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.