Sunday, April 19, 2015

I Say, of the Cloud...

…this too shall pass.

The blessing of having nowhere to go and all day to get there takes me out to my favorite hiking spot, but the trails are closed because of snow and mud. So I just walk on the dirt road and get my weekly dose of fresh air, exercise, and meadowlarks. Kestrels are out today, their aerodynamics a match for the wind.

I think about the Five Remembrances and how I stockpile these windy days of a simple walk for when I can’t, whether I am simply stuck at my desk or stuck in the city or like the people I know who are injured or sick. I take things for granted. I lament my lack of physical conditioning at the moment, but I must also stop and praise my wonderful legs for walking, praise my lungs that I use on a day like today.

The Five Remembrances: I go through them as I walk up a small hill on this dirt road with the clouds and sun dancing, and I think:

1.      I am of the nature to grow old.
     There is no way to escape growing old.

I add in parentheses, although really for me the thing that I think about most: I should be so lucky to grow old. I should be so lucky.

2.      I am of the nature to have ill health.
There is no way to escape ill health.

Thay writes about no-toothache days and remembering that we don’t have a toothache. Because even though we are of the nature to have a toothache, we have many pleasant no-toothache days and how wonderful, in the middle of one, to remember how nice it feels not to have a toothache.

3.      I am of the nature to die.
There is no way to escape death.

And because I like to move back and forth between the profound and the popular, I’ll throw in a favorite Lyle Lovett lyric:

Honey put down that flyswatter and pour me some ice water.
Though I’ll soon be going, well I haven’t gone yet.
Come stand here beside me and hold my hand.
Tell me do you remember the first time we met.

4.      All that is dear to me and everyone I love are the nature to change.
     There is no way to escape being separated from them.

This brings to mind a Johnny Cash lyric, I believe written by Trent Reznor, interpretable in many ways:

What have I become, my sweetest friend?
Everyone I know goes away in the end.
And you could have it all, my empire of dirt.
I will let you down, I will make you hurt.

As I eat my lunch in my car parked along the road, the breeze blows a flock of mountain bluebirds to the fence in front of me—ten, fifteen, twenty. Then they fly down to the pasture ground, and they too enjoy their lunch.

5,  My actions are my only true belongings.

I don’t know what to make of that. My action today is my walk and putting these words to virtual paper. Maybe my action is to share. I feel like I bear witness a heck of a lot more than I actually do anything, or create anything, produce anything. Maybe that is my action. I’ve written of that here before. It is the ground on which I stand.

So when I walk I try to pay attention. I have voices in my head of many teachers. A day like this doesn’t have to mean anything; it’s just me and the meadowlarks and the pronghorn taking a break from the city. Mary Oliver writes:

I am a woman sixty years old and of no special courage.
I am a woman sixty years old, and glory is my work.

I watch the bluebirds fly away and remember that I don’t have a toothache. Which also will pass.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Spiral Jetty

My story of the Spiral Jetty ostensibly begins after meeting Terry Tempest Williams and hearing her read during my March visit to Marfa. The book of hers that I bought, and she signed, was When Women Were Birds—exquisite and beyond the scope of this blog post to describe. But the very last story she tells in the book is of a visit to the Spiral Jetty. And something clicked, a memory, or the fantasy of a memory, of knowing about this earthen artwork at the edge of the north side of the Great Salt Lake.

I went to hear live music in Tucson a few weeks ago and the word “spiral” figured prominently in a song. I made a joke that if I were headed to the Spiral Jetty, I would be Spiral bound. Then a friend on Facebook referred to “the divine spiral of life.” With a three-day spring weekend, I could not resist the lure of the Jetty, and so last Friday found me, in fact, Spiral bound.

A few days before the journey, I had lunch with a friend. I think one qualification for friendship is paying attention: you pay attention to each other. More on that in a minute. He wanted to catch up on my Marfa progress, which is scant, but that too is another story. He hoped I could one day look back and see the reason for not getting what I want right now. We talked about piecing together meaning in the challenges of life. In response to our conversation, I wrote 20 times: I have the capacity to find value and meaning in the unintended realities of my life.

It was in this frame of mind, developing the capacity to find value and meaning, that I set off across the vast Wyoming landscape toward my Spiral.

Evening Spiral
A note about the Jetty: it was built in April 1970—45 years ago this month—by an artist named Robert Smithson and some hired heavy equipment. It is sand and basalt boulders and presumably some adhesive underneath such as concrete. Or maybe the salt holds it together. It was then submerged for thirty years when the lake level rose. A little over a decade ago, the Jetty came back—perhaps like Brigadoon. Today it comes and goes with the rise and fall of the lake. Websites let you know its status.

I took the highway to Brigham City, turned off on 30 miles of paved back roads north of the Great Salt Lake which led to Golden Spike NHS, and then the last fifteen miles of dirt roads that led to the Jetty. I timed it to be there for sunset. My first impression from the parking lot on a small hill overlooking the Jetty was that it looked like giant chocolate cookie crumbs sprinkled out in a pattern.



I walked down the hill over boulders along a rough path to the start of the Jetty. Tiny evening flies ate my head and I presumed the abundant meadowlarks were there for the feast. Then I began the walk, the meditation. My teacher Thich Nhat Hanh said that the miracle is not walking on water or over hot coals; the real miracle is to walk on this earth and know that we are walking on this earth. That was the first rule of the Jetty: to place each footstep in awareness of walking on the Jetty. Tempest Williams and her loved one walked the Spiral in silence. “I have never seen Robert Smithson’s sculpture until now,” she wrote. “I have been waiting for a time when I would be in need of ceremony.” Pay attention.

Not only did the Jetty invite contemplation, it necessitated slow movement to reconnoiter the rocks and soft sand. I was tempted to walk around the outside of the rocks, but that was not the point. I only departed from the Jetty footprint after I had completed the Spiral. I looked out, and beyond the sculpture, the beauty expanded.

The lake level was three feet below that which would submerge the Jetty. But that three feet was spread out over a vast expanse, so that way out there you could see the lake. In the golden light of the sinking sun, I watched a couple out along the water, too far to take a picture of their wavering silhouettes. Their bodies merged and separated and shimmered. When I reached the inner terminus of the Jetty, I broke decorum, walked a straight line over the cookie crumbs, and out toward the water. I wanted to be beautiful like the silhouetted couple so I went to the edge where it was golden and and shimmery. Precious.

