Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Visits from the Other Side

When Annie, my young mare, lost her life due to a 100% avoidable accident while in the care of the trainer, I was in shock for the first few days. Annie was young and the natural expectation was that she would be in my life for a very long time. Her loss blindsided me and I acutely grieved for several weeks. A few days after the accident, my daughter and I rode our motorcycles to a picnic at one of the state fishing lakes. It was a beautiful afternoon and there were many people there, very few of whom I knew. Someone had a dog with them. Once my daughter and I were settled in and listening to the proceedings, that dog came to me uninvited - a stranger - one of out of a crowd of perhaps 35 people.  She sat on my feet with her back to me, leaning her full body against my legs. I do not recall any dog ever behaving like this toward me, not even my own dogs. That dog must have sensed my broken heart. Though it may have been wishful thinking, it felt as if my dear little Orphan Annie was near me one last time.

Cats do not last long here on the farm if they venture outdoors. There are simply too many predators. So, when I adopted the darling green-eyed, coal black kitten from the shelter, the intention was to never let her outside. Keeping a cat inside that is determined to get outdoors is like keeping a genie in a bottle. She thought it was a game to dart past me and squeeze through the rapidly closing door. Once escaped, there was no possibility of me catching her. I named her Avalon, and she was the most delightful cat I have ever known. She was very small and very beautiful and exceedingly loving. When she had entirely defeated me in the war for her freedom, she would follow Duke and me to the barn and back every day. It made me laugh to see the three of us lined up on the well-worn path.

As a kitten, she found her way to the tiny space between the shelf and the top of the computer monitor. This put her slightly above my eye level, which is the correct and proper height for feline royalty. This was her favorite perch, though I do not know how she comfortably managed to squeeze herself into that space once she was grown. Everyone in the family came under Avalon's spell. Of course it is my fault that she disappeared. I knew exactly what would eventually happen if she ventured out of the house. She was so determined to get outside that it seemed cruel to never let her out. Though there were several tense nights when she did not come when called, eventually I would hear her at the door. I thought perhaps she was smart enough to stay out of trouble. The night inevitably came when she never came to the door. After a few days, I knew that she was gone for good.

One winter night several months after she had disappeared, I was working at the computer when I felt a cat brushing against my legs. It was unmistakable and I knew it was Avalon. I could feel her presence so strongly. She was present for about fifteen minutes and then she was gone and she has never returned. Perhaps she has since been reborn as a beautiful actress or singer. She certainly possessed star quality. I still feel guilty that I did not prevail in keeping her safely inside the house.

About two years ago just as I was drifting off to sleep, I felt the mattress depress behind me as if someone had sat down next to me on the bed. In a blinding flash of adrenaline, I ran through the mental check list: Did I lock the doors? Who could have come into my house without me hearing? Am I going to die?! But then, just as rapidly, I realized it was the old dog Duke who had come for a visit. He was settling in next to me on the bed. I suppose it was something he had wished he could do his entire life. He was a farm dog and his duties were to live outdoors and keep an eye on things. In return for giving up the luxury of living indoors, he lived his entire life free of a kennel, pen, fence or chain. He never had to wait 10 long hours until I came home to let him out. He was free to run and roam and chase rabbits or dig determinedly after prairie voles. I never witnessed him catch a rabbit. I never saw that he caught any voles either. When I took him to the vet in Topeka, they remarked on how incredibly strong he was. It was because he was free to live a real dog's life, to run and chase any critter that would run from him. He had about 30 acres to police and explore and protect. When it was bitterly cold outside, he slept just inside the front door on a rug but for the most part he loved the winter. He was part German Shepherd, part Chow and part Gold Retriever and part who-knows-what else. His thick double coat allowed him to delight in the cold winters. He was happiest when it was cold as hell, running around like a maniac in celebration of the frigid weather. Snow was his absolute favorite delight. I hope the old dog has reincarnated as a wolf on the Siberian Steppes or a snow leopard in the Himalayas, or perhaps he came back to a loving family with children to love and look after. Wherever in the Universe his spirit may be, I hope he is at peace.

