There But for the Grace of God

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Life is fragile

It is nearly Friday and this coming weekend is my husband’s 30th Courage Classic, a two-day bike ride designed to raise funds for Children’s Hospital – the last resort for seriously sick children who live in a seven state catchment.

Saturday’s ride goes from Copper Mountain, to Leadville, to Minturn, to Vail, and back to Copper. Sunday it’s Copper to Frisco, to Keystone, to Ute Pass, to Frisco, and back to Copper. For those cyclists who train, the miles and the ascents get their attention.

But not every rider is an athlete.

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A good number of riders ride a tandem with young patients along for the ride. The dad in the orange shorts rode with two children in tow. Some kids pedal; other kids wave. Handicapped, therapy dogs neither pedal nor wave, but their presence warms the hearts of every participant.

2017 07 therapy dogSome riders are the brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles, or the moms and dads of children whose lives have been saved at Children’s. These friends and relatives are not athletes. And yet, they are out there –  doing their very best to make it up another mountain pass so as not to punk out on those who have donated in their name.

As a road marshal, I see it all: the tears, the exhaustion, and the pain. And yet, despite the despair that has driven these friends and relatives to volunteer, they are buoyed by the common goal and the 2,000 riders who have stepped up to raise money for the hospital and their loved ones.

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Olivia – at seven months, she had a liver transplant

The Children’s Hospital Foundation just emailed the volunteers. As of today, Thursday the 18th, they are short of pledges. If they (we) could raise just 1.3 million more, the Foundation could celebrate a 30-year total donation of $50 million.

I’m the first to acknowledge that everyone wants my money and everybody’s need is pressing. And you are in the same boat. How do you decide which organization to support?

The photo below says it all. For those teens in treatment at Children’s, the hospital holds its own prom. I look at this young couple… their lives are in front of them. Hopefully but not necessarily. Their lives are in the hands of the hospital. Their fragility and that wisp of wind that may determine their lifespan tugs at the heart.

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In my case, I support Children’s Hospital because I know that there but for the grace of God go I. None of our children had need of Children’s. But, if they had, how wonderful to know that the hospital and their doctors were there for us.

If your finances allow, Children’s Hospital would appreciate your donation.

You can do so online:

http://www.childrenscoloradofoundation.org/courage-classic/donate/

Donating in the name of Mark Dembosky would make his day.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Twisted History

I’m looking at the June 28th cover of THE WEEK. It’s a photo of the Grand Canal in Venice. Gondolas, overloaded with tourists, ride low… water up the gunnels and gondoliers look askance as they in line up to wait their turn passing beneath the Rialto Bridge which is three -deep with gawking spectators leaning over the abutment above.

The photo previews the article “Far too popular: Why summer destinations are against ‘overtourism.'” Quoting Kara Fox in CNN.com, “From April to October, some 32,000 cruise ship passengers disembark [in Venice] daily, joining 465,000 day-trippers.”

If you have been to Venice during the off-season and before the tourist glut, you can only cry. The city is not the same.

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DSCN8716Such was my recent trip to Santa Fe which I had not visited in maybe 45 years. My memory of Santa Fe was that it was larger than Taos. Ha! Today, Santa Fe is a densely crowded small city.

Santa Fe is not Los Angeles,  but it is so much busier than I remember. My nostalgia for Old Santa Fe is packed in the same box with my memories of playing hopscotch, ice skating on farm ponds, and roller skating with the key around my neck. And given that it is summer… I remember making daisy chains. “He loves me; he loves me not.”

I wonder if I ever cheated? Did I count the petals (and perhaps remove one) to assure myself that the very last petal would forecast love?

DSCN8724The density of Santa Fe came as a shock, but prior to my visit, I’d been reading Forrest Carter’s book, WATCH FOR ME ON THE MOUNTAIN – a story based on the Apache’s defense of their homeland under the leadership of Geronimo.

The preface includes an excerpt from Longfellow’s 1845 poem, “The Arsenal at Springfield.” Were half the power, that fills the world with terror, / Were half the wealth, bestowed on camps and courts, / Given to redeem the human mind from error, / There were no need of arsenals or forts: 

How true! I find it sad that so much time has passed and we ‘higher life forms’ have made so little progress. Man’s baser instincts still call for conflict. We have learned nothing. Some hope that we can show the Chinese and Russians a thing or two and rocket to Mars. Why go so far when we have so many unsolved issues here on planet Earth?

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One of the Saint Francis Auditorium murals painted by Carlos Vierra and Kenneth Chapman on continuous display since 1917. Presently in the NM State Capitol. Note the Natives fleeing the Westward Expansion. As for the American goddess, she is stringing telegraph wire. And the book in the crook of her arm? A Bible… the Declaration of Independence?

