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The Uvalde Massacre has broken my heart. It’s been 20 years since the Columbine Massacre and nothing has changed. Not in protecting our children, not in sensible gun control, not in police practices in these unthinkable scenarios, not in politicians’ responses. I thought that somehow Sandy Hook would have been a catalyst. Then I thought that Parkland would have been a catalyst. What’s the saying? Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me? I won’t waste my spirit thinking that Uvalde will be a catalyst. Our society is so broken, so irrational, so angry, and so polarized that we are sunk in an impenetrable fog and cannot see our way out. At least I can’t. I still have faith. I’m just not sure what I have faith in right now.

My coffee and I sit at our round table with our unconventional breakfast, looking through cookbooks to plan our week’s meals. My own handwritten notes are familiar even though they were written 20 years ago. Books being sacred objects, I was aghast the first time ex-Pat made notes in a cookbook. Over the years, he convinced me to do so, but only in pencil, and as minimally as possible, to convey the changes I’d made.

Those notes from 20 years ago….they transport me back to the Cozy House, to my slope-floored kitchen with its knotty pine cabinets. To the Mother-in-Law’s tongue that my co-worker Sandy gave me decades ago, thriving in a pot in the corner. The dogs’ and cats’ food and water dishes slightly underfoot on the lavender linoleum. The Asian blue patterned containers holding the cooking utensils on the counter next to the little one cup coffee maker. The bottom drawer where the casserole dishes lived, the one that always went cattywampus when I tried to close it. My beloved Norge stove.

We never ate dinner at the kitchen table, only breakfast on weekdays, just as it had been at my parents’ house growing up. I tried to get us to do so once and only once. It was disastrous and all three of us wound be miserable.

Doing dishes, by hand as we never had a dishwasher, standing at the sink looking out into the backyard from the white-framed casement the window. My view was beneath the arch of a tree that was slowly growing its way into the house, bending the gutter a little more each year. Ex-Pat and I talked about one day remodeling the kitchen, making it bigger, though it was a good size already. We would have built out the kitchen around the tree, leaving it free to grow as tall and as strong as it wanted.

That view from the window had grown over the decades from a dirt yard with giant wooden spools as tables in various places, to a bower of beauty, with the greenhouse that ex-Pat had built by hand as its centerpiece. Beautifully cold in winter but always warm with memory of summer. Sparkling with promise in spring. Glowing with trailing golden cottonwood leaves in fall. And raging and singing in its glory on the warmest days and nights of summer,

It all lives only in my memory now, as I sit at a different table in a different life, the wind swishing the pine boughs outside the door, the blue sky shy beneath sheer white clouds, the Stellar’s Jay keeping silent company, my coffee now grown cold.

Today’s gratitudes:

  • That I’m alive
  • Cats
  • Music
  • Driving
  • Sweatshirts

It feels like my whole life was kindling. An exaggeration, I know, but yesterday, I saw a picture of an old fence, like one that surrounded graves 120 years ago. And I remembered that I had had a piece of fencing like that, something ex-Pat and I found on a trip to Leadville, that had been waiting for years to become an integral piece of art. That became nothing more than kindling.

My giant, ancient, solid, five-inch thick wooden door, resting on iron rods, a much-desired, terribly weathered birthday present that I used as a potting table, now reduced to just those pieces of iron. Nothing more than kindling.

The K Tree, an ornamental pear that we planted when K was born, that was split by a heavy spring snow and yet still survived to bloom each spring, now a charred shadow of its former self. Nothing more than kindling.

When the Texas Baptist Men were sifting through the ashes, one said, “You must have had a lot of combustible stuff in here.” I suppose I did. Waist high stacks of pages of ashes marked where my bookshelves were, where K’s bookshelves were, all disintegrating at the slightest touch of my finger. Dust in the wind. Nothing more than kindling.

And another fire, in Boulder yesterday, burning trails my feet know well. Mercifully, the winds were not what they were on December 30, so other communities were spared the fate of mine. But it raised the specter of that day. K knew about this fire before I did – she had friends who were evacuated – but didn’t want to stress me out by telling me.

I’m maudlin today, despite the warm weather, as we’re having troubles with our well at the Retreat and I feel like I’ve moved into the house in that ‘80s movie, The Money Pit. I’m sullen and sulky and cannot even take a bath for comfort. I’m feeling like it’s all somewhat pointless. Because in the long run, after all, I’m really nothing more than kindling.

A spider braving the melting snow.
Compulsory cat photo.