I no longer care if people believe my ghost stories or not.  I do not care if people think I am crazy.  I know what happened and I know exactly who came calling.  What a gift for those beloveds to visit me once last time.  I hardly deserve it.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Late Summer Early Morning

One of the most wonderful things where I live is the view on the way to work in the morning, and the view on the way home in the evening. No matter how stressed, worried, bored, depressed, uncomfortable, broke or upset I may be, my spirits are lifted by this common beauty. I love where I live and as often as I think to do it, I offer a prayer of gratitude for the good fortune that led me to the little patch of land - even if it is down five miles of gravel roads no matter what direction I take to get home. It is ordinary, everyday stuff.

I sometimes think most people believe scenery must be majestic like the mountains or dramatic like the sea before it can be sufficiently moving. Certainly magnificent, dramatic landscapes are inspiring. The giant surf on the North Shore of Oahu is the unimpeachable apex of inspiration so far in my life, followed by the nearly pristine quilt of Indian fields draped on the slopes of Mexico's central mountains, and the free vistas of Wyoming's Big Horn Mountains. For simple, ordinary everyday inspiration, I will settle for the view along Vera Road in good old Kansas.


Everything is beautiful in the early sunlight.

It took the earth 4 billion years to create this view... (minus the pond).

A beautiful landscape in every season.

According to the book Tallgrass Prairie Wildflowers, this is Dotted Blazing Star

Looking South toward home.

Monday, August 21, 2017

Totality Beside a Nebraska Cornfield!

North on Highway 75 - Original destination: north of Hiawatha, Kansas. Nothing but rain across the entire northern horizon.

It rained most of the way and it did not look promising for seeing any phase of the eclipse.  But once I had chosen the spot to watch from, no matter how hopeless it looked at the time, a hole opened in the clouds above me and I was able to witness the entire eclipse!

If I looked through the magic glasses, about 1/3 of the sun was eclipsed.  When I put the magic glasses over my phone, all I got was this!

The country road southeast of Pawnee City, Nebraska.  This is looking due west a bit before totality.
Totality!  My photography skills and eclipse gremlins did everything in their power to prevent me from getting any photos.

Same view to the west at totality.  The brightest light to the left is the farmer's mercury light that came on well before totality.
Looking north at totality.

West just seconds before totality.

Due east at totality.

I thought I had planned for everything in my personal 2017 Total Eclipse Viewing Sojourn: viewing glasses, camera, coffee, cash and smart phone so I could monitor the weather and have access to Google Maps in case I had to try to change destinations due to cloud cover/rain. I filled the tank last night and left very early to get to a viewing site well ahead of time. Still struggling with the realities of the smart phone, I did not realize that out on the road I would not have access to a 4G connection. That meant no maps and no Doppler radar screen.  All I could do was desperately text my children and hope one or both of them were screwing off at work long enough to answer my texts! Luckily, my son answered. In highly technical terms I could understand, he texted: You're out in the boonies. No internet.  (I am sure he was diligently working hard and just happened to check his phone...)

I asked him to check the Doppler radar for the Hiawatha area. He sent me a screen shot. Not good.  I could also see the storm to the northeast. I frantically texted him to find a Nebraska town northwest of Hiawatha that was in the path of totality, and to send directions to it from the intersection of Hwy 75 and Hwy 36.  That is how I came to be on a country road in Nebraska, next to a cornfield southeast of the dapper little town of Pawnee City, Nebraska. Though the sky never fully cleared overhead, there was a "hole" in the clouds right above me and I was able to watch the entire eclipse. I saw the entire event!

Something strange was interfering with my camera and my phone. It is a wonder that I got any photos at all. It was one odd and unusual thing after another. None of the photos will win any awards - but they are good enough for me.  It was perplexing the way the electronics of my phone and my camera were misfiring - for want of a better word.