Some of the quotes in WATCH FOR ME are chilling. Chief Josecito of the Mescalero Apaches tried to keep peace with the Bureau of Indian Affairs, but he and his people were driven from the self-sustaining White Mountains onto an arid reservation at Bosque Redondo where they were dependent on and starving from insufficient government rations.

When Josecito protested, he was murdered. Quoting Washington’s Indian Bureau agent, E. A. Graves: “This race are destined to a speedy and final extinction, seems to admit of no doubt… all that can be expected from an enlightened and Christian government, such as ours, is to graduate and smooth the passway of their final exit from the state of human existence.”

DSCN8675Having taught on the Navajo reservation and the White River Apache Reservation (both in Arizona), I really enjoyed reading WATCH FOR ME.

Until…

a good friend mentioned that Forrest Carter was a known racist and had lied about his Native American (Cherokee)  heritage. His first highly acclaimed book, THE EDUCATION OF LITTLE TREE, was not a memoir as he promoted, but fiction.

I must say that after appreciating Carter’s writing skills, I was shocked. A little research led me to learning that Asa Carter was a Ku Klux Klan leader in the 50s and a speech writer for George Wallace who was Alabama’s governor 63-67. Wallace was also a candidate for president in ’64, ’68, and ’76. As a speech writer, Carter’s oft quoted refrain was “Segregation now; segregation tomorrow; segregation forever.”

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The New Mexico capitol skylight reflected on the rotunda floor

How, I wondered, could I reconcile my appreciation of Carter’s writing style with the man himself? Who was Asa (Forrest) Carter? I don’t have the answer to that question. Critics who know his work better than I, are as confused as I am.

Seeing the Native American women on the Plaza…on their knees selling jewelry displayed on handwoven textiles was also troubling. How many tourists know our misguided, brutal Native American history?

Yes, the women are making a living – selling their handcrafts, but the women are also a commercialized brand. As a group or tribe, they are marketing their culture, but as individuals, they are so much more.  I found myself wanting to scream, “Get up off your knees!”

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Get up off your knees and tell your twisted tales.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Recognizing My Shoe Fetish

FETISH: an object that is superstitiously believed to have magical powers.

Looking ahead to our four days at a national poetry convention in Santa Fe, Lucia Wainwright suggested that we take some supplies requested by Catholic Charities.

 

The target charity is asylum seekers who have been temporarily released by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) while they await their hearing. Meanwhile, Catholic Carities in Santa Fe, house, feed, and clothe 400+ immigrants  for up to three days as they arrange transport to their sponsors or relatives.

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As you know from watching the news, the immigrants arrive fatigued, foot-sore, and in need of life’s basics. Should you want to see the list of needed supplies, go to http://www.ccasfnm.org/companions.html.

Given that the immigrants are shortly on their way to somewhere else, they are travelling light. If they can’t wear it or ingest it, they don’t need it. At the top of my list is baby formula, meds (for pain, constipation, and diarrhea) and baby books in Spanish. Hoodies in all sizes and airplane blankets that you mistakenly took with you when debarking are also welcome gifts.

Having walked many Camino de Santiago miles myself, I know about foot-sore. But I was wearing good hiking boots and I carried only a day-pack. I was not fleeing violence. Nor was I hungry or thirsty. Unlike the immigrants from Central America, I carried neither a baby nor a toddler. No one clung to me.

Looking at the list of needs, my attention immediately focused on the call for children’s shoes. With that in mind, I drove to Canon City and bought 20 pair at Goodwill and New Horizons. Next week I’ll hit up the charity shops in Pueblo.

Buster Brown logoMy mother had ‘a thing’ about having perfect feet. To that end, I grew up deprived and destined to wear sturdy, utilitarian Buster Brown shoes. Looking for a photo of the shoes that I wore through middle school, I found what I was looking for: Vintage Buster Browns! (If my shoes are now vintage, am I Vintage too?!!)

Buster Brown shoesI dreamed of strappy, patent leather, church-going-shoes… anything other than what I was wearing. If I only had trendy shoes, I would be more popular. If only I had cuter shoes, no one would notice my homemade dresses. If only I had groovier shoes, maybe my math score would improve. Maybe.

Spreading out my just purchased asylum shoes on the kitchen table, I grinned with satisfaction. I had found some wonderful shoes – shoes that I had only dreamed about.

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All the shoes are cool. There’s not one Buster Brown in the bunch. I would have killed for these shoes.

