Thursday, December 29, 2011

I Heartily Disagree with Things My Mother Said

"If you can't say something nice, then say nothing at all." Nooooooo, no, no, no, no! This is the worst advice in the world. To not speak up against some things is a major crime and at the top of the list is bad service, like clerks/waiters/nurses standing around discussing personal lives instead of taking care of the business at hand. Overhearing the nurses' social klatch at their desk while waiting for something only a nurse can do is infuriating. Sullen waiters and flirty clerks who would rather chat with their coworkers are surely business liabilities. But I will not be the one who speaks, though. My mother taught me well. I might desperately need a bed pan, and no one wants to know what angry waiters do to the food before it arrives at the table.

"Beauty is only skin deep," my mother said. She forgot to add, "But ugly is to the bone!" If she had just given me the entire truth on this one, I think we would have found common ground.

"It is always best to tell the truth." On the surface, this seems to be foolproof advice. Most everyone agrees that truth is always the best policy, until faced with one of those delicate social dilemmas. I would never tell a radiant new mother that her child is the ugliest little baby I have ever laid eyes on. In fact, I hope the expression of surprise and revulsion does not show in my face. Merely offering congratulations is a time honored, neutral social response, and for good reason. Everyone needs a gracious way out of a tight spot. The need has always been there and always will be there.

Any time I stray into those subjective areas of beauty, good taste, or appropriate manners, telling the truth as I see it is not the best idea. The internet is full of "Walmart Weddings" photos. In such a case, if I cannot say anything good, then I say nothing at all. Mom was not wrong all the time.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Truly, Times Are Hard

Friday afternoon at 17th and Gage, Santa Claus turned the corner in front of me. He was driving a beat up roofing truck, ladders rattling in the overhead racks. Either driving that rig is cheaper than the magic reindeer, or the old boy is holding down two jobs in this economy.

Catch-All and Crumbs

I celebrated another birthday, one far past the expected half-way point. It is always time for reflection when another year ticks off and all the things I had hoped to accomplish in life are yet another missed milestone. Sometimes I get angry at the way life escapes in the daily grind, the constant minutia and minor disappointments, and the way we certainly seem to be at the mercy of everything out of our control. I understand it is good that we wither and eventually die. If we just cease to exist, then it was hardly worth the trouble. But if we carry on in some manner, then I assume we awaken in fresh bodies, in fresh dreams. Not that I am ready to give up on this journey just yet.

I recently lost the ring with my mother's diamonds. It slipped off my hand one morning between the couch and arriving at work. It could be in the house, in the prairie, in the car, or in another dimension for all I know. It is a particularly poignant loss of something I had never in a million years thought I would be so careless as to lose. Like my parents, it is gone from me and there is not a goddamned thing I can do about it. Is that not just the perfect metaphor for our lives here? We are born but none of us can remember asking to be born. We live at the mercy of forces far out of our control - disease, natural disaster, genetics, politics, luck and calamity. We have intentions, but some force thwarts us. We are minding our own business when bad luck (and good luck) strikes. Then we die, whether we are ready to go or not.

There are a few things we can control in life. Last week, on my way to work, I was speeding in the left lane, almost ten over in a 65 mph zone, so it was not as if I were holding up traffic. The person behind me flashed for me to get out of his way but I was not ready to change lanes yet. I had to get closer to my exit. When I did not immediately clear the way, the driver behind me continued to flash his headlights and to speed closer to my tailgate. Apparently, the fool expected me to instantly slam over into the slower lane for no other reason than his insistence. Do I not have the same rights on this road as he does? The flashing indicated the driver was quite agitated and as I was approaching my exit, I attempted to grant the fool his wish, but it meant slowing down to fit between the slower cars on the right. As soon as a space became available, before I could merge right, the fool sped into that space so he could give me the finger. Of course, I replied in kind. It was an old white guy, in a black Cadillac Escalade. I think he was in a suit. It made me laugh. Based on his car, his clothing and his attitude, he has likely had his way all of his adult life. I was glad to be of service in reminding him that he does not rule the entire world and that he is not the boss of me. Ginger is. But the whole thing was mildly depressing. Almost six decades on this earth and I am still giving people the finger? Really?

In looking for my ring, I have scratched through all of the nooks and crannies in my house, my car, and the prairie between the house and the barn. I have found little items, pieces of broken jewelry and bits of junk, even rocks I picked up in my travels. Every item reminds me of something, of someone, of some place. Some pertain to my life stories, the ones I hope my children will recall long after I am gone. I know they have forgotten every story as soon as I told it, the way I forgot almost every story my mother told me about her life. Now I wish I could remember every fact and detail.

I wonder what goes with us when we leave this life. Upon my death, will I remember things like trading the great all-American insult with a fellow commuter? Will I see into his life and understand why he felt his travel on the shared highway was more important than mine? Will I suddenly see and understand where and why I lost my mother's diamonds? Will I remember the stone I carried home from Jackson Hole, Wyoming the summer my kids and I went camping in Yellowstone? Will I understand that my life, though it was merely an extended string of minutes and seconds of nothing great and nothing tragic - just a regular lifetime - was more than the sum of its parts? Will everything, every single second, be revealed as something profound? What if my only lesson was to refrain from giving the finger to jerks?

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Maybe a Merry Christmas for Ginger...

Could you in good conscience sell these young, healthy horses to the slaughter house?

More of the herd that narrowly missed starvation and just missed the slaughter house.

There are fourteen horses that were allowed to almost starve to death before intervention could be legally initiated, but eventually the horses were taken away from their owner. They were fed, given medical attention, and brought back to health. With the slow grind of justice, this took over 18 months. Then just this week, the Sheriff ordered all the horses to be removed from the boarding facility before tomorrow, or the kill buyer would take all of them to the slaughter house. What in the hell is wrong with human beings?

The good news is that all of the horses have a home. One of the horses has a home at Spirit Creek, I just do not know which one it is yet. There is a dappled palomino, a brood mare who has likely been pregnant most of her adult life, who seems to be destined for Ginger's kingdom.

Maybe by Christmas, certainly before the end of the year, there will be another horse in the pasture.

She has lost her figure from having too many babies but hey, I am not in such great physical shape myself!

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Parenting Duties Officially Concluded!

Thursday afternoon, my son completed the last final exam required to earn his college degree! Congratulations to the Unabomber for hanging tough until he succeeded! It it truly a red letter day.

I believe this signals the conclusion of my minimum required parenting duties. Though I have never doubted my son is superbly capable to do anything he wants in life, I have worried about him since he was a baby. A born athlete, he crawled for a week or two then switched to his natural rate of travel: high speed. Whenever I took him any where - shopping, day care, doctor's office - I had to hold tightly to one of his limbs or maintain a handful of sturdy clothing at all times or he would dart into traffic.

He wrecked every mode of transportation he has ever ridden or driven, starting with a toddler ride toy. He sat on it and pushed with his feet. The seat was maybe four inches off the ground but he found a way to make it dangerous. When he skidded over a large crack in the driveway, he crashed, landing on the point of his chin. Later, when a thin vein of calcification could be felt in his chin, the doctor said my son must have had a hairline fracture.

He rode a skateboard under a car, miraculously without injury. His father almost crushed him letting a car down off a jack. My son fell fifteen feet out of a tree. He skinned half of his face in a spectacular BMX bike wreck. He wrecked his first car in the first week he drove it. He totaled that car on the gravel roads a couple of weeks after it was repaired. He wrecked his second car on the same gravel road. When I saw the way the car was situated in the ditch, I marveled over the power that prevented the car from rolling. (His third car was a 1987 Cadillac - 3000 pounds of heavy metal to keep him firmly on the road.) Needless to say, I have actively and consistently campaigned against my son owning a motorcycle.

