Tuesday, December 25, 2018

The Physical Gears of Time

Solstice Sunset
If a human being could be born with an innate realization that her life is fleeting and miraculous - that it is beautiful beyond all measure - if she were born knowing the earth is a magnificent physical gift from an unknown benefactor - then perhaps she would not waste long years worrying about things that do not matter.  She would know that life is the journey and the journey is the lesson.  On the other hand, if she were to pay better attention in school many things have already been discovered and presented in successive age-appropriate lessons.

I lived at Spiritcreek for several years before I realized the full moon is always opposite the sun in the sky.  Oh, I understood the phases of the moon but I had never spent any effort observing the mechanics of those phases in real life.  In over four decades of full moons, it had never occurred to me to turn to the opposite horizon at moon rise or moon set.  I spent long hours of my life watching the moon through a bedroom window, or through a car windshield, or from an outdoor vantage point contemplating the mundane to the sublime.  In wonder, heartache, loneliness, grief, and in happiness, excitement and anticipation, the moon had long been my philosopher's stone, my silent, mysterious companion.  I paid no heed to the waxing and waning moon advancing and retreating in relation to the sun's position, though.  My understanding of the phases of the moon moved from theoretical into practical observation in single flash of recognition.  Oh yeah, I thought to myself.

Human time-keeping grew organically from the observations of the moon and sun and the slow progression of constellations across the night sky.  We gradually came into awareness of when to move to warmer shelter, when to move away from floods, when the herds would return, when plants were ready for harvest.  This timing is intrinsic within our bones even though we do our best to ignore it with our unnatural 24 hours of light and noise. The movement of the physical entities in the universe is a cosmological time piece.  The spinning orbits are the movement of a clock measuring time on a scale we cannot even imagine though we have a word for it:  infinite.  

We are mortal here because we incarnate into a time universe, a ticking universe.  We each have only a short measure, an individual span.  There must be universes where time does not exist - it is where the idea of infinity originates.  Long before we knew the science, we recognized a year and saw that it was divided into four reassuringly repeating quarters.  Long before we were clever enough to build a machine for it, we knew how to keep time.  We are made of time, immersed in time.  We live and die by time.

This year I had the opportunity to celebrate the winter solstice with a group of like-minded gentlefolk.  We were meditating together just an hour past the local moment of solstice, blessed by the full moon.  The next winter solstice full moon will not occur until 2094.  It is safe to say I will not be here for that one, at least not as the me I am right now.  I have marked the winter solstice alone for almost 30 years, mostly because I could not find anyone else interested in celebrating this most fundamental passage of time.  It was a pleasant and unusual experience to share the solstice.  There were other groups of people also gathering locally and the world over.  Humans are remembering something important when we recognize this natural timing and attach no other significance to it except to wish others well in the coming year.

It is a good sign...

Solstice Moonrise

Monday, December 3, 2018

Maybe It Is Not That Much of Mystery...

I made a quick trip into a dollar store in Topeka this afternoon to get laundry detergent. I can never seem to remember to get EVERYTHING I need in one trip these days. There is always one thing left over to seed another trip to town. So be it. The good thing about needing only one thing is that I can go into the smallest store, saving wear and tear on my poor knees.

The older and weaker I become, the more conscious I am about my personal safety. Maybe I should no longer carry a purse. A desperate young man, or woman for that matter, could easily make off with it. Until the purse strap broke I would present the most determined, immovable object in the universe. I also have an aluminum cane that I would not hesitate using to beat some one's ass. (If confronted with a gun, I would drop the purse and hobble away, screaming. Probably cussing, too.)

I have thought about the possibility of being an easy target. I am not afraid. I am simply taking stock. When I get out of my car in Topeka, I pay attention to my surroundings. This evening as I walked toward the entrance of the dollar store, a young man appeared at the corner of the building. He was wearing a hood low over his face but he was looking right at me. Because he was a young black man, I castigated myself for even considering he might be a threat. He and I reached the door at the same time and he held the door open for me. I thanked him and briefly felt like a racist old asshole. I asked myself if he had been a young white man in a hoodie, apparently looking at me though there were other people coming and going in the parking lot, would I have even considered that he might pose a threat? I think it was the hoodie and being noticed by a young man and had nothing to do with race. Old women are almost invisible to young (and old) men.

After he held the door I was thinking what a nice young man he must be. It felt good that someone was considerate and kind enough to hold the door for me. I went directly to the detergent, made a detour around the candy aisle though I was seriously considering buying some delicious chocolate because, you know: chocolate! Then, I went directly to the checkout. As I was leaving, the young man suddenly appeared at the door and held it open. I was pleasantly surprised and said "Thank you!" There was another lady coming in on my right and he was exiting on my left. I said "Excuse me," to the lady as I stepped through the door, which unexpectedly slammed against me. I knew the older lady was behind me so I reflexively stuck my foot back to stop the door from hitting her. She sounded irritated when she said "I got it!"

What the heck happened?

The young man was walking ahead of me toward my car. Over his shoulder he said "I heard what you said about me." He was saying a lot of things that I could not hear well enough to catch. I was taken aback. The only words I had spoken to ANYONE had been the two times I had thanked him for holding the door. I said, "Sir, I didn't say anything to anyone." He continued to walk and accuse me of lying and whatever else he was accusing me of. I felt very bad. I called to him, "I can't hear what you are saying but I did not say anything to anyone." He continued to make accusations I could not hear.

Once in the car I had a few seconds to process what just happened. He apparently waited for me at the door so he could slam it on me. The older lady coming in was a black woman and maybe it was not even me she was irritated with. The whole event was a very strange thing. I have no idea what made him accuse me of saying anything about him at all. He was not venting anger directly toward me nor threatening me. He seemed somewhat hurt but there was no chance to discuss it nor clear any misunderstanding. On the other hand, in retrospect, it appeared as if he had targeted me from the beginning. But perhaps it just seemed that way. Our paths crossed so briefly, neither of us with a clue as to what in the other's life led up to the door encounter. He walked down Tenth Street, looking back to see if I was going to follow him? There was nothing I could say or do so I just came home. I have absolutely no idea what it is to be a young black man in America. He has no idea what it is to be a hippie chick who has suddenly found herself old and worn out.

