Purgatory

Purgatory is that halfway place where you are sent to atone for your past sins. I’m not sure that my definition is a dictionary definition, but when I picture purgatory, I see myself in a rocky, barren place. The sun sizzles. My skin blisters, and I have no water. The Purgatoire River south of La Junta, Colorado is wet, but it is bile green: I wouldn’t want to drink it.

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The river is just below the bluff.

The legend of the Purgatoire is that Spanish treasure-seeking soldiers died on the site without the blessing of a priest. In the 16th century, the river was named El Rio de Las Animas Pedidas en Purgatorio. Next, French trappers seeking beaver pelts shortened the Spanish to Purgatoire. More recently, Anglo travelers on the Santa Fe Trail could not pronounce the French, so they changed the name to Picket Wire.

 

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Although the map above shows the Santa Fe Trail in red, I checked the Western History ad Genealogy Department of the Denver Public Library. Between Bent’s Old Fort and Raton, some 48 short-cuts are listed and several ran along the Purgatoire River. Not everyone took the road-most-travelled.

Today, The Picket Wire Canyonlands Dinosaur Tracksite is known for having the longest stretch of dinosaur footprints in the United States. 1300 footprints made 150 million years ago follow 100 separate tracks east of the river. During the Jurassic period, southeastern Colorado was a vast, shallow, inland lake. Walking along the muddy shore, the dinosaurs left their footprints.

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Broad Brontosaurus prints indicate that the 70-foot long, 33-ton ‘Gentle Giants’ travelled in herds. Larger and smaller prints running  parallel to one another are unexpected evidence of social behavior between adults and the younger dinosaurs.

The carnivorous Allosaurus tracks are smaller and three-toed. Only 25-feet tall and weighing in at only four tons, the solitary hunters made up for their small size with speed and massive jaws.

My most recent trip to the dinosaur tracks was with Steve Bauer and the senior hikers. With good reason Steve suggested that we go early in the season. The canyon is unbearably hot in the summer. Two quarts of water per person are recommended.

2017 03 14 purg 024The hike along the river is flat – it is 3.7 miles from the trailhead to the old Spanish settlement at The Dolores Mission and Cemetery and 1.6 miles farther to the dinosaur tracks. The mission and cemetery are well worth a stop. Not that very much is left of the community, but looking at the isolation and the unforgiving landscape, it is easy to time travel. Sitting with my back against the stone and adobe walls of the mission, I can feel the fatigue of the men and women who claimed the land and built this mission with their own hands. I can hear the hungry baby crying as I carry stones to the construction site and plaster the walls with mud and straw. In 1889 Damacio Lopez sold his land to the Denver Diocese for $1.oo, and the mission church was built soon after.

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If you plan to visit, on your return home to Custer County, I recommend your taking Rt. 10 west from La Junta to Walsenburg at twilight. Doing so you will see Pike’s Peak to the north, Greenhorn to the west, and the Twin Peaks to the southwest. To the north, Pike’s Peak; to the west, Greenhorn; and to the south – all three in silhouette rising up from the dark plains. And you’ll see otherworldly wind power – just as seductive as the mountains.

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Is it Angst or Ennui?

I posted a blog Sunday – the first in over a month. To write that ‘I have been ill’ sounds too dramatic because I haven’t actually been sick. Sick-at-heart maybe, but nothing that calls for medical intervention. Every time President Trumps tweets, my heart seizes and stems my blood flow to a crawl. Lack of blood leads to lassitude and hiding my head-under-the-covers. I’m not available: even a dog’s wet nose can’t arouse me.

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Image credit: ISTOCK

Trying to name my condition, I wanted to use the word ennui, but I didn’t know how to spell it. (I was so far off that even spellcheck was no help!) So I typed ‘angst’ into my search engine and ta-ta! I was led to a great site: http://mentalfloss.com/article/58230/how-tell-whether-you’ve-got-angst-ennui-or-weltschmerz.

Referencing the site, ‘Angst’ is the word ‘fear’ in German, Dutch and Danish. Kierkegaard described it as a feeling “that disrupts peace and contentment for no definable reason”. Freud used it for generalized anxiety – “brooding about the way the world is.”

