Thursday, August 17, 2017

Where's the confusion?

Five days ago, hundred of  white nationalists, neo-Nazis and their ilk descended upon Charlottesville, VA, population 49K,  to protest the removal of a civic statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee.  Another group came in to protest the protest.  A neo-Nazi drove into the crowd of anti-protesters, killing one, injuring 19.  A helicopter holding 2 policemen crashed. These are the facts as I read them, and I'm at a loss to understand why there is any controversy over it.  Violence was perpetrated by a person who belongs to a group that espouses racism. Violence was perpetrated in the name of that hatred.  That's what happened.

And yet, there is controversy.

People talk about free speech:  okay I get it, the neo-Nazis have the right to protest. But why do they have the right to protest in someone else's back yard?  Is the statue federal property?  Is it art? Does it belong to anyone but the people of Charlottesville, VA?  Did the protestors actually attend City Council discussions and raise protests then?  Did they even have the right to do so? I don't know, and the people defending these haters don't say.   Because, the reality is, the reason for the rally was not to protest the proposed removal the the statue.  The reason was hatred, hatred that the Confederacy does not exist, that there are people who do not want to glorify that ugliness,  that people of color have rights, however those rights are abused and denied in this culture.  The rally was not about free speech, it was about muscle flexing. 

Still, let's say it was about free speech.  Next, we have the free speech of the counter-protestors.  Did they attack the neo-Nazis? Did they run a car into them?  Did they kill anyone?  Not that I've heard. Did they have a right to come in and protest?  As much right as the white supremacists had to hold their rally, I'd guess. 

It seems to me that the basic tragedy is that people are taking their battles into innocent people's homes.  Charlottesville, VA, did not ask for this confrontation. The other tragedy is that people are not listening to each other, but instead are actively ripping into each other.  That being said, I not-so-respectively disagree with Not-My-President, who says the violence came from Many Sides.  Who started it?  The white supremacists who held their rally in a space where they were not needed, wanted, or invited, from what I can tell.  Who killed and injured people?  A white supremacist.  Who defended that action?  White supremacists. 

And....old friends, neighbors, and people I care about.  And that is the reason for this post.  I'm trying to wrap my head around the fact that people I care about could hold views so diametrically opposed to mine, and that they could argue so speciously for those views.  One person actually claimed that neo-Nazis and liberals hold the same core values.  (I'm still waiting for an explanation of that statement.  Bigotry and racism were never core values of any liberal I met.) Others go back into history and say the United States was founded on racism and has a long and not-so-proud history of that.  Granted.  But, the  United States has also a very proud history of fighting for people's rights (not to mention the climate, but that's a rant for another post).  And, while one can claim that all wars are economically based, I will always believe that one reason WWII was fought was that Nazism as espoused by Hitler and his thugs is evil.  Lord knows, victims of the Holocaust paid that price, and the United States would never had said, as Not-My-President says, that there were faults on both sides.  To find that evil resurfacing in my country is...I don't have the words. Unconscionable, frightening, heartbreaking.  Wrong.

But okay, let's say that those apologists are right.  Hell, they ARE right.  Our history is tainted.  People have a right to free speech.  People have a right to defend themselves.  I get it.  BUT...Where does that make it okay for someone to drive into a crowd of people who hold different ideas?  When planes were diverted into the Twin Towers, we called it terrorism.  And it was.  When a neo-Nazi drives into people protesting against white supremacists, what do we call it?  I'm not sure.  The apologists for that action are not sure.  Domestic terrorism, I'd say, in a normal place.  But my country is not normal. 

There, I said it.  Our lives under Not-My-President and his white supremacist supporters and his climate-denying cabinet and his Republican Congress are NOT NORMAL.  We are spending our energy fighting battles that are precipitated by insanity, On Many Sides, as 45 would say.  The many sides of the insanity include the science deniers, the bigots, the greedy haters.  Their insane Many Sides are driving the national debate, are turning us away from factual issues like Russia's involvement in the election hacks, like 45's conflicts of interest, like his treasonable use of social media to share confidential information.  And in this climate, we have the resurgence of anti-Semitism, the violence and fear caused by anti-Black and anti-immigrant sentiment.  It's too complicated to say that this has happened because of this president or that president.  But, it's clear that 45 is not the man to unify this country:  he built his platform on hate and disunity, and there is no reason to believe that he does not hold with those opinions still. 

I should be angry.  I should be fighting the good fight.  But I'm not. As I was in November, I am heartsick.  I'm heartsick when people I used to like say "gee, if you're gonna criticize me, I don't want you to be my friend."  I'm heartsick when people whom I respected for researching their opinions are now using that research to obfuscate and attack and divide....and hate.  I'm heartsick when I visit the national parks and realize that heritage is under siege, that the property owned by the people will likely belong to the 1%, and the resources the lands hold will be squandered while their uniqueness is destroyed, the rest of the world following.

