Monday, May 30, 2011

Oh Cruel World

All those who were snookered into buying something from the back of a comic book when you were a kid, raise your hands!  Come on, raise 'em up there. They promised some fine stuff to our young hearts and we waited impatiently for our packages to show up, did we not?  100 dolls for only $1.00!  I couldn't wait to see what I had ordered. Perhaps you boys ordered the soldier set complete with foot locker. 100 toy soldiers, each with its own base. And only $1.25. Wow!  What a deal!

I had pestered Mom for days, possibly weeks, before she finally caved in and I filled in those tiny blank lines with all the important information, like my name and address.

Anticipation ran high and patience wore thin as day after day no package came. Finally, the big day arrived and my mother handed it to me. I thought, surely 100 fully clothed dolls each with individual costumes couldn't possibly fit into that little box. Surely this was just one, with 99 boxes yet to come.

I suppose Mom knew, but had decided it might be time for me to start to learn the ways of the world. It was my first lesson in not believing everything you read. And it was a hard one.

When I opened up the box, there they were, in all their pink splendor. They were Styrene plastic alright, whatever that was. I stared into the box, not quite ready to believe that was it, not quite ready to believe that the world could be so cruel.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Ode to a Half-eaten Rhubarb Pie

Well, I hate to admit this, but I spent yesterday in a state of, "poor, poor, pitiful me," which wasn't nearly as lovely as when Linda Ronstadt sings it. As a matter of fact, it was really annoying. When I'm in one of those moods, I start by spending far too much time looking outside myself for a solution: maybe if I took a break from This, or stirred up a little drama with That, or turned a stone over There.

Eventually, I decide it's time to get back in the flow of life, I stop looking out There, I see what's in Here that's not in synch with Life, and then let it go. This used to take me days and sometimes much longer. In the last few years, my 'turnaround time' has shortened considerably, sometimes lasting only for a couple of hours, sometimes no more than a few minutes. Now, if I could just manage to keep my thoughts to myself, my mouth shut, and stay off the computer (do not push send), no one would be the wiser. But, noooo, I have to call, or email, or do something else that's semi-self-destructive, like eat half a rhubarb pie. Similar, perhaps, to the one I made yesterday from my second rhubarb pulling.

Going into the turn, my friend, JB, called from Moab and listened for a minute, possibly three, to my self-pitying rant. Then he let me cry, without judgment and without feeling any need to try to fix it. He listened, knowing I would get it together and that, as always, it was only a tiny blip on my personal radar. Sometimes, it's the simple and real solution of hearing another person's voice, knowing someone is on the other end of the line.

This morning, I decided it was time for a bit more gratitude. Right now, Lonewolf is a dazzling array of fruit trees, almost-ready-to-bloom lilacs, and the greenest grass I've seen since, well, last summer. So, without further ado, excerpts from My Book of Gratitude.

The view from my kitchen window:

My yard:

The fruit trees:

My place on the river:

The forget-me-nots that line the bank:

And this little tulip-eater, now under yard arrest while Ma gets some yard work done.

Yeah, it's a life for which I'm very grateful.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Gardening, With a Touch of Surrealism

When I read that artist Leonora Carrington died yesterday, I realized I knew very little about her work. Her name sounded familiar to me, but I could not recall much else. I immediately wanted to get familiar, at least to some degree.

I'm not particularly smitten by surrealistic art, although I do like some of the work by Rene Magritte, Salvador Dali, Max Ernst (with whom Ms. Carrington had a long term relationship), and even a little bit of Frida Kahlo, who doesn't seem to fit entirely into that school of painting. I'm not sure where Frida fits, but that's for another discussion.

Anyway, Leonora Carrington was British born, then moved to Mexico sometime in the 1960's after many tumultuous years in Europe. She remained in Mexico until she crossed the bridge yesterday. No, not that bridge, the one across forever.

While looking online at images of her work, I found the photographs of her even more appealing.  I'm a big romantic when it comes to people who find their way in the world through the creative process, who live outside the norm, walking somewhere on the razor's edge. This woman certainly did, in both painting and sculpting, as well as writing novels. I have to say, her sculpture speaks to me more than her paintings. There's something about this wise, deer-like being in robes I really like.

