Saturday, May 25, 2013

Journal Entry: August 14, 2007

I have a dozen journals with only one or two entries in them.  It is an idiosyncrasy of mine to buy journals then write in them once.  I cannot explain it.  It could be heroin addiction or kleptomania so I do not worry about it.  Though I have already written about my kids swimming in Hawaii, I am going to post this journal entry with only minor edits.  It made me laugh when I read it this morning, five years after it was first written.  Rest assured, nothing in my psyche has changed.

I was just thinking today about happiness, and being grateful, and how safe I have been all my life.  That made me wonder why I am always afraid!  If my grown daughter tells me she is at the lake on the hottest day of the year, all I can think of is skin cancer and drowning.  What is wrong with me?  If my son does not answer his phone it is because a serial murderer has abducted him.  I do not know what is wrong with me.  Crazy comes to mind.

So, here I am 54 years old.  My kids are 35 and 21.  They are grown adults.  Well, my son and I still have a few apron string issues.  I supported him through 8 1/2 months of college when he did not work at all, not even part time.  There were many reasons why I continued to support him.  I love him dearly and feel responsible that he has no father.  I know some of his issues well - he is so much like me.  My mother left me to sink or swim on my own.  I eventually learned to swim but it was difficult, so incredibly difficult. 

No one "helped me to succeed" in life.  That is not to say I never had help or friends or fortunate outcomes, because I did.  There was never anyone who loved me enough to "help me succeed" in life.  I still have not succeeded but I am self-supporting, reasonably sane, and have some version of everything I ever dreamed for myself, almost.  But it feels like I did it all alone, like climbing Mt Everest with no Sherpas - like fixing a car engine with my bare hands.

Oh my God - how sorry can I feel for myself?  Really, really sorry it seems.

I am glad I can afford to help my son.  I never could afford to help my daughter when she went through this phase in her life.  I think I have helped my son to succeed so well that he is sick of it and is trying to swim away out to sea to seek his fortune.  He can succeed on his own.  He is currently a mess but he has a strength of character few people have.  I have always been afraid for him.  I am afraid life will take him away from me.  The experts told me he was "extremely ADHD" when he was just a little guy.  I read everything I could find on ADHD and learned that ADHD kids have a large chance of dying before age 11 due to their impulsivity.  That possibility turned out to be oh so true in his case.  Trying to keep him safe kept me in a constant state of anxiety that has never lessened.

When I turned 50, I got to travel to Hawaii for ten glorious days.  I got to "sort of" swim with wild dolphins off the shores of Oahu.  I went snorkeling with my son and daughter in the famous bay.  I was only 98% convinced I was going to drown or be attacked by strange sea creatures, so a mere 2% of courage allowed me to witness how beautifully my kids swam in the sea.  They were brown, beautiful, strong and graceful, as if they had been born to the sea, though both were born and raised in Kansas.  I was collecting their grace in the water like an old woman plucking apples from a tree.  Where did that grace and courage come from?  Who taught them to be so confident and easy beneath those Pacific waves?

I was fine puttering along at the surface, watching the fantastic colors and shapes until I came upon an outcropping of reef and suddenly I was too close to the sea creatures living in the holes.  I was SO not in Kansas any more!  But my son was fearless, snorkeling deeper and continually further from me.  When I could no longer see him clearly through the water, I began to panic that the sea was going to take him from my life.  As always, there is that unhealthy fear.

I know my kids want to kick my ass most of the time.  And they should just go for it.

Post script:  Now in 2013, my son is graduated from the University of Kansas and self-supporting.  He grew up, like we all do.

Friday, May 24, 2013

A Cedar Chest

When my brother Randy was in high school, he built at least three cedar chests:  one for his mother, one for his grandmother, and one for me. My entire adult life, I have hauled mine around full of items too treasured for normal storage. Surely I have sifted through the contents many times but I do not recall any specific time. I could not even give an accounting of what I treasured so much except for one or two things: a box of photos and mementos from my early childhood, and the quilt my mother made for me.

The box of items from my childhood remains untouched, yellowing, documented in childish penciled handwriting. These are the tiny bits left of the years when my father was still alive, though there is nothing of him - not a photo, not a mention of him, nothing he ever gave me - in that box. It is merely that he was alive then.