I do not know how a single person of color can trust any white person in our country. That we get along as well as we do is a testament to our resilient human nature more than anything. I do not want to be thought of as a racist old white woman, but I am certain there are millions of old white women who look exactly like me. Why wouldn't a young black man assume I am a racist, or a liar, or a two-faced old bitch? What happened that caused that young man to think I was talking badly about him? Maybe more than 500 years of abominable cruelty and racism? Maybe the fact that racism is so bad in America right now that even the police are murdering innocent black people on the streets in full view of dozens of witnesses, then given paid time off before being absolved of any wrong doing?

I am sorry young man, whoever you are and wherever you are. I am so sorry for all of it.

Friday, November 30, 2018

The True Value of Old Friends

No one has any idea how difficult it is to grow old. It is not until you have finally turned the corner into truly being old that you begin to realize that it is going to be a far more difficult challenge then you expected. I am not old-old yet but I have a firm foreshadowing of the last stretch of life. It is going to be the steepest climb of all. If you are lucky, you have family, children, and old friends that are going to help you see it through.

Now that I have retired and have spent some months just simply "being", I have had time to reconnect with old friends. I am making the rounds to reconnect with people I have known for 20 or 30 years.

The first visit I made was to the home of my dear friend Jeanie. She was my Reiki teacher in 1994, and we have been friends since. She is in her ninth decade and is just as lovely, smart, and funny as she was on the first day I met her! She is the coolest "old lady" I know, and I absolutely mean no disrespect by that term. Indeed, it is one of honor, something afforded an Elder, a wise woman. She and her late husband Bob were the most liberal, enlightened "old people" I had ever met. Most older people I knew were closed minded, grumpy, full of concrete ideas, and energy bounced off of them. A human being with a liberal mind coupled with the humor and wisdom of life experience is a work of art. I fell in immediate love with Jeanie and Bob. I believe Jeanie has lived most of her life with an open heart. The person she is now is the result of living a loving, generous life, and what a truly wonderful resulting human being. Though we have never spent a lot of time together, the shared times sustain me. I am grateful for her warm, shining humor, and her good mind.

Far back in the day - after I had dropped out of college, had a child and went through a divorce - I somehow bumped into my friend Sharon. We were not actually friends then as we had little opportunity to get to know one another. My first memory of her is a young, dark-haired hippie girl authoritatively reciting Native American history. We were standing somewhere on concrete steps in bright summer sunlight. That is all there is left of that memory. Later, we were in a group that attended a Fleetwood Mac concert. The memories of her end after the concert. Some years later, a dark haired woman was hired into my department. We hit it off right away. For a week or longer I kept saying "You sure look familiar to me. Don't I know you from somewhere?" She had no memory of me. We compared notes of our former home town, and notes on any mutual acquaintances we knew in Topeka. One day she mentioned someone from the old days that triggered the spark in my memory banks! She remembered the Fleetwood Mac concert and her close friends, but I was just "some other person" who also attended. (This is the impression I make on people!)

For the next 17 years we spent every break and almost every lunch together at work. Interestingly, Sharon is likely the most far right political friend I have, and I am likely her most far left friend. We have steered away from any serious political discussion or debate for obvious reasons, but she does allow me to dis' Rush Limbaugh about once every five years. (You just have to make allowances for friends.) Every other topic is on the table and we have likely discussed all of them at one time or another. It is one of the best things in life to have an old friend who has known you almost forever. We only see one another about once a year now, but the conversation picks up where we last left off. Surely our conversations have been occurring in many past lives and will carry on in some future iteration after we have both left this old earth. (Everyone smoked a lot of pot at concerts back in the day, so she is forgiven for not remembering me at Fleetwood Mac.)

I met my good friend Ken in the summer of 1993. I had returned from a personal pilgrimage to Wounded Knee, South Dakota and to the Sand Creek Massacre Site in Southeastern Colorado. I visited those places to leave tobacco and prayers for the people who were mercilessly murdered by the ignorance and racism of my ancestors. In both instances, the Native Americans were under the white flag of surrender. It did not stop the US Military from treacherously and brutally gunning down unarmed elders, men, women and children. I had to go to those places to heal something in my own spirit.

When I returned from that trip, I rode my Harley up to see the Potawatomi elder, Mr. Leonard McKinney. When I crossed onto the rez, a hawk flew right over me, casting a large shadow on me and my motorcycle. Amazingly enough, when I left the rez by another route, the same thing happened - a hawk coming out of the north flew right over me casting a shadow on me and the machine. That marked the beginning of true magic coming into my life, which included meeting my friend Ken. I met him that fall when I attended Lodge at his house, the place I now call the 54th Street Rez. That also became the title of one his original Native American flute songs found on his C.D. Coyotes in the Orchard. (Buy Ken's CD here!)

It took awhile for Ken and I to become friends. Once we each decided the other was a trustworthy human being and worthy, we became good friends. He is a solid, bedrock friend. I have been in Lodge many times with Ken and know that he is impeccable when it comes to the things that matter. He is an uncompromising old Vietnam Vet. He is an artist, making beautiful Native American Flutes and drums. He is a musician who has played his flutes all over the world. Perhaps the most prestigious event was when he played his flute with the National Symphony Orchestra at the Kennedy Center for three performances.

My kids know Ken well and he knows them. Ken is one of the few persons on the entire planet who understands and sincerely appreciates my poetry. He once told me, "I am right there with you!" I think we have known one another from past lives as well. I certainly expect him to appear in future lives. For the time being we meet for lunch a couple of times a year, and talk on the phone occasionally. I know if I needed anything at all, I could call him and he would do everything in his power to help me. I trust him and I hope we have many more years together, becoming the oldest versions of ourselves - our young Harley-riding, hard-partying, wild versions that settled down into serious spiritual contemplation and wisdom. Perhaps we will be the oldest old people at a pow wow some day and still laughing about things the youngsters have no clue about. A bedrock friend is the best thing there is.

Ken and I ate Chinese yesterday, but most of the time when we meet for lunch, it is to eat steak. Both of us are carnivores, but Ken married a beautiful vegetarian woman, so he has to have a fix of good steak once in awhile. I am his accomplice for devouring bloody red meat! This is done with full disclosure to his wife, as far as I know. The restaurant yesterday was decorated to the n'th degree for Christmas, with Buddha statues amid the array. There was an enormous Santa in the lobby, so large I did not notice it at first. When we saw it on the way out, Ken said, "Dear Santa, All I want for Christmas is a new President." Come on, Santa! Ken has been good all year! I can vouch for him!

