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.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

The Junk Drawer

Every endeavor needs a MISC file, a catch-all, a junk drawer. This post qualifies for such a distinction.

The rains are within twenty miles of here as I write this, 1:40 am central daylight time. The radar shows a band of strong rain building to the west. It does not appear that it will quite make it far enough to the east before it has slipped away northward. Though it rained the other night, leaving about an inch of water in the dog bowl, the soil beneath the dish was as dry and dusty as if it had never rained. It is going to take a lot of water to saturate the soil again, fill the ponds, restore Spirit Creek. Eventually, it will rain again. It always does. It always will.

I just heard the first rumble of distant thunder! The Duke and I need to take a little stroll about the place to see if we can entice those Thunders this way.

An unexpected, wonderful event happened to me today. My friends returned from a trip to California, bearing gifts. They brought a living white sage plant to me. I often burn the dried leaves of that plant. It possesses a much stronger aroma and presence than the Plains sage. To have a houseplant again is good. I have had none in my house for many years. It will be pleasant to share my indoor space with a living plant this winter and I hope we have a long, lasting relationship.

People and plants can have enduring, monogamous relationships. A great aunt on my mother's side of the family had a particular cactus that flourished in her care. It started as a little cactus she got on a trip through the desert when she was a young woman. In time, it sent out long tubes of spine-covered arms in all directions, dominating its space in her comfortable old home. My aunt took a hatchet to the cactus in order to give my cousin a start from that venerable old plant. Apparently, the cactus took no umbrage to the axe treatment. For many decades the cactus thrived in the care and companionship of my aunt, growing far too large for its allotted space. I never heard of its fate when she passed away. Truly, the cactus was too large to be moved. Perhaps it soon followed her and they continue their long companionship in a new environment.

Amazingly, the rain looks to be splitting right around the county. There is a clear area almost exactly in the shape of the county as the rain moves to the northeast. I should not despair, but when it is so close, and the chances for more rain are still a week into the future, it is disappointing. Perhaps my neighbors have field work that needs to be done right now, so they are hoping the rain will hold off, Duke and my enticements notwithstanding.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Magic Cats

My daughter recently made the decision to put down one of her beloved cats, the one she called Mama. They had been together since Mama Cat was selected as a kitten, along with her handsome black brother NuNu, from a free litter somewhere in Topeka, Kansas sixteen years ago. The cat lived and traveled the world with my daughter, always there to provide silent loving companionship through everything in my daughter's life - jobs, marriage, college, different towns, and states, and different countries, war, divorce, and everything in between.

The cat was frail and had been suffering from a variety of ailments for a long time. If she had been my cat, I would have likely chosen to end her suffering long before, but it is a decision between the animal and the owner and the veterinarian.  At the final moments, my daughter's broken-hearted sobs brought tears to the men's eyes - the good Dr. J who administered the merciful death potion, and one of my daughter's friends. At the the moment of death, suffering lifted from the old and ruined body of the dear cat, and her body appeared instantly young and vital. There were hugs all around in the small room at Dr J's clinic. We all know we face the same crossing and we all wonder if our crossing will be as peaceful and in the arms of someone as loving.

My daughter's contingent of loving friends were in attendance for the funeral. There was a coffin and men to dig the grave and provide a cross to mark the grave. There were women for hugs and moral support and coffee and donuts. There was an obituary, eulogy, and a chance for each person to say a few words. We all have had beloved pets to bury at some time in our lives.

Thursday evening, I had the chance to go with my daughter to the local humane shelter to see if there was a suitable cat or kitten available to take over some of Mama Cat's vacated duties - big paw prints to fill, no doubt about it. My daughter chose an adorable kitten with huge ears and the tiniest mew. She looks like a tiny, furry pixie. Already I can see in her the mature cat who will rule her kingdom with the fearless grace and feline wisdom of Bastet, the protector goddess of Egypt.

How lucky that the Creator of all things chose to package the wisdom of the mighty felines - the tiger, lion, jaguar - in the form of the domestic house cat. How lucky for human beings to have the purring, playful grace of cats in our lives. How lucky for our broken hearts that there is such a thing as a kitten for us to love and look after.