But, it happened.  I witnessed a total eclipse of the sun - in my lifetime - not far from home. And it was marvelous and mysterious to consider the unimaginable "coincidence" that the moon is the exact size and at the exact distance for a total eclipse to occur. At the instant of totality, the entire sky overhead goes black and the sun's corona bursts into view. I removed the crazy glasses and looked at the magnificent corona flaming outward. A bright star was also immediately visible. I made a slow 360 degree survey of the strange colors in the sky on the horizons that I could see. I snapped some quick photos for posterity.  I was so caught up in the experience that I forgot to look for the wavy shadows.

It was over in a heartbeat but I was thrilled that I had witnessed such a rare event. Once again Kansas serves up a spectacle that I did not have to cross the world in order to see - though technically I was in Nebraska.  I was less than 2 hours from home. Close enough.

Post script: Thank you Son for your remote navigating! You saved the day.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

I Take A Turn In the Dark

For over two decades I have been awake every single night at 3 am or within a few moments of it. I do not know why. For many years I used the time to meditate. Because I had no training for meditation it was more simply being silent and open to whatever the Universe might choose to communicate. Several times extraordinary things happened but most often nothing happened. Now that I have the benefit of almost five years of instruction from a serious meditation teacher - one trained in the Tibetan basics for the Western mind - I often meditate during this time. The only thing I have noticed so far is that my thoughts have settled down a bit. Instead of tumbling and rushing randomly in a frenetic rush of chaos, they now seem to come more quietly and orderly. I am just beginning to have the mental discipline to not automatically go unconsciously down the rabbit hole with every random thought that catches my attention. Not always but sometimes I can avoid being pulled entirely into a train of thought. Tis but a bit of progress.

Sometimes I do not want to meditate or listen in case the Universe speaks to me. I apparently want to worry about the rest of my life and dying. I have been physically limited by bad knees for a long time but in the last five years I have been physically suffering - due to my knees and because I am getting old. Not just older, but old. I have to say, getting old sucks. My hearing is diminishing and my eyesight is deteriorating rapidly due to some sort of cracking process caused by aging and the beginnings of cataracts. The cataracts can eventually be removed but there is no remedy for the other process. My strength wanes. If only I were still physically strong, I would be happy. I can still change a tire, but not always. I need help sometimes. I can still pull down a hay bale but to clean up the barn and remove the old bales would take several days instead of a couple of hour's work. I can load feed bags in and out of my car but it is no longer effortless. I have to work hard at it. It is inevitable that these changes occur but it is scary and dismaying. Sometimes facing these facts and admitting that it is only going to get worse as time goes on makes me claustrophobic in the middle of the night.

Far better people than I have become old, infirm and died, some peacefully and some in the agony of cancer or other horrific disease, or due to a gruesome accident or crime. I believe I have lived before so for that to have happened it means I have also died before. I was with my mother when she took her last breath and a thrilling energy suffused the room. I experienced it as her joy in being released from the cruel physical ravages of late stage emphysema. I knew her thought at that moment was "That wasn't hard at all! What was I so worried about?"

We all know we have to go sooner or later and I have been thinking about the reality of that. Of course, I do not have any idea how or when, but whatever form the conclusion of this life takes, I will have to go along with it whether I am ready or not. When I was a child and first began riding roller coasters, there was always extreme regret as the cars began the gut wrenching, clanking climb up that first hill. My psyche would writhe in despair and regret, and I would silently wail, "Too late to get off now!" I was going for the ride whether I was ready or not. I sometimes think dying might feel like that - including the terrific rush of adrenaline and joy at surviving when the cars arrived back at the beginning.

