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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.

As I was trying to cook and not set the Retreat aflame, it occurred to me that I’d always thought I’d wind up a wizened and mysterious old woman, living in my little white house at the edge of town, growing flowers and tending old dogs and cats, and all the children would think I was a witch, which would make them a little hesitant and very curious and then they’d discover how wise I was. Now the the cozy house is gone, what am I to do?

MKL and I love road trips. We love seeing new places and having mini-adventures. Even just taking a stray dirt side road to see where it goes can be an adventure for us. Our second date was a daylong road trip, kind of a test to see if I really like road trips as much as I claimed, and if we enjoyed each other’s company enough to be in a car together with no other source of entertainment for hours on end. We discovered a mutual love of opera. We ate at a Mexican restaurant that we both liked in Buena Vista. And he sweetly asked if he could put his hand on my knee. (I said yes.) We’ve had countless other road trips both here and in other states and other countries over the last four years, but that first one holds a dear and special place in both of our hearts. It was a sign of wonderful things to come.

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Lyons, Colorado.

Quote of the day: “I realised, of course, that other people used these roads; but that night, it seemed to me these dark byways of the country existed just for the likes of us, while the big glittering motorways with their huge signs and super cafes were for everyone else.” — Kazuo Ishiguro

Daily gratitudes:
MKL, my car guy
Passing storms
Family
Sparkly boots
The healing powers of Mr. Man
Having Kelsea at the bungalow for a few days

You are perhaps wondering why you are reading a blog with a picture of a parking lot. There are two reasons tonight. The first is because I believe in seeing beauty in everything – even the light cast in the darkness of a parking lot, catching the glint of a stream of still puddles. The second is because parking has been a significant issue in the life of my darling daughter throughout her last two years of high school, since she’s been driving. Her school offers rather elitist parking alternatives. Either pay to park in the senior lot (but only if you’re a senior) or park along the 1.5 mile stretch of road alongside the school grounds, which are situated in the middle of a nice neighborhood. She’s a bit of a socialist (like me) and believes it’s wrong to have to pay to park in the lot of a school that you’re attending, and particularly unfair since not everyone has the financial means to do so. Which leaves her with free on-street parking. Needless to say, this free parking is only parallel parking (which even at my age is a nearly impossible challenge) and spots anywhere near the school fill up incredibly early. So for the past two years, I have received texts in the morning that say things like “I had to park in Nebraska and it will take me three hours to walk to class. Do I have to go to school today?” or “Everyone is stupid.” or “I. Can’t. Even.”

This image is not of that parking area. This image is of a spacious parking area that represents freedom and possibilities and how light can shine from the darkness, and that there are places where parking is not a struggle. In other words, today was my darling daughter’s last day of high school, and she will never again have to endure the frustration of parking along Greenbriar Boulevard. And she is to me a shining light that will brighten the future for more people than she will ever know.

Parking Lot - 2

Quote of the day: “My turn shall also come:
I sense the spreading of a wing.”  — Osip Mandelstam

Daily gratitudes:
Dinner with Kelsea
That no one was hurt when a car hit my bus this morning
How much Mary Roach’s books make me laugh
Chats with Christine
That my Texas friends in Runaway Bay survived the tornado with minimal damage

Winter, particularly these two weeks, are very difficult for me. It seems especially hard this year. I am heavier than I have been. My depression is thick. My back hurts again. I am having a hard time remembering to be grateful for the wonderful things I have and that I’ve recently had an amazing trip to somewhere lovely and warm. And that in itself makes me sad.

When I trudged up the stairs from the bus station yesterday, as most I do most days, I came into Union Station (a story in itself). There are two remaining original benches in the new version of this place where I used to find such solace. On bad days, like yesterday, I try to lower my stress levels for a minute by sitting on one of these benches and just soaking in the spirits that still remain from thousands of travelers who passed through this building for over 100 years – including my own grandfather.

As I watched the light flooding through the high, round, window, a Cat Stevens song came on over the piped-in music. I think it was “Morning Has Broken”. I remember hearing that song when I was in the sunny front window of my first restaurant at 17. At that time, I knew where I wanted to go to college. I didn’t know what I wanted to do, but I knew where I wanted to go. I was a little slip of a thing, a dancer. I was looking forward to my future, even though I couldn’t see what it was

There was a line in “Out of Africa”, one of my favorite movies, that says, “Perhaps God made the world round so we could not see too far down the road.”