By the water the evening was silent. A few white pelicans flew overhead. I heard a car door some decades away. A layer of salt two or three inches thick covered the sand of the lake. I knew this because there were holes here and there in the crust. Red algae lined the shore and the water was a mirror. There was a world beyond the Great Salt Lake, one was sure. But you could not know this from the view which was ethereal in the reflection of islands and shore-lining hills that suggested an infinity that was not quite believable. Rebecca Solnit captured this feeling in her Field Guide to Getting Lost: “And that day at the Great Salt Lake as I looked at my feet, even those feet seemed a great distance away, in this terrain without scale, in which the near and the far folded into each other, in which puddles were oceans and sand ridges mountain ranges.”

I walked back and reentered the Spiral at its center. Slowly, mindfully, I walked back the way I’d come.



Sunrise Jetty
Crepuscular Jetty gave me a rock wren. He met me at the node where the Jetty meets the hill. I was charmed by his proximity, attention, and dedication to song. I suspected he was not charmed by me and was giving me a lengthy scolding.


To lay down in the middle of the Jetty, the middle of the Spiral, is to be protected, to be wrapped in the Spiral. It is to surrender to the Spiral, the divine Spiral, to be wrapped in it. To surrender.

“What does it mean, that the world is beautiful?” The refrain from Mary Oliver carried me across the salt. Sunrise turned the lake intensely blue. I pocketed the salt-encrusted skull of a sea gull, its little head out of a pile of decaying feathers. What does it mean, that the world is beautiful?

The lake was loud and active with wind and gulls. Small waves and whitecaps drove salty white foam up to the edge. When I turned and walked with the sun at my back, I watched the wind blow balls of foam, tennis ball or baseball-sized, loose from where the foam gathered. The little balls cartwheeled across the salt flat solo or in pairs or teams, like groups of prison escapees. I wondered if there exists a term for a group of prison escapees—like terms that accompany the great diversity of birds I’d seen: herd, flock, gaggle, parliament. Eventually the escaped foam balls were caught by their own adhesive to the salt flat of which they were part. Like the wave returning to the ocean, salt to salt.

What does it mean, that the world is beautiful?


Looking for Signs
The added bonus of visiting the Spiral Jetty was to go seek out two of my concrete airmail navigation arrows from the 1920s and 30s that remain in the desert north of the Great Salt Lake. Armed with a folder of map print-outs and descriptions, I turned away from the paved roads at Golden Spike and followed Locomotive Springs Road to the west. Came over a rise and saw a piece of blue lake in the brown landscape.

Pretty good road, but at one point as the gravel grew thick I wished I’d checked the condition of my spare. The road improved and was easy to follow. Eventually I found my turn-off to the south and entered the Locomotive Springs Waterfowl Area. After miles of seeing no one, I was relieved to see in the distance campers and trucks around a series of ponds and families out fishing. I made the turn toward the arrow location and saw another vehicle close by.

I pulled to the side of the dirt road where I thought the arrow should be. As I was checking my maps, I realized there was shooting going on by that truck and trailer. Target shooting, but in which direction? I turned the car around and went back to the intersection of our two roads, the least likely direction for them to be shooting. Well this may not work out, I thought. I saw a child out with the men, so decided to chance an interaction. I walked over. I could tell they were watching me but pretending not to. Finally the closest one made a gesture of hello. I apologized for interrupting but was on a quest to find this arrow. Explain, laugh, explain.

They could not have been nicer: four men in their 30s and two boys maybe 10. They thought I’d come to tell them to stop shooting. I replied sincerely that it seemed like a fun thing to be doing on a lovely Saturday (and how great, I thought, that the kids were outside running around). They invited me to take some shots, but I reiterated that I was on a mission. And no, they didn’t know anything about an arrow but were curious about my quest. And they promised not to shoot me.

So I went exploring around the brush and it wasn’t long before I found the arrow, the tower foundations, and what looked like a rock-lined driveway. The fellas and kids came over to share in my excitement and I told them a bit more that I knew about the arrows and others I have seen. And I did wax a bit poetic, also sincerely, about the beauty of the area: the Jetty, the birds, the lake, the day. They agreed. We parted warmly.

On my way north to pavement, I passed a pair of burrowing owls on a sagebrush.

Paved roads took me a little farther north to the Idaho border and the Strevell arrow. This was easy to find and a short stroll from the road, in a brushy cow pasture. I can’t say it was more interesting than the others, aside from some orange-painted footings. Unknown to me is the reason it points north-northwest. One of the target shooters asked me if I was writing a book about the arrows. I said no, although they do figure into the second novel. But maybe I should. Maybe I should learn why signs point in unexpected directions.



Logan and Bear Lake
I ate a salad in my car to hold me until Logan, then drove back along the paved road to the highway and on to civilization. The drive took me through farmland rich with spring. Approaching Logan I saw a giant biplane pulling a banner. I pulled over to watch this, and I found an email from my-friend-who-pays-attention-whilst-I’m-searching-for-meaning. He sent me a song to complement my journey: hard time lyrics and joyful music full of banjo and fiddle, the yin and the yang of this divine spiral.

Oak tree, oak tree, oak tree, don’t take me
Down when the winds begin.
I believe I am sinking, I get to thinking that
I may never rise again.
So I take me down
Hard times falling down, covering the ground,
They’re covering the ground.


I had a bite to eat at the same place I’ve always had a bite to eat in Logan, then headed up Logan Canyon on the last leg of the day’s journey. This lovely winding drive follows the Logan River through conifers, past pull-offs for fishing and camping and studying a wild world.

Songbird, songbird, songbird, oh tell me
Where do you go for so long?
I pawn all these things and I sew me some wings
And I do believe I’d go along.
So sing me just one more.
Hard times come again, sleeping on my floor,
They’re sleeping on my floor.


Driving the winding road out of the conifers and up into the snow-covered hills and bare boned aspens, I played the new song over and over. If you read my novel in November 2014, you know that I wrote a character who sewed herself some wings and was taught to fly by talking ravens. I am the blessed recipient of attention being paid:

Raven, raven, raven, oh tell me
Why do your dress all in black?
It’s you and it’s me and these bare boned trees
And a chill wind riding my back.
So I take me home.
Hard times coming in, leaving me alone,
They’re leaving me, all alone, they’re leaving me alone.


I’d found a little motel on the Internet and in fact they had a room for me. Simple, right by the lake, horribly saggy bed: perfect. The woman sent me on a wild crane chase down a nearby dirt road through farmland with sheep and lambs, but in the end no cranes. So I drove around Bear Lake itself, like I once did some fifteen years ago on my first visit. The lake is a deep turquoise jewel with a storied history of mountain men rendezvous in the 1820s and now known for its raspberries and raspberry milkshakes. The drive was lovely and relaxing and visited by magpies. I was exhausted by the end by my very full day, and I sagged into bed and was out.