This is a short list of friends because there are so many more - so many that each deserves a chapter in the book I am never going to write. Bev, one of the smartest women I have ever known, has spent her adult life helping people find healing for their broken and damaged spirits. Sometimes life asks a lot of such people. I do not know how she gets through the tragedies she and her family have experienced. Her warrior spirit simply carries on with good grace and faith in the ultimate nature of our human lives.

My family friends, the Hastings, are a clan of opinionated, outspoken, hard working, very talented, cussing, loving people. I have known them for so long they that they are already into their fourth generation! They have always been there for me and my kids. I will never be able to repay all of their many, many kindnesses. I love them all dearly and their good humor, no matter what horrible thing happens, is the most worthy of gifts. Life is damned hard, downright impossible and tragic at times, but you would never know it when you are with them.

There are my friends from high school whom I have known the longest and loved the most.

There are people from work, including Mr. Hamm, a pseudonym because I do not believe he would welcome being identified in my silly little blog. He is certainly a keeper friend because he is one of those people who finds some things too funny to be contained in normal laughter. We have often laughed until our sides ached and we were crying. Only a few people are this way. We are rare, like white rhinos or albino crows. When we discover one another in the population at large, we cling together - often in painful laughter! He had my back at work and was the only reason I was able to go the distance those last few years. He is a good man. It is the highest compliment I can give to a human being with the Y chromosome.

I remember my dear Grandmother in her last years. She was sharp as a tack up until the final blow dealt by a massive stroke. Even then her good mind was coming back. She loved to play cards with a circle of women she had known forever. They grew old together. They were there for each other all their long lives as they survived whatever life brought them, when they lost children, as they lost their husbands one by one, as they survived the vagaries of life. She outlived most of her friends and spent the last years with no one to play cards with, no one left who knew her long history, no one left who knew who she had been, or how she got to be who she was where she was. It must have been exceedingly lonely for her. She soldiered on with an amazing grace of spirit, right until the last breath. She showed me how to go the distance, how I must behave when life becomes overpoweringly too difficult and I am at its mercy.

Old friends are the best things in life. They are medicine bundles, the magic and blessing from the Creator. I love all of my old friends, whether they were included here or not. Growing old will not be too difficult as long as they are with me because life so far has not been too difficult thanks to their presence.

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

What I Accomplished This Week

No. 1

While my iron-woman daughter was riding her bicycle over 1000 miles in Florida, and being recognized in the national publication for her sport as the top woman rider of the month, I was practicing my meditation techniques. Trying to relax my body even more deeply I fell asleep and dreamed I was snorting coke with a homeless Al Pacino.


No. 2
It only takes a few times to teach Mattie a new trick.  She knows "Look at me" - "Sit" - "Where's your ball?" For some reason I used a gesture when I taught her to lay down, so I have only to make that gesture.  I taught Mattie how to "shake" yesterday.  She has it down now but she does it so enthusiastically that my arms and hands are scratched. Next on the agenda is "stay".

No. 3
Mattie and I have a serious miscommunication regarding the signal she uses to let me know she is ready to come into the house. She learned to bark at the horses from Jake. Because she is not a timid dog (like Jake) she discovered on her own that if she runs at the horses barking ferociously, they take off in a bucking, snorting stampede. It is a terrible habit for everyone involved! As soon as I hear her barking, I rush to the door and yell for her. She comes running when I call. This started as a way to keep her from chasing the horses but now it is the only way she knows to signal she is ready to come indoors. She is no longer free to spend much time out of the house due to this problem with the horses. Having a smart dog keeps a person on her toes.

The accomplishment here is that I finally realized that Mattie had trained me to let her in by barking at the horses.  ("I am not a smart woman..." - Forestina Gump)

No. 4
Working diligently to master retirement.  Sleeping.  Facebook.  Netflix.  Playing Zelda Breath of the Wild.  Texting.  Napping.  Puttering.  Minimal effort at art this week.  I finally thought of  a grand idea for the big painting for my son.  It is a very cool idea but not sure I have the skill to accomplish it.  It could be ugly.  Very easy to paint over failures, though.

With her trusty bike...

Thursday, November 15, 2018

My Horses

A misty late summer morning. Cockle burrs in her mane.
Also cockle burrs in Walai Lama's mane.
One of the greatest passions of my life has been horses. It is the one thing that remains brilliantly clear in my childhood memories. I loved them with all of my heart and soul. Any thing I might say now to express how I felt then is only an interpretation - an interface of words - because the heart of a child has no spoken language and neither does the heart of a horse.

When I was too young and physically too small to manage anything about my desire to spend time with the horses it led me toddle all the way from the house to the barn unnoticed by my mother. Our house was located by a county black top road with high speed traffic. There was a creek and a river within sight of the house. There was a deep stock tank full of water. My mother found me in the barn with three horses, two of which were dominant mares that had been feuding for days to determine who was boss. If you have never witnessed this, it is an ugly, powerful dispute with punishing kicks and crushing bites and sudden, violent lunges to avoid getting pounded whenever possible. My mother found me standing with my arms around the back legs of my father's mare, Lady. She was the boss. It was her barn but the other mare had not yet conceded. I am sure my mother could have fainted with fear.

Mom did not dare to enter the barn, afraid that would set the mares in motion - either to kick or to step on me. She stood outside and persuaded me to come away from the horses on my own. As soon as I was out of danger, Lady took a cheap shot at the other mare with a viscous broadside kick to the belly. The horses could have easily inadvertently killed me that day. I believe horses recognize human children as babies to be protected the way they protect their own babies. I would not bet the lives of my children on that belief, though. Nevertheless, I loved that big red mare and she loved me. She would never have done anything to hurt me. I loved her before I could even speak and she understood that. Every horse on the planet should have the good fortune to be loved, heart and soul, by a little girl.

My horses now deal with me as an adult human, an entirely different level. It is more like a superior species tolerating a sub-par race of beings with only two legs. My horses know I love them but it is not the same soul connection I had with Lady. To be fair, there are a few other things in life I love more than my horses if it were ever to come down to a choice. There are things my horses love far more than they love me! Generally, they know I am not going to hurt them and I know they will not hurt me on purpose. This is our agreement.