And all I can do right now is to stand, as much as possible, with those who, in their flawed and beautiful ways, are fighting the good fight.  If ever there was a good fight, the fight against bigotry is that.

Saturday, July 15, 2017


Years ago I read a book by Rebecca Solnit about walking.  There is a lot in that book to delight, inform, and enlighten, but the main take away for me came in the first chapter.  According to Solnit, the brain works best at 4 miles an hour, which is the average walking pace.  Since I read that book, I often find myself coming back to that thought as I hike and walk and ponder. 

For years, my walking was utilitarian: growing up in small town Illinois, I walked to school and to friends' homes, when I didn't bicycle or bring my violin to before-school rehearsal. It wasn't until my brother came home from Reed College in Portland, OR, that I walked for pleasure.  He took my sisters and me on a hike through Starved Rock State Park.  It was a revelation in more ways than one.  I still recall his boiling potatoes in their skins and packing the cooled potatoes for our snack on the trail.  I was appalled at the idea of eating a cold potato; potatoes were supposed to be eaten hot with lots of butter and sour cream.  He said, "You'll be very glad of these when the time comes," and he was right.  It was one of the most delicious snacks I'd ever had.  But the real revelation was what it was like, being in the woods and walking the trails.  I still remember inching down a dry water-carved stream bed and looking over the edge of an ancient falls site.  The rock was smooth and sculpted, and I'd never seen anything like it. Since then I've hiked through splendid mountain scenery in Oregon, through Welsh fields to Offa's Dike, up the waterfalls of the Columbia River Gorge, through the amazing Bryce, Kodachrome, and Zion park canyons in Utah, around Ayers Rock, and on and on,  But I still can see that dry fall in tree-dappled sunlight, close by the Mississippi, still taste that firm cool potato liberally sprinkled with salt.

Despite that experience, though, I did not yet become a hiker.  During college, my walking was limited to going between campus buildings and to the local bars.  On my 19th summer, I was working on Macinnac Island, MI, and I used to walk the 4 miles to the opposite side of the island to watch the sun set.  In Portland, I walked to the store and to the bus stop and to work. I didn't have a car for a few years, and even when I did, I preferred to walk and use public transportation.  I remember being appalled when I came back to IL and witnessed my sister driving the mere half mile between her house and Mom's and the even shorter distance to the local coffee shop.  What had happened to her? Didn't she remember the mile-plus we used to walk to school?  In Portland I walked that far just to get from my parking place to my destination! (And, how did she stay so skinny?)

Those were the years when I learned to hike.  My first mountain hike, Saddle Mountain, near the coast, was incredibly arduous.  I had slippery shoes, with light brown leather uppers and spongy soles, not real walking shoes or hiking boots. There was a washout early on and it took 3 people to get me across:  one standing below the skinny slippery trail, one standing on the other side of the washout, and the third standing behind me.  They passed me from person to person.  Later, as we crossed the saddle, with the sheer drops on either side, I stopped regularly to get my breath and my nerve.  The last bit of trail was a switchback up a steep cliff.  At each switch an iron rod was hammered into the rock, and chains hung from the rods, showing the path.  I pulled myself up by the chains and then I was at the top, a level, loosely rectangular scree-covered space the size of my studio apartment.  I was looking west down the Columbia River towards Astoria and east and south towards the Cascades.  It was such a clear day I could see all the way to Mt. Jefferson to the southeast, and Mt Rainier to the northeast.  The peaks were like stepping stones between those points. 

The exhilaration of that moment is what got me back down the mountain. A lung bursting ascent was followed by a toe-bashing descent, blisters, and a pulled groin muscle.  But it didn't matter.  I was hooked.  I never became a backpacker, nor did I climb to the snow-capped peaks, but from that moment on I was a hiker.  Even asthma and vertigo didn't keep me away from it.  But other life events did.  As I write this, I start to wonder if the lack of regular hikes did not lead to my depression in the years since I connected with D.  He had bad knees, and he didn't like me to go with other people on my days off:  he wanted me to himself.  So, although I still did go hiking, it was not nearly as regularly.   When I switched jobs to Portland State, I started walking to work in the morning and busing home at night.  Eventually Carbon came into my life, and I started walking with her twice a day. Moving to Albuquerque, I discovered the Sandias and the open spaces there and in the Rio Grande.  But that wasn't until I left D and acquired G and others as hiking partners.And, I rarely hiked alone.

Before that, D and I walked through the nearby Arroyo del Oso, often fighting.  I had learned in counseling sessions that the worst place to fight was at a table:  you were faced off against each other, in a confrontational position.  Walking, you were moving towards the same goal, together.  Well, the theory is good, and it's true that it helped keep me on an even keel to put my energy into moving my feet instead of into the adrenaline rush of rage or the heart-hurting sorrow.  But, it didn't solve the problems.  Eventually, it was in the course of a walk with a friend that I realized my life with D was in serious trouble.  And, it was through a walk that I told D that I was leaving.  At that point, we were no longer moving together towards the same goal.

