see another woman riding.  And when my daughter takes off on her bike and I cannot follow, it will really hurt.  But every good thing must come to an end and that includes owning, maintaining, and riding my own Harley Davidson.

As people age, as their hair grays, their faces relax and their rear ends expand, they become invisible.  They increasingly appear old, worn out, conservative, used up.  Riding your own Harley is a great antidote to all that maturity, believe me.  Flying down the interstate at 80 mph is invigorating, moving a ton of oxygen through the bloodstream, and trailing years of cube-farm boredom and corporate serfdom along the pavement behind you.  You can believe, momentarily, that you still have what it takes to give Life the big fat middle finger, even though you know in your heart that is simply no longer true.  You are just one last Harley ride away from succumbing to old age and despair.

I am old now, and gray, and fat, and it hurts to walk.  Life has pretty much used me up, but when I was a young woman riding my own Harley, I was something to see.  I was something to see.

Post script:  I can always buy another Harley if I get too damned depressed.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Fallen Feathers and Tree Huggers

In this hot and dry weather, I must monitor the water in the horse tank closely to make certain Wally and Ginger have as much fresh water as they want and need They drink a lot and the rest evaporates in the blast furnace winds. I also keep the horses sprayed with insect repellent in an effort to prevent ticks from sucking their blood, and to reduce the terrible plague of flies tormenting them day and night. Really, any reason to go to the barn to rub their foreheads, pet their soft noses, and hug their beautiful necks is an acceptable investment of my time.

Duke and Jake make the trip, too. If it is a cool morning, Duke is spry and playful with Jake. If it is killer weather, that is, humid and hot and suffocating, I outpace the poor old Dukester - even with my bad knee. Jake is unbelievably fast and energetic. I had entirely forgotten how fast a happy young pup lives his life! Jake, the canine container of irritating energy and transmitter of unmitigated joy, runs circles around us. If he would stop slamming into us, Duke and I would not be so grumpy with him. He is a ninja dog, striking like lightning and retreating like a shadow. I have been known to shout, "$!&^%%$ it, Jake! Leave us alone! We are old and unhappy!"

That was the frame of mind I was in when I found hawk feathers on the ground, seven in all, scattered in the short grass by the hay barn. I noticed one feather and was immensely pleased, but as I found more feathers scattered around, I was concerned. I did not see any blood and I did not find a body, but I am worried that one of the hawk parents met a bad end. Maybe it was a juvenile. Our human activities put such a tremendous pressure on wildlife - chemicals, destruction of habitat, electric wires, fences, and hunting. There is no way to know if a red tail hawk met his fate by my hay barn.

During the recent seven days of jury duty, I spent over eight hours a day with my fellow jurors. During testimony, we could not discuss anything about the case. Almost every polite topic of conversation was brought to the table as we waited for the slow wheels of justice to turn. I knew there was an overwhelming chance that I would see and hear something entirely different than my seven fellow jurists would see and hear in the testimony. I have always seen things differently than most Kansans, my family, and many of my friends. Jury duty would be no different, and I dreaded it. After almost sixty years, I am accustomed to feeling like a stranger in a strange land, but sometimes, on a rare occasion, they can still make me feel bad. When the subject of the forest fires in Colorado came up, it was blamed on the "tree huggers" - the name "tree huggers" whispered as if it were the "N" word - and a quick, insincere "I'm sorry" tacked on at the end to make it polite.

Yes folks, I am "one a'them worthless tree huggers"! It is my fault that Colorado is burning - not because the moisture content of the forest is incredibly low due to dry weather conditions or because controlled burns are not done in areas where unbelievably expensive homes have been built surrounded by millions of tons of firewood. It is my fault in the same way a hurricane wipes out billions of dollars of real estate foolishly built at the very edge of the ocean a thousand miles away, causing my house insurance double in cost every two years. It is my fault that hunters can no longer randomly shoot hawks out of the sky because DDT almost wiped out all of the birds, not just the raptors. As I once told my mother, the people who defend the environment are treated with the same disdain and disrespect as the earth is treated.

But right now, I am one happy tree hugger; it is raining at Spirit Creek farm, a mighty blessing. I hope this sacred rain is falling on my neighbors crops. And if those hawk feathers I found do mean a hawk death, many red tail hawks remain alive - at least for the foreseeable future.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Summertime Blues, If I May...