Catarina - choosing our family for adoption.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Waiting for the Water

We have not experienced severe drought here, not the suffering of Texas, but rainfall has been below average for over a year. Farm ponds are drying into mud holes except for those fed by springs. The creek is a silent trickle and if it does not rain soon, it will shrink into stagnant pools. This is the normal ebb and flow for the little creek bearing no official name. Its flow has been waxing and waning according to the vagaries of the prevailing winds since the great glacial melt.

The last thirty days have been the most unusual weather I have experienced in my decades as a Kansan. It has been "human bein' weather", my term for pleasant temperatures and blue skies. Amazingly, for many days in a row, there has been no wind, no killer humidity, no changing sky, no clouds. Though dusty, it has been pleasant to be outside. Each day was the same as the day before with only a minimal change in temperature. One sunset was most unusual. With little moisture in the atmosphere, no clouds, the setting sun gave the horizon the appearance of a glowing yellow aurora borealis. This strangely calm and temperate climate has been wonderful but boring.

For the last dozen days, the weathermen have been predicting rainfall, always five days in the future. As the days ticked off, the forecast called for another day later until now we are to expect rain Monday. Even that is looking less likely. It rained at my daughter's house yesterday afternoon, enough to leave water puddled on the roads. Only a sprinkle fell at my house. The good news is that it is raining in Texas. The Weather Channel shows a dark green and yellow radar swath across the entire state, slowly moving east. I can only imagine the welcome relief the rains have brought to that parched and suffering land.

Water is the lifeblood on this planet. Almost every substance known to us will eventually dissolve in water. It is the greatest common denominator. We take it for granted. We curse it when it floods our homes, destroys our cities, sweeps clean the crowded beaches, even when it only cancels our ballgames or picnics. Collectively we are upset when it snows or hails or encases everything in ice, when the water inconveniences us, when it costs us money.

We abuse the water on this planet. We pollute it, dumping medical, agricultural, manufacturing and nuclear wastes into the very substance that sustains our lives. Only when there is no water, when we suffer, do we pray for it.

Our science dismisses the existence of anything it cannot quantify, so to say there is a consciousness within water is asking for ridicule. Before we blinded ourselves, made ourselves ignorant with empirical science, we should have taken care to protect the mystic knowledge available within our hearts. Before we allowed our religions to frighten us away from the communication humans once held with the spirit in all things, we should have taken care to protect some of the ancient wisdom.

When the thunderstorms roll in from the west, I put down tobacco in acknowledgment and gratitude for the life-sustaining patterns of wind and water and sunlight that allows my neighbors to grow the food that keeps my family alive. I am old enough now to know to also give thanks for the lack of rain. It means that somewhere else it is raining. It means that when rain falls again from the sky above my head, I will sincerely appreciate it for the gift it is. Once a person truly appreciates something, it becomes easy to feel gratitude for it. Once there is gratitude, it is easy to value and treat it with respect, honor it as sacred. It is easy to not dump trash into my creek, or spray my property with deadly chemicals that pollute the water. I cannot stop my neighbors from poisoning the creek we share, but on a certain level, it does not matter. If I live according to my own knowing, my own awareness, it means one less source of poison. When I am discouraged, thinking my tiny contribution is enormously insignificant, then I consider it is the sum of billions of individual actions that brought us to this point. My actions do matter.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

So.... What Is My Bucket List?

Do I even have a bucket list any more? What are my dreams for the rest of my life? I think the grind at the cube farm has killed my dreams, stifled my joy, worn my heart down as surely as my knees are worn out and ruined. I am not sixty years old so I do not think I need to be planning for The Home anytime soon. But, d-a-m-n.....

I am certain that if there is time for reflection upon my death bed, it will not be all the mean things I did that I will regret. It will be everything I did not do that will cleave my heart with a great slicing grief. I already regret a million things with my kids, mostly the time I missed from their childhood because I was working. In those days it took decades to earn another week of vacation. My poor children were hauled out of bed every morning and dragged to daycare where they had to cope with the baby future cube farmers. The great American Dream: grow up to waste away in a goddamned cube for life, most of it without a window. Yay.

Their childhood went by so fast. That is why when I see my grown son now, I must resist the urge to throw my arms around him and smother the top of his head in kisses the way I did when he was a little boy. (I have attempted this and he actually hates it). He will understand someday. I still want to advise my daughter of every possible danger and screen all of her potential plans. That goes over as well with her as the head-kissing does with her brother.

