Warrior Goddess 22 November 2022

This was not our usual hike through peaceful forests, but a place we’ve wanted to hike up to, that is just too hot, too exposed in summer. We sat outside at Bob’s Atomic Burgers one summer evening, post-hike, and looked up at the towering South Table Mountain. Stories of a dance hall up there, the old scars from the cable railway still visible, and earlier than that, people rode donkeys up the easier incline to dine at a café. Then, the Ku Klux Klan took over the building as a meeting place. It burned to the ground in the late 1920s.

On a chilly November Saturday, it seemed a good choice for an early morning hike. Piecing together a few trails, we could hit our five-mile goal. I mean, we both planned on pumpkin ice-cream at McGill’s for breakfast afterwards. We set off up the steep switch backs, glad for the warmth of sun on our faces.

On top of the mesa, the flat expanse of rock and scrub revealed various bolts embedded in rock, but no burned decay was left, scoured away by wind and time. The precipice surrounded us on three sides. I could see the yellow brick of Bob’s far below us. The expanse of the white-topped buildings of Coors, busy brewing that famed beer of Golden, brought enough vertigo that I stepped back.

Elaine stood above me like some warrior goddess, a vision in the bright light and blue sky.

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Tumbleweeds 3 November 2022

On Monday the wind was out of the east, averaging 20-25 MPH. The tumbleweeds, well, tumbled past the windows, many of them stopping to form a wall on the south side of the lilac row which gave the row a much more robust presence in the absence of leaves from the dry summer. On Monday, I thawed meat to prepare for feeding the preg check crew. The shoer came and trimmed the horses. The cows and calves were hauled home and turned out into the north pasture.

On Tuesday the wind came out of the west. The tumbleweeds tumbled back, but the wall on the lilacs remained in place. Before dawn, stretching after my run, I watched the little kit fox trot along the edge of that wall and disappear into the west end of the lilac row. A minute later, I heard the screams of the rabbit. A minute later, silence. The fox, dragging the dead rabbit out of the lilacs, disappeared into the still dark dawn. I got the pitchfork to help the tumbleweeds continue their eastward journey so I could get into the barn to feed the horses. On Tuesday, I started Rachel Ray’s sloppy joes with ground elk, deer, and beef in the crockpot, made a batch of brownies, and got the set-up ready for the preg check crew in the garage. I drove my tractor with the hay sled so we could get hay in all the pens, found a bird nest on a post, and pushed the cows and calves in for the night.

On Wednesday, the tumbleweeds were still, the fox must have been full, and my run was quiet. The cows and calves were sorted by seven. The vet showed up at eight and set up his chute. The crew arrived around that same time. We ran cows through first: number, weight, bred or open, pour on, vaccine and vitamins, old fly tag removed, open gate, next cow. The bawling of mammas and calves is loud but moves to the background as we work. Reset the chute for calves, now 5 or 600 pounds after I tagged their gangly newborn selves, still, I find Socks, Split Ear, and Wilford Jr. Weigh and vaccinate, pour on, open the gate and back to mamma. Finished by 10:30. Back in the south pasture by 11. Hot lunch consumed by 11:30. Wind picks up and tumbleweeds head south for the rest of the day.

On Thursday the wind shifted in the night, and I am feeling like a tumbleweed herder. Today, it’s a skunk I see in the dark. We both move right along. I believe the tumbleweeds have conspired to keep me from getting through the walk-in gate to check the stock tank. How did they even get in this space, a little square patch between two corral panels? They are stacked as high as my shoulders, but I have a weapon: my gloves. They cannot poke me or leave stickers in my tender fingers. I’ll show them, I think, tossing them over into the alley. They can’t possibly getaway, and the cows will trounce them when they come through. I decide I’ll eat a leftover brownie as a reward for my diligence.