If I’d had these shoes, I would have been more popular, AND I would have been better at Math. The blue shoes in the front, the ones with the hearts and stars? They would have given me magical powers.

I smile to think of the little girl who will wear them.

 

 

 

 

 

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National Scandal Comes Home to Roost

spring snowSnow! Yes, it is April 30, but moisture is moisture. Yippee!

Not to beat around the bush, I am the local woman slinking through alleys and keeping my head down. My shoulders are hunched. I’m not looking anyone in the eye, but I have that haunted, furtive look.

As far as I know, I have not been ‘found out,’ but it is just a matter of time until my ruse is discovered and I am shamed.

Many of you probably heard or read about the wealthy parents who bribed coaches, test monitors, and university officials to ease their sub-par kids into elite universities. Like you, I thought their behavior shameful.

Or so I thought until I found myself in a similar situation. In my case, I wasn’t exaggerating the talents of my children. Rather, I lied when I enrolled our Border collie in Level II Obedience.

DSCN8155Scanning the checklist of Level I Obedience measures, I smiled. Yes! Yes! Yes! But the last measure of success wiped the smile off my face. When Oogie walks at my side, the leash should be loose.

Oogie has walked at-ease, only once, and that was after he discovered and ate some ‘edibles’ out at Lake DeWeese.

Otherwise, Oogie is eager. No matter where or how fast we are going, he wants to go faster. His leash is always taut. He is, after all, a cow dog, and who knows? Perhaps there is a cow (rabbit, prairie dog, or deer) right around the bend?

And so, Oogie has not actually passed from Level I to level II Obedience. And yet, I’ve signed him up for Level II. Wednesday, all will be revealed.

How embarrassing to have him repeat Level I! All of his friends are moving ahead, and if he had a better mother (that would be me) who daily trained him on a leash, he would qualify for Level II on his own merits.

2018 08 02 oogiechickPerhaps the first class will be a review… perhaps Oogie will realize that he needs to impress the trainer and the other dogs … perhaps if Oogie fails the leash-at-ease test, the trainer will put his poor performance down to nerves.

If not, and I’m found out, I’m a bad mom who has mis-represented my dog’s qualifications.

Will the trainer be open to a bribe?

What is it with mothers? Are we embarrassed for our children or are we embarrassed for ourselves?

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April Crocus in the Snow

My friend’s email began: “My mom died 39 years ago today… we’ve been friends even longer. Let’s connect!”

Kristina’s letter hit me hard. Not that I fail to think of her, I do think of her, but our friendship simmers on the back burner. I’m always planning to send a card or email… after… after I wash the dishes, walk the dog, run to the bank, shop for dinner… and the beat goes on – not in a specific direction (and this is the important part) but in circles – or more accurately, in expanding spirals spinning out over the mountains and into the ether.

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winter lingers in Westcliffe, Colorado

If Kris were here in Colorado and not in Texas, we would hug. Our hug would be the kind that dissolves flesh and bone. We wouldn’t have to say anything. The hug would say it all.

Because we are still alive, we can still connect – physically if we are in the same place at the same time or by mail if we are distant. Phone works – better for others than for me. I prefer to meet in person or by mail.

But what if Kristina or I were to die today without saying ‘good-bye’?

The transitory nature of life has just been brought home by the passing of another treasured friend, Jill Higgins, author and poet, formerly living at 52 Broadway, Muswell Hill, London. I knew that she wasn’t well. When I would write to her, she would email, “Thank you for writing, Love, Jill.”

She did not speak of her declining health or her issues with the housing authority. She was brave to the end. I hate that. I didn’t get to say good-bye. I would have liked to hold her hand.

Jane Wibberley, a mutual friend, wrote to tell me of Jill’s passing. And from that point on, I was in Facebook contact with many of my Word-for-Word, North London friends – friends with whom I had lost contact, but who left their mark as surely as if they had touched me with an inky handprint.

When you have met and written weekly for at least ten years, you know one another well. Each has revealed himself through his writing. All disguises and camouflage lie in disarray at the writer’s feet: each stands – naked and vulnerable. You may know your fellow writers better than you know yourself. You will never be just causal friends.

Jill, Jane, and I were a close threesome who met through writing but soon discovered a mutual love of theater. But Jill is gone, and the threesome is broken. Another of my ties that tether me to London is severed. Am I drifting away? Or am I on the ground and the balloon is drifting away?

