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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Giving Thanks

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Newer leaves settle on top of old leaves in the clear untainted water.  A metaphor of sorts.

Home after a week of basking on the beach in Sedona, (well… not actually basking on the beach but slumped in a red rattan chair on the patio where I faced the sun and imagined hearing the surf slurp in and out in the distance) I give thanks.

Life can’t get any better. Last week we were with family and giving thanks to Dick and Dina Pohanish who host us and to everyone who had made the annual trip. We numbered 12 and entertained ourselves with hiking, movies, cards, books, and bocce.

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I was so grateful that our Denver daughters (husband, boyfriend, baby and dogs) had made it safely driving through the night. Prior to their arrival, I noticed that I had a big splotch of baby burp on the left shoulder of my black, down vest. I hesitated to remove it. What if (what is it with mothers who are prone to image the worst?) Laura, Miguel and Jackson died driving to Arizona? I imagined their hitting a bull elk, a herd of deer or falling asleep at the wheel. I vowed to keep the splotch. Should they have an accident, the baby burp (a love letter of sorts) would be my most cherish possession. I would save the burp until I knew that they were safe.

DSCN7778The words “memento mori” come to mind. I think of our daughter Sarah who has told me that she always keep our most recent voice mail or her phone… just in case. A talisman of sorts. Seneca wrote: “Let us prepare our minds as if we’d come to the very end of life. Let us postpone nothing. Let us balance life’s books each day… the one who puts the finishing touches on their life each day is never short of time.” 

DSCN7764Prior to leaving Westcliffe for our annual family reunion, I looked for an appropriate Thanksgiving poem to be read at the table. There was Ted Kooser’s poem, Applesauce; Joy Harjo’s poem, Perhaps the World Ends Here (at the table); and Adelaid Crapsey’s cinquain, November Night: Listen / With faint dry sound / Like steps of passing ghosts / The leaves, frost-crisp’d, break from the trees / And fall.

I love the Crapsey poem – the syllable count (2, 4, 6, 8, 2) and “frost-crisp’d” word choice. At only 4,000 feet elevation, Sedona’s fall follows that in Westcliffe. We lost our leaves early this year – nipped before their color-time by an early frost. But Sedona is still alive with color. The golden Sycamore trees glow in the sun. Everywhere you look, various colors shout their last hurrah. “Look at me,” they call. “I’m on my way out. You’ll miss DSCN7746me when I’m gone.” And we will miss them.

Driving down Verde Valley School Road to Red Rocks Crossing, we held our breath. Would our favorite site be over-run with tourists? But no, the locals were home watching football, and the tourists were out and about, but not at the crossing. We pretty much had the site to ourselves and what a sight it was.

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Baby It’s Cold Outside!

Well, not particularly cold at 27 degrees (seriously better than -5 degrees earlier in the week), but the humidity hangs Basset hound low, and it feels colder.

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A matter of scale: Westcliffe at the bottom left – dwarfed by the clouds and mountains.

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Bar Scott dropped by dressed for the weather.

Thus far, we’ve already had more snow than we had all last winter. Yippee! No one is complaining – the ranchers least of all. I am keeping warm with steaming pots of coffee, flannel-lined jeans, fleece-lined flannel shirts, and books about polar exploration. There is nothing like reading about shipwrecked whalers adrift in the Arctic, eating rancid walrus, drinking their own urine, and eating their deceased shipmates to make you realize that cold is relative, and you are warm.

DSCN7595I’m growing bulbs – Paper whites. They are small – nearly insignificant, but I thrill to  the sprouting green inside the house when gardening is months in the future. In the photo below, you’ll note the Mason jar?

It holds another warming note: prune vodka – not something that you can get at your local liquor store. It is a do-it-yourself drink. Using a clean jar, pack it full of dried prunes. When the jar is full, top it off with vodka. Like any fine brandy, it needs to mature. Five years is good. Ten years is better. Trust me, even if you don’t like prunes (haunted my childhood memories of your mother’s efforts to regulate your bowels?) you will love this drink. Ten years? I’ll be 85! Something to look forward to.