The word ‘ennui’ came into use as early as the 13th century, but during the 19th century, the term “implied feelings of superiority and self-regard, the idea being that only bourgeois people too deluded or stupid to see the basic futility of any action could be happy.”

Not to think myself superior, I’ll forego ‘ennui’; I’ll stick with ‘Angst.’ Either condition leads to self-medication. Drugs and alcohol are popular. I have no personal experience but I’ve heard that wild and reckless extra-marital sex is an antidote. I’ve noticed that if a person is so inclined, social media to include chat lines can keep one busy and in denial. Some people eat to dull their senses.

As for me, a bookstore nearly always lifts me up. So many books! The number of productive, creative writers never fails to inspire me. Leaving Barnes & Nobel with my books, I looked at the plastic, carry-bag the clerk had given me. A student’s book report of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer was on one side. On the other side of the bag, the words: “Call me Ishmael.” I don’t remember reading Herman Melville‘s Moby Dick since high school. The text swept me away. Such beauty… the kind of beauty missed by high school students studying for character, plot and theme. I took a photo. You can read the words for yourself.

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The last sentence certainly speaks to my angst: “Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul; whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet…” Maybe I’ve inadvertently channeling Melville! His words perfectly captured my past state of mind. How beautiful! I will read the novel again. Pencil in hand, I will read, re-read, underline and make margin notes.

After  visiting Barnes & Nobel, I caught The Metropolitan Opera Live in HD at Tinseltown. Verdi‘s La Traviata was on the big screen. Regardless of the opera playing, I never fail to find myself inhabiting the actors on-stage and being lifted out of my funk by the soaring music. The three leads were Sonya Yoncheva as Violetta – a popular courtesan who is dying; Michael Fabino as Alfredo – the man who truly loves Violetta; and Thomas Hampson as Alfredo’s straight-laced father who ends the love affair.

la traviata setThe acting and the singing were superlative, but Willy Decker‘s set design was cutting edge inventive. It was very exciting. With the exception of a large clock and a couch (red in Act I; flowered in Act II; and white in Act III) the stage was bare. The clock – maybe 10 or 12-foot in diameter – represented passing time. An old man, who I initially thought was Father Time, sat near the clock. In reality, the old man was Violetta’s doctor.

traviata-met-clockThe semi-circular shape of the stage apron was the same shape as the base of the backdrop – a backdrop that approximated industrial, corrugated metal. Above the backdrop was an oppressive, circular, black hole. Circles and more circles. During intermission I heard a number of heated discussions as to the set. Some thought it too stark. Others thought that the starkness underscored the theme.

Quoting the set designer, his set “strips away period detail and sentimentality […] leaving behind a harrowing account of how a woman who defies sexual mores is marginalized and eventually destroyed by a disapproving patriarchy.”

But there is more. My favorite image was in Act III when Violetta collapsed on the clock in a crucifix position. What a stunning production! If you have never seent The Metropolitan Opera streaming live from Lincoln Center, you need to give it a try. I have never been disappointed.

My angst is on-hold; my mood is on ascending.  It’s another unseasonably warm and sunny day here in Colorado. (I’ve put distressing thoughts of global warming on the back burner.) Melville and the Met, my drug of choice, will Prozac me through the rest of the week.

 

 

 

 

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Snooze or Lose

I missed the Westcliffe Town Meeting at which Road and Bridge discussed improvements to Main and Rosita Streets. I wanted to attend, but apparently I lost my focus or my attention wandered. Perhaps I dozed off.

What a sad state of affairs! Had I attended the meeting, I would have had a lot to say. Not that the town wants to hear from me now… I missed my authorized chance…. but I can vent via my blog.

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Rosita Street – too wide now – but wider in the future.

I find Westcliffe’s parking-friendly-plans for Rosita Street to be at-odds with my vision of a small, rural, mountain town. (The combined towns of Westcliffe and Silver Cliff total merely 1,155 in population.) When my husband and I bought our little 1888 house on Second Street 24 years ago, we were thinking ahead to retirement. To that end, I told our realtor that because we needed to be prepared for infirmity and the children taking away our car keys, we only wanted to look at houses in town within walking distance of the library, the grocery, and the health clinic. We successfully realized that dream when we bought a house only two blocks from Main Street.