Which brings me, in some roundabout fashion, to a conversation I had last night with my sister, Chris, who lives in Texas Hill Country. I was telling her about my ongoing struggle to whip my gardens into shape and that I was feeling a bit under the gun as our sister, Judy, who has beautiful flower gardens, would be stopping by this weekend. I told her, "My flower beds will never look like Judy's."  She replied, with what passes for compassion in a family with a robust sense of humor, "Well, no, she's Martha Stewart and you're Frida Kahlo." 

The top two paintings are by Leonora Carrington.
The two photographs are of Ms. Carrington, as well.
The bottom image is a self-portrait of Frida Kahlo.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Buddy and a Tale of Two Tulips

See that little face, hiding behind the Bleeding Hearts? He wants you to think he loves those flowers. It's not true. He's an opportunist and what he really has his eye on are two tulips, still folded in their greenery, almost ready to burst into bloom. Unfortunately, they will never see the light of day.

Late yesterday, after spending a good portion of the day defending the tulips from Buddy's adoration, like a gourmand feasting his eyes on a beautifully presented entree, we went into the house for the evening. Not long after, Buddy decided he needed to go out. It was raining pretty hard, so I thought, 'He must really have to go.'  I let him out, I thought to do his bizzness, and then watched from the porch as he made a beeline for the garden. Before I even had time to react, he'd latched onto the two tulips he'd had his eye on all day and down the hatch they went. As I walked emphatically toward him, berating him en route, he laid down in the dark earth, happy and fulfilled.

By the time I got to him, the game was on. Round and round the mulberry bush Mama chased the puppy. He hid behind bushes, running from one to another, jumping across the flower beds with new-found agility, managing to stay just out of reach. We covered a lot of territory in a short time. This went on for a couple of minutes or so before I finally gave up and walked back to the house, letting him know Mama was not happy. It went right over his happy head. Within seconds he was running back to where I waited on the porch, ears flapping, big tulip-eating grin on his face, as if to say, "Wasn't that a fun game, Ma?"

My temporary irritation melted into affection that cannot be denied. I love him, and that's that. More than tulips, more than anything in my garden. I know, I know, I may have to resort to tough love at some point. But, I'm not there ... yet.

"Tulips?  I don't know anything about any tulips. Oh, look, there's a bird!"

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Keeping My Mind on What Matters

The hummingbirds returned last evening and I mowed my lawn for the first time today. I left some edges to make the transition to woods and now wait for this newly-forming meadow to discover the wildflower possibilities there. The birds are singing like it's the very first spring, as the sheets on the line breathe in, and then out. It's a perfect spring day and I just discovered this Mary Oliver poem.


My work is loving the world.
Here the sunflowers, there the hummingbirds -
equal seekers of sweetness.
Here the quickening yeast; there the blue plums.
Here the clam deep in the speckled sand.

Are my boots old?  Is my coat torn?
Am I no longer young, and still half-perfect?  Let me
keep my mind on what matters,
which is my work,

which is mostly standing still and learning to be
The phoebe, the delphinium.
The sheep in the pasture, and the pasture.
Which is mostly rejoicing, since all the ingredients are here,

which is gratitude, to be given a mind and a heart
and these lovely body-clothes,
a mouth with which to give shouts of joy
to the moth and the wren, to the sleepy dug-up clam,
telling them all, over and over, how it is
that we live forever.

~ Mary Oliver

Winslow Homer   "Fresh air"

Sunday, May 15, 2011

From Rose-breasted Grosbeaks to the Creole Farmers Stomp

For the past couple of weeks or so, the bird feeder outside my kitchen window has been a very busy place. At least a dozen Red-winged Blackbirds have become regular visitors. In addition, there are several pairs of Rose-breasted Grosbeaks (taken from my kitchen window), Brown-headed Cowbirds and the Common Grackle, which have not taken over the feeder, for which I'm very grateful, but have been forced to behave themselves and share. A week or so ago, I put it out there on the wind that I'd like to see a Cardinal and, lo and behold, one went through my yard a few days ago. Ditto for a Baltimore Oriole.  I had not yet seen either at my place. I wasn't able to get a photo of them worth sharing, but I'm glad for the sightings.