 So, through the years I've hiked and walked, and it usually is an excellent way to communicate with another person or travel short distances. It's my default for both activities.  However, what walking does for me alone is another matter altogether. Back in Portland, I had begun taking walks on my work breaks. It started out as a practical measure:  if I was walking in the neighborhood, no one could interrupt my break with a work issue.  But it also had the side benefit of helping me think through barriers and emotions.  That's when I remembered Rebecca Solnit and the brain's ability to work better at 4 miles an hour.  There is indeed something about walking that helps one think.  The scenery changes, but slowly, and while noticing things like the raccoon family walking across the street in the hot summer sun, or the cherry blossoms whirling down in the spring wind, my mind also is working away at the latest issue, without my being aware of it.  It's like a waking dream, a walking dream, in fact.  I write haiku in my head, I photograph scenes with my eyes, I breathe in the scent of daphne, I listen to the sounds of wind chimes and bird calls.  And, while I'm absorbing the world through my senses, my body is stretching and the oxygen is filling my lungs, and that too is benefiting my brain. 

It's so obvious that walking nurtures the soul as well as the brain.  For years, I used labyrinths for a walking meditation. For years, I would go out for a walk to calm the fidgets out of my muscles.  I would think a mantra of numbers (1 and 2 and 3 and 4...), in rhythm with my steps.  And then, I would start thinking coherent thoughts:  things to write, things to say, things to do. Or I would take pictures of an amazing tree or some fabulous clouds.  Walking jump-started most of my creativity, in fact.

But it also was necessary from a physical perspective.  While I was taking care of E, I would go out for a half hour walk up the mountain, never going too far, just getting a break and some exercise.  She and I would go for another walk before dinner, about 10 minutes up or down Vista del Oro. Later, when I moved to Taos, I would take walks on the trail by campus during my lunch break, or I would walk around the neighborhood and watch the sunset.  Then, for no good reason, I stopped walking.  I was sick for months on end, I was exhausted, I needed to do school work on my breaks, the Sandias were closed due to fire danger, it was too hot, it was too windy.   Those were just of few of the bad reasons I had for not walking.  When I saw the psychic in February, one of the things she told me was that I needed to get outside, to walk.  It was one of the many things she said that resonated with me and one of the reasons I thought of pet-sitting as a way to spend my time.  It would force me to walk every day.  I would no longer be able to plead exhaustion or being too busy with other things.  Walking would be part of my job. 

So, today, as I walked the two dogs that are my current charge, I found myself thinking, yet again, about Solnit's words.  I thought, even though she wrote a whole book about walking, in her luminous prose, I'm going to write a blog about it. And maybe I'll find that book and read it again.

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Preparing to be a nomad

We put 5 more boxes in his storage unit in the basement of the building, and he fingered the chicken wire that separates his space from his neighbor's:  it has come loose from the staples that moor it to the flimsy wooden framework. Well, he had warned me that I shouldn't keep anything I really care about in there.  And I won't be.  He's put my art on his walls, the art that is not replaceable, and he'll be using my TV and air purifier once I finally move for good.  I figure I have about 10 boxes left to pack up and deliver:  1 of shoes, 3 of books, 2 of dishes, and the rest of clothes and odds and ends. Belongings that I care about are going with B to her IL basement, along with Grandpa's old slant-topped blonde wood desk.  Those belongings are basically paper:  legal docs, photos, travel journals.  The violin and some music will be with me, and that's the only thing I own of value, other than the electronics:  ipad, PC, iphone, and J's camera, which technically I don't own, and which I'm still debating about bringing with me.  The idea is to travel light, after all.

As I packed up the current batch of boxes, I wondered at myself.  Why am I storing this stuff?  Most of it has been in cupboards, unpacked boxes, and closets, unused since I moved to Ranchos de Taos a year ago.  If I haven't missed it in the last year, what's the point of keeping it?  I'm guessing it's a mix of reasons.  In the last 5 years I've already weeded out things that I am missing now, and I can't bear to pare down 58 years of a life any further.  It appears that I'm nesting now that I no longer have a nest, now that my life as a nomad is 5 weeks minus one day away.  My last day of paid work is May 11, and I'll leave Taos that night, to leave my car in ABQ with G while I go north for the sister trip.  Then back to pick up the car and drive west for my summer in CA and the start of my....adventure?  escape? self-indulgence?  Depending on the day and hour, it can be any or all of these for me.