Almost from the beginning there were regular phone calls from the school. He was always too busy, too talkative, too much of who is he is to fit quietly and easily into the uniform square pegs the school requires. I always told the school that he has a right to be who he is. Luckily, there were teachers who clearly saw my son, recognized his potential and genuinely liked him. In the classrooms of those good teachers, he was a brilliant student. If any gifted student makes it through the American public school system with any originality, any spark of creativity, any love of learning left, it is thanks to those precious few stellar teachers.

But now, at long last, he is a free man - a college educated free man - an athletic poet with a tremendously creative mind. The only thing he must do now is ENJOY!

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Video Games

When my son was little, he loved playing video games and he was good at it. He and his buddies knew all the games. By some osmosis peculiar to the young, he knew about all the "easter eggs" which are hidden treasures, jokes or puzzles within the games. He knew the cheat codes that gave unlimited life, or bullets, or super powers to blast through the games. The thing I found most irritating about the games - a dizzying string of controller moves that once mastered would confer death blows to opponents - delighted him.

Of course, I was either a permissive parent, or a lazy parent, or possibly even a negligent parent because if he wanted to play the games for hours at a time, I did not care. I recalled playing Monopoly games with my friends for hours. It was so much fun watching him play the games that sometimes I would start a game as another character and play, too. When I ran into monsters I could not slay, my son would take over the controls for me. If there were parts of a game that demanded patience and time consuming gathering of coins or other slow, boring passages, I would take his character through for him. As you might guess, this led to some spectacular squabbles when one or the other of us would not give up the controller, or if we committed a fatal move that caused the other's character to die, or lose his powers, or if it meant starting over in a challenging level.

When the Tomb Raider games came out, with the female lead character of Laura Croft, a sexy, gun-toting, bad-ass who looked like... well... Angelina Jolie, I was blown away! Those games were so much fun. It was a role playing game and Laura Croft was a female Indiana Jones. A feminine character who could beat up bad guys, shoot machine guns, blow away scores of monsters and armies of thugs was a delight for a woman who grew up with only dolls and the 50's female stereotypes. I had to practice diligently to control that character in order to put her through all the physical demands of the adventures. I could never get much more than halfway through those games, but my son could finish them.

By far, the best games, ever, are the Zelda series of role playing games. Link, a little elf-like character, starts out in Hyrule to find the Princess Zelda. Through a series of puzzles, mysteries, mazes, fighting a variety of enemies, Link matures, eventually possessing an arsenal of clever tools, magic, weapons and expertise to slay ever more difficult monsters or bosses. You have to search the environment to find a map, then unlock all the puzzles to get to the treasures, and eventually defeat a big boss in order to move to the next level. There are forces for good that help Link persevere in his quest. This game is one of the most beloved games of all video games. People of all ages around the world play it. I loved it at first because I could keep my character alive for hours, searching the Hyrule world for treasures, instead of constantly fighting monsters.

The Zelda games always contains some small secondary, humorous surprises. In the little village where Link lives, there are chickens that behave exactly the way real chickens do, clucking about, coming and going in their chickenly pursuits. Link can chase them to try to catch them, which is about as difficult to do in the game as it is in real life. If he succeeds, he can carry them around, gently set them down, or toss them in the air. They squawk and beat their wings the entire time he is carrying them. When tossed, they fly off clucking in alarm. If Link chooses to hit the chickens with his sword, if he is mean enough to a chicken, all the chickens in the village come flying to attack him until he stops being mean. In some games, Link has to catch a chicken so he can use it to fly off roofs or hilltops without damaging himself. It is utterly charming.

Video games are a modern art form, containing sophisticated logic challenges, humor and entertainment. Some of the digital worlds are the beautiful, amazingly inventive work of very talented artists. Modern techno-composers are creating an entirely new genre of music for these games. There is no end to human creativity. I wonder what the games will be like in ten years from now, and I hope I am not too old to be able to play them.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

About Those Ghosts...

My earliest memories include being afraid of two intangible things: bears and ghosts, neither of which reside in Kansas, so my parents taught me. I suffered nightmares of our tidy little farm home being stuffed entirely full of bears, crammed to the ceiling. I would wake in a state of terror. Sometimes I would dream of ghosts filling the house, equally as frightening. I do not know what caused these terrible dreams. My mother scolded me a thousand times, "It's just your imagination!" My imagination was a burdensome thing for both me and my mother.

One horrible episode involved my entire family. My father had to leave for Wichita literally in the middle of the night. He worked the third shift at the Boeing factory. The yard light was turned on so he could do a few of the heavy farm chores before he left, and the light shone directly into the bedroom window. My little brother and I shared a bed. In the shadows between our two pillows, I saw a little snake slithering toward the covers. My little brother saw it too. I ordered him to touch it, which he did. (At age three, he knew the consequences of not following my orders.) When he confirmed that it was real, I screamed because snakes were the third thing I feared.

My parents came to investigate my hysterical screaming. My father took it seriously because sometimes there had been a snake in the house. He turned on the lights, shook all of the covers and sheets, looked under all the furniture. He found no snake and tucked us both into bed with strict instructions to go to sleep. As soon as he turned out the light and left, every shadow in the room was full of moving, wriggling, fearful "monsters". It was as if that shadow snake was only the first one of a million black entities haunting that room. They could not exist in the light, so they crowded into every square inch of shadow. The seething cauldron of black energy surrounded my little brother and me in our tiny square patch of light coming in through the window. I could not bear to close my eyes and I could not bear to keep them open. Well over fifty years later, my brother also still remembers that strange night.

In the decades since, I have never seen a bear in the wild but I have no unnatural fear of them, nor dream of bears filling my house to capacity. I no longer run in a blind panic whenever I come across a snake. In fact, as long as there is a safe distance between the snake and myself, I enjoy seeing them. Amazingly enough, I have even evolved to holding the opinion that baby snakes are cute - on a sliding scale, you understand.

I am still afraid of ghosts. If they bother me in dreams, I wake myself up and have some tea. They know they cannot scare me while I am awake because I do not believe in them. I know they are just my imagination. The last two times I dreamed of someone knocking at the front door of my house, I woke myself instantly, the rattling of the storm door lingering in the room. As soon as I am fully awake, I am thankful it was just a bad dream. Then I get up and shut the front door, the same front door that was firmly shut and locked behind me when I went to bed.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Cattle Country

This is cattle country. There is still enough of the tall grass left in the Flint Hills to graze many thousands of cattle. Some of my neighbors have herds of the finest beef cattle I have ever seen. One family owns a herd containing about fifteen or twenty bulls, and at certain times of the year, The Boys will be pastured together. They are huge beasts, calm and slow, taking it easy, and seemingly enjoying exclusive male companionship. Each bull had to have shown special promise and extreme beauty as a calf to be spared the fate of steers. But, every cow eventually comes to the same fate: the slaughter house.

It is common at certain times in any given year to see real cowboys on horseback moving herds from one pasture to another. I have always wondered if nostalgia causes the bigger ranches to keep horses. All terrain vehicles can easily travel the pastures. But, the more I thought about it, the more I realized nothing could take the place of horses. An ATV cannot squeeze between the trees in a stand of timber, or climb out of a steep ravine, or safely turn on a dime.

There is a lot of negativity against the cattle industry, some of it for good reason. The huge feedlots are an abomination. Anything that smells so bad you can smell it twenty miles (or more) away is not healthy for man nor beast. The disgusting concoction fed to cattle in the big lots should be outlawed. Some of it is chicken manure. (Research it.)