Life.  Highs and lows.  Celebration and grief.  Manic and depressive.  I became acquainted with depression very early in life and it is a good thing because it has been my most loyal and constant life companion.  Most of the time I can trick the sadness into leaving me alone, but sometimes it extracts its pound of flesh - like right now.  I stand at the edge of the shadow and sometimes wish I could take a simple leap of faith right into that black hole.  But I never do.  I know from long experience that it is cyclical, and if I am patient, I will emerge full of creative energy and new ideas.  It is merely life, the grind of responsibility, mind-numbing routine, and the sometimes overwhelming realization that I am the same person I have always been.  No matter what, I can never get away from me.  The same faults and flaws I have always had are still right here, cheerfully tagging along like puppies. 

Wind Waves in a Field of Brome
I attempt to photograph the wind through the prairie, but my photography skills are frustratingly limited.  No matter.  The wind sighing through the prairie nourishes my spirit.  The most transcendent moments occur when I am lying on the earth alone, giving myself over to the whistle, whisper or whine through the grass. 

One of the chores I had as a child was to feed the rabbits by gathering alfalfa from the field west of the barn.  It seemed to take a long time to fill the bucket so sometimes I laid down on the soft dirt amid the fragrant plants.  There was always a sky full of white clouds endlessly shape-shifting and the whispers of the wind through the green plants to keep me company.

My favorite place to listen to the wind was the hill behind my grandmother's house across the river.  After my uncle showed me the buffalo wallows atop the hill it became a sacred childhood shrine.  I spent many hours laying alone in the clean and wholesome prairie, listening to the Kansas wind rise and fall through the big bluestem.  The sunlight made me drowsy.  In my memory, it is golden and green.  Sometimes an incandescence blossomed in my consciousness.

I guess what I need most is to find a place to lay down on the earth and listen to the counsel of the Kansas wind. It will not be easy.  First, two stinky, noisy, energetic dogs will have to be prevented from following me.  No one can experience expanded consciousness with slobbering, panting dogs along.  Secondly, I will have to spray myself head to foot against chiggers.  (Was I immune to chiggers as a child, or have I merely forgotten that misery?)   I probably will not be comfortable laying on the ground without a blanket or a towel.  I might worry about a snake or a spider.  It is too hot to lay in the direct sunlight now.  What if someone sees me laying in the pasture and thinks I have had a heart attack?  What if they just think I am crazy?

No wonder I am depressed.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

The Imagination of Science Fiction

At last, I went to see the latest Ridley Scott movie, Prometheus.  It was visually stunning, intellectually challenging, full of open-ended questions, and served up a helping of viscerally disgusting scenes of alien lifeforms destroying our weak human bodies.  The invention of digital photography has at last matched the power of the human imagination and Ridley Scott has imagined our creators, white giants of great beauty, who seeded human genesis with their DNA.  People far more intelligent than I are unable to conclude everything Ridley Scott is saying in this movie but I love that.  We are free to draw our own conclusions.

My son and I saw the movie then spent a half hour arguing afterward of the significance and motives of David the android.  My brother and I have been texting, the absolute worst possible method to discuss a Ridley Scott movie.   Try using a mere 120 characters of text to discuss whether the giant committed suicide as an act of dissidence or if he sacrificed himself in an act of creation!

My favorite Ridley Scott movie has long been Blade Runner, the director's cut, not the watered down version corporate Hollywood foisted on the paying public with its voice-overs and sappy ending.  Scott is such a rich and powerful man in the movie industry that he was able to make Prometheus without corporate interference.  It is a movie meant to be seen on the big screen so I must go see it at least once more before it leaves the theaters. 

In one of the most thrilling movie scenes ever, a white giant seated at the controls of his spaceship surrounded by holograms is the very image of the creator.  But this is a Ridley Scott movie:  the giant is preparing to take off for earth with a massive payload of alien lifeforms that require human bodies as part of their reproductive cycle.  Awesome.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

X Marks the Spot

X Marks the Spot
Sometimes the atmosphere is so still that contrails can linger in the sky for a long while.  Here is a treasure map with a glowing X that appeared at dawn on a cold December morning.  I believe it indicates the end of the rainbow where the pot of gold is to be found.  I could sure use some of that gold right now.

