Thursday, January 31, 2019

I Guess I Belong Here Now

Duke the Good Dog and King the Stray (who murdered my cat and tore up my son's 1987 Cadillac in a fit of blood rage)
Front porch of the old house.

In April 2019, I will have been a twenty-year resident of the Newbury Township in Wabaunsee County, Kansas. It is the longest I have ever lived in one place in my life. Five years was the longest stretch of time before, and usually it was far less. I had some initial doubt of the wisdom to move here. I bought the place on an impulse because it felt right in my heart. When there was no turning back, my brain begin to offer up second thoughts. I left behind a wonderful old two story house just a few blocks from my office. I moved into a small two-bedroom double-wide set on a foundation with a "real" roof. I was taking my son away from his friends in Topeka, most of whom he had known since day care. I was now committed to about a 56 mile round trip commute to work in all weather. Maybe it was a bad idea. My son certainly thought so.

Soon after we moved, our neighbors, Mr. and Mrs. Merl Lietz dropped by for a visit. They welcomed us to the neighborhood, invited us to attend their church, and warned us to drive far to the right up any hill. Their friendliness was a godsend. I never suffered another moment of doubt again.

I try hard not to bother my neighbors but sometimes I have to ask for help. One bitterly cold morning I was changing a flat tire and discovered the spare was flat, too. I called Mr. Lietz to ask for a ride down to the gas station so I could air up the spare but he came with an air bubble instead and helped finish changing the tire. I was only a few minutes late to work thanks to him.

When my son and I went to Hawaii for ten glorious days, Mr. Lietz fed my dog and looked in on my cat. (Boy, those were the good old days - before chickens and horses!) When my son wrecked his car on our road, it was Mr. Lietz who called me to say everyone was safe. He diplomatically suggested calling a tow truck right away. The car was in a dangerous spot for anyone coming over the hill. When I came to collect my son and his friend, Mr. Lietz asked if I needed a hug, and you know what? I did need a hug.

Mr. Lietz owns a construction company with caterpillars and road graders and earth movers. He kept our township road clear of snow and terrible ruts in wet weather. He graded the snow from my drive without being asked and wanted no money for it. He was shocked when I offered. "Jackie! It's what neighbors do!" He would grade my drive after he had cleared the roads, apparently on his own time. I only missed work one time due to snow, thanks to Mr. Lietz. After he was retired and someone else was grading the road, he called me after a particularly deep snow and asked if I was snowed in. I said I was. One of his relatives with a big tractor who passed by feeding his cattle every day graded the drive the next morning. He did it in five minutes. I was so thankful that Mr. Lietz remembered me! I hate to bother the men around here because they have real jobs farming and ranching - not tending data in the cube farm. I probably would have been snowed in until it all melted rather than ask for help.

Mr. Lietz has done a lot of good things in the neighborhood. The winter before I bought the place, a terrible rainfall caused the little creek to come out of the banks. When it rains hard, the creek becomes a blasting, roaring monster sweeping away anything in the terrible currents. It picked up an eight passenger station wagon from beside the garage and carried it about a mile downstream. My son and his friends would always trek down the creek to see it. I learned just last year that Mr. Lietz was responsible for finally pulling that car out of the creek. I am sure it was polluting the creek for all those years.

Any time I needed advice on who to hire for plumbing, construction, fencing or mechanical work, I would call Mr. Lietz. His recommendations have always proven to be excellent choices. Bill's Plumbing and Heating in Paxico. Dan Roth, Paxico, built my barn and later my house, and replaced the roof on my garage. All work well done, reasonably priced, and finished right away! Merl himself has done site work on my property. I was not sure if he would consider clearing the site for the hay shelter enough work to bother with. He grinned and said "It's what we do!"