PETA and other animal rights groups have been unfortunately branded by their most extreme actions, yet without the work of such groups, the immense suffering of all animals who give their lives so we may live would be even greater. At the least, the transport and slaughter of the animals should be as humane as we can possibly make it.

There is not enough grassland left to raise enough beef to fuel the fast food industry of the western world. The cattle who are fortunate enough to live in the Flint Hills, no matter how brief their lives may be, are lucky - if anything is considered lucky in the life of an animal raised for food. But my heart still goes out to the cows and the calves when the babies are taken from their mothers to be fed and fattened for market.

Though I always wish I had grown up to be a cattle rancher, I know in my heart I could never abide the guilt of making my living by selling the animals to their deaths. Human beings have made their living at the expense of animals since we emerged from the slime and grew hands. I am casting no judgement against those who raise cattle - it is an honorable profession. I enjoy my steak as heartily as the next person. I am just thinking this morning about the way nothing is ever as simple as it appears.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Warning: Contains Old Person Complaints and Swearing

So... I willingly allowed modern medicine to remove my gall bladder and now every time I eat a delicious sugar cookie from the Copper Oven, my stomach rewards me with three days of searing spikes of indigestion. I cannot eat enough antacid tablets. Who designed these bodies? First, no drugs! No rock and roll! No smoking! No horseback riding! Now I can not even have a goddamned sugar cookie? I should have purchased the extended warranty against the things that plague my gene pool: bad knees, gall bladder trouble, gaining weight as easily as breathing. I understand why people turn into old bastards yelling at kids to get off the lawn.

This getting old business is going to be hard. No one wants to hear a blow by blow description of how someone else's body is failing to hold up for the long haul.

"Hey, you rotten kids - get your bikes off my grass!"

Post script: Sugar cookies were not the problem. The symptoms coincided with purchasing and eating two sugar cookies on Monday and Tuesday, but it was apparently a flu bug. The cookies are off the menu for quite some time. The mere mention of them kind of makes me ill.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Miss Snot Face

You and Your Camera Can Take a Flyin' Leap...

Since the moment I met my horse, Ginger, my pet name for her has been Miss Snot Face, a reference I learned in my grade school days, when girls who thought they were better than everyone else acted "snotty". I did not make it up - it is what people said back in the Dark Ages.

Miss Snot Face lived up to her name today. The farrier made a special trip to my house to trim Ginger's hooves. Ginger does well with both front feet, but she does not like waiting on Terrie to finish those back hooves and wants to put her feet down. Terrie is not a very big gal, but she is pretty darned strong to wrestle Ginger for control of those hind legs. On top of this bad habit, for several weeks now Ginger has been quite concerned about something only she can sense somewhere south of her pasture. It might be coyotes, but I do not think a horse would be too worried about coyotes. Maybe a bob cat. I hope it is not a mountain lion. Something unusual has Ginger on constant alert so that made the hoof trimming even more fun than normal.

In addition to this bad behavior today, Ginger left her calling card for me in the barn. There are two stalls in the run-in shed which faces south. Ginger can shelter against the wind and rain, but about the only time I see her in the barn is when she needs to poop. She backs into the middle stall. She can fertilize the entire pasture, but she chooses to relieve herself in the middle stall of her own barn. I think she does this because she used to live in a corral attached to the barn, and the horse manure was removed about every day from the stalls by me. Sometimes, though, I think Miss Snot Face is making a very blatant horse statement, one just for me.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

An Auspicious Sign

It was an auspicious start Thursday morning, the first day to return to work in almost three full weeks. The doe I have been watching for several months was in the middle of the road as if waiting for me when I crested the last hill before the interstate. One of her fawns remains with her, and it sailed easily over the west fence to pause for a brief moment in the center of the road, watching my approach. The deer's effortless grace is always to be admired.

A few minutes later, an eagle flying low from the north changed course to sail directly over my car as I was hauling toward the city. It is not every day a person is blessed by an eagle. The number of eagles has been rising in Kansas slowly over my lifetime. From never having seen a single eagle in the wild to seeing three within ten miles of my own home in the last twelve years is an auspicious sign. That little strand of happiness trailed after me the rest of the day.

A coworker who is a deer hunter in his real life explained it is likely the other fawn was chased away from his mother by a breeding buck, maybe still following his mother from a hundred yards back. Or he may have taken up with another young buck, and both are trailing a group of older bucks. I was thankful for this knowledge.

I am thankful for many things in my life - my family and friends, my home, humble as it is, and my time on this old earth.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Check It Out

My daughter has launched a new web site to sell her handmade jewelery: Flint Hills Gems

Best of success!

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The Last Light

Last night the sky was glorious, the serene beauty overpowering the light pollution and clutter of our civilization. The horned moon low in the west, almost a true Cheshire smile, cast a mellow light above the skyline, and in the east, Orion rising on his ancient westward trek across the winter heavens. The atmosphere was so clear that red Betelgeuse and blue Rigel were colorful beacons anyone would have recognized had they only looked.

The Pleiades and Cassiopeia were above Ginger's barn, but it was Jupiter, seemingly stationed directly above me, that crowned the sky. It seems a profound evolutionary mistake that human beings only have a few decades beneath the living skies.

I recently learned that eventually the Light will go out in the universe, when all of the hydrogen is consumed by the uncountable stars. I imagined the last remaining burning star, the ultimate ending flame of light in an infinite expanse of utter darkness at the end of time. It made me incredibly sad. Nothing lasts forever - not winter, not life, not sadness, not happiness, not even light.

M74: The Perfect Spiral Credit & Copyright: Descubre Foundation, Calar Alto Observatory, OAUV, DSA, V. Peris (OAUV), J. L. Lamadrid (CEFCA), J. Harvey (SSRO), S. Mazlin (SSRO), I. Rodriguez (PTeam), O. L. (PTeam), J. Conejero (PixInsight).

Friday, November 25, 2011

Moon Feathers

The moon indeed possesses feathers.
It was only after moving to Spirit Creek, with the clear and panoramic views of the sky, that I finally understood the phases of the moon. I knew the moon was traveling around the earth and the phases were relative in relationship to the sun, but I was not clear in my mind how that made the moon appear in phases. When I observed for myself the full moon is opposite the sun in the sky and appears close to the sun at the new moon, I understood at last. It only took a little over forty years. Genius.

Many years ago, I received a Bushnell 60 mm telescope as a Christmas present. Included with the instructions for care and use, I found a newsletter devoted entirely to observing the moon. It contained a marvelous map of the lunar surface and ended with a few short paragraphs regarding an intriguing natural phenomenon known as "transient lunar phenomenon". It encouraged all amateur astronomers to be cognizant of the possibilities of observing a TLP. It included instructions for reporting any observations to NASA. It was before the internet, so people had to commit language to paper and physically ship the information via the United States Postal Service. Barbaric, I know.

This morning as I was scrolling through the full moon photos taken with my new camera, I remembered the request of NASA scientists for observations of the well-known phenomenon that has been witnessed throughout recorded history. It was a mystery to science in the late 1980's and I wondered if that riddle had been solved.

Thanks to Google, I instantly discovered that TLP has not yet been entirely solved by science.

