Friday, September 30, 2011

Where Do We Go

Dreams are mysterious and magic. They can have a lingering emotional impact. Older, wiser societies than ours have given far more credence to dreams. Our science dismisses dreams as nothing more than artifacts of the mind. Yet, we all know someone warned in a dream, or followed advice given in a dream, or received words of encouragement from a departed loved one through a dream.

Amazingly enough, even here in Backwater, Kansas the universe provides the opportunity for study, personal evolution, enlightenment. Right down the road resides a meditation teacher, an educated woman living a disciplined, principled life. She is impressive. I have been learning meditation from her. There is an old saying: When the student is ready, the teacher appears.

"Buddhist contemplatives have researched the three dimensions of consciousness: the pysche; the substrate; and the primordial consciousness. Each can be tested through experience. The psyche, the realm of the mind, includes the entire range of conscious and unconscious mental processes conditioned by the brain and its interaction with the environment. The psyche emerges from an underlying dimension known as the substrate consciousness, an individual continuum of consciousness that continues from lifetime to lifetime. It carries memories and other personal character traits.

The third dimension of awareness is known in Buddhism as primordial consciousness. It transcends the conceptual constructs of space and time, subject and object, mind and matter and even existence and nonexistence. The primordial consciousness is our buddha-nature. The Buddhists give three reasons why the buddha-nature is present in all beings. The dharmakayam, the consciousness of all the buddhas, pervades the whole of space and time. In the ultimate nature of reality there is no distinction between enlightened and unenlightened beings. All have the capacity to achieve the enlightenment of the buddha." 1

I saw my mother in a dream last night. I have dreamt of her before, but last night was different. She was sitting beside a dear friend of mine who is in the midst of very difficult times. As I approached my friend, I saw my mother beside her, waiting for me. It has been many years since my mother and I were face to face. She was healthy and as happy to see me as I was to see her. This morning her face is as clear in my mind as if I had just seen her in person, which is apparently what happened. If I had thought to ask her anything, she would have answered me. We were just happy with the reunion.

1. from 'Genuine Happiness' by Alan Wallace - Part Four,The Three Dimensions of Consciousness, Exploring the Nature of Consciousness, Chapter 11 Bodhichitta: The Spirit of Awakening, page 157

Thursday, September 29, 2011

How To Be Brave on a Very Dark Night

copyright Vincent Jacques - Astronomy Picture of the Day

Tonight I had to get something out of the car so I went outside - in the dark. Though my night vision is deteriorating along with everything else, I can still see well enough to get around without a light. It is easier to not turn the porch light on because it destroys my night vision and casts only a small circle of mostly useless light - usually more of a hindrance. Most of the time I have no fear venturing out into the night but there are exceptions.

If I have recently seen scary movie previews, I hate going out in the dark. I stopped watching frightening movies after I saw The Exorcist, decades ago. I was 20 years old, and a parent, but I slept with the lights on for over a year! When I am outdoors at night, movie scenes can come vividly to mind. They scare the bejeezus out of me and I hate it. So I avoid the hack and sack movies, the paranormal thrillers, the true crime movies and television shows.

When I stepped out tonight, the ol' Dukenator was right there as usual. His eyes and ears are far better than mine. If Duke is not concerned or barking at things I cannot hear or see, then I am confident and unafraid. If a human being was coming through the darkness, Duke's barking would be frantic and unrelenting. I know because one night a neighbor boy came to the house for help. I knew a human was approaching from the moment he stepped on the driveway because of Duke's extreme barking. I admit I was relieved when I finally recognized who it was.

Duke has been barking almost all night, every night, at coyotes slinking around. I have seen them in the yard during the day the last few weeks, too. Duke chases them a distance from the house and they always yield to him. However, they just cockily lope away. They know he is not a threat. They could gang up on poor old Duke and take him down, but they do not. They are fairly civilized neighbors except for their belief that my chickens are their chickens. Things have been quiet the last two nights, so the coyotes must have moved on for the time being. Duke is worth his weight in gold, many times his weight in gold. Actually, Duke is priceless.

