Saturday, May 21, 2011

Living The Herd Life

I know I am past middle age now but I do not believe it... well... until I look in a mirror. Then I see some old woman I do not even know. On bad days the strong family resemblance to my mother's female relations, specifically my Great Aunt Ruth, makes my life-long depression even deeper and more desperate. Sometimes I wake up amazed that I have not killed myself long before now. I seldom look in the mirror. That is why I show up at the cube farm at least once or twice a year with my dress inside out or my shirt on backwards.

Another plague of aging is the way my brain starts and stops and hiccups and sputters in a most embarrassing way. Sometimes I forget what I am saying in mid-sentence. There are days when concentrating is out of the question. Depending on how motivated I am to recall a fact or a name or a reason or the history of a project, it might take two or three days to dredge something from the memory banks.

I prefer to live in denial of my aching knees that snap and burn and hurt like hell going up or down stairs, or my poor aching fingers becoming misshapen and wrinkled. My eyesight is worse every year. My hearing is fading, damaged long ago by amplified rock'n'roll blasting at inhuman levels and Harley Davidson motors and naked ears traveling at 80 mph on the wide open road.

I will not use the words "fat" or "sagging" in this post. To a woman, they are like Kryptonite to Superman.

We have to grow old right before our own eyes. If we stayed young and beautiful and strong right up to the end, death would be uncommonly cruel. And speaking of death... people I have loved long and dearly are departing. I have already outlived Significant Other two and three, much to my sorrow. My Grandmothers are gone and all of their generation in my family. My mother and her brothers and sister are gone, too. My dear Patti gone. So many others already out of here... and many more diagnosed with disease and illness that will age them quickly and take them away, too.

That is the trouble with living a life. It is sometimes difficult and sad and nothing stays the same. If you weaken, the herd surges ahead leaving you to the wolves. Like the old lady last night at the gas station. Gas was $3.54 at a grand opening and people were congregating like African herds at that last water hole. If you had a place in line, you could not let anyone intimidate or bully you away from your turn at the pumps. A young gal shoehorned her fast little car in behind me and in front of an RV. "Good show!" I thought to myself. Just as I had finished up, a woman about my age in a big white van pulled up facing me. She had already made everyone angry by going the wrong direction. By blocking traffic in four directions, she thought she was going to wheel into my space as I left. She did not see the young tigress behind me. The herd pressure from everyone attempting to get past White Van made her finally slam into reverse and wheel backwards at an alarming rate. The guy on the other side of the pump and I both shouted as she was closing in on a small car behind her. The crash seemed inevitable. At the last possible moment, she stopped inches from the pristine hood of a much smaller car trapped behind her. I took the wiggle room to get the hell out of there.

As soon as I pulled forward, Tigress zoomed into the vacancy she had been patiently waiting for. White Van wrongfully assumed she had been cheated out of her turn and laid on the horn, making a big White Van Ass of herself, red faced and bitchy. She had not a single friend in all the herd. (In her secret heart, she was cursing that giant van, too.) She was forced to wait, steaming and humiliated while Tigress filled up. I drove away feeling pretty damned good about myself. I still have what it takes. I kept my place at the watering hole and got out alive.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Tea In the Badlands

Some years ago, on a personal pilgrimage, I drove my shiny new Ford Ranger to the Badlands to camp. I trailed in from the west following a massive plains thunderstorm, epic in beauty and breadth. Luckily for me, I arrived at the campground after the storm because those camping in tents were rain soaked and windblown and sitting in their cars with the heater at full blast. Not me. I was dry.

'The German Shepherd, Nuke, was my good companion. He did not say much and as the miles rolled away we achieved a comfortable, companionable silence. As the days of my pilgrimage progressed, I spoke fewer words to less people. Silence has its mighty virtues.

I had purchased a new tent, a cot, and best of all, a small two burner Coleman stove. The stove meant I could have hot water to wash up every morning I was roughing it. Washing your face each morning in the wide open spaces of our great country is one of the best small pleasures any American can have. It starts the day out with a perfect note of fresh optimism and good feeling. The stove also meant I could heat water for tea - even in camps where open fires were prohibited - another grand small pleasure.

I had arrived late in the day with just enough time before sunset to set up camp, cook supper and sit in the clear, wind-swept beauty of the Badlands refreshed by the thunderstorm. Two young men were camping directly across from me. Every time I looked up, they were staring at me. They did not frighten me. Nuke slept inside the tent and anyone would have to get past him first. I slept with an oak ax handle under the cot, as well. But, there was something unusual about those two guys. Maybe they were on mushrooms or something. They did not behave like normal young men. They were not threatening, just unusually quiet.

I slept the sleep of the dead that night in my tent. Even though it was zipped up tightly against the chill night air, the oxygen and magic of the Badlands got in. Awake at first light, I was snug in the warm sleeping bag, listening to the land wake around me. I did not have to do a single thing that whole day, not one freaking thing if I did not feel like it. Funny thing about freedom - it makes you want to get up and roll! Such freedom is a heady experience for a cube farmer.