I must let my children go. They are grown now. The time I missed when they were children is truly lost and all we have is now. We have a lot of fun when we have the chance to spend time together. That means they must not be too damaged or resentful of their upbringing.

I have been considering cashing in my 401K, paying off all debt, placing Duke and Ginger in a foster home, and taking off for parts unknown on my Harley. About twenty six years ago I was at this same juncture in life. I had no debts and my daughter was almost grown. My plan was to buy a good used truck and a trailer to haul Ol' Blue, my Harley. I planned to tender my resignation upon my daughter's graduation, setting myself free to live a gypsy life until my wanderlust was spent. Before that plan was put into action, my son was born. He is worth more than three gypsy lifetimes, and all the highway miles in the world.

In present times, those suffering from wanderlust buy recreational vehicles and then travel from campground to campground. To me it is just a mobile version of the cube farm. I cannot live within a mile of anyone now and expect to get along with the neighbors, so I do not think the RV campground life would be a good fit. If I ain't happy, ain't no wandering Americans happy. But, if my hypothetical neighbors did not like me, what could they do - kick me out of the campground - in my easily mobile domicile? Adios, ya bastards.

Hmmmm. I might have to consider that idea in a bit more detail.

I am greatly dissatisfied with my life right now but I do not truly want to give up my home here in the bend of Spirit Creek. I still plan to build a nice little cabin for my golden years. To do that, I need to show up at the cube farm for a few more years. I guess the best thing to do is to take a vacation, thoroughly examine what deserves to be on my bucket list, and then just go for it.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Official Mountain Lion Sighting - Sort Of

It made the front page in the Topeka Capital Journal. Mountain Lion Sighting Confirmed in Rossville, although there are some strange quotes included in the newstory: “At first she thought it was a deer,” said Rossville Police Chief Jason Connell. “But then it moved away from her, stopped, laid down and its long tail nearly hit it in the face. That’s the kind of tail a mountain lion has."

(A wild mountain lion would lay down so close to a human being on main street? And right by a church, too! A tail that hits its owner in the face? What?)

"A ranger from the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism later that morning found paw prints in a populated area on the south edge of Rossville. "He was 85 percent sure they were made by a mountain lion,” Connell said."

What animal could have been responsible for the 15% of doubt? Big Foot? The Aflac Duck wearing tiger paw slippers?

The article also states a farmer in western Shawnee County sighted a mountain lion earlier.

Maybe there is something to it this time.

For years people have claimed to have seen mountain lions in Kansas. Some of them surely were truthful people who knew what they were talking about. There is a ready supply of animals, wild and domestic, for mountain lions to eat. The experts claim there is not sufficient habitat for the big cats to settle and breed in Kansas, so as far as they are concerned, any reported sightings are either:

made by liars - though the official denial is far more diplomatic

misidentified - big dog, bob cat, weather balloon

a pet lion released from captivity

maybe (million to one odds) a young male passing through.

Well, no disrespect to our Kansas rangers, but I think there are only about a dozen of them. They have so much rangering to do that the governor dumped tourism on them, too. So few cannot possibly cover every square inch of Kansas and flag down tourists on I-70, too. If I were to walk out my front door heading straight north, I could walk almost four miles where the only sign of human beings in my path would be two or three barbed wire fences. Before I reached the interstate, I would cross a quarter section of farmland where about 50 deer congregate into a herd in cold weather. If I were to go south, I could cross miles and miles before running directly into a farm. I think the rangers are wrong when they say there is not sufficient habitat for mountain lions to settle in Kansas. They are not hunted here yet so they would have no reason to fear buildings. There are plenty of feral cats around any town (or farm) for a quick snack. Often the sightings are around populated areas (because that is where the people are to see a cougar in the first place). Almost any species can acclimate to human activity.

I do not know if there is a mountain lion in Rossville, less than 20 miles from my place as the crow flies. People I trust have spotted mountain lions just a couple of miles from my house. I would hate to think I might end up as cougar food some night when I am wandering in the dark. It would be better to be killed by a big cat than to waste away in an old folks home, though.