There have also been purple finches, various swallows and warblers, and a Red-breasted Woodpecker or two. The thing I'm most excited about, though, is what I saw a few minutes ago sitting in my rock garden and what I believe was his mate. Are you ready?  Drumroll, please.  An Indigo Bunting. I've heard they are very scarce, but there they were, no doubt about it. Now, here's the interesting part: I read in my bird book that they are actually black, like the Blue Jay, but their color is refracted sunlight that makes them appear blue. In the case of the Indigo Bunting, almost an iridescent blue. What a little beauty. Isn't it funny, how happy a little bird can make you? Well, me, anyway. The really big question is: when did I become my grandmother? 

The other thing on my mind this morning is how the farmers of Louisiana are doing. I know that river is just doing what rivers do, and the engineers that made the decision to open the spillways are doing what they do. A tough decision had to be made. Unfortunately, it always seems that those who can least afford it are left with the destruction these decisions bring with them. I hope they are on their way to higher ground, if not there already. And I do mean that both literally and figuratively. I'm sure they are tough and resilient folks, but it can't be easy to watch all your hard work go underwater. The problem with flooding is not just the loss of crops, but what it does to the land, leaving behind muck and sand and debris. It will require a real massive effort to get it back to workable land again. I would hope some compensation will be made, but there is no compensation for what it does to the hearts and minds of people who have worked and loved their land, often for many generations. I hope they find courage in their communities and the good folks who share their lives.

A couple of years ago, I spent some time down in southern Texas and picked up a great compilation of Zydeco that I couldn't stop playing. It was infectious music that made me happy and even got me dancing in the kitchen a time or two. Whether Cajun or Creole, and yes, there is a difference, in honor of those farmers, I bring you the opening cut from that group of great tunes, The Creole Zydeco Farmers and the "Creole Farmers Stomp."   It's not meant to be watched, it's meant to be danced to, so let's dance, sort of like a prayer, for all those Louisiana farmers. And for those who'd like to read about the heritage of both I found this to be a fairly concise description:

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Life on the Mississippi, Redux

The mighty Mississippi begins its journey southward about sixty miles from my home. The Pine River, seen above, which runs along the northern boundary of my home is a tributary of it. The Mississippi is a part of my life story. As a child we would visit its headwaters, walk across rocks to the other side and then back again. We liked knowing we were crossing this river which held an almost mythical place in our lives. In the summer, when we attended Camp Jim (yes, Jesus Is Mine), part of our week long activities was a walk down to the river for a picnic and a few skits put on by the somewhat older campers. To this day I love crossing it as I regularly do living in this part of Minnesota.

Like so many other book lovers and river lovers I followed it through the life and stories of Mark Twain. What book-loving child didn't want to ride on that raft with Huck and Jim as they lived for a while in the freedom of the river? 

I've encountered the river many times in my travels, as I've driven southward, and once had an opportunity to ride on a riverboat known as the Delta Queen, eating jambalaya, listening to a jazz band, and watching the lights come on in New Orleans as we moved down the river. It was calm and peaceful.

I've never encountered the Mississippi that is now bearing down on the delta at what looks to become record levels. Stories of flooding, of ruined homes and lives, were the things of news reports but it never touched my life directly. I felt sheltered from the storm.

When Hurricane Katrina hit all that changed. For the first time in my life I more fully understood the havoc that too much water and too little protection can wreak. Watching Justin Webb of the BBC return day after day to the body of a black man floating in the water with no one willing to retrieve it and bring it home left an indelible impression on me. It left me feeling angry and ashamed. I can only imagine what those who endured its aftermath felt and no doubt still feel.