The quilt has been carefully stored away until the special day came when I was "permanently settled down", as if the fourteen years spent in "tornado fodder cabin" were not considered permanent! Waking up tonight after midnight, I decided to tackle the cedar chest, prepare it for the next fourteen or twenty-eight years. I did not go through the box of my childhood, but sorted through everything else. There is a small bag of things going to Goodwill, but almost everything was returned to the chest.

All of it is worthless to anyone else but priceless to me. There are the two baby books and some baby clothes that my children wore. The little bands placed on their newborn wrists immediately after birth are stored in a plastic box. There are cards from all the baby showers even though so much time has passed that I no longer recognize some of the names. My high school diploma, a silhouette of my daughter made during preschool,and several handmade Mother's Day cards affirming that I was the best, most beloved mother of all time. A beautiful red silk skirt and jacket tailor made for me in Vietnam still looks brand new. My stepbrother, in Saigon during the war,had it made specially for me. There is a box of letters and cards but I did not go through it. Almost every person whose letters I would have saved is dead now, and sometimes the weight of ghosts is just too heavy in the middle of the night.

It was, I decided, at long last time to take the quilt out of storage. I washed and dried it and then carefully made up the bed. My mother cross-stitched each block and pieced it together. She sent it to a church group of quilting ladies who finished it. It is not a great work of art or skill, but it is a great labor of love. In her patient, determined way, my mother carefully cross-stitched each block with embroidery thread, evenly and well, creating something she knew would become more valuable as each year without her ticked past. At the tender age of 60, I reckon I must be permanently settled down. I reckon I have earned the right to enjoy my mother's quilt.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Bits of Color

Gold Finches early this winter.  Their feathers become bright yellow in the summer.

Brandon's Dream Catcher - Summer Tanager

During the winter months, I feed the birds.  The seed mixture is sold by The Wild Birdhouse in Topeka.  Once the feeders are filled, the word spreads through the bird communities in a day or two.  Soon there is a crowd waiting in all of the trees.  Sometimes there are indigo buntings, cardinals, gold finches, and blue jays all waiting their turn and adorning the drab winter scenery with their brilliant plumage.  The cost of the seed is a small price to pay for such a rainbow of living color in the dead of winter.

There are three different types of woodpeckers, chickadees, vireos, sparrows, titmice, and juncos.  Sometimes a lone quiet dove will come in, too.  The birds may fuss a bit among their own kind, but there is no open warfare between birds of a different feather.  Everyone just naturally gives way to the blue jays except the titmice.  Maybe they are cousins.  It is the woodpecker who commands the most respect from everyone.  Though I have never witnessed violence from the woodpeckers, no one is willing to chance that there might be violence, apparently.  Even the blue jays defer to them.

Another upside to this small investment of time and money is that in summer months I am lucky to see such surprising jewels as this summer tanager in the same trees as an indigo buntings.  (None of those photos turned out.) The tanager was establishing his territory right outside my bedroom window in a loud, serious dispute with a rival male.  As he was savoring his triumph, and perhaps resting, I was able to take his portrait.

This morning this blue bird was perched in the redbud trees right outside the office windows.  I am not certain if he is an indigo bunting or a blue grosbeak.  
I do not know for sure what this bird is, except beautiful!

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Test Driving the Storm

The practicality of the sleeping porch was tested last night when an enormous plains storm spanning the state from border to border rolled eastward full of lightning and wind and life-giving rains.  All day was typical tornado weather:  hot and humid, the sky filling with steaming moisture.  When the storms cranked up in the west I knew I was going to be in for a grand night of lightning and rain, wind and thunder - a true test drive of my grand idea of sleeping on the porch come hell or high water.

It was wonderful, and a little bit unnerving when the lightning was close.  My daughter was scheduled to come by some time Sunday so I worried once or twice she might find her mother turned to unfortunate cinders and ash, but as far as I know I am alive and well today.

Something strange happened in the sky last night and I would have missed it if I had been safely abed in the house.  The northern horizon began to glow a ghostly green, faintly at first.  It increased in intensity until I could clearly see low clouds racing eastward driven by the howling winds.  I thought perhaps moonlight was shining through a large break in the clouds miles to the north and the weather conditions caused the glow to appear green.  As I continued to watch and wonder, something, in an instant, caused the entire northern horizon to snap to black and then a truly strange and wicked lightning strike blasted downward, full of sparks and blue star bursts.  The lightning was so quick that I am not certain of all that I witnessed.  I think the heavy upper clouds were glowing with a static charge that instantly dispersed with the bizarre lightning strike.  But I have no idea - it is merely my best uneducated guess.  It was, in a word, awesome.