Today I glanced through a blog by a young German man who spent three years traveling:  his was a true adventure, funded by many years in a high-power job.  I wonder what he's doing now.  There doesn't seem to be much since he finished the blog in 2011 and wrote a book based on the blog in 2013.  I wonder what I'll do with my nomadic time, and where I'll end up, and what I'll do then?  It's too early to retire, really, except that it's too late to start a new career.  I can't muster enthusiasm for much of anything but what I'm doing now:  eating, reading, knitting, and packing, and, the odd job interview aside, no one seems to muster much enthusiasm for me.  Am I both too old and too young?

No, I'm just too tired.

In some ways, drawing out the packing process is a good thing.  It's emotionally exhausting to find homes for this collection of objects, some useful, some sentimental, most neither.  It's best to do it in stages. But, what I really should be doing is exploring my current home, fitting in the last visits to favorite places, checking out the places I never got around to visiting: the murals at the Plaza, Fossil Hill, Millicent Rogers Museum, DH Lawrence Ranch, trails on Taos Mountain, Pot Creek, and, of course, Ra Paulette's Caves over by Ojo.  Not to mention a last visit to Ojo Caliente itself.  I doubt I'll do any of it ,though.  In addition to the incremental boxing up of my life, I still have a job, and I'm still taking classes.  Finishing those commitments is a self-respect-worthy thing.  Not only should I do it, I want to do it.

Still, I get tired just thinking about what I haven't done.  The weight of opportunities missed and days wasted is crushing at times.  But of course, there's more than that, and, looking over at G, I realize that my time has not been misspent.  I've had his growing friendship for 4 years, as well as the friendship of many other people, and I am now picking myself up and exploring options for my third act.  Five years ago at this time I was preparing for the move to ABQ, and the move happened on my birthday weekend.  I spent the ensuing five years recovering from the various losses, losses that were physical, emotional, and fiscal. This year, on my 58th birthday, I'll be playing with dogs, and enjoying Sonoma County.

There's not much to complain about.

Saturday, January 7, 2017


1. Snippet # 1:  Reunion
I spent my Christmas break in Petaluma, CA, visiting E.  She was 101 in July, 2016, and it had been close to 2 years since I had seen her.   Although there are signs of deterioration, she is still able to go on road trips and enjoy them.  So, in the course of my 5-day visit, we went to the top of Mt. Tam,  into the Muir Redwoods, over to the Sonoma Coast, through the Sonoma Valley,  into cheese factories and wineries.  The weather was perfect:  blue skies, crisp air, clear light.  

She fell the first night, splitting open the thin skin on her left forearm.  Her daughter took care of the ER visit, and I wasn't aware of the incident until the next morning, but the rest of the visit I started each day changing the bandages and examining the arm for radiating red or pus.  She was disoriented, convinced that she was at her aunt's house in Bakersfield, instead of her sister's house in Petaluma.  But otherwise, she was her own wonderful self, delighted to see me and to be with her family.  "Oh I'm so glad you are here, did anyone tell me you were coming?  It almost makes up for that great disappointment."   She was referring to the visit I had planned in October, that was canceled the morning of the flight because of the violent attack of vertigo.  So, her memory is intact for some things.

It was a special time, a renewal of a special bond.  It was possibly the last time I would see her, probably the last time I would see her able to go out and about.  I ached as she said "when will you come back, why don't you move to California," as I replied, "I'd like to."  Her niece drove us to the airport on that last day, and the conversation consisted of telling E that she was going to her home in El Cerrito, and I was going to my home in Taos.  That we were separating again.  That I was not staying with her.  A final hug, and I walked into the airport.  I had a cold, but that's not why I was sniffing.

2.  Snippet 2:  Politics
I delivered my rent check and he said, "So, it's 2017 and the world hasn't come to an end."  I nodded, "Not yet."  "Give him a chance," he said.  I mentioned the new Cabinet appointees, and the denial rocked me.  "He's not a racist....I don't believe in Climate Change either."  I walked away.  This is the other side of it.  I'd like to believe that Trump supporters are thoughtful, that they voted him in because they don't like the status quo and they don't believe he is a sociopath (or that it matters in terms of what he can do).  But, some of his supporters, maybe most of them, are like my landlord.  I am frightened.  I read my Daily Action text and call the number to protest the first action of the new Congress:  a breathtakingly cynical attempt to do away with ethical oversight.  And then the Sociopath tweets "no, no, no" and the media says, "ain't he great."  I feel played.

How can we be proactive instead of reactive?  How can we stop playing the Sociopath's game?  A friend says, it's just the pendulum swinging.  It's what we do, why do you get so upset about it?  But I find it impossible to be philosophical about it, and I cannot be comforted by the thought of the pendulum swinging back.  So much evil will be done on this side of the swing.

3.  Snippet 3: Friendship
In the laser music room at Meow Wolf
She spent her 70th birthday with me in Santa Fe.  We walked the Rio Grande Nature Center, we went to Meow Wolf, we checked out the Indian Fair, we froze in the Glow at the Santa Fe Botannic Garden.  We had a lovely meal at the Compound, and the busser who shared the birthday brought us free desserts.  