On Friday, the alley is empty. The tumbleweeds have escaped over the alley panels and into the pasture where the horses are standing out of the wind. I call the horses over as I put their hay down. Bullet drags a tumbleweed along, stuck in his tail.

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Threshold 26 September 2022

It’s that long dark line holding onto night as a faint light unfolds above it with shades of orange, pinks, and reds. They consume the starts first, slowly making their way into wider bands, and visible through the windows, head high, on the west and east sides of the barn.

My favorite part of the day, standing in the open and lining up the windows to see that magical light on the other side of the barn from where I stand, still in the dark of the night. Looking up, I can see Orion or a piece of the moon, or Mars, Jupiter, or Saturn, depending on the season.

In the East, the outline of the horses’ ears moves in and out of the gathering light while they make their way toward me and the hay they know I’ll throw over for their breakfast. Sometimes a wuffle or snort, or the call of coyote or cow comes my way, but mostly just a quiet stillness—a waiting for possibility.

Because in that moment, every single day, is a promise I make, an agreement, a prayer, a calling out to the universe. And one day, when the time is right, or maybe wrong, I will answer that call, that prayer, and I will live in that expanding glow of light, taking with me the wild peace of night, stars, and moon, and I will ride beyond all boundaries I’ve placed on myself and become the dawn.

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Doors 16 August 2022

Photo by Jan Tinneberg on Unsplash

I’ve tried to open the door so many times. I had it once, squeaking open on rusty hinges, but it slammed shut. I was able to glimpse bright blue sky and a feeling of utter peace wafted out around me like a soft breeze.

I wanted in there. I knocked, begged, kicked and screamed. Exhausted, I finally dropped down and sat leaning up against the door. I couldn’t leave. I was afraid I wouldn’t find it again, that I wouldn’t remember the way back. I had some lifesavers in my pocket, but in stories, the bread crumb trail never works, so I sat there feeling sorry for myself.

I ate a lifesaver, chomped down the entire roll, and began to feel strange—kind of lighter somehow. I heard the faint whistle of a train, growing louder until I had to cover my ears. I ducked reflexively, feeling the vibration of tracks beneath me. A train was screaming down the tracks straight toward me.

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Trail Tales 12 August 2022

Photo by Andrew Seaman on Unsplash

The snow was hard packed early in the morning, but I still couldn’t look down at the view. Stopping in the middle of the snowfield, Elaine had her camera out snapping photos and oohing over the vista. I stood completely still and stared at my boots, dead center on the narrow path trodden into the snow. It hadn’t looked that far taking the first step and I had no idea how many more I’d be required to take to get back to the rocks and dirt. When we began moving again, my view was limited to the heels of Elaine’s boots. I kept telling myself, “Just one more step. Take one more step.”

Reaching the other end of the snowfield, it was another quarter mile up the boulder field and down to the lake at the base of the diamond face of the mountain. No problem. I don’t mind boulder fields. The PB and J with Cheez-Its was particularly good this day as we sat by the lapping water.

“Come on. We need to get below tree line before those clouds get here.”

“Yeah. I know.” Sighing, I put on my pack and down the boulder field we went.

“We better put our chinks on; that snow’ll be slick by now.”

Thank you, sun, I thought. Chinks or no chinks, I really wanted to call for search and rescue to send a copter. I could see tourist hikers crossing in tennis shoes. Someone was going to die, tumbling down that snow field and onto the rocks a million feet below.

Crowded now, the snow had become very slick with the warm sun and the too many feet on the narrow path.

The guy behind me wanted me to go faster. I took a few tentative steps, trying to stay with Elaine. I felt him tailgating me. I knew I was going to slide off. Sweat was soaking through to my outer jacket. I could feel the uneven thud trying to leap out from my chest. I wanted some water but couldn’t even reach for the hose on my right pack strap.

Pushing. Pushing. Pushing. “Get off my back, dude. Just give me some space.”