I search through my Word-for-Word anthologies. I want to find Jill’s poems. Scanning the index of each anthology, all the writers’ names and faces spring to life: Julia Casterton, Viv Fogel, Runilla Chilton, Evelyn Hunter, Stella Pierides, Jeremy Denny, Jack Stanley, Catherine Scholnick, Brian Docherty, Penny Solomons, Liz Granirer, Katie Willis, Shahab Ahmed, Jane Wibberley, Joyce Patterson, Lisa Galdal, Louis Cennamo, Phil Pool, Marina Sanchez, Jenni Christian, Phil Blacksmith, Peter Burge, Nicki Petri, Manjula Datta, Jenny Brice, Angela Elliott, Lawrence Scott, Abe Gibson, Jack Wilkes, Elissa Swinglehurst, and Judy Gahagan.

Each name resonates like tympani. I hear their voices; I see their faces. I miss them.

All of Jill’s poems speak to me, but “The Angler” speaks to every writer.

            I’ve been fishing here / since I was a child, / either from the bank / or the boat. / A twitch on the line / answers my prayers, / food for today, / food for tomorrow. / Hardly the background / for a poet, and yet / that’s what I am. / If there’s no rod / in my hand, / there’s a pen. / Words are my fish, / poems my catch. / Poetry walks the water, / sings in the sky.

snow geese

I’m reading, for maybe the third or fourth time, The Snow Geese, a memoir by William Fiennes. Briefly, 25-year-old Fiennes, who has had to drop out of graduate school because of numerous operations and a lengthy recovery, dreams of escaping his childhood bed in his parents’ home.

Once he recovers, Fiennes impulsively decides to leave England, fly to Texas, and follow the five million snow geese as they fly north across the Great Plains, towards Winnipeg, over Hudson Bay, and to their summer grounds on Baffin Island. His is a grand adventure colored by the landscape, the birds, and the people he meets as he travels by Greyhound bus.

Several months into his adventure, as a train passenger on the Muskeg Express, Fiennes writes, “I lay awake, thinking of home. My appetite for the new seemed to tire or slacken, perhaps because I was lonely, or because I felt for the first time that my journey north with the snow geese was not quite the shout of freedom I had presupposed. I was aware of another impulse that, if not the opposite of certainty, was certainly resistant to the new or strange and sympathetic to everything I could remember and understand.”

“Lying awake on the train, what I felt was no more than a mild ache, bittersweet, an awareness of separation from things I loved, an almost corporeal inclination towards familiar ground. It was as if I existed between two poles, the known and the new, and found myself drawn alternately from one to the other.”

I too, feel drawn between two poles. Not that life in Colorado is lacking but looking east, over the Mississippi, and on towards London, my abraded heart aches. Jill’s memorial is Friday, April 5. On that day, Jill’s friends (drawn by something larger than Jill herself) will gather at the Islington Crematorium. Hopefully, those in attendance will read some of Jill’s poems.

I regret missing the service and the comfort of the friends we hold in common. If I could be anywhere, I’d be in Islington on the fifth.

The lesson? We should all say good-bye to our loved ones, before we leave for the great beyond. Not knowing our departure date, we should vow to say our good-byes, to express our love and appreciation, prior to our demise.

Not to leave my readers on a gray day (one on which I cannot gather pussy willows outside the back door, but am asked to pay $7.00 at the grocery!) I’m pasting in a link to a video of impromptu music at St. Pancras Station. My heart soars.

Singer spontaneously stops to perform with 91-year-old piano player in train station

 

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Love in a Cold Climate

New snow on top of old snow hides treacherous ice. Will winter never end? Is it colder this year or am I older this year? Heaven forbid my cold bones are age-related!

Footloose friends who are “On the Road Again,”  just posted a blog at: http://www.poolsmally.wordpress.com. They were visiting the Sandhill cranes in Mississippi. Which gave me pause: If they can haul an Airstream from Hartford Connecticut to Mississippi, why can’t I find the time to drive to Alamosa, Colorado a mere two and a half hour west? (See me shaking my head in disbelief.)

Spurred on by my very own question, I looked up Monte Vista’s annual crane festival. So close… at the Alamosa National Wildlife Refuge, but apparently, so far. The three-day festival is this coming weekend, Friday through Sunday, March 8-10. The weekend is jam-packed with music, craft shows, historical displays and (for all the craft beer lovers) an opportunity to visit the Colorado Farm Brewery where the growing, brewing, malting and tasting are all on-site.

The featured attraction is the cranes who will take a rest stop as they pause close to the road where swaths of mown barley invite the birds to linger for those with cameras.  The 14,800-acre wetland acres draw up to 25,000 cranes. If you can’t make this weekend (or you want to avoid all the hub-bub) cranes will be stopping by throughout March. You can learn more at http://www.cranefest.com.