The older I become, and the more life experience I have, the easier it is to express the why of things - the what of things. The simple routine task of throwing hay to the horses affords the daily opportunity to see their fluid physical movements as they manage long legs and long necks. I admire the shape of horses, the evolution of their physical bodies, their physical grace. Ginger is not a photogenic horse. She never looks beautiful in photographs but she is a beautiful horse in person. Wally is the opposite. He photographs well but in person he is a bit lumpy and his conformation is not the best. Their personalities are different. Wally is expressive in both his movements and vocally. He loves any excuse to gallop with head and tail high. I loved him immediately but I was always lacking in his estimation. For a long time he missed his former humans and he did not care much for me. That seems to be changing.

Ginger is too serious, too much of a supreme being to be anything but demanding and bossy. Ginger is an American Quarter horse with apparently a lot of the old stock in her genes so she doesn't have the gait or the spring in her legs of the newer AQH lineages. She is also a bit lazy. Galloping requires too much effort, except on certain occasions. Sometimes I worry that maybe she is in some pain because she once loved to race the barn. Wally still thunders to the barn full steam but Ginger often walks when called. Wally entirely, if not enthusiastically, agrees that she is the Supreme Being, so maybe she simply does not need to run. Wally easily moves out of her way whether it is food, treats, water, or grooming. Sometimes he pins his ears back in irritation at her demands. I do not blame him. She really is the boss and no one likes the boss that much. Except me.

This week Ginger developed a swelling beneath her eye. The vet prescribed an anti-inflammatory that apparently tastes like warmed over hell to her. The medicine is in a very large "syringe", to be administered by sticking it into her mouth as far as possible then squeezing a predetermined dosage far back on her tongue. First of all, there were no instructions on the box how to set the syringe for a predetermined dosage. I spent 10 minutes twisting and pulling on the only movable part in a two-part apparatus, to no avail. Then I spent 30 minutes looking for a You Tube video to show me how to do this. Even the pharmaceutical site had nothing so I knew that meant it was soooooo simple even a dumb-ass would be able to figure it out. As it turns out, a very cleverly disguised ring twists down the plunger to create an automatic stop. Then, in addition to everything else that has gone to hell in my body, my hand was not strong enough to squeeze the plunger. I would need to use both hands and Ginger would have to willingly hold the syringe in her mouth. Yeah, that was going to happen. So, I was hiding the medicine in oats and in apples and in maple syrup - all wasted effort. I have never seen a horse react so badly. It was a sight to behold. I had never witnessed a horse spit food out of its mouth and it is an amazing dance of head tossing and curling the upper lip and pacing! Luckily, the swelling was subsiding so the Vet said to continue the antibiotics alone. That consisted of mixing powder into feed she finds irresistible and yes, I "wuz smart enuff to figger it out". The swelling is entirely gone now, but if it comes back after the antibiotics, it is going to get a lot more complicated and expensive.

I wish, sometimes with all my heart, that I could ride my horses. I could ride them - after reconstructive knee surgery, physical therapy, someone else riding the horses for a solid year to make them trustworthy, and a huge effort in several other areas. It is not important that I ride them. It is important that they are here for me to tend to, to brush, and feed. It is good to put my hands on the graceful arc of a horse neck, or stroke a velvet nose. Though I do not do it as often as I once did, I sometimes need to lean against a big warm body and rest my head in the curve of a mighty shoulder, my arms loosely around a neck. They suffer this for a not even a full minute but they know it is part of their job description.

Perhaps the best, the most important is to sit in the bales in the barn in silence and enter into the calm, contented sphere of horse energy as they carefully pick through their share of hay. Their simple happiness in that moment is palpable and contagious. Sometimes in Wall's liquid black eye, I catch a glimpse of a great gentle Spirit. Sometimes in the dark golden depth of Ginger's eyes, the generous heart of the horse nation shines clearly. Horses are a nation of beautiful wild beings that generously came in from the wild steppes to help us evolve, to teach us to be as loving beings as they themselves are.

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

A Wonderful Kansas Enterprise

My neighbors (and friends) live about ten miles distant as the crow flies, but a bit over twenty miles on the road, are the creators of a multifaceted home-grown Kansas enterprise.

Maybe I should not say "home-grown" as it has a bit of a folksy connotation when in reality all of their various endeavors are professional and intelligent, bright, original, and uplifting.

I say "home-grown" because much of what they do, their activities and projects, are in support of many of the best things going in Kansas, including the Symphony in The Flint Hills.

But that is just one thing.  They are involved in so much more!

Prairie Hollow Productions

Prairie Hollow Creations

Hope you spend a little time checking out their various projects!

Sunday, November 11, 2018


October 13, 2018

October 15, 2018 Not only is it amazing that everything would still be green and growing this late in the year, the sunrise lit the snowy leaves with gold.  It is sorcery of the highest order!
At some point in time all the available valuable limestone will finally be removed from this valley. For over three years they have been grinding, smashing, scraping, hauling and unequivocally disturbing the peace directly across the road. This operation would be loud in the city, but here where there is nothing to mask it or compete, it is enormously loud. The sound bounces off the bluff/hill behind my house so I think it doubles the industrial growling and the piercing back-up warning on all the heavy equipment. When they break the limestone, the enormous percussion of whatever they slam into the rock rattles my windows. It does not shake my house but the windows flex and rattle.

It could be worse as I have complained before. It could be a permanent mining operation, a hog lot, a brothel, a crack house, or noisy gun-blastin', chainsaw-wielding permanent neighbors... or any number of even more horrible things. They have restored the land directly across from me which means they will soon be out of there for good, but they continue to dig to the west in the same pasture. Before I could celebrate the return of peace and quiet, I discovered one of their signs hanging on the neighbors gate 3/4's of a mile to the east. I am not sure how much I will hear when they have moved operations there. The sound may be funneled away from my house. I should be so lucky.

I have tried not to resent the limestone mining but I do. I hate that they are disturbing soil that took millions of years to develop. They are utterly destroying a tall grass root system that took tens of thousands of year to evolve, to establish itself. Though they seed back native grasses it will never be the same. It will not be genuine prairie but a thin man-made imitation of a tall grass prairie. I heard this valley was plowed up during the war so that lessened my anxiety a great deal regarding the destruction. At least they are not destroying untouched prairie simply to dump a giant slab of Flint Hills limestone in a Kansas City shopping mall parking lot. (The mining company is owned by a landscape company based in Kansas City according to the signs.)