From Wikipedia: "During the Apollo 11 mission Houston radioed to Apollo 11: "We've got an observation you can make if you have some time up there. There's been some lunar transient events reported in the vicinity of Aristarchus." Astronomers in Bochum, West Germany, had observed a bright glow on the lunar surface—the same sort of eerie luminescence that has intrigued moon watchers for centuries. The report was passed on to Houston and thence to the astronauts. Almost immediately, Armstrong reported back, "Hey, Houston, I'm looking north up toward Aristarchus now, and there's an area that is considerably more illuminated than the surrounding area. It seems to have a slight amount of fluorescence."
Though science does its best to suck the magic from our lives as brutally as a vampire drains his victim's blood, some things remain mysterious and wonderful, including the idea of vampires and the fact of transient lunar phenomenon. And, as you can see, I have irrefutable proof that moon feathers exist.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Cyberkit's Masterpiece

Cyberkit, a faithful reader of this blog and a long time personal friend, emailed this work of art to me. I believe this is the very genesis of an entirely new artistic photographic style. (The only thing that could have improved this would have been if Ginger was wearing a crown.)

Hold on, Cyberkit - when this image hits the internet, we are going to be rich, biatch!

Seven Billion and Counting

Recently, the number crunchers of the world determined that the human population of the earth surpassed seven billion people. As my daughter says, "Everyone is here!"

We must all be here at the same time for a good reason. Maybe, like Skynet in the Terminator movies, the population has grown to such staggering numbers in order that humans may become self-aware, sentient, enlightened. Oh, my existentialistic soul can dream!

Perhaps a great bursting awareness is soon to rip through space/time, maybe on December 21, 2012, and it will not be the long awaited doomsday predicted by the Mayan, Hopi, Nostradamus, and any number of religions, crack pots, and yahoos scattered across the world and through time. Maybe we will just wake up and KNOW things - like Americans should not be hogging all of the world's resources and fighting wars against people who have a different religion. American companies should not have sold the software to governments to spy and oppress their citizens via the internet. Of course, if they sold it to one government, I assume they sold it to my rich government as well. In America, the religion is profit. It is why we continue to dump uncountable numbers of cubic tons of chemicals into the water, soil and air with no compunction. Our deity expects us to go forth and multiply our profits.

Maybe we will wake up on December 21, 2012 and know that it is madness to believe we can continue to destroy the earth for energy, as if it is a right Americans deserve. We allowed corporate interests to manipulate our law to give human rights to a soulless entity. One thing those old time, savage Indians got right - they warned the laws that took everything from the Indian would one day turn and consume the white man. Silly Indians.

Are the kids in the streets across the country and across the world the stirring of some great knowledge that is reaching a critical mass in the human spirit? Are the numbers of people going to be sufficient to overthrow oppressive governments, oppressive social constructs and oppressive religions by simply being? I do not know.

What I know is that my drivers license is only good until December 21, 2012. It is my own personal Mayan calendar. If the world still exists December 22, 2012, I am going to go out, get in my car, and drive illegally. Yeah, that's right - drive on an expired license!  I am going to stick it to The Man, man!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

The Mystery of the Gay Meatloaf

My dearest friend in this lifetime was gay. He did not come out of the closet until he was well into his thirties. It was a traumatic and heroic action on his part. He kept his secret so well hidden that I, his best friend, did not suspect. But, at long last, he was out, and the profound change this brought to my friend was a great thing to see. He was happier than I had ever seen him, and I had known him a long time, since high school. Even better, he soon found true love.

My friend and his partner invited my family to Sunday afternoon dinner at their restored farmhouse. It was an important step for my dear friend, and I wanted the entire afternoon to go perfectly for him. My brother happened to be visiting that weekend so he accompanied my husband, my daughter and me on the trip for Sunday afternoon dinner.

We had a wonderful afternoon, admiring all of the considerable remodeling and decorating the two men had accomplished in their home - refinished wood floors, restored french doors, excellent choices in artwork, house plants, fabrics, antique furniture. Their home was beautiful and comfortable. The dinner was a sumptuous feast served on a lovely old restored dining table set with heavy silverware and fresh flowers. It was heartwarming to see my friend so happy, lonely no longer, with someone to share his life and building such a beautiful home together.

When it came time to sit down to the meal, there was a tiny problem. They were serving meatloaf. I absolutely hated meatloaf and never ate it, not even my own mother's meatloaf. I was not about to let a detail like that put any sort of negativity on my friend's day, so I ate the meatloaf and said not a word. My brother and my husband had seconds. My little girl ate a big helping of it, too. It must have been delicious.

We passed the rest of the afternoon in good cheer and took our leave fairly late. It was over fifty miles to our house. It was the end of a long Sunday on a long weekend and we were all tired. We went to bed shortly after we arrived home.

My little girl was the first one to be sick. I heard her little feet running down the hall and got up to check on her. As soon as she was settled and I had returned to bed, it hit me. I ran down the hall to be sick. Goodbye, meatloaf! Of course, everyone in the entire house could hear the commotion of people running down the hall. As I returned shakily to bed, my little brother said something smart-assed from the sofa. I did not hear exactly what he said but I caught the drift. It was just a few minutes later when I heard him running down the hall, and that made me laugh. When I heard him returning to the sofa, I called out, "How instant is that karma?"

Only my brother, my daughter and myself were ill and we felt fine the next morning. I, of course, blamed the meatloaf. Since no one gay who ate the meatloaf became ill, that forever put my husband under a cloud of suspicion. He ate two big helpings of the meatloaf and was never sick. I teased him with great delight about that for a long time.

Amazingly enough, after that, I was able to eat meatloaf and I have enjoyed it since. I had some last night at a fine restaurant in Manhattan, Kansas. Of course, I can never enjoy meatloaf without remembering my best friend and the mystery of the gay meatloaf.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Roaming the Flint Hills With a Camera

Sunrise at Spirit Creek

I love Ginger. Here is the spoiled diva eating breakfast at sunrise.

This old cottonwood lives high on a hill and bears the shape of the incessant winds.

From this ridge you can see far to the south, miles and miles across the Flint Hills. The clouds were shredded and combed by the cold winds. It is difficult to convey the space. It was a beautiful November morning high on the prairie.

Who knew the new camera would lead me into danger? Yesterday I left the house early and took off to the west in search of beautiful scenery to record with my new digital camera. The wind was blowing out of the south with such ferocity that several times it slammed the door of my car against me. Good thing I have lots of padding - and a hard head.

The wind whined its melancholy chords through the tightly strung electric wires wherever I went. It is such a lonesome sound that I can hardly bear it. On the ridges, the barbed wire strands were thrumming in slightly varying keys of sadness, too - a chorus of sadness and solitude.

Several times I almost fell on steep hillsides and deep ditches. Today I am sore and bruised, but such personal sacrifice is the hallmark of a truly gifted photographic genius. I bleed for my art!

At one place, a big dog faithfully guarding his family's front yard barked at me, keeping me in view at all times. I was across a creek, but that was too close. I recognized him as one of the Good Dog Duke's comrade in arms, a good old farm dog, faithfully looking after his family's place.

I spent an entire morning taking photographs but when I returned home, I only had fifty photos. I deleted about one third of them. The best photograph of the day looked awesome in the viewer. I was so excited about it and thought it was going to be an award-winning work of art. I could not wait to get home to see it on the big screen. It was ruined by the inclusion of overhead wires that I did not see in the original composition. In the old days, I would have spent a lot of money getting that ruined photograph developed. I was disappointed but there are a billion more photographs out there waiting for me. Delete, delete, delete!

Friday, November 18, 2011

Another Day on Planet Earth

I did not have to go to the cube farm yesterday because I was "on vacation". Instead, I went to see about a horse. He was a nice looking bay horse, rather a gentle spirit - with wings on his feet. When he was led back in his pasture to the rest of his herd, one of the horses came over and kicked him, in slow motion. The slow kick was in deference to their human benefactor being right there among them. None of the horses wanted to harm her. The kick may have been because the bay was enjoying the carrots I had brought for him right in front of the rest of the herd. Jealousy afflicts all flesh, it seems.