Another frightening situation that gives me the creeps despite my best effort at bravery is the screech owls calling. Sometimes they are in the trees around the house and they sound just like crazy people laughing in the dark - loud crazy people. If you have never been outdoors alone on a moonless night surrounded by unholy cackling and bizarre laughing, you have not been sufficiently scared in this lifetime. That does not happen very often and I am damned glad of it. I know the owls will not hurt me but it is simply chilling. If ghosts wanted to scare living people to death, they would laugh like screech owls. Sometimes I am not certain it is owls. Maybe it is a ghost or a whole squadron of ghosts. Ghosts have given me trouble my entire life so they might be posing as screech owls to harass me now. I do not do anything stupid, like running for the door, or cursing them, or telling them to shut up - just in case. I go about my business, outwardly cool as a cucumber. So far, so good.

The best antidote to fear is looking up to catch the immeasurable beauty of silver stars. To me they always look as if they were sailing past when caught in the black tree branches. That, more than any other reason, is why I do not turn on artificial lights. In the dark, I can see the stars in all of their exquisite beauty, for free, by merely looking up. I can brave a few ghosts for such a delight.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

All In Yellow

The wide prairie

A late bloomer

Golden as the sunflowers.

"Neon" yellow grass

Golden to the core

Ginger's pasture

Honey locust tree, I grudgingly admit is beautiful

Yellow and...

More yellow and ...

More yellow, yet!

The prairie dresses herself differently in all seasons. She has an infinite choice of texture and a wide color pallet. Sometimes in the spring, everything blooming is white, with a scattering of pink or orange. One particularly beautiful spring, purple and blue were everywhere. The prairie blooms from spring until the last frost. The weather patterns, rainfall, timing of the fires, cattle herds, and the mysterious rhythm within individual plants are the warp and woof of a living tapestry.

I wondered what a season of intense heat and little rainfall would bring this fall and it is a sea of yellow. The grasses did not grow luxuriously tall so plants I cannot name are visible. They set forth their yellow blossoms with a great generosity amid the autumn colors of the grasses, neon yellow and russet. It is a most beautiful season.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

I Don't Need No Stinking Gambler's Anonymous!

For the first time in my life, I entered a casino. My son and I had the occasion to be on the Potawatomi Reservation so we decided to get lunch at the casino and to try our hands at gambling. I had heard there were nickle slot machines in there. Reality was even better for a high roller like me: penny slots!

When I looked in my purse, the only cash I had was one solitary five dollar bill - 500 chances to win big. To go large. And if my usual dismal luck followed me into the casino, losing five dollars would not make my stomach hurt.

I changed the five into ones and gave my son a bill. We wandered around trying to find a slot machine that would make us rich. We found a row of machines with a buffalo theme, an auspicious sign. Two rubes fresh off the streets, we fed our dollars into the machines and then simply stared at the all the buttons and lights. There were actually no instructions. The first button we selected was the "cash payout" button, so the machines promptly returned paper tickets worth a dollar each. We were breaking even!

We eventually got the hang of it - sort of. I watched my son for a while and he seemed to be winning but it was confusing. At one point he won $7.68. I made him take a payout, since it was my money he was playing. I intended to hang on to that ticket no matter what.

My son tried to explain to me how to double and triple the play to improve my odds, but all I saw were his credits going down on the machine rapidly. I told him my game plan was to give myself the most number of chances to win, which meant one penny = one play. He had twenty of his own money, so he soon moved on to another, flashier machine.

I took over his winning penny machine and got down to the business of pushing a button every five seconds like the rest of the gamblers in there. I eventually lost one dollar but was willing to double down. That second dollar won a series of free games which the machine automatically plays, and surprise: no free game won anything. I won about fifty free games on that dollar. It was fun winning free games, certainly worth a dollar. Then I won $2.93 - flashing lights and animated gold coins spinning across the multicolored screen, bells ringing and happy music celebrating my good fortune. It was exciting! I took that win in cash... well, in the form of a paper ticket.