Still...how much we must give up when we lose this world! Everything - our home, our loved ones, our talents and pleasures, and whatever wisdom we may have garnered in our brief moment on Planet Earth. Of course, we hear from people who have been revived from clinical death.  They tell of meeting loved ones who send them back because it is not yet time. Or they report an encounter with a merciful being, or entity that some call God. Some come back after witnessing a marvelously beautiful land.  I have not a clue how it will go or where I will be or what I will do when I get there.

 I hope it is as Gandalf explains to Pippin:

Gandalf: End? No, the journey doesn't end here. Death is just another path, one that we all must take. The grey rain-curtain of this world rolls back, and all turns to silver glass, and then you see it.

Pippin: What? Gandalf? See what?

Gandalf: White shores, and beyond, a far green country under a swift sunrise.

Pippin: Well, that isn't so bad.

Gandalf: No. No, it isn't.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Nine Years and Counting

July 3, 2008 - the inception date for the Spiritcreek Farm Blog. I have been writing about nothing for nine years and three days? I cannot decide if that is awesome or depressing. For those few readers who have stayed the course with me, thank you!

In the last nine years my life has remained essentially unchanged though a lot has happened.

Both of my children have graduated from college and both have earned Masters Degrees.

My only son, MBA, May 2017

My Only Daughter, MCP, December 2010

The Good Dog Duke lived out his fourteen years and died in the rain with me by his side trying hard not to grieve too profoundly as he took his leave. I miss him still. Duke's duties were half-assedly assumed by Jake the Bad Dog, who actually is not bad but simply ill-suited to "farm" life. Duke faithfully marked his territory every single day, just in case those wild cousin coyotes got to thinking they could muscle in. Jake just takes a whiz when he needs to go. Duke always put himself between me and any potential threat, even when he was an old dog with impaired hearing and dimmed eyes. Jake hides under the porch or barks uselessly from a safe distance away from both the threat and me - (he is not going to take one for the team). Due to the dumb ass getting hit by a car, he is now the most expensive animal I have ever owned - and the most useless. It simply works that way sometimes.

Little Mattie is the next candidate up for farm dog duties. She is a pure bred German Shepherd, 100% black except where her tiny little puppy whiskers got into the white paint of the bookcase I was refinishing this past weekend. I have no idea yet if she will be the Duke's replacement. She is bossy and tears into Jake though she only weighs six pounds. She absolutely has diva qualities - a canine version of Ginger, the dominant little mare who rules the small kingdom of Spiritcreek. Time will tell.

Mattie with the collar I estimated would fit her day one, and the cat collar I had to buy when faced with reality. (Her parents are both over 100 lbs.)


I said hello and good bye too soon to my dear little Orphan Annie, the unkept and ill young mare purchased from the slaughter truck. That sweet spirit with a fine sense of humor had so little time on this earth. She had just grown into her long legs when an accident at the trainers cost her life, breaking my heart into a million pieces. It took a long time to find another horse for Ginger to boss around but Wally finally showed up, all handsome and gentlemanly. He is light of bone and fleet of foot as all Arabians are. He tolerates Ginger's bossiness because - well, like me, he has no choice. Everything will go smoothly as long as we all acknowledge that she is the Supreme Being, so that is what we do.

There were the chicken adventures that ended with a sweet little Dutch Bantam hen, the lone survivor, going to live next door as the First Wife of Mr. Blackie the head rooster. The pen and the coop were recently repurposed over in Osage County and now house beloved ducks in a much less rural setting than here, so their mortality will surely not be in constant jeopardy the way my poor little chickens always were.

I am winding down a long, fruitful career and will soon be retiring to stay home all the time. I wonder how I will adjust to this final lap of my life? I think I will absolutely love not having all the petty office politics and headaches and irritations, though I will miss some of the people. I will miss the opportunity to stay current with technology. I will miss the work itself but I have my own work to do now. Maybe I will be able to have a few tomato plants once I have the time to tend to them. I will have time to appreciate my horses instead of simply being their servant. I will have time to teach Mattie a thing or two, and perhaps even Jake will benefit from some constant, unhurried attention.

