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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

Wind. I’ve never liked it, except when it rustles the fronds of the palm trees. Contradictorily, that’s my favorite sound. But I’d scarcely call that wind. That’s a breeze, gentle and joyful.

Wind is what we get here in the Front Range and the Wet Mountains. This is what took down a 75-foot tree that miraculously and by the slimmest of margins missed the Carriage House. This is what makes me look with great skepticism out of the living room window as another giant pine tree bends and twists against the blue sky, its trajectory perfectly aligned with my bedroom.

Wind is what never hesitates to remind me of the ruptured eardrum that I suffered at age two when my mother was in the hospital with pneumonia. Each time the wind, anywhere from lukewarm to freezing, gains access to my right ear, it hurts like the dickens.

Wind is why I don’t like Wyoming. It seems ever-present there. I recall spending a night in the back of my truck the summer after college trying to sleep through it – wasn’t sure if I was going to freeze or go mad, and it was June.

And wind is what led to the destruction of the Cozy House and an entire community. Wind that decide to dance with fire — and what a dance it was.

From the Retreat, I can’t see the wind coming because I’m already in it. But further away from the mountains, it’s easy to tell when it will be a day of the warm, dry, harsh winds that indigenous people used to call “snow eaters” and which we call Chinooks. There’s a bright clear sky and over the mountains, a thick shelf of white cloud in a straight line. If you’ve lived here long enough, you know to hang on to your small pets and tie down your trampolines when you see that anytime between November and April.

Ages ago, I read or someone told me that the indigenous people called them “the winds of madness”. I’ve never been able to find a source for that, but I don’t doubt it’s true. The sound, the uncertainty, the constancy of them can indeed make you feel more than a little crazy.

Unfortunately for too many of us, they now raise feelings of pain, fear, loss, anger, and trauma, digging into wounds that are only barely starting to scab over. I have reminded myself a dozen times today of the freakish circumstances that made me lose the Cozy House and that there’s nothing left to lose there now. But at the Retreat, I have the rest of what’s left to lose. It’s impossible not to think about it, about what I would take, about how to arrange the house so I could quickly pack those treasures I didn’t lose. About how a single spark from a cigarette tossed out of a car window on the Frontier Pathway could take all this away from me.

About how little control we actually have.

Today’s gratitudes:

  • Decent sleep
  • Wise decisions
  • Experimental cooking
  • Good books

Cold


The cat curls himself into the hollow of my knees
Under the blanket that kept my mother warm before she died.
Soft
Sage green
with a pattern of leaves,
the tones of his brown fur
echoing the shades.
I warm my hands on him
under the serendipitous guise of petting,
as he doesn’t seem to mind.
We are still
becoming accustomed
to one another.

Yesterday’s blues have turned to gray,
pure white piling
up along pines and trails,
the Spring of Deception
showing itself in a freeze of glory.

My coffee now only remembers warmth
but I still drink it.
It is not worth
disturbing the cat
to heat it up again.

Today’s gratitudes:

  • That A is moving into a more permanent place today
  • Warm fuzzy socks
  • Classical music
  • Spaghetti squash

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 lives in shades of black and white. The ink lines of the pine bark. Downy feather pillows of snow piling up around the Retreat, trapping and coddling me at the same time. Pine needles ever present, their green gone to charcoal without the sun. And the sky varying shades of sea foam in a wishful mind.

Here is today:

The view from breakfast.

And here is yesterday:

The road to New Hope Cemetery.
Chased by storms from the west. That barbed wire won’t fence them in.
Chased by storms from the north.
Dirt roads, late light, clouds showing their joy…perfect pleasure.

So today, I put shoes on in the house (gasp), an indication that chores will be done and meals cooked for the week, and banana bread baked as gifts for my two neighbors. The Wailin’ Jennys are my soundtrack for the day, melodic, beautiful, slightly spiritual, slightly melancholy, often surprising. Kind of like me.

Have a warm day, wherever your heart is.

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.

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