Coming Home
The next morning I stopped at Fossil Butte National Monument and spent time in the Visitor Center learning about the significant fossils discovered in the ancient lake deposits of the butte. Their modern exhibits left me with a strong impression of geologic time, always a nice reminder of the nature of our existence as the blink of an eye.

Then driving home I got the news that friends of mine had lost their adult son in an accident.

Another book of Tempest Williams is called Finding Beauty in a Broken World. Part of the story is her time in Rwanda after the genocide, working with women to rebuild lives. She writes that “finding beauty in a broken world is creating beauty in the world we find.”

When I say that I have the capacity to find value and meaning in the unintended realities of my life, maybe what I am saying is that I have the capacity to create beauty in the world I find.

What does it mean, that the world is beautiful? It means we were given hearts to see what the eyes cannot, or to interpret what the eyes see in ways that recognize the divine spiral. The Spiral Jetty is just a structured pile of giant chocolate cookie crumbs, but approached from the proper angle it is an invitation, a teacher, a sanctuary, a reminder to pay attention while we are here to all that is holy.

Friday, April 10, 2015

This House of Sky

I am Spiral bound today for my long weekend, driving across the vast open scape of southern Wyoming, fields peppered with pronghorn heavy bellied in anticipation of spring, seeing the news of the death of Ivan Doig, author of many fine and varied books and the best title I know: This House of Sky. 

It's appropriate that I remember his contributions today in such a landscape which truly feels, like so many of my favorite places, as this house of sky. This memory and knowledge, combined with my journey today, reminds me of my home in the West in many ways. I am home in the West. Like most modern Westerners, perhaps incongruously, I am an urbanite; that is the demographic reality of the modern West. 

But more, today I am thinking about how I have earned the West: the miles, car and foot; the work I do; the self-study of perceptive writers; the true and inexplicable love of this land; the things I no longer need; the things I desperately need that I never saw coming. This is me, this is my soul, this is my voice. This house of sky. 

Thank you, Mr. Doig, for finding a way to share.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Capacity

1. I have the capacity to find value and meaning in the unintended realities of my life.
2. I have the capacity to find value and meaning in the unintended realities of my life.
3. I have the capacity to find value and meaning in the unintended realities of my life.
4. I have the capacity to find value and meaning in the unintended realities of my life.
5. I have the capacity to find value and meaning in the unintended realities of my life.
6. I have the capacity to find value and meaning in the unintended realities of my life.
7. I have the capacity to find value and meaning in the unintended realities of my life.
8. I have the capacity to find value and meaning in the unintended realities of my life.
9. I have the capacity to find value and meaning in the unintended realities of my life.
10. I have the capacity to find value and meaning in the unintended realities of my life.
11. I have the capacity to find value and meaning in the unintended realities of my life.
12. I have the capacity to find value and meaning in the unintended realities of my life.
13. I have the capacity to find value and meaning in the unintended realities of  my life.
14. I have the capacity to find value and meaning in the unintended realities of my life.
15. I have the capacity to find value and meaning in the unintended realities of my life.
16. I have the capacity to find value and meaning in the unintended realities of my life.
17. I have the capacity to find value and meaning in the unintended realities of my life.
18. I have the capacity to find value and meaning in the unintended realities of my life.
19. I have the capacity to find value and meaning in the unintended realities of my life.
20. I have the capacity to find value and meaning in the unintended realities of my life.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Revisiting the Golden Boat

I curl up under my improbably warm and snuggly, long-comforting sleeping bag after my horrid work day being bullied by someone who makes twice as much money as I do, and read the poems by the poet, twenty-eight named sections which I read back to front, and I remember that there is light in this world even and especially in the halting, shadowed search for love and truth and cessation of our pain, and if I turn the pages even further back (front) I come to the golden boat which makes me as whole as I can get for today, which isn't much, but it reminds me why I'm here and what I'm worth. You remember the golden boat, don't you?

         …Tomorrow I see the Vasa,
a ship inlaid with so much gold it sank
a few meters into its journey. It was raised
from the water some three hundred and thirty
years after its descent into the silt
and had a museum built around it.
The voyage sallied forth in all its beauty
and finally became a treasure. Just like
your life or mine with its quiet, dark room
holding a golden boat.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Friends with Pull

Got an email from a favorite coworker after I wrote him that I applied for a job at Fort Davis and wrote a blog post about my amazing weekend. The response is priceless.

Google Earth tells me that from Fort Davis to Marfa it is a blink of an eyeball 24 minutes work door to barroom door. And, lo and behold, the very same Google Earth tells me that from Marfa to Fort Davis is the same 24 minutes (just wanted to make sure). Twenty Four M I N U T E S! Not twenty four hours. Not twenty four days. Not 24 months. Not a car ride, twenty four beers long. Twenty . . . four . . . ticky tock, ticky tock, ticky tock . . .minutes.

wwwwWWWWWhaaaaaaat????!!!!!! . . .

O.K., now I know yer a lock for this job based on your merits and smashing good looks, but want me to get in touch with Barry, who can put in a good word for you? Just say it. Consider it done. I know he's busy with Iran, ISIS, Healthcare, the economy and all, but Big B makes time for me. Don't wanna play it that strong? How about my gal Sal? - I call her "My Jewell." Purely platonic, but girlfriend's got some pull . . . How 'bout Double J? You just say the word . . . I'm here for ya.

Was your last date wearing a tinfoil hat? No doubt, your life has vastly improved since deciding not to date men (I gave it up for Lent). I never have and am very happy.

Read your post. All of it. Beautiful. Thank you for sharing this with me. 

I wonder whether I'd sing "This Old Porch" in Eb or in G . . .

Monday, March 9, 2015

And a Screen Without a Picture Since Giant Came to Town


(or a long joyful, poignant ramble to assemble the pieces of my exploded heart and mind)

I ran away to Marfa last weekend: sun, warmth, escape, reunion with my heart. And beauty.

I’m not talking about beautiful women and clothing and jewelry featured in the new Sundance catalog, shot around Marfa. Although many are.


I’m talking about head- and heart-exploding beauty. I’m talking about beauty so overwhelming that I can’t find the words. Although I do have help on that count, which you’ll see in a minute.

I’m talking about when I lived in and near Death Valley and loved the elusive and dramatic spring bloom that happened now and again. Until I realized it was easy to love the desert when it was in bloom. Come back and try and love it when nothing blooms, you Tourist you! Just try it. Then talk to me of love.

Marfans would be right to say the same to me: Come back and try and love it when there’s not a fun event, a fancy restaurant, artartartart, you Tourist you! Fair enough. I don’t want anything from anyone that I’m not willing to earn. I don’t want anything from Marfa that I’m not willing to earn.

But this weekend I got paid for something that I’ve been earning for a long, long time.