When I got home, Duke and I decided to go down to the creek. I had not been down to the water for a long time. I was expecting it to be almost dry but it was still flowing. In some places it is a mere trickle over the rocks. In the deep clear pools, the little fish were plentiful. I have never been able to identify the fish that live in Spirit Creek. They could be Topeka Minnows, an endangered species found only in the tall grass streams of the Flint Hills. They are probably nothing as rare as that. There are only three kinds of fish that live in the creek here. The most numerous fish look like silver minnows of some sort. In the years when there is a lot of water in the creek, a few will grow to about ten inches long. There is a slightly different type of fish, far fewer in numbers, that seem to be full grown at a couple of inches in length. The most rare fish of all is some sort of little spotted bottom feeder that looks a bit prehistoric. I have to spend a lot of time beside the water to spot one of those as there are so few of them.

It was wonderful to be walking the creek again. In the years I have lived here, the banks have grown into a jungle of brush and vines so it is not easy to get down to the water's edge. To see the little creek in its normal state - a quiet crystal clear stream - you would never guess how quickly it will rise in a heavy rain, nor how loud and violent its rushing waters blasting between the banks can be. There are always trees precariously hanging on the banks, in danger of being washed away in the next big deluge. The banks change continually, in elevation and in appearance. What does not change is the limestone rocks scrubbed white by the rushing water, and the sand full of Permian Sea fossils.

It takes no effort to find the fossils in the soft sand of the creek bed. My favorites are the little clams. It is easy to find perfectly shaped ones and yesterday I found one that was fossilized white instead of the usual charcoal gray. I also found a turkey feather. Duke enjoys snuffling around, checking to smell who has been by. There were raccoon tracks in the soft mud but no other animal tracks I could see.

It was simply a great day on planet earth.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

The Deer Nation

Years ago, I heard that everyone has animal protector spirits, one on the left and one on the right. Testing that hypothesis, I announced to the Universe that I wanted to know what animal spirit was on my right. "Your move, Universe," I thought.

It took the Universe about a year to convince me that the animal spirit on my right was the deer. After I announced my request, I began noticing that each time I drove out of the city, I would see deer on the right side of the road. Of course I dismissed it as coincidence, like any normal red blooded American. As time went on, seeing a deer on the right side of the road, day and night, was such a constant and consistent event that I could have bet money on it. The more I meditated and prayed about this business of an animal protector on my right, the more deer I saw, and the greater my doubt grew. Crazy that the more proof we are granted by the Creator, the more we indulge our doubt.

I went through all of the rationalizations that my society has dutifully taught me: coincidence - looking for deer when I had not been looking for them before - high number of deer in Kansas so of course I will see them everywhere - "magical" thinking - stupid to believe old pan-Indian myths.

One time I had been earnestly praying about this whole spirit business and admitting it was difficult for me to believe. Later that day, on my way to visit a friend in another town, I spotted a doe with triplets at the edge of a field in broad day light. I have never seen triplets before or since. The Universe was patiently answering my prayers but I was stubbornly dense.

In one prayer Lodge I attended, the people were taught to look into the red hot stones, the grandfathers, for messages, for help. While I always dutifully looked into the stones, I did not know what to expect. Would I see a vision, like a hologram? Would an intuitive answer arise in my consciousness? Would I hear something? I did not know, but I continued to take the elder's word and looked to the grandfathers for their help. One time I closed my eyes tightly and prayed hard about the issue of whether there really were protector spirits for people, me in particular. I earnestly prayed to be shown what my right protector spirit might be. When I opened my eyes, the pattern in the glowing red hot stones was the perfect likeness of a deer facing me. It sent a jolt of joyous energy through me, but only for a moment. Anyone can see anything if they are motivated enough, I told myself. Just as my mother had said to me a million times, "It's just your imagination." I dismissed the gift from the grandfathers like I had dismissed the deer that had been showing themselves to me, like the doe who brought her three precious fawns out into the open danger of daylight. What a dolt. Most of us are dolts when it comes to recognizing the blatant answer to our prayers, whatever they may be.

But, I was beginning to believe.

This entire lesson culminated when I received the first energy work of my life, a Reiki session. I became so deeply relaxed that I was able to still my thoughts entirely for the first time. Into that quiet space behind my eyes, I became aware of a mighty buck with a magnificent rack of antlers standing to my right. A dazzling energetic curtain separated the buck from me. It was so startling that my eyes involuntarily opened. I could still see the buck. A current of gratitude washed through me, and I opened and closed my eyes several times to prove to myself that what I was seeing was real. Whether my eyes were open or closed, I could see the deer spirit.

I wasted one of the most momentous events of my spiritual life by failing to acknowledge the spirit of the deer nation when he appeared to me. Yet, what he brought was the knowledge that the Indians know what the hell they are talking about. The thing is, we do not have to be Indians to have spirits visit us, to have our prayers answered - merely human. Our human prayers are heard and answered. The Creator of all knows our hearts.

No, I am not a deer shaman, not a deer whisperer. I cannot magically entice deer to come to my side. (You, "deer" reader, have been watching too many Hollywood movies!) I cannot call on deer to kick someone's ass, someone who pulls out in front of me in traffic, for instance, but that would be cool. Even so, this was a tremendous lesson for me. Our lives are mysterious. The world is more mysterious than even science can say. There are things we no longer understand, things we have forgotten, and things we absolutely no longer value to the detriment of all sentient beings. Thankfully, there are people who have never forgotten, and are willing to share a little of what they know.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Footsteps in the Dark

The graying Good Dog Duke - still shedding, so he looks unloved and unkept, but neither is true.

I do not know what creature is causing the Good Dog Duke to bark all night long. He barks all around the house, so I am guessing coyotes are circling. Coyotes have been howling around this area for weeks. Ginger the horse cannot eat her hay in peace, stopping every few mouthfuls to step away and listen intently. Last night she was particularly nervous and I felt sorry for her. Something out there is worrying her. A herd animal probably feels quite vulnerable and defenseless living alone all the time.

As I was playing my favorite insomniac marble game, Zuma, in these early morning hours, I heard slow footsteps crunching fallen leaves right outside the window. Having just watched Unsolved Mysteries about people who disappear for no reason, I got a little jolt of adrenaline. Duke was silent. Of course, in my mind, it cannot mean that Duke is right outside the window listening to me cuss as I continually die in the advanced levels of Zuma. It means a crazy redneck high on meth, wielding a skinning knife and a compound bow, is sneaking up on the house to steal my broken down furniture and the 532 pound television. One thing my mother taught me about living in the country: do not sit paralyzed with fear - investigate! I went to the front door, flung it open and hollered for Duke, and added, just in case, "You can have the television but I'll have to help you carry it out, so don't kill me!"

It was just the old Dukenator lying faithfully beneath the window.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

A Few Miles Down the Road...

This was once Kaw land, as far as the eye could see in any direction.

Winter on the prairie.

Muddy horses. Beautiful.

Steak on the hoof.

This little stream was full of water cress, a sure sign of spring water. I do not know the purpose of this limestone structure. It is one of the largest limestone ruins I have ever come across. As I was taking photos, the incessant Kansas wind thrumming new electrical lines overhead caused a mighty lonesome feeling, a melancholy in my spirit. I left right away.

This limestone ruin was very similar to the first. If this was once a house, it was situated on a long stretch of tableland. The wind howls unimpeded all the way from the Arctic in the winter. I cannot imagine ever being warm within these stone walls.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Bonnie Vista

A bonnie vista is a beautiful view. It is also my grandmother's name. She lived to be 99 years old. That is a long time looking forward but looking back it is not much time. She once said to me, "It went by faster than I thought."