DSCN7606As I downsize my belongings, I find things that I had forgotten. One such item is a five-by-seven-foot tablecloth. It is cutwork. I don’t think anyone does cut-work today. It is an onerous task. As to what cutwork is: cutting both the warp and the weft threads, you have a “hole” in the material. To keep the hole from raveling, you blanket stitch the raw edge and fill the hole with a geometric design. To illustrate, see a portion of the tablecloth that I am repairing.

Keeping in mind that I can’t seem to make time to neither get my hair cut or make an appointment at the chiropractor’s,  you might rightly wonder why I am repairing this tablecloth – a task that will take far more time. I guess I’m thinking of my grandmother who passed the tablecloth on to me and Grandma’s mother-in-law who probably made it.

I remember my maternal grandmother opening her cedar chest and giving it to me. “Roll it,” she said. “Otherwise, if it is folded, the material will deteriorate along the fold lines.” Needless to say, 50 or 60 years ago I rolled it.

Grandma was an orphan who grew up in the Shriner’s New York City Orphanage,  so I’m thinking that she got the tablecloth from her mother-in-law, a widow who supported her two sons by sewing bound-buttonholes in men’s coats. (The enormity of this task will only be apparent to anyone who has made a bound-button hole.)

My repairs are a bit slap-dash. Only a museum curator of textiles would spend the time mending the repairs to the standard set by the original handiwork. In my case, it’s a salvage operation. I’ll carefully hand wash the repaired tablecloth, starch the heck out of it, and save it for a special occasion. And no! Don’t even think of drinking red wine at the table draped with this cloth!

I have a fair number of heritage textiles. Who were these women who had the time and patience for needlework? They didn’t have cars, of course. Nor did they have Netflix. Even so…

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He kept me company all day!

 

 

 

 

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Another Five-Minute Rain

I’d like to say that Southeastern Colorado was ‘in the clover,’ but we are having no such luck. The drought continues and the weather god is inconsistent. Worse than inconsistent – he’s a tease. Every day the clouds darken, and the rain eases down the Sangres. Close and closer. Everyone holds his breath

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until we’re blue in the face. Some pray. Others consider stripping down to their skivvies and running down Main Street. Occasionally, it does rain! Yippee!

DSCN7225We have only two choices: either we have a flash flood or a kiss-and-a-promise: five minutes later, the rain ceases. Someone turns off the tap. That is not nice. To tease us while you, the rain god, snicker.

 

The creeks are a mere trickle; the irrigation ditches are dry; and the cows are grazing fields that are typically saved for cutting and winter fodder. The ranchers will be buying hay this year – and for you, the price of beef will go up. It’s time for you to pull up that recipe for black bean and mushroom hamburgers.

Locals know Centennial Ranch south on Hwy 69. We have 180 acres on Promontory Divide – right on the Huerfano County line. The view is to die for. On a clear day (you can start humming now) you can see all the way to the Chalk Cliffs between Salida and Buena Vista. My husband and I were there yesterday, and I took this photo.

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Between the pending rain and haze from California fires, the visibility was poor. I could have Photo-shopped the picture to make the landscape greener, but leaving it faded as-is, speaks volumes. The pond is dry. Both windmills are disconnected, but the blades turn in the breeze. I hum a C-Major scale to determine the note. It is C above middle-C. The note matches my breath. In – a C; Out – a C. The music is restful / hypnotic.

Thinking of the inconsistent weather god, I flash to a cascading syllable poem that I wrote for Shavano Poets this past week.

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NATURE’S WAY”

I watch our Border Collie sleeping sound. / His eyelids flicker as he runs through / a dreamscape of lush wet Switchgrass. / Last night’s downpour has heightened / the rabbit’s scent. Nearing / his prey, Oogie prays / to his godhead. / “Speed me on. / Help me. / Please!” / The / rabbit / also prays. / She prays for luck. / Is the rabbit’s god / listening, or are the dog / and the rabbit praying / to the self-same deaf deity / whose head in the clouds is masking life / and strife here in the Garden of Eden?

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If it doesn’t rain, it pours. Briefly.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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