I slept well, all things considered.  When the rain began falling, it was either not heavy enough or the porch provides good protection because the covers were only damp.  I am certain there will be storms that will blow rain in through the screens in drenching, copious amounts.  I will cross that soggy bridge when I get to it.

Post Script:  Due to the lack of wet bedding after the storms Saturday night, I left the bed made up.  I went visiting Sunday afternoon, the sun was shining when I left.  While I was gone, rains driven by 60 mile an hour winds thoroughly soaked the bed.  That soggy bridge has been crossed.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Sleeping in the Fresh Kansas Air

No snakes, chiggers, poison ivy but plenty of fresh country air ... and noise!  Who knew?

Early summer dawn lights the kitchen... Nice.

The view continues to improve through the office windows.
Last night was the first chance to use the sleeping porch as it was intended.  I purchased a cheap twin bed in Topeka and hauled it home in the back of my Ford.  I wrestled the pieces into the house and set it up in the screened-in back porch.  Only one pinched finger, minimal cursing, almost no obscenties.  It went surprisingly well.

I slipped zippered plastic cases over the boxed springs and the mattress to hopefully keep the bed from being soaked whenever it rains.  Then I happily made up the new bed with new bright red cotton sheets.  I have been looking forward to this event for such a long time. 

After coaxing Wally back into the pasture after he wandered through the defective southeast gate and then roping that gate shut, it was dark and I had sweated through my clothes.  I was ready for a shower and bedtime in the new sleeping porch! 

The sound of the little creek has long been the main reason for wanting a sleeping porch.  I imagined it would be so peaceful and calming to lay safely in bed listening to the musical tones of running water.  Nature has thoughtfully obliged after two years of drought and the creek is musically flowing again.

At last abed, I allowed myself the luxury of a long, contented sigh.  I allowed my gratitude for this beautiful little corner of the earth to rise fully into my consciousness.  I opened to the energy of Spiritcreek, feeling for the ebb and flow of the water, the wind, the warming of the soil, and those creatures that call these few acres home.  The sublime peace lasted for all of five minutes.

I suddenly realized that the mattress I was laying on was not the comfy, cushy mattress I had tried out in the furniture store.  It was a slab of concrete!  All the twisting and pulling and lifting while moving the bed, and later "mending" the fence, was being angrily expressed by my underworked back muscles.  I tossed and turned.

Duke was on patrol, and something he truly did not want in his territory was south of the creek.  Being an honest dog, he was doing his job barking in his deepest, most authoritative voice over and over... and over... and over... again.  When he was satisfied that creature was far enough away from his property, the neighbor dog to the south, who sounds exactly like the Duke, took up the same warning.  He lives over a mile away but I could hear him plainly.

Then the tree frogs and a little bird that chirps and twitters all night long began a monotonous serenade.  I thought only owls (which were also hooting) were the only birds awake at night!  That was clearly wrong thinking.  The lonesome lowing of the cattle, maybe the mother cows for their calves, added a melancholy touch to the still night air.  I swear I heard a donkey braying far off, too.

Alright, so the silence I imagined will come in the winter months!  It was still peaceful and comforting to hear all of the night sounds over the voice of Spirtcreek.  It was fun to be cozily in bed in the wonderfully constructed porch, professionally screened against the onslaught of millions of pounds of the flying biomass found on the prairie.  The air was cooling and the half moon graced everything in sight with a white glaze.  Wally's light hide was glowing from across the fence.  To the north I could see a few stars bright enough to shine through the moonlight.  There was no breeze at all but the fresh prairie scents were delicious and comforting. 