She was a beautiful woman all the years of her life. She was opinionated but not in the way I am opinionated. She held her opinions with class and restraint. I often wish I had learned that grace from her.

She believed when people die it is simply the end. I do not know what led her to this belief but I am sure it was her logical, pragmatic mind. Based on what we see, that is the logical assumption. This belief informed her life and lent to her an admirable discipline and strength. She told me a person must not weaken. She remained disciplined until the very end.

She was not sentimental but she was loving. Her sense of humor had a touch of the steel blade in it but it was never mean-spirited. Her house was always spotless, from the big old farmhouse to the small home in town where she and Grandpa moved after they sold the farm and retired. I always had the sense that my Grandmother could have run a company or a school or a government if such professions had been more readily available to the women of her generation. In fact, she did run a successful business. She and Grandpa started with nothing but she was quite well off until the end. She successfully taught four children, eight grandchildren, and as many of the great grandchildren as she had the opportunity to know. Under her rule, the family prospered. She never dominated the people she governed but empowered the people she dearly loved.

By some unknown blessing from the hand of almighty God Himself, I spent almost a week alone with my grandparents one summer. Every single day, as soon as I had breakfast, I could go to the barn. I could ride the horses as much as I wanted. It was the best consecutive run of days in my entire childhood! It was my father's chestnut cow horse that I rode. I loved the red horse and she loved me. It was nothing to the big working mare to carry a skinny little girl around in the pasture behind the barn or on the dirt road following the bend of the Little Walnut River. I have often wondered if a horse, such a sensitive and empathic animal, enters into the imagination of a child and experiences the make-believe worlds, too. Maybe it is the simple pure joy of childhood the horse experiences. I was as safe in the care of that wise old mare as I was anywhere in the world.

My grandmother understood me and never placed any sort of burden on me for being who I was as a child. One day when she called me in at noon I asked if I could take my lunch so I could have a picnic in the pasture with the horse. She took my request seriously and packed a meal in a brown paper bag. Beneath the large cottonwood trees in the beautiful little pasture behind the barn, I gathered armloads of grass for the horse. I sat on the ground to eat and the horse, who could have easily chosen to graze anywhere in the entire pasture, stayed faithfully by my side eating the grass I had gathered.

Even late in her years my grandmother remembered when I asked her to pack my lunch so I could picnic with the horse. I do not think Grandma had any idea what a wonderful gift she allowed me that day.

I was lucky enough to know all four of my grandparents well, and to have ongoing relationships with them that lasted until the end of their lives. My grandmother did not always approve of my choices but I never doubted that she loved me. Even when I did not visit in person, we wrote to one another over the years, so she usually knew what was going on in my life. The older I was, the more remarkable she became in my eyes. The thing about loving someone your entire life - that love does not fundamentally change but it expands, adds on, becomes more complex without ever leaving those innocent, simple beginnings behind.

I do not know where my Grandmother is now. She died at the summer solstice when the sun was at its highest, when the most light was available to her. At the graveside the day of her funeral the sunlight was strong and clear. Off to the left, in an open area away from the mourners, a column of bright light was present. It was only thin air, visibly brighter than the surrounding sunlight, and was as clear and straight and as beautiful as my Grandmother's spirit had been in physical life. I knew it was my grandmother taking her final leave of the family and friends she had loved so well and for so long. Wherever she is now, that is a good place.

Bonnie Vista and Charles Asa

Thursday, November 10, 2011


The hawks, fully reunited, greet the winter sunrise.

By the time I leave for work, the sun is well up. The tiny speck in the center of this photo is a blue heron. Leonard McKinney told me these water birds carry prayers from the tipis. For the last dozen years, there has been a heron frequenting this pond and the creek around my house.

When I am along the creek, even as large as the heron is, I never notice it or hear it until it takes flight some yards ahead of me. It is such a large bird, its presence so unexpected, and its wings makes such a noise that it never fails to make my heart race.

A heron must live most of its life alone in the still places, by quiet water. I understand. My westernized mind cannot always grasp the things the Indians tell me, but when I become still enough, like the water, I know these birds for certain carry the prayers.

Returning home at moonrise.

And at the end of another day, I see the heron feeding in the last moments of daylight.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Crazy Old Crystal Lady

Truly a beautiful crystal.

Some people collect match book covers, or tea pots, or cars. Sometimes old ladies collect cats. I collect something quite similar to cats (without the litter box): crystals. As with cats, you cannot "do" anything with crystals. You simply enjoy living with them. I have a favorite supplier for my crystal addiction, a woman from Arkansas who mines her own to sell to desperate people like me.

I have my favorite crystals, but if I had to give any away, they would suddenly all become favorites. My collection is not to the point that my house is overrun, but if I were to get all of the crystals out of storage and displayed, it would require a lot of shelf space.

This weekend I found a beauty, a Dow crystal, a certain crystal formation considered "perfect" by Sir George Henry L. Dow, III. (Nah, I just made that up.) I do not know who named crystals with three faces of sevens and three faces of three "Dow", and neither do I know why that would that make them any more perfect than any other crystal. This Dow has inclusions and rainbows and unusual smaller crystals growing from it. It also has a huge phantom within it. A phantom is the outline of a crystal within a crystal. Folklore says it represents a progression of lives. Science says it is caused by various minerals present at the formation of the crystal.

I am not sure that even science knows exactly how quartz crystals are formed. For instance, there are naturally double-terminated crystals, meaning they have faces at both ends and therefore did not form upwards from a matrix. Crystals are manufactured in the laboratory, so the process of crystallization is understood. Otherwise, from what I have read, no one is exactly sure how crystals are naturally created - all at once, or do they grow over time?

Some of my crystals have "pictures" of pyramids on their faces and sides, both Egyptian pyramids and Mayan. They do not merely resemble pyramids, they are perfect isometric images of pyramids. And they are not scratched into the surface, but of the crystal itself. Some have strangely consistent geometries that resemble symbols, and appear to be an unknown alphabet. Some have inclusions that look like galaxies and nebulae and star trails. Some have perfectly formed triangles raised on their faces. Some are more subtle, being within the quartz. Some have many triangles nested together. These triangles are called record keepers. It is said they contain the knowledge and history of the world.

To me, crystals are beautiful manifestations of the mysterious physical laws that make our corporeal lives possible within the Great Dreaming of our mother planet. Examining crystals closely, it is easy to understand why they have such a rich mythological history. They are magical to hold in your hand. It is easy to allow your imagination to drift away into them.

I took a dozen photos of this crystal and each one looks different!

This shard is so clear that it did not show up against the dark blue.

Monday, November 7, 2011

My Fat Horse Ginger

This is Ginger, the fat horse, the ruler of Spirit Creek. She is not the most beautiful horse in the world, but she is the most beautiful horse I own. She thinks she is the supreme queen of the universe because she bosses me around, and Terrie the farrier, and Dr. J the veterinarian, and anyone else she gets the chance to boss around.

I did not name her Ginger. She came to me already named. There are a million chestnut horses called Ginger in this world thanks to all the people who read Black Beauty as children. My Ginger is like the old time Quarter Horses: short and stocky, with a thin mane and a large jaw. My neighbor calls Ginger "cute" but that does not fool me. It is just her code word for "ugly". My neighbor has no appreciation for the American Quarter Horse. The men who delivered Annie to me thought Ginger was an expensive registered horse. They were surprised when I said she was just grade. They were guys who made their living around horses, too. In all fairness, compared to Annie that day, Ginger did look like royalty.