I dressed quickly in the snappy cold air and went about setting the water to boil on my little stove. I fed Nuke and set a cup of herbal tea to steep. I had purchased the tea the day before at Crazy Horse Mountain. I was drinking steaming, fragrant tea as the golden light of day spilled into the flat open spaces of the prairie, lighting the strange geography of the Badlands. It was one of the most perfect moments of my life.

If that peace and contentment, the beauty of that moment, could be shared, we would have world peace.

By the time I had my breakfast potatoes the sun was well above the horizon and the wind commenced to blow as it can only blow in the wide open spaces of the grasslands. I packed up everything and had only the tent left to take down. I knew it would be a challenge in that wind. I did not want to look foolish in the eyes of my two neighbors who had resumed their silent staring. Sure enough, the moment I removed the last stake, a mighty blast ripped the tent out of my hands and it went bounding away - a giant blue tumbleweed picking up speed. I chased it for a few yards but I was not young and knew it was futile. That damned tent was racing away embarrassingly fast and there was nothing to stop it for miles and miles and miles. I stood there, a foolish woman looking after that runaway tent, thinking of all the hours I had spent in the cube farm to pay for it. But the neighbors sprang into gallant action. On strong and sure legs the young men chased down the escaping tent, wrangled it to a stop and brought it back to me. I was delighted! I was so happy that I repeatedly thanked them, far beyond what was needed. Even then, neither of the men spoke a word nor did they smile. They just nodded.

To this day I have no clue about those young men. Were they tripping? Were they from a foreign country? Brothers who did not need to speak? Deaf? I should have asked because now I will never know. They were excellent, if stoic, tent wranglers.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Indian Poets

My son is a senior at the University of Kansas. On his way to a degree, he took two poetry classes. He called one day explaining he had to choose a poet to study that semester but he did not know any. My first suggestions were the big guys - Whitman, Eliot - but they were not allowed. I said I would think about it and call him back. As soon as I hung up I knew exactly who he should study: Sherman Alexie, a young Spokane/Couer d'Alene Indian, a very talented writer. I had not read any of Alexie's poetry but I had read several of his books. As luck would have it, Sherman Alexie was on the class list of acceptable poets. I thought if anyone could inspire my Potawatomi son, Sherman Alexie would do so.

It is hard to tell with my son. He would likely not admit outright that he enjoyed Alexie's poetry, but I believe he did. I certainly enjoyed the book my son loaned to me. One assignment was to choose a single poem that, in the students's opinion, best exemplified the poet's philosophy. I was thrilled when I read the poem my son selected. I was impressed with his understanding.

My son took a class this semester that required him to write poetry. I was blown away with his work. It was not surprising because he was born with the soul of a poet. He writes so much better than I do. He writes better than many people who are published. He should be writing all the time. Maybe some day he will be compelled to write and there will be yet another Native American voice added to the world, another young man's unique view shared with a world that has a great need for what is in every poet's heart.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

The Universe For Dummies

My kids gave me a Nook, an electronic reader, as a Christmas present. I like it a lot. In addition to reading books, I can play SoDoKu and Chess on it. The chess game is absolutely demoralizing. I ponder making a move for several minutes, make the move, and the computer instantly moves in response. It beats me so damned fast that it is not even fun to play. It feels more like a violation than playing chess.

I enjoy reading the Nook, but there are drawbacks. You cannot take the Nook into the bath for obvious reasons. All of my books have spent time in the healthy steam of a hot bath and are warped from the humidity. I still try to eat and read but it is not a good idea, either. Bits of food and drink fall onto the Nook and it is worrisome. My books live with me. They are tossed around in the truck, stacked up on the floor, stained, bent, and beat up. In fact, the more beloved a book, the worse it looks because I have hauled it all over creation and back. The Nook will never stand up to such tough love. So, when I do read a book using the Nook, I have to be so careful that the experience is totally transformed.

Right now I am reading "The Elegant Universe: Superstrings, Hidden Dimensions, and the Quest for the Ultimate Theory" by Brian Greene. It explains quantum physics so dummies can understand. Reading this material on the Nook gives the experience something of a formal feel. I have great respect for those human minds who work in the realm of the theoretical. But if I consider it all a bit off center, I realize we should have great respect for ourselves as a species.

Reading an entire book on a tiny technical device that also will play chess with me - both actions are amazing on a level we take for granted. Imagine all the wisdom of chess, one of our oldest games, contained in a tiny CPU the size of a dime... or however small the Nook's brain is. Imagine the extreme logic of our best minds compiled and reduced into a book for the common man, then imagine that knowledge electronically transmitted through thin air from a far distant computer environment into my little device as I sit in the parking lot of Barnes and Noble. Then imagine that I live in a country where such knowledge is free, or cheap enough that even if I worked at McDonalds I could afford to purchase such information simply because I am curious. Then imagine that even with the advent of such marvels, even though human evolution has progressed to such a point, millions of people are enslaved by governments that use such technology to spy and censor and repress their populations.


Saturday, May 7, 2011

How Roosters Roll...