Merl's recommendation for a mechanic was Don William in Maple Hill. He was a great person to do business with. He was honest and did excellent work. He was tragically killed in an accident on a terribly icy night while trying to tow a car from a deep ditch on I-70. Don was like Merl, both are men who take care of their neighbors. Don made a lot of repairs on my son's car when he could have simply replaced parts much faster and more easily for him, but far more expensive for me. He was a good man. So many folks attended Mr. William's funeral that the minister remarked on it. He said it was unusual for someone of Mr. William's age to have so many folks at the funeral. He said, "This is what happens when you take care of people."

Mr. Lietz recommended Shawn Ebert from Paxico for installing the barbed wire fence around my restored pasture. Shawn has a full time job and a family so I figured it would take most of the summer to get the fence in. In an unbelievably short amount of time, Shawn had that fence in. All these years later, it is still straight and nice looking. Shawn built the new corral and hung the John Deere gates. It looks so good! He also spent about 45 minutes under my lawn tractor, wrestling out the Kong toy that had lodged between the shroud and the mower blade, effectively stopping a 26 horsepower mower. I bought a floor jack so I could do this myself, but after seeing how hard Shawn had to work at it, there is NO WAY I could have done that myself. He saved me several hundreds of dollars and I did not have to tow the mower to Shawnee County. Shawn also set up the heater in the water tank for the horses. Who does such kind things for an old broken-down woman?

The farmer who sells hay for my horses came to check on me after the last terrible wind storm. Many big trees were down in the roads. The men in the county were out with their chainsaws clearing the roads. He came by to make sure I had not blown away. It was comforting to know I was on someone's radar.

I have called my next-door neighbors to help load a couch into the back of my truck. The same neighbor helped push my lawn tractor when I got it high centered on the road and I simply could not push it out myself. They looked in on Mattie when I had to leave her in the big pen during a terribly hot summer day.

I called the only young man left in the entire neighborhood to help me change a tire one night not long ago. I tried to give him money but he insisted I take half of it back.

Years ago, the repaired electrical generator was in the back of my truck. I backed the truck to the pole so I could use the generator. After 5 days without electricity I could not wait any longer to have heat in the house! That thing was sooooo heavy that there was no way I could possibly move it myself. I called the neighbors to the south and before long, two very strong young men showed up.

I do not know if people groan inwardly when I call to ask for help. I do not call unless I am 100% sure I can not do a thing myself. Without fail, they have come right away and cheerfully done whatever was needed. Often people do things without being asked. I am sure to have forgotten all the kind things people have done for me over 20 years. I try not bother other people but sometimes I do need a little help. I guess I have been here long enough that I am a genuine part of the neighborhood. It absolutely feels like home.

Miss Mattie on the new front porch, still a puppy.

Monday, January 28, 2019

Thinking About the New Corral

When I first purchased the adjoining 20 acres, just east of the original 6 acres and house, it was farmed land. Farming occurred on a small portion of the 6 acres, too. The land was mostly planted to milo. It is customary to give the farmer a year's notice if you do not intend for him to farm the land any longer, so I did. He prepared the land for a last crop by spraying all of the broken ground with herbicides prior to planting. Those herbicides are effective. Not a twig grew in that soil after it was sprayed. Unfortunately, the farmer became ill and was unable to plant that year, so that bare ground was at the mercy of at least two years of heavy rains. I helplessly watched topsoil being washed into the creek.

I signed up with the United States Department of Agriculture for aid in replanting the prairie. I ordered a mixture of native grasses and forbes and was to receive an 80% refund of all costs once the planting was accomplished. I rented the equipment needed to plant the seed from the County. I hired a farmer with a tractor. In order to get the reimbursement from the government, I had to follow their rules. I had to plant either corn or milo then leave the stalks in the ground after harvest to help stabilize the soil while the new seeds took root. Simple? Not really. And it took another two years.