She is the only friend from Portland to visit me here, and has done so faithfully every year.  We have explored Chimayo, Taos, the Agnes Martin room at the Harwood, Abiquiu and Ghost Ranch, Jemez Springs, Bosque del Apache, the VLA, and Albuquerque Luminaria tours.  We have talked, she has analyzed.   In the 30+ years we have been friends, we have traveled together, eaten memorable meals, drunk memorable wines, listened to wonderful music, and....talked.  She is argumentative in the best sense of the word:  she observes, questions, and thinks.  No offhand comments allowed:  you have to defend your position.

She claims to be organic in her approach to travel, to life.  "You'll retire when you want to stop working, when it's time" she says, dismissing my agonizing over budgets, health care,  and What Will I Do?  She says live in the moment, be content with what you have.  Or words to that effect.  

G says similar things.  "You're a dreamer," he said today.  I'm not so sure about that.  I know I'm tired, tired of being sick, of having no energy, of having no focus, no reason for existing.  Today, as I stood in his shower, enjoying the feeling of the hot water on my back, I thought about living in the moment.  Yes, this moment is good, but is it enough?  Am I enough?

When I was visiting with E, I overheard her talking about me with her niece.  "She's so kind, so genuine," they agreed.  I smiled at the time, almost saying "You know I can hear you, right?" but instead letting the eulogy run its course.  Now I a life of friendships enough?  Lord knows I am a careless friend.  "You never call, you never write...."  

And it's true enough.   I think about C, my freshman year Resident Advisor who passed 3 days before Christmas, leaving behind a teenaged son and a coterie of heartbroken friends and family.  I learned about it through a text, the texter having learned about it through Facebook.  What a world we live in, where friendships are created or maintained through social media, where you learn the most heart-rending news browsing through your iPhone.  And where your grief is shared and assuaged through the pixellated pictures and memories and anguish posted through the special Friends Of group on Facebook.   

Through the shock, I process.  Why am I so upset?  She was important to my life 40 years ago, but I haven't talked to her since.  Some of my fellow advisees have seen her, talked to her, written to her, but not I.  I friended her on Facebook after the 2nd Spider reunion, and I've followed her posts, and she has responded to mine, but that does not a friendship make.  Or does it?  What comes through, shiningly, as I read the posts of fellow mourners, is what a friend she was.  She was kind, she was genuine, she was thoughtful, she was present, she was incisive, she was supportive, she was creative.  She was beloved.  And she is gone, leaving behind her beautiful poems, her unfinished book, her teenaged son, her husband, her friends, her family, the pictures and gifts and memories and love.  Is it enough?

Will it be enough for me?  I do not have her gift of friendship or creativity, I have not changed the world one iota for the better.  Is it enough that I have, outside of my carbon footprint, not changed it for the worse?  Is it enough that, occasionally, I give back to those who so unstintingly give to me? 

4.  Snippet #4:  Rituals
My friend sent me a picture of my Portland house, as it now appears.  My aching heart is soothed:  the outside shell looks good, and I have hopes that the garden will have roses in the future.  They didn't cut down the walnut or destroy the shed.  

I think about the years I spent there, and the rituals that I no longer follow.  I no longer throw parties to mark the annual holidays:  Halloween pumpkin carving,  Thanksgiving turkey from Otto's, Christmas cookie baking, New Years Day jigsaws and mulled wine, Bastille Day wines on the deck.  I used to make lefse and julecaga every Christmas and decorate the house.  I'd harvest pussy willows every spring.  I'd make winter wreaths from the red dogwood clippings and the Oregon grape,  summer wreaths from the my friend's lavender and my old-fashioned hydrangea.  I'd make paper from the junk mail and send out holiday greeting cards made from the homemade paper and origami. Every month I would respond to the changing environment:  certain hikes fit certain seasons, and every August I'd take the basil harvest and make ice-cube trays filled with pesto.  Every birthday was celebrated by a trip or a hike or a special dinner:  the common denominator being the celebration with a beloved friend.

Now my rituals are sharply curtailed.  I go out at sunset and take a picture of the sky, of the light on the mountain.  It gets posted to facebook, along with a haiku.  I make popcorn with garlic and brewers' yeast instead of cooking a dinner.  There is no pesto in the freezer, no yeast for baking bread, no oven in which to bake the bread.  I made no lefse, and the julecaga I made in Petaluma was dry. My friends don't drink, and the wine deliveries from my wine club get turned  back by UPS because there's no one to sign for them.  While I do harvest sage from my landlord's garden for sauteed buttered sage, the garden yields no other food or craft material.  I spent my 57th birthday alone.  Now I sit in the evening, knitting and listening to audio books.  And time passes, unmarked.  I am not comforted by the quiet assurance of ritual. The future does not beckon, it leers.  