Randy Newman's song about the Louisiana flood of 1927 brings up similar feelings. There's something so plaintive about his melody and words, not to mention his voice. He understands what living in Louisiana can mean at times, the sometimes harsh and bitter reality. Evangeline is a parish in Louisiana, and also a Longfellow poem which is where my last name came from. But, that's a story for another day.

Once again we are facing images of this river doing what rivers do. It means no harm. As with all aspects of nature one thing leads to another and suddenly everything changes. And breaches in levees is a story becoming all too commonplace.

My yard work is almost done, the wash is on the line and drying in the sun, it seems all is right with the world. But, folks in Memphis and all along the river are facing some very difficult times. I'm not sure I have the right to talk about their lives, the troubles they are facing as I sit here along the Pine River in relative tranquility. I do it, I suppose, because I need to know I will not let the troubles of those farther down the river seem too far removed from my own life. And, I do it for the man who was my neighbor downriver, whose body floated face down for six days in the waters that covered New Orleans back in August of 2005, a man I hope I will never forget as long as I live.

Here is Randy Newman and his "Louisiana 1927."

Monday, May 9, 2011

When God Made Cowboys

Gather round, little buckaroos, once in a while there is something worth checking out in the online news. This is one of them. "Buck," is a new film about the real Horse Whisperer, Buck Brannaman. I like horses, and I like cowboys, so it's a no-brainer for me (be nice). As one of the critics said,  "This movie might make you a better person."  I might not be the only one who could benefit from that. It's a beautiful trailer and a beautiful idea, put into practice by what appears to be a beautiful man. And, as trite as some folks might find it, I think I could agree with what one man said about Buck,  "God had him in mind when he made a cowboy."



Sunday, May 8, 2011

Having the Perfect Mother

This was my second grade gift to my mom on Mother's Day. It was among several she saved, which I discovered after her passing in February of 2000.

My mother wasn't perfect, but she was perfect for me.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Nobody's Angel, Nobody's Passenger

As some of you might know, I love the song of the open road, always preferring it to flying. Long before flying became a bit of a security check nightmare, I chose the road for its quiet, the ability to stop when and where I liked, not having to chat with someone who was talking too loud and asking intrusive questions nor tolerating the sometimes interminable wait either in the airport or on the plane. While others wait I drive, even if I won't arrive until the next day.

I didn't set foot on a plane until I was in my mid-20's. I was on my way to Nashville with appointments at various music producers and publishing houses. I was a sometime songwriter and, no, I didn't meet with much success but I sure had fun trying. I had a songwriting and business partner who would meet me there. That was the flight where a boorish man insisted on talking to me in a loud voice, as my worst fear of flying was being realized. I also discovered that my problem with motion sickness was kicking into high gear and it was going to require my full concentration not to fill the barf bag tucked into the pocket in front of me. They might have been related.

Several flights later, I was traveling on a musician friend's bus across the vast expanse known as Montana and, despite my love of the open road, I was coming to the realization that riding in the back of a bus, no matter how well appointed, was not going to be my life any more than flying in airplanes would be. Other choices would have to be made. I'd watched old farms that I would have loved to photograph disappear in the distance as we kept rolling. And although it was offered to me, I didn't feel I could hold up the show, so I declined. Watching the real world go by mile after mile without being able to stop on a whim just didn't seem like a good choice. I knew that if I continued on that bus I would ride into the future with no control over my own life and just up ahead lay the point of no return. The farther west we went, the closer to California we got, the more certain I was of it.

So, somewhere in Montana, I told my friend that I had to return home, my real life was waiting. We had a long-term friendship that seemed to transcend any possible expectations, so, two hours later, I was sitting in the Bozeman airport on my way to Fargo, ND, where my car was patiently waiting for me. It probably knew I would come to my senses. The flight on a small plane was the only thing that stood between me and my drive home.

The small plane had about twenty passengers. I was somewhere near the rear. We went through a storm about midway, hitting turbulence unlike any I'd known previously. To say I was scared would be an understatement. It was tossing and turning like something out of a grade B movie. Looking back now, I realize it may well have been a reflection of my own thoughts and the emotional turbulence I was feeling over the decision I had just made. I prayed, continually, until we had descended and were on terra firma once again. 