By the time I had lost the rest of my second dollar, my son had blown through his twenty, so I gave him my last two cash dollars. He had won money three or four times, almost $18 in total but instead of cashing out, he continued to play. I had the $2.93 and the $7.68 tickets so we were going to walk out of there with a little cash. He wanted to play the $7.68 for a final chance at winning "real" money. He lost it all playing high odds in no time.

To my son's immense amusement, I cashed the $2.93 ticket at the door. He was teasing and laughing at me over my "winnings". I just reminded him that I was not the fool leaving without a cent.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Honey, Can I Buy a Harley....

My daughter gets wiser every day, (selling off her cast iron skillets notwithstanding). She told all of her friends, who told their friends that my Harley was for sale. The news reached one enthusiastic potential buyer. I emailed photos, and through the grapevine we heard the woman was smitten. She loved the bike and was fired up at the idea of her own Harley Davidson. She could see herself on the open road, feel the wind in her hair, already warming herself in the admiration of all lesser humans who do not ride the famous Milwaukee Iron. She had contracted Harley Fever.

Then came the instantaneous and cruel cure: "I have to ask my husband."

My daughter called Friday with the news that there has been no further communication from the wannabe Harley owner. My daughter said "It's ridiculous a woman has to ASK permission from her husband for anything." She was disappointed for me because she thought the woman was a solid sell.

It made me laugh. It goes without saying that if you have to get permission, you are not going to be riding your own Harley Davidson motorcycle, whether you are the husband or the wife asking.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

No More Spotted Fawns

The fawns and their mother were in the road again this morning. Though I was in a hurry to get to work, I stopped to watch for as long as they were in sight. They stepped through the barbed wire fence rather than jumping it, not seeing my motionless car as a threat. Though they strategically positioned themselves behind some bushes, I could clearly see them.

The fawns have lost their spots and they are smaller than their mother, but not by much. When she stood motionless, the twins came to her for reassurance. She groomed each in turn, licking their ears and along their shoulders. When either of them attempted to nurse, she danced away. One of the fawns respected its mother's dance, but the other was more insistent. The mother's evasive behavior escalated into outright aggression, striking at that youngster with both front hooves. I could not tell if the mother was play fighting or if she really meant business. Even a slow witted human could tell the twins were not going to nurse ever again. I felt a pang of compassion for the babies soon to be on their own in this dangerous world.

The mother seemed to not know what she wanted. She bolted away from the twins, zig-zagging at top speed and abruptly stopping fifty feet away. The babies waited just a fraction of a second then followed her. All three checked in my direction, then the mother bolted back the other way. This behavior was repeated several times. I am not an expert in deer behavior, but at times it looked as if the mother was playing but the babies did not enter into it. I thought maybe the mother was in the process herself of leaving the babies. It looked as if she wanted to run away, but just could not bring herself to abandon the fawns. That made me sad, too.

The doe had a damaged hind leg. Though it did not seem to slow her down, that leg was permanently stiff. There was a large white patch of hair at the joint, the resulting scar of an fairly extensive injury. Maybe a gunshot, but who knows. As many guns and speeding vehicles under the control of human beings as there are, this is a cruel world indeed for deer.

The deer soon bounded away toward the east with one long look back, so I drove on then, hoping the fawns and their mother survive the winter, the traffic, and the hunters.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Oh My God

One of the worst things about attempting to live without poisonous chemicals is that nature does not seem to realize there are boundaries that are not to be crossed. I can live with a few spiders, but oh... my... God!

As I was getting into the shower without my glasses, a big black blurry X caught my eye. I had no idea what it was so I leaned in close - WAY too close.

Here is when being an old person served me in good stead. If I had been thirty years younger I might have touched it first and sight inspected it later - if my heart was still beating, that is. Sometimes old people know what the hell they are doing.

This spider was too big to kill. Probably only women understand that statement.

What if I tried to smash it and missed? The wicked thing would leap three feet through the air and viciously attack me. Even if I did not die of its poison I would die of fright.

The spider remained motionless for over 24 hours and then disappeared. It was "harrible - just harrible" as my daughter says.

Splendid Views - Sad Photography

Colorado Rockies
I was on the highway leaving Ft Collins in April of this year. I have a "dummy-proof" digital camera that causes me more frustration than it is worth. Sometimes I manage to capture something beautiful.