Somehow, amazingly, all of the things that needed to happen occurred on time and eventually, I had a new prairie. The soil was still good in some areas, but where the soil had washed from the rocky ridges nothing much grew, not even weeds. I eagerly waited for the big bluestem to come in. It is the tall grass that gives the Flint Hills the beautiful russet color from fall to spring burn. Some of the wild flowers came up the first year, the Indian Blankets, a few sunflowers and some of the shorter grasses, but I could not find any big bluestem. It was slow going for three seasons. I was beginning to suspect that perhaps the expensive native seed mixture had been switched with a much cheaper mixture. I halfway suspected collusion between the co-op and the guy hired to drive the tractor. But on the fifth year, the big bluestem gloriously sprouted from the abused soil in a magnificent towering florescence. Though I had two horses grazing the emerging prairie, the big blue came in, almost filling the entire 20 plus acres and grew to be well over 7 feet tall!

It was what all the pastures in the Flint Hills would look like if they did not have cattle grazing them. It was why an old friend of mine made fun of me, not believing the bluestem was taller than the roof of my truck. He had never seen tall grass allowed to grow to maturity. Once, all of this area was a sea of tall grass, and reported by the first immigrant eye witnesses as grass taller than a man on horseback. I was ecstatic to see the beautiful grass even though I could not see the horses in the pasture.

Annie and Ginger coming toward the barn through the first year of the Big Bluestem.  (They have fly masks on.)

Since that first glorious year, the big blue has never grown that tall but it has often been taller than I am by a lot. It is grazed by the horses and possibly the weather conditions have not favored the towering growth. Some years my pasture looks very straggly and ugly but other years it looks like a prairie.

I paid to have encroaching trees removed last year, cedars and honey locust. Eastern red cedars are a terrible enemy to the prairie. They take over in a short time, entirely snuffing out all the grasses to become an impenetrable forest of cedars. They disrupt the water cycles, degrade the soil, and destroy habitat for birds and small mammals. The best way to control them is to burn the pasture each spring. The honey locust have evil thorns, even on the saplings, that can pierce leather. They are much more difficult to eradicate than the cedars. If they are cut down, they will grow back from the roots. The only way to kill them is to poison the stumps after cutting. The guy cut EVERYTHING down to the bare ground, which I was not expecting. I thought he would mow the pasture, not scalp it. There was not enough vegetation in the spring of 2018 to burn but this coming spring I should be able to burn. I have lined up some men with machines and knowledge of how to safely set the pasture on fire without burning down the entire county. If I do this every year, or at least every other year, I should not have to pay a fortune to have trees removed ever again.

Building the new house destroyed a big swath of some of the most beautiful restored prairie. It was allowed to exist undisturbed because it was never included as part of the pasture. It was the intended location of the new house. It was a beautiful little rise of almost 100% bluestem. It was the view from the old house as I sat at the computer. I hated to see it destroyed in the site work but there was no choice. A nice stand still existed between the house and the barn, left to re-establish itself as true prairie. I normally had to mow a path to the barn through it, but other than that, it was left alone. It often grew taller than me in wet years and I loved it. Every day I could walk in my own tiny restored piece of the prairie.

You can see how tall the grass grows when it is not grazed.  The big bluestem was about 6 feet tall when this was taken. You can see the trail I mowed through it to the barn.  This tall and this close to the house is a fire hazard.  You cannot imagine how this grass burns when it is this tall!

In an effort to make tending the horses easier for me in the winter, I decided to turn this last tiny parcel of restored prairie into a corral. This allowed me to move the water tank a mere 75 feet from the faucet and to have a tank heater. The horses think it is wonderful to be this close to the house. They get to keep an eye on any action, check out any visitors, and are just that much closer when they see me at the feed bins in the mornings. Ginger has been with me the longest and she actually loves me. Wally still remembers his first people, I think, so I am not too high on his list of valuable beings. He likes me, at least, and will take any opportunity to attempt to groom me. He will nibble the top of my head or take my shirt in his teeth so he can vigorously scrub his big rubbery horse lips on my shoulder or arm. This is a sure sign of affection. Ginger does the same. In all the years of this behavior from her, only once did she accidentally pinch a tiny fold of skin in her teeth. She realized it immediately but it still left a terrible bruise on my arm. It is amazing that they understand how careful they must be with a puny human being, but they know without being "trained" or taught.