I took Thursday and Friday off with the hopes of good weather, which delivered perfectly. My timing was to take advantage of a film screening Saturday night: Children of Giant, a documentary partly about the making of that classic film around Marfa in the 1950s and partly about the segregation of Mexican-Americans as a theme in the film and a reality in the town. The screening was sponsored by the Blackwell School Alliance, a group that preserves the stories and artifacts of the segregated Blackwell School that finally closed in the mid-60s. Many former students are featured in the film and filled the seats of the screening.

Driving into town on Thursday evening, though, I learned of a second Saturday night event. Oh Marfa, we rely on you to only ever have one cool thing going on at once.

The second event was a reading by Lannan writer in residence Terry Tempest Williams. H-O-L-Y W-H-A-T??!! I listened to the radio interview as I watched the moon rise over the mountains. Williams is a Utah writer although I don’t think of her as that, too limiting; her exquisite prose seems universal—the intersection of the natural world and the human landscape, internal and external. She is an environmentalist, a nuclear activist, a witness to destruction, a poet of place, the voice of that which cannot be spoken. Her work is lovely and moving and critical and wedged in my heart.

Before she began her residency, she explained on the radio, she spent ten days in Big Bend National Park. It saved her life, she said. It would sound like hyperbole…but Big Bend had a similar effect on me. I know it’s true, without question. She also said that she has written more in the past five weeks than the past two years. Marfa had a similar effect on me. I know it’s true, without question.

I went to my restaurant and sat at the bar, tried to ignore Terry and her companion sitting in the window seat, and fired off two pages of handwritten notes on how I’ll incorporate the white pelicans in the reservoir north of Carlsbad into my next story.

The next day I ate my lunch outside and invoked Hemingway and false spring. Then I took a hike around some hills and rocks at a nearby nature center. Even that broke me open in contrast to the long and tiresome winter. I sat on the ground and watched a red-tailed hawk fly over and poop. Despite my diligent use of a step-machine and hand weights, I’ve been so sluggish and unhealthy. One day outside made me realize with astounding relief that I’m still alive and not nearly as old as I’ve felt. So simple. So long apart.

And then Saturday evening came around. I got to the book store early, knowing I’d have to cut out to make the movie screening. I picked out two of Terry’s books, one for me and one for Holly with whom I worked in Utah and who knows what that means. Terry offered to sign them and we chatted. I told about my time at Bryce Canyon and that I too knew John the prairie dog scientist. We told funny stories. She is writing a book about National Parks for next year’s centennial and values our work beyond words to tell. She will include a section on Big Bend. I told her how much I appreciated her reaction to the park and the area. How well I know. After her reading, during which I had tears nearly the whole time—it was so exquisite—I told her that she makes us so rich. She’d been nervous to read her new work. What a woman! My heart exploded with the gifts.

The lights were still up when I arrived at the theater for the film, and I took one of the last few seats available in the packed house. The film was great, the messages well told. I hope to use my volunteer energy with the Blackwell School when I live in Marfa, so it was great to hear stories, learn more, and meet the man who runs it. I have his number to get a tour next time in town. Part of my emotional reaction to the film was the lingering emotion from Terry’s words. Part of the reaction was the ugliness depicted of who we are to each other. With today’s racial climate it is absolutely impossible to take comfort that this is in the past. It is fundamentally who we are, that we must overcome anew each day.

Terry’s book that includes the prairie dogs of Bryce Canyon also includes a trip to Rwanda after the genocide and mosaic-making lessons in Italy. The title is Finding Beauty in a Broken World. I read it many years ago, then sent my copy to a compatriot from that summer in the park. I bought a new copy Saturday and sent it to my friend Holly who has started making mosaics. And who knows a few things about broken and why prairie dogs in Utah might need some help.

Finding beauty in a broken world. That is one of the lessons of the weekend. Another is the memory of a favorite Lyle Lovett song that is longing, memory, nostalgia, survival, endurance: This Old Porch, a song I’ve loved for more than 20 years. Although I think the song is about Waco where it was written, I’ve associated it with Marfa from the moment I saw the old and enduring Palace Theater sign on the main street of Marfa (background center photo above). Obviously the designers of the Sundance catalog found it appealing too. I listened to This Old Porch over and over on the drive home yesterday.

This old porch is just a weathered, gray-haired, seventy years of Texas…

…and a screen without a picture since Giant came to town.

Why? WHYWHYWHY am I obsessed with this place? Coworkers deride, family is confounded, locals suspect.

Terry once wrote, which I told her I use often: “When one of us says, ‘Look, there's nothing out there,’ what we are really saying is, ‘I cannot see.’” She also wrote that “Finding beauty in a broken world is creating beauty in the world we find.”

It doesn’t hurt when you actually find the world that exhibits what your heart identifies as beautiful. Meadowlarks lined up on fences to confirm what I know: this place saved my life. I'm not alone. Next year when Terry's book comes out, we'll have much better words to explain it.


Saturday, February 14, 2015

The Valentine Chocolatier

Javelinas would be the ones with bacon, maybe a whole piece but more likely a little pile of chopped bacon, then covered with caramel and topped with chocolate, like a turtle but with bacon instead of nuts, pressed into a form the shape of the animal. Jackrabbits would have a center of prickly pear jelly. Maybe there could be a coyote filled with sage truffle. Lorena thought of all the goods she could make if she opened a chocolate shop in the nearby blink-and-you-miss-it town of Valentine and called it The Valentine Chocolatier instead of curating failure which at the moment felt as hopeless as it sounded.

Lorena pulled up, short of breath, and realized she’d been pounding the two lane blacktop pretty hard. She noticed the pink clouds and the birds. She didn’t know what bird made the pretty song; that would be a good thing to learn. She continued walking at a more relaxed pace. She wiped a trace of sweat from her forehead with her sleeve, although the dry air and the breeze mostly did the job, even on a hot autumn day like this. She walked for the exercise, sure. But today it was mostly to clear her mind, or at least change the channel for a little while.

She pulled one of the hamburger patties from the napkins in her pocket and threw it at the dog coming her way. Out on this stretch of road, she learned to be prepared. They weren’t strays, exactly; they had homes, but they didn’t go there enough or with sufficient enforcement for Lorena’s comfort. So she took to stopping at the gas station for some greasy meat before heading out on her afternoon walk.