Kansas Tsunami
I recorded this amazing sight about a mile from my house a week or so ago. It was almost sunset so I had to use the automatic setting on the camera for night scenery. It was impossible to hold the camera steady. It looks like the winter surf on the North Shore of Oahu breaking on the dunes of the Flint Hills. If only I were a professional photographer! This was magnificent.

Mt. Kansas erupting above the truck stop
I stopped at the truck stop earlier this year to capture these skies . The clouds could have been over Missouri for all I know, but they looked less than a half mile away. I was not the only Kansas hayseed taking photos - dozens of people with cameras were standing around photographing this towering storm magnificently building directly above our heads.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Handing Down Wisdom

As everyone with children knows, handing down your hard earned wisdom to your beloved offspring is a tricky thing. It is best to teach by example and keep your mouth shut. In the first place, no one gains wisdom by merely listening. If it were so, only one person would have ever electrocuted himself since the beginning of electricity.

If human beings cannot learn to rely on their own discernment then we would truly be sheep, dumbly following leaders only incrementally smarter than ourselves - maybe following someone only meaner than ourselves. No, wisdom can only be gained through personal experience.

My daughter is in the process of selling her house and liquidating all of her superfluous material goods. I understand the necessity for taking action and the financial need. Though I was somewhat concerned she was maybe taking it to the extreme, she is a full grown, motorcycling, self-supporting woman who can cuss almost as well as her mother. She knows what she is doing. At least, that is what I thought until she admitted she had sold all of her cast iron skillets. Now I am certain she has gone off the deep end.

In the first place, cast iron skillets are the only way to fry bacon to perfection. The microwave makes it tough and stinky. If you put cold bacon in a cold cast iron skillet then gently increase the heat, the resulting crisp bacon is a work of culinary art. The only fried chicken and gravy fit to eat is created in cast iron. In a very hot skillet, a KC strip can be prepared that is almost as delicious as charbroiled.

In the second place, anything can be cooked anywhere in a cast iron skillet. You just need fire and something edible. Cast iron skillets probably tamed the West, if the truth were known. They never wear out. I assume they can be cracked or broken but I have never managed to destroy any of my skillets. I know they can withstand extreme heat. When I wash mine, I place them on the stove to evaporate the moisture quickly, then wipe oil in them. Several times I have forgotten them on the stove, over high flames, for a long, long time. The strange smell of exceedingly hot metal alerts me. (Heat destroys the seasoning, but it does not seem to damage the iron.)

In the last place, a person should always be prepared for some form of anarchy or Armageddon these days. Should society descend into chaos, the sheep in possession of cast iron skillets will rule. And, you can smite your enemies with a heavy skillet.

My daughter should have realized something was up when her cast iron skillets sold like hot cakes - when every one of them sold! Oh lord, lord, I should have taught her better when she was just a child. "Never sell your good cast iron" should have been included with such familial gems as: "If you want a good husband, do not look in the bar or the church" and "Beauty is only skin deep, but ugly is to the bone".

Monday, September 19, 2011

Saturday Night

I turned on a hot water faucet Saturday night but there was only cold water available. Either the propane tank was empty, or the pilot light was out on the water tank. To assuage my worries, I made a trip to the propane tank as it was the most likely problem.

I was expecting it to be cold outside, but it was mild and humid and quite dark. It was a lucky thing I checked the tank at night. When I opened the metal cap covering the gauges and the regulator, I exposed an entire colony of large stinging insects. They were much larger than the wasps that build paper nests, so I am not certain what they were. I lifted the cover without caution, not expecting anything dangerous. If it had been in the day, I may have been swarmed. Though it bothered my conscious a bit, I left the cover open, thinking of the man who will have to fill the tank sometime in the daylight hours of this week.

It has been a long while since I have been outside at night, except for thirty seconds between the house and the car. I switched off the headlamp and instantly saw the sky was full of continuous lightning. It has been so dry that I stopped concerning myself with weather reports. The possibility of rain was a pleasant surprise and I wondered how far away the storms were. I could not hear thunder. But before I went inside to check the weather channel, Duke and I were going to spend at least a few minutes out in that glorious night.