I look forward to having the immense blessing of time to greet the dawn and remain in one spot as the sun travels across my beloved Kansas skies - and quietly move forward in time with the turning of the seasons - greeting the hummingbirds in May, the lightning bugs of June, the hot, fertile days of harvest. I will be home to watch the leaves fall, baring the grace of the trees. I will have the time to catch a glimpse of a coyote or a fox, a bob cat or an eagle. And if I get snowed in during the winter, it will not be a hardship. From my beloved few acres, I will have time to consciously and constantly love and appreciate the intricacies of this amazing earth spinning mysteriously through a universe all but unknown to our species. I will have time to wonder.

I will have time and silence to deeply commit to my meditation practice. I think I am looking forward to that as much as anything else. Who knows what might arise from a quiet consciousness? I hope I have many, many more years to enjoy my little house here on the prairie. I will continue to write about my ordinary adventures so y'all come back, ya hear?

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 she got to me. 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 did 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 witnessing "aggravated" assault by and upon 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 dominant 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.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

How Is It ...

If you live long enough, eventually you will get sucked into the world of medical tests which are basically various tortures that cost an immense fortune. I have been lucky to enjoy good health most of my life - knees not included - but recently I had the experience of a heart sonogram. Images of my beating heart were visible on a screen in real time. It was the first time I have seen my own heart. It was dangerously close to a spiritual experience. I immediately considered the cavalier manner in which I have taken my heart for granted all these decades.

It was sobering to see how hard my heart works and to instantly consider the hearts of every living being on the planet. I marveled at the engineering that designed such a tireless, enduring muscle. It commences beating before we even have a brain! As I watched the images of the valves and chambers of my own heart tirelessly fueling my life, I felt a great regret for all the abuses I have committed against it physically and emotionally.

My mother's heartbeat was the first sound I heard in this life. I recalled the thrill hearing the first heartbeats of each of my unborn children. I remembered the times I lay with my ear against my husband's chest, lulled by the booming rhythm of his big heart. I thought of all the times I could feel the mighty pulse of my heart in my temples when working too hard or running or swimming or laughing or scared or mad as hell. Our hearts are merely along for the ride with us - for good or ill.

At some point as the technician was examining each chamber and valve and artery of my wonderful heart, she would switch something then the blood flow appeared in various colors - red, blue and magenta. As the blood entered into the next chamber, the colors mixed dramatically. It appeared as lightning within my heart. Now when I watch an approaching thunderstorm alive with lightning I will certainly recall my own beating heart.

How is it that we forget that our bodies are truly marvels of engineering? How do we forget that our lives are spent on an inexplicable living planet hurtling through infinite space filled with thermonuclear stars boiling light and energy into an endless universe? How do we forget that there is lightning within our own breast?

Friday, February 10, 2017

Invoking The Grandmothers

I usually avoid writing anything specifically political because that is not the purpose or focus of Spiritcreek. Politically charged issues carry a heavy and painful weight in these "generally wretched times" that I would rather not mix into the silliness of this particular blog. Despite certain issues weighing quite heavily in my mind, and my conviction that we are literally in an extended battle for our country's soul, I have refrained from opening my big mouth - for the most part. Ah, the best laid plans of mice and women...

When Mitch McConnell and the Republicans voted to silence Elizabeth Warren, when they refused to enter Coretta Scott King's words into the record - in the very highest halls of the Land of Free Speech? - I nearly exploded. 64 years of being interrupted, man 'splained to, talked over, ignored, ridiculed, dismissed, cussed at, yelled at, lied to and argued with came to a metaphysical boiling point. No, Mr. Mitch McConnell, you soulless bastard. No, Mr. Lindsey Graham, you whining, big-mouthed short man. No.