Creating the corral and allowing the horses into it has maybe been a mistake.  The ground has been muddy for weeks and their hooves have deeply cut the ground.  Much of the grass will come back this spring, but where the ground is so torn up I am not sure if it will be grass or weeds.  I guess it is a small price to pay to better manage the water tank and to have horses so close to the house now.  It is really fun for me and I think for them.  Not to mention the best thing... two brand new, bright green John Deere gates!  Almost like a real farm.

Not a good photo of one of the new gates but you get the idea!

Established bluestem just down the road.

Saturday, January 12, 2019

I Love the Same Things...

November 9, 2018 from Vera Road
Coming home at sunset on a November night, I stopped to take this photo of the moon. It almost impossible to see the tiny sliver of moon but it is there. In person, it was singularly beautiful.

This is a view I have seen a thousand times since I moved here. Sometimes it is the Evening Star adorning the fading day with a brilliant diamond point, reminding me that Heaven will not be more beautiful to me, I swear. How difficult it will be to leave this earth behind when the time comes...

January 7, 2019 from I-70

I drive my daughter crazy - well, not just my daughter - but she does not understand that the same old things feed my spirit. I will listen to a CD a hundred times, each time falling deeper into the energy and artistry of the music. I am not a musician so I do not hear music the way a musician hears it, I assume. It is like falling into a mandala or sinking into a dream for me. I listen until I can feel exactly what the artist meant. It is the only way to listen to Bob Dylan. I had to get old enough to hear some things in his music. The first time I listened to "Going to Acapulco" I heard he wished he cared. I guess a good song is like a good painting - you live with it and always find something new in it. The ordinary is anything but ordinary.

I have a deeply held appreciation for the sunset behind the hills in my valley, especially the clear evenings when the long shadows of the hills and the waning light hide the twenty-first century disturbances that erode the natural beauty of this place. The Native Americans lived here for centuries and this valley was untouched in its pristine beauty for all of that time. A slow lowering of the light brings a timelessness to the valley that resonates in my spirit. I love it every time. I always pause, memorizing all of it. The Buddhists say we die and go into the bardo where we await rebirth. Our memories are lost between lifetimes, except for the tiny spark that carries from one lifetime to the next. I do not want to forget these things though I assume it is a mercy that we cannot recall one lifetime to the next. The longing would kill us.

Sunday, January 6, 2019

There is Always More to the Story

My friend Patty was a true healer. People came to her Lodge to earnestly pray for healing for themselves or their loved ones. Some people were dying when they came to her. Western doctors had told them it was time to get their affairs in order. One man had been given the last rites. He had been sent home to die. After his family went into Patti's Lodge, he recovered to spend one final year with his family. They even took a last vacation together. Some people recovered entirely and are still alive today. She herself left this world too early, leaving behind a grieving family and an enormous circle of broken-hearted friends strung around the country and the world.

Somehow I did not know that she was terminally ill. I only knew that she was in the hospital and her son was holding Lodge for her. When I got to the hospital, I was shocked and deeply dismayed. How could I have not known she was this gravely ill? I considered her my best friend. She had adopted me in the old way, so we were sisters. But somehow no one had told me the true nature of her illness. Maybe everyone assumed I knew. She was on life support. We could not speak to one another but the nurse assured me that Patti could hear me. I am certain I did not have wit enough to realize I was speaking to her for the last time in this life. All I could think of to say was that I loved her.