Today’s gratitudes:

  • MKL, today and every day
  • Blankets
  • Lots of birdsong
  • The road to the Final Four

I went back to the cozy house last Monday. The space looked different somehow. It might have been the first time I’d seen it without snow. The green mulch cannons had disturbed some of the ruins. They must have been fairly powerful. Someone had put an uncharred piece of ironwork where I would find it.

I wept some. I hadn’t been looking forward to going back because I’d been feeling relatively happy. And I’d felt guilty about that, guilty about not visiting the cozy house for several weeks. Of course I hadn’t forgotten. The thought of the loss is with me always, lurking, popping up unexpectedly. But being in the midst of it, face to face with shattered pottery and melted glass and memories lost and those never to be made, tears at my soul. It feels as if, just to the right of my heart in the center of my chest, there is a blackened fist-sized piece of wood. I don’t feel it as much when I’m not at the cozy house, but I know it lives as a part of me now.

In the midst of this difficult day, I found hints of hope.

The tulips that I planted long ago at the edge of the front walkway have come up.
Snail shells are everywhere. I don’t know why. But they’re pretty.
Striped squill – which I don’t recall planting – are coming up at the back of the former greenhouse and on the mound.
Ex-Pat’s first dandelion. Dandelions should be elevated to hardy flower status instead of weed. Then everyone’s yard could be beautiful.
I FaceTimed with K, and she reminded me of this split rock, which marked the resting place of two baby birds that we’d buried there when she was small. A bird had built a nest in an old mailbox on an abandoned power pole at the back of the property. We watched diligently as the babies grew, but before they were old enough, a cruel summer wind took down the mailbox and the birds with it. I remember that we held a solemn little service. That old power pole is now on the ground, burned.
But our flag still stands.
And love still lives.
And while most of us have committed to participating in the town’s clean-up program – which feels like a questionable decision at this point – some who had the resources and wherewithal have proceeded with clean-up on their own, with the intent to rebuild.

We will never be able to bring Original Superior back to what it was. We cannot rebuild history or duplicate our old houses with all their quirks and foibles. But there will be new houses, small ones with character and charm. There will be gardens with hyacinth and iris, with snapdragons and California poppies, with tomatoes and too many zucchini. I don’t know what will emerge from the ashes. But I know something will.

Today’s gratitudes:

  • Lovely neighbors
  • Hawks
  • That vague feeling of spring (though in Colorado, we know it to be false)
  • Calving season

In the cozy house was a little wooden two drawer filing cabinet. In this little two drawer filing cabinet were words. So many words.

I had files of letters from my Mother and Father. They’ve been dead for 16 and 17 years, respectively. It was tough losing them within 21 months of each other. The loss from the fire is the only loss that’s been anywhere near similar to my heart. And I suppose the loss of my pets before Roscoe and Dusty.

My Father in particular was a prolific writer. He sent me newspaper clippings about my hometown or other stories he thought I’d be interested in, along with a little one or two page note, usually on his Duke University notepaper. I kept them all. And now they’re gone.

K has a letter that her grandfather sent to her. I think that may be the only letter left. I don’t know how or why I took that one with me when I left, but I’m glad I did. I have some old files in my basement that may have copies of letters he’d written to others, but none to me. My heart tears just a little as I write that, one more tear that will need to heal over time.

My Mother did not write letters to me often, but those she did are gone. However, she, like me, kept journals. I took all of them that I could find with me. That’s a blessing. I have a lot of her words, her history, her thoughts, even documentation of some of our nightly phone calls. I haven’t been able to see what years are missing yet. I don’t want to know, because knowing won’t change anything and it will just magnify what’s lost instead of what’s left. I don’t need that right now.

I hadn’t thought about the letters and my parents’ handwriting until today, when, while leafing through a cookbook that I took with me when I left the cozy house, I found one of my Mother’s recipes. She always used little yellow lined notepads. Then I remembered. Another memory of what’s been lost.

As many of the people in my community are rebuilding their lives, we’ve also been watching what’s happening in Ukraine. For me, that’s raised some feelings I need to examine.

When I saw the ashes of the cozy house and Original Superior right after the fire, the most apt description I could find was that it looked like a war zone. Nothing left intact. Burned and twisted remains of homes. Blackened trees. Ruins. Here we are, nine weeks later, looking at images in Ukraine that look like our burned out town. Except they really are war zones.

I don’t want to watch. I don’t want to see that destruction, just as it hurts me to see the ruins of the cozy house. But I can’t turn away. Why not? That’s where, for me, things get complex and confusing. Perhaps I’ll list it out. My dearest people know that one of my most oft given pieces of advice in times of turmoil is “make a list”.