And so I walk. My perfect week is one in which our vehicles are parked, and I walk everywhere I want to go. I don’t need a sidewalk. It’s a treat to walk down a street on which drivers  will slow down and stop to visit with me.
2017 03 05 dd 001So you can imagine my despair when walking along Rosita towards the Custer County Courthouse, I saw yellow X’s and orange ribbons around some trees. Trees, I imagined, destined for destruction.

I’m an unabashed tree-hugger. Every Christmas, my father (a man with a Welshman’s love of the vocal arts) always read Hans Christian Anderson‘s The Little Fir Tree. And every Christmas, I cried as the tree that yearned to be in a festive family home found itself decorated for a short time but ultimately burned at season’s end.

Not that I knew about metaphors at the time, but it was a brutal metaphor for the life of all living things.

As is typical with me, I’m a day late and a dollar short. Just as I thought of proposing  raised planters to be built in the middle of each block of Second Street, I learn that the town is leaning in another direction. Apparently beautification and slowing traffic is not a high priority.

The town plans to widen the already too wide street to accommodate diagonal parking and sidewalks for the convenience of summer visitors who come for our music festivals, theatrical productions, and numerous activities on-offer. Improving the storm sewers is another consideration, but I’m thinking that could be accomplished without removing the trees.

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Orange tape marks one of the targeted trees

Apparently, it is mostly about parking. What’s the matter with walking a few blocks! I’m thinking that if you want to park – go to Wal-Mart. They have generous parking. (Although that said, no matter how large a parking lot, you will see drivers slowly snaking their way row after row hoping for a parking spot that is 20-feet closer to the store’s entrance.) As for sidewalks, sidewalks are for cities.

Westcliffe is a small town. I am not against growth or light industry. It would be great if we could keep or attract younger residents. If we are looking to attract younger residents, we need jobs. If we are looking to attract full-time tele-commuters and retirees, we need to preserve our landscape. If we are looking to attract more tourists, we need better promotion. But in all three cases, we need to think of the town’s ambiance. Widening streets for parking does not lend itself to charm.

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It is particularly painful to see the trees north of St. Luke’s targeted for removal. Some years ago, beautiful, specimen firs were removed because their roots were putting the church foundation at-risk. Watching the firs come down was understandable but very sad.  Small Aspen trees replaced the fallen firs. Little by little, the Aspen have grown. But it is only a matter of time before they too come down.

ALL FOR PARKING!

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Love in All Its Guises

One of my most memorable workshops as a peer tutor was a few days short of Valentine’s Day. As usual, I had brought a number of poems to discuss before giving the first of three writing prompts. But no sooner had I mentioned Valentine’s Day, than one participant (a dear, elderly spinster) vehemently objected saying that she had never been in love… knew nothing of love… and most certainly didn’t want to write about it!!

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Scrambling to pick myself up off the floor, I explained that the poems I had brought as examples covered many aspects of love: love of country; love of parents; love of a pet; love of nature; love of music; or how about love of a woodstove on a cold winter’s morning?

Luckily, the pensioner took my meaning and forgave my insensitivity to her status as a woman without a loving partner. This experience has stayed with me. So many of my friends are single. Divorce, death, and distance have all played a part. And some friends are quite content to their lives alone-but-not- lonely. Not everyone is looking for a partner.

But LOVE, by way of Valentine’s Day, has reared its head again, and I am anxious. Tomorrow I drive to Salida where I’ll attend a Chaffee County Writers Exchange workshop led by Barbara Ford. The topic is writing about love. I’m not sure that I can do that. Writing about love is too personal… too intimate. I’d rather write about someone I met at the grocery store, or my husband’s building project, or this summer’s travel plans.

Looking for inspiration, I checked today’s Poetry Foundation website. I wanted a leg-up… some inspiration for tomorrow’s workshop.  The site has many love poems, but what I liked most was the poems were listed under categories to include: classic, romantic, break up, teen, funny, sad, friendship, erotic, I miss you, and in loving memory.

