Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Signs of the Times

The other day I drove past an automated sign dancer! 

It was a female mannequin with a blonde wig wearing a red sheath and waving a sign encouraging patronage in a barbershop. 

What next? 

Sign dancers – the real ones – astound me. Whenever I see one moving in perpetual gyrations I wish them generous paychecks. If I had to do that – well, I couldn’t. 

At times it seems that there is nowhere you can go in this country without someone trying to sell you something. Nothing is free of commercials and nothing is free. 

Advertisements appear on the computer screen next to my email. And in my mailbox and in my newspaper and on my television and radio and on my telephone. 

And the frenzy accelerates as the no-longer-holy holiday season advances. 

 Too much. 

How do we decelerate all this? How do we reconnect with the real: friends and sunsets and babies and cats? Good food and brisk walks and genuine laughter? The beauty of the ordinary – the mostly free of charge – must somehow be appreciated again. And valued – even more than our microwaves … or barbershops.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Annual Ritual

My friend was visiting from Chicago about the time of the elks’ annual rutting season. 

 I try, every year, to get up to Rocky Mountain National Park in time to witness love’s majestic ritual. My friend was my excuse to make a special after-church journey up the mountain. We had lunch on the balcony of the Fall River Visitors Center, absorbing the beauty of the day and the foliage and the magpies lurking for fallen French fries.

Then we rode into the park and around its roads. It was beautiful but largely elk-less. My friend was beginning to doubt the existence of elk and the legendary spectacle. We saw lots of cars and people setting up chairs to watch the annual show. But no elk. My friend was leaving the next day. She could not leave disappointed. 

 I decided to drive to Upper Beaver Meadow, at the end of the worst road in the park. We got all the way to end, waited and walked a bit, but still no elk. We were about to leave when a man wearing a Chicago Cubs sweatshirt (or perhaps a state of Colorado sweatshirt – they are a little similar) came over a small hill and announced that there was a lot of elk activity at the end of the little path ascending the knoll. 

My friend has Parkinson’s and I had a sprained neck. Getting up that little hill was no small feat. But we did it. And there at the summit two bull elk were butting heads, sparring for the affection of a magnificent doe. I couldn’t get my camera pointed the right way in time to record the actual duel but I did photograph the victor and … off to the side, the prize. My friend saw it. I saw it. We were only a few yards from the action. It was thrilling. And awesome. And worth the wait. 

 She went home believing. I went home validated. And I will go back again next year.

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Remembering Nancy Phillips

There are all kinds of family. This is a photo of one of my families, my writers group.

It's been meeting for decades I think. I've only been part of it since 2003 or 2004. We meet twice a month in each other's homes. Two of us live/d in Loveland; four, in Fort Collins; one each in Bellvue and Wellington. We bring whatever we've been working on, read it, and get feedback that inevitably helps us make our prose or poetry better. Without this group, my memoir, Tree Lines, and my new book, Family Time, would still be in my head or in a box on a shelf. But they've both been published. 

If that is all our writers group did, it would be enough. But our meetings and between-meetings communications weave us, inextricably, into family.

In the photograph, Gary Raham, Clare Rutherford, Nancy Burns, and Beverly Haley are standing behind the couch. Judie Freeland, Susan Quinlan, Nancy Phillips and I (Mim Neal, holding Herbie the cat) are seated.

Nancy Phillips and I were the Loveland contingent. She used to drive her vintage jeep to my house and I would drive us to wherever we were meeting. Even though our hosts always provide refreshments, Nancy and I would often go out to lunch afterward. That's more than a decade of drive-time and lunch-time conversations.

A few years ago, Nancy was diagnosed with cancer. There were operations and hospital and nursing home stays. But she always came back. She knew (we all knew) that the cancer would win. She carried on, never sinking into either despair or self-pity. Still writing. Our group formed Penstemon Publications and published one of the dozens of completed manuscripts Nancy had created and stowed away. Tardy Justice is a great book, an historical novel set in early Leadville, Colorado. Every detail is carefully crafted. She even read old magazines to determine which colloquialisms were period-appropriate.