I believe that.

I never thought I would be living in Denver, would have been here for over 30 years. That wasn’t in the plan when I stood in that sunny front window that afternoon. I wonder when I lost track of the plan? I wonder if I ever had a plan? MKL and I were talking about this the other day – how I have a hard time with creating a plan and sticking to it, especially when I have more than one thing to focus on. Together, he and I are building a plan, and that feels good. I never thought I’d be divorced, much less re-marrying. All of that makes me look forward to my future.

I watch my daughter planning her future – I think she’s better at it than I was, but then she’s more down-to-earth than I was. But I wonder, in twenty years, will she look back on being just 18, and having all these plans and dreams, and have achieved them? Or will she be like me, looking back and wondering, “What happened?”. If that’s the case, I hope she finds herself happy with where she is.

There’s that other saying that I love (credited to many) that “Life’s what happens when you’re making other plans.”

I believe that too.

So what’s the point of this ramble? I suppose it’s that when we are younger we cannot see our future, no matter how much we think we can or how optimistic we are. It’s great that we have that vision, but it’s a real challenge to make the vision a reality. I didn’t really understand that at 17. I do now. So that’s part of the point.

And the other part is that I am a gloomy otter and the eighth anniversary of my Mother’s death is next week.

I’ll find my light again. I promise.

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Little Cayman.

Because of our senses, so many parts of the past are not lost to us.

Sight? We have images from as far back as 1826.

Sound? The first audio recording ever is from the 1860s. For Christmas last year, when I bought Kelsea her record player, I also bought an album of historical figures speaking, just so we could have a voice to attach to a name and a picture. We are cut off from this part of the past prior to the recorded word.  Such is not the case with visuals, as we have paintings prior to photographs that give us images from centuries ago.

Taste? Well, for centuries some people have had good taste and some people have had questionable taste, but we’re not talking about that kind of taste. We’re talking about, say, turnips. A turnip today – at least one grown organically – likely tastes pretty much like a turnip six hundred years ago tasted. Ergo, status quo. We retain a history of taste due to the unchanging nature of basic foodstuffs.

Touch? Ditto taste. A cat’s fur feels the same as it did one thousand years ago. I think. Not everything is the same to the touch but there is a living history, A rock still feels like a rock.

And so we come to smell. And here is where history fails us. The sense of smell is lost with time – it is the most fleeting and least replicable of the senses. You know the fragrance of a rose, yet one fragrant rose is unlike another. And many roses are having the fragrance bred out of them, either because of people’s allergies and oversensitvity, or because the scent is sacrificed for a more stunning visual beauty. Will there come a day when the scent of roses is just a memory? Can it even live on in essential oils if there are no more fragrant roses?

Florals aside, while we can look at Pieter Brueghel the Elder’s picture, Netherlandish Proverbs, and you can see a lot of what life might have been like in a Dutch village in the 1500s.

You can imagine sounds, because you know what a voice sounds like, what a goat sounds like, what a cacophony of noise sounds like, but what is missing is being able to imagine the rich aroma of the place and time.This was an era when people didn’t bathe often, lived in close quarters, kept animals on small parcels of property, and had no particular system for waste disposal of any kind. Of course, they didn’t have all the trash that we do now, but organic waste is just as smelly as any other kind of waste. And there was possibly a lot more organic waste than we have now – I have no idea what they did with dead animals.  Buried them, I hope. Or ate them, perhaps?  Times could be tough.

This one sense, which in each of us today, is so variable – some can smell things that others cannot – is the element of the past from which we are most disconnected. A curious thought.  Especially when scents can trigger such memories. When I open boxes that I packed up five years ago the day after my Mother died, her scent can waft out as if she’s by my shoulder. Perhaps she is.

When I was pregnant, I would have olfactory hallucinations – memories of smells from my past – primarily gardenias.  It was lovely.

But then Kelsea came up to me this morning and said, “Mom, smell my shoulder.”

I guess that sense of smell can be a mixed blessing.