When I left the hospital, I went to her house. I walked in the back door like always, right into that wonderful cluttered mess of a house smelling of sage and sweet grass and essential oils and good cooking. The house was alive with her energy. But beyond that, it was as if she was right with me, looking through my eyes. I looked around her home, seeing the paintings and artwork on the walls, the beloved house plants, bookshelves and furniture covered with books and photos and items from a rather unusual lifetime. In addition to feeling my own grief, I was acutely aware of her deep mourning over possibly leaving this lifetime so unexpectedly and so soon. I felt how desperately she wanted to get out of that hospital bed and come home to her life. I felt how desperately she wanted to finish raising her youngest son, B. I almost buckled under the weight of her immense longing to see him raised to adulthood. I have never felt another's person's grief as acutely as I did in those few moments standing in Patti's house right then.

Later that day her family made the decision to remove Patti from life support. That night we gathered in the Lodge, all of us packed together to pray on behalf of a woman who had given every single one of us the means to heal ourselves and heal our lives. We each humbly asked the Creator to heal Patti. After the Lodge and sharing one last big meal together on her beautiful old dining table, her son said he was going to see his mother and we were welcome to come with him. It was late - well after midnight - and we were all red-eyed from crying and from being in the Lodge. We were bedraggled and quite likely seemed high. The hospital staff said nothing as too many people came into the ICU to speak to Patti. Each of us had a few moments to speak quietly to her though she was unconscious. I am sure we were all thinking she would recover the way so many others had recovered. She died the next afternoon. Someone called to give me the news.

In my grief at losing the only person I had ever considered a sister, in attempting to come to terms with the loss of someone who was an actual light in this dark world, someone who genuinely helped others, I was at a loss. Did Patti ever know how much I cared about her? Did she ever know how thankful I was for her in my life? Had I ever done anything to repay, even in the tiniest measure, the wonderful things she brought into my life?


One of the best things about having horses is that you can see them at any time of the day or night. You can have their big, equine, gentle comfort around you if you are grieving. Honestly, horses do not like to be around if your emotion is too jagged or too raw. They are sentient beings and their bodies are like big, beautiful emotion radars. While they never wanted me to lean on them to cry, they would stand quietly close by. One silent winter night, I was on the little ridge where the "barn" sits, grieving over Patti, my gentle horses nearby. It occurred to me that Patti's sons would no longer have the benefit of their mother's prayers in this world. There was something I could do to honor the memory of my friend and sister. Every time I prayed for my own children, I could pray for her sons as if they were my own. This idea brought me some small measure of peace and I spoke into the silence, telling Patti that I would do this on her behalf for the rest of my life. Across the winter pasture a breeze picked up. I could hear it making its way across the tall grass until it was all around me and the horses - a gentle, steady, pleasant breeze lifting my hair and drying my tears. I do not know if it was Patti who answered, or if the Creator simply took pity on me. It was pleasant and it was deeply comforting.

The rest of the story...

When I first met Patti, her youngest son B was seven or eight. I had written a thank you note to Patti, so I wrote a separate letter to B, thinking it would be fun for a little guy to get his own letter. He wrote back, including a picture he had drawn and a photo of himself with a dog on a recent hike. It was unexpected and so cute. At the end of the letter, in his childish handwriting, he post scripted "Write back".

About a year after Patti was gone, B and his older brother came to my farm to build a Lodge here. B's older brother made it a certain way so that we could all go in together, otherwise he and I would not have been able to go in together. I have photos of the two brothers, smiling and happy together on that day. As time went on, I eventually lost track of B. Life moves on and people are busy. He was a young man off in the world. I always believed that someday when he had settled down, I would catch up with him again in some way or another. Unfortunately, B was eventually on the streets, homeless and wild. Almost inevitably he came to the attention of our "justice" system. It was Facebook that served up the missing link. Someone had posted his prison address. I wrote to him immediately and immediately received a reply. At the bottom of the letter in his now masculine handwriting were the words "Write back". To this day, that is the only thing he has ever truly asked of me.