  • I feel compelled to follow what’s going on, as this is as close to a potential war as I’ve ever experienced in this lifetime. That’s scary, but in keeping with how disastrous 2022 has felt to me so far.
  • These images connect my empath soul to the people who have had to leave their homes with nothing but their kids, pets, and a few belongings, so like what fire victims did. Immersion (for me) opens a connection.
  • I should not be feeling sorrow about my own loss because Ukrainian refugees have it so much worse.

Those first two bullets are things I acknowledge about myself and can process pretty well. It’s the last one that’s the kicker. As compassionate humans, we compare our tragedies with those of others. In times of trauma, this can add guilt to our rich mixture of feelings…”They have it so much worse than I do — I shouldn’t be feeling like I do about my loss.” And that just makes us feel worse.

I have been doing this even before the Ukraine conflict, ever since the fire. Yes, I lost the cozy house and the precious, irreplaceable things in it, but I do have a place to live, and clothes, and cookware. So I don’t have a right to feel such a huge sense of loss. I have not participated in the incredible generosity that the community has extended, except to contribute what I can, because what I lost can’t be replaced. I don’t have the need that others do. I feel I don’t deserve my own grief.

Rationally, I know this isn’t so. We are all entitled to feel how we feel. But it’s a hard threshold to cross, feeling empathy and compassion for those who are suffering in our State and in countries thousands of miles away, and at the same time allowing ourselves the grace to feel our own pain and loss, without drawing comparisons. I guess, in short, we are all human, and all need to treat ourselves and our fellow humans with love.

Today is the 17th anniversary of my Father’s death. Perhaps that’s what started the tears flowing this morning, in the course of which I cried because:

  • a shirt I got for K was maybe too small
  • of Frank Sinatra
  • the middle school boy at our four way stop sign was handing out lemonade for free just to do a good deed for the second day in a row
  • the aspens don’t have leaves
  • of the people ice fishing and dogs playing on frozen San Isabel Lake
  • Whitney Houston is dead
  • it’s been decades since I’ve been to New York City
  • Warren Zevon is dead, and my friend Erik, who always laughed his unique laugh at the song “Werewolves of London”, is also dead
  • I’m not 18 any more and feeling like my whole life is ahead of me
  • I’ve lost my journals to the fire
  • of all of the lies my ex-fiancé told me
  • of how much I love MKL
  • I’ve lost the cozy house
  • of the burn scars near the turn for Florence
  • Clarence Clemons is dead

And all this before noon.

I felt better after arriving in Florence. People there are lovely and real, and I never seem to have enough time there. I picked up a few treasures, but I feel it’s only fitting to share some of the more unusual things I saw.

I wonder who these belonged to. And what happened to the tradition of casting a child’s first pair of shoes in bronze? And who thought of that in the first place?
These are the same blocks I had growing up. They came to me when K was born, but were consumed by the fire. I got a little tearful.
This lamp of a girl eating porridge is not creepy.
Not creepy at all.
Neither was this woman holding a pig.
Or this apparently handless man. But I guess that’s why the woman is holding the pig and not him.
I really think making a candle out of this image is adding insult to injury.
These twin Marys and their respective Baby Jesuses. Note that the Mary on the left is much more disheveled than the Mary on the right.
And while this isn’t the finest picture of her, I got to spend a bit of time petting Ella, who was a complete chonk. Her tongue is always like that because she has no teeth to hold it in.

I’ll leave you with that. I felt better after my excursion. I took some lovely images, as we had a beautiful day. I’ll share those with you tomorrow, as I’m going to be snowed in now for several days.

Living in the Retreat, in the middle of wooded acreage, there’s no predicting fire. Of course after the Marshall Fire, I know without a doubt that regardless of where you are, there’s really no predicting it. No one would have imagined what happened on December 30th.

Surrounded by pines here, it would be hard to see a fire coming. Today on our local news, there was a headline of a wildfire in the Southeast part of our county. I’m in the Southwest part of the county, about 50 miles away from this fire, which is 72% contained. I figured all of this out in about one minute and then I started to cry.

Is this what it’s going to be like? It’s bad enough the I have what I call PTWD (Post-Traumatic Wind Disorder). We have big winds here in the Wet Mountains, big enough to topple 75-foot pine trees onto garage aprons, barely missing buildings. (Perhaps some of you may know of my history of near misses with falling trees.) Am I going to burst into tears every time there’s a fire within 20, 50, 100 miles of me?

Once I got a grip on my silly self, my next feeling was a subcutaneous panic. I had no idea what I would do here, if there were a fire, what I would rescue. I’ve given this considerable thought, obviously, after the loss of the cozy house, but I’m still living in Boxlandia. I have no idea where the journals that I moved here from the Bungalow are. Do I just put all my most precious possessions in a trunk and drag it to the truck in case I need to evacuate? Two trunks? Something fireproof (though that was completely useless in the Marshall Fire, given its tremendous heat)?