We walked up the driveway and I left the headlamp on to make sure I did not fall in one of the ruts. The ground is level enough at the top that I can safely walk in the dark. The frequent lightning illuminated the ground occasionally, so I turned the light off. We walked toward Ginger's green gate in natural quiet. A few crickets and, I think, little tree frogs were the only things making noise. No industrial chaos, no machinery, no gunshots, no angry shouting, no loud human beings, no interstate whine. Such peace is a treasure almost beyond compare. About a mile away, the neighbor's yard light created an enormous invasive glow in my perfect black night. If there is no moisture in the air, their yard light is not visible from my property, but in the humidity, it looks like a UFO in a Spielberg movie. Neighbors!

I thought Ginger would hear us and come to the gate, but she must have been at the far east end. I did not call her or wait for her to come up because I did not have a peppermint or a carrot. She likes to be petted a little and talked to over the fence, but just in case it is only the treats she comes for, I do not call her unless I have a gift for her majesty.

It was a wonderful night. I absolutely love roaming in the dark and listening to the healing peace of the prairie. The silent lightning was an unexpected gift. Poor old Duke makes a lot of noise just breathing these days. He is getting old and what was once effortless for him now requires an effort. We are a two peas in a pod.

When I came into the house, I checked the weather channel. I was not certain if the rain would reach my valley or not but sometime later I heard the approaching thunders and, at last, it began to rain. It rained all night long - a gentle, steady healing rainfall. I felt sorry for the wasps who had unexpectedly lost their shelter but that was the only downside to the long awaited rains.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Amazing Stories of Lost and Found

In my family there is a history of lost rings returning in the most improbable manner. It started with my mother's high school ring. It was lost in an unaccountable manner sometime between the time she placed it in her jewelry box for good and when she discovered it missing eight or ten years later. My little brother and I (mostly me) were blamed but it seems unlikely we could have lost it. Three and five was the oldest we could have possibly been, not even tall enough to reach the jewelry box. Then again, if I had been specifically told to stay out of something, that meant I would have certainly found a way to get into it.

Sometime after we had moved from the farm, the new tenants' teen-aged daughter found the ring in the garden mud. She had been wearing it for some time when her mother noticed. She recognized my mother's initials and the ring was returned. My mother was very happy, the teen-aged daughter was not very happy, but people were honest in those days, even if it hurt.

My mother was a hard working woman and always had her hands busy at something. She never took her wedding rings off and eventually the gold had worn so thin that it seemed safest to stop wearing them. My equally hard working father found the extra money to give her a simple gold band to replace those rings he had first placed on her hand as a poor young man just out of the Navy. Years later, the worn diamond rings disappeared in the same mysterious manner as the class ring. This time I was the prime and sole suspect but I have no memory of taking them. By then I was old enough to realize what they would have meant to my mother and I would have never disturbed anything of such great value to her. I felt almost as badly for the loss of the wedding rings as my mother must have felt.

My father died, and my mother remarried. We moved to Wichita and eventually the lost rings were no longer discussed. They were gone and nothing could be done about it. One day the phone rang. It was Grandma calling to say she had found one of my mother's rings. Early that morning when she was doing chores, something sparkling in the dirt caught her eye. It was dirty, twisted and bent, but Grandma recognized my mother's engagement ring. She and Grandpa scoured the area where that ring was found, but the matching wedding band was never found.

That lost and found ring has been in my possession for many years. Mom finally handed it down to me. It is almost worthless, with only a tiny single diamond and the thin gold twisted beyond repair but it is a treasure to me. I asked a jeweler to repair it several years ago. He straightened it as carefully as he could, but there is no question of the ring ever being worn again. It is too fragile. Nor should it ever be worn by anyone else. It was a gift from my father to my mother and she wore it every day of her married life until it was literally worn out. I have no idea how it came to be lost in the dirt of Grandpa's farm, or what power placed the sun, the tiny diamond and my grandmother in the exact positions for Grandma to notice it buried in the dirt. But something was responsible for so an improbable event.