I eventually went to visit him in person. I was shocked to see the man he had become! Though the last time I had seen him, the day he and his brother had been here to build the Lodge, he was much taller than I, he was still a very young-looking teenager. Always in my mind's eye he is that cute little curly haired boy I first met. To see a tall young man with long black braids was a shock! Of course, what did I expect? He was in his early twenties by then. Little boys grow up! I did not cry but I almost did. Patti could sometimes see into the future and I wondered if she had ever seen her son as a grown man? I wondered if she knew he was going to be tall and handsome... and that he would scare the bejeezus out of white people by simply being a big Native American man? Before she died, she had seen that B's life would be ruined in the city. She tried to warn B and his brother, but sometimes life just does not roll out according to plan.

I do not believe B's life is ruined. I cannot see into the future the way Patti sometimes could but I think he has a destiny to fulfill. All of the personal suffering he is going through serves a reason that will eventually become clear to him. I may not live to see that part of his life. I wish I could do more to help him but there is not truly anything I can do. He will soon be 30 years old. The majority of his twenties has been spent in prison or jail. Sometimes to me he seems like a man misplaced in time. He does not seem to possess the most common skills he needs to navigate through the morass of rules, or maybe it is because they are not important to him. He is smart, quick witted, funny, and so damned tough. I give thanks every day that he is a big, strong man. If anyone wants to physically hurt him in prison they are going to pay dearly in the attempt. He is mentally tough. He was In the hole for months. I wrote to him almost every single day while he was locked up in isolation. It was the only thing I could do. I contacted the ACLU, hoping for a way to get him out of there. The ACLU man told me that Kansas typically does not send people to the hole for "no reason" but he said Kansas keeps people in isolation far beyond what he considered necessary, legal or humane. He said there was nothing he could do because B has a long list of prison write ups. B does not follow the rules in prison either. I read other inmates' records of breaking prison rules. Some of them are shocking and violent, even disturbing. Nothing violent or disturbing on B's records, just a LOT of rules breaking.

For whatever reason, B's course in life right now is right through the thick of prison and parole rules. The bright light that was still shining in B, even after years in prison is fading. I just "visited" him for 20 minutes via a video screen. I could see that this latest round of jail time was wearing on him and not in a good way. Yes, he committed a crime when he was young and foolish and homeless. If he had been able to follow the rules and pay the fines, I believe he would have not been sent to prison in the first place. Hard to manage your life if you are homeless, however. None of his crimes have been against people nor have they been violent. Because he was on parole and a convicted felon when he was arrested with a pocketknife, his bail is now set at $25,000, the same as if he had a gun. He has no history of ever harming another human being. He is a Native American man, covered with tattoos. He scares the shit out of white people. Even if I were the richest person on the planet, I do not think I could help him. He is on his own path and only he can read the map. All I can do is keep him in my prayers. I believe he will eventually get things ironed out. He will make the right decisions and take the right steps. I can see that much of the future.

Thursday, January 3, 2019

What A Life I Have

I am late with my traditional season greetings from my little corner of the world!

It was quite a year.

This is going to meander around but it will eventually come to a point. Bear with me...

I lived most of my entire adult life in a constant state of work-related stress - getting ready for work - getting the kid(s) to bed so they could be pried out of bed in enough time for me to get to work on time - constantly rechecking the lists in my head whenever I had work-related travel:  a. kid related b. animal related c. home related d. work related e. repeat ad infinitum.

How did I ever manage to do EVERYTHING? All the time? By myself? Wow. I lived with constant stress. It does not mean I never had fun or that I did not enjoy my life. I just had a lot of stuff to take care of by myself all of the time.