The landowner is getting a huge amount of money from the sale of rock 20 feet deep beneath his land - pure gravy for him. The men who show up every day to scrape the earth and dig the limestone are earning a living. And, as far as destruction of the environment goes, this is fairly benign. In a few years's time only a true expert of the tall grass biome will be able to tell it was mined. My farmer neighbor said cattle will avoid the new growth, so the cattle can tell a difference. I guess they are experts, too.

Even though the mining is a huge Disturbance in The Force around here, I still sit at the barn listening to my horses quietly eat their hay. I can watch the crows wheel around the tree tops monitoring the resident hawk when he is perched on the electric pole. The crows are silent so they must not have young in the nest or fledglings. I am not certain hawks prey on young crows but normally the crows raise holy hell whenever the hawks are around. Crows are very smart so perhaps they are merely warning EVERYONE that a hawk is in the air.

The other day I enjoyed seeing the hawk on the utility pole. From the barn I had a front row seat. He faced the wind so his feathers would not ruffle. He still needed to shake his tail and wings to settle his plumage. He seemed to be resting in the sunshine just like I was. His keen eyes caught something at the base of the pole and in one liquid movement he simply plummeted like a stone to the ground. If he caught anything I could not tell. He lifted a few feet and winged out of sight to the west. I hoped he had reduced the mouse nation numbers! A few minutes later he was back at the top of the pole. Now that I knew he was hunting I did not want to disturb him. If I moved at all, he would calmly fly away. I resigned to wait but he was there for only a few more minutes. He has lived here for many years. It is his home, too, and a guy has to eat.

A day or so before, I moved a hay bale causing a little critter to scurry into hiding. I think it was a prairie vole because it was smaller than a rat but much larger than a mouse. It came out of hiding in full view, within reach of me, despite the bright sunlight. It watched me carefully as I cut the baling twine on the bale. I thought maybe there was a nest in the bale itself and that is why it was so brave. Maybe I was the first human it had ever seen. I did not find a nest so I do not think I tossed any newborns onto the horse side of the fence.

There are generations of animals that make Spiritcreek home. There are generations of coyotes. They raise their young in my pasture. They come up close to howl - just below the bank behind the house. I love hearing them. I love catching an occasional glimpse of them during the day. I hope the cotton tail rabbits are plentiful for the coyotes to eat.

Just before it turned cold, I was wading through the tall grass around the barn and happened to see a tiny snake trying to escape the human giant thrashing ever closer. I was not even afraid (but I did carefully watch for any larger snake that might have also been in the grass!)

There are generations of song birds born and raised in the trees surrounding my house. There are humming birds that return every year to raise their young - and pee all over the front window and the porch boards below the feeder. There are crows and opossum and squirrels and skunks. There are fox and bob cat who travel the creek hidden from the eyes of hunters. There are surely creatures I am not even aware of - such as wood chucks, one of which was high in a thin tree one afternoon. Amazingly enough, I had never seen one and did not know what it was.

There are lizards, toads and at least two kinds of frogs. Turtles and fish and crawdads. Butterflies, including Monarchs, and one lunar moth that hatched on the front door. There are a multitude of dragon flies and an infinite supply of fireflies. Every summer I happen upon another insect species that I have never seen before in my entire life as a Kansan. And spiders of all shapes and sizes and colors. Spiders.

The animals were here long before my great-to-the-100th-power grandmother was born... long before this land was "owned" by any human being. If humans do not utterly destroy the soil and water here, the generations of animals will continue to flourish long after my dogs and horses are gone, long after I have returned to ash and stardust. I am most grateful to be here now - even with the mining across the road. The animals will outlast that, too.

A year ago, October sunrise. The clouds bear the shape of a mighty red tailed hawk.

Monday, October 29, 2018

Is Laughter Truly the Best Medicine?

One of the best things in life is laughter. I am talking about those nearly hysterical, stomach aching, tears-in-your eyes bouts of laughter. If you are lucky, there are people in your life who enter into the hilarity easily and often with you. My daughter is one of my main constituents. It does not take much to set us off.

My friend and coworker Bernie and I often had one another in tears at work, which made it even better because we tried mightily to not let it get to that suffocating level - we were at work in the cube farm! We always failed. Bernie and I maintained a file of newspaper articles we collected of the weirdly absurd - stories we were certain would make the other laugh out loud. Over the years, as it turned out, all of the articles involved drunk people. (What are the odds?) Bernie was a quiet and good-natured man but his laughter was so infectious that once he started genuinely laughing, I was lost. Bernie passed away far too early in life. I miss my good friend. I wish he were here right now so we could laugh ourselves into stomach aches and tears.

Another colleague/good friend, Mr. Hamm and I have lived through a fair share of these snorting, suffering, catch-your-breath episodes, most often in a car... traveling 75 miles an hour. If we had crashed, we would have died laughing, literally!

The first time I remember laughing "hysterically", I was very young. We were at an amusement park in Wichita, Kansas known as Kiddie Land. My mother and father dotingly put me in a tiny train car that traveled on a miniature track in a series of circles. For some reason I found the entire experience so much fun that I began laughing and could not stop. I remember feeling a tinge of embarrassment. Perhaps it was a portent of things to come because, believe me, since then there have been dozens of times I needed to stop laughing but simply could not. Not to save my soul.

I still remember the President of our company division and his secretary carrying on two conversations at once that took a turn. This happened decades ago, before HR was much of a factor in the corporate world because the secretary had a new Playgirl magazine at her desk for some reason. She had just mentioned to him there was birthday cake in the break room, and almost simultaneously he had asked about the magazine. She pushed the closed magazine toward him as he asks "Anyone we know?" She retrieves the magazine to begin flipping the pages, solemnly saying "Gee, I don't know. Let me look." He says, "I mean is the birthday cake for anyone we know?" Those two began laughing and could not stop for at least 10 minutes. This could never happen in modern corporate times!