Elizabeth Warren does not speak for all women, but she damn sure speaks for a very solid percentage of American women, and quite likely a solid percentage of real men. Her voice is the only feminine political voice we currently have so get used to it, you old bastards! YOU are not the only people allowed to speak in this country.

Women are sending postcards to Mr. Trump, Mr. McConnell and Mr. Lindsey with this message: Nevertheless, we persist. When I sat down to address my post cards last night, the names of my grandmothers came instantly to mind. Maybe for the very first time in my life I felt the actual spiritual connection to my ancestors. I know the maternal grandmothers' names far, far back, but I included only the generations of Kansas women. Marilla Jane, Mattie Fern, Mary Ruth, myself and my daughter - five generations of women who, living or dead, are mad as hell. Well, I am not certain spirits can actually be angry but they can certainly weigh in on matters of spiritual significance. My grandmothers weighed in on this deal in a very clear way.

Marilla Jane would not have been able to vote until she was 47 years old. Mattie Fern could just vote by the time she was 21. Mary Ruth voted her entire life. I first voted at age 19 (in 1972). Our votes matter. We are equal under the law and our voices will not be silenced by a bunch of old, soft-handed white men who think far more highly of themselves than anyone else thinks of them.

I know there is a fine line between the meanings of the words invoke and evoke, but I had to look up the definitions to determine whether I evoked my grandmothers, or invoked my grandmothers. Evoke means to draw forth, usually memories or feelings. Invoke means: cite or appeal to (someone or something) as an authority for an action or in support of an argument. As it turns out, I did both.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Supreme Beings

Coming home last evening, I saw Wally toss his head up at the first sound of my car and then leap forward into a joyful gallop toward the barn. His head high and his tail streaming behind, he was breathtakingly beautiful in the waning light of day. I wished with all my heart our paths had converged much earlier in life. He and I would have covered hundreds of miles together. He does not possess the most beautiful conformation of the Arabian breed, but he does possess the grace and lightness of all his forebears. "Oh, Wally!" I thought to myself. "You deserve a far better name!"

Of course, the magnificent gallop was toward the barn because I would soon be throwing hay. Wally knows if he gets there first, he can sometimes grab a few bites of extra hay before Miss Thang gets there with her iron hooves of rule. He also uses it as an excuse to run because that is what horses do.

Though I spent most of my childhood around horses, I do not know a lot about them. I am still a rank amateur except in what I have observed of their behavior during the time spent caring for them. Before Wally there was my dear little Orphan Annie. She was a horse with a sense of humor. She thought it was funny to gently knock me over when I bent down to pound the snow and ice out of the feed tub. I realize the idea that a horse might have a sense of humor is impossible for some people, but once you've experienced humor from another species, it is unmistakable. The intent is clear.

Ginger is too busy making sure she is the boss to have a sense of humor. Everyone better do as she says - or else! She and I have had a minor dispute a time or two. Hard to say who won. I am still walking around without any broken bones, so I guess she grudgingly concedes the ultimate title of Boss to me. Some one has to earn money to buy her hay and hoof care, after all. Since I bring home the bacon, that makes me the real boss. Ginger loves me. Of course she loves Wally more but I am her favorite human being. I humbly accept this affection from her highness.

Wally is a different story. He has never bullied me or pushed me around - except for unceremoniously rubbing his big head against me whenever I put a halter on him! He loves Ginger and takes his duties as protector of their little herd seriously, always going forward toward whatever threat they both can hear along the creek that keeps them on point. There seems to be a sadness in Wally. When the vet visited the first time, he came into the pasture wearing a ball cap. At first sight of a man in a ball cap, Wally snorted in recognition and came running only to slam on the brakes when he realized it was a stranger. I was certain Wally thought it was his former owner and that made me so sad. Wally likes me okay but he does not love me the way Ginger does.