I know that everyone who lost their homes or evacuated now has these thoughts, these fears, these plans, and feel pretty sure that I’m not alone in my sense of underskin panic. I wish we didn’t. I wish I didn’t. And I wonder if this is something that will be with me for the rest of my life or if it will find a place to live in my soul where it takes up only the space it needs.

Rescued image. Jost van Dyke, 2004.

I’ve written about losing my journals, my words, those memories. But as a photographer, I’ve lost thousands of images that were taken in a pre-digital era. And that really hurts. I’m not alone in this. The images that I’ve shared of the cozy house were sent to me by a professional photographer from town who also lost decades of her beautiful work.

Believe me, I continue to beat myself up with “Why didn’t I transfer all those images to a digital platform?” Because it took time and money and resources that I didn’t have. “Why didn’t I take those photo albums on the top shelf of the bookcase – there were at least 15 – with me?” Because I didn’t have space for them yet. “Why didn’t I at least take the notebooks of negatives?” Because, and so much of it comes down to this, I thought the cozy house was a safe place. I thought it was invincible. I was wrong.

Perhaps I should have known better.

In 2013, the cozy house was hit by the 100 (or 10 or 1,000 or 10,000) year flood. The root cellar filled with water and the kitchen and two rooms had about four inches of muddy water, but the cozy house stood firm. Some boxes of photos were close to the floor of the cat room at the time. Much later, Ex-Pat brought them to the Bungalow, damaged as they were and I tucked them away to sadly deal with later. I guess today is later.

I brought some up from the basement today. Decades of photos stuck together. So I’ve spent some time meticulously pulling them apart. The mud has acted like glue in some cases, so if I can get a fingernail inserted into a stack, I can flex them a little, then a little more, and then still a little more, until I can gently separate them. Sometimes I lose a little backing. Sometimes some of the photo tears off. But overall, I’m making some progress.

These are mostly images from my travels, and that’s nice but what I was hoping to find are images from K’s childhood. There are some – of her and her best friend at the Renaissance Festival, of her time at Calwood – but not what I’m looking for. And none as yet of the house. I’ve lost my pictures of Scotland from when I was pregnant, and that’s a tough one. That was a very happy time. And the picture of K and ex-Pat taken right after she was born. You’ve never seen any newborn look more like she was saying, “WTH. PUT ME BACK.” She wasn’t even crying, just glaring at the camera from under her tiny knitted hat that hospital staff put on her little head.

On one bright note, I have one box of albums from my Mother (another was lost to the flames). When K was born, my mother asked me to get duplicates of the pictures I took and send them to her. It gives my heart a flare of hope that I have some of those. Now I just have to find the box in our Indiana Jones movie warehouse of a cellar filled with boxes.

A rescued favorite. Tortola, 2004.

Yesterday was another day with hard and soft spots. It was wonderful to have breakfast with dear A, who gave me some lovely art and the good kind of bath salts.

I went to the cozy house in the afternoon as the sun started its lowering behind the mountains, which I can now see clearly since all the trees in town are gone. They had sprayed the ruins with some kind of greenish material to keep the ashes from blowing around in the winds. I knew this was going to happen after the sifting. Maybe I thought they’d let me know when they were going to do so, but they didn’t. Somehow, it made it harder to be there. I reclaimed a few pieces of yard metal and then just sat on the few remaining bricks of the patio by the greenhouse and bawled. I really need to remember to bring a handkerchief. And I really hope the town tells me when they’re going to bulldoze and clear all the debris. I will need to be there for that. It will be a funeral of sorts.

Once again, sitting there, I could see the trees that shaded parts of the yard, see little K running barefoot across the little bridge ex-Pat had built, see my herb garden, my perennial bed, my center bed with the moonflowers that smelled so luscious at night. The circle bed where I tried unsuccessfully to grow honeysuckle but had great luck with Cosmos, California Poppies, Bells of Ireland, and the occasional sunflower and pumpkin before the squirrels had their way with them. The vegetable garden. The new garden with my wonderful hammock. All lost. It’s still so hard. One of those unexpected hairpin curves on the grief road. I’m thinking about just making the space a huge garden until I can figure out this whole rebuilding thing.

Since I got so very sad, I stopped to visit a dear friend for some puppy therapy and delayed returning to the Retreat until this morning. It’s always nice to take the drive at sunrise. It’s lovely and quiet here and the snow is melting. Spring is on its way. It can’t come too soon for me.

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