Decades later, after my mother passed away, my stepfather gave my mother's wedding rings to me. They were much more expensive and substantial rings, with a large diamond surrounded by nine smaller diamonds set in white gold. Mom would never have been able to wear out those rings, no matter how hard she worked. I had the diamonds set in a new ring and asked the jeweler to create a pendant from the gold in the empty rings. It was a very beautiful design, a graceful arabesque set with one of Mom's small diamonds - a perfect match for my daughter.

I gave the pendant on a silver chain to my daughter just before she moved to Germany. She did not wear it on the plane ride to Frankfort, but carefully placed it in her luggage. By the time she unpacked in Germany, the necklace made from her grandmother's wedding rings had been lost. After an obsessive and repeated search through everything in every piece of luggage she had taken with her, after pulling the seams and shaking, and searching every single molecule of her luggage and all its contents repeatedly, my disappointed daughter had to admit the necklace was gone forever. It was either stolen or lost.

That same luggage traveled to Kansas and back to Germany and around much of Europe in the next couple of years. My son in law was sent to war in Iraq as a door gunner in an Black Hawk helicopter. He was working 18 hours a day, seven days a week on the flight line and flying missions. It was a difficult time for him, and for my daughter worrying about him.

Two and one half years after the necklace had been lost, my phone rang. It was my daughter calling from Germany. In a voice I hardly recognized, she fairly spat "Guess what." It was not even a question. My heart sank as I braced for the worst news possible.

"I found Gram's necklace!"

I was stunned into silence. That she was not calling with news of a helicopter crash was such a relief that I nearly fainted. Then the impossibility of what she was saying registered. Unbelievably, despite the thousands of miles of traveling and moving her household in Germany several times, the lost pendant had appeared as if by magic. She had found it lying on the floor at her feet, in the middle of the room. It could not have been there for very long or it would have been stepped on or vacuumed up. There is absolutely no reason or explanation for how it came to be there. My daughter believes it was a sign from her Grandmother telling her everything was going to be fine. It is as good an explanation as any.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

The Siren Call

Even out of focus, I think this is beautiful.

Despite the unbearable heat and low rainfall of the last two months, the Kansas sunflowers arrived on schedule. Their blossoms produce the most beautiful yellow in the light spectrum. It is an exceedingly agreeable hue, and each plant is generous producing flowers. A sunflower that attains its true genetic shape and size is a natural triumph of evolution in form and function. It is a most pleasing, graceful plant.

In full beguiling bloom, the sunflower lures men from the interstate to dusty gravel roads where the promiscuous and flagrant abundance gracefully beckons within easy reach. I drive slowly when I pass by. The men have a sheepish look as if they wish no one had seen them gathering wildflowers. A friendly wave is all the acknowledgment I can give but I understand. Men have no defense against great beauty.

Often the license plate is from out of state. I slow down to pass so they will not suffocate in the cloud of dust and so I can watch them struggle to pick a sunflower with their bare hands. Everything on the prairie is strong and tough. Whether the men are gathering flowers for the woman in their lives or simply because they want that glowing yellow for themselves, they find sunflowers do not easily give up their treasure. A sharp pocketknife would make looting far less troublesome.

One man with Connecticut plates waded into waist high grass to reach the sunflowers. I wondered if chiggers exist in Connecticut. He must have paid for his theft with a great misery, vigorously reminding him of Kansas night and day for a long, long week. Not even sunflowers are worth that.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Visiting Spirits

Whatever of our spirit survives physical death, I do not know. Maybe it is just that I do not remember. I cannot say whatever might return with us to a physical life. There is no authority I recognize who can tell me what is true. There is no consensus in the present American world-view of these possibilities. Each person is free to consult their own intelligence, weigh the evidence available, and use their innate human capabilities to decide what is true.

I know I lived a former life as a Plains Indian, right at the time of genocide and resolution, in the time of the final Indian wars. I have no specific memories, not memories as we know them in our current lives. There are no details of people or events or names but a deep reservoir of emotion that mysteriously colors my present life and has from earliest childhood. An enormous sense of injustice and sadness wells up from an unknown source and always has - a great longing for something to be made right, for something I cannot name.