I have read about old horse cultures that built their winter dwellings so they could shelter their horses with them. Of course, horses were the lifeblood of their survival so they would go to great lengths to protect them. But anyone who has ever loved a horse knows that if it were just more practical, living together in the same dwelling would be a great idea! They are just too darned big and then there's all that manure... I will settle for looking out the back door every morning to see my horses waiting for their breakfast.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

The Easiest Things

It is the last day of the year and time for reflection. Contemplation. Comparison. It is a good opportunity to consider any needed course change - adjusting for local conditions as I like to call it. When I was a young woman there were many times I needed to make significant adjustments - in relationships, employment, locale. Those were gross adjustments. As I look back, the mature years of life have been mostly quiet - internal adjustments - fine tuning.

I gave the Christian religion a serious run but it simply did not hold up to the wear and tear of real life. The Christian arrogance of the "true believers" chased me out of adult Sunday school when a young man confidently concluded that my best friend was condemned to hell for being homosexual. With the full weight of all the generations of imperious Christian fascism, he concluded the "debate" with the church's ace in the hole: "It's scriptural!" His tightly sealed lips drawn into a self-righteous frown of stern finality, as if he had just won a debate with Satan himself, showed me most clearly that I was wasting my time with such bullshit. Of course, I did not and do not paint all Christians with that particularly distasteful brush. There are true Christians in this world, and they are gentle, loving people who do not bludgeon others with scriptural hate and intolerance. They are the true followers of Jesus.

Leaving organized religion behind for good was a fundamental course adjustment. The beginning, middle and end of significant relationships were course-altering events. Jobs and friends and neighborhoods and other such details all influenced my journey. When I turned forty, an enormous dissonance plainly revealed itself. I had been living unaware on the very mountain I had been searching for most of my life. It was when I made the conscious decision to locate the mountain that everything changed, though I did not know it for many, many years. It was a simple decision - a mere thought, actually. It was a brief moment I had while sitting on the floor praying. I only recognize that moment in hindsight. It was the merest fraction of a degree course correction that brought me to my current place all these decades later.

Sometimes I imagine my course extending far ahead into future lives, though I cannot imagine what a single one of those lives might be. The Tibetans say it is not an individual, central soul that extends through all lifetimes but that reincarnation is more like "dice, stacked loosely atop one another". I admit I felt faint when I first experienced that statement. It took a couple of years of chewing on that idea, worrying it around like a dog with an old bone until I felt comfortable with it. If that is true, my understanding of it as I sit here today is that our physical lives as we know them are simply small manifestations welling up from an infinite sea of life force and consciousness, loosely bounded by karmic forces and chance. There is so much more!

Knowing something intellectually is a far cry from being able to practically use the knowledge, but knowing something intellectually is also the first step of any journey, even an infinite journey toward understanding. The concept that there may not be a Chief Engineer carefully attending to every, single, minute detail in my life as I once imagined literally blasts my carefully structured "understanding" into infinity. It is almost more than I can safely imagine.

The sacred mountain is within every single human being. It is surely within every single living being, and within things we in the West consider inanimate. It is our true nature. We have forgotten it. It takes a lifetime - maybe many lifetimes - to remember.

The times I have drawn nearest to that knowing, in both spirit and in the flesh, I have been in the sweat lodge. It is in that sacred space, that incredibly hot, claustrophobic, pitch black moment when it is impossible to avoid myself. There I am - every single thing I do not like about myself - what I am ashamed of, embarrassed for, and disappointed in. All the pain and anger I have brought on myself and others - the injustices that have been inflicted on me - it is all there, revealed in the dark as if illuminated by the brightest light. If I may quote myself, that is truly a "well, hell" moment. It is ugly and feels terrible. I eventually realized the point of that moment is to clearly see myself, to find what needs attending. It is also a chance to look beyond - far beyond. It is the easiest of all impossible things.

As is customary: Wishing peace on earth and goodwill toward (some) men - from the Crazy Woman, the Supreme Beings, and Jake the Bad Dog here at Spiritcreek.