There was a time when I exercised every molecule of will power not to laugh, even biting my tongue. I was in the backseat of the work van, a coworker was driving, and our supervisor was riding shot gun. We had closed the hotel bar down the night before which may or may not have contributed to this fantastic chain of events. After a hearty breakfast we were driving toward the job site in what was essentially an old beater of a van (nothing too good for the survey crew!). We were bumping along over cobble stones, or old red bricks to be more precise. Riding in the van was like riding in a paint shaker anyway, then to add a lumpy, potholed road to the mix and we were vigorously bouncing in our seats. The supervisor was speaking when suddenly, without warning, he vomited all over the dash. I wanted to laugh. I wanted to laugh so desperately! But I was new in that job and it was the boss who just lost his breakfast. I was biting my tongue and hugging myself so I would not laugh.

The driver looks over, his shoulders rolling with laughter already. "I would have pulled over."

The supervisor, poor guy, feebly offers, "I thought that was just a burp."

That was it for me. No power in the universe could have prevented me from laughing at that point.

So many times the story simply does not translate to either the written or spoken word. You simply had to have been there, and I am thankful for every time I was there.

Saturday, October 6, 2018

An Emotional Hangover of Sorts

Well, the disappointment over our government seating a man such as Brett Kavanaugh to the country's highest court is rather acute this morning. We made our best logical arguments but in the end emotions won over everything. It feels as if common sense and decency lost to a mob mentality, or perhaps it was just a bunch of old white men in Washington flexing their power yet one more time, the rest of us be damned.

To me it seems that people can not stop feeling long enough to think, to carefully consider and understand the larger context but I could be wrong. Maybe Kavanaugh supporters see the big picture, too, but they just do not give a good goddamn. When the best arguments fail, all that is left is for people to find out for themselves.

I felt this way when Brownback was elected as Governor of Kansas, both times. All the arguments against his extreme agenda fell on deaf ears. I resigned myself to sit back and tick off all the things I knew would happen. Kansas lost its excellent credit rating. Our schools had to be funded by court order. Our economic growth fell below the rates of Nebraska, Colorado, Missouri and Oklahoma. An enormous fiscal deficit formed that will take years of recovery. State services remain curtailed and are a true aggravation for even something as simple as needing a phone answered in a state office somewhere. It is not the State employees' fault. There are so few to serve so many. Most tragically, the most vulnerable people, the young, the ill, the elderly had their lives severely impacted by Mr. Brownback's run as Governor. Cuts to all manner of medical and social services were implemented, disqualifying families from critical services, placing others on long waiting lists, and most certainly making life even more difficult for the working poor. Supply side economics simply do not work but people forget that, time and time again. The point is everyone lives with the consequences of the majority rule. If "your side" does not win, it is at least a palatable loss if the majority rule was won fair and square.

State economics aside, through various underhanded shenanigans, the radical conservatives in Washington have been systematically chipping away at all the checks and balances that have made our form of government work pretty damned well - up to now. For twenty years or more this decline has been picking up speed. Now we have rampant gerrymandering, dark money, and 24 hour cycles of Fox News propaganda steering the national debate in whatever direction they require to accomplish whatever foul deed they are up to next. Some very powerful special interests have managed to wrest our democracy away from us while overseeing the largest transfer of wealth in human history - right in plain sight of every adult American citizen. At least half of us are okay with it. Ironically, it appears the half who are suffering the most are the same people who are okay with it.

Now we are well on the way to a truly radicalized Supreme Court. People have no idea what that is going to mean. They do not understand that their lives and the lives of their families will be changed in very real ways - sooner AND later. Who will stand for us, we the people, before the highest court in the land now that it has been bought and paid for by the greediest, most unprincipled pack of sharks to ever run the free world? No one. The Republicans in Washington wanted THAT man, that particular man, for a pre-determined reason, and we will find out soon enough what that reason is. It will be ugly.

As for the national discussion of the issues of sexual abusers and sexual abuse victims, the Republicans in our government literally got away with doing the most underhanded move of the last 50 years in American Government. Well, there are consequences for that, too. I just wish the half of us who are appalled by the blatant disregard for the Supreme Court, and for simple decency, did not have to suffer with those who think it is okay to subvert our government.

How long did Congress investigate Hillary Clinton? How much time and money? And what was the result? How many people are going to jail due to that investigation? But the same rabid people cannot take the time to genuinely and fairly investigate the very disturbing claims against Brett Kavanaugh - the very same man whose public behavior clearly and unequivocally demonstrated that he is temperamentally unfit to be a Supreme Court Justice? There should have been a full, genuine, apolitical investigation carried out in the best interest of our country. If innocent, Kavanaugh could have been exonerated. If Dr. Ford was lying, she could have been held accountable. (NO ONE wants to see an innocent man accused of crimes he did not commit.) Now we will never know and a there is a very real possibility that a wholly inappropriate man will be awarded a lifetime position on what should be the highest, most unimpeachable source of law interpretation for all Americans.

If you are okay with all of it - with the blatant whitewash and misuse of the FBI carried out by the Republicans in Washington this week, then I am sad to say you deserve everything coming your way. I will be sorrowfully ticking off the boxes as the ugliness arises, quite likely for the rest of my life.

Friday, October 5, 2018

Even If We Tried ...

Every day of my life since I moved to Wabaunsee County, despite whatever else is going on in my life, I have been graced with the awareness of the Kansas sky, nature's magnificent living art installation.

I have hundreds and hundreds of photos but so little space or time to share even a fraction of them. It does not matter because anyone on the planet can simply step outside to appreciate the view. Why bother with a camera?

Even if we used every ounce of our collective imagination we could never invent anything as mutable, ephemeral, heart-breakingly beautiful as the sky full of movement and drama and ever-changing light. Even if we tried.

Beautiful late summer skies over Joplin, Missouri
Sunset from Snokomo Road

Above Manhattan, Kansas. Mid August.
Leaving Kansas City, Missouri. Late May.

Feeding the horses at dawn.  January 9, 2018
Looking east from Vera Road at sunset, November, 2017

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

A Toto By Any Other Name

Wamego is an enchanting small town in Kansas that hosts a Wizard of Oz museum, a beautifully restored wild west opera house, several lovely parks and a variety of wonderful places to visit, things to do, and events that seem far too extravagant for such a small town.  