It is not right to keep a horse alone and away from others of their own kind. I have been looking for a companion for Ginger but have not had good luck. The right horse is out there, I just have to be diligent.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

The Sun, The Moon and The Stars

The Sun's Halo

The Moon and the Rose

and the Sweet Gum Stars... all in Gage Park.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

The AlienThat Forced Me To Spend Money

I took a wrong turn the other day and discovered this amazing entity clinging to a building. I was so intrigued that I went directly to a retail outlet and purchased a new digital camera expressly to get photos of this alien life form.

I have been wanting a better camera for a long time, so this ivy was the impetus for taking the plunge. (No one has to tell me that the photos taken with the expensive camera are no better than the photos taken with the little dummy-proof camera, okay? I am still operating in the "Uhhhhhhh" mode of the new camera.) Eventually I will learn how to use the creative possibilities - maybe. I think. I hope.

The New Camera...

The evening star adorns the last moments of daylight.

Untouched prairie in its radiant red glory.

My beloved Kansas rising against the open sky.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

The Alpaca Experience

Photo by Anne Williamson - from Topeka Capital Journal, 2011

The sixth annual Mid-America Alpaca show was held in Topeka last weekend. Free admission. Why not go, I asked myself. I have seen an alpaca or two in my day, but I had never seen several hundred alpacas in one place. They are gentle and strange creatures with impossibly large eyes. They make a quiet mewing noise that is comforting the way a cat's purring is comforting. I wanted to put my hands on every one I saw but I restrained myself.

People and their alpacas traveled to Topeka from everywhere in the United States. Apparently, the fair is a big deal in the alpaca industry. I spoke to several people. I was even invited to visit an alpaca ranch in Minnesota. They kept throwing in enticements: wood burning stove in the guest house; timber wolves; Minnesota scenery; lots of alpacas. Visit anytime!

Some of the money raised by the fair goes to support veterinarian classes at state universities, including Kansas State. With only about 150,000 alpacas in the United States, there is not a common pool of veterinarian knowledge available, but that is changing.

Alpacas are not prolific breeders, so building a herd takes some time and a lot of money. A good breeding female costs several thousand dollars. Stud service from a male with highly prized wool is $2000. It is not an industry just any fool can afford to jump into with both feet and that is a good thing. The animals are so gentle that it would be an extreme tragedy for any alpaca to fall into the hands of an abusive or neglectful human being.

I also talked with a lady who has just started a not-for-profit business based on her alpacas. It is "Alpacas for Autism". It seems that by pairing alpacas and autistic children some sort of magic happens. She has a camp for children at her ranch. She is also in the process of establishing classes for fiber work (weaving, crochet, knitting), and marketing and entrepreneurship classes for families dealing with autism. What a brilliant idea.

Since the fair, I have been considering alpaca ranching as my second career. There are only a few years left before I retire. It seems it would be a fun and profitable endeavor. I could freely pet my own alpacas at any time of the day or night. Even if the entire herd stampeded me, I would likely live to tell of it. I would actually be a rancher, at long last. I would not have to worry about selling the animals for food as they are far more valuable as breeders and for their fiber. It would be so much fun when the mother alpacas had their babies. I could go to alpaca shows to sit around talking to people from far away places. Of course, that is just the dream. Reality would quite likely be vastly different. It might be so boring that I would be begging strangers to visit my alpaca ranch - any time, any time at all.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Only One

The last few days I have noticed a solitary red tailed hawk sitting in the tree directly east of the window where I work at my computer. It flies to the same branch to perch facing the morning sun each day. After ten or fifteen minutes it takes wing to hunt my pasture and the surrounding area. Because it chooses the same branch, I know it is one of the mated pair that has hunted and nested here for several years.

It is sad to see the hawk patiently waiting for its mate. I wonder if the missing raptor was illegally shot by a farmer somewhere in the United States as it made its annual migration, or if it was killed by eating a rodent full of poison. I wonder if it was killed by a speeding truck along a highway when it fell out of the sky toward its prey. Did it break a wing flying into an electric wire, or a wind turbine, or by some other action or artifact of human beings? Did it succumb to a disease or infirmity brought on by pollution? I have seen many dead and dying red tailed hawks, all victims of our human selfish domination of the earth.

Somehow we ignore the fact that we are made of the same biology as all of the creatures who live on this planet. We forget they were here first. We forget that if they cannot survive here, neither can we.

I hope the missing hawk died of old age, that its time on the earth was full. I hope the survivor finds a new companion and nests once again in the bend of Spirit Creek, though as a human being I hardly deserve such a blessing.

The hawks together November 12, 2009.

Most Marvelous Post Script November 2, 2011
It is a happy day whenever the world proves me to be far too pessimistic and sad! Look who arrived yesterday!
Taken November 1, 2011:

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Artist Sighting

It is a rather common sight to see cars parked along the gravel roads and people photographing, sketching or painting the prairie scenery. Yesterday there was an older man who had parked his car in an opened gate. He had set up his easel at the very edge of the road. When I drove by, I slowed down considerably, not to view his painting, or make him nervous, but to prevent enveloping him and his artwork in a huge cloud of choking dust. I could see that he was, in fact, painting the scenery. (I once drove past a young woman splashing red paint across her canvas - some exercise in complementary colors, I surmised, since there was nothing but green in the landscape as far as the eye could see.)

My neighbors tell a story of an artist who set up in a pasture near here. He was seated at his easel, quite happily painting, entirely unaware of a semicircle of curious cattle that quietly gathered a short distance behind him. At some point he got the feeling of being watched. When he looked around he was startled to find such a large crowd of onlookers - a crowd of onlookers who could stampede him as he sat painting. It was disconcerting. He may have been careful to find truly empty pastures in future plein air excursions.

Artists love to paint en plein air, even unskilled artists like myself, despite the risks of untamed onlookers and other dangerous encroachments.

I spent a day alone on the Kure Beach in North Carolina with my water paints. It was "cold" so I literally had the beach to myself. It was in the upper 50 degrees. I had traveled from Kansas where it was already winter, so to me it was warm and wonderful. To have the entire beach to myself was a miracle, based on the impossible crowd of dwellings stacked up for blocks behind me.

I had a nice painting started but could not resist laying back in the sand and closing my eyes to listen to the first lullaby known to mankind. When I closed my eyes, the water was about 15 feet away from me. I unintentionally fell asleep and I do not know how long I lay in the comforting sand, entirely exposed to any unscrupulous human or gull who may have wished to steal from me. When I woke up, I was greatly startled to see the water was only a few feet from me. As a plains person, I have very little experience with oceans, but I knew it meant the tide had come in. Still, it was deeply unsettling to see how far an entire ocean had moved toward me and how many hundreds of acres of beach were suddenly underwater. The vast weight of water stretching unseen all the way to the coast of Africa suddenly seemed immediate and threatening and I had to stand up. I packed up and left, the painting unfinished.

The dangerous pursuit of art...

Wednesday, October 26, 2011


Image Credit: Cassini Imaging Team, ISS, JPL, ESA, NASA

Four of Saturn's moons: Titan, the second largest moon in our solar system - Dione, the ice beauty shining brightly above the rings - Pandora shepherding the rings - and Pan, a speck in the gap in the rings to the left.

Dione looks so much like our own beloved moon. Dione is covered in water ice. Perhaps a million years from now, when our sun has rendered earth uninhabitable, we will have migrated to Titan. From the surface of Titan, we would not only see the magnificence of Saturn but the sparkling pearl of Dione and be reminded of our home world, our great mother Earth and her daughter, the Moon.