The houses cleared out as she turned the bend in the road toward the dump. The Matilda Mountains to the north took on a dusty blue cast in the afternoon light. She could make a chocolate porcupine using piƱon nuts from those mountains as spines. As she passed the town park with the baseball diamond, Lorena envisioned little chocolate water towers like the ones in so many little Texas towns, full of booze instead of water. Maybe this is how she could use sotol, the northern Mexican moonshine in the same family as tequila. The Valentine Chocolatier: that meant she would have to live, or at least have her shop, in Valentine, even more dusty and woebegone than Bee Springs. The Museum of Chocolate, maybe that was it. Too much? With Van Lear’s Museum of Disasters, Kevan’s Museum of Tomatoes? She laughed that she now collected museums the way she collected heart-shaped rocks in the desert; once you had the eye for it, you found them everywhere. These fellas were crazy and she was crazy right along with them.

Lorena was noticing how good the afternoon smelled when she saw up ahead along the fence line what looked like a large upright piece of white plastic gently swaying in what really wasn’t much of a breeze. It looked like nothing so much as a wing. Lorena remembered the dream she’d had about the giant black horse; she had kept trying to make it a dappled gray horse, but it was still black. She rode the horse across an alkali flat at great speed, the horse galloping ahead of a high and thick trail of dust. She rode with ease, this horse that was gray but really black. And she breathed the smell of the horse and of the dust and of the sunshine itself. She could have been a bird; the movement of the horse through the air made that possible. But she chose to stay with the horse on the ground. The horse was not a bird. She remembered making the conscious decision that the horse was not a bird and she would not be a bird. She was the horse, a giant on the earth.

The wing was a wing and Lorena trotted up to find a woman trapped beneath it. Lorena called out to the woman and was met with a string of swear words that Lorena would have never thought to put together in that way: a biblical figure, a barnyard animal, and a sex act. She took it as a good sign. The woman was fastened into the seat of the crashed ultralight. And crashed, Lorena realized, was too strong of a word. The small craft was tipped so the pilot’s seat was on its side up against the bent wing on the ground. The other wing stood straight up in the air. Without too much effort, Lorena was able to right the craft and follow the woman’s direction to find her knife in the kit bag. Her safety harness had caught and she couldn’t get free. Lorena helped her cut her way out and soon they were standing on the road looking at the damaged wing.

“Between that damnable wind and them shit-cussin’ little pigs I just got all looped up.” Janny took off her leather flight helmet and sunglasses and Lorena realized she was quite aged. She wore a light blue jumpsuit and had white hair pinned up in a bun.

“Are you OK? Did you hurt anything?”

“I expect I’ll have a bruise here on my sternum, but the fricker didn’t stop my heart.” She laughed and coughed a little. “I hope this here is Bee Springs. I’ve come a long way and I’d hate to think there’s farther I need to go. I’m Janny.”

“It is. I’m Lorena. Can I help?”

Janny was looking for a friend in town so they left the machine in the ditch where it lay. She got her kit bag from behind the seat of the ultralight, and they hitched a ride back to town with Ernie from the dump who was heading out but turned around on their account.

“I think I met you at the Firemen’s barbecue last week, didn’t I?” asked Lorena.

“I guess you did. You’re that gal helping out Van Lear at the museum.”

“So you know Van Lear? He’s still kickin’?” Janny asked Lorena

“Sure. Everybody here knows Van Lear. Is that who you’re here to see?”

“Mmhmm.”

Van Lear was one of the dearest men Lorena had ever met, certainly worked with. But why did men have to be so dang disorganized? His museum was a gem, but he was stuck in the 20th—19th?— century philosophy of more-is-more. She thought by coming here she would learn something from him: the wizened master, the guru, the patron saint of weird little museums in the middle of nowhere. So far, she had learned how to cook pulled pork, how to sweet-talk folks into giving their stuff to him, and how to change the starter in an ’82 Ford F250—not insignificant skills but not what she’d come for.

Kevan at least had sought professional consultation, and his tomato museum was up and running and somehow logical and inspiring and even funny, once you accepted the notion that it was an ode to tomatoes. Kevan himself, though, she could not figure out and decided, repeatedly, that she shouldn’t even try. She did wish, though, that she could find a way to be comfortable with him. She had once read Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s diaries of meeting Charles. Anne wrote that she refused to treat him special, even though he had just flown the Atlantic and was ridiculously famous; but she couldn’t treat him like everyone else because he was so clearly not like anyone else. So she avoided him. Evidently it worked for they married. Lorena didn’t mistake Kevan for Charles Lindbergh, but she was often at a loss with him because he too was clearly not like anyone else.

“I’m so sorry, I’ve forgotten your name already. Would you tell me again?”

“It’s Janny. I used to know Van Lear.”

Bells started going off in Lorena’s head as she directed Ernie to the casita she rented. How many girls named Janny could one man know in a lifetime; one, she guessed as they got out of the truck. Lorena led Janny into the adobe cottage.

“Van Lear talks about you sometimes,” Lorena said. “You know he has a museum.”

“About disasters. I saw about it in a magazine one time.” Janny put down her bag and looked at the books on the shelf. Lorena got them both a glass of water and invited Janny to sit down. “Shippers, I hope he don’t consider me a disaster.”

“No, not at all. He talks about you as one of the few women he loved in his life. His wife was killed in a house fire here in Bee Springs, maybe fifteen years ago. That was the start of the museum.”

“I knew that too.” She drank her water and looked away from Lorena. Lorena was in no hurry; she hoped a story would come out. “I had a husband. And a boy. But they’re gone a long time now.” The room was quiet and Janny didn’t continue.

“Maybe you could tell Van Lear the story and he could put it in the museum.”

“No, it’s not a story. It’s more like a deep fiery pit of hell. It’s Goddamn abstract art.” She looked at Lorena then and made a funny little exhalation sort of like a laugh and very much like an end to this topic.

“So does Van Lear know you are coming? I’m surprised he didn’t say anything.”

“No, it’s kind of a whim that brought me here.”

Lorena didn’t think anyone came all the way to Bee Springs on a whim, especially in a mosquito-mobile. But she wanted to be helpful. This woman had a light about her with crackly skin turned pink in the sun, held up by unusually large and wide-set cheekbones. She had long fingers that Lorena had been taught to think of as piano hands. They flitted off her knee as she talked.

“Why don’t you plan on spending the night here. I have a spare room. And I can make dinner. We’ll have Van Lear over. Does that sound OK? I can invite another friend too, make it a party. We’ll go out and get your machine tomorrow with my friend’s truck.”

“Oh yes. I hope he’ll come.” Janny said the last of that mostly to herself.

“Let’s plan on seven because I’ll need to go to the store.”

“I have a question that’s been on my mind about Van Lear’s museum. I thought about this when I first saw the story. When I knew him, his mother had passed. He kept her weddin’ suit in plastic and wouldn’t let me touch it; and not just the suit but the whole fartin’ outfit—hat, gloves, silk underpanties, ever-thin’.”

Lorena’s breath left her and a tingle went up her spine. “Is this the suit from Neiman Marcus in Dallas?”

