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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.

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

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

Nothing better than a flying taco. Except perhaps for The Skillet’s green chile queso.
This fellow has seen it all. At the bottom left is the list of people who’ve been 86’ed for life.
The High Plains Drifter. Muddled sage, lemon simple syrup, and gin. Tastes like a dewy morning, as advertised.
Not quite sure what’s going on here, but it was eye-catching.

The Skillet was quite a place. Quirky with lots of art and murals, super nice staff, food, and an outdoor fire pit. We spent several hours here talking, and discovered that the only place to get food in town after 9:00 is Domino’s Pizza. And that what was a warm sunny stroll from the square in the afternoon becomes a freezing squealing trot to the hotel after dark.

Today’s gratitudes:

  • That MKL is here
  • Scurryfunging before his arrival
  • Warm sunshine
  • A lovely sunrise
One of the pair of chairs where you can sit and watch the world go by forever.
Temptation.
Make you think of anyone in particular?

The snow continues to fall up at the Retreat, sometimes trying on its identity as a blizzard. Anyone who know me knows that estimating the size of things is not my strong suit, but I’d say we have a solid eight inches here and it won’t stop until tonight. Boo that there is no one here to kiss me because I’m Irish, but that’s how some years go.

Daily Gratitudes:

  • That I am warm in a warm house
  • The amazing gumbo that I made this week (I may share the recipe – it was that good)
  • Added moisture to our dry Wet Mountains to help prevent forest fires

I’ve driven hundreds and hundreds of miles already this year. My drives have been from The Retreat to MKL or to the ruins of the cozy house. Of course, it’s wonderful to have time with MKL, but most of my trips north have involved my sifting or just sitting in the ashes or managing some detail of recovery. In other words, these drives have been taken with a heavy heart.

Yesterday, though, my drive was different. Instead of turning north, I turned south on the highway and headed for New Mexico to meet up with K for one night in a town about midway between us. As soon as I hit the unfamiliar blacktop of I-25 South, I felt free. The sky opened up to a vast blue and I felt tearfully excited that I was going to see my girl.

It was a lovely, easy drive, with Truck most eager to hit illegal speeds. It was warm and sunny and I had Steve Martin and the Steep Canyon Rangers as musical accompaniment. I blew kisses to the many herds and singleton antelope I saw along the way, they being my comfort and shamanic power animal, so often appearing in my travels.

While I’m not choosy, particularly when it comes to New Mexico skies, I prefer a few clouds to add some extra drama, but the clarity of the day, with a three-quarter moon resting in the crook between the mesas, made for a liberating trip. I love how, heading south from the Retreat, the Spanish Peaks appear suddenly before me, welcoming and enticing. Across the border, after Raton Pass, a New Mexico snow-capped mountain range peeks out from the west horizon, dipping behind the brown hills and reappearing unexpectedly in a slightly different place a few miles down the road.

Once, years ago, when K was in high school, she was having a rough patch and she said, “I just want to get out of this state.” And I said okay. So we got in the truck and drove to Wyoming, thrift shopping, exploring, and stopping at the hoodoos at sunset to clamber around. That change of scene, that change of state, was just what she needed. A day with her in another state was just what I needed right now. I’ll share pictures in the coming days.

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.

December 2022
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