It was not until I found my way to "practicing Indians", when I was given sage and sweet grass, when I had the opportunity to participate in the prayer and healing lodges, that I felt peace and a sense of wholeness. It was like coming home.

I know people who recall another lifetime - bits and fleeting glimpses of something else. A friend had a vivid dream of being shot through the leg in a battle. When she got up the next morning there was a permanent dark mark on her skin exactly where she had dreamed of being wounded. Until then, there had never been a mark or scar on her leg.

All things are possible.

The holy scent of sage has been following me through the house tonight. It is faint and fleeting - almost not there at all. I wonder if it is a spirit from that other lifetime or if it is someone I knew in this life dropping by to see how I am faring.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Spotted Fawns

Once again the spotted fawns were in the road tonight. At my approach, they sailed over the eastern fence then turned back, curious. Slowing to an easy stop, I lowered the window.

The delicate faces, uncommonly beautiful in the rich gloaming, paused, the Dreaming Earth observing the old world through newly minted eyes.

Their lives, like water, have no volition but move or not according to other forces. They live and die in the Mystery as water stills into an acquiescent mirror.

For a brief, barest moment, I understood...

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Comin' On Dark...

My daily commute is toward the sun at both ends of the day. This is not a bad thing but twice a year the sun rises in line with about a mile stretch of interstate in Topeka, blinding the worker bees droning toward work. Traffic slams to a halt and then the twin reflective steaming lines creep around the long curve. This is a problem for about two weeks each season. Otherwise, the commute into the eastern sky, a grand work of living art, is worth the grind.

The evenings are different. From the last hill leaving Topeka, I catch a glimpse of Buffalo Mound twenty miles to the west and that means I am going home and that makes me happy. The view expands in all directions then but it is not beautiful. The prairie is carved up, fenced in, built upon and entirely subjugated. No untouched prairie remains close to Topeka. Black blighted acres glower in the landscape where the red cedars have entirely claimed the land. They crowd every fence line waiting their final triumphal march over the dying tall grass. I wish the State of Kansas would declare war on this raging infection of trees.

A few more miles to the west and what is left of the prairie rises around in the comely shapes of Flint Hills, their slopes and folds as graceful as a woman's body, and I am always glad to turn off the interstate for the dusty ride toward home. Earlier this week, a pair of spotted fawns were in the road, so young that they did not know to run from the car. They stood watching as I slowed to a stop. I was content to watch them as long as they remained in the road, but a car coming the other way honked them impatiently out of the way. Is anyone's life so damned important that a couple of minutes is just too much of a personal sacrifice? It should cost $500 every time some jerk uses his car horn. (We have the technology!) It would pay down our national debt in no time and every living creature, including me, could live in serenity.

Last night I drove home toward a glowing gold and crimson shoreline of clouds in the horizon. Astride her broomstick in a snarl of clouds the Wicked Witch of the West was sailing south. I wished for my camera! She was perfect. Slowly, the point of her hat blew away and her long skirts split and then Scarecrow was dancing on the yellow brick road. You never know what magic you will see when it is comin' on dark.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

On Becoming a Public Nuisance

Every human being reaches a zenith, a pinnacle in life, a maturity, when you know just about everything you need to live a graceful, successful life. You must feel good about yourself when you reach this high point of human existence. You are confident, wise. You have tested your ambitions and either exceeded them or settled for the cube farm, but at this point it no longer matters. You are too tired to entertain regrets. Your hair is turning a distinguished silver and young people with good manners call you "M'am". You are no longer afraid to defend yourself against nitwits or argue with incompetence. Yes, life is good for the mature adult.

This magnificent peak is a fleeting attainment. The air is too rarified to live there long. I recently slipped a far distance on the other side of this summit the last time I was in the grocery store - Sunday afternoon, to be exact.

For the most part, I am patient and friendly to all people with whom I must do business. They work hard for not much money and deserve to be treated well. In return, I normally get great service. Sometimes I have the good fortune to trade wits with a bright young man. It surprises them an old lady knows what is funny.

As with everything in life, nothing good lasts for long.