The most endearing project consists of fifteen small statues of the little dog Toto. I do not know the history of this community effort except that local students and artists submitted designs.  The results are whimsical.  These little fellows make everyone happy.  I always see people (of all ages) taking photos and otherwise admiring the statues.  One warm summer night I saw two young boys, 11 or so, riding their bicycles on the main street sidewalks. As he rolled past, one of the boys gently high-fived the statues outside the Wizard of Oz museum.  That small gesture certainly seemed like magic to me.  Imagine the memories he will have of warm summer nights spent riding bikes with his best friend in a hometown decorated with Totos.  

This is Community Toto.  He guards the southern approach to the city, a couple of blocks north of the Kansas River bridge.
A companion for Community Toto, bedecked in red slippers.
This Toto is in the city park where there is a collection of old west buildings.
Star spangled Toto faithfully bears witness to the formal Veterans memorial, which includes a replica of the Vietnam War Memorial Wall.
"Toto-ally Gingham"  waits with all the children wanting to ride the small train around the park.
Letter jacket Toto stands in the center of the wonderful sports complex where soccer, baseball, softball and tennis are played - all at the same time if needed!
Covered in candy, this Toto is across from the city park and next to Friendship House. (Notice the yellow brick road?).
Outside one of the banks on Main Street.
Also outside the bank...
You might guess this Toto is before the Public Library
Toto beside his own yellow brick road.
Another Toto on Main Street.
One of the two statues guarding the Wizard of Oz museum.
Outside the Wizard of Oz Museum.  The perfect height for a gentle high-five... 
Sunflower Toto greeting visitors who arrive via Highway 24.

Monday, September 24, 2018

Big Dog - Cane Corso

The Big Guys
My son asked if I could look after his dog, a Cane Corso, while he was on vacation. He said he knew it was a lot to ask but he was in a bind. I was glad to do it though I was a bit worried that the dog might not mind me. I was also worried that he might drag me down the front steps. He weighs over 130 pounds. I could certainly hold him on his leash, having a few pounds on him, but navigating the front steps could be a disaster. He was a great dog and obediently agreed to everything. (I wish my own dogs would mind as well!) And, as if he knew I had trouble with the stairs, Big Dog patiently waited for me on each step. (I call him Big Dog, but that is not his name).

He is such a good dog! He has an awareness that no dog I have ever known possessed. I told my son that the dog must surely be an old soul, a buddha.

On the second night, the big dog was very depressed, realizing his human was not coming back right away. I suppose to a dog it might seem as if their human is gone forever. They have no way to be assured a situation is temporary.

I enjoyed that big goof ball so much! He carefully agreed to everything at first but after a few days he realized he could get away with a thing or two, especially if he was acting goofy! He liked to sit with his back to me then try to look at me by lifting his head up and back. I guess simply turning his head was too mundane!

I had two big kennels in the house so I could sleep at night - Mattie in one and Big Dog in the other. After a couple of nights, Big Dog was allowed to sleep beside my bed. I knew he would not chew up anything while I was sleeping... the way a certain female German Shepherd would do! The last night he felt comfortable enough to buck the rules entirely. He carefully threaded his big, 130 pound bulk between the sofa and the small table loaded with all the paints and brushes including a big cup of dirty water, to sleep on the couch. Since he was so careful to not disturb anything on that table, amazingly, I did not say anything. After all, he was a guest - a very beloved guest - a beloved, well behaved guest.

My son has done an excellent job socializing and teaching his dog manners. When my son came home and Big Dog realized who was coming up the steps, he excitedly jumped against the glass in the front door! I was horrified he was going to break the glass and cut himself to ribbons so I shouted for the dog to get down - the only time the entire week I raised my voice to him. My son did not like that I yelled at his dog - duly noted in case of future grandchildren. (As if I would EVER shout at my grandchildren!)

I missed the big goof ball for a few days after he had gone back to the city. He also missed me and the farm and his two dog buddies. My son said he moped around for a couple of days after they were home. When I next visited them, the big dog almost knocked me down in his enthusiasm to see me again. We are buds now, too.

After he realized Ian wasn't coming back for him immediately. He rested his big head on the chair and stared at me, the saddest sad sack in the world!

He had his own bed in the middle of the living room so he could chill while I was painting.  He fell asleep watching tv upside down and chewing on a dog toy.  My own dogs do not have it this good!

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

My Daughter is Iron Woman!

My daughter's account of her long-distance bicycling adventures, in her own words - published on Facebook, 2018 

Coulee Challenge 1200K - August 2018

“90% of Life is Showing Up”