I accidentally found a comfortable position and fell asleep.  I only woke up five or six more times throughout the night.  There were different things - the phone ringing - a tremendous aching in my knee - my arm falling painfully asleep - unknown reasons (Big Foot emerging from the woods?).  I am not complaining even though it seems as if I am.  I am thrilled to have this long-held dream now firmly in reality where I can enjoy it.  I could have seen the aurora borealis in the northern sky if it had been there last night.  There are a million differnt tones to be found in all of the Kansas winds, and the Kansas skies will produce a variety of lightning, stormy nights, and meteor showers over the coming years.  I will have a ring-side seat for all of it.  Maybe the most anticipated event is the first benign snowfall when the silent flakes fall straight down.  I will be bundled up in bed witnessing the snow cover everything in a mystical white.  The best is yet to come.  Always.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

A Genuine Grandmother for Mothers Day

This is a massive and old cottonwood tree located in McPherson County.  It is posted for no trespassing so I had to stay on the road to photograph it. Using my Ford as the scale indicator was the only option, but even then the true presence of this very old tree cannot be conveyed in these photographs.

This is not the largest cottonwood tree in Kansas and certainly not the largest cottonwood tree in the country but, to me, it is worth the trip to experience the mighty presence of a massive and enduring life form, and to pay my respects to a genuine grandmother.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Proof that Wally Is Better Than Rhett Butler

Though my "barn" has two stalls, both of them large enough to shelter two horses each from the rain and wind, Ginger claims both empty stalls for herself just as you would expect a self-important diva to demand.  My dear little orphan Annie stood outside in the rain and snow all the time.  Only in the most extreme weather would Ginger allow Annie to shelter in the least favored stall.  Though it is difficult behavior for a human being to witness, all of horse society evolved to protect and perpetuate the species.  Besides, humans have more than their fair share of survivalist self-preservation and underhanded, cut-throat behaviors.  (Units in a cube farm bear a remarkable resemblance to barn stalls, now that I think about it.)

Wally has also been relegated to sheltering outside the barn.  Poor guy.  His genetics stretch far back into the deserts and blazing suns of the Arab nations.  He is light of bone and carries no extra fat on his beautiful body.  There is nothing that makes him particularly well-suited to Kansas winters. But Wally is smart enough to figure if he must stand in the cold, then Ginger should, too.  He often takes shelter out in the pasture, and because she cannot let Wally out of her sight, Ginger stands in the cold rain as well.

This morning, as soon as I was awake and on my feet, I looked out to visually confirm two horses alive and well.  It is a well-established routine but made much easier by now living closer to the barn, and by the existence of the wonderful screened porch. It has been raining most of the night.  It is cold and dreary and muddy, and though it is May, it is more like November weather.  Through the gloom and mist in the pre-dawn light, I saw two horses in the same barn stall.  Side by side, both sheltering from the miserable cold rain.  I ran to get my camera to record Wally's triumph of charm and equine persuasion.  It was a terrible photograph.  By the time the light was sufficient to get a good photo, both horses had left the barn for their day job of eating grass.

I know better shots have been taken of Big Foot, but here is my proof that Wally is a charming genius, better than Rhett Butler. 

Thursday, May 2, 2013

The Silence of the Land

Sitting at the computer yesterday afternoon staring through the west windows when, like magic, a deer walked into my line of vision, not twenty-five feet from the house.  Then another, and another, and finally, one more. 

Where were those dopey dogs, I wondered, but not a single growl or "arf" out of either one to scare the deer away.

Cautiously, the deer advanced and I could see they were all young bucks, their antlers just beginning to emerge.  They drank from the giant mud puddle at the bottom of the new driveway, then walked to the edge of the rubble strewn mess of what is left of the old house.  All of them stood staring at the carnage, sniffing the air.  I wondered what they made of that smelly black hole suddenly ripped into their environment.  Satisfied there was nothing for them, they made their silent, cautious way across the culvert and on down the creek.

I welcome the deer.  After the gray bunnies made their great escape, I witnessed one of the bunnies greet a deer by almost touching noses.  They spent some time together in the grass in approximately the same vicinity as the four bucks traveled yesterday.  A deer trail must exist past my house.  I have seen a doe with her fawn at different times as well. 

During hunting season, wounded deer come somewhere close to my home to die, based on the bones the dogs find to drag up.  I also find deer skeletons with regularity in the pasture.  I say a prayer of forgiveness over the bones, just in case it was a drunk "hunter" high on meth, Budweiser and Skoal that wounded the deer with his crack marksmanship. 

I am thankful that the deer nation survives.  They are welcome in this bend of the creek.