“That’s right; she worked there and saved up a month’s salary to buy it all.”

“It is,” Lorena confirmed. “It’s part of the museum.”

Lorena left Janny to rest and take a shower. She knew the suit well that Janny asked after. In the museum, the story told of an anonymous woman who donated it to Van Lear, a woman whose wedding had never taken place, who waited for her man to come back. Lorena never imagined that the woman was Van Lear’s mother.

She went first to the museum to find Van Lear. He was chatting with Evelyn who had come at closing time for the weekly cleaning. Seeing Lorena, he grabbed his hat and walked out the front door with her. He wanted to ask about the oral history training she’d signed him up for. But she stopped him with the big news.

“Janny? Really? My Janny? Flying? Well, if anyone would fly to Bee Spring in an ultralight to see me after fifty years, crash land it, and then have me over for dinner, it would be Janny. I’ll be there.”

“Bring some flowers or something.”

Next she went to Kevan’s house. She had a firm rule that she did not get involved with anyone that she interviewed for her Museum of Failures in Winnemuca. She met Kevan when he came in doing museum research and stayed to commit his story of a failed love affair to video. Men had such a hard time being vulnerable, she observed, that when they were they thought they ought to do something about it—like seduce the interviewer. Well, that was some time ago and he took the rejection well. Their friendship had developed through correspondence, and now that she was here for a month working with Van Lear, she and Kevan didn’t quite know how to be around each other.

She knocked on his door and was relieved when he answered. “Hey, I hope you’re free tonight because I really need your help with something.” She hadn’t meant to sound desperate, but Kevan seemed pleased. She explained her situation and that she needed him to be there so she wasn’t the third wheel. He agreed. He really was a good guy, she thought.

“And I have to tell you something. That Neiman Marcus wedding outfit?” Kevan nodded; it was a highlight of the exhibits. “Janny told me it belonged to Van Lear’s mother.”

Kevan paused a moment, then said, “I’ve long wondered if that were the case.” They stood in the doorway in pain for their friend who carried the secret. “So what’s she like?”

“She swears a lot.”

“Should be an interesting evening.”

“You should fetch him. I’ll feel weird alone with them if he got there first. And bring flowers or something.”

Lorena had one last thought. “I have no idea what Janny’s intentions are, but it would be nice for Van Lear to have a lady friend. He’s just so committed, though, to the memory of Ruthie.”

“That’s true. But he also has a knack for picking himself up and starting over, don’t you think? That’s his theme, right? Like you museum people say.”

Kevan had recently told her about meeting his father the day he smashed into two turkey vultures on the road up to Carlsbad, just a stranger out of nowhere who arrived at the right time with the right skills to kill the flopping birds where they lay on the road. As he was leaving he introduced himself as that mythical figure missing in Kevan’s life and then he was gone, unsuspecting. Van Lear told her that once when he, Van Lear, mentioned that Kevan hadn’t had his disaster yet—and Van Lear believed that everyone, sooner or later, had a museum-worthy disaster—Kevan replied that his whole life was a disaster. Lorena got it; well, she didn’t get it, and she wondered if she could get it if it could make a difference to Kevan and to her and Kevan. All in all, starting over with a chocolate shop seemed perfectly sane.

Lorena found a rotisserie chicken at the store and decided to make a pot pie. She bought a biscuit mix and other ingredients and then added some butter pecan ice cream to her cart. Checking out she realized that she was making a meal like her grandma would make; she thought that was appropriate.

Janny’s bedroom door was closed. Lorena worked quietly in the kitchen cooking dinner and tidying up. She noted how easily she and Kevan functioned when it wasn’t about them. So he knew about Van Lear’s parents; well he’d known Van Lear all his life. She could imagine Van Lear as a father figure for Kevan, or a grandfather. Van Lear knew how to ease an unspoken hunger. The story Kevan had recorded of his failure was real enough and painful, but it probably wasn’t the only story to tell. All she could do was speculate. She had mailed him the story of her failure but he never mentioned it.

She put the pot pie in the oven and set the table. These were people she had come to care about, and she cared that they were happy. Some people made it look so easy, she thought, couples who made sense together. How did they get past what they needed to get past?

Lorena heard the bedroom door and turned to find Janny cleaned up. She wore a simple beige linen dress and a scarf around her shoulders, a little makeup and her white hair in long braids. She was beautiful. Lorena wished she’d had time to bathe and change and put on some make-up.

“Van Lear always hated my braids,” Janny grinned.

“You know men. He probably never met another woman in braids since that he hasn’t thought of you.”

“I’m countin’ on that.” The two women smiled in recognition of Janny’s crazy journey to Bee Springs.

“If I know Van Lear, then, those will be the first words out of his mouth: I always hated those braids,” said Lorena. She juiced a grapefruit and made them a tequila cocktail.

It wasn’t but a little later that she looked out the window and saw the men walking up the road with the last ribbon of light in the sky behind them. She couldn’t tell what they carried in their hands but it was something.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Dreams of Spring

I visited the Denver Botanic Gardens on Friday to take in the orchid show. They time this purposefully, when all is gray and hope is far away. It worked; how lovely. Now it is February and spring inches closer. We consult rodents to bolster ourselves for the remaining winter. But orchids are far lovelier, and I am glad for their acquaintance.








Wednesday, January 28, 2015

The Line

My latest High Country News comes to me this week with a collection of essays about issues confronting the West now and into the future. It also comes with a collection of thoughtful reader-suggested quotes. This, from Barry Lopez: “One of the great dreams of man must be to find some place between the extremes of nature and civilization where it is possible to live without regret.” I know that line; I’ve been thinking a lot about that line. It is different for each of us, and I currently find myself on the wrong (civilized) side of that line. I dream of life on the other, more natural, side.

Also this week comes a picture and a story from my friend Brian about horses. I wrote him that I am house-sitting. He countered that he is horse-sitting. He is spending his winter riding Icelandic ponies around the high desert of Eastern California. I’m reading Cormac McCarthy about people riding horses around the Chihuahuan Desert in the 1850s.



It comes together in a dream I’ve been having—a waking dream, so probably more like a fantasy. I have a horse, a giant draft-sized horse. He insists on being black, although I want him to be dapple gray. We ride out across the desert for days on end accomplishing nothing except being free. I wrote to Brian to ask what the appropriate minimum tool weapon against rattlesnakes would be in this situation. To pretend to be practical, the fantasy has me living in my little desert town without a car and traveling everywhere on the back of my giant horse. Mary Oliver wrote a poem about traveling on a horse that turns into a swan. Galloping across an alkali flat would kick up a trail of dust which could be bird-like, but I don’t think we turn into a bird. I think what is beautiful about this image is not what is traditionally thought of as magic such as the transmogrification of species; rather the beauty and magic is in the semblance of reality—this could happen to me.