The current vice-rooster of my little flock of bantam chickens is Cherokee, the Japanese rooster. He is quite beautiful with a spectacular tail. If his legs were regular length, he might be the president, but Japanese bantams have very short legs. He is no taller than the little hens. He must work harder to impress the ladies.

He is always the first chicken waiting for food so I assumed he was merely ensuring his share. I realized the other day he is making sure to get his share - but not of food. If he is the first guy at the food, then he is the first rooster to make the pleasant, popping cluck that calls the hens to any food he may have found. I laughed at his strutting and calling the hens in his suave "food is served" voice. I scoffed at him, telling him he had not found any food on his own so he should not expect the girls to be impressed. That is when it dawned on me why he was always the first chicken at the feeding site.

This is the same successful behavior that has fueled the evolution of all species. It exists in the male of the human species to this day. It sells very expensive sports cars to middle aged men. It is directly responsible for Donald Trump's abominable comb-over, though with all of his money he does not need good hair to attract a certain type of woman.

Once again there are as many roosters as there are hens in my flock, so at least a couple of the boys will have to go, or I will have to get more hens. I have given away and sold roosters before, but I hate to do that. I never know what circumstance they will go into. When I sold the little porcelaine d'uccle roosters, they may have gone to feed snakes. I know snakes have to eat too - just not my chicks.

I gave away Big Man, the smallest, most magnificent rooster I have ever known - the funniest chicken. He was the tiniest peep and grew into the tiniest, most handsome roo', ever. I still feel bad about it. He taught me about roosters. I did not know anything about them before Big Man. He was a Cochin and demonstrated the epitome of bantam rooster behavior. He was pecking me and attacking me before he was even an adolescent, so if he had stayed, I eventually may not have liked him as much.

Who knew chickens could teach me so much about human beings?

Thursday, May 5, 2011

The Energy of Memory

In the absence of wind the surface of water becomes a mirror, replicating the sky. Even understanding the physics of a perfect reflection, it remains magical to witness. At sunset the other night I passed the little pond on the corner. A spectacular sunset was also within the silver surface of the still water. I stopped to appreciate the moment. Something broke the surface and small circles appeared in the perfection. At that instant the times I spent fishing with my parents became immediate, palpable, dear.

All those moments when my intent was fixed upon a red and white bobber floating on the surface of a pond or the Little Walnut River, determined to wait for the exact moment to set the hook and catch a fish - it was all there, almost as warm and immediate as when we were together fishing. For once, I did not recall my parents with a sense of loss and longing. It was as if my mother and father were present with me in that small, quiet instance, sharing their memories of fishing together, too. It has been a very long time since I felt that protective, nourishing, bedrock energy of love that parents effortlessly cast about their children. It is the energy we are born into and nurtured within. I had almost forgotten how it felt to be their daughter. I believe they intended to remind me.

Monday, May 2, 2011


One of the first things to arrive with spring weather is a tiny patch of wild strawberries that grow in the path to the barn. Their small green leaves are among the first to appear and I am always hopeful when I see the white blossoms that this will be the year I get to taste the berries. I never do. Some other creature harvests them long before I get the chance.

Wild violets have been in bloom for several weeks. The beautiful flowers gracefully suspended from their curving stems remind me always of Patti. When we first became acquainted, she asked me many times if there were violets surrounding my house. I always had to say no - until I moved to Spirit Creek. One year I made an herbal salve from the violet blossoms. It was delicate green in color and melted like magic into the skin. It was a particularly healing medicine for Patti.

A pair of wood ducks nest in the trees directly west of my house each spring. I have seen the male already, but have not yet seen the female. She must already be on the nest. I have never had the pleasure of seeing any babies but I continue to hope each year.

The redtail hawks are back, the ones who hunt my pasture. When I was walking the fence last week looking for Ginger's escape route, both hawks were worried and whistling at the appearance of a human being in the vicinity of their nest. They flew overhead, gliding and whistling, until it was clear I was going away from their nest. I hope it does not cause them to abandon their nesting area. Their nest was not visible but I know it is in a tree in the deep bend of the creek east of the house. It is a wild area seldom visited by human beings.

The wild turkey hen that likes to nest in the vicinity of my house has returned as well. I saw her yesterday afternoon, making her way through the same area the chickens search each morning in their daily routine. One year, I found two turkey eggs in the gravel at the top of the drive. It was a mystery how they came to be there in direct sunlight, just a few feet from the mailbox, within inches of the road.

The humming birds will soon be returning and I eagerly await them. Until I moved here, I had seen a humming bird only twice in my entire life: once at the Grand Canyon when I was a child, and once on the bank of the Taylor River in Colorado. Now my life is full of humming birds. It was worth the wait.

I wonder what will happen when the new house is built. I will not be nearly as close to the creek, so it will be hard to see the ducks in the limbs of the trees. I wonder how long it will take the humming birds to find their feeder? The new house will be almost directly under the tree where the hawks meet first thing in the morning. After the hard work of raising a family, they spend some time hunting and resting before they part ways until the following spring. Then, in the spring they fly to a particular branch each morning to spend a few moments together facing the rising sun. I may never again witness them together in those first few moments of daylight. It makes me almost wish to not build a new home.