Breathe. Step. Breathe. Step. Breathe. Step. And finally solid rock. As the guy passed me, I flipped him off. Take that, I thought, as Elaine and I moved down the trail and back into the trees.

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Dreams and Phone Booths 2 August 2022

Sometimes dreams come out of nowhere, so vivid that, at least for me, I can wake up reaching out for something that isn’t there. Or I wake up believing I’m in the place where I was dreaming and then it’s a shock to discover I’m not, causing momentary disorientation. Does that happen to you? In this dream, I was desperate and feeling the weight of stress and anxiety as I walked up to the counter in a bank.

The teller smiled at me, an older woman with greying hair. Her warm brown eyes were wide with kindness. The compassion coming from her brought tears to my eyes. She reached across the counter and took my shaking hand in hers. I’d never seen her before, but she clearly knew me. “Don’t worry.” she said. “There’s a phone call for you. You can take it in the phone booth right over there.” She pointed me to middle of the lobby where an old phone booth stood.

I walked over and opened the door, stepping into the silver and blue booth, and picked up the receiver. I clicked the little silver piece with my fingers like we used to do when we were kids.

“Hello?”

“Sally, it’s Daddy.”

At the sound of his voice, I sank down to sit on the floor. The phone booth melted away, but I still held the hand piece and saw the cord stretching out and disappearing past the wall. “Daddy? Where are you? I need you.” Tears were running down my cheeks.

“I’m in heaven, honey. But I’m right here with you too. Everything will be alright. You don’t need to worry.”

“Are you with my mom? And Cathy?”

“Yes, honey. Everyone’s here. We’re all together and fine. Candy too.”

I remember smiling and feeling such relief that they were together, and even our old dog too. I woke up feeling so calm and reassured, and like that was the most natural thing in the world.

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Graph Paper Poems 26 July 2022

I tell my students we’re going to write graph poems. They wander off into their own worlds during this silent writing time. Some are thinking. One twirls her hair, staring at the graph paper on her desk.

That kid has his head down, forehead to paper, and his arms hang down, his hands in his lap. That one yawns, stretching his neck, a grimace formed on his open mouth. His grey Vans are untied, and he is sketching two lines on the graph paper. He makes them ultra-dark, X and Y, as if the poem cares.

The skinny boy, short brown hair sticking up at his crown, finished his graph poem in about two minutes, letting the orange pilot pen clatter to the desk in case I hadn’t noticed that he was finished.

My welder is done, the words on his graph evenly split between positive and negative until the end where they slope upward, an arrow to the positive.

The cattle baroness is writing and re-writing the word intervals on the Y axis. Most of the poems are written in straight diagonal lines, but hers, the only sophomore in a class of freshmen, are curved and rolling.

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A Dark Night 18 July 2022

Photo by Egor Yakushkin on Unsplash

It was a dark and stormy night (Wait, have you heard this one before?), when suddenly the power went out. She’d been reading a note left on the counter and trying to figure out just who left it there. (Uh oh, that can’t be good.) Her roommate had moved out a week ago and no one else had a key, unless­­—but Sheila wouldn’t have copied her key.

The note said, “You should be more careful…” but that’s as far as she’d gotten when the lights went out. She felt in the junk drawer for the flashlight, pulling her hand back quickly when it touched something wet and slimy. (Hm, could be blood, or it could be one of those condiment packets stuffed into the drawer had leaked.)

That was when she heard the floorboards creaking overhead. She told herself it was just the normal sounds that were never spooky in the daylight. It sure sounded like someone was walking down the upstairs hallway. Now she had a dilemma. Should she call out Sheila’s name, figuring she must have come back to get those last couple of boxes? Or should she get out of the house now?

I mean, it wasn’t Halloween. It was just a simple storm. She had no chainsaws or really any tools for that matter; she didn’t even have an old shed. Her car was right outside, and it started reliably every time. And there was no dark forest anywhere nearby. This was a small city, for cryin’ out loud.