If I can just cross that line back to the natural world.

I’ve been writing about this in a story that may or may not be done in time for Valentine’s Day. It is a Valentine story, although to call it a love story would be to put it in a Hollywood frame of reference, because although it is a love story, a reader might not recognize it as such. Anyway, my character dreams of a giant black or dapple gray horse and she distracts herself from her current challenges with thoughts of opening The Valentine Chocolatier in Valentine, Texas, where she will make javelina-shaped treats much like turtles but with bacon instead of pecans: bacon, caramel, chocolate pressed into molds the shape of these little wild desert pigs. I don’t mean to suggest, you see, that we don’t need something called civilization: just a question of dosing.

Part of the problem is that civilization is broken. Ours works a lot better for some than others. One of the stories in this High Country News is by Cally Carswell about protesters at a tar sands extraction site in Utah. She compares their vigil with other struggles going on in America right now: Occupy; minimum wage; the killings by police of Eric Garner, Michael Brown, and Tamir Rice; her attempt to obtain affordable health care under the Affordable Care Act. “All had one thing in common: the sense that our society is designed to work for some and not for others, with the balance tipping ever more in favor of those who need the least help. When I applied for health insurance, I felt something similar: The deck was stacked, against me.” She then tells an ugly story about a minimum wage fast food worker’s fight, a sentiment not far from the protesters’ in Utah. “People want a society with a little more humanity, one whose outcomes are less determined by corporations that serve only their shareholders, valuing profits above the stability of the atmosphere or the dignity of their workers.” She concludes by echoing the advice her editor shared about the protesters before she began reporting, “They’re not like regular people.” Carswell responds, “That may be true, but these are not regular times.”

The struggle that Carswell describes in Utah is a very common struggle between those who would speak for nature and those who would build up the machine of civilization to bulldoze nature. We know we are all complicit as we heat our homes and drive our cars, myself included. According to Cormac McCarthy, things weren’t any more pleasant in the era of horses on the plains. Who are we that we cannot bring humanity to our societies? Who are we that conflate the notions of civilization and domination? Who are we that stack the deck?

Wendell Berry says this:

When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the
      great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Cooking Elk, Part II

It took me one hour to make the pot pie and longer than that to try and get a decent photo:


The house where I'm staying, like my house would, is filled with colorful dishes, not so conducive to foodie photos. But rest assured, this was/is delicious. I had a pack of elk steaks remaining in the freezer and one last lonely elk sausage. I adapted the Pioneer Woman's chicken pot pie recipe. And voila...elk pot pie.

I crock-potted the elk in some beef broth on low for about six hours last evening. I put it all, elk and broth and pot, in the fridge for the day.

Put some olive oil in Ginny's big, deep Lodge cast iron pan*, add a medium onion, 2 celery ribs, and 2 carrots, diced fine. Let 'em sit there softening on the stove while you get your act together.

Chop the cooked elk meat into small pieces. Somehow mix your pie crust in the meantime and put it in the fridge to firm up. I used Bob's Red Mill gluten-free pie crust mix plus butter. Worked great.

Put the meat in the pan with the veggies. Add a couple of tablespoons of flour or your pie crust mix and stir it all up. Let the flour coat the meat and veggies and get sticky. Then add some of your cooking liquid from the crock-pot or fresh broth. Add a little wine if you've got it. Add some water. Keep adding liquid as it thickens until your pan is full or it seems right (and this is why I will not have a food blog, ladies and gentlemen). At some point, if you like corn, throw in a half cup of frozen or canned corn. (If it were summer, I'd cook an ear and cut the kernels off; as we've established, though, it is nothing AT ALL like summer right now).

Let it all cook a few minutes. Throw in some turmeric, salt, pepper, and a dash of thyme. The last thing to add is a quarter cup (or a little more) of half and half and stir it all up well.

I hope by now you've decided what pan to cook it in. If I had all my stuff, I would have used my 3 1/2 quart Le Creuset french oven* from start to finish, stove top to oven. Ginny has a similar piece, but it is too big. So I used my old trick of putting the mix back into the crock-pot pot, putting the pie crust over it, and baking it that way for about 30 minutes at 375. Because of the depth of the crock pot, I find I need to broil it at the end for a few minutes to brown up the crust. And you could do the right thing and brush it with an egg before you bake it. Or you could forget...

That's it: more cooking with elk. Delicious.

*Nobody pays anywhere near full price for this stuff, by the way.

Friday, January 16, 2015

My Crazy Life

I’m reading a novel today and in the story they are riding a train somewhere in North Africa. And I’m reminded that I’m a person who has ridden on trains where the bathrooms are just holes that deposit your deposit onto the ground moving underneath. A sign tells you not to use the bathroom while stopped at a station, but of course. That’s an interesting experience to have in one’s pack because it signifies all the experiences that are related and connected.

I am sitting inside today on my coveted day off on my coveted long weekend because I am still, but nearly successfully, getting over this cruddy cold that now is approaching four weeks in duration. The lay low weekend should kick the last of it out so that I can return to normalcy and sing again and have an interest in fruit smoothies and going outside. 

I have not written here in some time: December was a challenge with a death in the family. January has not improved with our cold and snowy weather. There is a solution, of course, and it is spring.

I’m watching a boy in a red knitted hat out the front window playing with the ice chunks in the small river going across the street. It was a skating rink, now more of a swimming pool as our temperatures are in the 40s today. Earlier a man across the street broke up some ice, presumably in the vicinity of a drain. No dice; the long narrow pool remains—to the delight of the hatted youth. 

I am in Colorado. I will not return to Marfa until the weather is better and/or I have license to stay forever. Aside from love, I’m quite accustomed to getting my way…eventually…and when I bend my will toward what is being offered (a not-insignificant caveat). So I am concerned now only about getting through this hell called winter where I so hoped and believed I would not be. Blessedly a house has come my way with a comfortable bed, a luscious shower, and a kitchen that makes me quite happy—a housesitting gig for friends for the winter. And it is full of books that I have not read. So far: Jim Harrison, Cormac McCarthy, Paul Bowles…and the promise of Cervantes when time has cleared Moby Dick out of my head (which I read entirely and with delight in December). 

So in fact the laziness of my current days would not lend one to think of my craziness: though rhyme does suggest contrast. I think I was reading Tolstoy on a train with the toilet hole. I think I was young and impressionable when a friend told me that, like the Bowles character, he preferred to be a traveler, not a tourist. Many years later I realize we all want to be an awful lot of things that maybe we aren’t and never will be. But I have been a traveler.