One particularly low point... the crazy neighbors had finally succeeded in sucking all the joy and sense of accomplishment I had in buying my first home - no co-signer needed. The neighbors to the north would not let their bratty grandchildren play with my son, though they were in the same class at school. The neighbor across the road, incredibly high on post-surgery drugs admitted he had been spying on me since I moved in, with his binoculars. The tenants in the apartment building to the south parked in my driveway and parked in spaces in my backyard, all without my permission. I could not have cars towed from my property according the Topeka Police Department. I first had to send a registered letter to my neighbors instructing them to remove their property from my property - even though they never asked permission to park their junk cars there in the first place. And since I could technically still get out of my driveway, the TPD would not tow the offenders from there either. I backed across the neighbor's front lawn a few times and finally a hefty parking ticket put a stop to most of that.  It was awful to not get along with the neighbors.

My son had been diagnosed with ADHD and the school was pressuring me to medicate him, though he was only in 1st grade. He was a very busy child, for sure. My grown daughter was mixed up with a very bad guy - a thief, a manipulator, a liar, and a mooch. So, on top of everything in my family life, I was at war with my own neighborhood. As far as I knew, and as much as I could, I had tried to live in peace and mind my own business but I felt victimized in my own home. That was how I came to be steaming like a lobster in the awesome old clawfoot bathtub one day, about to the end of my rope all the way around. My son was having a fit on the other side of the door, screaming and banging on the door attempting to get the lock to spring. (He knew from experience if he pounded hard and long enough, it would eventually spring, god save me.) Normally, I never allowed myself the luxury of actually feeling the tremendous pressure of my life but for some reason, not even being able to take a ten minute break in the tub was the last straw. I prayed, desperately, right then. "What is your will for me, Creator?"

A voice spoke clearly into my left ear, "It is my will that you raise this child."

That would be the obnoxious little child throwing a spectacularly loud fit on the other side of the door, I assumed.

Not everyone hears from God when they are at the end of their rope, so believe me, I was grateful. Stunned, to be sure. It changed my life. Oh, the neighbors were still the neighbors from HELL - the old granny on the north poisoned both my cat and my dog, I found out after the fact. Raising my son alone was an enormous challenge because I did eventually medicate him, suffering guilt and doubt every single day! I was insulted and treated badly by some of the "best" doctors at Menningers because I dared to question their professional opinion, I guess. Fuck them. I wish I had just saved my son and me the time and torture, and saved those arrogant professional dicks a lot of time by just telling them to fuck off right out of the box. I wish I had told the teachers and principals to fuck off, too. Especially one particularly evil old bitch in USD 501 who taught fifth grade at the Science Magnet school. I thought she was going to succeed in giving my son a nervous breakdown. At semester I took him out of that sham of a magnet school, away from the nastiest old bitch of a teacher on the planet, and took my son off the meds and put him back in the neighborhood school. He did fine. Thank God for those few wonderful teachers along the way. (Beth Edmonds, you are a bright, shining star and my son was blessed to have you two different years, 1st and 4th!) We made it. Oh my god, it was hard sometimes to know what to do. I did the best I could even though I felt as if I were careening from one death-defying cliff to another. I often had dreams during those years that I was driving a truck at highway speeds but the steering required a tremendous force of will to actually turn the wheel, only narrowly escaping certain death... and to brake I had to stand on the brake pedal and apply pressure with all of my will and all of my strength. I was tired - ALL the time - for YEARS!

But we made it. All of us made it. My daughter got her life lined out in fairly short order after she left the horrible guy in the rear view mirror. Both of my children have earned Masters Degrees. They are gainfully employed and living good lives. I admire both of them very much. I cannot believe that they grew into such a fine adults considering the unprofessional, hit and miss parenting they received.