Taking a deep breath (Because that’s what you do just before you make a decision.), she grabbed her jacket, went out and got into her car, and called her friends to let them know she’d meet them at Denny’s.

If she had looked in her rearview, she might have seen the man with the sword (It looked like a sword.) leaving right behind her. And she might have noticed that the jacket she’d grabbed was not wet from rain.

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A Purple Skirt 12 July 2022

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

The skirt was purple. It had a matching purple vest with golden buttons.

“You can wear any light-colored shirt with most of these.” Mrs. Miller was folding the skirts and pants and tucking them back into the box.

I was still holding the soft purple fabric to my cheek. Could anything be this beautiful? And they matched!

She’d given my third-grade self a whole box of clothes, hand-me-downs from her daughter for this scrawny little waif who’d come to school every day wearing too-short pants, clean but worn-out, and oversized shirts given up by older siblings.

“Alright dear, I’ll put the purple on top and you can wear it first. Now, let’s get this box out to where your dad is waiting to pick you up.”

“Thank you, Mrs. Miller. I love all of them.”

Her daddy was waiting out front and she hugged him and climbed in while he set the box in the back seat of the beat-up suburban, thanked her teacher quietly, and they pulled out to drive home. “Can I wear the purple outfit tomorrow?”

“Sure you can, and one every day after that until you run out. And then you can start over.”

These were the first new clothes that little girl had ever had. Everything she’d ever worn had come down to her from both older sisters and brothers.

She did wear that purple skirt and vest the next day with what had been a while turtleneck, grey now from so many launderings, and stretched over too many heads so that the neck hung more like a cowl. Her socks matched inside her shiny Sunday shoes, but one had no elastic left and pooled around her ankle.

Oh, but that little girl didn’t see the strange looks from the other kids, didn’t hear their low-voiced teasing when Mrs. Miller was at the blackboard. And at recess, she twirled, her bony knees poking out from under the purple as the skirt rose and fell while she spun round and round, arms outstretched to this wonderful world she inhabited.  

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Spirit Places 5 July 2022

There are places in the world where our memories of being there are so strong that when we return after some time has passed, we can be overwhelmed by emotions. I’ve led, I don’t know how many, pack trips over almost twenty-five summers into some rugged and beautiful places in Colorado’s mountains.

When a dear friend, who is also an old camper and wrangler, came to town and suggested a hike into one of those spots from days of pack trips, I said yes, of course.

Two dear friends, campers and wranglers, and one joyful partner and I had breakfast at a favorite mountain café and then dared the old deeply rutted road up to the trailhead. It took us a moment to orient, without horses, and recognize the little trail we’d take to get to this spot and to remember that we’d stop here, horses grazing, while campers readjusted saddle bags, pack mule loads were checked, and then get everyone started again.

We shouldered our day packs and began hiking up this trail to the little pond where we used to ride to for lunch, swim on the horses, and sometimes hunker down in the trees to wait out a storm before riding back to our camping spot.

The further we hiked, the more we remembered. This corner with that view, playing pass the stick, jolly ranchers, singing the Ping-Pong Ball song, Mrs. Mumbles, and tortillas with peanut butter or summer sausage to eat when we stopped for lunch.

But as we hiked that last little bit of the trail, and we came suddenly out of the trees to that little pond, we stopped and collectively relived a moment we’d experienced so many times before. Tears came from somewhere, an ache for pack trips we’d loved so much and looked forward to every summer. Hugging and laughing and marveling at just what hadn’t changed in the last 14 or 15 years, we took pictures of wildflowers, of Audubon and the Indian Peaks, of each other, and then we gathered in that same spot in the trees, ate our snacks and told our stories. And we felt the spirits of ourselves and those who had been there with us, still wandering in the trees or catching frogs by the pond or enjoying FOB time or retying their loose horse. We left ourselves there, one more time, and hiked back to the trailhead.

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