As I had suggested during an earlier writing exercise, love comes in all forms. One of my favorite poems, categorized by the Poetry Foundation as ‘funny,’ was “Windchime” by Tony Hoagland. The poem begins: She goes out to hang the windchime / in her nightie and her workboots. / It’s six-thirty in the morning / and she’s standing on the plastic ice chest / tiptoe to reach the crossbeam of the porch,  windchime in her left hand, hammer in her right, the nail / gripped tight between her teeth…”

Ah! My kind of woman! My kind of poem! Hallmark need not corner the chocolate and flower market.

As an example, I’m closing with short-short, non-poetic piece that I wrote some years ago. The title is “Threesome.”

Hers was a Audrey Hepburn face. It was her face that had drawn John to her. One look and he was smitten. Just one, wild and wonderful weekend in Vegas, and John and Marie were married in a flurry of confetti.

It was only after they returned to their work-a-day life in Decatur that John realized that Marie was not exclusively his to love, honor, cherish and obey. John, Marie and Mitzi made three.

Mitzi was Marie’s teacup poodle. After Marie chose her own clothing for the day, she would go to Mitzi’s closet and choose a coordinating outfit for Mitzi. After dressing, Marie would set Mitzi on a stool at the breakfast bar. If Marie didn’t serve bacon, Mitzi sulked.

Marie would ask John, “Honey, what do you think Mitzi wants?” And John would shut his eyes as though by closing them, Mitzi would magically disappear.

Mitzi was never more than an arm’s length away. At night, Mitzi slept between John and Marie. John needed to observe Mitzi’s space. Such sharp teeth for such a little dog!

It was only after Mitzi snatched a piece of bacon off John’s plate that John cracked. Without forethought, John reached out and smacked Marie.

Marie’s lovely face crumbled. It was Mitzi who snarled at John and kissed Marie.

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Sublimating Discontent

There’s just nothing like a laugh (especially the laugh of identification) to lift a person’s spirits. My day started with a postcard blue sky and snowy mountains. That was good. But then… checking my email, I read “Poem of the Day: Super Bowl” written by poet Mary Ruefle and posted in the February fifth Writers Almanac. The first lines of the poem spoke to me, and if I would have had Ruefle’s phone number, I would have called her then and there.

“Who won? I said.        “The game’s tomorrow,” he said.

How I love these lines! I am not alone! It is so nice to have a sister-in-arms!

Super Bowl parties are tough. The diehard football fans cluster around the TVs, and the hangers-on (mostly but not exclusively women) sit on the sidelines eyeing the banquet table spread. The food is to die for, but if I’ll have to fight the temptation to taste, I’ll probably have to drink to forget. (Which reminds me to check the number of calories in a glass of wine before we leave home. Which has fewer calories? Red or white?

As if cold weather and a blizzard of reactionary, political pronouncements aren’t enough to bring a girl down, my diet casts a cloud over February.

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In an attempt to get a handle on our weight and cholesterol, my husband and I have trimmed our sails. No more ice cream, no more snacking, no more second-helpings, and no more of those heart-unfriendly (but oh so emotionally warming) breakfasts of biscuits and gravy.

dscn3983Our dietary regimen calls for having coffee (cup after cup) for breakfast. We eat enhanced oatmeal for lunch: oats, two tablespoons of flax seed, almond milk, fruit, yogurt and a healthy handful of walnuts. Sometimes I add cinnamon, and if I’m in crisis mode, I’ll add  a wholesome tablespoon of organic maple syrup tapped from a stalwart maple tree by loving hands. (Thereby adding a smidgen of emotional warming.)

Dinner is just dinner with portion control in mind. Our diet feels Lenten. Lenten without a call for spiritual reflection.  And yet it is only February. Ash Wednesday is March 1st. But,  a solution is at-hand.

If you are on a diet and your self-restraint is bringing you low, I recommend subscribing to https://cooking.nytimes.com/recipes. Every few days, the New York Times sends me six or seven recipes. I look at the photograph; I read the recipe; and I feel a degree of satiation. A friend calls this “food porn.” Maybe. I’ll post a picture that I downloaded this week, and see for yourself. Do you feel just a bit satiated or are you hungrier than before?