So, all of that to get to today, this spanking new year, Two Thousand Nineteen. I finally came to the finish line of my working life the third week of January, 2018. I did not officially retire until March 1, but I stopped going to the office in January, using my last paid vacation to transition to a life of leisure. I did not set any goals for the first year, except that if I did not want to do anything, I was not going to do it. I have rested. Napped. Slouched around in my bathrobe for days. (I can tend to the animals while wearing a bathrobe.) I have painted, drawn, slept, read, studied Buddhist books, meditated, visited old friends... but mostly I have stayed home, on my little "farm". I have enjoyed the sunrise from my bedroom window as the seasons changed gradually day by day. I have sat on the front porch in the delicious cool spring mornings with coffee and dogs, positively luxuriating in the absence of the need to go anywhere, let alone get there on time! I can sit in the hay at the barn and listen to my horses picking through their hay, absorbing their calm, contented energy for hours if I want. All they want to do in life is eat and hang out... maybe take a little nap. I sooooooooo get horses!

I am blessed. Mightily blessed. I have a nice little house, a car that is paid for but full of dust, oats and junk I am too lazy to throw away or put away. I have dogs and two horse persons! I have everything a human person could possibly need in this lifetime - well, except for maybe a cat. (I can have a cat if ever have to move to town.) It all worked out. All those long years of grinding to work - all those times of kissing ass because I had to - all those years of honestly doing the best work I could do for my company but letting things go to hell at home - all of it paid off and finally came to a pleasant ending. My mother and father are not here to see it. My mother was too ill to ever come to the farm. She would have loved my little house, I am sure of it.

I honestly do not know what happens to people after they die. Some believe in Heaven (and hell). Some believe they will live normal physical lives in a different dimension. Some believe in reincarnation and the balancing of karmic debt. The ancient Toltecs believed that our life force rises to the beak of a mighty eagle and is utterly consumed and only sorcerers, impeccable practitioners, escape this utter end. I believe I have memory from a past life when I was a young Native American man who was betrayed by his white friends in a tragic, heart-rending murder. I believe I remember being shot in the heart at almost point blank range, the betrayal crushing my spirit as my life force quickly bled from the gaping wound. I am not entirely certain if that is from a past life. It is a strange "memory" that does not fit with the rest of my memories or make any sense. But the emotion of it certainly feels real.

No one has ever come back from the dead to personally tell me not to worry. If I ever needed to hear from a dead person, it was after my father died when I was nine. I never heard from him. So, I do not know what happens when we die. Maybe no one knows. Maybe every single belief system is correct. The infinite universes are certainly big enough to contain an infinite number of possibilities. Maybe nothing happens to us when we die. My paternal grandmother believed we simply cease to exist. I can respect that because it certainly appears that way from this side of the grave. However, on the day of her funeral, off to the side away from everyone, I noticed a clear shaft of light in the bright sunlight and knew it was my grandmother taking her final leave of everyone she had loved so well for so long before being swept into the ultimate mystery.

I think my mother and father know all about my life. I believe that Grandpa, that genuine old cowboy, comes to sit with me sometimes in the cold winter mornings to listen to the horses as they eat their grain. He must have loved the clean air of still winter mornings the same as I do. Never a man who said much in life, he is silent in death but yet I can feel him with me sometimes. And maybe my parents have visited me a time or two. I once stopped on the corner to watch the sunset over the "sacred pond" and recalled fishing with my parents. It was not the fishing I was remembering but the feeling a child has when in the company of both parents. I had that feeling again - a fleeting few moments before it was gone. I think they were there with me, remembering fishing, too.

So, yes, I guess our dead family members must still check up on us, maybe even "drop by" for a little while. Sometimes the Creator answers our prayers. Sometimes we can slog along through life only to look up one day to realize that there was a light at the end of that long tunnel. In my case that light is a tiny little house in the bend of a nameless little creek at the bottom of a long sloping ridge. It is where Wally and Ginger live, the magic horse persons. And where Mattie and Jake live to bark and drive me crazy. It is home, and sometimes my children come here to see me and it is wonderful. I am not a smart woman, but I know when I have a good life!

Many blessings to you and yours in this New Year.
Peace on earth and good will toward some men - from the critters and crazy woman at Spiritcreek!

We are all becoming enlightened down on the farm!!!