I was emptying my cart of groceries onto the conveyor at my favorite grocery store, feeling okay, feeling good. I admit, I may have been taking the good life for granted. A small glass jar of spaghetti sauce slipped out of my hand and exploded on the floor. It made the unmistakable sound of elderly embarrassment that silenced everyone and everything for a moment. I hurriedly asked if the little girl behind me in line was okay, but her mother was already pulling her away from the incompetent old woman into another queue. You would have thought my Depends had leaked.

The sacker, not a boy, but a grumpy old man, older than me, never said a word. He silently went to get the clean up utensils. The checker had already made a face behind my back but continued to be courteous to my face. She had to sack all of my groceries while Mr. Sunshine slowly swept up the glass and sauce. I had to go to the front of the store to get another cart myself in order load the bags and take my own groceries out to the car. I normally do that anyway - rebelling against being considered an old woman - but it would have been nice if someone had been willing to help at that point. But no, I had just created a disturbance. I endangered a child. I made a mess at the front of the store. I took an entire check line out of commission. I made extra work for the oldest grocery sacker in the state of Kansas. And Miss Thing had to sack groceries.

When I left the store, I imagined everyone breathing a sigh of relief and giving one another The Look: "I suppose she is still driving, too!"

Sunday, September 4, 2011

How Do You Like Them Rotten Apples

Sometimes a person hits a rough patch when life is difficult and events are worrisome or burdensome. In the history of my life, unbearably hot weather seems to be the season when my life typically skids into hell. But, rough patches are the emery cloth that smooths our spirits into works of art, into useful gems of beauty and wisdom. Right?

When things go to hell, I normally do not panic. Eventually my life will swing back to true north and everyone left standing continues on. If it is a truly bad patch, I console myself with the knowledge that soon enough, it will all be over. I am not certain if fatalism is the best philosophy to inform and illuminate a lifetime, but at its rock bottom best, it is certainly true. Compared to the lifetime of a star, a human lifetime is infinitesimal, over in 1,000,000,000,000,000th of a tick in eternity.

My son is destroying his life with the precision of a surgeon and the glee of a maniac, though it is clear that these unfortunate events are not his intended results nor his desired consequence. It seems that no matter what he does right now, the worst possible outcome results. It breaks my heart but there is nothing I can do except suffer with him and for him.

My daughter has spent her entire adult life attempting to do the right thing. She has worked diligently to steer her life toward love and tolerance, toward the best possible outcome for herself and for everyone around her. Yet, her life is full of difficulty and pain right now, too. There is nothing I can do except suffer with her and for her.

As for me, the infrastructure of my life is literally failing, falling into ruin and decay. How can everything I own go to hell all at once?! The central air failed sometime Friday night. Even if I had the money to get it repaired, no one is available until next week. It is the second compressor unit to fail in less than five years, which makes it worse.

After coming to emotional terms with the dismal mechanical news, I realized it would be a good time to watch a long-anticipated movie recommended to me about a year ago and recently ordered from It is a story about elderly people escaping the old folks home in Iceland. Not surprisingly, the VCR would not cooperate. I struggled with the damnable thing for some time, becoming very frustrated. When I could not remove the tape cassette, I lost my temper and slammed the VCR to the floor with as much force as I could manage. It exploded into several pieces on impact. It felt so wonderful that I slammed it to the floor a few more times. With all of the working parts exposed, I saw that the VCR had wrapped the video tape tightly around everything inside. Good. I had just executed a video murderer.

By some undeserved luck of natural timing, an enormous mass of Canadian air moved into Kansas overnight and the temperature is cool. The forecast is for several days of cool weather. I will not need air conditioning for a few days. I might even be able to get by until next summer.

In answer to my request for perspective and advice regarding the challenges my adult children are facing right now, I gratefully received a phone call from my friend. She helped me gain perspective by reminding me of the Four Immeasurables of Buddhism: compassion, loving-kindness, empathic joy, and equanimity.

"May all beings be free of suffering and its causes."

This I profoundly wish for myself, my children, and for everyone. Once we are free of suffering and the causes of suffering, we are enlightened and therefore Free.