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.