My one victory over the torpor of winter, oddly, is dating. I’m dating. It’s part exhausting and part fun and mostly going nowhere. But I like Indian food and pink margaritas and the charcuterie that is enjoying popularity right now as much as the next person. So why not enjoy with company. My terrible habit, alas, is giving them all names instead of really giving them a chance: The Climate Change Denier, The Train Conductor, The Unemployed Clown. In this pursuit, as I hinted above, I’m not accustomed to getting my way, but actually it seems like I am right now—because I really have no expectations. It’s kind of amazing that I’ve found so many men to have a date with. That in itself seems crazy. I think of it as practice…at my age?!

Eh, me and the kids splashing in the urban ice pond. We’re doing the best we can. The crazy part of life rarely seems crazy at the time; it seems like what one must do to breathe and feel like a full human being—only sometimes I do stop and laugh and think, yeah…crazy…and then I keep going because it is what I must do to breathe and feel like I’m using my time in a way that makes sense. And so when I’m using my time in a way that feels wasteful, then I’m bothered (which, to be clear, refers only to my current job and not at all to a day spent reading a good book which is never wasteful). I think that’s what I’ve just spent eight paragraphs sorting out. I think the hatted boys who have now gone home spent a few minutes just now feeling fully human in the ice pond on my street. And I was smart to pay attention.

I'm going now to fry a trout in bacon fat for my supper. 

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Give a Field Guide

One of the great joys of adulthood is learning something new. This can often be enabled with a field guide: to birds, stars, vascular plants of the Southern Rockies--you name it. But some of the most important adult learning is actually about ourselves. And despite the unending supply of self-help books, sometimes one just needs a field guide. This year I found just the right one. I bought this off the table at the Marfa Book Company, a spot that uncannily often/always has waiting the exact book I'm supposed to be reading right now. This one surely qualifies.

The question then is how to get lost. Never to get lost is not to live, not to know how to get lost brings you to destruction, and somewhere in the terra incognita in between lies a life of discovery. 

The book is a few years old, so you can buy it used here...

Or, really, any book at all that speaks to your heart is a welcome gift to a friend on a quest.


Saturday, December 6, 2014

Give Holly Hats

My friend Holly makes lots of cool stuff...I mean like fine arts and crafts, not the kindergarten-style products I try and pass off. (I have words; I can't have everything). Anyway, you should get a Holly hat. I think that's all she has available right now--no bags or stuffed sheep or notecards. They are well made, colorful, warm, fuzzy..what more could you want in a hat? Here are a few samples that I own:



Yes, they will take you amazing places. Buy your Holly hat here...

Friday, December 5, 2014

Give Neil

When I was in Marfa last week, my host friend invited me into her current mini-obsession with Cosmos, now streaming on Netflix. This old Carl Sagan series has been brought back to life with astrophysicist Neil DeGrasse Tyson taking on the the role of our host in the universe. It's fun and compelling; and Tyson, as usual, is completely engaging and science-nerd-dreamy.

So today's recommendation is a Neil DeGrasse Tyson action figure! Yay science!


Oh, except they aren't actually real. They are a very cool art project done by some creative dude in his basement or something,

OK, so I kept looking and found this Neil that you can actually buy on Etsy.

To tell you the truth, though, the Etsy doll lacks some essential Neil-ness,

So then I found this, which in the end becomes today's recommendation. 

He's free. You print him and fold him yourself and he can sit on your desk and remind you how absolutely cool you can be if you dig physics too. Better yet, for the holidays, give Neil to a young person for inspiration; the universe is infinite and so should be our dreams. 

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Give a Pass to Understanding

It's hard to think about fun holiday gifts in the light of yesterday's news of a Grand Jury in New York's refusal to indict the officer who killed Eric Garner. So please bear with me if this seems self serving.

Someone you know needs a National Park Pass. Maybe you? I had originally planned to wax poetic about natural parks and sites of cultural significance and fun recreation areas. Please visit those too! But more relevant today are our sites of shame, sites of conscience, sites of civil and human rights. Fortunately for all of us, the National Park Service now preserves these sites too and tells the stories of a more diverse face of America. Working at Manzanar NHS made me aware of how important these stories are to all Americans. It's not a perfect system; we have a long way to go to full inclusivity. But we are getting there, and you can help by visiting these sites and paying witness. As Ranger Michael says, "Stories at National Parks are meaningful and remind us of who we are, where we came from, and potentially where we're going." (The video's a bit corny, but he's spot on about stories.)


Today I'm recommending an America the Beautiful pass which gains you entry at all national park units and other federal lands as well. The pass is $80, so a bit more pricey than my other recommendations. Two people can share a pass, and the entry fees it covers are often up to $25 for each park. Keep in mind that many of the memorials, such as the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial shown above on the Mall in Washington D.C., are free to visit.

Other ways to get a pass:

Active Military? Free!
Americans with Disabilities? Free!
Americans 62 years or older? Ten bucks for life.
Volunteer 250 hours a year with the NPS? Free!

Learn more here...and obtain your pass at any federal recreation site that charges fees. If you can use a pass there, you can buy/obtain a pass there.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Give Blooms

A gift that keeps giving for weeks after the holidays are past is the gift of an amaryllis bulb. Find them now at a local garden store or nursery or florist or even a home store. They require little work on the part of the giver or the lucky recipient. And what a payoff come the doldrums of January. Paperwhite narcissus work well too. Buy them...everywhere.


Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Give Poetry

On this second day of holiday gift suggestions, this one is broad and wide and of a philosophical nature. We all need more poetry in our lives, whether it is a handful of printed words arranged just so on a page or the sensibility of light and the touch of the earth upon our souls.

Mary Ruefle, in my stand-out book of 2013, writes:

Ramakrishna said: Given a choice between going to heaven and hearing a lecture on heaven, people would choose a lecture.

That is remarkably true, and remarkably sad, and the same remarkably true and sad thing can be said about poetry, here among us today.

That slim admonition led me directly to this poet whose 2014 volume is today's recommendation. I cherish this book. You might too. Or any other favorite poet. Read poetry, chew on poetry, share poetry, live poetry, write poetry.

Buy Saint Friend here...


Monday, December 1, 2014

If One Must Shop

Despite my Grinch attitude toward the lead-up to Christmas, it occurs to me that people do like to shop and give gifts, and that in moderation this can be a lovely pastime. In that spirit, perhaps I can make some recommendations of items that would be nice for your loved ones to receive and beneficial to real people who make them. So...

Marfa Brand soap is delicious. This is the new flavor for the holidays, but my absolute favorite is the Cedarwood Sage flavor made with goat milk from Malinda Beeman's happy Marfa goats. Yes, it's pricey, but made by hand and nice to have around.

Buy it here...www.marfabrands.com/