 

 

Although we are approaching a full month past the first official day of fall, the gods of autumn seem to be lolling around in Speedos, soaking up the last of summer’s rays. In other words, it’s been a mercifully slow transition. Here in the Centennial State, we have been enjoying warm weather, azure skies, and leaf colors that rival many states with a far larger deciduous contingent.

Yes, I’m thankful for this Indian Summer, which, by the way, since that term has its theoretical origins in Native Americans attacking European settlers and vice versa, I am determined to toss out, and use the more ancient and agriculturally based term, St. Martin’s Summer, or the Latvian term “Atvasara”, meaning “flashback of summer”. Political correctness and semantics aside, it has been lovely. But loveliness tinged with that sense of foreboding, with that feeling that something is following you, but if you don’t look over your shoulder, it won’t actually be there, that all of us who find ourselves plunged into the depths of winter despair and cold-bruised joints experience.

It is out there. And it is coming.

We’ve been lucky. Most years, by now we’ve seen at least one snowstorm. Green grass is a memory and leaves are not just off the trees but bagged up as landfill fodder. Right now, I can still see the grass, and I have not yet reached the place where I am staring at brown and longing for spring, except in the dead cornfields I pass on the way home.

And there is one last holdout from our always-too-short summer. Okay, two holdouts. One is inside my sunroom, and the other is outside my bedroom window.

They are both crickets.

There are seemingly two crickets left in all of Colorado, and I’ve got ’em. They compete with one another, their chirps feeble and
fading, like a couple of little old men trying to outdo each other in tall-tale-telling before their lungs give out.

I recall last fall, towards the end, the end of everything, when my ex-flame watered the last crickets of summer to keep them alive just a little longer. I recall when I was small and my Mother had a “cricket cup” to catch the crickets that would infiltrate the beach house in the summer and drive us crazy with their songs at night. I recall listening to them with an overwhelming sense of relief as they first chirped in the spring in the fields outside of the Cottage.

These two hang on by a transparent thread, trying to resist death from chill nights and chillier rains. I empathize with them, and hope the chillest of winds, hearts, and fates are gentle with me in the approaching winter – much gentler than last. I have hope and faith to help me through, and the echo of their song to keep me warm. And the certain knowledge that this season
will pass into a new spring, and the crickets will play again.

I was restless today. Antsy. Like one feels before a thunderstorm, sometimes.  That disturbance in the Force again.  I texted a friend about it, who suggested I check in with my spirit guides to see why.  That’s hard for me to do at work, so I wombled off to the Tattered Cover.

A less comfy chair at The Tattered Cover

Bookstores always soothe my soul.  Bookstores with cats are particularly satisfying.  The Tattered Cover doesn’t have cats, but it does have squishy, cushy, comfy couches where you can sit and read or write or meditate.  I did a bit of all three, and I talked to my Little Sister. I wound up the proud owner of four new books from the bargain shelf:

Books are simply irresistible.

Within the forty minutes I was inside, the blue skies had turned threatening and fat raindrops were coloring the pavement.  Back at my desk, I received an email that threw me into a tailspin.  And then the restlessness faded.  It had – as it so often does – predicted both a natural and emotional storm.

Tonight though, things are quieter. I took a bath in the clawfoot tub.  I read my current book. I am looking forward to a first date tomorrow.

Life goes on.  It just does.

(For little JVD, with hope that one day soon you’ll love this place where we met your wonderful parents.)

The clouds this morning were moving like I remember from mornings on Jost.  As if they were there by accident, randomly floating low and close to the sea in the early morning, with just a hit of the color of leftover moon mist showing.  The air in the morning is cool there, with that delightful promise of warmth that hits usually as the sun just peeks over the big hill that drowns its non-existent sorrows in Pull and Be Damned Point.  Never too cool for anything but a bikini and a sarong.

I’m not often an early riser these days when on Jost, even though I want to be.  I was on my first few trips there. I wanted to make the days as long as possible, so I could savor them.  There was no agenda – just be there for breakfast and dinner (if you chose) and that was it.

I liked the warm sand contrasted with the flow of water beneath my feet.  I would meander to the rocks at the east end of White Bay, to the path that leads up to Ivan’s.  Usually there was someone to stop to chat with – or not chat with, but just appreciate the sense of solitary camaraderie that the smiling silence between us would bring.