2019 03 dance cranesI’ve seen Frigate birds the Red-footed Boobies dance in the Galapagos, (see Timeout, May 17 2013) but closer to home I want to see the cranes dance. I’m thinking that watching them will, as the poster promises, “reduce tension.”

Recently I wrote a poem in which I referenced the owls that perch in our trees during milder weather. The fourth stanza reads:

Hear the owls metronoming through the night. / ‘Who… whooo.’ He wants her. She is shy. / Come morning, he will win her over. / She will smile. He was the one she wanted. / Tell me, “That’s not poetry.”

Apparently, the female birds make two calls for every call the male makes. Yes, that has been my experience. The female takes the lead when it comes to getting on the dancefloor.

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Scale-wise, this photo doesn’t do justice to the bird’s six or seven-foot wingspan.

All this talk of migrating birds reminds me that I should re-read William Fiennes‘ book THE SNOW GEESE (not to be confused with THE SNOW GOOSE by Paul Gallico.) At 25 years of age, Fiennes is brought low by a series of hospitalizations and a lengthy recovery. Reading Gallico’s book, Fiennes is inspired to leave his home in England and follow the migrating geese.

Starting in Eagle Lake, Texas, Fiennes follows the geese north through Oklahoma, Winnipeg, Hudson Bay, to Baffin Island. THE SNOW GEESE is a memoir of a pilgrimage – an interior journey as well as a travelogue through the American landscape and the people he meets along the way. Is it a good book? Most certainly yes. As I riffle through the pages my old copy, there’s hardly a page that I haven’t underlined.

Gotta go. A cuppa tea and THE SNOW GEESE await.

 

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A New Year: a new beginning

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Bring on the snow – we can’t have too much!

Sometimes it is hard to rise above it. If you think of ‘all things political’ as a pyramid, and you see President Trump at the pinnacle of a base that has no firm foundation, it is easy to get the Blues.

Exacerbating the Blues was  finding (during downsizing) a copy of Al Gore’s 2007 Nobel Peace Prize Lecture in which he projected ahead seven years to the consequences of global warming. Doing the math, 2007 plus seven… Oh! That would be 2014, and we are well past that! Climate change marches forward unabated.

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It is so easy to circle down the well – a sculpture at the Sangre de Cristo Arts Center in Pueblo.

But I’ve surprised myself. Thanks to family, friends, poetry and music, I have risen above despair this Christmas season. Those who live in the city are probably wondering why I have not included the mountains and the wildlife as uplifting moments. Well, the mountains, yes, but when the wildlife – a herd of nine deer this morning – lounge and dine in your back yard (a small enclosure only two blocks from Main Street), it is hard to marvel at their grace.

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Bambi’s dad

But on to more pleasant things. Thinking ahead to Christmas gifts, I bought a used copy of Bill Moyers’ book FOOLING WITH WORDS: a celebration of poets and their craft. I had planned to give the book as a gift. Sorry about that. The book is mine. Margin notes run down the margins of nearly every page. The book is based on interviews that Moyers had with noted poets at the 1998 Dodge Poetry Festival.

Moyers asked Stanley Kunitz, who was 93 at the time, “What do you have to say for growing old?” And Kunitz replied, “What continues to surprise me is that the unrelenting awareness that time is running out has only served to intensify my zest for art and life.” I think that’s true for me too. Life is too short to be sucked low in the swamp.

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You say that you are not a fan of classical music? I took this photo at a local, Westcliffe In-Concert performance. Any performer who wears socks such as these has to be cool.

As for music, if you are not a fan of watching the Metropolitan Opera Live in HD at your local cinema, check out their website at https://www.metopera.org/Season/In-Cinemas. It is thrilling to see a live performance of the Met in your local cinema at the very same time that others are watching in Lincoln Center. Sitting in your home theater, dressed in your hiking boots and flannel-lined jeans, you may not be dressed for NYC, but you have the best seats in the house for a fraction of the price. Last weekend I saw the newest interpretation of La Traviata, and it was stellar.

Along the same lines, last evening I watched QUARTET again. I could probably watch this movie on a weekly basis. The setting is an English manor house that is home to  retired musicians and opera singers who struggle with the loss of identity and applause. Dustin Hoffman directed this 2012 movie which stars Maggie Smith, Tom Cortney, Billy Connolly, Pauline Collins, and Michael Gambon. Add in Music from La Traviata, Rigoletto, The Mikado, The Barber of Seville, and other operatic favorites. I promise that you will seriously enjoy the comedy, the clash of egos, the pathos, and THE MUSIC. You can find the trailer at https://www.youtube.com and screen the entire film on Netflix.

That’s it. Happy New Year from Colorado

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