Human beings have about another million years to evolve a consciousness that would prevent us from destroying our home. I am not convinced we will succeed.
Credit & Copyright: Stefan Seip (Astro Meeting)

Monday, October 24, 2011

The Thin Veneer of Civilization

My house is not located far from civilization. I live only minutes away from the nearest Walmart, after all. Duke the dog and Ginger the horse do not always take into account that they are domesticated animals and now live in a civilized human world. The week was off to a good start Monday morning when I stepped outdoors to find the severed head of some unfortunate creature reeking on the front steps. Using a shovel, and holding my breath, I slung the grisly thing far out into the timber. This is the number one reason why Duke is never allowed to breathe on me or lick my hands or face. I can only imagine the horrible things he may have been recently savoring in his role as a heartily indiscriminate omnivore.

I never have to worry about anything as gruesome with the resident herbivore, Ginger the Reigning Equine. She never drags stinking mammal parts up to the gate for me to enjoy. She expresses her disdain for primates in other ways. She expects weak and slow human beings to do her bidding. The farrier arrived Friday evening cheerful and friendly, and left forty-five minutes later sweating and a bit cranky after wrestling with Ginger for control of her right hind hoof.

Ginger seems to greatly enjoy getting her hooves trimmed. She almost falls asleep while her front hooves are being tended but she only tolerates this human interference for a given amount of time. Then, whether the farrier is finished or not, Ginger no longer agrees that her cooperation is needed. Oh, she eventually allows that last hoof to be trimmed but she makes us pay by insisting on putting her foot down - by shoving me around with her nose - by rubbing her big horse head on my shoulder - by wrestling her hoof out of Terrie's grip. After getting slapped by two cranky and irritated women, Ginger lowers her head and exhales her irritation, then usually cooperates, maybe throwing in one or two minor impatient horse maneuvers, just to keep things even amongst the females.

The problem, if there is one, is that I do not actually feel as if my dog or my horse need to live in abject servitude to me. I expect them to not harm me or other human beings because I treat them with respect and kindness. To me, they are beings in their own right. In return, they are careful to cooperate. They do not always obey me instantly, or do my every bidding the way some people expect their animals to behave. My animals cooperate with me because they want to, not because they have to. Sometimes there is an area of disagreement when I think they should cooperate more immediately and more fully, but they think otherwise. It is quite human of them, actually.

Friday, October 21, 2011

The Neighborhood

A plume of clouds trailing from horizon to horizon - an enormous fractal swath of natural geometry flowing west to east, moisture from the the Pacific Northwest traveling through Kansas toward another destination.

It was sunset when I caught a sudden movement in a still pool. I stopped to see what it might be and discovered three racoons. Too bad I do not have a better camera.

After I took the first photo, all three of the animals went further upstream to avoid the aggravation and harassment.

The timeless moment in my valley when the prairie hills reveal their ancient pristine solitude, when the great mother's dreaming first called them forth, long before human beings arrived with their noise and poison and destruction.

Thursday, October 13, 2011


The summer I was nine years old, my father tragically died in an accident. The enormous blow almost crushed my mother, my little brother and me. That old saying "what does not kill you only makes you stronger" is certainly true of grief. When you lose immediate family, you eventually heal, but you are never the same. The convalescence of the soul is a long journey.

Tragedy moves people you hardly know to help in whatever way they can. They have no idea how their small gesture or gift might grace a broken heart with exactly what it needs. Soon after the funeral, a woman I had never met before was visiting my mother when I got home from school. She had come to pay her respects and apparently to ask my mother's permission to give our family the gift of a dog.

The following Saturday, the first Dachshund I had ever laid eyes on arrived at our house. I was horrified to learn there were dogs that ugly in the world! I had never seen anything as hideous as that poor dog with its useless, dwarfed legs and its long, droopy ears. I do not remember exactly all the details, but I think I was acutely disappointed, expecting a real dog, like a German Shepherd or a Collie. The dogs I knew were greyhounds and large, mixed breed farm dogs. They all had normally sized legs and reasonable ears, not stumpy gnome legs and ugly skin flaps for ears. I hated that dumb, ugly Dachshund on sight and wanted nothing to do with it.

My mother named the poor beast "Beanie", the dumbest name for a dog I had ever heard. It just seemed to be a bad idea in all ways: ugly dog, stupid name, dumb lady for giving us a worthless puppy. She had even said that puppy was the last one in the litter. No one else had wanted that deformed dog, either. The disappointment hardly registered in my broken heart, though.

Of course, Beanie, as an agent of the dog nation was on a mission from heaven. He knew I hated him but that was no reason for him to not love me. Each night at bedtime Beanie went to sleep on my little brother's bed. My brother was only seven and he took no aesthetic exception to Beanie's name or appearance. The tender little-boy heart only registered "puppy" and that was supremely alright with dog and boy.

As usual, I could not go to sleep, lying in the dark with my thoughts and sorrow. As soon as everyone else was soundly asleep, I would hear Beanie jump from my brother's bed. Under cover of darkness, he would trot into my room on his worthless, ugly legs and try to jump on my bed, which was far too high. I did not care how many times he tried each night, I was not going to let such a misshapen, ugly animal sleep on my bed. I turned my back and let him wear himself out trying to jump up. I eventually fell asleep to the sound of the poor little dog trying with all his might to jump onto my bed.

This went on for many nights. I do not remember now how long it took before Beanie's determination finally paid off. One night my heart softened toward the little dog without legs and I bailed out to gather him up and place him on the bed. I do not remember specifically but I believe I had no more trouble falling asleep after that. And I had no trouble loving ol' Beanie with all my heart.

Beanie's name was always unfortunate. He deserved a far more noble name. I accepted his short legs and I found out his floppy ears were soft as silk. He was part of our family for many years. Whatever his earthly mission, he was most determined to see it through. He was run over by a truck but miraculously escaped serious harm. He also survived being run over by a car. When I was in high school, one of the older boys in town rode both of his motorcycle wheels over poor Beanie right before my horrified eyes. The dog was still alive but I did not believe he could possibly survive.

By then Beanie was an overweight, middle-aged, standard Dachshund and he was too heavy for me to carry home. I was almost hysterical with grief. It was one of the town's eccentric families, looked down upon by some, their kids bullied in school, that helped me. The mother hugged me comfortingly, and then kindly lifted the dying dog into their car and brought us both home to my mother. No one gave Beanie a chance to survive. My mother called the vet but he felt it was a lost cause: keep the dog still and warm. Wait and see.

Amazingly, miraculously, Beanie recovered. He laid all night long as if in a coma, but the next day, he became conscious and eventually made a full recovery, though he never could run more than a short distance again. His only goal in life was to follow my brothers and me wherever we went. He played softball, and kick the can with us, went fishing, and downtown for a candy bar. He followed us to the swimming pool and patiently waited outside the gate, all afternoon if necessary. He followed me whenever I rode my horse, but after the accident he could not keep up, so he waited beside the pasture gate for me to return.

My baby brother, who was 18 months old when my father died, was Beanie's last project. He was my little brother's dog after all the rest of us had flown the nest. Beanie slept on that bed every night and laid on the floor watching cartoons and Batman. Beanie and my brother won a prize in the town's annual parade for their costume as a guy walking his dog backwards, the only award Beanie was ever given. When my little brother was away at college, the sad decision to have Beanie euthanized finally had to be made by my mother and stepfather.

Beanie successfully completed his earthly mission, with an unfailing heart and a humble spirit. I hope he was infinitely rewarded for his pure love and devotion to my brothers and me. He was a doggone good dog.