Her participation in our group lessened as her illness grew worse. I was out of town when she went into the hospital for the last time.  When I returned, I visited her a few more times. I had made her promise to stick around long enough to hear about my son's wedding. I told the story but I don't know if she heard.

Nancy Phillips died at 5:30 a.m. Tuesday, November 1, 2016.

She enriched the lives of all who knew her. 

She is deeply missed.

Saturday, October 29, 2016

a taste from my childhood

Within Yosemite National Park there is a grand old hotel, now called the Majestic... and rightly so.
You enter walking on a red carpet.
The lobby is vast and elegant.
As is the dining room.
I managed to get there for lunch.
My excellent chicken sandwich was just an excuse ... a prelude to the dessert I had spotted 
on the menu: boysenberry pie.
I hadn't had boysenberry anything since I was a very little girl 
when my family took me to Knotts Berry Farm.
Sometimes things you remember from your childhood
when you are an adult.

This did not.
It was as good as I remembered.
So good, I took a photo before it was entirely gone.
I intend to show it to my brother.
Sharing a memory
a taste from our childhood. 

Sunday, October 23, 2016

majestic Yosemite

 Some places are so majestic that words are superfluous. Yosemite is such a place.
 [The 'mist' is actually smoke from a controlled valley burn.]

 No waterfalls in mid-September but you can see the 'stain' from the falls.

 The Merced River
 Yosemite is so grand that even in mid-September there is an endless stream of cars entering the park.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

A Journey Into the Past

For my new book, Family Time, I had done a lot of research about my ancestors. I combined that research with my own memories and imagination and voila! 

Some family history occurred in unfamiliar territory. I checked locales online but they were not imbedded in my consciousness. Still, I should have raised my antennae when I learned that one of the streets to get to Highway 41 from the Fresno airport was Fowler. My great grandmother’s maiden name was Nell Miriam Fowler.

 My antennae stayed down until I boarded the Yosemite Mountain Sugar Pine Railroad, a restored steam train whose purpose had been converted from logging to tourists. The setting was charming. The people there delightful. Still I didn’t get it until I boarded and from the broadcast narrative learned that this was a logging train.

Only then did I remember that for a brief period my great grandparents and their two daughters lived outside of Fresno and my great grandfather earned his living hauling logs down from the mountain on a buckboard. 

So, the forest we traveled through could have been the source of his cargo. And the hour-long drive down the mountain to Fresno could have been retracing his route. 

Back then, the round trip took a week. My great grandmother roasted a ham and packed other essentials to keep him going. My great aunts went to a local school and their mother taught Fresno ladies painting. 

I knew all this but until I boarded that train, I had no mental picture of their world. 

What a grand connection.

Monday, September 19, 2016

My Sequoias

Told that visits to the giant sequoias were apparently not feasible during my visit near and in Yosemite National Park, I was keenly disappointed. Then I learned of a small grove that was relatively close, albeit on a road far less traveled (for good reasons). 

 Since the sequoias were a main objective of my recent trip, I found the road – actually, ‘road’ is too generous a term – and inched my rented car over the dirt ruts until I found the grove. After 45 minutes without seeing another human or vehicle, it was reassuring [and somewhat astounding] to spot two other cars in the little parking area. 

I had four sheets of paper with directions, descriptions, and maps of the trails around Nelder Grove. None of them were of any use to me. I have no idea which trail I took or which trees I saw. None of that matters. 

Within a few moments after leaving my car, following the soft dirt path into the forest, I was enveloped by the embrace of trees. Shade and silence, dappled by sunlight, drifted peace into my soul. 

I noticed little things: moss, a spider web, a heart shadow. 

And, every once in a while, a great old tree. I strolled, ambled and wandered for hours, absorbing the beauty, letting it heal me. 

Finally, hours later, thirst and fatigue forced me to turn back. Eventually, I found my car, the primitive road and the highway … and a restaurant where I drank a gallon of water with my late, late lunch. 

What a splendid, splendid day.