Friday, July 6, 2012

My Most Profound Recommendation

After having served as a jurist recently in a seven day civil trial and seeing firsthand how the juries arrive at their verdicts, I think it is by far the best thing for Americans to refrain from suing one another or committing any crimes.  Juries are drawn from the voting public.  Consider that the same fools who voted the current politicians into office will be voting on your dispute or deciding your fate.  Frightening.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

When the Spirit Consumes You

I moved to Topeka in 1974 into a house with two male roommates, one of whom I would marry a few years later.  It should seem that it happened much longer ago but in my living memory it was just a while back.  We had a lot of fun and we took care of one another - after a fashion.  To cheer up one of the roommates recovering from a hernia operation, we planned a trip to Aggieville, the little bar district located at the southeast corner of the Kansas State University campus in Manhattan, Kansas.  Thanks to a large bottle of tequila and a bag of lemons for the road we arrived in Aggieville quite merry. Quite.

As the night progressed our merriment diminished with our capacities to think and speak clearly.  One of my dear roommates drunkenly attempted to throw a punch at the other.  The punch, easily avoided, was the culmination of consciousness for the swinging roommate.  He spent the rest of the evening passed out with his head cradled in his arms at the table.  All good (and stupid) things eventually come to an end.  Those of us still standing decided to leave.  When we attempted to rouse our slumbering roomie he was out, down for the count.  Ambulatory roommate easily hoisted unconscious roommate over his shoulder.  Unconscious roommate had a head of hair that would have done Jesus proud.  That cascade of freely swinging hair was an impressive sight coupled with the spectacle of a 160 pound man being hauled out like a sack of lumpy flour.  Making the way from the back of the bar all the way to the front drew a thundering round of applause from the other patrons. The last the cheering crowd ever saw of us were the tendrils of untamed hair waving adios as my roommates stepped back into the real world.

When we arrived home, the flour sack method was used to get unconscious roommate from the car to the sofa but there was no cheering.  We were far past merriment by then.

The next morning dawned golden and gorgeous.  I felt fine despite the Tequila and the raw lemons.  My bed was situated under large, wide open, upstairs windows that overlooked the front lawn.  I heard unusual voices from the sidewalk.  When I looked out, two elderly ladies, drawn close together in fear, stood staring at my supine roommate peacefully asleep on the sidewalk, his hands folded angelically over his bare chest, his mane of long hair fanned around him.  The ladies were on their way to church and neither expected to find Jesus asleep on the sidewalk that very morning.

I read in the newspaper this morning that the Topeka police and first responders were called to an address by a report of a naked man lying in a driveway.  I wondered if it had anything to do with tequila.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Hey, Hay!

The barn is now full of high quality brome hay bales for Ginger and the WallyLama.  Those two horses will have plenty to eat this winter.  When the barn is full of hay, I feel a sense of safety and comfort.  My horses will be well fed through the winter.

In the cold still mornings of winter, I greatly enjoy pulling down an aromatic bale.  When I break it open, the dust of summer and sunshine bursts into the air.  "Doing chores" is a direct link into my childhood when I stayed with my grandparents.  I eagerly bailed out of bed at the crack of dawn to help those two old people in anyway I could.  They loved me just the way I was and I would have walked fifty miles of gravel roads barefoot for them.  Whenever my cousin Denise and I stayed together at the farm, we were out of bed even before Grandpa was awake so we could prepare breakfast.  Sometimes we served breakfast in bed to those two dear old people.  Grandpa, bless his heart, would grumble a little about not even being hungry but Grandma shushed him.  He always took care of all of his animals before he himself ate breakfast, so he would not be hungry by dint of long habit.  He surely would have preferred Grandma's delicious cooking later in the morning over our clumsy cold eggs and soggy bacon before he even had a chance to get his overalls on.    

Some people cannot understand why I would want the expense, worry and trouble of keeping horses that I cannot ride.  My veterinarian even gave me an honest-to-god lecture one day, explaining how expensive horses are to keep.  He quite rudely explained that it was basically stupid of me to be wasting my money.  He quoted a financial self-help book.  I have always paid the man before he drove off the premises, so he has no evidence that my horses are too expensive for me to keep, unless he was thinking I could afford to build a much better house if I did not keep horses - which contains a tiny kernel of truth.  He is a very good veterinarian and I like him personally.  Obviously, he considered me as a friend to whom he could speak frankly.  But it was inappropriate, on all levels.  A veterinarian should understand about loving animals and needing them in your life.  He should understand that above everything else.

And of course there are times each winter when I pause in silence to deliberately consider the happiness and satisfaction I experience living in the country, having chores to do, and the fact that there are horses in my life - horses that no one will ever be able to take away from me.  There have been a few times when my other grandfather dropped by for a visit, the siren call of horses enjoying their feed in the cold morning air drawing him near.  He clearly loved such quiet moments in his earthly life, and in those few moments, I sense him near.  That nearness is worth the trouble of hay and horses.