It’s hard to find the “theme” of this 755 mile bike ride from Apple Valley, Minnesota through the North Western sections of Wisconsin in 88 hours. So much content, such beautiful landscapes, and amazing people. So, I’ll begin at the beginning and end, at the end perhaps the golden nuggets will appear.
Disclaimer: What I’m about to write is not to brag or boast by any means, but hopefully to inspire. I may one day not be able to bike or ride, but for the here and now I’ve been blessed to be of sound mind, body, and spirit and Cycling has become such a wonderful gift in my life in the here and now, that I like to share it with you. When my insides don’t’ always feel so great or my heart is broken, I’ve been given the gift to be able to ride my bike and for that I’m eternally grateful, and met such wonderful, amazing, and beautiful human beings that enjoy the simplicity of riding a bicycle under the sun and the moon too.
Before we get on the Coulee Route, I must share how I came into Randonneuring in the first place to then arrive at this juncture in the Coulee’s Minnesota.
Background: I decided to ride through the Florida Keys alone, last year. But, before I set sail alone a series of events happened: the stars aligned, a handful of people were met, to include two Randonneurs from Florida (Jackie Shellow and Rudy) in which a 3,000 mile round-trip (via car), and 5 of us road 400k through the Florida Keys and a Baby Randonneur was born.
Dec 30, 2017: 200k from Florida City to Florida Keys.
Jan 1, 2018: 200k from Florida Keys to Florida City.
Feb 3, 2018: 300k Austin, Texas Brevet
Mar 17, 2018: 200k Springfield, Missouri
Apr 14, 2018: 300k Pomona Lake (only 130 miles completed) due to rain, sleet, snow, & wind.
Apr 28, 2018: 200k Leawood, Kansas Perm
May 5, 2018: 400k Grain Valley, Missouri Brevet
May 19, 2018: 600k Grain Valley, Missouri to Paris Brevet
May 26, 2018: 200k St. Joe Crank
May 31, 2018: 1000k Nebraska Sandhills (only 473 miles due to Achilles and tremendous wind)
Jul 7, 2018: 200k Princeton Roundabout
Aug 13, 2018: 1200k Coulee Challenge Grand Brevet
It was not my intention initially to complete the whole SR Series in one year, but one thing sort of led to the next ride. As for the month of May…well, I thought if I can do a 400k, why not try a 600k, and then the 1000 and then the Big Kahuna, 1200k! Encouragement has come from various seasoned and experienced Rando’s along the way. One of which was Michael Turek in Florida, Wayne Dunlap in Texas, and our very own Rodney Geisert, David Mathews, and Gary DelNero in Missouri. Because of a few words they’ve said, I’ve pushed myself to the next rung.
I’ve also been inspired by some amazing cyclists, one of which is Superman, although he likes to keep himself anonymous, Spencer Klaassen and Joe Edwards. To be able to ride alongside these Big Rando Dude’s, an honor for sure. Wow. (Of which I’d like to tell each of their stories, they’ve been on one epic adventure after another over the years, and often times together.)
Through all of the Big Rides, my thoughts have been, “keep up, keep up….and for God’s sakes, keep on their wheel and then I just might make it.” Through all of these rides, I’ve learned how to navigate by reading a Cue Sheet and the use of a GPS system. This has been super empowering.
Nutrition has continuously evolved and changed over time and I imagine will continue to improve. For the Coulee’s I packed Hammer Ultra Fuel in baggies, drank one water bottle full per hour (give or take), it’s never exact for me, but I try to stay on target. Hammer electrolyte pills, I took 2 per hour (or so), plus one water bottle of water every 1.5 hours or so, sometimes more, sometimes less. Hammer Gue Gel (with Caffeine I saved for the late night riding, which is always the most challenging for me, when I tend to bonk or have tough time staying awake. This really helps).
In addition to these supplements what’s been of utmost importance, second only to hydration is FOOD, REAL FOOD! Although I’ve been Vegetarian and Pescatarian over the years, on ultra-distance bike rides, I eat whatever it takes to get the job done. Whatever I’m hungry for, I eat and eat often. I’ve learned if I can stay fed and watered, I’m golden on long rides. At Control’s, usually a Kwick Shop or Casey’s, the food can look pretty bad, but there are some nice options like an Apple, Lunch Meat, and a half a cup of Coke or an egg salad, crackers and a Sweet Tea or Grapes and Slim Jim and Cheese. Just little combo’s of proteins and carbs. These items have sustained me to the next control.
Bike Fit has helped immensely to avoid injury. I had an Achilles tendon flare up on the 1,000k in which I made worse by a piss-poor wrap job and adjusting my own cleats while on route! Big no-go. I really tweaked myself. Thus after a DNF on Day two, I was determined to get those dialed in. Going to a Bike-Fit-Person who you trust and have good experience with is ideal. And I’ve found my Golden Bike-Fit-Guy. Thus before the 1200k I had him look at me and bike on trainer one last time. We made one tiny adjustment, raising the saddle 1/8th of inch and marking the old and new seat position with a Sharpie. This paid off, zero knee and/or Achilles trouble. (Well, there were normal aches and pains of endurance cycling, but no injury). Also, flat-pedaling when conscious and aware to avoid injury helped.
Physical Therapy: I did have 6-weeks of PT after the 1,000k to ensure my Achilles healed properly and faster and I believe I DID recover faster working with the PT by stretching and one deep needling treatment. I also wore compression socks before and during the 1200k. Next big ride I may consider wearing the compression socks to bed too (but would need a clean pair) don’t want to be the stinky girl on the route.
Mind Set: It is scary to be staring down the barrel of a 1200k bike-ride at 33,000 ft of climb. The old tapes of “can I do this” are there. This is a valid question. And my honest answer at the start was, “I don’t know but let’s see if I can.” 90% of life is showing up, the rest will come. And here is the Golden Nugget.
That is precisely what I’ve done on each and every big ride, showed up. I’ve not allowed my own or others’ fears hold me back. Yes, I’ve been nervous and afraid, but I’ve shown up anyway. These rides I’ve had to dig deep and of the two that I DNF’d on, I didn’t dig quit deep enough, which bothered me a lot. Thus, I’ve been driven to go back and try again until I’ve gotten it right. Which is what we’re doing here in Earth School anyway right? Showing up and trying our best and when we fail, we learn lessons, it hurts a lot, and then we’ve really learned something of value, then thankfully, we get to try it again and this time, hopefully with success. Which has been my experience, thus far.
Mental and Emotional: Staying positive on these long rides is essential. There are many highs but some occasional lows and when I’m there, I tend to keep quiet. There is no one coddling one another on these Rando events, so if feeling blue, it’s a time of reflection for me and creating an inner fortitude to get through to the next control and as Aaron Russell in Texas said, “get fixed up.” Boy was he right! It’s important to keep yourself “fixed up” with food, mental or emotional wellness. Not an easy balance always, especially if in physical pain. Like I was on this 1200k.
Physical Discomfort: Saddle Soars for two days were the most formable for me during this ride. Although I used Butt Butter, it wasn’t enough. Along the route I picked up and used Bag Balm and Vagisil that helped save the day. It didn’t completely heal the troubled areas on route but it did relive some pain and suffering. Any tiny bit of relief was welcomed, less pain is always better than more pain.
This Mammoth Ride is a challenge to write about and to find that inner voice that was there all along the route. Hope that voice has not gone dormant, thus this ride report is more technical and physical. There was much on the inside though, as there always is for all of us I’m sure.
Day One 236.3 Miles: Apple Valley to Black River Falls One hour of sleep
Day Two 180.2 Miles: Black River Falls to Reedsburg One hour of sleep
Day Three 197 Miles: Reedsburg to Winona One point Five hours of sleep
Day Four 141.8 Miles: Winona to Apple Valley Slept good in hotel after this ride!
Lessons Learned: Bring Ear Plugs! This will help with sleeping. Get a back bag so not have to wear string bag and carry all “extras’ on my back”. Get a plastic rain jacket that balls up nice and tiny to keep onboard, just in case it rains.
There is more to unpack with this ride. But, I think the inner lessons were mine to keep and to not share at this time.
In the meantime. Thanks for reading and your support. What a great adventure this has been thus far. More to come readers. Until the next Big Deal, just keep Showing Up! Its 90% of life, right?! Tschuss! ☺