At the little cove, just there at the base of the hill, I would always find shells, tiny treasures that were barely visible.  I’d sit in the sand, poke around at the edges of the rocks, to find them, miniscule and perfect, just the kind my mother used to love so.   If I was thinking, I’d bring along a stray painkiller cup or try to drink my coffee as I walked so I’d have the mug to put things in.  If I wasn’t thinking, I’d fill my hands, or tie shells into the hem of my sarong

Pelicans liked to fish for breakfast around the rocks that jutted out into the bay.  They would sometimes sun themselves on promontories – never with wings outstretched, but bills down, meditative, looking like statues until they would choose to waddle to another location.  Graceful and graceless at the same time.

I would sit for a while and watch the morning.  People on boats would be waking, most a little hungover, all just moving with that slow cadence of blood that infiltrates every soul that finds itself in this slice of bliss.  First up on the boat makes the coffee.  No hurries.  No worries except the ones you brought with you, and those you can leave floating in the ultra-buoyant waters in front of Ivan’s Stress-Free Bar if you so choose.

Time has slowed and it just purely does not matter.  After a while, I would wander back to Sandcastle, fascinated by my own footprints in the sand, and how they fill with crystal water, and then vanish.  Just little slices of reality in a time that can’t be captured.  But the memory lingers, just as somewhere on this planet, the sand that for an instant formed my footprint still exists and still remembers that small pattern.

Rocky Mountain PBS is showing the Ken Burns film “The Civil War”.  I just came upon it tonight, and don’t know if this is a one-night affair or if it will be rebroadcast again this month, this month – and April 12 specifically – being the start of the Civil War.

I first encountered this film on my honeymoon.  We were winding down and spending the night in Taos, New Mexico in a chain hotel, eating Lottaburgers and purusing the cable channels when we found it.  I had no idea what it was, but I was fascinated and entranced. On viewing it tonight, I find that I still am.

I’m not quite sure why.  Perhaps it’s because Ken Burns obtained an amazing amount of photographs from the era and the battlefields.  I have no idea where he found them all.  Perhaps it’s because it’s simply a marvelously well told story that brings this important chapter in history leaping so vividly back to life.  Perhaps it’s because the background sounds – crickets, frogs, cicadas, the cries of blue jays – take me back to my beloved homeland (I am, and will always be, a Southerner).  Perhaps it’s because I fell a little in love with the late Shelby Foote the first time I heard his honeyed drawl.  He was always one of the people I’d have at my dinner party, if I could invite anyone in history.

The War Between The States was (from a Southerner’s perspective) a war of honor and identity, with very little glory.  It was an economic war, with slavery being the lynchpin of the Southern economy.  It was futile for the South in the end, and caused a rift within the country that has never entirely healed.  As I’ve said before, some Southerners still seem to be fighting the war, and I have always had a sense that the South is just biding it’s time, waiting for the right moment to rise again.  There was a pridefulness about the War that I was aware of even as a child growing up in North Carolina 100 years later.  I can still recall old men – grandsons of Civil War veterans – marching in their grandfather’s uniforms in a parade down Main Street once.  I remember my father had to explain it to me – I must have been very, very small.

A few years ago, Kelsea and I did a bit of a Civil War tour as part of a trip to Virginia and Maryland.  We went to Manassas, Loudon, Antietam, Harper’s Ferry, and a few other spots, exploring, learning and picking up the vibe of places where so many lives were lost.  It was powerful and we’d both do it again, investigating some of the many other sites we didn’t get to see.

All this is feeling particularly close to home these days. Perhaps it’s because of a certain uneasiness in the world and the economy.  Perhaps it’s because 1% of the people in the US are taking in 25% of the nation’s income, according to an article by Joseph E. Stiglitz in Vanity Fair.  With the uprisings in Egypt, Libya and other Middle East countries recently, protesting inequality and injustice, I wonder if we in this country are not due for an uprising of our own, one that pits class against class, similar to our late Civil War.  If such a battle were waged, who would triumph?  And would the price of victory be too high for anyone to pay?

As I say, this film fills me with reflection.

June 2022
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