I had to fly several times over the years, mostly back and forth between Santa Fe and Minnesota when time was of the essence, but a few years ago I decided I would never fly again unless it was overseas where it's pretty much required. And that doesn't look like it will happen any time soon. I am not good at waiting and I am not good at being crammed into small spaces with many people and I am especially not good at having security wands circling around inside my skirt. 

I have recently seen more than one reference to flying and how it feels to be amongst strangers with whom you're sharing this experience. It took me to a poem I recalled by Billy Collins, in which he talks about just this thing. I'm a big Billy Collins fan and it seems to fit. Plus, you know, I have this thing about poetry.


At the gate, I sit in a row of blue seats
with the possible company of my death,
this sprawling miscellany of people -
carry-on bags and paperbacks -

that could be gathered in a flash
into a band of pilgrims on the last open road.
Not that I think
if our plane crumpled into the mountain

we would all ascend together,
holding hands like a ring of skydivers,
into a sudden gasp of brightness,
or that there would be some common spot

for us to reunite to jubilize the moment,
some spaceless, pillarless Greece
where we could, at the count of three,
toss our ashes into the sunny air.

It's just that the way that man has his briefcase
so carefully arranged,
the way that girl is cooling her tea,
and the flow of the comb that woman

passes through her daughter's hair...
and when you consider the altitude,
the secret parts of the engines,
and all the hard water and the deep canyons below...

well, I just think it would be good if one of us
maybe stood up and said a few words,
or, so as not to involve the police,
as least quietly wrote something down.

~ Billy Collins

Edward Hopper   "Outer Cape Gas Station"

B & W image from Tumblr

Sunday, May 1, 2011

May Day: A Sordid Little Tale

It's May Day today. I remembered when I saw an image of this Wyeth painting and the little tradition we had while growing up came to mind. You might have grown up with this one too: small homemade baskets filled with candy, tied with ribbon and left on neighbor's doorsteps. You ring the doorbell, then run. Ours went something like that but with a country twist of more knocking than ringing. Most folks we knew didn't have a doorbell. There was also some kissing involved that may or may not have been traditional.

This is how it happened in my neck of the woods: a small basket made of construction paper, decorated with crayon colored flowers and tied with ribbon you curl with a pair of scissors (rather poorly if memory serves me), put some candy inside and there you have it. We would make up a few of these, drive around to various neighbors who were often our cousins, leave it on their doorstep and run like hell, hoping (usually) that we wouldn't get caught and thus kissed. This sounds like a Jeff Foxworthy joke, but, sadly, it's not.

The only May Day I recall with anything close to clarity was when we drove over to a neighbors a bit further away. My brother who was ten years older than I and the oldest of my siblings had a girlfriend who for reasons left to the distant past was at the wheel. Let me just say, sometimes the older kids liked to torture the younger kids. Such was the case on this May Day.

This is how it all went down: we drove up their long driveway (didn't everybody have a long driveway back then?), and parked the car. Then, my sister and I with much trepidation stepped out with basket in hand. The boy inside was pudgy and wore glasses. He also liked to tease and we were pretty certain he would try to kiss us if caught. Scary stuff.

We knew what had to be done. We would set the basket on the steps and immediately be on the run, hightailing it back to the car as fast as our sturdy little mid-western legs could carry us.

There was just one glitch. When we got to the car my brother's girlfriend had locked all the doors making it impossible to get back inside and make our getaway. We could see her laughing as we tried to open every door, keeping the boy who was now in hot pursuit as far away as possible. Round and round the car we went until all hope was gone. He caught me and planted a kiss on my cheek. Nothing too disturbing, right?  Wrong. I was not happy. When I was allowed back in the car I sat in the back seat seething. I could do seething pretty well back then.

So, that's my May Day basket story, sordid little tale that it is. I won't be making any deliveries this year but may I say, ahem, a Happy May Day to you all. Let's pretend that I'm leaving a basket on each of your doorsteps. Then I'll pretend to be running away, wondering if the car doors are locked.

Andrew Wyeth   "May Basket"