Snippet #5.  What now?
I've spent the last year working a reduced work schedule:  30 hours a week, 10 hours unpaid FMLA.  The idea was that, instead of quitting my job, I'd keep the health insurance and figure out what's wrong with my health.  I've been tested and drugged and overhauled, and the net result is....nothing is wrong?  But, I still get migraines and nausea, and now I've started my annual winter cold with attendant cough.  Is it just the way my body ages?  The areas of weakness just get weaker?  What do I do?  

I have so much I'd like to do, so much I'd like to write about:  Meow Wolf, the changing seasons, the sculpture at UNM Taos, the future.  But all I seem to be able to manage are these snippets, and now it's time to make a salad for a late lunch.  I guess that's a reasonable outlet for my creativity.  It's at least a moment worth living in, if not enough for a life.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Wild Spirits

We got turned back at the gate of the new (to us) prison, where SC is now living.  Actually, we were beckoned into the gate so we could break the posted rule which barely registered as we looked at the bar blocking our path.  No firearms, etc  or ALCOHOL permitted beyond this point, said the sign to the left of the gateway.  The bar in front of us lifted after several moments, and we rolled through, coming to a stop as the guard stepped out of the warmth of her little office.  She was short and round, hatted, gloved, and coated against the below-freezing temps.  Standing by the passenger side, she asked who we were visiting, and then said, "Level 4s aren't allowed visitors." She started talking on the walkie talkie, and then asked us for SC's offender number.  I had the number in my online address book, so I got out to fish my phone out of the trunk.  We'd already prepped ourselves for the usual: no phones, no jewelry, nothing but a roll of quarters for the vending machines and your license and keys, to be surrendered at the checkin metal detector.  We were old hands at this, and even though this was the state run facility instead of the overcrowded private facility (CCA), we assumed it would be the same.

It wasn't.

As I looked through my phone for SC's offender number, the guard looked in the trunk and pulled out the bottle of wine I'd brought along as a gift for that evening's hostess in Santa Fe.  The guard said, "you can't bring that in," and I said, "even though it's staying in the car?" and she said nope, and I said, then what do I do with it?, and she said, she was calling her lieutenant.  We were still trying to convince her that SC was NOT Level 4 and that she was eligible for visitors, we were not worrying about the wine, when two men came up and gestured us to drive further in, and park off to the side.  It was like a traffic stop:  Stay.In.The.Car, Wait.Here.  They talked to the guard and then came back and gestured at me to roll down my window.  "You're on a 24-hour suspension, because you tried to bring alcohol in."  No arguments, no letting us bring the wine back to the hotel for them to hold, no leaving it by the side of the road ("kids will find it"), no recourse.  They wouldn't even call SC to let her know we couldn't come in.  Jerks.  "This isn't the old place.  We put one of our guards on suspension for bringing in an empty can of beer."  Oh KAY.

Tails between our legs, metaphorically speaking, we turned around, drove past the very clear sign (I'll give them that), re-booked our room for the night, called our Santa Fe hostess to cancel the evening plans, and drove southward.  I'd wanted MS to see El Morro for some time, and it looked like this was the best option for our day.

It was.

The weather was crisp, the skies were clear, and although the switchback trail was closed, we could still hike up to Atsinna for the splendid view.   The striped walls of the mesa were lined with ice.  Through the winter light, we sought the inscriptions from Ancestral Puebloans,  conquistadores, army units, and pioneers.  We looked at the blown cattails in the perpetual pool, the "reason we are here."

SC called a few times, but the signal kept getting lost.  Finally she got through as we stood in the freezing wind, looking into the canyon and across the sea of sage and badlands towards other headlands.  It was after noon, and she'd been frantic about our non-appearance.  Not for the first time, I cursed the system.

After a few hours of walking and looking at the sites, we went further south to see the  Wild Spirit Wolf Sanctuary. Because the snow and freezing temperatures were followed by some melt, the gravel road to the sanctuary was pea soup slush.  Despite the new tires, the car was slewing, not dangerously, but disconcertingly.  And at one point I hit a puddle of slush and mud that went up over the windscreen and along the sides of the car.  At the end of the road I told M that he got to drive back.