 

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Spicy Lacquered Chicken Wings

 

Spicy, sticky, fragrant, and full-flavored. Roll these words in your mouth. Taste them. Do you feel full?

If not, have a glass of wine. I checked the calories – 3 oz. of dry wine will add 65-95 calories; 3 oz. of sweet or fortified wine will contribute 120-160. Luckily, the Super Bowl comes just once a year.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Caution, Mr. President!

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Dear President Trump,

dscn3976Watching you drive full speed ahead, threading the needle between slower, more cautious drivers, I flash back to conversations I had with my father who continued to drive well into his mental decline. Before his death, I remember begging, “You have no business behind the wheel of a car. If you want to take your own life that is one thing, but you are putting all other drivers at-risk. If you cross the median strip and head into on-coming traffic, you will die, and you may well take innocent people with you.”

The car analogy continues: You, Mr. Trump, are definitely at the wheel. As annoying as a back-seat-drivers are, sometimes they give useful advice. If you could convince a career professional from the State Department to ride with you, his or her advice would slow you down.

dscn3980The power of the presidency has turbo-charged your ego. The soft-top of your sports car is down; the wind duck-tails your hair; and your foot is on the gas. You are in control; both hands are on the wheel; and you have no intention of taking the pulse of the nation. If you were my father (highly unlikely in that I am older than you are) I would give you the same advice I gave my dad: “Take your foot off the gas. Slow down. Let go of your ego!”

Unfortunately, you are no longer Chief Executive Officer of Trump Enterprises. In accepting the presidency, you gave up your high-stakes, winner-take-all position. Taking risks (an aphrodisiac of sorts) is not longer acceptable.

It is in your best interest to slow down.

Driving at excessive speed  and taking no heed of warning signs is dangerous and is not in your best interest. Acting alone in a “my way or the highway” mode will lead to your failure and puts the citizenry of the United States at-risk.

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In Concert Caps a Great Day

It was another cold day in Westcliffe – so cold that feeding the birds at dawn, my bare face felt as though it were hot. But the day warmed up – fueled in part by the resounding success of the postcard project and later in the day by the ATIUS Quartet playing a program sponsored by In Concert – dedicated to bringing classical music to The Valley.

 

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60 or so participants took time to write their elected officials.

Briefly, the postcard project in an international campaign to speak up and shout out to our elected officials. The object is to write our representatives and share our concerns. Sunday, January 29 was the first write-in. Nine more postcard writing sessions will follow. Writing my Congressional representative at home is lonely; writing in a group is heartwarming. I am not alone. If you are not already participating in this project, check out WOMENSMARCH.COM/100. Jump-start a postcard writing project in your community.

Hot on the heels of 60 citizens writing some 475 cards, I crossed the street to the Jones Theater and listened to a classical music program presented by the Altius Quartet. To hear such wonderful music coming from the strings of such young men was a humbling experience. Their youthful vitality was a breath of fresh air. How exciting that the musicians connected not only with a standing ovation of appreciative adults on Sunday but also with the elementary and high school students on Monday.

 

 

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Zachary Reaves, founding member of the quartet

 

The quartet, comprising musicians Andrew Giordano, Joshua Ulrich, Andrew Krimm, and Zachary Reaves played an inspired program to include works by Schubert, Haydn, Mendelssohn, and Beethoven. To this mix, that Reaves called a “mash-up,” they added numbers popularized by Led Zeppelin, Dave Brubeck, and Journey. Reaves introduced his classical arrangements of popular standards saying, “These tunes… they are familiar [to a younger audience] but the tunes are coming to them in a different format.” After playing Reaves’ first adaptation, “Stairway to Heaven/Kashmir,” Reaves laughed, “Not bad for guys in suits, right?”

 

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Mash-up socks guaranteed to attract a younger audience.

Thank you to the In Concert Board of Directors, to those who support In Concert through the Spirit Campaign, and especially to Cliff Lanes and Rancher’s Roost who sponsor the musicians going into the schools and introducing classical music to the youth of Custer County.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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