The sanctuary is a compound of fenced enclosures and yurts.  You walk in the gate and turn left, duck under the short lintel, and enter a dark round room, filled with wolf-themed tchotchkes and apparel.  I almost bought stuffed wolf cubs for my grandnieces, just to be helpful to the sanctuary.  They were so darned cute.  But I resisted.  The long-haired granola type girl sold us tickets to the tour, which was due to start in half an hour.  We walked over to the  Candy Kitchen general store across the road for some hot coffee.  It appears that the store is a combination meeting place, laundromat, and deli, as well.  (I found out later it was a place to buy moonshine, and they sold pinon candy as a front.  The name stuck.)  A long porch with wooden benches and chairs and rickety tables ran the length of the building, facing into the muddy parking area.  We were greeted by an aged Rottweiler mix, and his bearded owner remained seated at the far end of the porch, not paying much attention to us.  A dreadlocked couple in their 20's sat at one of the formica tables by the deli case/kitchen area.  It appeared they were doing their laundry and watching the TV.  There was no one behind the counter or by the cash register, and no one in the store.  We wandered about a bit, looking at the display of old VHS and DVDs for sale, checking out the shelves of snacks and canned foods and cleaning supplies.  There was no coffee that we could see, and no one to sell it it us in any case.  We got ready to leave, when one of the couple went to the door and told the Rottweiler's owner that he had customers.  Hmmm.

So, he made us some coffee, and we sat outside to drink it.  Then, back to the Sanctuary for our tour.  The 20-something guide was a New Zealander with an accent that came and went:  she'd moved to New Zealand when she was 8 and had recently been getting her degree in biology in the States.  She was bundled up, with her long dark braid hanging down her front, and carrying a baggie of jerky treats for the wolf dogs.  She was very engaging, and we tipped her generously at the end of the tour.  It was her last week of the 3-month stint, and while she clearly loved the work, she also clearly was happy to get out of the yurt home and back to New Zealand.

We met wolf-dogs from all across the United States:  some came from hoarders who had been busted.  The shelters don't know how to handle or interpret wolf-dogs and are afraid of them, so the animals had been housed in poor conditions after their "release."  In one case, the dogs had been born at the sanctuary, and were living out their lives there.  The shy ones actually came to the fence, and our guide told us how lucky we were.  She sounded sincere, but I think we may have been played.  That's okay, though.

I learned that wolves do not have blue eyes:  that's a myth from the fact that true wolves cannot be trained to "act," so all the wolves depicted in films are actually malamutes or huskies.  I also learned that wolf behavior is the opposite of dog behavior:  a tail held high in dogs is happy, while in wolves it's aggressive.  Wolf-dogs are a man-made construct of the exotic pet industry:  unlike coyotes, wolves won't willingly breed with dogs in the wild.

The shelter has ambassador wolf-dogs, who visit schools and libraries and other institutions to share the word:  wolves should not be bred with dogs, wolves cannot be pets.  The wolf-dogs who live at the shelter are there for life:  they cannot be safely returned to the wild because they do not have the skills to survive there.

My favorite myth-buster was the concept of the alpha:  it turns out the alpha of the pack is female.  So there!

We wandered up the hill past the fenced enclosures, meeting various animals and hearing their stories.  We stood behind a low wooden barrier log, a few feet from the fence, while our guide stood next to the fence with the treats.  There was a different ritual at each enclosure:  some of the inmates came to the fence, some just watched us from a rock or straw-filled hut at the far end of the enclosure.  Some were white arctic wolves, some grey timber wolves.  We saw and heard Himalayan singing dogs and we saw a dingo pack that had been bred in Florida and advertised for sale via Facebook.  (The breeder was betrayed and retreated back to Australia, leaving the dingoes behind.)  We even saw a fox:  beautiful.  For the most part, the sanctuary focuses on wolf-dogs, but there are a few other escapees from the exotic pet industry.  The sanctuary receives several hundred calls a week, but most of the dogs in question are huskies or shepherds whose owners cannot handle them.  The sanctuary uses behavioral and visual cues to determine the breeding of the dog as DNA testing would be expensive and not conclusive.  Apparently the wolf DNA is not that different from dog.

There was a lot of information to absorb and we also talked with our guide about her background and plans.  So, the tour was fun and too short.  As the sun westered, we hoped to hear some wolf music, but it was not to be.  We walked back through the lengthening shadows, said our goodbyes, and drove back down the slushy road.

My car needed a bath.

I thought about the various images of the day.  SC, fenced in behind barbed wire.  Wolf-dogs, ditto.  Snow, ice.  Signs and inscriptions.  Mud.  Tumbling walls at Atsinna, strong walls at the prison.  But mainly I thought about the golden light, about wildness penned up, about the ways people hurt the world and each other, leave their marks and disappear.  About sanctuary.


"I appreciate you," she said, as she left the library.
It's a common phrase, here in Northern New Mexico, and I've often smiled in...yes, its use, but this time it seemed like I really heard it.  Appreciation.  Not the same thing as thanks, although it's often included with the thank you.  Not love, which is often said almost by rote, too, to indicate a deeper feeling than like.  Not like, either.  Nor affection.  Appreciation.  Acknowledging something at the core of the person.

Appreciation. n.
C1600 (with an isolated use from c1400) from Ango-French appreciation, noun of action from Old French apprecier from Late Latin appretiare "estimate the quality of." (

Yes, it's a recognition of a person's quality.  And I find myself thinking we need to do more of that, estimate the quality of the people who are running our country, appreciate the people we live amongst.  It might even transform the public dialog (if only it were a dialog.) But, the real reason I am thinking about appreciation is that it seems possible, even in the hopeless mood I currently inhabit. I cannot give thanks: thanksgiving is an active thing that also implies there is a being who has done something specific and good.  Gratitude is an offering of an emotion, and my emotions are deadened by the Trump effect.

I wrote recently to a friend, "I'd feel better if I felt less helpless.  I'm not able to fight, that's never been my way, but trying to live a life that lifts people up doesn't seem to be working, at least not on the scale that is needed.....I'm still in gray mode, exhausted, confused, and a little numb to the glory and terror that is life."

So, on this Thanksgiving Day, I cannot give thanks (to whom?) for my family, friends, relatively good health and income, worthwhile job, and more than adequately functioning body and brain.  I cannot raise a paean of joy for the clouds and skies of New Mexico, the crisp cold scent of sage in the  evenings, the warmth of the crackling fire in my wood burning stove, the feel of clay under my fingers, the sound of an excellent audio book in my ears, the savor of a fresh-baked cranberry-peach pie in my mouth. Seeing, feeling, touching, smelling, tasting, hearing....all those wonderful senses working so well and so beautifully to bring the joys of this world to me....and I cannot give thanks in return?

No, not yet.  But I can appreciate it, and that's a start.  It's a noun of action, even if the action is not energetic. It's a recognition.  And it's possible.  "I appreciate you," she said, and I can second that emotion.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Making Sense

Election night, I worked until 8 pm, when the polls closed in New Mexico, and half the electoral votes were in.  Clinton was behind by 33, but there were 294 left up for grabs.  The mood could have been cautiously hopeful, but I felt dread deadening my emotions.  I texted a bit with PT and G, but they were watching polls and TV and online election maps, and my stomach couldn't take the play by play.  I bowed out, and listened to James Marsters read The Summer Knight, with that perfect amount of Sam Spade in his voice.  I took diazepam for my queasy stomach and spinning brain, and fell asleep.

I woke up to the news that my country, my neighbors, my friends, my family, had elected a man whose entire campaign denigrated and marginalized women, minorities, and The Other, people who were also my neighbors, my friends, my family.  We elected a bully, a man whose "Art of the Deal" consists of screwing over the people with whom he deals, a man who is proud of working the tax system while the rest of us pay, whose response to criticism is a blisteringly vulgar tweet, who is all about what he can win for himself.  I can't even talk about the rape accusations and his treatment of the soldier's surviving family.

I was heartsick.

I walked through my day, feeling tears in my throat, dread in my heart.  I was nauseous, my head hurt as well as my heart and stomach.  I saw but could not feel the sun shining on the snow-sprinkled mountain. There was a haze over everything.  I wasn't sleepwalking, but I was not present.

Eventually I started reading other people's words. In most there was some version of shock and dismay.  One particularly poignant post in Facebook said "We have elected a CHILD RAPIST!"  I looked up the details in, legally he has only been accused, and the suit has been withdrawn.  As with so much that is horrible about this man, one can't help but wonder:  is he really a sociopath, or is that just his shtick?  And, in the long run, does it really matter?  We have elected him as he presented himself to be.  That in itself is enough to shame us all.  But does it?

I started listening to people's words.  And, as I listened, a glimmer of...something....came into me.  It was not hope....not was a spark, a tiny ember, melting away the hard lump that I was curled around. I started paying attention again to my body's reaction:  nausea, pain, tears.  I was feeling grief, and it was a very familiar feeling. But, I have some tools to deal with that.  Meditate, let the grief and other emotions flow through and out, envision myself as a clear vessel holding light and love....I think about that, and it seems too personal, too small in the face of this global catastrophe.  Can lifting up really be the answer?

And yet, there's that tiny spark.  I listen some more.  And I realize that my country, my friends, my family, my neighbors did NOT elect this evil person (and I truly do believe his works and his effects are evil).  At least 50% of us do believe in the value of women and marginalized people.  We want to safeguard our natural resources.  We want affordable health care, social services, freedoms.  In fact, many of the people who voted for him seem just as horror-struck as those who did not.  I read screeds of blame and shame, saying it's our own darn fault for choosing Clinton as our candidate.

What it seems to come down to is that everyone feels discouraged and disenfranchised. So, some of us tried to take down the old power structure which Clinton stands for.  While I think it is irresponsible to elect an unknown just because he isn't part of the old guard, I do understand. And I cannot descend into blaming and shaming.  My only hope while I work through this grief is that the government, corrupt, lumbering entity that it is, will use its will to live and swallow him up.  Just as liberals become part of the machine they want to fix, so will this sociopath.

And, in the meantime, it's time to get to work on that revolution. If I don't run away first.

I've been threatening
To leave if the worst happened.
But where can I go?